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Hop on board for an Atlantic voyage

Guests dining onboard the QM2 cruise ship. Picture: PA Photo/Mark Laing/INDUSFOTO LTD.

Guests dining onboard the QM2 cruise ship. Picture: PA Photo/Mark Laing/INDUSFOTO LTD.

Seven days on a rough sea may sound like madness, but Jonathan Grun finds a winter trip on the QM2 is surprisingly enlightening.

On the Statue of Liberty there is a message of hope: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’

It has inspired generations of travellers as they enter New York Harbour after sailing the mighty Atlantic Ocean in the hope of finding a better life.

To be honest, these days Cunard liners do not have much in the way of huddled masses, but at the end of an Atlantic voyage passengers still crowd on deck to be greeted by Lady Liberty.

It is a moving experience: the floodlit statue emerges out of the pre-dawn darkness, while the lights of Manhattan twinkle on the water.

It is an unforgettable sight and an amazing end to a voyage that started in Southampton a week earlier.

When we made the journey there was a real sense of occasion as the Queen Mary 2 glided up to Pier 88 in midtown Manhattan. We were following in the wake of the great Cunard liners of the past: the original Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and, of course, the QE2.

The journey to New York was a remarkable adventure and one that was totally different to any other cruise.

For a start, it was non-stop. Usually, cruise liners are a means of visiting different destinations for a really varied holiday on which you only unpack once. But on a transatlantic cruise the ship is the destination - if it fails to keep you entertained it could be a very long week, with no prospect of getting off.

To raise the bar further, we made the voyage in November. No lolling by the pool - just short days, long nights and the prospect of poor weather.

If the QM2 could deliver an enjoyable holiday in those circumstances it would be doing very well indeed.

The short answer is that it did. (Helped by the fact I had a reasonable pair of sea legs, I’m sure.)

Rain was pouring down as we joined the QM2 in Southampton, but the boarding was painless and our luggage arrived in our room just minutes after we had.

The deluge was the onset of a storm that was one thousand miles wide. As QM2 Captain Chris Wells declared, it was a deeper depression than the one hanging over the BBC!

In the following days it would bring widespread flooding to large parts of the UK and we would be going through some of the very rough seas that that it had churned up.

While Titanic star Kate Winslet was on her way to Buckingham Palace to receive her CBE, way out in the ocean the QM2 (the modern day queen of the Atlantic) was taking 8m-high seas in her stride. The giant 150,000-ton liner is beautifully stable and makes light of rough seas.

If you are a good sailor you can enjoy the experience: one moment you feel you are walking on the moon with a sense of weightlessness, the next you feel as if you are the man doing the London Marathon in a heavy diving suit.

But whatever the weather, life goes on as normal. Outside the sea is raging, while inside men in dinner jackets and women in long dresses are sipping champagne and wondering what to choose from the brilliant restaurant menus.

With so many things on offer it is unlikely you will be bored. In fact, despite the fact that clocks go back over the course of five evenings to bring you gently on to New York time, there are still not enough hours in the day to do everything that takes your fancy.

Lectures, recitals, flower arranging, acting classes with RADA, dancing lessons, great performers and professionally staged shows, all compete for your attention.

Use the gym, have a massage or a facial, take afternoon tea to the sound of a string quartet, perhaps watch a 3D film.

You really can do what you like: you are thousands of miles from anywhere, your phone is very unlikely to ring and if you want to curl up with a book and a cup of coffee, or learn how to make martinis, or simply look at the sea you can because you are on a holiday with a difference.

Passengers with Cunard eat in restaurants that are linked to their accommodation - the biggest restaurant that serves most passengers is the Britannia Grill, while more luxurious suites allow entry to the Princess and Queens Grills. In addition there is more relaxed buffet catering and a speciality restaurant named after US celebrity chef Todd English.

Wherever you dine the standard is very high. But eating is only part of the fun on board - you can take the opportunity to tour the universe.

The QM2 boasts the only planetarium at sea, which puts on stunning shows. With limited seating it proves to be a must-see ticket.

And, of course, when you are in the middle of an ocean the real stars can be pretty spectacular.

On our cruise some passengers were making it a round-trip and gliding back to Southampton the same day after just a few hours ashore, while others were taking the opportunity to enjoy one of the most exciting cities in the world.

The voyage there took seven days; the flight home was just seven hours. But although the flight was fast and efficient it certainly lacked the glamour, sense of history and sheer fun of the sea journey.

Travel facts: Jonathan Grun was a guest of Cunard on the Queen Mary 2, the only ship offering regular transatlantic crossings. Vantage Fares (including transatlantic flight and 80 US dollars per person on-board spending money) begin at £939 pp for seven nights aboard QM2, sailing from Southampton to New York on April 26 or November 12, 2013. Fares are based on two people sharing a stateroom.

Call 0843 374 0000 or visit Cunard

 

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