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B4 to PMR: Happy Birthday

Surprise! (until Cunard sent out their survey...)


View RussRaff Crossing on paulej4's travel map.

B4 created a 70th birthday surprise for me: a transatlantic crossing aboard the iconic Cunard ship Queen Mary 2.We had discussed this wonderful idea in the past; working through "the World's Greatest Travel Agent," Kathy Sudeikis, she made it happen. This trip is every much a throwback in travel history just as it was when, a few years ago, I booked a berth on "The Palace on Wheels" which is a train that rolls across Rajasthan nestled under Pakistan in northwest India.

There will be ten or more entries into this blog and, because you just got it in your email, that means that either B4 or I "subscribed" you. You can "unsubscribe" and, if you don't want to follow us on this journey, please go ahead and unsubscribe; it won't hurt our feelings one bit.

[RUSS_RAFF_crossing.jpegCunard "spoiled" the surprise associated with this crossing when, immediately after B4 made the booking, they sent me an email saying, "We're delighted that you decided to book a cruise on Queen Mary 2 and we look forward to welcoming you on board in the near future. In this survey we are particularly interested in understanding why you decided to book this holiday and what you're looking forward to the most." I, however, may enjoy the adventure even more because I was given the experience of anticipation.

Aboard Delta to LaGuardia, we opted to spend the night before embarkation at the "redesigned" Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge (using 40,000 Marriott Rewards points). The hotel is only a couple of miles from Pier 12 in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn where the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal handles 50 cruise ships from either Princess or Cunard and their 250,000 yearly passengers. Tomorrow, make that 250,002.

16402410-c4e4-11e8-ae7d-17d796c86ead.pngTonight, we celebrate crossing-eve at Henry's End Restaurant (located under the Brooklyn Bridge, interestingly at the end of Henry Street, in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn). Since 1973, this neighborhood mainstay owned by Mark Lahm boasts high ceilings, exposed brick walls and an open kitchen but is, somehow, not cacophonous as are so many of today's eateries. Wild game is the hook here where they are in the early phase of their 34th annual Wild Game Festival with offerings ranging from "emu ragu" to "spiced kangaroo" or, for the less adventurous, elk chops.

We meet cousin Ariel and, after dinner, stroll along the East River and to Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge) and then back to the Marriott.

But our minds are on the Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner which will glide into Pier 12--a mile or so from here--early tomorrow morning and where we will board around 12:30. Join us; come along. We hope to publish the consummate accounting of a transatlantic crossing. BerylArielEastRiver.jpgDumbo.jpg

Posted by paulej4 13:08 Archived in USA Tagged brooklyn Comments (5)

Embarking the Queen

The Queen Mary 2; all 150,000 tons of her

RUSS_RAFF_crossing.jpegThe RMS (Royal Mail Ship—an honorary title) Queen Mary 2 is not a “cruise ship”; but is instead an “ocean liner.” QM2 is, in fact, the only ocean liner in regular service going back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean from Brooklyn, NY, USA, to Southampton, UK (fourteen times this year beginning on August 6 and ending on December 5). To be clear, sixteen other cruise ship companies make 38 other trips crossing the Atlantic leaving from somewhere else (maybe Barcelona, Copenhagen or Rome) and arriving somewhere else (maybe Montreal, Boston or Miami) but most of them are referred to as “repositioning” cruises and sold at a discount since they offer none of the normal ports of call as on their “regular” cruises.

What makes this 1,132-foot-long (not quite four football fields), over 150,000 gross-ton-ship an ocean liner and not a cruise ship? QM2 is designed for fast and stable crossings of potentially rough seas. QM2 contains 40% more steel than a similar sized cruise ship would have. QM2 is much faster, capable of doing 35 miles per hour. (Cruise ships average 23 miles per hour) QM2 is powerful with four diesel engines backed up by two more gas turbine engines powering four propeller pods, two of which are able to turn 360-degrees to more precisely steer and maneuver the ship. QM2 sailed its maiden voyage on January 12, 2004. Designers expect the ship to be in productive service for 40 years.

