Concorde to New York, July 4
We have never sailed before, so we have nothing to compare our experience to. However, we have read over 50 on-line cruise reviews from the numerous websites. We are an English couple; Carole is 34, I am 39. We have three children, from 2 to 13 - they stayed at home with grandparents for the six nights. Carole has terminal cancer, so this was, truly, to be a "trip of a lifetime."
Concorde is everything BA says it is. The pre-flight lounge at Heathrow is small and poorly used until the last 5 minutes of the 30 minute check-in deadline. The free champagne, juice, finger sandwiches, danish etc. apparently are no draw to "normal" Concorde patrons, but all that food put us in good stead for things to come on QE2.
The takeoff is like something from a thrill ride: pushed hard into the back of your seat, you soar skywards up to 55,000 feet plus. In good weather you can actually see the curve of the Earth. Reaching Mach 2, they are already into the 1½ - 2 hour in-flight service, on linen, crockery and silverware, of course. The multi-page menu is given out with your drink orders.
The aircraft is old, and VERY small, just 2 + 2 across, no TV, no plug-ins etc., just a headset for music, but loads of legroom and grey leather seats, which are very comfortable. With just 3½ hours to NYC, arriving before you left the UK, who could mind, anyway? The loos [bathrooms] are very small, and just 3 for the 100 guests. In the seat pocket you find a complimentary pack containing a silver Concorde pen, logo stationery, and a certificate you can have signed by the pilot when you visit the flight deck.
The cabin crew has great humour, time for everyone, happy to chat, will meet your every request politely and quickly -- they really ARE the best. The last time there was a vacancy on the Concorde fleet -- 7 in service with BA, 5 with Air France -- BA had over 1300 applications from INTERNAL applicants for just 30 positions.
Independence Day, New York City
Hotel AccommodationsThis was, after all, a very special trip, so we chose to stay at the opulent Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Having taken the taxi into the underground carpark, we checked our bags just in time to see President Clinton's police escort departing, he having just left the hotel, ready for the Tall Ships/fireworks display later -- oooh, us and the President -- wow !!!
We entered the lift and rode to the huge lobby and were overwhelmed by the ceiling décor, the pillars, the grandeur -- nicer than The Plaza (we had stayed there three nights at Christmas in '99). Checking in for our booked 315 square-foot Mini-Suite, we were allocated (unbeknownst to my wife) the 750+ square-foot 12H (Ambassador) Suite.
On the 12th Floor -- wow, I mean WOW, yes I said W-O-W -- five rooms: a 15' x 6' marble foyer with two huge horses, a desk, a pantry with coffee maker and fridge -- a mini kitchen if you like; a huge bedroom with 6' bed, TV, desk, sideboard, walk-in closet with robes and slippers. From that we walked into the 12' x 6' boudoir with chaise lounge, easy chair, phone and wall-to-wall mirrored closets; next was the grand bathroom, with multi-jet shower cubicle, huge tub with shower, two separate vanities, all marble and goldwork of course, and a separate loo, with it's own phone.
Back through to the hallway was another door leading off to the sitting room, twice as big as the bedroom, a corner room over-looking Park Avenue and adjacent street with two sofas, a coffee table with fruits and cookies, a desk with phone and fax and the second TV, and two armchairs. The room had a central fireplace and many reading books in alcoves. There was a connecting door in the lobby, so this suite could be sold as a two bedroom suite. We had no chance, for the one night we had at the Waldorf-Astoria, of using all the facilities, but what an upgrade! [And may I say . . . thank YOU, Eric Long.]
Fireworks & the City
At the nominated time, we took off on foot to find a vantage point; being in New York, we just HAD to make the effort on such an important date. After many mistrials, finding streets blocked by the police, we settled for 1st Ave and 49th Street, where we saw 20 minutes of the 30 minute show -- it was all FANTASTIC, and we were there.
We went to the Empire State Building to view the ship in port at a distance and see the skyline. DO BOOK YOUR TICKETS ONLINE and have them sent to your home or hotel -- the queues for the observation levels are HUGE. They open the decks at 8:30 for those with tickets already, so we got the observation platforms to ourselves (well maybe 5 others).
The Statue of Liberty queues are WAY LONG -- get the first ferry or forget it. One line is for the observation deck at the base of the feet, with a wait of about an hour; the other is for the crown, with a much longer line of up to 3+ hours, and once you're in the spiral stairs, there is no way to exit. Take the base line unless you NEED to do the crown -- you have been warned. The Flame deck is no longer open.
Check that you are in the right line; some staff say use either, which is not true unless you can climb over a police barrier. Take only what you MUST: the security check-in is strict, with long delays due to ton of handbaggage. Know where your metal items are and strip them off ready for the handover trays.
World Trade Center -- do go, as it's well worth it. Again, there are long lines and a security check -- same rules apply -- but unlike the Statue of Liberty, there are much better facilities up top. Don't forget there is an outside observation deck at the 102nd floor, up the narrow escalator, after the elevator/inside deck. Go early.
By the way, there's a 5-Star MacDonalds at Broadway and Wall Street -- you'll love it, with a doorman, piano player, plush décor, placemats, table flowers etc., all at regular Big Mac prices.
Oh yes -- a limo from the airport. If this is a special trip, why not go that extra $100 bucks, as a surprise for your lady. A taxi is about $40-60 and can take an hour; if you have just come into New York on Concorde, HOW can you put your lady in a yellow cab? Pre-order a superstretch, which goes for about $160, and have that hour in sheer luxury and style. Those heads still turn, even in New York as you draw up at your hotel -- go on, you'll spend the same on luggage tipping!!!
