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Let Me Take You on an OCEAN Cruise

March 6, 2017

qm2Recently I had the sheer pleasure of experiencing a 17-night voyage on the only existing “real” ocean liner–the Queen Mary 2–on the second leg of its 2017 “world cruise” sailing to Cape Town, South Africa, from Southampton, England.

For years, really decades, I had wanted to visit South Africa, but because of apartheid, political turmoil, expensive flights, full flights, long distance and work, I never got the opportunity. It was always at the top of my travel list, but never made it a reality.

Even my doctor at the Mayo Clinic, originally from Cape Town, urged me for years to go. He even threatened me once, “Go to Cape Town this year, and if you don’t, I’ll pass you on to someone else.” It was prophetic as he retired several years ago and I still hadn’t done the trip.

But late last year, thanks to an on-line travel agency advertisement, I found the Queen Mary 2 sailing and it fit our diary perfectly. We booked the trip last fall, and as the holiday season approached, the excitement mounted. We were finally going to visit Cape Town, but by a means much more glamorous than flying; it would be the most fashionable and gentile way possible, the Queen Mary 2.

Sailing day arrived and we met the Cunard greeters at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Three and were directed to a nearby coach for the 90-minute road trip to Southampton. Once in Southampton at the city’s main terminal port facility, the check-in and bag-drop process was relatively easy. Although there was about an hour of waiting, the time passed quickly and soon we were walking the gangway onto the vast ocean liner.

Our stateroom was luckily situated towards the front and on one of the lower decks. It’s better to be in the middle of the vessel, especially if one encounters rough seas, the motion of the ship is much less than if one is at either end or on one of the upper decks. A learning point after taking many cruises.stateroomOur stateroom didn’t have a balcony, but we did have the extra space that would have been taken up by the balcony, making for a very spacious accommodation. The bed was most comfortable. The bathroom was slightly larger than most cruise ships I’ve experienced. (It’s a great plus to have more room in the shower.) As it turned out, when talking to fellow passengers comparing various bits and pieces about the ship, our stateroom was bigger than most. The one improvement that could be made would be to enlarge or widen the closet space; there’s plenty of empty wall space, even with the huge window. On the whole, however, our accommodation was excellent.

The dining propositions were extraordinary The real problem for me? Not overeating. The three daily meals plus snacking opportunities are endlessly superb and the variety is overwhelming.

There are numerous options at any time of the day. Full breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinners were served in elegant or casual venues and buffets offered everything and anything. The dining rooms serve up menu options such as steak, prime rib, pork or lamb chops, shrimp or lobster and the most delicious desserts. There is also a Canyon Ranch option served at the dining rooms in the event one is watching their weight. One may also order from a varied room service menu, too. Throughout the day, there were specialty venues serving a variety of coffees, chocolate drinks, sandwiches and salads, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and tons of dessert goodies.

Once the culinary and hunger issues have been dealt with and one feels perfectly satisfied with their choice of venue and menu, there’s always the question of what one does the rest of the time? Well, the answer is kind of like the universe: It never ends.

During the day there are lectures ranging from current news topics and global warming to the latest in fashion, art and jewelry and highlights of the Queen Mary 2 destinations. The Queen Mary 2 is the only ship with its own in-house planetarium. There are movies everyday plus indoor games galore: bridge and bridge classes; chess; draughts; board games; and even knitting classes. The QM2 has the largest library at sea and it is full of reference material, maps, fiction and non-fiction books. There also is a complete gym with tons of workout equipment and trainers to advise workout routines.

Outdoors there is paddle tennis, a golf driving cage, table tennis, shuffleboard, several pools and the classic, lovely, old-fashioned wooden chaise lounge chairs to take in the sun while reading or snoozing.

For those guests wanting a more “wellness” lifestyle onboard and willing to pay for it, there’s the Canyon Ranch SpaClub that features a Jacuzzi and saunas. Or one may indulge in massages, facials or specialist treatments.

Evening activities include movies, classical and pop music concerts, club and pub entertainment, headline shows in the ship’s main theatre, dancing in the ship’s ballroom as well as the old standbys of bar crawling, gambling in the casino and more eating. It never stops.

Some of the excellent headliners during our recent sojourn were U.K. opera soprano Susan Parkes and her classical pianist husband, Warren Mailley-Smith; Katie Clarke, a brilliant pianist playing everything from classical to pop; cabaret and concert pop singer Lovena B. Fox; operatic and pop singer Roy Locke; and the usual array of comedians, magicians and ship’s company of dancers and singers.