The ship docked for two weeks at Piraeus Harbor in Athens during the 2004 Olympics and served as a hotel for the United States Olympic bronze medal basketball team, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and U.S. President George W. Bush. We are uncertain as to which cabin was assigned to which notable person but, suffice to say, there are plenty of fancy suites to go around, including five "Grand Duplex Suites" that measure up to a staggering 2,249 square feet in enormousness. We will dine with those dignitaries in the Queen's Grill Restaurant but probably won't rub elbows with them.

Cunard, QM2’s owner, which “provides cruising for the elite” began business in 1840 as a steamship company when Samuel Cunard commenced regularly scheduled Atlantic Ocean crossings. In 2015, cruise giant Carnival purchased Cunard for $500 million. Today, the Cunard division of Carnival operates two cruise ships (the 2,081 passenger Queen Elizabeth and the 2,061 passenger Queen Victoria) and one ocean liner: the 2,695 passenger Queen Mary 2. Five years ago, I sailed aboard the Queen Elizabeth across the Pacific Ocean and back for 36 wonderful nights.

Today, as a 70th birthday gift from B4, she and I cross the north Atlantic Ocean in style.

When QM2 is not shuttling between New York and Great Britain, it is also used for cruising, including one fabulous world cruise lasting 108 Days from Brooklyn to Brooklyn stopping in 40 ports including Cairo, Goa (India) and Beijing. You and your bestie can have a small suite for that journey for slightly more than $100,000.00 ($953 per night) or an inside cabin (talk about claustrophobia) for just over $40,000.00 ($397 per night). If that’s too much, you could hop onto the QM2 in Southampton and sail to Hamburg and back using up only four days and spending less than $1,000 for a nice inside cabin. The price will fall as the sailing date nears; unless the ship sells out and you miss out.

Prior to arriving here early this morning, QM2 sailed from Hamburg to Southampton to New York to up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec and then back here to Brooklyn to pick us up.

On our upcoming Transatlantic itinerary, there were inside cabins, balcony cabins and suites still available two months before sailing being offered as low as $1,400 for the seven nights. One week prior to sailing a balcony for two on this crossing purchased from vacationstogo.com would set you back only $1,568, a 59% discount. (It was on offer on Cunard’s site for $1,698). You could also buy a much smaller ocean view single (for one, you understand) for $1,734 or $1,684 at vacationstogo. As you can see, cruise pricing makes no sense.

All sold out were upgraded accommodation in Club Balcony (premium economy?), Princess Grill (business class?) and Queens Grill (definitely first class)—where, thanks to my loving B4, we will be regally ensconced in Queens Grill Suite 9028.

Much of QM2’s outdoor space is sheltered by wind screens to protect passengers when sailing at higher speeds in cooler weather. One of the five swimming pools can be covered by a retractable sliding glass roof called a “magrodome” and one other pool is completely indoors next to the Deck 7, Canyon Ranch Spa Club. One of my favorite features is a continuous wrap-around promenade walking/jogging deck where 2.6 laps equals one mile. The typical high school running track is four laps per mile.

QM2 sports an unconventional funnel design because a more typical, taller, funnel would not have been able to pass, at high tide, under New York City’s 228-foot Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. High tide today, by the way, is at 7:42 tonight. Even with that funnel, however, QM2 is too tall to transit the Panama Canal because Panama’s Bridge of the Americas limits clearance to just 201 feet.

Historical Fact: Headed here, the White Star Line’s Titanic set sail from our destination port of Southampton exactly 106 years and 6 months ago. Those who are very precise in their history of ocean crossings will, no doubt, remind me that Titanic didn’t sail directly from Southampton to New York. Her first stop out of Southampton was Cherbourg, France, where 274 passengers boarded while her second stop was outside of Cork, Ireland at the port of Cobh, (then known as Queenstown) where 120 more people embarked. Seven lucky souls disembarked there. Four days later, on April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg where, of the 1,324 passengers and 908 crew, 1,503 human souls perished. We anticipate better fortunes on this October, 2018, crossing. That choice of words is intentional; this is not a "cruise;" it is, in fact, a "crossing." ad63db30-c4d9-11e8-bf40-0fd4d9a1488f.jpg8ecc04d0-c4da-11e8-88ea-d3ce4e7211e8.jpg
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Second Historical Fact: Cunard took a cow on its first transatlantic crossing in 1840 to guarantee fresh milk for the passengers’ tea.

