Coming Home to Queen Mary 2

Welcome aboard Queen Mary 2, Cunard’s flagship transatlantic ocean liner! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Monday, May 15, 2017

After over 100 cruises, I still find embarkation day to be an exciting event. I love arriving at the pier by taxi; love catching my first glimpse of a gleaming-white cruise ship that towers high above the pier; love that moment when I put one foot on the tide-sensing gangway and place my other foot, for the first time, onto the deck of a ship, and step across, onto a floating palace.

No ship, however, gets my heart racing like Cunard Line’s flagship, the mighty Queen Mary 2. She’s 151,800 gross tons of pure power, designed expressly to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe to North America in any weather and still maintain her schedule. She can sail faster than any other ship of her size. She’s one of the largest ships in the world. And from stem to stern, designer Stephen Payne has built her to do one thing: carry on the elegance and grandeur that the Cunard name is associated with into the modern era.

Queen Mary 2 at her Brooklyn berth on Monday, May 15, 2017. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I will reveal my biases now, early on. I love this ship. Love everything about her. Those who have “crossed” multiple times aboard her will know what I mean. This is a ship that, once you see it, holds you captive and never lets you go. It’s size and luxurious appointments capture your imagination: how can something so large, so grand, possibly set out at sea, to be alone, on the open ocean, for an entire week?

Every space aboard Queen Mary 2 is grand, nostalgic, and unlike anything else afloat. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’m not the only person that thinks this way. This desire to go back to the glory days of transatlantic ocean liners was a strong pull for Carnival Corporation & PLC Chairman, Micky Arison. He and his family emigrated to the United States in 1954 aboard Cunard’s Mauretania, and the grandeur of ocean travel never left Arison. My favourite quote of his: “We bought Cunard to build Queen Mary 2 – not the other way around.”

First announced in 1998, Queen Mary 2 made her debut in 2004 – and she’s been operating regular Transatlantic Crossings, in addition to World Cruises and a handful of voyages to other parts of the world, ever since.

This is my third transatlantic crossing, and my second eastbound crossing. I’m making the journey from New York (Brooklyn) to Southampton, England primarily to check out QM2’s extensive Remastering that took place last year. Cunard spent approximately $135-million on its flagship in 2016, which resulted in the largest refit that she’d ever been put through.

This Remastering was extensive, and touched nearly every area of this modern-day ocean liner. All staterooms and suites were outfitted with new televisions, lighting, furniture, and soft furnishings. New staterooms were added to the ship, primarily on Deck 13 (yes, there’s a Deck 13), while swanky new accommodations for solo travellers were carved out of little-used public spaces. Underused public rooms, like the much-maligned King’s Court on Deck 7, were entirely transformed. New venues were added, and old ones were given a careful sprucing-up. The Grand Atrium’s glass elevators were even removed, and the effect has been dramatic: the ship’s atrium looks even more glamourous than ever before thanks to the addition of this extra space.

Queen Mary 2’s 2016 Remastering touched nearly every area onboard, adding fresh new soft furnishings, artwork, and – in many cases – entirely new features. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The result, in many ways, is an entirely brand-new Queen Mary 2. A modern ocean liner made modern once again.

So come onboard – our journey is about to begin!

Embarkation in Brooklyn

Imposing in size…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…Queen Mary 2 dwarfs her surroundings at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Queen Mary 2 utilises the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, which is my favorite of the three New York-area terminals to depart from (the others being the Manhattan Cruise Terminal and Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey). Built in 2006, it is primarily used by Cunard and Princess Cruises.

Last night, I stayed at the Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, one of my favorite go-to hotels in  the New York area for over a decade. From the Brooklyn Marriott, it’s an easy 10-minute cab ride to the pier in Red Hook, though I usually like to take a car service: traffic can be very backed up on the approach to the terminal, and you don’t want to sit there with the meter running.

Whoops…joining the back of the embarkation queue. It’s worth noting that this is an anomaly that usually doesn’t happen. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Sadly, embarkation turned out to be problematic. When I arrived just after 1:00pm, a queue of people several hundred deep had already formed outside the terminal. I dropped off my luggage with the porters and joined the snaking line of increasingly annoyed guests. At least it was sunny out, though I quickly regretted my decision to put my sports coat and collared shirt on for embarkation.

Finally onboard! Stateroom corridor, Deck 6, facing aft. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

All told, it took me two hours and 12 minutes from the time I joined the line until I set foot onboard. I’d bet this was the result of a not-so-surprising CDC inspection (it’s the first time QM2 has returned to America since beginning her 2017 World Cruise in January), but the frustration among guests was pretty high.

Home On the High Seas: My Sheltered Balcony Stateroom

My home away from home: my Britannia Sheltered Balcony Stateroom on Deck 6. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

My home away from home onboard Queen Mary 2 is Stateroom 6.920, a Category BY Sheltered Balcony Stateroom located nearly all the way aft on Deck 6. It’s my first sheltered balcony stateroom onboard QM2, and from the looks of it, it’s going to be my go-to stateroom category from now on.

