When I travel I try to cover as many superlatives as possible. The world’s tallest building (Taipei 101 for now), the longest tunnel (connecting mainland Japan with Hokkaido), the slowest train in the world.
So when I was trying to figure out how to get from Europe back to the United States, there was only one choice. The grandest choice. A seven day journey aboard the famed Queen Mary 2.
The Queen Mary 2, for those who don’t know, is Cunard’s flagship ocean liner. She was specially built for trans-Atlantic cruises, an effort which required a laundry list of technological breakthroughs. Even five years after her maiden voyage, she’s still the longest passenger ship in the world. She’s also the widest, which means she can’t make it through the Panama Canal.
Boarding the ship was the easiest cruise boarding experience I’ve had. Things were off to a good start, although a warning bell went off in my head when a mandatory picture was taken before getting on board.
Was this going to be a regular cruise, just trumped up a bit to seem more fancy?It did share more than I expected with a typical cruise, but its distinctions set it far apart from any cruise I’d been on before. If I were to draw a line down the list, I’d say that it retains the good parts and mostly avoids the annoyances.
There are shops, but they’re not peddling gold by the foot in the hallways. The servers don’t sing and dance, not that I particularly mind that on other ships apart from when they’re forced to sing the American National Anthem. The rooms have the typical amenities but are bigger and better appointed. The gym was surprisingly well equipped and much bigger than usual. The library had an amazing selection and a system for checking books out.
The few shows I saw were excellent. They had a famous British pianist play, and I spent an hour listening to the producer of the upcoming Broadway show, Tale of Two Cities, talk about the theater business. I kept intending to go to the shows in the on-board planetarium, but never actually made it there. Despite the slow pace of life on the ship, the days do seem to fly by.
What makes the cruise special, to me at least, is the camaraderie between the passengers. Even if it is made bi-weekly, the trip seems epic. After all, you’re crossing the Atlantic by sea, the way it was first crossed when settlers came to America. Everyone is thrilled to be on board and realizes that with seven days without stopping, making friends is going to be one of the best activities there is.
When we arrived in New York we said goodbye to well over a dozen friends, most of whom we got to know over dinner in the two-story dining room, or across the felt during the nightly poker games.
I could complain about a few things on the trip. In contrast with the stellar maid service, the waiter service wasn’t as good as service I had on a cheap Carnival cruise through the Caribbean. All of the Scrabble sets had the wrong amount of tiles, which probably only offends obsessed Scrabble players like myself. But in the end, these few glitches were afterthoughts of days full of pure enjoyment.
The next time I cross the Atlantic, taking the Queen Mary 2 will be the first method I look at. You can book directly at Cunard, or try Cruise Compete, which is where we got an unbelievably good deal.