Third Historical Fact: One in five immigrants to the United States arrived in the United States at Ellis Island past which we soon sail. Cunard was then White Star’s main competitor until the two lines merged in 1934. My grandfather, Michael Francis Russell, born in Ireland on September 16, 1872 (either in Dublin or Kilkee in County Clare—we’re uncertain), one day and 76 years before my birthday which we here celebrate, arrived in the United States 215 miles north in Boston in 1893. Allegedly, he was a 21-year-old “cabin boy” aboard a ship whose name we do not know. Visas were not required.

But, as usual, I digress.

Cunard, alone among cruise lines (to the best of my knowledge) does not forbid the bringing of "personal alcohol" aboard; it does, however limit it to two bottles. So, we stop at Michael Towne's Wine & Spirits to acquire two bottles of prosecco, not to be confused with Champagne. Champagne must come from the Champagne region of northeast France and must be made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. Conversely, prosecco comes from the glera grape, which is native to the Veneto region of Italy (just north of beautiful Venice). And, it is remarkably less expensive and noticeably sweeter in taste. Both are sparkling wines--lots of bubbles--but Champagne carbonates while it is being bottled while prosecco carbonates in stainless steel vats. But, as usual, I digress once more.QM2SailingFull.jpgQM2Champagne.jpgQM29028Bed.jpgQM2908Door.jpg

Checking in, boarding, finding our stateroom, getting our bags, B4 finding the spa and making appointments, meeting Joel our butler and James our steward all went well. Lunch at the Queens Grill was unimpressive because our table is adjacent to a servers dirty dish collection area and is cacophonous. I request a table change; we will see if that happens. Boarding we met Bob and Mel, a delightful couple from Brooklyn, together for 52 years, married for 14. My fondest wish is that we become friends with them during our crossing. DailyProgramme10072018.jpg

Our lifeboat drill is coming up in a few minutes.

Posted by paulej4 13:24 Archived in USA Tagged queen mary 2 Comments (3)

Day One: Exploring The Ship

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January 12, 2004: Queen Mary 2 – the largest, longest, tallest, widest and most expensive passenger ship in history (at that time) departed from Cunard’s home port, Southampton, on her Maiden Voyage. Gasoline was $1.55 per gallon, "Big Fish" and "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" vied for the top movie box office position and "Low Carb Shops" were springing up to serve the Adkins Diet set. QM2 docked in Fort Lauderdale 14 days later. In 2005, QM2 carried the first copy of JK Rowlings book "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince to America.

November, 2011: To keep her "the bee's knees," QM2 underwent a refurbishment at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg. Controversially, her registration was changed from Southampton (UK) to Hamilton (Bermuda). That ended 170 years of tradition. They redesigned the ships "Golden Lion Pub," put flat screen TVs in the staterooms and installed new carpeting throughout.

June, 2016: A more extensive 25-day refit costing $132 million occurred over several weeks at the same shipyard. Cunard "re-created" many of the public areas, redesigned both the "Kings Court" buffet and what was then the "Winter Garden" was turned into the "Carinthia Lounge." The "Todd English" restaurant was out and the "Cunard Verandah" was in. A Godiva Chocolate Cafe was added and every cabin aboard was redesigned. To keep up with the new trend of passengers traveling solo, fifteen new single ocean-view cabins were added; the space required came from the casino.
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October, 2018: The Queen feels regal and fresh to me.

Here's a link to a documentary from our friends at the National Geographic Channel in case you want to delve deeper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XzJ8arbcKo

I will here endeavor to break an old habit of referring to ships using the feminine gender, "she." As gender has become more fluent, the style guides for the Associated Press and the New York Times recommend treating ships as neuter. The US Navy--and the Royal Navy--continue to refer to ships as "she" but, of late, the pronoun "it" has crept aboard.

Our Ship’s Master is, happily, Captain Christopher Wells, the same officer who commanded Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in 2013 when I spent 36 nights aboard sailing Los Angeles-Honolulu-Pago Pago-Apia-Aukland-Tauranga-Napier-Wellington-Papeete-Bora Bora-Hilo-Kauhuli-Los Angeles. I became enamored with his daily Navigational Announcement which consists of information from the Bridge over the ship’s public address system. “Here’s the Captain,” he always began using a tone and tenor that made you take an instant liking to him.

