ANOTHER DIVINE CROSSING
Queen Mary 2 - Crossing Number 10.
Grab a beverage. This may take a while.
I am possessed. Period. She is addictive, the pinnacle of design and construction, immersed with British charm, steeped in tradition, unpretentious yet sophisticated. Stable, predictable and fast, she is Queen Mary 2. This was my fourth crossing on QM2, my sixth crossing with Cunard, and the tenth time I have crossed the Atlantic in just over two years (on a ship.)
There’s so much about QM2 to convey, I wrote a book. The journey, the people, the experience and how this obsession with crossings came to be. With respect to the obsession I have with this ocean liner - as a living, breathing entity, I wrote a book after my first crossing in 2016, which paralleled a non-religious, spiritually driven, life-changing experience the year prior. Titled “Divine Crossings, One Man’s Destiny”, this 200-page, hardcover, photographic-chronicle (in black and white) will be available this fall on Amazon, and its web site:
The “why” of it is simple. Passionate and infatuated with ships, the ocean and adventure, I am driven to the sea, in particular, crossing the Atlantic. Each journey across the Atlantic personifies what a life-changing experience is. It keeps me fresh. It’s how many of our ancestors arrived here in America - a one-way journey to the new world. Embarking from point “A”, arriving at point “B” - this is not a cruise. I have crossed the Atlantic on cruise ships – they are cruises across the Atlantic. A true ocean liner is requisite for a crossing. Today, there’s only one QM2.
When Carnival Corporation & PLC set out to build this ship in the late '90's, Mickey Arison, then CEO of the company, empowered a team to build the absolute epitome of ocean liners. The best-in-class marine architect (Stephen Payne), designers, builders (Chantiers de l'Atlantique), and engineers were procured with an immense (for the era) budget of $800 million. In today’s dollars, I doubt QM2 could be replicated for less than a couple of billion dollars. It probably wouldn’t make sense from a corporate level to repeat the process. We are all very lucky people to have an opportunity to sail on QM2. If you haven’t, seek out and embark - make it happen so as to never say, “I should have.” She has about 25 years left in her cycle and, by that time, the notion of building another ocean liner would be impractical.
This fourth adventure on QM2 began on the 25th of July 2018 with a British Air flight from Miami (delayed by weather for two hours.) Thanks to Cunard, and their contract air (at an utterly unmatchable cost of $350 - about 65 ¢ per mile) I get from Miami to London and back to Miami from New York. The flight lands two hours late. A second wind kicks in when the 747 makes a tight, thirty-degree, left turn on our approach into Heathrow. The reality and excitement jolts me - QM2 is on the horizon.
Our late arrival into Heathrow is timed perfectly to meet every other big jet flying in from around the world. The line at immigration was a one-and-a-half-hour affair. I'm shattered, missing my 9:45 a.m. National Coach from Heathrow’s bus terminal to Southampton. Fortunately, the next coach is at 11:30 a.m. giving me time for coffee and an apricot croissant at Nero’s. An apricot croissant. Who remembers these details. I do, and if I’m still around in twenty years, details like this will bring back the memories with no avail. Make note of those details – it’s all in the detail of things.
It’s approaching 90 degrees (F), UK's heatwave of the century - in full force. Of course, the 11:30 a.m. coach leaves precisely on time (British rule) and we meander through Heathrow's terminals four and five dropping off and picking up passengers. I like this bus ride. It costs about $20 - ticket purchased in advance, online. Paying for as much as possible up-front is a relief at the end of any journey.
One gets to unwind, decompress, on this two-hour ride in a nice, clean, coach, with foot rests and a table tray. The motorway is clear of traffic and the country-side unleashes itself. With one stop in the center of Windsor, we arrive in Southampton at National's terminal at 1:50 p.m. The taxis pull up and I grab one to my hotel – this trip, it’s the Novotel. Prices being double at the Holiday Inn (my first choice) this time around, drove me to find options. Presumably, since three ships were in the day of my sailing, hotel management got smart altering the rate based on demand - $300 bucks was simply too much for a night. The Novatel, at $180, was my limit. I am on a budget.
