Queen Mary 2 transatlantic cruise – throwback travel for the modern age.
Thirteen years ago, when I told friends I was taking a ship to Europe, a lot of eyebrows were raised and sideways glances prevailed. Meanwhile, when it was time for them to cross the pond by airplane, all I ever heard were complaints. Jet lag, cramped seats, long delays, even longer lines at international customs and horrible, if any, food, were part of their conversation. A Queen Mary 2 transatlantic cruise wasn’t on their radar.
In their minds, the advantage was that what took me no less than seven nights, they completed in eight or so hours. They arrived in Europe somewhat tired, a little stressed and a lot less ready to hit the ground running. But heck, they were there faster. Ooooh.
Ever since Cunard launched Queen Mary 2 in 2004, legions of new transatlantic enthusiasts have chosen a more civilized means to cross the Atlantic. There have been cruise ships repositioning to Europe for many years; those seasonal cruises in Spring and Fall when cruise lines bring their ships to Europe or vice versa over the course of two weeks. But that’s not the Queen Mary 2 and it’s not an authentic “crossing.” And those are cruise ships…not ocean liners built for the North Atlantic like the QM2.
Since 2004, Cunard has made this excellent form of transportation available to almost anyone who has the time and inclination to appreciate such an experience. I’m one of those people.
What to expect on a Queen Mary 2 transatlantic cruise
First of all, it’s a “crossing” not a cruise. Travel between New York and Southampton, England aboard the Queen Mary 2 is a non-stop, middle-of-nowhere 7-night voyage. I’ve been doing crossings every year since 2005 and I’ve never tired of it. I’ll admit, on my very first transatlantic “cruise” I was worried. A bit of agoraphobia creeped in and I imagined that I was traveling on a small cork in a big body of water, at nature’s mercy and six full days without a bit of land in sight. Within 48 hours, I slipped into a feeling of tranquility that I had never experienced.
I reminded myself that the Queen Mary 2 was a purpose-built ocean liner, not your typical cruise ship. With a double thick extra steel hull and four enormous stabilizers, a promenade deck way up on Deck 7 to avoid a possible splash zone, and a dining room smartly located on the lowest decks and mid-ship, the Queen Mary 2 was built to take to the North Atlantic in January.
Expect to arrive on either side of the Atlantic without jet lag. On an eastbound, New York to Southampton cruise, at five of the six full sea days there’s a one-hour later time change, usually during the night. Of course going to New York clocks are set back one hour resulting in five 25-hour days. And there still never seems like enough time to do everything you had planned.
Passing the time at sea.
I could write a multi-sheet laundry list of all the things you can do aboard the Queen Mary 2 but I’ll highlight what I find most interesting and fun.
There are enrichment lectures (I’ve attended presentations by John Cleese, Richard Dreyfus, Roger McGuinn, Angela Basset and James Taylor). There’s an incredible library (the largest at sea) with cozy arm chairs, a Planetarium (the only one at sea) and live music in venues all around the ship. Take an acting workshop led by members of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts
Test your skill at trivia in the Golden Lion Pub, take an Adobe Photoshop class or learn how to paint with watercolors. Schedule an appointment for a massage or salon treatment at the Canyon Ranch Spa. Step into the thermal suite for a steam and then let the thalassotherapy pool bubble your cares away.
Wifi is available throughout the ship, including staterooms, but the prices to connect are steep so use your minutes wisely. As you’d expect there’s a TV in every stateroom and there’s almost always a clear satellite signal with excellent reception even way out in the middle of the North Atlantic.
Try a wine tasting seminar, a floral arranging class, browse the shops for logo and designer clothes, or simply sit down in the atrium and people-watch. One of my favorite travel throwbacks is to stretch out on a polished teak deck chair along the wide promenade deck and stare out at the sea. Weather permitting, of course.
Each evening at turn-down, your room attendant will leave the next day’s activity planner. Bring a highlighter pen so you can mark the activities you’d like to try.
I’ve had every accommodation aboard Queen Mary 2 (except the Grills!) and I have to admit, budget permitting, my favorite is the sheltered balcony.
On the North Atlantic, especially in winter, the sheltered balcony is actually usable.
There’s the two-story Britannia Main Dining Room when most of the passengers are assigned to dine for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If your accommodations are in the Princess Grill or Queen’s Grill, you’ll have an intimate private dining room reserved solely for the Grills’ guests.
Three out of the seven nights are considered Formal Nights and guests still seem to enjoy getting all dressed up. During the day, it’s a more casual atmosphere, especially in summer with the pools and outdoor areas in use.
Non formal nights still require some semblance of decorum though country club casual dress is perfectly fine.
King’s Court buffet is where you can have a casual breakfast, lunch, dinner or late-night buffet without having to wear your best duds.
The venerable Todd English specialty restaurant is gone and The Verandah restaurant took its place. Inspired by the original Verandah Grill on the Queen Mary, for a nominal fee guests can dine on contemporary French cuisine.
In warm weather up on Deck 12 is the Terrace Bar but I’m always crossing in early spring or winter so I’ve never had a chance to see this venue in action.
The history of Cunard Line and Queen Mary 2 is almost as varied as its passengers.
Cunard Line was formed in Britain in 1839 by Canadian-born Samuel Cunard. Queen Mary 2 is registered in Bermuda not England and in 1998, Cunard Line was purchased by U.S.-based Carnival Corporation but operated under the auspices of Carnival UK. Plus, Queen Mary 2 was built in a French shipyard. Quite a multi-national mix and so are the people onboard.
While the majority of 2,600 passengers tend to be British, it’s nearly equal with the amount of Americans, followed by Canadians. Several times a year, when the Queen Mary 2 cruises between Hamburg, Germany and New York, there’ll be a contingent of 200-300 Germans onboard, too. The remainder can be a mix of at least 20 additional nationalities from all over the world.
Bring your pets, too.
One of the most unsung advantages of a Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossing is that your pets can go, too! Queen Mary 2 is the only ship with pet kennels. There’s even a Kennel Master and he takes his job very seriously.
Included in the “Remastering” of the Queen Mary 2 was the addition of 10 more kennels for a total of 22 spaces for Fido. Or your cat…or even a ferret.
Of course there is official paperwork to complete and your pet’s shots must be up-to-date. No more 6 month quarantine; everything is completed before arrival and once you dock in England…off you go!
Have a martini on embarkation night at the Commodore’s Club on deck 8. Mid-cruise be sure to eat a traditional British lunch and sip a pint at the Golden Lion Pub. And last but not least, have a farewell glass of bubbly at the Veuve Cliquot Champagne Bar.
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I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, a solo traveler cruising the USA and Europe on land and sea. Always looking for new vistas, local food and wine. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to savor and travel the world without flying.