Our Senior Maitre d'Hotel is Osman Pinaroglu. More about him later but suffice to say he is everything a Maitre d'Hotel ought to be but seldom is. The same can be said about Queen Mary 2. For us, for our demographic, for what we were seeking, she is initially perfect. Formal, almost but not quite stuffy. Gentile. Refined. Smiling but not overly so; never arrogant or better than thou. QM2 is more like I recall the old mustard commercials from years past: "Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?" one back seat luxury vehicle asked of another. "But, of course," came the friendly reply, ready to share knowing that the gesture would be, if asked, returned.

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Posted by paulej4 05:12 Tagged queen mary 2 Comments (4)

Goldilocks Service

Not too hot; not too cold

overcast 60 °F

RUSS_RAFF_crossing.jpegIt is the Goldilocks standard. That is to say, the service aboard QM2 is not too hot and not too cold; it is just right.

I have been aboard ships or in hotels or restaurants where I felt the staff assumed itself to be superior to me—the customer. More recently, I have come to loathe overly familiar service where I and my love are greeted with a hearty, “How are you guys today?” (We are not guys, thank you)

The Queen Mary 2 seems to have found my sweet spot. The smiles are sincere and never sarcastically offered. Eye contact, which I love, is the standard. We are greeted as Mr. Russell and Ms. Raff which is appropriate at our age.

Uniforms match the mood in a way that says, “We are a step above the rest and, so, we dress accordingly.” The butler is dressed well enough to be cast in an episode of Downton Abbey and the Stateroom Steward, a step down in rank, is appropriately attired a step down in formality.

Senior Maitre d’Hotel Osman Pinaroglu was, during last evening’s “formal night” dress code spectacular in his white tie and tails.

Guests are worthy of the crew’s dress and attention; tuxedos and ball gowns ruled the decks last night with only a few gentlemen in less formal dark suits and none—absolutely none that I saw—with open collars or jeans. Our last cruise on Silversea saw dress codes go widely ignored and, I think, the staff service level suffers when guest conduct is unworthy.b5fa6910-cbbb-11e8-a5ce-d761b8f781ca.jpg

White gloves are everywhere. Dishes are cleared in the English way with none being bussed until all diners have completed their meal’s course. Coffee cups sit astride saucers and those are lifted to the serving tray before being refilled and replaced on the starched white tablecloth. Once one’s preference for coffee black with no cream or sugar is made known, the milk and sugar are no longer presented. Once B4’s preference for water with no ice is noted, the water thereafter appears thus.

Stateroom stewards and butlers passed in corridors are quick to step aside and offer both a smile and “have a nice day.” On many ships I have felt that I was in their way but not so here. The room service operator answers quickly with my morning request for a pot of coffee for two and takes note of my admonition of “no sugar or cream is required.” Joel, our butler, brings it promptly but while he is adept at leaving the cream off the tray he cannot seem to bring himself to omit the sweeteners. Oh, well.HighTeaService.jpgHighTeaScones.jpg

I have twice asked that there always be a bottle of our champagne (thanks, Nicky) or prosecco on ice in a bucket and they cannot seem to get that right. The bubbly remains perfectly cold inside our stateroom fridge but the ambiance is not the same. God, I’m stuffy.

If WiFi has anything to do with service, it should be noted that WiFi is horrendous, terrible and combines a high expense with low quality. There would be photographs galore with this entry but I cannot upload them. B4 is screaming at her email. B4PaulLeavingNYC.jpg

Upon arrival at the Golden Lion Pub last evening for the “Eric Clapton History of Guitar” offering from guitarist Paul Garthwaite, I took special note that the wait staff took great pains to find suitable seating for later arriving guests, showing them to the dwindling unoccupied spots that remained. This doesn’t sound like much but it is a great anxiety reliever that fails to occur in the venues aboard other ships. Every man for himself until seated has been the norm in my experience. Not here.LoungeForTwoLetMeCheck.jpgFlowerArrangerClass.jpg

I suppose it is safe to say that we are made to feel at home here properly welcomed and respected by those who have what appears to be a most earnest desire to adopt proper host behaviors to ensure guest comfort. It suits us but might not suit others. I know what we like and you know what you like and it isn’t always the same thing. Our mostly British brethren aboard QM2 have set a tone and it is, to my ear, quite pleasing.

