Queen Mary 2 – the ruler of the oceans

Nostalgia for the golden days of cruises seems to continue as strong as ever: the Queen Mary 2 keeps the grand old tradition of transatlantic liners alive. We boarded the great lady for a cruise from Hamburg to New York. 

Several times a year, Hamburg is suddenly gripped by a fervent passion for the monarchy, and for a few days the British queen rules the city. No, not Elizabeth, but Mary the Second, the queen of the ocean. Hundreds of thousands of spectators line the banks of the River Elbe to watch her majestic arrival and departure. The Queen Mary 2 has become the city’s new landmark, a kind of floating St. Michaelis Church. When she leaves Hamburg late in the evening, against a backdrop of brightly-coloured fireworks that light up the evening sky, one feels that the entire city yearns to swim after her. Or, even better, sail off on her. For the Queen Mary 2, Hamburg is the port of hearts. Her home port is Southampton in England. 

 

  • Copyright: Cunard

And this is exactly where I come on board, as do up to 2,600 other passengers who are making this dream come true for themselves: ten days on the Queen Mary 2, across the Atlantic to New York. This is a historic route, the route that all the big ocean liners took to cross the Atlantic. The ships of Hapag, the Norddeutsche Lloyd, the White Star Line and the Cunard Line. Back then, in the days before Airbuses and Boeings. Now, only the Queen Mary 2 keeps this tradition alive. 

We file past a guard of honour comprised of stewards and officers to board the ship and find ourselves in the Grand Lobby. It is truly breathtaking the first time you see it: mighty marble columns, ceilings lavishly decorated with stucco, two gigantic staircases with red carpets, highly polished brass handrails. And glass elevators in which the passengers can ride up six floors in the gigantic atrium. It is a sight to make a grand hotel quake with envy.

The ship’s horn signals that we have cast off. I am joined on board by around 400 other Germans. For example, the Lausens. For Karin and her husband, Ernst, this is their first sea voyage.  The couple comes from Füsing an der Schlei, a tiny village in Schleswig-Holstein with a population of a scant 300 people. Ten times that many people ‘live’ on board here. The Lausens booked this cruise through their local newspaper. For €1,490 per person in an inside cabin, including flights and taxi transfer to their own front door. 

And now they’re on their way to New York. It just goes to show how soon a dream can become reality. The crew won’t be getting big tips from them, and they’ll be ironing their own shirts and trousers. “We didn’t bring a dinner jacket. A suit will have to do, won’t it?”  Ernst nods. A Schleswig-Holsteiner remains down to earth, even when he’s at sea. 

  • Copryright: Uwe Bahn

The ship also has a laundry. Right down, deep in the bowels of the ship, is where the sheets and duvet covers for the 1,310 cabins are washed and ironed. As well as the tablecloths and napkins from the restaurants. Every week, there are in excess of 10,000 pieces of laundry, not counting the passengers’ personal laundry.  The laundry is Chinatown: like on any ship, the people who work here are all Asians. The boss of the crew is Mister Chew, who sees daylight as seldom as his home country: “I have been working below deck on cruise ships for 37 years now. It’s my job, my life”, explains the man from Singapore. 

In the meantime I have let the first Atlantic breezes ruffle my hair and have explored the outside decks. The jogging trail on Deck 7, for example. Once round the ship, 620 metres, longer than a round of the sports field. Equally big is the Royal Court Theatre with over 1,000 seats, where host Enrico has gathered all the German guests. He wears a sign that says “Host”, meaning that he often gets called Horst by the Germans, something he’s become accustomed to. “Horst” informs us that this evening’s entertainment programme includes the new musical “Rock at the Opera”, that we can learn Latin-American dances in the ballroom and that a string quartet is playing in the Grand Lobby. The alternative is very simple: eating. 

  • Copyright: Cunard

In the Britannia Restaurant I meet up with the Lausens again. Together we eat our four-course meal. We, that is the passengers from the simple inside, outside and balcony cabins, a total of 1,100 passengers who dine in Art-déco ambience of the 1920s in a restaurant spread over two floors. On the menu the main course is roast duck à l’orange with hazelnut croquettes and grand Mariner sauce. The passengers in the suites dine in the Princess' or the Queen’s Grill – which sound slightly like snack bars, but certainly do not cater in snack food. Caviar and oysters are served here, but then a week in the Grand Duplex Suite does cost around 20,000 dollars. Next time, perhaps. 

While we nibble at our caramelised pears, the situation behind the scenes gradually relaxes. Kitchen chief Jean-Marie Zimmermann watches the waiters on the escalators carry the final desserts up to the guests. The meal is finished: four courses for more than 2,000 hungry passengers. “Every evening we make and serve 10,000 meals”, says the Alsatian proudly. There’s no doubt that this is a masterful achievement. 

Our route from Southampton to New York takes us further north than the course of the Titanic. Anyone who feels so inclined can read about the history of the disaster here on board. In the world’s largest floating library quite a few of the 8,000 books are about the Titanic. It is reassuring to know that the Queen Mary 2 is three times as big and that there aren’t any icebergs around us. All we can see is the endless expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, which for the entire week treats us very graciously. Wind force four is the most we have to endure. The Queen Mary 2 doesn’t even bat an eyelid. Which is more than can be said for the American passengers, who meet up at the daily art auction. In the Conservatory on Deck 7 passengers can buy oil paintings, watercolours and drawings in an auction. “Going, going, gone!” A framed Rembrandt print finds a new owner for the sum of 700 dollars. 

  • Copyright: Uwe Bahn

The last evening on board is a very special one for the Lausens. Karin and Ernst want to renew their marriage vows. 50 other couples gather for the ceremony. The ship’s cleric appears and calls them all up to the stage, couple by couple. “Karin and Ernst Lausen!“With tears in their eyes, they both whisper a “yes”. They receive a certificate which states that they and all the other couples have renewed their vows. And not just in any old place, but on board the Queen Mary 2, which is now heading towards the highlight of the trip: the arrival in New York.  It is just after four o’clock in the morning. More and more passengers stream upstairs onto the top deck, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Nobody wants to miss this moment. The spectacular entrance begins. In front of us, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge spans the Hudson River. Only a few metres separate the funnel of the Queen Mary 2 from the bridge. The queen of the oceans slides though with practically no space to spare, and then sails inexorably towards her destination, leaving the Statue of Liberty behind us on the port side. 

And then we see them sparkling: the lights of Manhattan. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for for ten days. We have reached our destination: New York – the city that never sleeps, and which is, nevertheless, only just awakening. A final breakfast and then we have to say goodbye to the Queen Mary 2. There’s a small consolation in the thought that there will be a chance to see her again. In two months and 13 days. The queen comes to Hamburg several times a year. Where else would she go? 

© KREUZFAHRT GUIDE / Bellevue and More Verlag;

www.kreuzfahrtguide.com

Author: Uwe Bahn