Next time, I will stay at the Novotel. I like it. It's close proximity to Quayside, Southampton’s modern mall (West Quay), and some dining options work well. I have a late lunch at TGIF and head back for a nap. The room is larger than average for the UK (and Europe) with a nice bath. It is a handicapped room and I suspect, based on the demand of such a room-type, or lack thereof, they gave it to me – room number 429. Funny, it was the last room at the end of a long hallway – farthest from the elevator. So much for catering to the physically challenged of which I am not.
The nap ends at 8:30 p.m. I take a lite dinner of soup, salad, and an amazing piece of cheesecake (a total of $18) at the hotel’s restaurant. One of the finest pieces of cheese cake a man could ask for. A work of art depicted below.
Still tired, it’s back to the room for some serious sleep, right? The room is hot with no a/c (of course) and no breeze, despite the open window. It took decades for the Brits to get us ice. May want to rethink this no A/C gig since, with global warming, England could be the next North Africa from a temperature standpoint. Fans?
It’s the morning of the 27th - embarkation day. I wake early - about 5 a.m. and brew myself a cup of coffee. The sunrise is splendid. Out of my window I see the arrival of P&O’s Ventura, ready to turn around for her next journey. She’s in clear view from the hotel whereas Queen Elizabeth, also returning from a voyage, would be docking out of view from the Novatel. QM2 has yet to arrive – Ocean Terminal is vacant but in clear view.
After a solid and delightful breakfast (included in the $180) at the hotel's excellent buffet, I return to the room to find QM2 slipping into her berth at Ocean Terminal. What a sight. My valentine has arrived (Christmas in July?), and this is the first time I have seen her pull in stern first in person. The adrenaline is pumping. I need to do something to occupy the time with about four hours to kill. Camera in hand, I head out to the mall. Many of the shops open at 9 am. I want to visit the book store (Waterstones) to get a buyer's name (which I did) since it's time to promote my book. This two-level bookstore is extensive and there is no book like Divine Crossings. With its black and white photography, noted quotations from famous, and not so famous people (including myself), supplemented with my own fledgling commentary, it’s a unique and “infectious” (a kind comment by Commodore Rynd of Cunard) accounting of a life-changing event. An event paralleling my first ever crossing in July of 2016 on Queen Mary 2. Remember, it’s in the details and the book has it all.
West Quay has some wonderful exterior architectural elements. I snap some pix and take a long walk back to the hotel.
After a quick shower, I repack my two jackets, one for the tux, another for those "smart casual" evenings, ensuring they are as fresh and unwrinkled as possible. I must admit, my packing skills have greatly improved from my first crossing where I packed nine pairs of slacks, now down to six. I suppose my OCD is becoming lax with age. I head down and order my taxi. Seven quid gets me to Ocean Terminal, a quick five minutes away. The crowd inside is considerable, the ship is full, and my letter for the cue is “H”. They have just called “O” - the wait is about an hour and a half.
I board at 1:30 p.m. and head directly for my stateroom, one of nine outside singles on Deck 3L. 3L’s singles are better (IMO) than those on Deck Two. The position of 3L’s staterooms replaced the photo gallery which was relocated to Deck Two during QM2’s remastering in 2016. What they didn’t move are the floor-to-ceiling circular windows in each stateroom – two of them, about thirty-feet above the waterline. All I can say is these accommodations are phenomenal and nearly impossible to come by. How I managed to book passage in one of these staterooms, now twice in the past year within ninety days of both sailings, is beyond me.
My neighbor in stateroom 3004 booked two years in advance. I'm a lucky chap and also got a sound deal, price-wise, paying less than the cost of two for a double – another rarity, as these accommodations demand a premium (traveling solo we pay double, most of the time.)
