Queen Mary 2
by Dr. John M.
Cunard ship Queen Mary 2, Queen's Grill (first) class suite, Cabin 9027. Inaugural trans-Atlantic crossing in tandem with QE2, April 2004.
This was a wonderful experience that shall not likely be repeated in my lifetime. I am so glad that I sailed on this
wonderful and grand true ocean liner. I am thrilled with the service in first
class and with our suite and the superb treatment by all staff. Queen Mary 2 is a winner, and our family shall sail on her again.
25 April 2004, Sunday
Today is the day we have awaited since the summer of 2000. QM2 was available for boarding at noon, but was not scheduled to depart until 19:30. We arrived at the pier at about 13:00. Police controlled the entrance, and it was slow going. There were red-suited trumpeters at the doorway to the pier. Cunard had decorated the entire check-in area with Cunard pictures and paintings and ribbons.
We went strait to the Grill-class check-in desks and were seen to immediately. Pam still did not know about the Queen's Grill room, thinking we were still only in Princess Grill. It was instant boarding for us. The ship was impossible to see as it was up against the pier building, so it looked like a great black wall.
Immediately upon entering we were met by staff, and recognized Caroline, a tea-service girl from Ireland. She showed us to our suite, #9027.
Pam writes: It was great to see people I knew on the voyage, even if they are the crew. I loved being shown to my cabin by Caroline whom we knew from Queen's room tea.
Only once we are in our massive suite do I tell Pam that this is actually Queen's Grill and not Princess. There is a great deal of jumping up and down. She bounces. I am very pleased. I do not know how I managed to keep this a secret for nearly two years. Amazing.
Our room is fantastic, and we play in and with everything. The room is already stocked with three bottles of champagne, including Moet & Chandon.
Once the immediate novelty of a first class stateroom and a butler and sub-butler and concierge wore off, we then went to check out our table in the Queen's Grill private dining room, and discovered they were serving a late lunch for any starving first class passengers. We were starving, having not eaten since 10:30 that morning. The best part of first class service was immediately demonstrated when one of our three waiters placed a plate of wheat-free bread beside Pam without being asked. They were ready for her special dietary needs.
Pam writes: The food in the grill was better, can you believe it? There was a second menu that was there every night behind the first one. It listed the escargot and the caviar and chateau briand and duck
a l'orange and all the other fine food you could want. We had the duck one night by ordering it before lunch, and it was divine. Patrick the maitre'd prepares the sauce in front of you. You can't beat that.
It is now 17:15, and we must all attend the obligatory pre-sailing lifeboat drill. 2500 people are moving about wearing bright red-orange life jackets on seven deck.
What strikes us again and again is that this is really a massive ship, with more than enough room for everyone. There are about 2500 passengers aboard for this historic crossing. But even with this vast number (not the largest passenger compliment at sea, but the largest passenger space ratio for a large ship: 57.25) there is always room to be alone.
And it is off to dinner at 18:00: early so that we can eat and get outside for the sail away and the fireworks. QM2 pushes back from the pier at 19:30 with mighty blasts from the giant horns. QE2 remains at her pier until we have moved down the Hudson River.
Dusk has begun as we move backwards into the Hudson, and the city is starting to light up. We make out way ever so slowly down the river, and see what must be hundreds of thousands of tiny flashes from cameras on both sides of the river, and from other boats.
The police and airborne security forces are keeping boaters away from us, but the shores are lined with people by the thousands. Camera flashes are continuous for two hours. QE2 is following us down river, and stops near us to await the fireworks. The air is abuzz with police helicopters and news helicopters and aircraft. The water is full of guard vessels and sightseeing boats. The problem is that the weather has turned unseasonably cold. It was a warm sunny morning, but it is a windy and slightly drizzling evening and night. The cold is ripping at us, but there are probably 2000 people on deck to see the fireworks. We are not disappointed. From barges in the river are set off a beautifully choreographed display at 20:30.
QE2 now passes us, and we head out under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and into the Atlantic Ocean. The historic tandem crossing is now underway. The journey is between 5650 and 5920 km depending on route.
26 April, Monday
We are up at 7:30 and met our concierge. Jacqueline is from the former East Germany, having been 14 when the wall came down. Breakfast was served to us at 8:15 in the elegant Queen's Grill dining room. This is our third meal here, and we have yet to see our table-mates. We are not yet certain they are aboard.
