The Only Way to Cross – 175 Years On

A beautiful sunset this evening as Cunard's Queen Mary 2 enters the North Atlantic proper en-route to New York. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

A beautiful sunset this evening as Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 enters the North Atlantic proper en-route to New York. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Friday, August 28, 2015

“The sea, perhaps because of its saltiness, roughens the outside but keeps sweet the kernel of its servants’ soul.”

Joseph Conrad

This morning, I awoke aboard Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 after one of the most restful sleeps I’ve had in a long time. On a comfort level, the beds aboard Queen Mary 2 are the most comfortable I’ve slept on outside of luxury line Silversea. And I’m just in good ol’ Britannia Class. You can imagine what those in the Princess Grill or Queen’s Grill suites are enjoying!

In fact, if I had to register complaint with anything, it would be with the weather. It’s too darn sunny, smooth and clam for my liking! It feels as if we’re crossing a pond; QM2 is so still and steady that you’d never even suspect we were crossing an entire ocean.

The Sea Was Angry...wait, no. The sea is calm as a pond as we sail off the southern coast of Ireland and Fastnet. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Sea Was Angry…wait, no. The sea is calm as a pond as we sail off the southern coast of Ireland and Fastnet. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Credit for that has to go to Mr. Stephen Payne, Queen Mary 2’s lead designer. If you don’t know Payne’s name, you should: chances are very good you’ve sailed on one of his ships. He was involved in the construction of Carnival Cruise Lines’ Fantasy class that revolutionized modern shipbuilding in the early 1990’s. He was a driving force behind Holland America’s Statendam-class ships, as well as 1997’s Rotterdam VI, Amsterdam, Volendam, Zaandam, Zuiderdam…the list goes on.

Payne still designs ships, but his most enduring legacy may very well be this ship – Queen Mary 2. Nothing about this ship is accidental. Her bridge is reminiscent of that aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2. Her forward superstructure appears like a modern version of that found aboard the original Queen Mary. Her stern is a modern hybrid intended to evoke feelings of the old rounded “cruiser sterns” found on many liners throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. That viewing area beneath her bridge? More than a little reminiscent of White Star Line’s Olympic.

Queen Mary 2's forward bridge screen, as seen yesterday in Southampton. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Queen Mary 2’s forward bridge screen, as seen yesterday in Southampton. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This forward viewing area is home to "The Commodore's Cufflinks" - actually highly-polished spare propeller blades for QM2's four Rolls-Royce Mermaid podded propulsion units. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This forward viewing area is home to “The Commodore’s Cufflinks” – actually highly-polished spare propeller blades for QM2’s four Rolls-Royce Mermaid podded propulsion units. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Stephen Payne has done a masterful job of working in all these little nods to the past legacy of ocean travel into Queen Mary 2. But nostalgia is a funny thing; quite often we tend to view the past with rose-coloured glasses.

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Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow with our second full day crossing the Atlantic Ocean aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

Welcome Aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2!

Welcome aboard Queen Mary 2! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Welcome aboard Queen Mary 2! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Thursday, August 27, 2015

It’s time. The moment I’ve been waiting for is finally here.

Just before ten o’clock this morning, I left London’s One Aldwych hotel. I got into a Mercedes C Class car and sat back for the two-hour drive to Southampton, England. While I was sad to leave London, I was fully aware that the start of my adventure still lay ahead, berthed at the Ocean Terminal in Southampton.

Arriving at Southampton's Ocean Terminal. Queen Mary 2 is hidden by the structure, but you can just see the tip of her funnel above the roof. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Arriving at Southampton’s Ocean Terminal. Queen Mary 2 is hidden by the structure, but you can just see the tip of her funnel above the roof. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

My transfer arrived in Southampton just after noon. The city was bombed heavily during World War II, so much of modern Southampton is a mix of medieval and Victorian architecture, interspersed with newer buildings constructed in the 1960’s through to present. And although the security guard at the Ocean Terminal gave my driver directions to Berth 46, it didn’t really seem necessary. After all, Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 absolutely towers over everything in sight.

Inside the terminal. Embarkation moved along very smoothly and orderly. It took some time, but it certainly wasn't stressful. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Inside the terminal. Embarkation moved along very smoothly and orderly. It took some time, but it certainly wasn’t stressful. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This was the first time I’d ever embarked from the Ocean Terminal before, having previously always embarked ships at the nearly Mayflower Terminal to the west. Upon entering, I was given the standard health form to fill out (have you been to Sierra Leone? No. Do you have diarrhea? No), and then I made my way up the escalator to the check-in area.

At first, I was a bit nervous: the room was packed with people all waiting to check-in. But even this turned out to be a very easy process. I was given a letter on a blue-coloured placard (lucky letter ‘R’), and instructed to wait my turn. The letter currently being accepted up to the check-in area was ‘H’.

Welcome Aboard! Guests first enter into Queen Mary 2's striking atrium. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Welcome Aboard! Guests first enter into Queen Mary 2’s striking atrium. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

With time to kill, I sat down and read the newspaper while I waited. The Ocean Terminal has a small café and there are complimentary newspapers and magazines available throughout the terminal.

