Just the mere mention of the Queen Mary 2 conjures up images of voyages of old, transatlantic cruising on majestic ocean liners fit for royalty. The utter romance of sipping decadent cocktails on the veranda deck, strolling the promenade in the evening breeze, and dancing the night away to a string orchestra. You know, the fancy parts of the movie Titanic that made you dream of luxury cruising! For seven days in January those dreams became reality as I boarded the legendary Queen Mary 2 in the port of Brooklyn, New York and set sail for Southampton, England.
Bon Voyage Brooklyn: The Transatlantic Crossing
We boarded the impressive QM2 around 1pm for a 6pm sail out of Brooklyn. The boarding process was extremely quick and easy. Once onboard we enjoyed a leisurely lunch, explored the decks and settled into our stateroom, anxiously awaiting our departure. The experience did not disappoint as the crisp night air, gentle sounds of the ocean lapping the ship, and bright lights of the Manhattan skyline in the distance provided picture perfect ambiance as we left the harbor.
Launched in 2004, the Queen Mary 2 is the flagship of the Cunard line and has the honor of being the largest, and most expensive, ocean liner ever built. Currently, it is the only passenger ship operating as a true ocean liner. While there are other ships that do transatlantic repositioning cruises, the QM2 was built to navigate the waters of the North Atlantic. Her stabilizers – think of them as very large flippers – make her the perfect sailing vessel for traversing the North Atlantic Ocean under any condition. Even on the windier and choppier days at sea, I could hardly feel any rocking onboard and never dealt with seasickness. While the QM2 was designed for transatlantic cruising, her stabilizers also make her ideal for world travel. The cruise I did was actually the first leg of a world cruise going through Africa all the way to Asia. You can learn more about the Queen Mary 2 on Cunard’s website, include her current sailing schedule and other voyages beyond the transatlantic crossing, like the Norwegian fjords and New England/Canada itineraries.
Onboard the Queen Mary 2
Our stateroom onboard offered a sheltered balcony complete with deck chairs, a small living room space with a sofa and desk, two twin beds, a wall closet, and a bathroom with a shower. We had a room located mid-ship on level 6, which was very convenient for getting to everything onboard, including the elevators, restaurant, and buffet , and also very stable on rockier days.
For dining options, we had the Britannia dining room for our stateroom level. There are two seatings available for dinner, an early and a late dining. Because of the time changes each day as you cross the Atlantic, I recommend picking late dining for a New York to Southampton itinerary, and early dining for a Southampton to New York itinerary. This is because every day we went east towards England, they had us set our watches forward an hour at noon. So our early dining because even earlier dining, too early really. But in the other direction, the early dining would have been perfect, as we would have gained an hour every day.
Other dining options onboard include the Kings Court Buffet, Princess Grill (for Princess Grill suite level passengers only), Queens Grill (for Queens Grill suite level passengers), Boardwalk Cafe, Carinthia Lounge, Queens Room for afternoon tea, and the Golden Lion pub. Of course, there’s always 24-hour room service options available as well. For an additional fee, there is also dining available at The Verandah and the Kings Court Specialty A La Carte. One of my favorite meals to get onboard was the fish and chips at the Golden Lion, which is a traditional British pub. So make sure to stop by there during your cruise! It’s also a great place to hang out and get a drink and meet fellow passengers.
One might worry about boredom when embarking on a 7-night transatlantic crossing since there are no ports of call. Well, no need to worry when sailing on the Queen Mary 2. There is plenty to do onboard! Each evening guests are provided a four-page newsletter filled to the brim with activities for the following day. Daily offerings include a variety of informative lectures, floral and watercolor classes, art gallery tours, wine seminars, movie screenings and even a book club. Our book selection was Little Deaths by Emma Flint. Even if you don’t join the book club make sure to make time to explore the well-stocked library that sports one of the most incredible views on the ship. The library is definitely one of the things that make the QM2 so unique. Truly, there is no reason to bring your own books with you, as their library has just about anything you could be looking for, from travel guides to the latest bestsellers.
There’s nothing like stargazing from one of the decks of the QM2 as you sail the North Atlantic, but you should also make plans to visit the ship’s Planetarium ILLUMINATIONS. The QM2 was the first ship to offer a planetarium at sea, and until recently, the only one as well. Stars Over The Atlantic, one of four short programs created in conjunction with New York’s American Museum of Natural History Hayden Planetarium, takes guests on a cosmic journey through the universe all while comfortably seated in their specially designed reclining chairs.
In keeping with British tradition, the QM2 offers guests daily afternoon tea complete with white glove service, a live harpist, a spread of freshly baked scones with clotted cream, cucumber tea sandwiches, and of course, tea. You can find this in the Queens Room, and I highly recommend going every day. I didn’t go until nearly the end of my cruise, and I really regretted it!
If your passion is all things chocolate, consider a visit to Sir Samuel’s on Deck 3, aka the Godiva Chocolate Café, one afternoon. For an additional $15 you’ll be treated to a selection of decadent pastries and fine Belgian chocolate creations as well as your choice of Tea Forte or Illy Café Classic Coffee – all served with a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean that never gets old.
Gaming and Gambling
Guests looking for a friendly game of competition can partake in daily rounds of pub-style trivia as well as old-fashioned Bingo in the Golden Lion Pub. Or, if you’re looking to tempt lady luck, there’s a casino with plenty of slots, roulette, blackjack, and poker to play. If you check the schedule, they hold daily tournaments in different games as well.