For the first few nights, we didn’t make an effort to attend the shows. But dinner table partners urged us on, we got into the show-time pattern and wound up going every night and actually made friends with some of the entertainers. And as the ship, indeed, is a captive audience, one often runs into the personalities about the ship. Most are very personable, engaging and fun to chat with.

One of the interesting aspects of running such a “floating hotel” is how on earth do they plan for all the restaurant and buffet meals without repetition and driving the passengers to hunger boredom. You can only eat surf ‘n turf so many times–or at least until nothing fits anymore.

Queen Mary 2 Executive Chef Nicholas Oldroyd has his work cut out for him. Each day he oversees a staff of 150 chefs and 85 utility kitchen workers who assist in the preparation of over 15,000 daily meals–for both passengers and crew. A native of Yorkshire, England, Oldroyd has trained in the United Kingdom and France. He joining Cunard in 1999 and has worked on all three of its vessels: the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Victoria, and, since 2013, the Queen Mary 2.oldroydHis regular menu cycle for the main restaurants runs for 24 days. On our sailing, there also was the requisition, preparation and serving of exotic local meats such as wart hog, wildebeest, kudu or locally sourced fish such as kingclip. These specialty South African cuts must be served within three days as their “halo” effect only lasts while the ship is within range of South Africa. Once the ship gets to Australia or South East Asia, the importance of such local foods fades rapidly.

“There are also times when passengers spontaneously challenge me,” Oldroyd said. “Guests decide to host special parties for their friends or relatives without advance notice and we have to come up with special menus of the quantity and quality they desire. Thank goodness the ship has tons of space to store dry goods, wines, liquors and most anything party givers want to provide.”

One of the more interesting quirks about Nicholas is that he has a twin brother, Mark, who is also an executive chef onboard the Cunard ships. They work on their own, usually separated by thousands of miles of sea, but their lives are bound by their love of sailing and food. When they do occasionally meet, it’s usually at their vacation home in central Florida.

What’s it like to run floating hotel such as the Queen Mary 2? Just ask Hotel Manager, David Shepherd, who literally manages a mini-United Nations of more 1,000 staff comprised of almost 40 different nationalities. Shepherd supervises the total hotel and food operation of the ship, everything except navigation and engineering. His background is, obviously, hotels and ships, and he must work 24/7 to keep the operation ship-shape. He does it extremely well!shepherd.jpgWhat is so different about the Queen Mary 2? What makes her an ocean liner–the only real ocean liner existing today–compared to some of the much larger cruise ships? To find the answers, we go to the “master of the ship,” the man who sports the four gold stripes on his shoulder boards, the Captain.

“Most of the difference between the QM2 and other cruise vessels is the design of the hull–the forward section and to a lesser degree, the aft of the vessel”, says QM2 Captain Kevin Oprey, a mild-mannered man that could have come right out of central casting. And would you believe, he is a native of Southampton, England, and the sea has always played a part in his family life? From an early age, he was interested in sailing. Growing up in Southampton, he saw all the famous transatlantic ocean-going ships, including “the world-renowned Queens” of the Cunard Line. After college, navigation school and years with a variety of sea transport and energy-related companies, he joined Cunard in 2011 as captain of the Queen Mary 2.

oprey2
“A ship is classified as a bona fide ocean liner based on the shape and strength of its hull and its ability to cut through the water,” Oprey explained. “Whereas a cruise ship plies the calmer seas and visits various ports on an almost daily basis, the true ocean liner crosses the major oceans and has to deal with all types of weather and sea conditions. Our ship copes with it all pretty comfortably thanks also to the height of the ship as well as its long bow, which takes up the first one-third of the vessel.”

Under the command of the captain, the ship’s management team is divided into three main groups: deck and marine crew, technical and engineering and the hotel group.

The deck and marine crew is responsible for the maneuvering and navigation of the ship, the technical group oversees engineering and maintenance and the hotel group is responsible for food and beverage, housekeeping, concessions, entertainment and medical.

“On this particular 6,900-mile voyage from the North Atlantic to the South Atlantic, there are 1,260 crew from 55 countries and 2,692 passengers representing 37 nationalities. It’s like running a small town of over 4,000 inhabitants,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to meet so many interesting people and see so many cities and countries, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”

From top to bottom, bow to stern, the Queen Mary 2 is a most luxurious and want-for-nothing floating hotel. The 17 nights on the QM2 were beyond expectation and the pay off was arriving in the beautiful city of Cape Town relaxed, happy and ready to embrace South Africa.capetownThe Queen Mary 2’s program for this year and next is available from Cunard.com. If one has the time and inclination for a grand sea voyage, there’s no equal.

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