As for hotels -- don't take a package. New York has millions of hotel rooms, all wanting your buck. Just fax/call the FRONT DESK manager, not the hotel's 800 central number, the day before you travel, or the same day if possible, AND DO A DEAL (unless it is a holiday you WILL get a good deal), so perhaps that Mini Suite at The Plaza or Waldorf is possible. The Front Desk manager does the best deals; he has to fill the hotel, and on the same day he is willing to give better rooms at very good discounts. It is possible to get a good room at a premier site on the same day, rather than a regular room rate at Holiday Inn-style on-line/early booking/800 number.
Arriving at 12:30pm (our tickets had said 3pm, but we had read on-line they DO embark early), we found that porters were at lunch until 1pm -- I expected Cunard would know that with 2000 due, some would come early, and surely they could afford to have SOMEONE kerbside, but no, you get dumped by taxi with others like us milling about, not knowing where to go, what to do, with loads of baggage . . . .
I left Carole stranded with the bags and went upstairs, to find a single Cunard rep, getting crosser by the minute with people (not me) blaming him for the lack of services -- no food, nothing to drink, or the wait they were due to endure (this was our fault) but not the lack of meet/greet. Apparently embarkation at Southampton is NOT like this, as Cunard owns the terminal building, rather than hiring it for the day as in New York, so they have it set out with proper 5 Star facilities. But the company NEEDS to get some staff there to greet and direct the guests!!
At 1pm they started check-in, which means we were seated in the ugly hall for an hour. Caution: the loo [bathroom] after check-in, before security check/photo, is a disgrace. It is worse than your local bus depot w.c.; the New York Port Authority should be ashamed at this offering. I expect they charge Cunard and others huge sums for the building hire, and the w.c.'s should represent this. At 2pm, the ship opened an hour early. The greeting at the ship was nice, escort offered, and entry easy. There was no real wait at check-in either, but it is "pot luck" sometimes: queues had up to 20-30 people in them, and at other times had less than 5 or even nil. It is worth pre-registering your credit card, as it saves a queue at the Pursers Desk on the last day.
The entry to QE2 was fine, the ship is beautiful, and the crew professional. All public rooms are elegant and beautifully clean.
The food is a delight, and yes, you can eat constantly (an onboard joke). You never have to wait for more than 30 minutes for the next meal, and you can have two or three of each if you so wish, in different restaurants! While all drinks are meant to be charged, including sodas, you can be served with coffee, tea, juices, and hot/cold chocolate milk from the Lido bar, without charge. Though the ship was 85% full, we never encountered crowds or queues, except in the Lido, which is the reason we only used it twice. The Grill was so much nicer, anyway.
Dressing for dinner was fun, but not as dressy as we had worried it would be. The Princess Grill restaurant was FANTASTIC: select, beautiful, food to die for and 110% service. The Maitre d' should be rightly proud of his operation.
Afternoon tea was great, from 4-5pm, but here the staff seemed to be annoyed and "offish." Service could be slow and with bad will. Cakes were arriving before the sandwiches, and drinks sometimes not at all. The Queens Room quickly filled up, so we had to go to the Lido, where there was plenty of room and the service was better, but the room itself did not have the ambience for this ritual. Sandwiches are made at 10am, so the corners could be stale. (I learnt this on the galley tour.)
There was no room service on the last morning, and rising is EARLY, having lost an hour each day with the time change traveling eastward. On the first night, room service was limited to hot sandwiches, etc., but otherwise the Room Service menu was extensive; the food could get lukewarm due to the distance from the kitchens. We used it four times.
If this is a "one off" very special trip, WAIT AND SAVE UP, until you can take a Q3 on 1 Deck -- these are very nice, almost a mini-suite. You could easily be disappointed in the P grades, especially if you like to take naps, etc., and end up being in the cabin quite a lot. We looked at an M3: THIS IS A BOX -- do not expect anything else.
Boat Drill on the first day, in port, was a shambles, and not what I expected from Cunard. There was a pathetic "alarm clock type" ringing 45 minutes after the announced time -- we had all but given up. If this bell is the actual noise to wake you up to abandon ship, I would be swimming. My watch alarm is louder. There were no alarms in hallways, etc. I was told that the ship's whistle sounds, too, in a "real emergency."
Anyway, we trooped up to our muster station, were NOT checked off until we sought out the un-uniformed crew and were ticked off on the sheet. It was all very sloppy. I hope for better if they really have a problem. There was lots of crew training visible during the crossing.
Shipboard Impressions & Activities
The QE2 is beautiful. She is an elegant lady whom has been well cared for and helped into her latter years. Yes, if you are the type that WANTS to find fault and to complain, you will find minor items, very minor, should this be important to you. You might consider getting a life. :o)
Disembarkation in Southampton was a breeze: well done, Cunard. We were called at 9:30, and were off by 9.35; our baggage was EASY to find and collect, and there were loads of porters, direct to the taxi ranks. We were ticketed for a 1700 flight home, and managed to catch the 10:30.
We loved the whole experience and would recommend saving up for Concorde and a Q3 1 Deck cabin if possible. Always obtain the square footage of the cabin before booking and compare it with a hotel room you know. If you have never sailed before, as we hadn't, know that the ship does have "sea movement," even in calm weather, force 4 or below. This movement may upset your balance/inner ear and may cause severe discomfort -- like a motion ride. The $20 jab in the rear will sort this, but it is so strong you will sleep for 4 hours after it. But rest assured, it is a well-spent $20 if you are prone to motion sickness.
Photos courtesy of Cunard Line.
Robert & Carole H. reside in Dunham, England and may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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