Enter stateroom number 3006. The photos serve no justice. These are suite singles. The fit and finish of these staterooms are of Mercedes Benz quality - precise and precious, as are the flowers which I always pre-order for a crossing, just $50. They will last the week. Cunard, along with Holland America, retains perhaps the best teams of florists at sea. Floral arrangements that are superior, exotic, and in some cases massive as is the case in the Grand Lobby at over ten feet tall. The mere abundance of them throughout the entire ship adds an ambiance, scent, and on board appeal many cruise lines fail to employ.
This is a summer sailing and kids are abundant. This is a good thing. I hope these cruisers of tomorrow gain some respect for what a crossing represents and why sailing on Cunard is a privilege. There is nothing else like QM2. I have sailed on over 50 ships starting with the S/S Rotterdam in 1967. A fine ship loved and admired by many. She was salvaged at the end of her career. Not by the breakers in India or Bangladesh, but by those who cherished and adored her, now a floating hotel in Rotterdam at a cost of $250 million. Reborn and brought back to her original, pristine state as if she were launched yesterday. I stayed on her last year prior to a cruise to Norway on the M/S Rotterdam. One of the same suites I occupied in the seventies during my early years as a travel entrepreneur in Philadelphia. Talk about deja vu, or full circle.
It’s Friday - let's to go to sea! The decks are full of happy people, bound together on this 27th of July. The lifeboat drill is over and the sail-away begins. Queen Elizabeth unties and thrusts herself into the River Itchen at 5:30 p.m.
Queen Elizabeth follows P&O’s Ventura. The Captains of all three ships have a whistle party and horns are blasting in full concert. Finally, we untie at 6 p.m., a tad late due to tardy guests. QM2's azipods and thrusters go into full motion. We push forward, bow first, into River Itchen following Queen Elizabeth. It’s a regal event. QM2’s whistle from the original Queen Mary sounds and sends shock waves riffling across the river, echoing through the city of S'hampton. My eyes water as I write this. The journey has begun – an experience like no other ensues on the greatest ship in the world carrying roughly 4,000 fine souls, inclusive of passengers, staff and crew. Detached from the rest of the world, we will cross the Atlantic from point “A” to point “B”, traveling a great circle route of 3,200 miles through a range of predictably unpredictable weather. I love it all.
It’s tough to keep the words down in this blog. I’m at about 1,600 right now and this is a condensed version as there will be so much more on QM2 here, at SITE2SEA. Trust me.
I am blessed. At this stage in my life, I really get to do what I love most: heading out to sea on the world's greatest liner. My photographic rampage began just three years ago. I am a qualified graphic arts, branding, and strategic marketing chap, exploiting my God given talent and sense of perspective and creativity capturing through my photography what many say is a different view. I prefer black and white, or colorless.
For the exception of some of the images on this web site, my photography is presented in black and white at my online gallery featuring over 3,000 images of ships, the oceans and sky, elements, and ports of call here: www.galleryofships.com. My book, Divine Crossings, is in black and white. The virtue and integrity of what I capture are magnified using colorless, again, in my opinion. With respect to QM2 and Cunard in particular, there’s the nostalgia aspect of a 180-year-old company, steeped in tradition - much of which continues on today. Colorless reigns supreme in this man’s portrayal of ships and the sea.
After a great sail-away I return to my stateroom and find my dinner reservation, another blessing. Not only is the table number my birth year (there are no coincidences) the table mates themselves are a gift. I have always been rewarded with diverse, friendly, table mates - this voyage being no exception. We are all so very uncommon with one common thread. Our love of, and for, travel. The camaraderie endures.
However, few choose Cunard's Britannia Class for the exceptional food. You want great food, book a Grill suite. It’ll cost you anywhere from five to twenty-five thousand dollars, a person. The service and food in Britannia is fine. Menu selection and choices are varied and at times inventive. Our table wait-staff of two are quiet, unobtrusive (reserved) yet efficient. Table 57 is set for eight. One chair is vacant - this will change. Our view is of the ocean, a sunset, and each other.
On day two (Saturday) as we exit the English Channel and enter the North Atlantic, the seas pick up. Finally! I love rough seas. On QM2, it’s a site to see and experience. She carriers herself with aplomb through 16-foot swells, even 30-foot seas as experienced in October 2016, on crossing number two.
