A crossing is an interior as much as exterior voyage. Sepia-tinted photographs on the QM2 walls depict the actors, writers, politicians, aristocrats and playboys who crossed regularly during Cunard’s Champagne-soaked heyday, before the jet age robbed ocean liners of their reason for being. You recall Cunard’s wartime service. Winston Churchill observed that the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth helped shorten World War II by at least one year, such were their troop-carrying capacities.
There’s a strong temptation, during your first few days aboard the QM2, to scramble about frantically, trying to sample everything. It takes a few days to realize that the real pleasures of a winter crossing are deliberate ones. First of all there is the Bergmanesque beauty of the ocean, more entrancing to fixate upon than a fire.
You will find yourself devouring many books, because you’re mostly unplugged. (Internet service on the QM2 is slow and extortionately expensive.)
Cree spent many of her daytime hours walking the ship’s promenade deck (three times around is about a mile) or soaking and reading in the Canyon Ranch Spa. I read, wrote and spent a fair amount of time in the late afternoons in an outdoor hot tub on Deck 8 with a commanding view over the aft.
It was cold out there, sometimes snowing, so these hot tubs were nearly always empty. The first evening I soaked there, alone in the gloaming, a pint of dry British cider at hand, watching the sky darken and the ship’s wake spread out, I was keenly aware that this was perhaps among the top 200 moments of my life.
On an eastward crossing in winter it’s hard not to dwell upon death. I don’t mean that I feared for our ship the fate of the Costa Concordia (rocks) or the Titanic (iceberg) or the Lusitania (U-boat) or the Edmund Fitzgerald (cornball ballad). I mean that the days are cruelly short and, to accommodate time zones, an hour is subtracted from the ship’s clock each day at noon. You can literally feel the time being drained from your allotment on Earth.
Meals, on this sped-up schedule, arrive more quickly than your appetites. Food is a big deal aboard ships, and the QM2 is no exception; there are many places to feed, from a groaning buffet to a pub that serves a sturdy ploughman’s lunch to a Todd English restaurant to 24-hour room service to two spots, the Princess Grill and the Queen’s Grill, available only to the ship’s higher-fare passengers.
I’d spent the previous six months losing 20 pounds. I gained nearly a third of that amount back while on the QM2, to my enraged vexation. I thought I was exercising restraint, but I suppose I have a hard time abstaining from crepes suzette and rashers of that salty English bacon. All-you-can-eat situations wreak havoc on the U.S. male psyche.
There are many bars aboard the QM2; we drank each night before dinner in the Commodore Club, below the ship’s bridge, where a whole wing of the cocktail menu is devoted to gin and tonics. We took breakfast, lunch and dinner in the ship’s largest restaurant, the Britannia, the cost of which was included in our passage.
The food in the Britannia, the occasional howler aside, was terrific, especially for an operation that turns out many thousands of meals a day. (I did long for the ship to throw a net into the ocean once in a while, for fresher fish.) Service was excellent, although waiters had that beatnik habit of removing plates before everyone at table was finished with their meal. The wine list was pleasantly esoteric and packed with inexpensive as well as dear bottles.