The Only Way to Cross – Even if It’s Not

It’s not the Only Way to Cross anymore, but a transatlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2 is rewarding in so many ways. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Position as of this writing: 44° 1.2’ N, 43° 42.9’ W

Speed: 23.8 knots

Wind: Force 5 / Temperature: 17°C / Seas: Slight

There’s nothing quite like waking up to the sight of nothing but miles of ocean, stretching as far as the eye can see. Some people tell me they find that thought intimidating; I find it freeing.

Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 was specifically built for this purpose: to cross the Atlantic, regularly, between England and North America. Sure, she also offers more standard cruises at different times of the year but, by and large, the bulk of her sailing schedule are these Eastbound and Westbound Transatlantic crossings.

A crossing aboard the grand, elegant Queen Mary 2 is very different from the experience Charles Dickens had aboard Britannia in 1842. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Cunard started crossing the Atlantic back in 1840, when founder Samuel Cunard – a Canadian from Halifax, Nova Scotia – debuted his wooden paddle steamer Britannia. She set sail from Liverpool on July 4, 1840, bound for Halifax and Boston. As the first of four sister-ships, she was intended to provide the first regularly-scheduled steamship service between England and the Americas.

In January of 1842, for better or worse, Charles Dickens crossed the Atlantic on Britannia, en-route to a tour of the United States. What he wrote probably wasn’t what the Cunard publicists of the time wanted to hear. Dickens likened his stateroom to an, “utterly impracticable, thoroughly hopeless, and profoundly preposterous box.” The dining salon was “a gigantic hearse with windows,” and dessert looked, “rather mouldy.” Dickens was a downer.

He was also violently seasick for much of the voyage and, despite the bitterness which taints every detail of his crossing, he nailed the overall vibe: crossing the Atlantic in 1840 was an unpleasant task, an ordeal meant to be endured rather than enjoyed.

We can now enjoy things like Broadway-style performances…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and cold beers at Pub Lunch. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Fast-forward sixty years, and things had changed immeasurably. Cunard’s Mauretania and Lusitania of 1906 and 1907, respectively, show just how far shipbuilding – and Cunard – had come. These two ships, noted for their lavish First Class interiors, had niceties like electric lighting, running hot and cold water (either sea or fresh), electric elevators, and two-storey dining rooms. First Class passengers were treated to ornate, elaborate public rooms that rivaled the best hotels on-shore, and even Third Class, or Steerage, passengers destined for a new life in America were treated to standards that were unknown to most at the time.

Cunard would also be thrust into the public consciousness in 1912 when the Carpathia, under the command of Captain Arthur Rostron, sped through the night to rescue survivors from the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Carpathia was a small ship that was never intended to have a top speed beyond 14 knots; Rostron and his crew pushed her past 17 knots that night.

Although there aren’t any animals at the moment, Queen Mary 2 has 24 kennels that can be used by guests wishing to bring their furry friends on a crossing. Note the new windows, turf, lamppost and fire hydrant added during the 2016 Remastering. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Cunard would later go on to build some of the most legendary ocean liners of all time. Others, like CGT’s Normandie were more technologically advanced and architecturally impressive. But for some reason, even the most inland landlubber knows about the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, and her follow-up namesake, Queen Elizabeth 2.

Carnival Corporation & plc purchased controlling interest in Cunard in 1998. Mismanaged and lacking business acumen, Cunard’s previous management teams had ground the once-famous line into a shell of its former self. Prior to 1998, many expected that Cunard would die out the second that the Queen Elizabeth 2 – or QE2, as she was affectionately known – was retired; an event which loomed near on the horizon.

Looking up at Queen Mary 2’s navigation bridge…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…from the forwarmost part of Deck 7. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

According to Daniel Allan Butler’s excellent book, The Age of Cunard, Carnival Corporation chairman Micky Arison purchased Cunard largely because the company was concerned about a competitor swooping them up. The brand was still valuable, but Arison knew that if Cunard was to be revived in a way that made proper business sense, a successor to QE2 would need to be built. And Carnival purchased Cunard precisely to build that ship, not the other way around.