QE2 is off our port-bow. It is cloudy and very windy. Very very windy. Pam went to play deck quoits as a way to win tickets for prizes. It was so windy over the upper decks that one of her quoits, thrown outside the target, was blown across the teak deck into the target, thus scoring her an unintentional point, and winning for her an initial ticket.
We went to clear UK Immigration in the G32 nightclub. The inspectors were wearing civilian clothes; unlike the overly militarized US officials. Our passports are stamped as of 01 May in Southampton even though that is still five days and thousands of km away.
John went to the art auction, which droned on an on at a very slow pace. What was interesting was that the auctioneer sold nine prints of Gordon Bauwen's Queen leaving New York painting for $300 each ($406 total price). The 295 numbered prints are valued at $1500 each, but are only signed by the artist. This was the first time the prints were offered for sale, and it was interesting that he moved nine in less than a minute.
At the cheaper end of the spectrum, many people spent their morning lining up in the grand lobby to buy commemorative t-shirts. Thousands of t-shirts were sold in two hours.
In the afternoon we both play shuffleboard, on the theory that it is windy and we can pick up easy tickets. We are the only players, and get four tickets for winning, coming in second, and being insane enough to try to play a deck game in a wind storm at 8 degrees.
We went for our first afternoon tea in the Queen's Grill Lounge near our dining room. This is the only private tea venue on board. After a delightful tea and treats, we retreated to our suite, and John had a bathe and enjoyed our private Jacuzzi.
Pam writes: They even made me some wheat free scones one day at tea, now I must have them again. At tea, you come in and tell them what kind of tea you want. We mostly had earl grey and then they come around with sandwiches and sweets. You can ask for scones any day but we didn't actually know this and mine had to be made special anyway. Patrick asked if I would like them one day and of course the answer was yes.
One of our staff delivered canapés at 17:30 as we were dressing for a reception, We had both been invited to the captain's reception for Grill passengers. This was a great opportunity to get autographs. John brought along a colour image of the Bauwen painting of the two ships leaving New York, and was able to get it signed by every senior officer, and by Pamela Conover, the CEO of Cunard. It is a most wonderful memento.
Dinner in the Grill is appallingly slow. But at this fifth meal we do actually get to see our table-mates. We entered the dining room at 20:00, and managed to get out at 22:25, just in time for the late theatre stage show. My goodness, I am so disappointed with the dining room service. What is the point of charging first class prices, or of paying them, if the service is shoddy and inattentive? I should have bought Britannia class tickets instead of Grill. Service has been appalling. Water is a scarce item. Plates sit uncollected for long periods, so much so that food becomes crusty. Water glasses are NEVER refilled without a request. In fact, the ice totally melted in our glasses. Bread rolls are also a scarce commodity a second time round. Waiters bring or suggest wheat foods for Pam. It is so slow that we almost did not make it for the show. This has to be corrected, and I shall act in the morning.
The show this evening is Appassionata, which we had seen in March. It is the best show aboard, and we would not miss seeing even a repeat. It is great. Amazing dance performances astound us.
Now to bed, and the clocks move ahead one more hour. This makes our sleep a bit shorter than desirable.
27 April, Tuesday
We awoke early and looked out the plate glass window beside our bed to see the QE2 directly abreast on the starboard side. It is a wonderful sight. There is a great beauty to the massive and stately beast surging though the North Atlantic swells. The waves are breaking high up the black hull.
The tap dance instructor did not show up for the class, so John left after waiting thirty minutes. Pam and John played ring toss, a deck game held inside, and John won. This gained more tickets for Pam's quest to collect as many tickets as possible. She was saving them to get a QM2 travel alarm clock and
At 11:00, right after ring toss, John visited our deputy concierge to complain about the appalling service to which we were treated in Grill. Marie-Pierre went a bit white, and said it would be fixed. It was fixed by lunch, and from then on just about everything was nearly perfect.
The surprise guest lecturer aboard is Terry Waite, the former hostage negotiator for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He gave a wonderful talk about hostage negotiation, and admitted that he was an ‘ostrich' (according to a four year old child) for five years.
