The novelty of travel has been ruined by haste: racing to the airport, dashing through security, a flying visit to the lounge, sprinting to the boarding gate, and praying that your flight leaves on time so that you can arrive at your destination without delay. There’s a luxury to travelling at the sharp end of the plane, too, but even champagne and a fully reclining bed can’t disguise the fact that you’re penned in a pressurised metal tube and will be breathing the same air as 400 other souls for the next 11 hours.
The journey itself was once an experience, before the distances shrank, due to the speed of travel — and there are few more iconic journeys than a Transatlantic crossing between the US and the UK. Cunard Lines has been operating crossings between New York and Southampton since 1847, and offers the only opportunity to do so in the modern age, aboard the Queen Mary 2.
With the retirement of the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 2008, the Queen Mary 2 remains the only true ocean liner in passenger service. An ocean liner is not a cruise ship — it’s more stately, built for stability on the vast, open ocean, and fitted for longer journeys. The Queen Mary 2 is an Art Deco tribute to the lost opulence of travel, and each stateroom — even those at lower price brackets — accommodates travellers in comfort, with queen-size beds, full bathrooms, minibars, complimentary room service, and multichannel flat-screen TVs.
The true Transatlantic experience is best savoured in The Grills, the Queen Mary 2’s premium offering. Queens Grill staterooms — duplexes, penthouses, and suites — are the most opulent on board, offering the best views; a butler service; king-size beds; separate sitting areas; luxury toiletries; and fine dining in the Queens Grill restaurant. Grills guests also have exclusive access to an aft deck level, with a dedicated bar service, loungers, and a pool.
On the eastbound crossing, canapés and a glass of champagne soften the blow of departing from New York as dusk settles over southern Manhattan, a blast of the ship’s horn signalling an almost-imperceptible edging away from the dock. Night falls quickly as the One World Trade Centre shrinks and the ship is guided out of the Brooklyn harbour, under the Verazzano-Narrows bridge, and into the open water.
The next land mass in sight will be the southern coast of England in seven days’ time, as the liner slices through the Atlantic on a course that arcs north towards Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and south under Cork, before ducking into the English Channel between Plymouth and Brest to arrive in Southampton.
Time becomes the true luxury over the course of these six nights. Its passage is marked by the midday striking of the ship’s bell in the towering Grand Lobby, which sees clocks turned an hour forward on each of five of the days at sea. Participate in all of the activities — or none, if you prefer. The wood-panelled library is stocked with more than 8,000 books, tutored tastings offer the chance to experience unusual wines and whiskies from around the world, and Cunard Insights speakers present daily talks (streamed to stateroom TVs) on topics as diverse as military history, film, art, and astronomy. Indeed, the Queen Mary 2 boasts the only planetarium at sea, and projects presentations about the skies above onto a massive domed screen, suspended above plush, reclining seats.
Each day at 3:30pm, the maître d’hôtel in the Queens Room claps his hands once and the string quartet strikes its first chord as a flotilla of white-gloved waiters pour forth from the wings in a ballet of service for the afternoon silver-service tea. After dinner most evenings, the quartet swells to an orchestra and plays into the night as tuxedoed men and glamorously gowned women waft across the largest wooden ballroom floor at sea.
Breakfast and lunch options are fluid, and passengers can choose from the three restaurants and King’s Court buffet, depending on their class of travel. Evening meals are more formal affairs, with assigned seating and tables; these offer ever-shifting menus and choices from a canonical wine list, with labels from the US to New Zealand, as well as a few classy South African offerings. Expert sommelier Domino de Four and the sommelier team make sure that 30 000 bottles are stocked on board for each 14-day Transatlantic round-trip.
A visit to The Verandah restaurant is worth the supplement. French-inspired fusion cooking delivers beautifully plated and incredibly inventive dishes, with spot-on wine pairings from accomplished sommeliers. A section of the Kings Court buffet restaurant is closed off each evening, allowing guests to frequent a pop-up restaurant with alternating Italian, Indian, and Mexican dining options.