Today, it’s a Force 8 Gale, "Rough". We charge along at 20 knots with little effort; flawlessly. I head down to Deck Two to shoot the waves as they race by. Windswept, roaring, and fierce looking, I get some exceptional shots (and video.)
Color wouldn't do these images justice. Contrast is everything. The ship pitches, as she usually does as a result of her ocean liner hull design - the rocking is minimal. Her four stabilizers keep QM2 in check. If you want to feel the ship’s movement, head up to the Commodore Club on Deck Nine, or The Look Out, Deck Fourteen (which will take some extra work to get there via a single stairwell forward, or by walking on top of the new cabins on Deck 13 - rarely open during inclement weather.) Commodore Club's easiest access is via one of two glass enclosed elevators, known by few, adjacent to the fitness center - press 9.
Life on board QM2 is so vastly unique. It’s the synthesis and fusion of the manifest of passengers, the daily activities, the music, scent of the flowers, design of the ship, formal, gala evenings, and the journey in its entirety - the sum of all parts. From fencing lessons, to watercolor classes to an agenda of lectures you will rarely, if ever, find on any other ship. There were lectures ranging from mind power to DNA matching, to the solar system. Muslim Iberia to the life of Sir Jackie Stewart OBE – famed race car driver, who shared his personal experience with life and family, in person. Thank you, Sir Jackie Stewart OBE and bless you, your wife, and two sons whom you shared so deeply and intimately about. If you’re wondering, OBE stands for Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Then there's RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), "stories from an intrinsic part of our day-to-day life..." and let's not forget, of course, the evening shows, comedians, and musicians - well done from a production and execution standpoint.
The Queen's Room, the most grandiose public lounge aboard any ship. The largest ballroom at sea (over 100 feet wide with room for 800 guests), Gala nights end up here with dancing and a twelve-piece big band. During the day Queen's Room hosts fencing lessons, line dancing classes, and of course TEA - an almost religious affair for many on board. Service starts promptly at 3:30 p.m. There is interesting conversation (gossip) regarding the origins of the clotted cream on board. I found it all most satisfying and gracious.
A relatively unknown spot is the Observation Deck (below the bridge on Deck Eleven.) When the winds settle down, it’s open and accessible through doors on either side of the Atlantic Room, QM2’s card room. Pull hard.
And then there's all the notes on board QM2. Harpists, string quartets, jazz trios, big bands, and pianists, exude notes as if there’s no tomorrow. I met a fine young man up on Deck Eight failing initially to recognize this 25-year-old Brit as a guest entertainer who would deliver three, amazing, solo, classical concerts during the week in the Royal Theater. His finale, a tribute to his Aunt, was a piece by Rachmaninoff- striking and emotional.
On the third evening following his afternoon concert, we saw one another in the Chart Room. He asked what I was doing for dinner. This fine young man, Mr. Jonny Lane, would happily join us, occupying our previously vacant seat, table number 57, for the remainder of the voyage. Jonny rounded out what would become yet another fine dining experience in Britannia, completing the circle. Thank you, Jonny.
The voyage continues with a gala night, but first, my daily visit to Canyon Ranch’s indoor spa with its wonderful therapy pool and steam rooms. This is clearly the best deal on board at $120. A daily regimen I partake in religiously each day and a true oasis, a solution to soothing one’s body (and soul) from walking around the ship which, at over 1,000 feet in length, can add up quickly, in miles.
Another Blessing: About two months prior to this crossing I reached out to a friend whom I had met on crossing number two in October 2016. Peggy was traveling around Europe and I would find that she would be heading back to the states at the end of July. You got it. Peggy had booked passage this voyage. On board, we reminisced and lunched at the The Veranda.
The steak was perfect. The companionship, priceless. This would not be the first time I’ve “bumped into” fellow past cruisers. There’s a society of us that crave and regularly cross the Atlantic for one reason or another. I will tell you - we all love ships, the sea and life.