All transatlantic cruises feature a celebrity guest speaker. It was our great fortune to have acclaimed actor-author-activist Alan Cumming OBE on our sailing. In an interactive Q&A session Mr. Cumming, he captivated us with tales of his time on the set of The Good Wife and onstage in Cabaret, where he won a Tony award. We also heard about his new Off-Broadway endeavor, Daddy, and were invited to a screening of the pilot of Instinct, his CBS series featuring Cumming as a crime-solving academic. Having a celebrity guest onboard is a fun and unique feature as part of the ship’s onboard entertainment!
After-dinner entertainment aboard the QM2 is not only diverse but also extensive. Options include a retro Homecoming Dance Party, energetic Latin Dance Night, 1920’s Gatsby Party with a 12-piece orchestra, a world-class virtuoso flautist, an acclaimed tenor, a comedian, in addition to Broadway-style shows and concerts. The list goes on and on!
There’s no excuse to forgo your exercise regime while aboard the QM2 as the ship’s gym offers an extensive array of state-of-the-art workout equipment and fitness classes. Or if you prefer, get your 10,000 steps in with a healthy dose of fresh ocean air as you stroll the promenade deck. Or, you can relax and unwind at one of several pools and hot tubs located throughout the cruise ship. You could also pencil in some time at the Canyon Ranch Spa. Cunard has partnered with Canyon Ranch Spa, one of the best in the world, to offer guests top-notched spa services including body and skincare treatments. Guests partaking in a spa service are invited to meditate in the relaxation room, enjoy a dip in the hot tub or experience the wet and dry sauna. You can also purchase a spa pass to enjoy the amenities for $40 per day or $75 for three days, or even get a week long pass and go every day. If you’re looking to relax onboard, this is a great way to do it!
Arrival in Southampton
Upon arrival in Southampton, were were able to easily disembark and took a private driver to our London hotel. It is a bit of a journey to get to London, so if you’re ever in Southampton for just a day at port, London is probably too far for a day trip. We chose to only do our Atlantic cruise one way, but many choose to do a roundtrip journey between New York and Southampton and spend 14 days onboard in total! For our trip, we spent 2 weeks in London, and then flew home, only completing the one way journey from New York City to London.
Travel Tips for Transatlantic Cruising
What is a transatlantic cruise?
A transatlantic cruise means you are crossing the Atlantic Ocean generally between North America and Europe. Some even depart from the Caribbean. In this case, our cruise on the Queen Mary 2 was from New York to Europe. Our last port was Southampton, in the south of England, which is the port closest to London. For those who don’t want to fly, transatlantic cruising can be a great slow way to travel across the sea. They’re also a great way to prevent jet lag as you’re able to slowly accustom to the time change each day as you cruise across the Atlantic.
What is the Customs/Immigration process?
I can honestly say this was the easiest customs process I’ve ever encountered. Even quicker than having Global Entry access in the US. Two days prior to our arrival in Southampton we were given a two-hour window to visit with an onboard customs agent. Three minutes later our paperwork was complete, and upon arrival in England, we were able to disembark and continue on with no further customs needed.
Can I bring wine and champagne aboard?
Unlike other cruise lines, Cunard has a very generous wine and champagne policy if you’d like to bring along your favorite wine or bubbly. While I wouldn’t suggest bringing along a case, you can definitely carry on several bottles of each without any issues.
What should I pack?
Plan on outfits for three formal nights including a Roaring 20’s themed evening or some other themed party. During the day you can dress casually, but at night there is a dress code on the ship. It can get quite cold on an Atlantic crossing, so make sure to bring warm clothing for those chillier days at sea. And don’t forget to pack your swimsuit so you can enjoy the pools and spa onboard! If you have a tendency to get seasick, it’s also always a good idea to pack things like Dramamine and a seasickness band in case there are rough seas. However, unlike other cruise ships, the Queen Mary 2 is a true ocean liner, and therefore is meant to be out in the Atlantic. Because of that, it is more stable at sea, and you’re less likely to get seasick.
Should I purchase travel insurance?
On our third evening, as we approached Newfoundland, a passenger had a medical emergency resulting in a helicopter extraction. The Canadian Coast Guard braved a stormy, pitch-black night of gale-force winds to airlift the passenger to Newfoundland for treatment. The entire time the helicopter hovered outside the stateroom I prayed the patient had purchased a reputable travel insurance policy. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s always a good idea to have extra insurance for peace of mind.
What are the laundry options?
While staterooms are not equipped with irons and ironing boards, laundry rooms with complimentary washers and dryers (along with laundry soap) and irons and ironing boards are available on every other deck. It was recommended to visit the launderette at 6pm for the shortest wait. Not quite up for laundry duty while on vacation? Then you might want to checkout the QM2 laundry promotion mid-way through the sailing. For $40 you can fill your laundry bag with up to 20 items!
Is there a kids club?
Yes, there is a kids club onboard called the Kids Zone!
What is the weather like?
It really depends! You should be prepared for it to be windy at sea. Our sailing was chilly, and we definitely made use of our coats, but it was also a January sailing so it was pretty much what I expected. You may get warm days and be able to sunbathe on deck, so really, just be prepared for it to go either way. The weather is a bit unpredictable in the Atlantic Ocean.
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Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with Cunard Line. As always, all opinions are my own.