Cruise Line MD, Jos Dewing imagines the world’s greatest journeys by ship
I was fortunate enough recently to experience several nights on board the iconic ocean liner Queen Mary 2 and am keen to share some lucid thoughts and observations on what to me, remains one of the ultimate and ‘must do’ travel experiences, the transatlantic crossing!
The first thing to highlight is that you will not find me refer in any part to this nautical experience as a cruise, which it is not. Forgive me for sounding like a cruise ‘anorak’ here but Queen Mary 2 is an ocean liner and not a cruise ship and whilst I would struggle to explain eloquently what exactly that variation in technical categorisation represents, I would not struggle to differentiate the variation of the experience itself or indeed the reasons for doing it.
The transatlantic passage is as rich in its historical significance as it is in its iconic status too. I challenge your friends or dinner party guests not to be impressed and somewhat in ore when you recount your recent jaunt across the Atlantic Ocean by passenger ship, your view of Manhattan as its formidable skyline comes into view and your participation in one of the greatest journeys on earth. This historic voyage is surely a dream as old as sea travel itself?
Truth be told, I was not doing the full transatlantic for which this ship is famed, but the voyage I took from Hamburg to Southampton certainly gave the flavour of the ship, the nature of a crossing and the ambience and feel of something that is certainly different to a traditional cruise. It is only from on board this enormous ship that you fully realise the Zeitgeist that truly distinguishes sea travel from cruising.
I have found fewer more enjoyable experiences on board a ship than exploring the Queen Mary 2 in her full, resurrected glory. I use the word resurrection as there are so many traces of tradition in her Edwardian finery, a contemporary presentation of afternoon tea, black tie dinners and the legendary ‘White Star Service’ (Legendary, elegant, memorable) that simply works and pampers both your physical and mental well-being, simultaneously reminding you of what once was, in the so called ‘Golden age’ and what is still possible on Queen Mary 2 today.
On my initial self-conducted tour of the ship there was a timeline presentation piece near the theatre which set the tone for what you may expect from your voyage. The summary explained that unlike cruising, the Atlantic crossing had a real purpose for so many, whether it be a homecoming in New York, emigration, business and for some of course, it was indeed a holiday. The piece also discussed a different mood on board, especially in the final hours as the ship approached New York, destined for Pier 90. Passengers who had been cut off from the world, a world now coming back into view with the spectacular Manhattan backdrop. Excitement, urgency, anxiety, the hallmarks of recollection of the original sense of purpose. This very much set the scene for my days on board the ship.
The reality of a crossing like this of course is that you will spend 7 days at sea and that means your one and only destination, above the experience of what you are engaged in, is the ship itself. Queen Mary 2 is most certainly a destination in her own right. Each day your ‘Daily Programme’ is delivered to your cabin and there is always a vast amount of activities to experience. To be honest it takes on the form of a TV listings guide. You could choose from a game of Bridge, a Tom Hanks narrated planetarium film ‘passport to the universe’, cinema, dance classes, pub quizzes, table tennis, shuffleboard, theatre by RADA, poker, fascinating lectures from expert speakers, a huge variety of music and social experiences, bingo, dance lessons, art sales and that doesn’t even begin to cover a standard day on the ship!
Activities aside, the food is a destination in its own right as it is literally everywhere. Whatever your preference there is a table and a meal for you at all times. Whether you want to build your own burger in Chef’s Galley late at night, take on the vast buffet at Kings Court (which stretches for most of the length of the ship) or experience speciality dining at Tod English’s, the choice is there. If you want to stay in your accommodation of course, room service is fast and efficient and the menu is good.
Another thing to note, don’t be put off the experience if you have children as the ‘Play/Teen Zone’s’ are well equipped for most ages and there was a very good ratio of staff to children too. It felt secure, clean and entirely suitable for even a worrying parent.
So to summarise, this is a journey to be experienced in a lifetime and the ship is more than equipped to ensure that journey does not get monotonous. Not only will you experience a little piece of history but you will also benefit from a voyage that takes you to (or from) one of the greatest destinations on the planet, New York City. And if you decide upon the eastbound crossing, you can ship until you drop too, with no concerns about luggage allowances.
2014 will certainly be the year I take my family across the Atlantic and I have no doubt it will live up to my full expectations of the experience.
Don’t forget the bragging rights:
Whilst a transatlantic voyage to New York is not overly expensive in comparison to other forms of travel, people will certainly be impressed and intrigued when you tell them where you have spent the last week. There is something incredibly poignant, memorable and historic about the ‘crossing’ and it still instils fascination as a story to be told to others. Tell your friends and family you are off to New York and they will note with quiet admiration your choice for its cosmopolitan and worldly charm, say you got there on a ship and the admiration leaps to a whole new level!
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