I now have the grand distinction of sharing something with the TV presenter Ben Fogle. Although he is no doubt the product of a privileged upbringing and has an immensely cushy job, our shared achievement is that of crossing the Atlantic ... Read More
I now have the grand distinction of sharing something with the TV presenter Ben Fogle. Although he is no doubt the product of a privileged upbringing and has an immensely cushy job, our shared achievement is that of crossing the Atlantic in a boat.
However, as he strained every sinew and lost more than 10lbs in weight in his successful attempt at rowing across the pond, I on the other hand merely strained my jaw and managed to increase my weight as my journey was aboard the pure majesty that is the Queen Mary 2.
Our journey began with a 7½-hour flight to Newark, followed by a troublesome journey to the Brooklyn Port of nearly four hours, including the over-zealous processing of the Homeland Security staff at the airport.
Once aboard the ship we sat there watching planes take off and land at Newark, beyond the Statue of Liberty. I think I could have walked it in less than two hours.
A voyage was about to be taken, not a cruise, but a journey harking back to yester-year, and something to definitely tick off the list.
Having previously experienced the QM2 on a Caribbean cruise two years ago, some things have improved, some are no different, and in some cases are now in need of urgent attention.
The most noticeable improvement is in the scones. I think they are now freshly baked in-ship and are a vast improvement on those being served up previously. In addition, the Entertainments Officer is also a big improvement on his predecessor, which doesn't actually say much, as I have pets who could have improved on the former post-holder. That being said, the present incumbent is more in keeping with what one should expect.
Much else remains unchanged - which isn't a complaint. High standards are generally being maintained. The food and service are first-class and the general pomp and sense of ceremony is a joy to behold. You have to take part and feel part of the whole thing. These are not trips, cruises or even holidays. They are events, and you are part of it.
However there are things that now require attention. Our bedspread was suffering from numerous pulled threads as if a cat-fight had taken place on it. There was a musty smell that prevailed in many toilet facilities, including our cabin, which was most unwelcome. Even part of the dEcor was coming away next to the stage in the Queens Room, but on the whole standards were very high.
More alarmingly, I made a complaint at the purser's desk after an attempted snooze one afternoon, and vented my spleen on some poor team-member. I informed her that I was unwilling to listen to any case for the defence, but would appreciate it if she conveyed my sentiments to her seniors. With no feedback by the following day, I then put this in writing and handed it in at the Purser's Office. Perhaps Cunard aren't used to dealing with complaints, and I actually wouldn't like to think that those responsible were pushed overboard. Then again my complaint might be being framed as something unique to their operation, and they genuinely have no staff equipped to deal with such concerns.
As a relative pauper compared to the A-listers on the upper decks, I booked a last minute affair as I felt I had scored with an unbelievable deal. Our cabin was a balcony cabin on Deck 4, directly above the Royal Court Theatre. Perhaps issues are only dealt with from the double figure decks and not those in "steerage". You can just imagine hit-squads ironing the curtains, straightening pictures, chilling the ice, or trying to hunt down some proper clotted-cream to satisfy the demands from up on high.
Anyway, my point was that like everything else on board, entertainments are surely optional.
In the confines of my cabin, no one brought me room service unless I asked for it. Furthermore my lazy afternoons were not interrupted with a journey into space being beamed directly on to my cabin ceiling. If I wanted such entertainment I could have ventured up to Illuminations for the daily show, which I indeed did.
However the noise from the Royal Court Theatre was transmitted directly into our cabin, and the bass section was particularly unwelcome. The pictures on the wall shook and the general intrusion of so-called entertainment could hardly be considered as optional, and hardly considered as entertaining.
Appropriate acoustic screening isn't that difficult in these times. Just a thought, it might be that with the relevant EU legislation on Noise at Work, Cunard are actually in breach of such EU directives in exposing their employees to noise in excess of 80 dB(A). Watch this space...
The cuisine is a delight and a true dining experience, possibly unsurpassed at sea. Even the King's Court area provides a superb range of cuisine, which is admittedly rivalled on other cruise-lines, although Cunard have refrained from utilising plastic crockery in their alternative dining venue. Long may this continue...