QE2 pulled ahead and is now directly off the bow. This was done for photographic reasons. There are even photos of QM2 and QE2 leaving New York pier two days ago. This is rather amazing, as we have not stopped, and film was not dropped on our decks. It must all go by email and be printed in the on board darkroom.
Our waiters, Simon, Tamryn, and Rosslyn, are getting ever so good. Raul, head of Queen's Grill, came to see us, and asked if everything had improved. All is well. We feel great.
Pam played wipe-out trivia and lost. It is now tea-time, and Queen's Grill Lounge has wheat-free treats for Pam. After wrestling with wheat-free deserts, Pam had a rest in the suite while John went to the bookshop. He also bought postcards of the ship in addition to the endless supply of free postcards in our suite.
The ship has rubber stamps saying ‘Posted aboard Queen Mary 2' and John has this stamped on a massive number of cards. Even better, we learned that anything posted on board was stamped with a special commemorative note as to the tandem crossing and the date.
Pam was feeling slightly ill, so John got her a package of motion sickness pills from the purser's office ($5). She immediately feels much better. There are swells, but no breaking crests on the waves. QM2 is pitching, with only slight roll.
This dinner is the best yet! Superb food and service combined into a perfect dining experience.
We went back to the suite instead of to the show, and discovered that our suite had been stripped. Everything was missing. There was a note on the bed from our butler, Jeffery, informing us that bad weather was expected, and that he had put away all breakables. We found the flowers in vases behind the chesterfield, and the champagne wedged between pillows in the cupboards.
28 April, Wednesday
We both had a wonderful sleep. Pam said the ship was rocking, but John felt none of it. It is a beautiful morning, and the sun is shining upon us.
Together we went to play both deck quoits and shuffleboard, winning a grand total of seven tickets. Since Pam only needs nine tickets for her clock, she already has more than enough.
Today we have breakfast with new people. Breakfast is not an assigned seating meal, and we are pleased with our new companions, Harry and Jean. Our most important task is to arrange with the head of the dining room to host our guest. This is done, and we are most pleased.
After a very nice lunch we attend an Oxford university lecture on the history and structure of the periodic table. There is a large series of classrooms aboard, and five profs are giving talks on a broad range of subjects. Talks are very well attended.
We almost had a nap, but had to rush off to high tea in the lounge. One simply cannot survive without an infusion of Earl Grey tea and cucumber sandwiches and the usual host of desserts. So sad. Very tough life. There are of course special wheat-free sandwiches for Pam.
It is a very sunny afternoon, and there are more than a hundred people in deck chairs trying to catch sun while wearing coats.
We met our guest outside the lounge of the Queen's Grill right on time at 19:00. Although we had arranged to all meet in the lounge, our table mates, Ken and Barbie (really their names!) had gone directly into the dining room. So in we went. Being a cook himself, he delighted in the two offered menus. There is a changing daily menu, and a fixed a la carte menu. We had a wonderful, long, relaxed dinner of several courses and many wonderful things. After it was off to the Chart Room for drinks. After that it was back to our suite for more drinks and chatting in a quieter atmosphere. All in all a great evening, and perhaps the best of the crossing.
29 April, Thursday
Today started perfectly with breakfast in bed. Jeffery brought in our cold and hot meals, laid out the linen, china, and silver table settings, and left us in peace and our bath robes. The salmon omelet was superb. In fact, all the smoked salmon each morning has been so fresh and wild tasting. It tastes too good to have been farmed salmon.
Now for the ultimate relaxation: we are off to the Canyon Ranch spa. Our goal is to relax in the
thalassotherapy spa pool and ancillary spa places until lunch. There are great changing rooms with a myriad of facilities: a Finnish sauna, reflexology foot baths, aromatherapy sauna, steam room, ice scrub, Jacuzzi, and full body shower and mist chamber. In the Turkish style aromatherapy sauna, there is a choice of music styles. After the heat of the saunas, John frequently rubs himself with the grated ice which continually falls into a bowl. Pam feels that this is a sign of insanity, yet tries it herself. She now knows it is a sign of insanity. We are now boneless. Our bones have melted away in the pleasure of the spa. We need wheelchairs to make it to lunch (not really).
