On Board Queen Mary 2

The longest, tallest, widest, most expensive, grandest ship in the world! That’s the Queen Mary 2 (QM2). She is the first authentic ocean liner to be built since Queen Elizabeth 2 debuted over 30 years ago. These are ocean liners, not cruise ships and are built differently so they can plow the North Atlantic and other waters quite smoothly. One of the differences is the bow (I say front end), which is very slim and pointy. My Marine Engineer husband, Don, said he’s never had such a smooth ride. The QM2 – when launched it became the largest passenger ship ever built – is longer (at 1132 feet) than the Chrysler Building (1046 feet) is tall, and taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

A Canadian businessman from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sir Samuel Cunard, and four partners pioneered transatlantic mail communication by steamship in the 1830s. It became known as the “Cunard Line.” The goal today is to take all of us back to the golden age of ocean travel when only the rich and famous could afford it. Times have changed since Miss Manners was published in an 1880 magazine with traveling tips. “For your traveling dress: wear wool and quiet colors or you will look “vulgar.” Cover your hat with brown paper to keep your ostrich plumes dry.”

Some of the celebrities who sailed the old Queen Mary were Lana Turner who was on her honeymoon and liked to eat raw minced beef with raw egg and champagne. Dorothy Lamour only traveled in her favorite stateroom on the Promenade Deck. Elizabeth Taylor exercised her pampered pooches on Queen Mary’s Sport Deck. Cary Grant proposed to Betsy Drake, one of his five wives. Fred Astaire swept partners around the ballroom. Bob Hope practiced his golf swing on the deck. Greta Garbo liked to be incognito and disembarked disguised as a stewardess. Bing Crosby sought refuge in the darkroom chatting with photographers. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin would do impromptu shows for passengers and crew. And Marlene Dietrich followed friend Noel Coward’s advice, “Always be seen, dear; always be seen.” She was, but never for breakfast and rarely for lunch.

At a cost of $800 million this 2,620-passenger ship has many amenities including 14 bars, 10 restaurants, a spa, the world’s first planetarium at sea, theater performances by actors from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a $5-million art collection, and five swimming pools. There is also a dog kennel so you can take your pets with you. If they arrive in England on board the QM2 there is no six-month quarantine.

We sailed out of Brooklyn, New York en route to Southampton, England: a six-night crossing. The captain sounded the ship’s steam whistles, one of which was taken from the original Queen Mary and installed on the new Queen. It’s always stirring to pass by the Statue of Liberty on a ship. I couldn’t help but remember my first time back in the 1960s on the USS Constitution. We had been stationed in Italy for three years and were finally going home. I woke up my 2- and 6-year-olds so they could see the “grand lady” at dawn entering New York Harbor. I had tears in my eyes while they just wondered what in the heck we were doing up so early.

This time leaving and since 9/11 there were no farewell parties on board or throwing serpentine to all the friends waving goodbye from the pier. Instead the QM2 was surrounded by security from boats and planes escorting us out of the harbor. Passengers were all on deck toasting with glasses of bubbly as in olden days.

Don and I kept our pocketsize ship’s map with us at all times. No problem with exercise. Around the ship three times was a mile. Just going from place to place all day and climbing steps instead of using the elevator was enough for us. Seventy-five-percent of the rooms have balconies and the ship’s interior is lavish Art Deco.

I was happily surprised to find my Montecito Connection. John Cleese was one of the guest celebrities on board, along with Courtney B. Vance and Angela Bassett. I contacted the Cruise Director to see if I could have a photo op for Montecito Journal and John graciously said yes. We met backstage after his interview show and had a nice chat. He told us, “My father was Reginald Francis Cheese and in 1915 changed the “h” to “l”. But I was still called Cheese in school. My wife would have called me Jack if I’d stayed Cheese.” (Editor’s note: And, if you believe any of that, we have some oceanfront property in Arizona we’d like to discuss with you – TLB)

Author Charles Dickens voyaged on the Britannia in 1842 and speaks of the food. “At the start it was boiled potatoes, plates of pigs’ faces, salt beef followed by a rather moldy dessert of apples, grapes and oranges.” Today it is caviar, lobster and crepes. You can expect to gain a pound a day. After a galley tour, I can see why.

The Culinary Brigade consisted of 150 chefs under the supervision of the Executive Chef. There are 85 dishwashers, pot washers, and galley cleaners who work around the clock. Some fun numbers: 700 English Scones are served during afternoon tea; 9,500 canapés are consumed during the Captain’s cocktail parties; 16,000 meals are eaten each day; about 87,000 pieces of china and glassware are used daily; over 8,000 linen napkins are laundered every day, and 6,000 cups of tea served daily. On our six-day crossing, twelve tons of meat were consumed, along with two tons of cheese and dairy, 32,400 eggs, and two tons of rice. We definitely ate and drank our share.

Our floating palace was grandly elegant with many black-tie soirees, such as the Ascot and Black and White. We were surrounded with every comfort and luxury. Soon we would be in England, en route to Ireland. Getting there had been half the fun. It was the journey—not the destination—that we would remember.