Force 8 (again) and “rough” seas on day four. The ocean swells are sweet today and as an added element, we will soon enter the perennial fog zone - typical at this point in the journey from my experience, as we head into cooler waters.
QM2’s fog horn blasts roughly every three minutes. I feel sorry for the forward Grill Suite guests. The endless blasts from the fog horn must be harrowing.
New found friendships evolve. We are in the middle of the North Atlantic, untouched by reality, and as distant from life’s distractions as possible. It’s seems almost unreal, charging through the fog at 20 knots, in the midst of summer, temperatures around 55 (F). The weather, and sea conditions, don’t interfere with strollers, brisk walkers, and joggers around the promenade, or those eager to take a dip into one of two outdoor pools, whatever the temperature may be.
Unless the decks are closed, which they were from time to time, nothing stops those from exploring the outdoors.
With the fog lifting and the sun shining on our final two days, the decks become central for many of the passengers who remained within the confines of the ship as well as those who didn’t when the weather was less than kind. These final forty-eight hours were brilliant, warming quickly, as we head south, closing in on the Atlantic states of the USA's Northeast.
Seas calm, the ship really is a hub of global travelers. Dine in Britannia at lunch, for example, and you will likely hear stories of more world-travelers than any other line. Those who have sailed around the world - one shot at a time, for over 100 consecutive days. This conversation rapidly dilutes my status as simply a frequent sailor. I've never been on a ship for more than fifteen days at a time, albeit, the cumulative exceeds 1,000. My experience with over 150 or-something cruises and crossings, on 50 ships, becomes of little importance.
It's all about the journey, the memories. A world-cruise is about the only item left on my bucket list. For now, reliving the fond memories of QM2, this valentine of mine, is what counts. Remember Jack from Titanic: "making it count."
Perhaps I am spoiled, but not without a mountain of gratitude. I savor and treasure every moment in this life of mine - engaged, respecting that fortunes lie in one's experience, kindness and actions. Certainly, not my bank account. We only live once. Onward!
Dosing off on the promenade in one of Cunard’s comfy steamer deck chairs with ear buds plugged in, listening to Karl Jenkins, Contance Demsey, Linsey Sterling, and David Thierry with a view of the sea, and sky, one word defines it all: tranquility. OK, add serenity. I am in heaven.
I get lost at sea in the midst of these crossings. More than an escape from anything, this is an escapade into an undefinable moment in time which can’t be replicated anywhere else. One learns to foster and evolve the essence of living in the present, the now...eloquently stated and best defined by the cover text of Cunard's pocket folder, found in our staterooms:
"Life is all memory except for the one moment that goes by you so quickly
you hardly catch it going." Tennessee Williams
Our final Gala Night - Masquerade!
On day five, with just 48 hours to go, the television's real-time map shows us south of Newfoundland and east of Nova Scotia. We conclude our great circle route and alter course into a rumb line; following a straight shot through the Grand Banks. This will position us in a southerly heading - the culmination and conclusion of the crossing as we enter Ambrose Channel, New York Harbour, the Hudson, under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, past the Statue of Liberty and finally, our berth in Red Hook Brooklyn. Alas, the Manhattan skyline emerges.
On arrival, at first, the top of the Dream Tower is shrouded in low hanging clouds early as we back into our berth. The air is still. We have traveled from point “A” to point “B” on the most amazing ship in the world. Fellow guests, bound together, on yet another Divine Crossing and one which, after writing this piece, will be engraved in my memory for life. I’m not quite sure how many, or if anyone, share my passion or experience following a crossing. It’s time for reflection and for me, life changing. I am inspired, rejuvenated, and will continue to do exactly what I love to. Go to sea.
Thank you, Captain Peter Philpott, his staff, and crew. Thanks, are also in order to Stanley (my stateroom attendant), table-mates of Britannia 57, our fine wait staff, Peggy, Jonny Lane - Pianist, all my fellow passengers, God, and Cunard.
Find yourself, seek out and embark.
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