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“Crossing” or “Cruising”?

The scene was familiar. As passengers lined the railings at sailaway time, the band played… “Hot! Hot! Hot!” 

But wait. This wasn’t a conventional cruise and not exactly what I expected at the beginning of a transatlantic crossing. Beneath a dreary Southampton sky, if the lively music was a bit out of place on Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, no one seemed to notice. We were bound for New York with five full days at sea and without a port of call in sight. If passengers were wont to call our voyage a cruise and dance to Caribbean music, did it matter? It was something to ponder as my first Atlantic crossing by ship got underway. I anticipated it would feel different somehow and hoped I would not be ready to jump ship with so much time to fill at sea.

Unlike most contemporary ships, Queen Mary 2 was designed to recapture the glory of the days before jet travel, when ocean liners were the only way to cross. With a beefier hull and the ability to achieve greater speed (as high as 28 knots service speed versus a typical cruise ships’ 20-22 knots), the Cunard liner offers regularly scheduled transatlantic service between New York and Southampton—as many as twenty times throughout the year—in addition to cruises to sun splashed locales. Cruise ships regularly cross the Atlantic, so that may not sound like a big deal. However, while cruise ships seasonally reposition in springtime from the Caribbean to sail throughout Europe in summer months and return to the tropics again in the fall, those repositioning cruises typically include ports of call at the beginning or end of what could otherwise be termed a crossing.

On board Queen Mary 2, it was soon apparent that passengers had more in mind than transportation. While “getting there” was a key element of the voyage, they also expected to be indulged while aboard. Staring at an endless seascape from a deckchair can only be entertaining to a point. Like sea days during a cruise, days on a crossing are what passengers make of them.

Illusions, the only planetarium at sea

Diversions, as I soon discovered, closely resembled those on Caribbean cruises—there was just more time during consecutive sea days to enjoy them. In addition to a fitness center, luxury spa, and swimming pools (with one indoors) where passengers could pass the time, the cruise staff hosted activities designed to appeal to a wide range of tastes and ages. Bridge lessons, trivia contests, Bingo, and art auctions made regular appearances on the daily schedule alongside wine tasting seminars, cooking and creative arts classes, hands-on computer and digital camera lessons, and even gaming contests in the casino. Unique to Queen Mary 2 were lectures on history and modern culture sponsored by the Oxford University Discovery Programme, plays starring graduates of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and celestial presentations in the only planetarium at sea.

Young passengers are not overlooked in the slightest on today’s ships, whether crossing the Atlantic or cruising the Caribbean. Children’s programs on Queen Mary 2 included parties, movies, sports activities, quizzes, shows, arts and crafts, computer games, and behind-the-scenes ship tours. Group babysitting allowed parents to enjoy dinner, evening shows, and dancing while the kids were happily occupied—similar to programs on mainstream cruise ships, but at no additional charge for babysitting.

Evenings on the crossing, much like on cruise ships, ranged from casual to dressy. Nights on board Queen Mary 2 were just a bit more glamorous, featuring concerts, production shows, and formal balls... held, where else, but in the ballroom. It wasn't all staid, though, and there was boogying in the disco for the hipper set. To illustrate further that the crowd wasn't stuffy, World Cup Soccer played ship-wide to standing room only crowds of beer-quaffing Brits. No doubt the party would have lasted all night had their team won. Ships catering to U.S. passengers schedule similar evening events, although on a less grand scale, and can be counted on to arrange broadcasts of major sporting contests so fans don’t have to miss the all-important finals while on a cruise. About the only activities I found absent in mid-Atlantic were balmy days of sunbathing and deck parties beneath the stars.

Island-hopping through the Caribbean is certainly one of the most pleasant ways I can think of to experience a vacation afloat, but don’t overlook the other options available to today’s passengers. A true Atlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2 is an equally agreeable get-away and, by combining a crossing and cruise on a lengthier repositioning, you can enjoy all the benefits of sea days with interesting ports of call. It's your call as to which is most appealing. 

As a bonus for passengers crossing by sea, jet lag simply isn't a problem as ships leisurely pass through time zones. For this veteran cruiser, there’s now no better way to “cross.”


Related:

Join Cruise Diva to cross the Atlantic in royal style aboard Queen Mary 2
Cruise Diva's Cruise Diary chronicles the journey in four parts. Come along and discover why you should always turn in your comment card!

Learn more about the building of the Queen Mary 2 --> The 12-Part Series

Queen Mary 2, Relive the maiden crossing by Dr. John M. Clearwater

Photographs Linda Coffman, CruiseDiva.com

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