By the end of my ten-day Atlantic crossing to New York, a new wellbeing seemed to radiate from me. Lulled by the motion and murmurings of the rocking sea, I slept like a baby. I was never bored. Queen Mary 2, the Cunard Line’s flagship, has everything from a ballroom, planetarium and library to an art-deco Titanic-style dining hall. Passengers do not want for anything: there’s even a mortuary.
The last time I shipped out to New York from Southampton was in 1961, when I was a baby. We stayed in New York for more than a year while my father worked for a Wall Street investment bank. During our homeward journey on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth — 83,000 tonnes of staunchly riveted Glasgow steel — I won the Best Dressed Baby competition as the Roman sea-god Neptune (complete with a tinfoil trident).
Getting to and from New York was half the fun. Queen Elizabeth — ‘Lizzie’ to Cunarders — represented all the beauty and glamour of ocean travel. The QM2 — largest and most majestic liner in existence today — is modelled nostalgically on ‘Lizzie’. She is the last ship of any nationality to provide a regular passenger service to New York.
The days followed a languorous routine. After cocktails in the Commodore Club, below the ship’s bridge, I took dinner at the Princess Grill, and then went below deck to the ballroom to watch glamorous Amanda from Somerset waltz with Ukraine-born instructor Volodymyr, master of the unintentional double-entendre. (‘Gentlemen! The lady slides out only when you move forward.’)
The average passenger age was over 60. An abundance of wheelchairs, walking frames and mobility scooters cluttered the decks. (‘Hip, hip, hip replacement!’ the joke went.) At our port of call in Boston I attended a birthday party in Deck 9 aft. As we stood on the veranda with champagne glasses raised, a pleasure cruise advertising Jamaican ‘Wingz an’ ting’ hove to. The deck was fairly bouncing with sexy ragga music. A woman, naked save for a brief V of black lace, was gyrating with a man on top of a giant speaker. ‘Look at all them old white people on the boat!’ cried the DJ as they circled the QM2.
Cunard prides itself on its formal black tie and cocktail dress evenings. Suitably attired, I dined in the Princess Grill on duck consommé and fillet of Dover sole. We were now five days out from New York in a southerly direction: the wreck of the Titanic lay silent and submarine at a point three nautical miles north. Deck 10 seemed entirely white with moonlight. A man and a woman in evening finery stood gazing down at the ship’s backwash from the rear of the ship. They kissed — a moment of magical encounter as the liner passed over the Titanic’s final resting place.
Passengers were up at first light in their dressing gowns to see Manhattan and that great entranceway to hope and opportunity, the Statue of Liberty. By about five o’clock it was light enough to make out the mighty Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the foghorns of the QM2 boomed mournfully as we scraped under it. Next day, Cunard put on a cocktail party in Battery Park as we watched the QM2 turn homeward to Southampton. It had been a crossing to remember; already I could feel the sadness of farewell.