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|Tandem Atlantic Crossing with QE2
10-22 October 2008
By October we had over 365 days on board Cunard ships, with over 300 of these on the QE2. But she will go to Dubai in November 2008 to become a floating hotel and we wondered what we would do afterwards. We had travelled on the Queen Victoria in January 2008 and the next option was to try the Queen Mary 2. Whereas the Queen Victoria is a cruise ship, the Queen Mary 2 defines herself as a real liner like the QE2. At the time she came into service on 12 January 2004 at 150,000 tons she was the largest passenger liner in the world, designed to provide a regular service across the North Atlantic between London and New York. Launched by HM Queen Elizabeth II, QM2 was built in Saint Nazaire which was the birthplace of the famous Normandie.
So she had a good pedigree but whenever we had seen her alongside the QE2, for example when the three Queens met in Southampton on 22 April 2008, we did not think she was as elegant and graceful as her older sister. She was also slower, with a top speed approaching 30 knots. This is, however, much faster than the Queen Victoria and other modern cruise ships.
Since the QM2 is designed for the transatlantic then the obvious choice was to take a transatlantic cruise. We hate flying in or out of the USA so we chose a double transatlantic - the westbound crossing with one day in New York was followed by the eastbound crossing. By good luck there was a crossing in October in tandem with the QE2 - the QE2s 806th and last atlantic crossing and visit to New York, the task she was designed and built for. And the trip included our wedding anniversary. At just £1199 each for an inside stateroom it was a very reasonable price too, everyone was trying to get on the QE2! We hoped there would be some choppy weather so we could see how the QM2 performed. We had booked while on board QE2 to get the extra special offers and discounts.
At Southampton our taxi took us to the City Cruise Terminal, and priority boarding was taking place without delay. We were impressed. The QE2 was at the QEII Terminal as usual. QM2 and QV have standard modular cabins, unlike the QE2 where opposite sides of the ship are not the same. Our cabin, grade D3 on 10 Deck, was the standard inside cabin and we were pleased that it was larger and more comfortable than an inside cabin on the QV. It was in a quiet area and being on 10 Deck we would have lots of exercise. We never catch the lifts and although the fitness centre and the self-service restaurant are on 7 Deck, everything else is on 2 Deck and 3 Deck. Both QV and QM2 operate with hotel notation for decks, so 2 Deck is the lowest passenger deck and 13 Deck is the highest. (QE2 is traditionally opposite and 5 Deck is lower than 1 Deck.) We found the usual bottle of bubbles to welcome us, and some fresh strawberries, and put everything away in our fridge and set off to explore. We also wanted to get some pictures of the QE2 as she set off from Southampton ahead of us.
Commodore Bernard Warner was the Captain for the voyage and we looked forward to meeting him. An advantage of the transatlantic crossings over longer cruises is that each evening seems to have a special celebration, and with a double transatlantic crossing we had to 'endure' a double set of celebrations. It was wonderful. Of the six evenings at sea, the first night was elegant casual because it was assumed that people had not managed to unpack their luggage. After that there were two formal nights when the Captain invited everyone for cocktails, and the photographers were on hand to record the event. Then there was one semi-formal night, another formal night and the final evening was elegant casual for those who were disembarking. Even on elegant casual evenings most ladies wore long dresses. It was that sort of trip.
As well as the one evening with cocktails with the Captain another evening there were cocktails hosted by the Cunard World Club for those who were regular passengers, another evening there were cocktails hosted by the senior officers for those most frequent Cunarders as well as an afternoon wine tasting. Adding in our bottle of bubbles and the bottle of Champagne for our wedding anniversary we therefore had 'free' drinks every evening. When we got to New York we found the same routine began again with a bottle of bubbles in our stateroom for embarkation, although we did not get an extra anniversary Champagne.
On the transatlantic crossings there seemed to be fewer longstanding Cunarders and we were surprised that our names were read out on the return voyage because we had travelled for almost 400 days. Staff we did not know welcomed us by name, and we decided that was because the pictures of the most travelled passengers are circulated. We are still well short of the 800+ days travelled by those who have spent all their holidays cruising, and then Mrs Muller who has lived on board QE2 since 1995 is in a separate class of her own.