It is high tea time again, and wheat-free goodies are on the platter just for Pam. Patrick, our maitre d', had promised wheat-free scones, and his staff delivered. It was the first time Pam had eaten scones, and these came with the required Devon clotted cream. The pianist, who in the evenings performs in the Commodore (CommoDorothy) Club, is playing happy birthday in various styles of classical, including as a dirge.
This afternoon we met Michael Binkley, the Vancouver sculptor. He carved the marble shells in the spa, and was teaching soapstone carving classes. People were doing fantastic things in only a short time. Cunard had approaching him about doing a class, and I think it was such a success that it will be repeated.
Our problem this afternoon and evening is that we are invited to too many parties. This is not a problem causing us any anxiety, however. We totally skipped the first cocktail party, and only glanced in on the second. It was the final party which interested us. We had been nominated by a staff member to be invited to the senior staff reception. People who are noticed by senior staff as interacting, fun, conversational, or have a duplex suite are invited to the party. Not all Grill passengers are invited. Many are fun Britannia passengers.
We both watch most of the Des O'Connor show from the back of the Royal Court Theatre, then went to the Queen's Room for the Royal Ascot Ball. We danced and were awful in the Gay Gordons. Then it was off to the G32 nightclub. We chatted with Helga ‘Hurricane Helga' the Queen's Room singer from Montreal.
The seas are rough, and the ship was shaking. Extra pillows were stuffed around Pam so that she would not fall our of bed.
30 April, Friday
Although it was a night of shaking, there were no big rolls or pitches.
This is the afternoon when Pam claimed her prizes based on the number of tickets won at the various competitions. Pam got a QM2 digital travel alarm clock which displays the time, date, calendar, and temperature. She also got a black Cunard/QM2 t-shirt, and John got a rosewood photo album with an embossed cover and 100 photo sleeves. As Pam had twenty-one tickets, and we only used 18, she gave away the rest to people who needed an extra to get a better item.
At 14:00 the RAF Nimrod anti-submarine jet roars overhead. We have just passed Land's End and can clearly see the English coast. We are just south of the Scilly Isles when the helicopters, Hawk training jet, and Nimrod arrive. The Nimrod did several passes: each one closer than the previous. QE2 has moved up very close, and is directly off our starboard stern. The Nimrod flies between us at funnel top level. We stood on the private deck reserved for Grill passengers and watched the Nimrod fly very very close. Bullion was served, and because of the wind and cold, I got a rug for Pam's shoulders. We packed much of our stuff, as it all had to be in the hallway for pickup by midnight.
We paid off the remaining bill, which was just for the daily gratuities, in cash, and we would leave the ship with absolutely no debt at all.
After dinner John spoke with Pamela Conover, the Cunard CEO. Pamela had approached him after dinner and asked if the overall experience was good. They had a short exchange, and Pamela said she hoped we would both be back. John thanked her for the ship. Her husband said it was great to be on such an historic voyage.
But nothing is faultless. We found out that over night the spa pool flooded and sent water into passenger accommodations on decks five and six.
We are now moving rather slowly. Our great speed and calm seas on the crossing have placed us too far along. We are expected at the pilot boat station at 03:00 in the morning, and at the Southampton docks at 06:00 tomorrow morning.
01 May 2004, Saturday
The ships pulled into the Solent far too early for crowds to have gathered, or even for passengers to see the arrival. John got up at 05:00 expecting to see us sail up the Solent, but discovered we were already nearing the
QE2 ocean liner terminal in Southampton. The QE2 had gone ahead and was already docked far along the water nearer the container terminal.
Southampton water was full of tour boats packed to the gills, and all kept away from our ship by a single police boat. There was not the overarching or menacing sense of police and paramilitary presence felt in New York. An old steam cargo vessel loaded with sightseers whistled at us after getting up a head of steam. The steam came pouring out of the whistle, and after about five second, the ‘thweeee' grew in power, but never to the point of being a very serious sound.
It is our last meal in the Queen's Grill dining room, and we have a lovely breakfast. There is of course wheat-free toast for Pam and smoked salmon for John. We chatted with many passengers and staff. Crew were in a bit of a frenzy, as the ship would be emptied, cleaned, and reloaded with provisions, baggage and passengers for the return crossing in less than ten hours. Pam got more autographs in our passenger list booklet given to all passengers.
As Grill passengers can leave whenever they wish, we are off the ship by 09:00. There is no immigration, and customs is self-declaration.
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