That successor was Queen Mary 2. Announced in 1998 as “Project Queen Mary”, today she is the only true modern ocean liner in existence, and the only ship in the world to offer regularly-scheduled transatlantic crossings. In the jet age, she is as pioneering as Britannia was in 1840, though in a different way. People crossed in 1840 out of necessity; we cross in 2017 out of a desire to connect with a simpler time. In short, we cross purely to enjoy the voyage that Charles Dickens hated.

The basic experience of crossing the Atlantic hasn’t changed all that much. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

What’s truly fascinating about all of this is how the basic experience of crossing the ocean hasn’t changed all that much. Certainly, QM2 is larger and more stable than those ships that came before her (the original Queen Mary was legendary for being a “roller”, and would sometimes heel over as much as 40 degrees), but some things are still the same.

Butler quotes an early 20th century Cunard captain in The Age of Cunard. This master had prepared an entire spiel, delivered with an increasing fever pitch, to any passenger that dared to ask an inane question:

“I have crossed the Atlantic four hundred and twenty-two times this will be my four hundred and twenty-third I have not been shipwrecked or cast away on a desert island or been burnt at sea or marooned or shanghaied or caught by sharks and I don’t want to be the ship is doing fifteen knots and could do more if she were going faster you will be able to go ashore as soon as we’re alongside the jetty and not before and if you have anything you want to smuggle I don’t want to know about it and I don’t know the best way to get it ashore without paying duty I hope to retire from the sea someday Is there anything else you’d like to know?”

That’s not so dissimilar from questions I’ve heard during this voyage, which have ranged from, “When will the ship arrive in Southampton?” (on Monday!) to “Can we eat here?” (said in the Britannia Dining Room).

Kick back and relax in Queen Mary 2’s Pavilion Pool up on Deck 12. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Or, take an evening stroll up on Deck 12…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…to watch the sunset. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

If you want to cross the Atlantic this year aboard Queen Mary 2, I have good news: my crossing is the first of many scheduled for this year. The full transatlantic sailing schedule for 2017:

EASTBOUND – New York to Southampton

31 May; 15 Jun; 6 Jul; 28 Jul; 12 Aug; 7 Sept; 6 Oct; 20 Oct; 12 Nov; 8 Dec 2017; 3 Jan 2018

WESTBOUND – Southampton to New York

24 May; 7 Jun; 21 Jul; 4 Aug; 31 Aug; 14 Sept; 13 Oct; 5 Nov; 19 Nov; 15 Dec 2017

Were he around today, I think Charles Dickens would have better things to say about Queen Mary 2 than his voyage aboard Britannia. Mostly, he’d probably just be amazed that the arduous journey he embarked on in 1840 is now a pleasure cruise – the last of its kind in the world.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report onboard Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 continues tomorrow, as we experience another day on the Atlantic, with an eye to daytime activities onboard! Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Across the Atlantic aboard Queen Mary 2

DAYPORTTODAY ABOARD QUEEN MARY 2
Monday, May 15, 2017New York (Brooklyn), NY. Departure: 1700Embarkation: The Crossing Begins
Tuesday, May 16Crossing the Atlantic OceanOur First Day out on the Atlantic
Wednesday, May 17Crossing the Atlantic OceanRemastering Queen Mary 2
Thursday, May 18Crossing the Atlantic OceanGetting There is Half the Fun: Cunard's Transatlantic Legacy
Friday, May 19Crossing the Atlantic OceanGrand Days aboard QM2
Saturday, May 20Crossing the Atlantic OceanElegant Nights aboard QM2
Sunday, May 21Crossing the Atlantic OceanRecapping our Journey Across the Atlantic
Monday, May 22Southampton, England
Arrive: 0700
Disembarkation
 

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