The shopping is average and to me slightly uninteresting and definitely at the high end of retail therapy. Daily sales take place around the lobby and are seemingly just a distraction for milling guests, and some of the shops were completely devoid of any customers. It was similar in the champagne bar. These outlets are probably the preserve of seasoned Cunarders, but now that more of the masses are choosing to venture on board, they are catered for in entertainment areas, the pub, or taking part in the grand affair of afternoon tea - something not to be missed, if not for it's novelty value for having done it.
Just before mid-day one of the ship's officers enters the grand lobby to ring the ship's bell eight times to signify noon. He then poses for photographs looking rather elegant and tremendously important in his full dress uniform, complete with medals. I myself didn't realise that bell-ringing was not without its perils, but obviously it is.
As regards his senior colleagues, well there's not a lot to do between go and stop, so a trip to the viewing area of the bridge, although interesting, merely confirms that the whole operation could be conducted without the under-worked staff on the other side of the window. The Commodore must have the easiest job in the world. He greets the Pilot at whatever port he is in, allows them to drive until the auto-captain kicks in, or the ship is moored up. He then bids the Pilot a fond farewell, then attends to his guests and the numerous parties on board. He shakes a lot of hands, introduces his crew, poses for photos, signs various memorabilia and eats very well. Apparently his family even join him on board this unending journey to here and there, and I also presume he gets time off for holidays.
I don't doubt his maritime track record or the years of study in order to get to his position of seniority, but to me he now has a rather cushy number, if not the cushiest, apart from First-Officer-Bell-Ringer perhaps.
I hope he gets his share of the gratuities that Cunard so conveniently take from your on-board account. I just wish they just put the cost up and not expect me to pay extra to their staff just for providing me with service that they sell you in the brochure. Nobody exceeded their excellent service, but I paid for this level of service by booking the cruise (or voyage).
It's a bit like going to a posh restaurant for a meal. You expect to pay more than for a trip to pub-lunch. You're paying more because you expect and usually get better all round. But to operate a stealth-tip operation is rather tacky and not what you would expect from the Cunard operation.
Smoking areas are restricted to three tables in the Golden Lion pub, although you find that the lepers of society are quick to share ashtrays and tables and make new friends with the vulgar habit. At the other tables the disapproving healthy-options cruisers seemingly keep themselves to themselves with minimal conversation, apart from huffing at the riff-raff huddling around ashtrays.
You can also smoke in the Casino, which is a fairly interesting venue, although when I was in attendance the craps table was not in use. All I had gleaned from my previous experience of this game is that the punters hoot and holler a great deal, roll the dice, then either win or lose. So I'm still really none the wiser.
It is difficult not to mention our US cousins when one takes a journey across the pond. Even now in the era of equal opportunities and multi-culturalism, it appears that every country still seems to get categorised, or rather the people do: Germans have no sense of humour, Aussies lack culture, and Russians have lost the ability to queue since the advent of Glasnost. Americans on the other hand, have managed to embrace and celebrate diversity before the rest of us, and not only celebrate it, try and compete with nations who have strived long and hard to be the best or worst in the World. Most alarmingly is their apparent staunch belief that their table conversation is of interest to anyone else in a 20 metre radius. You have to forgive them though, as they are possibly a product of celebrating cultural diversity too much. So perhaps this should serve as a warning to others who are still near the beginning of this particular journey.
As for the voyage - it was brilliant. We left New York and arrived at Southampton 6 days later. There was a hell of a lot of sea in between. We ploughed on relentlessly at 27 knots even through the fog, with the computers seemingly controlling everything with the help of radar and GPS, and even the fog-horn.
If you can do this trip - do it. It is an excellent experience.
On our previous cruise on QM2 we had concerned ourselves with the ports of call. Mega-ships such as the QM2 have difficulty pulling into many of the world's tranquil harbours, and the envisaged view of the destination is frequently a let down as the only place where such a ship can moor up is in the container port, and not the harbour wall with a delightful view of what you were actually promised in the brochures.
However on a voyage you just get the ship, and that'll do quite nicely thank you very much, despite some of my barbed comments.