After about 45 minutes, my letter was called. I waited perhaps five more minutes in a small line, at which point one of the ladies welcomed me to the podium and I handed over my e-Ticket boarding pass, my health questionnaire, and my passport. My passport was checked and returned to me. My photo was taken for the purposes of identification, and I handed over my VISA so they could take an imprint of it to be used for my onboard account purchases.

Lastly, I was given my keycard and directed to proceed to security, which was the usual procedure.

Then…I walked up the gangway and into the opulent world of the Queen Mary 2.

You Are Here. Making your way around the massive Queen Mary 2 is remarkably easy thanks to great signage...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

You Are Here. Making your way around the massive Queen Mary 2 is remarkably easy thanks to great signage…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and four separate sets of stairways and elevator banks. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and four separate sets of stairways and elevator banks. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow as we spend our first full day onboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 as we set out into the open Atlantic, bound for New York! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

At One With One Aldwych in London

Overlooking the Lobby Bar at One Aldwych, London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Overlooking the Lobby Bar at One Aldwych, London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

“We’re here.”

The driver puts the Mercedes-Benz in park. Its windshield wipers beat furiously against the downpour of rain that has turned London, England into one heck of a soggy mess.

I look out the window at a beautiful but nondescript stone building that vaguely resembles the famous Flatiron Building in New York. “Are you sure?”

The driver gives me a wayward glance. “Of course,” he says, “this is it.”

One Aldwych, seen on the left, doesn't make any huge announcements like most high end hotels. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

One Aldwych, seen on the left, doesn’t make any huge announcements like most high end hotels. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Instead, a simple entrance - adorned with the word "One" - serves as the gateway to this fantastic London hotel. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Instead, a simple entrance – adorned with the word “One” – serves as the gateway to this fantastic London hotel. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Subtlety isn’t the strong-suit of most hotels. Typically, they’ll boast a huge backlit sign proclaiming their allegiance to chains like Marriott, InterContinental or Hyatt. Branding is everywhere. The building’s function as a hotel is unmistakable.

My home for the evening – London’s One Aldwych hotel – thinks differently. On the eve of my Westbound Transatlantic Crossing aboard Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, I’ve come here in search of a pre-cruise stay that can match the grace and elegance of Cunard’s flagship. And I’ve found it in One Aldwych.

If there is a single word to describe One Aldwych, it would be “subtle.” A set of nondescript glass doors boasts the word “One” stenciled above it. This serves as the entrance to what is one of London’s leading West End hotels. Over 20 theatres are within a 10-minute walk of One Aldwych, not to mention Covent Garden (less than a two minute walk); Trafalgar Square (a ten minute walk); and Big Ben – a 20 minute walk. The River Thames is 60 seconds away. There’s a Starbucks across the street, and a Café Nero (go to Café Nero!) on the opposite laneway.

London's Covent Garden is an easy two-minute walk up the street...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and Trafalgar Square isn't far behind. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and Trafalgar Square isn’t far behind. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The nondescript entryway leads into what has to be one of the most spectacular yet understated hotel lobby bars I’ve ever seen. Appropriately known as The Lobby Bar, this cozy watering hole oozes romance and intimacy. It’s small, not sprawling; anchored by a beautifully curved wooden bar that anchors the western edge of the property. Flanked by high arched windows that date back to 1906 when the building was commissioned for a newspaper, this is the place to be for the theatre-set.

With the weather outside turning nasty...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

With the weather outside turning nasty…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...it's better to stay indoors and sample some cocktails at The Lobby Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…it’s better to stay indoors and sample some cocktails at The Lobby Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Purely in the name of research, I took some time this evening to sample the cocktail libations available at the Lobby Bar. One Aldwych has all the usual suspects, but you can get those anywhere. Gin and Tonics are great, but they’ve been done. Instead, I’d recommend flipping the page to their Explore creations to try some of their hand-crafted drinks. Like this one:

Le Fizz Du Jardin

Grey Goose L’Orange, Saint Germain infused with grapefruit, lime juice and ginger syrup. Topped with Champagne. Served in a chilled coupette glass with golden leaf.

If anything has inspired Ernest Hemingway-like qualities in me, it’s this drink. Sure, it’s £16 a hit. Just don’t think about the exchange rate and hope you pen the next Old Man and the Sea.

My other favorite of the evening? Most certainly this absolutely stunning drink concoction:

The Fusion Garden

Metaxa 12, sake infused with seaweed, Kamm & Sons, homemade rice syrup, lemon juice and aromatic bitters. Served in a rice bowl over ice.

Le Fizz du Jardin. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Le Fizz du Jardin. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The unassuming Lobby Bar also plays host to a Roald Dahl-inspired Afternoon Tea, based loosely around the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Starting at £37.50 per person, or £48 per person with a Cocktail Charlie or a glass of Lallier Grande Reserve Champagne (you know you want it), this afternoon tea service combines home-spun candy floss, golden chocolate eggs with vanilla cheesecake filling, miniature bottles of chocolate carmel milk, and the tea of your choice, this is English afternoon tea as you’ve never seen it before.

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Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow as we embark Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 in the port of Southampton, England! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

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