Queen Mary 2 (QM2) was a lovely way to start our summer vacation. We were celebrating our anniversary and my successful BBC Radio project. Cunard Line was celebrating too–its 175th anniversary. Its grand style, formal dress codes, afternoon teas, chamber music, ballroom dancing, and sea air added up to a memorable time. Yes, this was quite a change from your usual cruise. You might avoid the word ‘cruise’ while aboard any of Cunard’s exceptional fleet which include Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and the Queen Mary 2. This was an ‘Atlantic Crossing!’ Many consider the QM2 crossing, a trip of a lifetime! It was.
Ancestral thoughts: We embarked from Red Hook, Brooklyn Pier for seven days at sea. Why did I think about slave ships that stole my ancestors away from Africa and China? I also imagined war as thousands of WWII US soldiers slept below deck on hammocks. The original Queen Mary was once a war ship. It is now a hotel and museum in Long Beach, Ca. My Chinese West Indian grandfather came to mind too. My brother Sidney reminded me that our maternal grandfather was a British citizen. He arrived in Harlem from England aboard the Queen Mary years ago. He was born in Guyana while it was still a colony called British Guiana or “BG.”
Southampton, England was our QM2 destination. Our plans included an extra week in London for BBC and museum meetings, visiting friends and eating. We also traveled via Virgin Rail to Liverpool. The Transatlantic International Slave Museum was our ultimate goal. Funny how everyone thought we were seeking Beatles’ history!
Showtime: Our favorite show on the QM2 was the Four Tunes. All male tenors, they sang Broadway hits from the Jersey Boys, Phantom of the Opera and more. We saw them twice! I also loved the dancing—promenade, circle, square and ballroom dancing. On the first formal evening we were treated to an Edwardian promenade dance lesson. It was fun to feel like we were inside of a scene from Downton Abbey! Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) performances were among the daily entertainment offerings. I was delighted to see a brother portray Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. And speaking of brothers, we wondered if we were the only black folks on this luxury trip.
People: Eventually, I spotted about 10 black folks out of approximately 2400 passengers. An African American family from Shreveport, Louisiana became our new BFFs. We enjoyed breakfast with them almost everyday. My other BFF was a Bajan sister from Brixton. We quickly embraced as if we were sisters while on the kitchen tour. (photo on left) Several gay couples from the Friends of Dorothy, Cunard’s LGBT group and the Young Adults (18-30) livened things up too. There were meet-up groups for singles young and old and special topics too. Beyond Boomers: The mostly European passengers, whose average age was 70+, were friendly, fun and feisty. I loved how they switched from sedate to swinging once the music played. The orchestra, led by another brother, who was a suave vocalist, orchestra leader and MC, drew everyone to their feet. At Afternoon Tea, oldsters danced in casual clothes. In the evening they danced in ball gowns and tuxedos. Each dance style was announced: ”Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for the… Rhumba, Quick Step, Waltz, Cha Cha, Tango, Salsa.” Very skilled male and female dance ‘hosts’ were available as dance partners for everyone! Did you hear that? Dance partners for everyone–even little kids! I did see a few children on this trip. My dance card was filled all the time. Yes, I learned how to ballroom dance on this trip. I danced with male and female partners daily. What a ball! It was a nice change of pace from the Electric Slide!
Food: Pace yourself. Like most cruises, there’s lots of eating. This is where the superb Cunard staff shines!“Nowhere is the sheer volume of food on a cruise more apparent than on a boat like the Queen Mary 2. Feeding 2,400 guests each day three meals a day means that up to 15,000 meals are served on a daily basis. Add to this the fact that the Queen Mary 2 only uses Wedgwood crockery and linen napkins over disposable ware. This makes the operation larger than one could ever consider.” Click here for more. Foodies interested in the private kitchen tour (It’s not free!), you must wake up early on Day 1 to sign-up. There was a long line of about 100 people waiting at 8am for only 20 spots! We ate breakfast in the casual King Court buffet on Deck 7. Get there early or late as everyone angles for window seats. It’s a cafeteria with lots of buffet stations. Lunch and dinner were more civilized in the upscale Britannia Dining Room. We usually skipped lunch in favor of Afternoon Tea. We chose the early dinner seating at 6pm so we could take in an early show afterwards. We were assigned to a ‘table for two’ as we requested. You must choose your dining time and seating during booking. We loved our cheerful dinner neighbors—a retired Polish couple from Chicago and a retired British couple from Sheffield, England. The British couple had VIP status having sailed 25 round-trips from Southampton. They had the inside scoop on staff and other ship old-timers. They regaled us with stories. We loved the one about the merry old Bavarian widow who booked a separate stateroom just for her ball gowns and dancing shoes. She was actually on board. Once the music played, she discarded her walker and waltzed around the ballroom with various partners like a champ. She was a star!
My Routine: After about three days of themed evenings (Masquerade Night, etc.) and tuxedos, my husband slowed down a bit with a cold. Doses of cough medicine purchased from a well-stocked gift shop helped him rest. While he napped, I went exploring. Funny how every time I returned, he seemed ‘cured.’ The TV would be blasting and books and newspapers were strewn about. I presented ’my report’ about the ship’s layout, short cuts, videos and photos from my adventures until he needed another dose of cough medicine. Our stateroom TV offered a nice choice of UK programs. Wi-Fi service was a bit iffy and cost extra. So, it was great to digitally un-plug. The library, art galleries, boutiques, casino and the ship’s nooks and crannies provided ample byways to wander and wonder. My routine included: chapel, shopping, fitness class, teatime, bridge class, watercolor art class, Wi-Fi help desk, fruit & veggie carving class, meet-ups, planetarium, films, afternoon chamber music concerts, casino, spa, health, beauty, fitness seminars, lectures, films, library, solo piano concerts, late night ghost stories, jazz poetry, ballroom dance classes, ship tours, board games, and of course—taking photos and making new friends. Sleep: Several nights we slept through for 12 hours without trying! There’s something about the Atlantic Crossing that delivers the best sleep you will ever experience. The bathrobes and beds were luxurious too!
What to wear: You are reminded daily about the dress code via the daily newsletter. “Ladies, No denim, flip flops, or armpits showing please!” Men must wear dinner jackets or stay in your room! I packed my dapper husband’s evening clothes– tuxedo, dark suit, dress shirts, ties, cuff links, dress shoes and socks. Many women brought their grand ball gowns! I chose a simplified route. I wore evening jackets, tunics, pants and skirts and flats. In late June, we should have brought along all-weather jackets, gloves and hats. Luckily, I always travel with extra scarves. I loved the brisk sea air. It was exhilarating to be on the windy deck and balcony. Many passengers wore nice casual day dresses and separates. Laundry: The launderette was busy. Excited family groups primped and prepped for formal evenings ahead. They waited on orderly lines for washers, dryers and ironing boards. It was a surprising fun place to connect. Everyone was assigned a butler. Our guy, Ricardo, was always nearby checking on us. No, he did not do laundry! Other staff cleaned and changed linens. He mostly advised us about activities and directions, as the ship was huge.
Details: American Express Platinum travel services booked our trip. They are Cunard Line experts. We stayed at London’s Langham Hotel and Liverpool’s Hope Street Hotel. Our first class, direct airline tickets on Norwegian Air from London to New York were a surprising deal-about $500 each! We also received $600 ship credit to defray drinks, spa and shopping costs. Our balcony stateroom on the sixth level was perfectly located near the middle of the ship. We had unobstructed views of the ocean. Sail from Brooklyn and fly back from Europe for your first Atlantic Crossing. Bon Voyage!