QE2: Reality Better Than Fantasy
In was back in January on a cold and miserable day that we first thought about the QE2 and our interest was further piqued when we saw an ad in the New York Times announcing that Cunard was offering discounts up to 45% on all their transatlantic crossings in 1999. We were planning on going to England this Spring anyway and thought we'd just fly across the Atlantic as we had a few other times but we are retired now so what's the rush? The first question was the sailing dates so I went to the Internet to search for Cunard and received a video from a travel agent listed on the site.
That night my wife and I played that video and were shocked: all those beautiful people, tall and slim, with men in perfect fitting tuxes and women dressed in the most beautiful gowns with jewels glittering -here they all were, sitting in a grand lounge right out of that movie "Titanic" sipping champagne and laughing. Was this some fantasy world created by Cunard or was this the real thing? (Our fears were further increased when we looked at the slick brochure that accompanied the tape-and there they were again: more of the rich and probably famous). This was certainly not us : we are solidly middle-aged, overweight, with no jewels, no gowns, and certainly no tux.
We were assured me that even "normal" people can travel on the QE2, particularly if you book a cabin in the Mauretania Class, the least expensive cabins on the ship. Here women needed to be well dressed, she said, but not as if they were going to the Y2K New Years party at the White House. And the men? All we needed was a tie and a nice dark business suit, even if it were a little tight fitting in spots (this turned out to be true-I was told in confidence by one of the ship's officers that all you really needed for dinner was a tie and jacket.) Great: we can manage that easily enough! We were quite relieved and booked an outside cabin with two beds (M4017) for a total cost of about $2200 per person INCLUDING return air on BA to Philadelphia, where we live! Now that was a great buy and even greater as it turned out.
Departure was scheduled for 4:45PM on May 10 from pier 52 in NYC and we made sure we got there in plenty of time-this was NOT the time to miss the boat! And there was the boat- sitting majestically along a dock in the Hudson River. In a city in which everything is larger than life, the QE2 seemed unreal, dwarfing everything in sight. We were escorted to our cabin and that was the first of many pleasant surprises! I half expected "Steerage Class" accommodations but this certainly was not the case. Our cabin was roomy, light, airy, with two comfortable single beds, a bureau, a 16 channel TV, a large bathroom with a shower in which even I had plenty of room to spare, and, most importantly, Roger. I quickly learned that you can't do without a Cabin Steward on a ship like this and Roger was our man, supplying us with all the necessities of good living: plenty of coffee in the morning and ice in the evening, and anything else you might need in between!
What is the ship like? More than expected but less than it should be. The QE2 is 30 years old and reminded me of a woman "of a certain age": a few face lifts, perhaps, but still looking great!
On any cruise, food is of course of paramount importance and on the QE2 there are 106 chefs to take care of this, preparing 10,000 meals each day for the 1700 passengers on board: these meals include breakfasts, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and a huge and popular late night buffet (plus 24 hour room service in the event you have a hunger attack at 2:00AM!) The wine cellar holds more than 8000 bottles of wine, some of rare vintages, and most of them expensive-- we stuck with the house wines at $20 the bottle. I had a tour of all five of the dining rooms and discovered that the slim and rich who were paying $10,000 per person for a Grand Suite and eating in the exclusive Queens Grill chose from the exact same menu as we did in the Mauretania Dining Room. Of course, while the food was identical the service was not and eating dinner with 450 other people is certainly not what I would call an intimate experience.
The food was excellent, each night offering a different 7 course dinner including steak, roast beef, fish and, once, lobster. And there was special low fat and vegetarian menus as well. But I do have a few complaints: first, because of the 900 Mauretania passengers on board, there had to be two sittings : 6:15PM and 8:30PM. We chose the earlier one, as most did, and I felt that the service was rushed and that the main objective was not necessarily a "dining experience" but the need to get you out as quickly as possible. The other problem, which was probably our bad luck, was a waiter with an "attitude". These problems were unfortunate because the food was imaginative, carefully cooked, with a beautiful presentation.
Being captive on a ship for 5 days/6 nights, even one as grand as the QE2, requires activities and there were plenty of things to do and see. As an example, this is what we did on May 12th:
10:00AM Computer Lecture in the Micron Computer Learning Center
11:00AM Lecture on the "American Influence on the " English Garden"
2:30PM An amusing lecture by Laurence Shames on "Why Everyone Loves a Nice Juicy Murder"
3:30PM Movie, "Virus", in the modern and up-to-date movie/concert/lecture theater.
8:15PM In the Grand Lounge, "The Hilarious Humor of Cary Long" (clean but not so hilarious). 9:45PM A concert in the theater by a classical pianist (very nice).
OR 10:00PM Dancing in the Queen's Room with the really good QE2 Orchestra.
OR 10:00PM The Caribbean sounds of Prodigy, a smooth sounding group from St. Lucia
And, of course, if you are enjoying those meals a bit too much, there is always the very well equipped gym which comes with an experienced female trainer (and good looking, too!). Then, if you'd like to take some time off from all these activities there is a good size library with lots of interesting fiction and non-fiction books-I though their biography section rather impressive-and there are dozens of quiet places to read on this ship. And what I really liked about the QE2 is that you were never hassled -if you were enjoying the music but didn't want a drink-no problem at all.
So, all in all, it was a great, and I must say, a refined way to cross the Atlantic and now we are looking at that 104 day cruise around the world in the year 2000. I wonder if .......................?
Bruce Cabot Boyce