Anyone who's tired of the sardine-can hustle and bustle of intercontinental air travel today will find that a transatlantic voyage on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 is a return to grace and elegance--a reminder of how leisurely and luxurious travel used to be. For six glorious days, you are suspended in time...wrapped in a cocoon of steel, teak, luxurious accouterments, good food and fine service.
I had not sailed on the QE2 for almost 20 years, so I jumped at the opportunity to experience this historic ship once again. The trip was arranged on such short notice that I didn't even have time for ticket delivery. Instead, I hopped in a cab to Manhattan's West Side docks, told them I was booked, and was accepted with no problems. A young, white-gloved steward escorted me to my cabin, a vast space (378 square feet!) on One Deck. Within minutes, the stewardess was there to greet me and tell me she is available for assistance at any time.
Sailing out of New York's harbor is always an experience. As the ship's horn sounds its deep, throaty blast, the mooring lines are loosed. Tugs begin their assist as the QE2 edges her way into the Hudson River and heads south, past the city skyline glistening in the afternoon sun. Passengers line the rails and fill every inch of open space to watch the spectacle. Then it's on past the Statue of Liberty and under the Verrazano Bridge into the Atlantic.
Time to unpack and explore. Since this was once a two-class ship, with some areas restricted only to First Class passengers and others open to everybody else, getting around can be a little strange. For example, there are stairways that bypass certain decks in one part of the ship and not in another. But each cabin is provided with a handy little map. After all, this ship was once called a "City at Sea," and it still is.
Passengers sailing across the North Atlantic may be isolated from land for six days, but they will never be bored. The QE2 has a tremendous range of activities to keep you occupied, from absorbing lectures to exercise classes, bridge games, bingo, the inevitable art auction, daily movies, and even a heritage tour. This fascinating journey through Cunard's and QE2's history is well worth the hour it takes to walk through the ship and view some of the memorabilia and artwork spread throughout the vessel. You can also work out in the gym, or visit the 16-station computer center and take a class there, go online and surf the web, or check your email. And this is just in daytime!
Now that the vessel has matured into a Grand Dame of the sea, the money that Carnival Corporation has poured into the ship has been well worth it. All the cabins have taken on a new ambience, and visually, the restaurants and public areas too are glowing. Although the ship's second outdoor pool was removed in a previous renovation, the addition of the Lido buffet brings today's QE2 in line with our more casual lifestyle. For anyone with children in tow, it is ideal for breakfast or lunch. A really nice spot is the Pavilion. Hidden behind the pool and below the Lido, this small caf-style room serves only early-bird breakfast, a light grill lunch and Children's Tea. The limited menu includes hamburgers, hot dogs, really good minute steaks and French fries. Plus, there is a self-serve soft ice cream machine in the corner. Yum! Not to be missed is Afternoon Tea in the Queens Room. White-gloved staff will ply you with tea, scones, sandwiches and pastries while you relax in deep, comfy chairs, entertained by a harpist or small orchestra.
Over the years I had heard many stories, pro and con, about QE2's food and service. Well, I can say that what I experienced was very good on both counts. If you can, book a cabin category that gives you access to the Queens Grill, a lovely dining room near the top of the ship with its own private lounge for afternoon tea or drinks before dinner. Another perk of Queens Grill is ordering things that aren't on the menu. If there is something your heart desires and it's in the ship's stores, you can order it -- in advance, please.
Too soon it's over, and Southampton looms on the horizon. I took the bus transfer to Heathrow and flew right back to the U.S., along with a few other ship nuts who only wanted the crossing. Cunard and British Airways have worked together for decades offering a package combining a QE2 voyage in one direction and a flight the other way. What better way to end your elegant adventure than in the luxury of a British Airways first class seat? I had a window pod (actually facing backward), and although I didn't recline fully and sleep since it was afternoon, I found it very comfortable and a wonderful end to a fantastic trip. I'm addicted, and looking at the calendar to see when I can sail again.