The Queen Mary 2 is just 10 years old, but the atmosphere she provides feels a lot older. (All photos: Courtesy of Gayot)
By André Gayot
As the Queen Mary 2 slips beneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and heads for open water, she looks back fondly on the 10 years that have passed since her first journey. She knows rough seas are ahead, but this is her 215th crossing and she is going strong. Since her first transatlantic journey, the Queen Mary 2 has traveled the world over, dropping anchor in over 60 different.
There is no need to worry about the weather ahead because this mountain of steel is equipped with cutting-edge technology that assures the passenger a safe and comfortable trip, and weighs in at a staggering 151,400 metric tons. She is the longest, tallest, widest, largest, and most expensive ocean liner ever constructed.
Who would want to spend seven days crossing the Atlantic, when eight hours in an airplane would suffice? Obviously this voyage is not for everyone, but you’d be surprised by the number of candidates opting to eschew a harried sense of time for the tranquil ocean voyage, including those who suffer from a fear of flying or don’t handle jet lag well. On a slow, calm, stable boat such as this, without agitation or obligations, peace of mind comes on its own. To perfect the soothing atmosphere, 128 artists contributed to the decoration of the beautifully adorned ship, where 5,000 works of art, including bronze and glass sculptures, are on display.
With her massive size, the Queen Mary 2 is built for comfort.
However, if contemplation and meditation are not your cup of tea, there’s a roster of occupations: shows, movies, lectures, concerts, stargazing, wine tastings and dance lessons, to name a few. It’s possible to be taken care of all day long, from breakfast in bed to an evening massage at the Canyon Ranch Spa (this pampering comes at a charge though). The calm, restrained and decidedly upscale ambiance of the Queen Mary 2 is readily sought by the clientele, whose average age is 65. So it goes without saying that guests are expected to dress and behave like real ladies and gentlemen. No shorts, no short sleeves or sandals past 5 p.m. Evenings that are not strictly formal are at least “smart casual,” and ties and jackets are de rigueur, while black tie attire is strongly recommended for the Gala dinner. Those without proper attire should make their way to the less formal King’s Court restaurant open 24 hours.
Aboard the Queen Mary 2, food is taken very seriously. Meals are prepared in nine kitchens by 50 chefs, 150 sous chefs and 230 cooks with the mission of churning out thousands of dishes three times a day. The Britannia dining room truly embodies the ship’s culinary acumen. The expansive eatery occupies the entirety of the boat’s width and the height of three decks, linked together by a staircase grand enough to make the one from Ziegfeld Follies look like a stepladder.
The Britannia Restaurant keeps it classy.
In this impressive Art Deco décor, a ballet of maîtres d’s, waiters and sommeliers deliver their daily show, gliding smoothly, fetching to the tables a versatile feast for all tastes. There are meals for vegetarians and health conscious eaters (based on recommendations from the on-site Canyon Ranch Spa dietitian), carnivores and anyone looking to splurge, each presented in a flurry of service. A standard dinner at the Britannia offers a choice of six appetizers and soups, including an exotic smoked duck breast with anise and poached pineapple, as well as a refreshing chilled pear and honey soup. Despite the sheer quantity of diners and variety of dishes, plates still reach the table warm, are presented with preparations that reflect a contemporary classic style which, in most cases, meets the expectations of the guests. This tour de force merits to be awarded with a 13/20. The worldwide wine list is comprehensive and the service professional.
Todd English, a separate on-site eatery, offers more audacious cuisine that includes tuna crudo with Moroccan spiced rice, jalapeño and ginger mint avocado, or a pepper-crusted salmon. There is a supplement for eating at the restaurant, but the tab is light.
These elegant restaurants concentrate on famous pièces de résistance, such as roast duck à l’orange or Châteaubriand carved and flamed table-side. To conform to British tradition, afternoon tea is served at 3:30 p.m. daily in the Queens Room. Additionally, the Princess Grill and the Queens Grill are reserved to the suites and upper class passengers.
The champagne bar, brought to you by Veuve Clicquot.
Open every other night, The Lotus prepares Asian food and gains kudos for its tuna tataki in coriander dressing and its tasting menu comprising six dishes: grass lemon soup, crispy beef futomaki, chicken yakitori, yogurt lasse, Peking style duck pancake and shrimp katsu. Meanwhile, La Piazza specializes in Mediterranean cuisine and is open in alternation with the Lotus, widening the style of food available on board. And, as previously mentioned, the laid back King’s Court displays an abundant buffet with myriad choices, and reservations are not required. A special experience is even available at the chef’s table in the galley, where the maestro demonstrates his talent in person.
Fine food, champagne (Veuve Clicquot has a whole bar), elegant evenings, quality shows, and concerts are reminiscent of the heedlessness of the golden age of ocean travel. The Thirties were abuzz with the excitement of the peaceful maritime competition between the British, the French, the Germans, the Dutch and later the Americans, as they raced to build the most beautiful, luxurious and fastest ocean liners, which were destined to be the ambassadors of their respective nations, showcasing their industrial and artistic best savoir-faire.
The Queen Mary 2 is the direct heir to this era, and as such many thanks must be given to Cunard Line, a two-century old English shipping line, now a U.S. owned company, for keeping alive the ocean travel spirit and perpetuating the memory of this fantastic human adventure. She also deserves accolades for her green policies, which include smartly desalinating the water that is needed on board with the heat of the engines that would be lost otherwise, processing waste to limit pollution and reducing overall speeds to save hundreds of tons of fuel. This timeless week spent crossing the Atlantic passed quickly. Already, the lights glitter in the pale dawn of Southampton to remind us that reality is ashore, ready to absorb us again. It is time to restart our clocks.
More from Gayot: