The other way across

Cunard's Queen Mary 2 in New York

Rye News roving reporter, John Minter, reports this week from the deck of the last remaining, dedicated ocean liner, to tell us that calm, refined, and damnably elegant travel, still exists.

When I was young, it was common to see advertisements for transatlantic travel by one of the great passenger liners of the day – the Cunard’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth being pre-eminent amongst them. With the coming of the jet age, however, and the ability to travel from Britain to the US in a fraction of the time and cost of going by sea, the liner trade declined until the last of these magnificent ships was retired.

The Queen Mary is now slowly rotting away as a hotel ship in Los Angeles, needing millions of dollars to be spent on her, and the Queen Elizabeth has been scrapped following a fire that resulted in her partly sinking in Hong Kong harbour.

A main concourse (this one led to the Britannia dining room)

Today most large passenger ships are just cruise ships, designed to take the maximum number of passengers in varying degrees of comfort around, mainly, the warm and sunny parts of the world. Most, that is, but not all, for there is still one that, in service since 2004, was designed and built specifically as a transatlantic liner and the fact that 18 years later she is still undertaking a weekly crossing with a full complement of passengers in both directions, demonstrates that the desire for luxury comfortable travel where time is not the primary object, still exists.

The ship is the Queen Mary 2 and recently I was fortunate enough to be offered the chance to travel from Southampton to New York in the style that only the Cunard “Queens” can provide.

Before boarding, all passengers not only had to show proof of Covid vaccination, but were also required to have a PCR test on the dockside. This was provided free by Cunard but nevertheless resulted in a long queue as everyone slowly shuffled forward to get their test. Then a wait for the results, followed by another queue to check tickets, passports and ESTA forms (a DIY visa required before entry to the US) before finally being allowed up the gangway.

First sight of the ship’s interior – the Grand Lobby

Entrance to the vessel and into the Grand Lobby gave the first indication of what awaited us. The interior is designed round a muted art deco theme and the lobby itself has an atrium spanning two decks, lit by chandeliers and with a great curved double staircase leading down from the deck above. One almost expected to see Leonardo di Caprio leading down Kate Winslet.

Directions were given to our cabin, several decks above. The cabin itself (accessed using a plastic key-card which also acted as an on-board credit card to which all expenses were charged, giving the possibility of a bit of a shock at the end of the voyage) was perhaps not as large as I had imagined it might be, but nevertheless equipped with very comfortable beds, small sofa, coffee table, desk and a compact fully fitted bathroom. A sliding door led out onto a balcony and a bottle of sparkling blanc de blancs was waiting on the coffee table.

Many of the stewards on board were Filipinos and without exception, couldn’t have been more willing and polite. Nothing was too much trouble and any request was attended to without delay. Our cabin steward was no exception.

The Britannia dining room

There were so many places to eat and indeed one could have dined in a separate area every day of the six-day voyage. The main restaurant is the Britannia where a dress code applies and where, with stairs leading down to the dining level, one could make a grand entrance if desired. Service is polite, cheerful and impeccable and the quality of the food is as good as any top class hotel. Two nights are “Gala” nights with black tie for the men and the ladies encouraged to dress to impress – and many of them certainly do!

Similar standards apply in all of the eating areas, whether one chooses the self-service area for breakfast, which had everything one could possibly want to start the day (the only exception seemed to be waffles and maple syrup, which might have disappointed a few Americans), a light lunch in the very comfortable Carinthia Lounge, or the Golden Lion “pub” for something more substantial or afternoon tea (that would do justice to the Savoy or the Ritz) in the Queen’s Room.

Commodore’s Club bar

Bars, too, are in abundance. From a pint in the Golden Lion to a cooling drink by the pool in the terrace bar, gin and tonic in the Carinthia Lounge or (and a personal favourite) pre-dinner cocktails in the Commodore’s Club with its magnificent views out to sea over the forward part of the ship, anything one could want to drink is available.

But all these calories taken aboard need to be used up and apart from the promenade deck (three circuits equals one mile), there is a pool for when the weather is warm, a fully equipped gym, a spa and all the usual deck games. If exercise is not your thing, then how about talks, concerts, the library or very professional evening entertainment in the Royal Court Theatre?

Passing the floodlit Statue of Liberty

But all this is without question trumped by our entrance to New York. Passing through the narrows just as dawn was breaking, the iconic skyline of Manhattan came into view. Every building with lights blazing and that picture that we have all seen so many times in books, magazines, papers and the television was suddenly there in front of us. Off to the left was a little glow, difficult to make out at first, but as we approached, the Statue of Liberty, perfectly floodlit, slid by and our entry to the new world was complete.

Slow (although at an average speed of 22knots Queen Mary is no slouch) and expensive when compared to air travel – would I do it again? Of course – after that experience any other form of travel is…well…so yesterday.

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Journey’s end, that iconic skyline


Image Credits: Cunard , John Minter .


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