August 1, 2004
A Royal Send-off
The echo from a past era could be heard for 10 miles. It was the whistle blast — basso profundo — from the original ocean liner the Queen Mary that is now part of the Queen Mary 2 (QM2). The whistle sounded on April 25 in front of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor at 7:45 p.m. She’s Cunard’s first ocean liner in 35 years.
The QM2 was preparing to depart New York for Southampton, England, on her maiden eastbound voyage. The occasion was historic. Berthed beside the QM2 was her predecessor, the stately Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2), which would be making her final trans-Atlantic crossing in tandem with her highly celebrated successor. Keeping with tradition, Cunard has put Commodore Ronald Warwick at the helm of the QM2. He formerly piloted the QE2, as his father did before him.
The QM2 is the largest (151,400 gross tons), tallest (236.2 feet, keel to funnel), longest (1,132 feet), and, arguably, most elegant ocean liner ever built. The promenade deck is more than one-third of a mile in circumference. In contrast, the quietly elegant QE2, which was launched in 1969, is only 963 feet long and weighs 70,000 gross tons.
Both vessels had an 8:30 p.m. rendezvous and were greeted by cheering crowds, flashbulbs, and fireworks before sailing beneath the Verrazano Bridge toward open sea. Meanwhile, the passengers on the QM2, who were giddy with the historic moment, departed the decks with their empty champagne flutes and retreated to one of 10 dining rooms with a menu advised by Daniel Boulud — one of the world’s most famous chefs. The Brittania is the largest dining room on the QM2 and is complete with a sweeping staircase on which passengers can make a grand entrance.
My cabin, 11008 on Deck 11, was a 248-square-foot, deluxe balcony stateroom with a king-sized bed — that converted to two twins at a whim — and featured a dual-height coffee table that could be used for in-room dining. Amenities included a hairdryer, refrigerator, safe, data port, robes with matching slippers, direct-dial telephones, nightly turndown service, 24-hour room service, and an interactive TV system.
Activities abounded daily, including lectures by scholars and newsmakers, such as hostage negotiator Terry Waite. The QM2 boasts 24-hour casinos, the only planetarium at sea, and the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, where you can unwind from the day with an assortment of pampering treatments.
Upon disembarking in London, I checked into The Dorchester hotel on Park Lane — the epitome of sophistication. Constructed in 1931, England’s aristocracy sat out the German blitzkrieg of WWII within its concrete walls. General Eisenhower planned the Normandy invasion from his suite in The Dorchester.
The Dorchester has a full-service spa for guests and walk-ins. Guests can also enjoy a late night meal after the theater at The Dorchester Bar, which offers superb Northern Italian cuisine.
A six-day trans-Atlantic crossing aboard the QM2 in a deluxe balcony stateroom will cost around $4,000. Since the Concorde jet no longer flies, Cunard has begun a new partnership with Virgin Atlantic Airlines and Virgin Vacations.