Queen Elizabeth 2 Transatlantic Cruise August 1997
Of my twelve days on vacation, six were spent on the Queen Elizabeth 2. The basics of this trip were a flight from Ft. Lauderdale to New York for two days at the Morgans Hotel on Madison Avenue, the Concorde to London, three days at the Savoy hotel, and six days on the QE2 to Cork, Ireland and on to New York.
The flight on Delta was wonderful, and uneventful. My traveling companion wanted a limo, so we had a car meet us for the ride into Manhattan.
The Morgans is owned by the man who owns the Delano in Miami Beach, an ultra-chic hotel where the drinks are $8.00, but the Morgans, we found, is very small and minimalist. It was okay, and very friendly. But don't expect New York "grand," or the Four Seasons. The all-night deli next door came in handy.
I've been on the Concorde each time I've done the QE2, so this was my fourth time. I didn't even take pictures -- I just enjoyed myself. Having flown both Air France and British Airways Concordes, I slightly prefer British Airways because the staff was more personable and friendly. The service is first rate, and we arrived in 3 hrs, 19 minutes. It was only 5:45pm local time.
We were met by Trinatours, Cunard's local tour operator, and taken to the Savoy hotel. What a contrast to the Morgans: grand, and old world. We loved it, and found ourselves upgraded because I suspect the desk clerk liked one of us. But I don't know; either way, we walked in and had a two bedroom suite with large bathroom. We used every bit of the space to spread the four suitcases out and get settled. After three days of touring and going out at night to clubs, it was time to be transferred to the ship at Southampton.
After what seemed like the longest bus ride ever, the ship appeared in the distance behind a large dock. This was my fourth time on the QE2: '85,'87,'95, and now '97. Always transatlantic, I've done two trips in each direction. I see the ship in Ft. Lauderdale about four times a year or so, so the sight wasn't amazing, but I still got a lump in my throat seeing her sit there in the place of the greats like the Queen Mary and the Elizabeth which preceded her. This is the last of the great ocean liners, except for the SS Norway, which has been radically altered from its original form. We boarded about 3pm, and sailed late at around 4:30pm.
Our Caronia "c2" class cabin was very nice, with two large portholes, Italian marble sink and full bath/shower. There were also two large closets, a TV, and two lower beds with nightstand. It's the largest cabin I've had on the ship, but I've also never paid to go Grill Class, either; Grill cabins are larger (usually) and better appointed. The fixtures in the cabin, except for the bathroom which was updated in '94 (I think), are vintage and older-looking, but maintenance was good and we enjoyed the 18-channel interactive TV system. For QE2 experts, my cabin was 2036, port side by the computer learning center.
Since I have a good friend who works on the ship running a shop as a manager, we were immediatly given the family treatment by the crew. There was a bottle of fine champage waiting for us, compliments of John Duffy the hotel manager, and we hung out in the crew club called the Foc'sle club every night with tee-shirt clad waiters, jeans-wearing Spa personnel, and fun-loving off-duty crew people. Note -- crew are allowed to bring passengers into that club; it's the "Pig" (crew disco) where passengers are discouraged. I didn't press my friend to take us there.
After one night of sailing, we arrived outside of Cork, Ireland, only to find thick fog that did not allow us to bring the ship to the dock. The fear was that QE2 would be trapped in a fogged-in harbor and miss it's scheduled departure. A decision was made to pull up anchor and sail 14 hours early for New York at greatly reduced speed. The ship is capable of 34 knots, generally 28.5 to 32 knots and that's half the fun for somebody like me. If we had stayed in Cork, we would have had a fast crossing, but the early departure meant we could make the first three days doing 25 knots and eventually (to my dismay) slow to 24, then 22.5 knots by the fifth day. Each day the noon bridge announcement revealed they had cut the speed again. The advantage, however, was the slow speed combined with the calmest water I've ever seen in the Atlantic meant that, except for one rocky night we had on Night Three, it felt as though the ship hardly moved the entire time. For two nights we had thick fog, and the fog whistle sounded every two minutes. Neato.
With no stops other than Cork, there's really nothing to talk about but the ship. First, Cunard has just recently changed the transatlantic crossings to six days rather than five. The ship now crosses with only three or four engines running out of nine, and cruises rather than races . . . at 20 knots or so. Our crossing was a little faster than that. For your money, you get an extra day on board, and Cunard has less wear and tear on it's flagship, i.e., it'll last longer and use less fuel.
The upper deck Grill Class cabins have just been refurbished and are supposed to be fantastic. Grill Class cabins are divided up into three gourmet restaurants, all with tableside perparation and privacy. Caronia Class and Mauretania Class are next in descending order, and are much larger restaurants, but less fancy. Still, this is a formal ship, and three nights of every crossing are formal -- they mean it. We packed tuxedos and dark suits (for informal nights -- there are no casual nights) and were not overdressed by any means. The service is Old World formal, and when they place a beer in front of you, they turn the label to face you . . . every time. Nice touch. Over the years, I have noticed the passengers and service on the ship slide into a less-than-extremely-formal attitude. My first trip in '85 was different than this one: no jewel-soaked women or overly-proper men on this voyage. But they do pamper you.