The Britannia restaurant is a spectacular space on two decks and our table for two was perfect - on the upstairs level accessed from 3 Deck. We knew the Maitre d', Jamie, from when he had been in charge of the Mauretania restaurant on the QE2 and we had asked for a nice table for two on the second sitting. We had mentioned when we made our booking that our wedding anniversary was on 12 October, and were delighted when a card, bouquet, and a bottle of Champagne arrived in our stateroom. On the day we knew there would be a cake at our table at dinner, and the waiters would sing a suitable song.
The QM2 (and the QV) have a special a la carte restaurant, Todd English, and we had a voucher to have one lunch there. Obviously the day to use the voucher was going to be on our wedding anniversary. We had an excellent meal, and then at the dessert we had a surprise - a cake with a candle arrived. We also had our dessert from their menu and this was a problem. We were asked if we would like the cake sent to our stateroom for later. This was agreed. Having a fridge in the stateroom can be very useful. We decided to miss the white glove afternoon tea in the Queens Room and demolished the cake.
Unless the menu in the restaurant was special we ate lunch in the Kings Court, and once we ate Jambalaya at lunchtime in the Golden Lion pub while listening to jazz music.
For breakfast, we had more time on the westbound crossing and so usually ate in the restaurant. On the eastbound crossing we ate in the Kings Court although we made our own coffee there. The highlight was the excellent exotic fresh fruits: dragon fruit, lychee and kiwi fruit but unfortunately they ran out of supplies for the eastbound journey.
One advantage of the westbound crossing is that each day the clocks are set back by one hour, giving regular 25 hour days. In contrast, travelling eastbound each day is only 23 hours long. This gives two hours less each day to enjoy all the activities on board, which tends for us to mean two hours less for the shows at night and the gym in the morning. We did enjoy all the evening shows in the Royal Court Theatre, and also joined the daytime RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) performances which were excellent too. RADA is well known for runing acting, theatre directing, stage management, theatre design and technical production degree and summer course. On the QE2 we have always tended to avoid the evening shows, but the standard is much better on the QM2. And there were no doubtful British comedians.
There always seemed to be a lot to do during the day, and the ship was never congested - except sometimes when the shops had special offers. At exactly noon the bell is rung in the Grand Lobby, which is a nice ceremony.
The gym is also very good and was not very busy before breakfast whereas on the QV it had been very difficult to get onto any machines. Neither ship operates a booking system unlike the QE2, which becomes difficult on the longer World Cruises. We ate too much good food and did not do enough exercises and went home a few pounds overweight.
Because it was a truly tandem crossing with the QE2 the two ships travelled closely together. At 0800 each morning the QE2 swapped sides, thereby enabling people with staterooms on each side to spend a day on their balconies admiring her. The day before the two ships arrived in New York it was arranged that they would approach closer than usual, and would sound their whistles. This enabled everyone to get video and take photographs and to then add their voices to the Captain's call for 'Three Cheers for the QE2'. On arrival at New York they would separate; the QE2 would go to her usual berth in Manhattan whereas the QM2, being so much larger has to go to Brooklyn. Exactly the same routine took place for the eastbound cruise to Southampton, but when the two ships came together the QE2 was flying her 39 foot paying-off pennant, ne foot per year in service.
With no ports to visit - we only got off at Brooklyn in order to pass through the compulsary US immigration formalities - our only photographs are of the QE2 or of the inside of the QM2. The departures from New York had been carefully choreographed. The QE2 left Manhattan and at the same time the QM2 left Brooklyn and turned right towards the Statue of Liberty instead of heading directly towards open water. There the QM2 rotated and then waited for the QE2 to come alongside. In the fading evening light everyone was on deck to see her final departure, accompanied by fire boats with their coloured water cannons and the small flotilla of boats disturbing the routing of the Statten Island ferries. Sadly there were no pyrotechnics.
Overall what did we think of the QM2 compared with the QV ? The two ships are best suited for different types of cruises and so for us there is no real comparison yet. Our memories of the QE2 are still too sharp for either to replace her. Yet before we disembarked the QM2 we booked our next two cruises; the next will be on the QV and then we have another on the QM2 later. We have already reserved the same table for dinner on the next QM2 cruise, and hope to get the same excellent waiters.
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