Posted by paulej4 00:17 Tagged queen mary 2 Comments (3)

For They Are Jolly Good

and quite white

RUSS_RAFF_crossing.jpegFirst, the bad news: we all mostly look alike. There is a distinct absence of diversity among a passenger list that shows guests aboard from 32 countries.

There are five passengers from the continent of Africa, all of them from South Africa. There are no passengers from South America. I leave it to you as to why there are no Brazilians or Argentinians; and why nobody comes from the Caribbean.

The Asia Pacific region has offered up 54 Australians and eight New Zealanders; there is one Taiwanese, one Singaporian, one Malaysian, one Indian and a pair of Japanese.

From Europe, six come from Austria, three from Belgium, one Croatian, one Czech, five Danes, eight Dutch, two Finns, a dozen French, two Hungarians, 21 Irish, two Israeli, five Italian, one Norwegian, two Poles, four Portuguese, one Romanian, five Spanish, one Ukranian, 40 Swiss and, perhaps since Hamburg is the next port after Southampton, 326 Germans.

North America sends four Mexicans, 78 Canadians (perhaps since the voyage prior to this one originated in Quebec and 549 Americans. There is no data regarding home states.

That totals 1,152 passengers; 46.5% of the total 2,478 officially booked aboard. It appears to me—and this is entirely unofficial—that there are only five children and a smattering of teenagers. On this, the only ship at sea with a proper kennel, I think I heard that there are more dogs than children: fifteen. And, there are two cats.

Aboard this very British ship, the remaining 1,326 of us come from the United Kingdom. In case you are wondering, there is no breakdown available as to how many of them are Welsh or Scots.B4NeewFriends.jpeg

I am surprised that there are no Chinese but not shocked at the absence of folks from Greenland even though we, at a distance, pass right by.

We are served by a crew of 1,239, who hail from 62 countries. No breakdown of now many are from which country—or even which countries those are—is available. I would guess that the majority are from the Philippines.

Sadly, among passengers and crew, the number of persons with black skin must be fewer than ten.large_PanoramicAtlantic.jpeg

Many of my fellows have lost their hair and the majority, like me, have lost their original hair color. There are not many wheelchairs or walkers but quite a few canes. A good number of gay men are travelling with their husbands. One man is heavily tattooed beyond his total sleeves and hands to include many markings on his face. Smokers retire to the stern of deck seven to smoke (where I walk laps) but there aren’t many of them at any one time.

This is a well-dressed bunch with their finery adorned by diamonds, none greater however than my companion. Their metamorphosis from afternoon High Tea casual to evening high style is nothing short of remarkable and delightful. There are few to no t-shirts or cutoffs even during the day; what shorts that exist are of the Bermuda variety. Denim is absent. 92741410-ccc3-11e8-bfae-df69d9b7cd51.jpeg

There are many smiles from those making eye contact and a goodly amount of “Good Mornings” or “Good Afternoons” offered up.

As is always the case, there are avid crossers and cruisers aboard. One, we are told at a Captain's Cocktail Party for "World Club" members, has spent 749 nights aboard Cunard ships, another has 913 nights but the champion "World Club" member aboard QM2 is Zeffi Bowles who has logged 945 nights at sea aboard Cunard ships.

Perhaps most interesting to me is a profound realization. While in the Golden Lion Pub listening to Paul Garthwaite doing his “History of the Electric Guitar” series (one early evening on Eric Clapton and the next on Mark Noffler of Dire Straites) where he performed guitar licks from hits we all know before playing some or all of the famous songs themselves, I watched my fellow audience members. Their faces and their tapping of toes or keeping of rhythm with their drum hands tells only a piece of the story. Many mimed all the lyrics as well. They knew the words to these hits of thirty or forty or fifty years ago. The inescapable conclusion is clear: we were all young once. We all stayed out too late or drank a bit too much or partied a bit too hard. We listened to the music and it became a part of us. Now, as we are in our sixties or seventies or eighties, the music awaits to be brought to life inside us and when we relive it we are in our teens and twenties once more. UnderTheBoardwalk.jpeg

Thus is the Golden Lion Pub when the Queen’s Room is not. Mr. Garthwaite played The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac at 9:30 to a standing room only crowd.

Posted by paulej4 12:40 Tagged queen mary 2 Comments (4)

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