Meeting Maddie - one of 17 pampered pooches on board
Hanging with the genial social hostess Lesley Meyer
Nice that one evening's show was all in Open Jaw pink....
The QM2 library - the largest at sea
Tina taking the air on the deck of Cunard's Queen Mary 2
Lots of pax participated in the choir rehearsals and performance
Life in the slow lane: Open Jaw correspondent Martha Chapman relaxes on board QM2
I wasn’t too sure what to expect on my first transatlantic crossing. Ballroom dancing, so I’d heard. Excellent food (this was, after all Cunard’s legendary Queen Mary 2). Swanky people. And apart from that? I had nothing.
Here are just some of the things I learned recently about crossing the ocean from New York to Southampton, in style, and in the company of Open Jaw’s very own Tina the Travel Agent.
1) I chatted with a ton of people, asking “Why are you on board?” There were a lot of bucket-listers and special-anniversary people, one fellow who was very ill last year and wished to celebrate his recovery, but also a smattering of families (yes, there’s a program for kids and teens), and folks who wanted to relive what their ancestors had done crossing the ocean, although I doubt the ancestors did it with quite so much champagne. Plus a few who confessed they were afraid to fly. I was also quite impressed by the number of loyal Cunarders with over 10 crossings “under their belts.”
2) On my June crossing there were 36 nationalities, according to Captain Christopher Wells at the Captain’s cocktail party. Of the 2,494 passengers, (the ship holds 2,650) the main groups were American and British but also 140 of us Canucks and a smattering from New Zealand, Taiwan, etc. All onboard announcements, lectures and printed material are in English only, and US$ is used.
4) There are just 18 solo cabins and they sell very quickly.
5) There are spaces for 17 much-loved dogs in their own kennel with a run and fake-but-hilarious fire hydrant. Waitlist for those spots is 18 months and the fee is US$800 one way per pooch.
6) Some nuts-and-bolts tips for agents from Cunard: Please don’t tell clients that tables adjacent to the windows at dinner can be confirmed (though breakfast and lunch are open seating). The ship does not work on an upgrade-at-check-in-based-on-space-availability: If clients want an upgrade, they’ll have to pay for it upfront. Lastly, WiFi is not included, but available in packages starting at US$47.95 for 120 minutes. It can be slow, so suggest your clients use public areas.
From my own viewpoint, my cabin on Deck 8 had a balcony but the view was largely obstructed by a lifeboat – reflected in a lower price. No big deal when crossing the Atlantic but perhaps disappointing on another itinerary when you are missing views of fjords or charming ports of call.
7) Though the crossing takes a week, boredom is not an option. Entertainment included guest lecturers on everything from art to the great ocean liners of the past; trivia competitions; meetings for LGBT passengers and solo travellers; a book club; ballroom dancing lessons; a galley tour; art classes; iPad workshops; poker competitions; Christian fellowship gatherings; darts competitions….you get my drift. Tables in public areas sported jigsaw puzzles, Monopoly games and playing cards. I decided it was like a very fancy summer camp, but with alcohol.
8) Facilities include a spa, small casino, a smattering of shops, a pool and a magical shipboard planetarium. The ship also features the largest library at sea with 10,000 volumes.
9) There were 3 formal nights during which some pax went all the way with tuxes and gowns. If you didn’t wish to take part, no problem: you were just asked to steer clear of the areas where the dressy folks would be. Some savvy travellers took advantage of Cunard’s service to ship a suitcase of sparkly duds home on arrival in Southampton while they continued on their vacation.
As many of my fellow passengers remarked, a transatlantic crossing is simply a wonderful way to disconnect, to feel the stress slide off, and put yourself in safe hands as you slowly glide across the Atlantic. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Martha Chapman Columnist
An OJ columnist since 2006, Martha is responsible for the Biting Questions features as well as special seasonal series. A travel industry lifer known to all in the biz, she frequently covers industry events for Open Jaw.