My friend and colleague David Moorcroft will be writing a regular column on cruising and ports of call for Gentleman’s Portion. His first column relates the story of his recent trans-Atlantic voyage aboard the Queen Mary 2.
David Moorcroft has made 64 cruise voyages in almost every part of the world, crossed the Atlantic by ship six times, and for more than 30 years has written about his experiences to the benefit of those interested in seeing the world by ship. He was a writer for the Southam Group for many years and his cruising reviews appeared in many of their papers, such as the Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Sun, and Hamilton Spectator as well as in magazines such as Luxury and Orlando. He then wrote a cruising blog for a North American cruise agency, and contributed to the Bell Sympatico travel site. David is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. Now he’s my first guest contributor.
There’s Something About Mary by David Moorcroft
It could be her beautiful raked bow or rounded Constanzi stern. Or perhaps it’s her streamlined hull and sleek superstructure adorned with the famous black, white and red livery of the Cunard Line. But whatever it is, there’s something about Mary – the Queen Mary 2 that is.
It was obvious to us as soon as we arrived at the pier in Southampton, England to begin our seven-day crossing to New York City that this was no ordinary vessel. In an era where too many ships resemble floating condominiums and sail like bloated barges, the QM2 could well be the most beautiful and steadiest passenger ship in the world.
The reason for all these superlatives is that the QM2 is an ocean liner, not a cruise ship. In fact, when launched in 2004 she was the first major ocean liner to be built since the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1969.
The difference between a cruise ship and an ocean liner is that the latter is designed, equipped and built to do regular ocean crossings. In contrast, cruise ships are built to sail between ports of call in more protected waters, although they still do the occasional ocean crossing as part of a repositioning cruise.
As a result, ocean liners require heavier grade steel for their hulls, use higher quality materials in their fittings, need more powerful engines, and cost much more to build. For example, the QM2 is built with 40% more steel than a comparably sized cruise ship, and costs about US$300,000 per berth, about double the industry average. In addition, it has a top speed of nearly 30 knots and a cruising speed of 26 knots, which is much faster than the 18 to 22-knot average cruising speed of most cruise ships.
Since ocean liners spend most of their time at sea rather than in port, they also tend to have more public areas and grander interiors than cruise ships. In this regard, the QM2 is likely the most beautiful ship at sea, as we saw first-hand as we made our way past a number of elegantly appointed public rooms and staircases filled with more than 5,000 commissioned works of art on our way to our spacious balcony cabin on deck 11.
The QM2 boasts 13 passenger decks with 15 restaurants and bars, including the main Britannia Dining Room, a pair of posh restaurants for first-class grill passengers, and an alternative pay-as-you-go restaurant called Todd English (it’s à la carte and you only pay for the courses you order). The latter is one of the best alternative restaurants we’ve ever sampled at sea.
The main Britannia Dining Room, which like the rest of the vessel has been designed to reflect the elegance of great ocean liners from the golden era of ocean travel, features several tiered levels cast over two decks. Her menu carries a wide variety of delicious choices including salmon Wellington, rack of lamb, sea bass, lobster, and beef tenderloin, served by a talented and gracious wait staff.
In addition to the Britannia which has two dinner sittings at 6:00 and 8:30 pm, there are several open-seating restaurants including the Britannia Club, the Kings Court cafeteria, the Princess Grill, and the Queens Grill (the latter two are exclusively for Grills Class passengers).
In terms of activity and entertainment, the QM2 has two swimming pools (outdoor and covered), a wading pool, several hot tubs, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, a spa and the first planetarium at sea. The latter doubles as a cinema and can even screen live sporting events such as the World Cup of Soccer, the Olympics or the Super Bowl. And there are a number of elegant bars and lounges, including the Commodore Club (our favourite), the Golden Lion Pub (with authentic English food, draught beer and a dart board), Sir Samuel’s, the Winter Garden Lounge and the Chart Club.
The ship also features a nursery and a kennel, which can house up to 12 cats and dogs that passengers can visit throughout the cruise.
With the retirement of Queen Elizabeth 2 in 2008, the QM2 became the only ocean liner left in active passenger service. She offers regular crossings between New York and Southampton from May to December that last seven to eight days. The QM2 also offers occasional Atlantic crossings from Hamburg, Germany and a variety destination cruises in between crossings, as well as a world cruise from January to April of each year.
Having sailed around the world many times over the past 11 years, the QM2 will be getting a well-deserved refurbishment in June of 2016. In addition to a complete refresh of furnishings and carpets, the ship will also be adding additional cabins (including single cabins) and expanding the kennel (which is currently sold out many months in advance).
Given the cost today to build and operate a true ocean liner like the QM2 versus a regular cruise ship, I doubt we will ever see the likes of her again once she is retired from service (perhaps in another 20 to 30 years if we are lucky). So if you haven’t already sailed on this grand lady of the sea, give her a try. If you do, you’ll discover why this Mary is truly special.
David Moorcroft will return soon with another travel story.