One has to remember that the QE2 is not built like the modern floating box hotel cruise ships. It has two or three big public rooms, but they are tiny compared to say, the Grand Atrium on the Sensation. The Grand Lounge doesn't seem so grand anymore, and the Queens Room, which I remember was once reserved for "First Class only," is now open to all, and needs updating from it's late 1960's look.
The furnishings, though, are elegant. The spa and gym facilities are scattered out on three decks in three locations, which is confusing. They are minimally equipped: generally satisfactory for a ship. The open deck space is expansive and nice, with an outdoor pool and hot tubs. The Lido cafe' is extremely popular as an alternative to the more formal sit-down restaurants. The ship has beautiful garnet-colored carpeting in the hallways, which I think adds it's own elegance.
Most of all, the crew is by and large British, or some other nationality with a British accent. All I met had a perfect command of English no matter what job they did (with the exception of the Filipinos handling the deck jobs, but they are seen and not heard on most ships, anyway), and this, my friends, makes all the difference in a person feeling comfortable. The staff on that ship, is by FAR my favorite of the 17 cruises and 15 ships I've been on. My least favorite would be the Costa Victoria, where English must have been considered a gutter language. Never again.
The Foc'sle Club is literally a private membership club located far forward on Deck Two, which is open to all crew, except officers (they have the Wardroom). Members have to pay for the upkeep of the little club, which has nice carpeting and a sound system and bar. It is perfectly allowable for members to either bring fellow crew who are nonmembers in as guests, or to bring passengers in there. We have to be signed in as guests. It isn't against the rules, but crew choose to rarely bring passengers in there. The place we aren't allowed is the Pig, AKA the Pig and Whistle which is a hot -n- sweaty, noisy crew disco.
As for the entertainment for passengers, there is a DJ and live band (they switch off, take turns) in the Yacht Club . The band was sort of a Carribean style with a female singer. The Queen's room didn't stay open late, but had a jazz dance band which was really good. The Grand Lounge held the nightly shows by the ship's Broadway style entertainers/dancers and there was a band there also.
At night, also, were the many invitation-only private parties such as Cunard World Club gatherings hosted by the captain, hotel manager John Duffy's party in the Yacht Club, the Wardroom party given by the ship's officers, and the Doctor's party given outside the Medical Officer's cabin/office. My companion and I were invited to all of these because my friend on the ship got us on all the lists. I received invites to all the Cunard World Club stuff by myself, as Ken isn't a member.
The Chart Room
The bars are really unique and different on that ship. They have a British-style pub called the Golden Lion, an elegant one with the original piano from the Queen Mary in the Chart Room bar, and a large one called the Crystal Bar outside the Mauritania restaurant. I already mentioned the Yacht Club, which is the most lively.
The QE2 replaces glitzy shows and outdoor waterslides with some very interesting guest speakers which Cunard flies in to talk to the passengers during scheduled hour-long presentations in the ship's dual-purpose movie theater/recital hall/lecture hall, or in the Grand Lounge. This cruise happened to be a Cunard World Club reunion cruise with many repeat passengers on board (I'm now a "bronze member"), and the scheduled speakers were really fantastic. Generally, there was a presentation at 11am, 1:30pm, 2:30pm,3:30pm, and sometimes 4:30pm.
Among the many interesting talks, I attended two by Captain John Eames, who is a retired Concorde captain with British Airways. He gave two speeches, complete with video and slides, on two different days. There was a gentleman who gave two lectures on New York buildings and the preservation efforts there. One talk was on nothing but the old theaters and movie palaces. He had about 100 slides per talk, and he almost filled the ship's theater, but Captain Eames won the attendance game by filling all but about 10 seats in the theater with his Concorde presentations.
The Titanic Historical Society was onboard with a special guest, an 85-year old British woman who was nine months old when the Titanic went down. Her mother survived; her father (I believe) went down with the Titanic. She, of course, did not remember the event, but is fascinating because she was there. The cruise director attempted to have a talk show style chat with her while the Titanic Society sat nearby in chairs up on the stage, but the lady totally stole the show and charmed the entire group for over an hour. It was wonderful.
In addition, a popular British travel show filmed the voyage for the BBC as this is the 30th anniversary of the launching of the QE2. To top off the lecture series this cruise, Ambassador Finger, a retired American diplomat, gave talks almost every day on subjects such as "My Friend Winston Churchill," or my favorite, "The USA and France . . . the Odd Couple." The elderly, bowtie-clad Finger kept a nearly-full theater mesmerized for over an hour each time he took the podium. This cruise had the best schedule of lectures I've ever seen.
Anyway, my companion and I really enjoyed ourselves, but the staff and service made the difference. The ship is showing its age; she has smaller than expected public rooms, and would not appeal to somebody who wants to stay up all night and make noise. The entertainment is lower key, not Vegas style with big feathers and sparklers. (Carnival, I'll admit, owns this. They have the best entertainment at sea in my view.) You'll sit through yet another chorus of "Let the sun shine in" a la Fifth Dimension, while the ship's singers take you through a musical tour of the 50's and 60's and 70's.
Much about the ship is dated. But if you approach the QE2 as the last of the great oceanliners, and you like nostalgia, you will love this ship. She's the last of her kind and after my fourth trip on her, I still run down to Port Everglades whenever she's in port here just to see the big black hull sitting there. Amazing.
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