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Embarking the Magnificent Queen Mary 2 and Setting Sail
Sandy is coming – and she’s angry.
With Hurricane Sandy churning south of us, my transatlantic voyage aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is just barely going to squeak out of New York’s historic harbour today. Tonight at 6pm, the Port Authority of New York is closing the harbour to all vessel traffic. Transit shutdowns will commence just an hour later.
On the television in my stateroom, Fox News is reporting that 6,800 flights have already been cancelled at New York’s three major airports, including JFK, which I flew into just yesterday. A wind-blown Geraldo Rivera is standing in front of Radio City Music hall, looking like Albert Einstein as he explains what’s about to come.
Tonight, citizens of the Big Apple – and beyond – will cross their collective fingers.
For those of us aboard the Queen Mary 2 - or QM2 as she is affectionately known – our eastbound track across the Atlantic will take us north, past the coast of Newfoundland and out of harm’s way as we head towards Southampton, England.
It turns out New York isn’t the only city to have some wicked events heading its way; a magnitude 7 earthquake struck my home region of Vancouver last night. Fortunately, it was located off the coast of Vancouver Island and nestled deep within the dark recesses of the Pacific Ocean. No damage was done. Still, it managed to trigger tsunami warnings from the Pacific coast to Hawaii.
But here in New York, this morning was positively pleasant, with warm temperatures, little wind and no rain. After a quick pop over to Starbucks for a caffeine and breakfast jolt this morning, I checked out of the Hilton New York and began making preparations to board the Cunard transfer to the pier that was scheduled to depart just after 11am.
I cannot say enough good about the two ladies running the Transfer Desk at the Hilton. They provided me with a stapler to staple my ‘do-it-yourself’ luggage tag to my suitcase, and took the time to answer all the questions I had. For those who don’t relish the thought of a costly cab ride to Brooklyn, the transfer offered by Cunard definitely takes the stress out of the entire process.
I arrived at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in that city’s Red Hook neighbourhood just after noon. Check-in was swift and efficient, and after just 15 minutes I set foot onboard Queen Mary 2. And as I did so, I noticed something that truly surprised me: there’s a heck of a lot of families onboard! Lots of parents are travelling with kids, ranging in age from babies to teenagers. And I think it’s brilliant; what an awesome experience to give to your kids in this day of “instant” this and “immediate” that – a journey across “the pond”, as they used to say.
Of course, that makes me sound old; I’ll turn 30 at the end of this crossing. But it’s great to see such a diverse mix of people onboard. So far, I’ve heard English, French, Spanish, and German spoken onboard.
I walked (sill me) up to my Britannia Club Balcony Stateroom up on Deck 12. And when I entered, I was impressed by what I saw: brand-new carpeting, a flat-panel television, new bedding, and an immaculate balcony awaiting me.
Being in a Britannia Club Balcony has its advantages. In addition to flexible dining in a separate restaurant, these staterooms all come with a full bottle of Pol Acker sparkling wine, plush bathrobes and slippers, and a pillow concierge menu with nine different options.
But I couldn’t linger in my stateroom longer; there was a massive, 1,132-foot long ship to explore! A few images from today:
In announcing our Muster Drill and subsequent departure, Captain Kevin Oprey also advised us of the weather, noting that Queen Mary 2 would be brought up to nearly full speed in order to outrun the worst of the hurricane. And here, that means thundering through the Atlantic at an astounding 28 knots. Most conventional cruise ships can only do 22 knots flat-out; Queen Mary 2 can do over 30.
He also advised us we were going to encounter significant winds and heavy swells, and that a few hours after departure the outer decks would be locked off. The dreaded “white bags” went up on every stairwell (QM2 boasts four, A, B, C and D!), and our Muster Drill leader stated anyone prone to seasickness should take their tablets before departure.
I myself have my own formula for combatting seasickness, one that I learned years ago. I stay off water, start drinking heavy liquids like coffee or beer, and eating meals that are rich and heavy. It sounds like the opposite of what should work, but it does.
At 4:30pm, assisted by two tugs, Queen Mary 2 edged away from the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. The tugs were necessary because of the wind, which had picked up considerably in the afternoon. Two other cruise ships raced out of the harbour just ahead of us, and Captain Kevin Oprey hammered on Queen Mary 2’s horn to announce our departure under an increasingly brooding sky.
But the voyage truly began in earnest with the clearing of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge that links Brooklyn with Staten Island. Queen Mary 2 passes under it with just mere feet of clearance, and this spectacle has become a rite of passage aboard this grand liner. Despite the wind and the cold, Deck 13 forward was filled with passengers jostling for a good look at the bridge and QM2’s bright red-and-black funnel.
I did good up until we passed under that bridge, the faint whiff of smoke from QM2’s funnel getting caught in the iron underworks. But when we cleared it and the decks erupted in cheers and applause, a tear rolled involuntarily down my cheek.
An astonishingly moving experience.
Because I am staying in a Britannia Club Balcony Stateroom, I was able to dine tonight in the elegant Britannia Club restaurant, located on Deck 2 next to Stairtower D. You can dine anytime from 6:30 to 9:00pm in one of two intimate anterooms just off the main, two-story Britannia Dining Room.
I absolutely loved this. It gives you a quieter, more intimate dining space akin to what’s offered to Cunard’s higher-fare Grills classes, but with the convenience and affordable pricing of a standard balcony stateroom.
While the menu is essentially the same as in the Britannia Dining Room, a selection of A ’la Carte specialties is also featured, allowing you to mix and match as you please. In honour of the inclement weather, I had beef bouillon (always a smart choice), salmon fettuccine, a glass of wine and a black coffee.
As the evening went on, the full brunt of Hurricane Sandy became apparent, with strong winds that are whistling through my balcony door. I can’t tell what is spray and what is rain anymore; all I know is my windows are coated with a thick layer of water and salt – and I’m on Deck 12, some 200 feet above the waterline.
There’s a hallway on Deck 3L, one of designer Stephen Payne’s clever “in-between” decks, that has become a favorite of mine for its views of the monster waves we’re plowing through rushing past the windows. The entire corridor shudders with a noise that sounds like thunder, yet the ship barely moves. Conditions outside are some of the worst I have ever sailed in – and I’ve been in a storm in the Aegean Sea that was so bad it caused a piano to roll itself out of a lounge and into a staircase.
And yet, Queen Mary 2 is just absolutely smoking through this bad weather like it’s nothing. Sure, we’re moving around, but I’ve had far worse motion in far less conditions on other cruise ships. The difference: this is a true ocean liner, designed from the ground up to take on the worst the Atlantic can throw at her.
Can I be honest? I wanted bad weather on this trip, because I’ve always wanted to see what this beautiful piece of engineering brilliance can do. And tonight, I have an enormous smile plastered on my face as we safely take on the outskirts of Hurricane Sandy, bound for the North Atlantic and calmer waters.
It’s left me to wonder:
What ship but Queen Mary 2 could accomplish all this?
Our Live Voyage Report onboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 continues tomorrow, as we set course for the open Atlantic and our eastbound voyage to England, and enjoy a day aboard our floating palace! Check back as we tour some of Queen Mary 2’s brilliant public rooms!
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