Mayflower Memorial at Plymouth
Four hundred years ago or so, a band of men and women launched from Southampton on two big ships to escape religious persecution in England. One ship sank but the other --- the Mayflower --- left from Plymouth, England and arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts months later. They suffered crowded conditions on the boat, the women crammed into a single small space and the men often sleeping above decks. One woman gave birth on that ship and another was seven months pregnant when she landed in Massachusetts and a young sailor died from disease.
Queen Mary 2
As commerce between the States and Europe grew, so did ship travel. By the late nineteenth century, luxury ocean liners carted the aristocracy across the Atlantic Ocean, making the voyage in as little as six days. Though the Titanic was the biggest and most expensive of the ocean liners, she was by no means the only cruise ship making the transatlantic voyage at that time.
Pool and front decks
In 1839, Samuel Cunard was awarded the first mailship transatlantic voyage and, in the early 20th century, built two superliners --- the ill-fated Lusitania and Mauretania --- under British government contracts. When the White Star-owned Titanic sank, Cunard Line's Carpathia was the first to arrive on scene and rescue the survivors. In the intervening century, the Cunard brand has been bought out by Carnival Cruise Lines but the Cunard ships still make the transatlantic journey, each ship named after a particular queen.
Views of New York when departing
It is this long history of transatlantic sailing --- of departing from Brooklyn with the Statue of Liberty at our backs and arriving in Southampton where the Titanic last saw shore --- that Cunard tries to preserve on its transatlantic voyages.
The library on the Queen Mary 2 is a peaceful place with a stunning array of books in mahogany and glass bookshelves. White-gloved waiters serve high tea in the royal ballroom at 3:00 every day with stacks of finger sandwiches and cakes to be placed on our plates. The usual cruise activities --- hula classes and painting --- give way to more intellectual pursuits on the QM2 . A huge planetarium occupies the second floor and an astronomical expert lectured on navigating by the stars. Members from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts put on a (very poor) adaptation of Hamlet. And, at six o’clock, casual attire is prohibited in all public areas of the ship. Some cruisers bring out pressed dinner jackets and hats fit for Ascot, as they twirl about after dinner to the full band in the ballroom.
Chewy in his Queen Mary 2 jacket
Even the kennels are a legacy of an earlier time. According to Cunard records, Mr. Ramshaw, the world's only trained golden eagle, made at least 21 transatlantic crossings on mid 20th-century liners; Rin-Tin-Tin, star of 36 silent films, traveled on the Berengaria; and Tom Mix and Tony, stars of the 1930’s western series "Miracle Rider," regularly sailed with Cunard. In the 1950s, Elizabeth Taylor brought her dogs on board the original Queen Mary, exercised them regularly on the ship's sports deck, even ordered special meals for them from the fish chef. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor also traveled with a beloved pup and, at the Duke's behest, Cunard installed a lamp post beside the kennels.
Chewy, Abby, me, and the Commodore (the captain) on the QM2
Today, the Queen Mary 2 has twelve kennels which fill up as fast as the spaces open up for the next year, as people moving and traveling between continents want to take their pets without putting them in the cargo hold of a plane. (For more information on the QM2 kennels, check out our sister site The Road Unleashed where I will be writing about the kennels over the next few weeks.)
Before we boarded the QM2, we grumbled about having to carry formal attire and the lack of casual areas onboard to have a simple meal. But, now, I get it. By dressing almost like those on the Titanic dressed, eating under glittering chandeliers on china plates, and taking in lectures on astronomy and painting, we take a small step back, to remember what it was like in earlier days of travel to and from the New World.
Our QM2 room
We booked the cheapest interior room onboard for about $999 per person. A month before we departed, we were notified that we had been upgraded to a “partially obstructed view” balcony room. Our room was spacious and incredibly comfortable, with a wide king-sized bed, a relatively large bathroom, and plenty of closet space for all of our things and much more. The partial obstruction turned out to be a complete obstruction in the form of one of the emergency Zodiacs.
There are good laundry facilities on several decks on the ship and though we occasionally had to wait to use a machine, it wasn't for long. Activities were plentiful and generally good, though the RADA performance of Hamlet was the worst Shakespearean production I have ever seen. We particularly enjoyed the astronomy lectures and the planetarium shows. I’ll be writing about the kennels and embarking and disembarking with dogs on The Road Unleashed , and a post about the kitchen and food on this site in the next few weeks.