By Tony Tedeschi
So there we stood, enjoying flutes of champagne on the deck of Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.
We were awaiting its departure from the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, watching the late afternoon light play upon the towers of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
My wife, Candy, and I were celebrating our 50th anniversary and had decided to go all out, choosing the top-tier Queens Grill level for QM2’s eight-day crossing from New York to Southampton, in the U.K.
We were two of some 2,500 passengers aboard the giant ship, which stretches the length of four football fields, rises to a height of a 23-story building and weighs almost 150,000 tons. Yet the glide down Lower New York Bay toward the Atlantic was as a smooth as silk.
Candy and I had explored many possibilities for the trip, but the Atlantic crossing we had done 25 years earlier on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 kept rising to the top of our list, supported by other Cunard cruises we’d taken over the years.
We were confident, from our earlier crossing, we’d be wined and dined, have wonderful entertainment and other activities and would be able to dress to the nines. Not that we are travel weenies. We’d toughed it out on our share of seriously active vacations from glaciers to rain forests. But, been there done that, and we were ready for a dress-up, super-pampered experience.
“I am Dong, your butler.”
After the sail away, we were not in our suite 10 minutes, hanging the many dressy outfits we’d need for each night’s dinner, when the door bell range.
“May I come in?” he asked.
“Of course,” I answered.
There he stood, with his tailored grey vest and trousers, bright white shirt and perfectly knotted tie.
“I am Dong,” he said, “your butler.”
Our butler? In more than 45 years of writing for publications, I’ve traveled the world over, stayed at some of the finest properties. I’ve never had a butler. Have never even seen one, except in old, black-and-white movies, mostly about rich Englishmen. Things were definitely getting off on the right foot.
Politely answering my questions, Dong said he was born in the Philippines, but his father was working in Vietnam at the time and named him after the Vietnamese currency. Oh . . . kayyy.
An International Staff
If the itinerary lacked exotic international ports, Dong was the first of many encounters with crew, staff and fellow passengers from all over the world.
We got to interact with ship’s officers who were from the United Kingdom, the chief maître d’ in the Queens Grill from New Zealand, our waiters from India and South Africa, our sommelier from Colombia, the young woman from Belarus who delivered my martini in the Queens Lounge every evening (and introduced this long-time martini man to three wonderful gins I’d not yet tried).
The couple at the adjacent table in the Grill was from the U.K. and Canada, and their companionship added another fine touch to the voyage.
Living on Long Island, just 30 miles from Broadway, Candy and I are habitués of the theatre and cabarets. Although the QM2 offered a musical show each night, we were sure we would not be easily impressed.
However, skepticism suffered its first blow when we entered the ship’s Royal Court Theatre. Its two tiers and 1,094 plush, comfortable seats would make it one of Broadway’s largest, complete with hydraulic proscenium stage, along with lighting and sound that would make it the envy of any theatre company.
The shows were wonderful; performers, singers, musicians, house orchestra, all top notch: whether “Apassionata,” featuring dance styles from around the world; two of the U.K.’ finest young tenors; a tribute to Sting; Electra, two mind-bogglingly talented female violinists, with full orchestra accompaniment; or the extremely entertaining Jon Courtenay, whose hilarious monologues almost distracted from his brilliant piano skills . . . almost.
For smaller club/pub experiences, there were The Jazz Club trio in the Chart Room or various acts in the Golden Lion Pub. The strains of classical music played at venues throughout the ship via strings, harp or piano.
While one might think attending a lecture would be no way to spend a vacation, after hearing a talk on the three weeks when Winston Churchill saved the world, by Lord Michael Howard, former U.K. Home Secretary, we were hooked. Lord Howard’s charming and talented wife, Sandra, spoke of her early years as a high fashion model, then becoming a journalist and finally a best-selling novelist. We hung on Nigel West’s every word as he detailed Bondian insights into U.K. and U.S. intelligence. Derek Teddler’s lecture and videos of TV news sets that were part real and a great part virtual were revealing, to say the least.
To fill out the rest of a day, you can learn to water color or arrange flowers; sharpen your golf or poker game; play better bridge, write fiction or poetry. You can enjoy high tea or attend wine tastings. At the Canyon Ranch Spa, you can have your face, your hands, your feet . . . hell your entire body rejuvenated. Studying each day’s program, you can get dizzy trying to choose what to do.
Detailing the food and wine service would be to simply list the superb menu offerings that may or may not still be on the ever-changing, ever-innovative offerings. For example, along with pretty much every breakfast item you could ever desire, there are numerous variations on each theme, such as three versions of eggs benedict. (They’ve got to do something with the 36,700 dozen eggs they provision for each crossing.)
There are variations of soup, salad and sandwiches on the lunch menu, all beautifully presented in just the right portions. For dinner, you can choose from alternating entrees like succulent lamb chops or tangy lobster Newburg. If you are a creature of habit, you can order chateaubriand or beef wellington every night off a special menu.
Attentive, Friendly and Sincerely Concerned
The waitstaff was attentive, friendly and sincerely concerned with assuring we enjoyed the best possible dining experience. The sommelier was very helpful finding selections from an extensive wine list at a wide range of price points.
Dinner at the Todd English Restaurant, with its specialty Mediterranean dishes, is a wonderful alternative experience, although the cost is additional.
While we were determined to still be able to fit into our formal outfits the last night of the voyage, three times around per mile on Deck 7 each day did alleviate over-indulgence guilt.
Each night, in tux, dinner jacket or suit; Candy in gown or cocktail dress, we pretty much needed a place to dance, and there was always a venue to do that, well into the wee smalls. I began to feel like we were actors in those old black-and-white movies.
There are, of course, pictures taken at every turn.
While buying them, each day, can add up, when else are you going to look that sartorial?
Our Deputy Captain
One afternoon, I sat in the Commodore Club on Deck 7 gazing out at moderate seas whose rollers and white caps were inexplicably hypnotic, despite their monotonous consistency. I was awaiting a conversation with Deputy Captain Derek Gray. Promptly on time, Gray filled out his sharp, double-breasted uniform, with that look of a man in charge.
I asked him about his career path.
“When I was 12,” he began with a deep Scottish brogue, “I was rough-housing with my brother in the back seat of our family car, when my mother turned around and ordered us to stop. ‘I’m going to be captain of a ship some day and then you can’t tell me what to do.’ I answered. I don’t know where that came from.”
Nonetheless, he applied to every shipping company he got leads on, until Shell Oil offered him a cadetship.
“I became dual certified in navigation and engineering,” he said, “then went to sea on tankers bringing oil from the Middle East.”
But a man from a land of dampness and cool summers couldn’t acclimate to ports in the burning deserts and he eventually made the transition to cruise ships with Cunard. Although fully qualified to take over for the captain, Grey’s regular responsibilities include navigation, deck maintenance and security.
I asked him about security in such a turbulent world.
“We have exceptional sources of intelligence,” he replied with a sense of authority that made me feel I definitely would be on his side in a bar fight.
Our only criticism of our earlier crossing was, at 4-1/2 days, the voyage was too short. Although this crossing was eight days, we found when we awoke dockside in Southampton, we didn’t want to disembark. Candy is already parceling out her gowns and cocktail dresses to the dry cleaner and planning our next voyage on one of the Cunard Queens.
If you go:
24305 Town Center Drive, Suite 200
Valencia, CA 91355