Cruise To London

"Queen Mary 2" marked its 200th Transatlantic Crossing, passing by the Statue of Liberty, in 2013.


The last place on earth I thought I’d ever want to be was on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

This was back in October 1992, when I was still skeptical about cruising. My parents had asked me to join their seafaring getaway (in part so I could schlep their bags), but I was sure I’d get seasick and even more certain I’d be bored — trapped in a floating hotel with nothing to do, no peers and too much to eat.

Still, off we went, flying on the now defunct, superfast Concorde from New York City to London to board Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 — 70,000 tons and nearly the length of three football fields — in Southampton, England, for a six-night voyage back to New York.

To my surprise, the instant the ship let loose the lines that tied it to the pier, I felt all my worries loosen, as well. I’d soon understand why, for so many travelers, this voyage is a kind of fantasy fulfilled — and why a crossing on Cunard was in Patricia Schultz’s book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

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I crossed “the pond” five more times on the QE2 before the ship went out of service in 2008, and I have crossed on Cunard’s larger, grander replacement, the Queen Mary 2, 15 times since that ship debuted in 2004. Clearly, I’m addicted. But I find each time I make the crossing, it feels different. I’ve sailed in calm seas and fierce storms; stayed in tiny rabbit-warren inside cabins and spacious balcony accommodations; experienced vivacious tablemates, including a couple from Scotland who have become dear friends, and some quiet companions.

On some trips, I did little more than read, nap and dine, while I made others a nonstop, seven-day frenzy of activities, including everything from lectures (one featured the late, legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld; another, former New Yorker editor Tina Brown) to country line dancing with a British twist.

Yet, changes on the ship and differences in my experiences notwithstanding over these past 25-plus years, each Cunard crossing has offered the same comforting mix of new-age technology (Wi-Fi, of course) and old-world elegance (some crew members today wear fezlike red hats and red jackets with gold trim, plus white gloves). The combination is what you might expect from a 178-year-old British institution now owned by the very American Carnival Corp.

Passengers, for the most part, get into the spirit of the iconic crossing. Day wear is casual, but evenings are a weeklong dress up party: On three nights, guests are asked to don formal gowns and tuxedos. And even on informal nights, a jacket is required for men. If a red-carpet look is not for you, you may eat dinner in your khakis and jacket (“cocktail dress or stylish separates for ladies”) in the Kings Court food hall — but I never do. Entering the dining room like Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember never gets old for me. Grant, in fact, sailed on the QE2, as did Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope and Debbie Reynolds, among other notables.

The experience, however, is not just for the rich or famous.