So, you’ve probably seen the films from the golden era of Hollywood, seen pictures of the stars arriving on transatlantic liners, perhaps your own family arrived in the New World aboard one of the Atlantic greyhounds and I’m certain you’ve watched Titanic and marveled at the elegance of shipboard life (we’ll ignore the bit about icebergs for the sake of this article) and you wish you’d got to travel just like the movie stars, but cruising just doesn’t seem to be that way anymore.
Well, you can! Cunard Line’s RMS Queen Mary 2 still regularly sails the line voyage between New York and Southampton, she is the last built true ocean liner, following in the wake of illustrious predecessors such as her namesake the Queen Mary (now permanently moored in Long Beach, California) and successor to the Queen Elizabeth 2 (now a hotel in Dubai). She carries on a tradition that has been some 181 years in the making.
Join me as I tell you the top five reason you should make a Transatlantic Crossing; to aficionados its always a crossing, never a cruise. (You can have that tip for free.)
New York - A town so good they named it twice
You’re either beginning or ending your journey here. Sadly, Cunard no longer dock along the Hudson, but over in Brooklyn at the Red Hook Terminal, which is a short cab ride from Manhattan and both JFK and La Guardia airports. Or if you want to reach your ship by boat, take the Wall Street Ferry from Pier 11 and you’ll dock right at the Red Hook Terminal and costs a less than $3!
The reason I’ve put New York right in at spot one in my reasons to take a Transatlantic is the sail in or out of New York Harbour. It never gets old. I’ve done 9 transatlantic crossings so far, with number 10 coming up this summer and let me tell you, New York skyline is unparalleled.
Arriving in, make sure you get up early for the sail in, you’ll squeeze under the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge and see Lady Liberty rising out of the dark to greet you, with the lights of lower Manhattan and Jersey City twinkling in the distance. You will feel the goosebumps and the hairs on the back of you skin rise to attention as you follow in the footsteps of so many millions who took this journey before you.
Sailing out you will do the reverse, you’ll see The Battery, Ellis Island and the harbour slip away as you turn towards the bridge, now is the moment you absolutely have to head up to deck 12 and get right up close to that enormous funnel as you inch out under the bridge, can you touch it? It feels like it! I’d love to be on the other side one day as QM2 passes underneath. Once you’re under the bridge, the captain sets course and points the great ship towards the open sea and the long days ahead, which brings me to…
Time to do nothing or everything. Time to read, time to learn to dance, time to eat, time to drink, time to be alone, time to catch up, time to make new friends, time to catch a movie, time to take in a show, time to try your hand at learning a new skill, time for a quiz, time to sleep, time to make up time, time to gain time! If you sail to Southampton, you will lose your hour a day at lunchtime to put you on UK time, the other way, you gain an hour giving you long 25-hour days. Either way you arrive with NO jetlag!
Queen Mary 2 offers a wealth of activities to keep you occupied and entertained or you can choose to do nothing. The choice is yours. She offers the largest library at sea, so don’t worry if you forget your e-reader or that novel you were half way through! Always wanted to learn to paint? Yep, you can do that too. Dancing is on offer around the clock, ballroom, line dancing, the nightclub, all found onboard. Want to explore the galaxy, guess what? QM2 has a planetarium as well as a cinema and theatre. There are several quizzes daily or perhaps you fancy trying your hand at blackjack or bingo? All available too.
Or if you’re more like me, I like to just stop and take it slowly. You’ll find me in the spa being pummeled into a relaxed state of mind or out on the open aft decks in the hot tub, watching the wake roll out steadily and unceasingly behind us.
Time. The gift of the transatlantic; being suspended between two worlds, but you’ll also disembark wondering where all that time went and why you still have so much you want to do.
We spoke about the old school glamour earlier on, well now is your chance. It’s absolutely time to dress to the nines, get your glad rags and make your grand entrance! Cunard encourages formality and expects you to follow the dress code. Queen Mary 2 is absolutely the ship to wear your finest attire on, at night the ship comes alive with passengers dressed in their best. Satin, sequins, velvet, your finest attire gets its chance to shine here and its not just the ladies that are expected to dress their best, the gentlemen onboard also look wonderfully dapper in array of evening attire, military uniforms and national dress, its not unusual to see the odd kilt here or there, but sadly your real Skean Dhu will not be permitted.
Food, Food, Glorious Food (and Drink)
You want a five-course meal in a double height restaurant with a string quartet playing? Coming right up! You descend the grand staircase into the Britannia restaurant where a white coated waiter shows you to your table, the wine flows and every night is a gastronomic delight. Queen Mary 2 on the run between New York and Southampton is a chance to live your foodie fantasy life. Most guests will be allocated a table in the Britannia Restaurant for dinner or the smaller Britannia Club for those in Club grade balcony staterooms (yes, they are really called staterooms), but those travelling in the Princess or Queens Grill dine in their own smaller, elegant restaurants. The Queen also offers a variety of other food options, traditional English pub grub can be found daily in the English style Golden Lion pub, afternoon tea in the Queens Room, where white gloved waiters tempt you to an array of teatime treats, the upscale American style Steak House at the Verandah where choice cuts of finest steak and the best bread at sea (if that isn’t trademarked, it should be) are yours at lunch or dinner for a supplement.
There is also the Kings Court buffet available around the clock which transforms into additional cost evening dining venues and once on every crossing the incredible lunchtime chocolate buffet appears and if you simply cannot wait until that happy day then stop by Sir Samuels coffee shop for their Godiva hot chocolate and array of sweets and treats. Still hungry? What about 24hour room service, included in your fare?
You will also find an array of bars and lounges onboard from the stunning Commodore Club, perched all the way forward, the perfect location for a sundowner, to the Carinthia lounge where small plate breakfast and snacks are to be found. 24-hour tea, coffee and juice are always available free of charge from the Kings Court. I won’t list all the bars and lunges here, but suffice to say, QM2 is not short of a place to enjoy your favourite aperitif or cocktail. (Drinks packages are available; I have a very detailed article all about them on my website.)
This had to be my reason five, the journey. The crossing. Do it just to say you’ve done it. You are following in the footsteps of millions. The Crossing is one of the last true adventures that you can share with those who have gone before. Do it just to cross it off your bucket list, do it to touch commonality with the past. The Atlantic is so varied and storied that any crossing is an event in its own right. A sunset at sea and a pod of dolphins will thrill you, the moon over the ocean will captivate you. New friends that will last a lifetime, you will see the sea change from green to blue to grey, hear the mournful fog horns calling as you cross the Grand Banks and see the world’s most famous ship wreck form a new perspective. Slow travel will expand your horizons and make you appreciate the world in all its scale and glory. Where else can you be suspended between worlds, cocooned in luxury and truly, really away from it all for a few precious days?