Following three nights and two days at sea out of Southampton, we called at three successive ports -- Funchal on Madeira, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Grand Canaria. Each one offered its own special welcome with a fleet of fireboats, an eruption of whistles from other ships in port, and in Las Palmas, the release of 100 white doves that soared in circles over the ship, then vanished.
The departures were even more festive, with fireworks displays (from no less than five barges in Las Palmas) and huge crowds clapping and cheering as -- somewhat incongruously arrogant – ‘Rule Britannia' and ‘Anchors Away' boomed out from the ship.
Life then settled down to a longer and most welcome second stretch at sea, this time five nights and four days en route to Barbados. The warming temperatures brought out the uncrated stock of new green cushions designed for what must be the longest row of promenade deck chairs on the high seas. Passengers took to them in large numbers to read and doze under the overhanging lifeboats.
While I am dining in the Britannia Restaurant, our group has also sampled the Todd English restaurant on Deck 8 aft. Reservations for the later times are hard to come by, but we managed to secure one for 6 p.m. at a table for 10 in a semi-private section overlooking the aft pool. We were seated as the sun went down, allowing the shades to be raised.
The menu could not have been more intriguing, and the results pleased everyone. For a starter, I ordered a dish called Potato and Truffle Loverletters, then continued with Crispy Duck with Ginger Scallion Glaze with Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Root Vegetable Medley, and rounded the meal off with Mandarin Orange Creme Brulee with Berry Salad and Citrus Short Bread. The timing of the courses and the professional service were all perfection, and the staff is obviously quite proud of this high-end culinary establishment. At present there is no extra charge to dine here.
Then last night we sampled the portion of the King's Court that gets attractively transformed into Lotus, an oriental restaurant, also requiring reservations but carrying no surcharge. The sampling menu included Seared Salmon and Jumbo Shrimp, Lobster Wontons, Oriental Spiced Crab Cake, Steamed Skin Roasted Sea Bass, Red Braised Pork Belly, Crispy Duck Spring Roll, and Stir Fried King Prawn and Chicken. We washed the delicious meal down with Singha (Thai) beer.
With a full ship, the popular before dinner venues get very crowded, and in some cases, they cannot handle all who would like to come in for a drink. The Chart Room, a spacious, high-ceiling room, evokes a pre-war ocean liner smoking room but without the lingering stench of cigarettes. The room's musical trio is a big draw, and it is not uncommon to see passengers standing two or three deep at the bar, and additional groups clustered quite happily in conversation at the edge of the dance floor next to the large windows.
The cozier Commodore Club, an observation piano bar on Deck 9, also attracts a big crowd, and often turns away latecomers in the evening. But its forward facing position requires that the shades be drawn after dark at sea to avoid light interfering with the bridge navigation.
The evening entertainment highlight of this voyage was the appearance of Dame Shirley Bassey, who sang her favorite numbers accompanied by a 12-piece orchestra and her musical director. A standing-room-only crowd packed the Royal Court Theater and gave her several standing ovations. I have never experienced a more wildly enthusiastic audience in my many years at sea.
Lecturer and author John Maxtone-Graham, who has been giving ocean liner history talks for more than three decades, has also drawn full houses for his ‘The Only Way to Cross' lecture series, and another on some lesser known aspects of the Titanic disaster. With his theater background, they are more like performances combining a story line with humorous anecdotes and drama.
The first planetarium show -- about the creation of the universe -- was a big hit, and I am now about to take in the second, Stars Above the Atlantic, this afternoon at 5 p.m. The seats in the Illuminations Theater recline to allow a fine look upward into the sky dome.
Cunard touts its 165-year history on the Queen Mary 2 with a much different presentation than that executed on the Queen Elizabeth 2. Here on the QM2, there are several score of historical wall panels using text, drawings, paintings and illustrations. I find it best to allow extra time to get where I am going, to permit a few minutes' pause for a gander. Original paintings, and photos of original paintings, grace the stair towers and companionways. In contrast to the QE2, historical artifacts are few, but in April the Britannia Cup, presented to the line by the city of Boston in the 1840s, and the most valuable of all Cunard memorabilia, will be transferred to the new ship.
The immense size of this ship is a big factor in planning one's roaming. Vertical movements are enhanced by six efficient sets of elevators, including one external pair aft of the bridge. But horizontal trips need some advance planning. On one night, I had a function at the very aft end, a second near the bow, then had to return to the first, making for a half-mile round trip.
Considering this is her maiden voyage, the ship is operating quite well, and the veteran Cunard passengers are much more forgiving of the service hiccups than are those who came more for the status of making the first voyage on the largest ocean liner in history.
For me, the Queen Mary 2 is providing a distinctive new way to cross the Atlantic, and I find that I am making fewer comparisons with her fleetmate QE2 with each passing day. In my mind, the QM2 is rapidly making her own way in capturing my heart and hopefully my loyal patronage.
To be continued…