QM2 = WOW!

By Lew Toulmin

—The Cruising World is written by Lew Toulmin.

We reclined comfortably, looking up at the thousands of brilliant stars overhead. The ship swayed slightly as she drove forward at 25 knots.

Suddenly the stars shifted dramatically, galaxies appeared and great streaks of color covered the heavens. Harrison Ford whispered in our ear, saying, “And now we will see Earth’s place among the stars.” For these were not the ordinary stars as seen from an ordinary ship, these were the stars of the only planetarium at sea, on board one of the world’s most remarkable ships: the Queen Mary 2 of Cunard Line.

Cunard firsts at sea

The planetarium at sea is just one of many amazing innovations that Cunard has introduced since Sir Samuel Cunard created the first regular transatlantic passenger service in 1840 aboard the paddlewheeler/sail vessel Brittania. Cunard innovations over the years have included the following:

• the system of signal lights now in use on all ships around the world, with green to starboard, red to port and a white light overhead (1848);

• the first children’s playroom at sea (1852);

• the first bathrooms at sea (1870; before that, everyone used a chamber pot or bucket or went to exposed platforms at the “head” of the ship — hence the term “going to the head”);

• the first library at sea (1874);

• the first electric lighting at sea (1881);

• the first iceboxes (1856) and first electric refrigeration at sea (1893);

• the first wireless signals sent at sea (1901), and

• the first world cruise by a passenger vessel (1922).

Indeed, I think it can be said that without Cunard innovations, the cruise industry as we know it today could hardly exist.

Queen Mary (1), a great heritage

Queen Mary 2 is named after the original Queen Mary, which was launched in 1936 by the reigning Queen Mary, wife of King George V.

Legend has it that Cunard had intended to name the ship after Queen Victoria, who had reigned for 62 years and died in 1901. The Cunard representatives asked the king for permission to “name the country’s greatest liner after England’s greatest queen.” The king, perhaps misunderstanding deliberately, said, “My wife will be delighted.” And so the name Queen Mary was given, and carries on today.

The original Queen Mary sailed the seas for 33 years, crossing the Atlantic 1,001 times, steaming 3.8 million nautical miles and carrying more than two million passengers. Perhaps her finest moment came during World War II, when she and her sister ship, Queen Elizabeth, carried more than 1.6 million troops — mostly Americans and Canadians — more than a million miles across the Atlantic and other oceans. Winston Churchill estimated that the two Queens “shortened the war by at least a year.”

It is this Queen Mary which was purchased in 1967 for $3.45 million and converted into a floating hotel that is still in operation in Long Beach, California.

Queen Mary 2 amazing statistics

The QM2 keeps up the traditions of her predecessor with remarkable innovations and statistics. Launched in January 2004, she is literally the largest, longest, tallest, widest and most expensive passenger liner ever built. She boasts. . .

• a maximum passenger capacity of 3,090;

• a price of $780 million (the most expensive passenger ship afloat);

• the first Canyon Ranch Spa at sea, with 20,000 square feet on two decks (believe me, it’s fabulous!);

• the largest library at sea (8,500-plus volumes and numerous CDs);

• the largest ballroom and dance floor at sea;

• the largest jogging track at sea;

• the largest wine cellar afloat;

• 79% of her cabins’ having private balconies;

• a cultural academy operated by the University of Oxford;

• a displacement of 150,000 gross tons;

• an interior volume over twice that of her sister ship, QE2;

• a length of 1,132 feet (equal to 41 London buses) and a beam of 135 feet (too large for the Panama Canal);

• a height of 236 feet (equivalent to just shy of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge — this was the main design constraint);

• a top speed of 30 knots (34 mph), about twice the usual cruise ship speed;

• gas turbine and diesel engines which develop 118 megawatts of power, about twice the power of the typical large cruise ship, and

• a drive system of four “pods” which hang below the ship, weigh 250 tons each, produce more power than a jumbo jet and allow the ship to turn in her own length without assistance from tugs.

QM2 — an evaluation

My wife and I took a (substantially “comped”) familiarization voyage aboard QM2 from Quebec to New York in September 2004. We were stunned by the lavish artwork: 565 original works of art and numerous historical artworks and objects. We were impressed with the professionalism of the British and Asian staff and their extensive experience and attention to detail.

We thought that the design team had achieved exactly what they hoped: a vessel that allows for views of the seascapes outside from almost every public space (very difficult to achieve), one that is safe in virtually any kind of weather (according to passengers, QM2 sailed through the 70-knot winds and 21-foot waves of the remains of Hurricane Ivan with no problems at all) and that is beautiful and spacious yet traditional and thoroughly British.

We felt that the food in the Britannia Restaurant (seating 1,347) and the other restaurants was prepared to a very high standard, though it was perhaps not quite as good as that aboard sister ship QE2.

In our experience and according to most seagoing chefs, it takes at least 18 months to really shake down the kitchens and get a totally cohesive team in place. When we sailed, the QM2 had been cruising for nine months, while the QE2 has had over 30 years to reach top form.

We thought that the conversion of the large breakfast and lunch areas just inside the promenade deck into four very different restaurants in the evening, by using different lighting and pull-down panels, was very clever and worked extremely well.

One of our most delightful eating experiences was watching chef Sean Watier in the Chef’s Galley prepare a meal right in front of us. This special, innovative facility has TV monitors and overhead mirrors that allow an audience of about 35 to watch the chef’s every move.

Chef Watier created a wonderful tropical fruit salad and a Mediterranean tenderloin. He finished with a superb Floating Island with orange crisps and marinated raspberries — one of the best dishes we’ve ever had on a cruise ship.

The shows, lectures, exercise gyms, movies, computer rooms and other activities were so numerous that we were always busy and engaged. The lectures by Bill Miller on the history of cruise ships were absolutely riveting. We simply cannot understand people who say, “But if I go cruising, what is there to do?” That is certainly not a problem, at least not on the QM2.

One of the greatest things about the QM2 is the tremendous attention she attracts in every port. Over 30,000 people lined the St. Lawrence River and the Quebec docks to welcome the QM2. Bands played and the crowd sang their favorite songs, swaying back and forth.

In every port, we were asked, “What is the QM2 like?” It was a pleasure to answer, “She’s a ship that will take you to the stars and back.”

Choose a cruise

During the rest of 2005 the QM2 will sail transatlantic 27 times over the spring, summer and fall, taking over the QE2 role. (The QE2 will focus on European and world cruising.) The QM2 also will offer several Caribbean voyages, a Mediterranean cruise and a “fall colors” voyage along the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada. In 2006 the vessel will round Cape Horn twice, being the largest passenger vessel to do so.

This year, typical fares for a 6-day transatlantic crossing range from $1,649 for an inside cabin to $2,499 for a standard ocean-view cabin. A 12-day Mediterranean cruise from Southampton, England, ranges from $2,749 to $3,549 for similar cabins. All of these fares are per person, double occupancy, and cruise only — no air.

For more information, call Cunard at 1-800-CUNARD, visit www. cunard.com or contact your travel agent.