Cunard offers two types of balcony staterooms aboard QM2: sheltered and regular. Regular balcony staterooms are located on Decks 8 to 13, and have plexiglass balcony railings. So-called “Sheltered” balcony staterooms are located on Decks 4 to 6, and are literally “cut” into the hull of the ship. And these sheltered balconies are huge, which is probably why the room dimensions are slightly larger: 269 square feet instead of 248 square feet.

I absolutely love the sheltered balcony. Deeper than normal balconies, what you lose in terms of visibility (no plexiglass railing), you gain in shelter from the wind and the elements. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The view along Queen Mary 2’s port side, facing forward from my balcony…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and looking back towards the stateroom doors. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Inside, plenty of changes have been made as part of QM2’s 2016 “Remastering.” All the soft furnishings, from the carpeting to the pillows and runner on the bed, are brand-new. Gone is the strange, coffee-coloured carpeting inserted during the ship’s 2011 refit, replaced instead with a lighter earth-tone carpeting with a brown interlocking diamond pattern.

The lighting in the stateroom is brand-new, too. The old bedside table lights have been replaced with new ones that boast an attractive art deco styling, and a new faux leather headboard now rests above the bed. New artwork has been added above the seating area, which in turn has a brand-new couch that looks far more stylish than the reddish ones with the heavy black armrests that they replace.

Staterooms have benefited from a substantial makeover. Note the new headboard, pillows, bed throw, couch, lighting and artwork. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I love these new pillows. Too bad they don’t sell them in the gift shop! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The improvements made during the Remastering actually make these rooms look more grand than their previous decor scheme. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

A generous seating area is large enough for two, or in the case of my stateroom, this couch functions as a pull-out third berth. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The desk area is far less cluttered thanks to the addition…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…of a new, huge, flat-panel TV set mounted to the wall. Note the interconnecting stateroom door. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

All Cunard guests are greeted with a half-bottle of sparkling wine in Britannia Class. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The last detail took a while for me to notice: the small, flat-panel TV that used to sit on the desk is now mercifully gone! In its place: a massive flat-panel TV that now hangs on the wall opposite the bed, freeing up valuable desk space for an in-room kettle and all of its accompaniments. Both UK and North American-style power outlets are available on the desk (two apiece).

Closet space is still generous, with three full-sized closets, one half-height closet, and five drawers. It’s enough to store all the formal garb that you’ll need for the crossing: Cunard’s dress code is pretty much formal night, every night – and that’s the way I, and my fellow guests, like it.

Bathrooms haven’t changed much, but did they need to? Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Britannia Class staterooms include a stand-up shower, toilet, sink…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and Penhaligons of London toiletries. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The stateroom bathroom hasn’t changed much, but did it really need to? A stand-up shower is located on one side of the bathroom, with the toilet opposite. Shelving and storage space are adequate, and Cunard still stocks its Britannia Class staterooms (of which mine is) with Penhaligon’s Quercus line of toiletries.

Quite possibly my favorite touch in the entire stateroom: the new royal blue throw pillows on the bed, featuring the Cunard logo embroidered in gold. I’m going to have to see if they sell these in the gift shop…

Out to Sea

The anticipation builds…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as Queen Mary 2 prepares to set sail from New York! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Despite the delayed embarkation, the mandatory muster drill was held at 4:30pm on-the-dot, and we let go our lines shortly after 5:00pm. The beautiful thing about Queen Mary 2 is just how much deck space there is aboard this great ship; you’ll never find that you’re not able to get a spot by the railing somewhere.

But, in my view, the best departure spot is up on Deck 11, underneath QM2’s navigation bridge. You can get here by taking the ‘A Stairwell’ all the way up to Deck 11, or by using the exterior glass elevators that flank the ship’s gymnasium. Here, you see what Captain Christopher Wells sees just one deck above – and it’s a magnificent sight.

My favorite spot on the ship, without a doubt, is Deck 11 forward, which offers amazing views…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…from all angles. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

It even affords these great, sweeping views along the side of the ship. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Finally, we’re underway! Queen Mary 2 pushes away from her berth…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and heads out into the open Atlantic. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

After dressing for and enjoying dinner, I went and had a cocktail in the Chart Room on Deck 3. I’ve always enjoyed this space – and clearly, so does everyone else, because it can be a bit challenging to get a seat here during peak hours. But my persistence paid off, and I was rewarded with a nice window seat from which to admire the darkening ocean outside, and to enjoy the jazzy sounds of the Mark Hodgson Trio.

One of my favourite haunts for an evening cocktail…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…is the Chart Room on Deck 3. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

So soothing. So elegant. So grand! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This isn’t just a cruise. It’s a crossing; a journey back in time to an age when this was, truly, the only way to travel between North America and Europe.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report onboard Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 continues tomorrow, as we take an in-depth look at the ship’s historic 2016 ‘Remastering.’ 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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