Hail Mary: Crossing the Atlantic Aboard the Queen Mary 2
"The journey not the arrival matters." - T. S. Eliot
There are two kinds of travelers. Those who plan, plot and predict; and those who show up and let the journey carry them along. I am the latter. Rarely do I look at a guidebook or map. I'm the one stepping onto foreign land and hoping a Vespa or donkey doesn't run me over. I'm also usually so overworked that upon departure, I pop an Ambien and hazily wake up eight hours later in a different time zone.
With these travel quirks in mind, I've decided to shake up my routine for an once-in-a-lifetime travel expedition that will carry me across the ocean and to two of the most iconic travel destinations in the world. While I'll be on the lookout for the Eiffel Tower and what's hot in the West End, on this particular trip I am just as intrigued by the journey as the destination.
"Oh, Mary! (2)"
It’s a phrase that has embedded gay vernacular since Divine knelt before the Virgin Mary in John Waters’ 1969 cult film "Mondo Trasho." I can only imagine that Divine would have had a grand ole time with another Mary and a very different kind of crossing: a transatlantic journey aboard the glorious (and occasionally tacky-fabulous) RMS Queen Mary 2.
The crossing from New York City to Southampton, England (seven or eight nights, depending on your itinerary) is everything you’d expect a luxury ocean liner to be... and then some. Built in 2002-2003 by Chantiers de l’Atlantiqu in Saint-Nazaire, France, Queen Mary 2 is the world’s only liner offering regularly scheduled transatlantic crossings between New York and Southampton. If you’re the type who prefers to step on dry land more than once a week, the ship also sails throughout the Caribbean, Europe, Mediterranean, New England and Canada.
Weighing in at more than 150,000 gross tons, Queen Mary 2 is a big girl, but she needs to be in order to accommodate 1,253 ship personnel and up to 2,592 guests. It was 1840 when Cunard Line first introduced regularly scheduled transatlantic service. Since then, the company (now owned and operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, sans fire and sewage back-ups) has epitomized ocean travel with the legendary Queen Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth 2 and the original Queen Mary.
Queen Mary 2 is currently the grandest diva, offering sweeping staircases, the largest ballroom at sea and a host of amenities ranging from Canyon Ranch Spa to acting workshops with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art - not to mention lectures and seminars that include "History of the Red Arrows" and "Expert Make-Up Tips for the Mature Woman."
Meals Fit for a Queen
I settle in to my balcony stateroom, which affords me outside access to the crisp (make that frigid) ocean breezes and voluptuous rolling clouds. Dining options are in accordance with stateroom status and I’m relegated to the King’s Court buffet or seated dinner at the Britannia restaurant. For a hefty upgrade, the luxury Princess Grill or Queens Grill suites offer larger staterooms and a la carte dining at their namesake restaurants. Anyone can make a reservation at Todd English for Italian fare. This, too, will cost you a $30 supplement and don’t expect to see the handsome chef on board, although the well-polished staff makes up for his absence.
All staterooms include 24-hour room service, nightly turndown service, interactive TV (which includes YouTube-worthy interviews and commentary from the on board entertainment director) and tea, coffee, water and juice. If you’re craving soda or something stronger - and you will after several days at sea - it’ll cost you. Alcohol is charged to your on board account, but pricing is reasonable, especially if you’ve been imbibing in either New York City or London prior to your departure.
Your week on board Queen Mary 2 can be as jam-packed or relaxed as you’d like. The clientele skews older, but there is a nightly Friends of Dorothy gathering where you can socialize with other LGBT guests. During my cruise there were more than 20 guys from Kansas City whooping it up for a 50th birthday celebration, along with some random Swedes who joined the Dorothy festivities.
Dinner is a formal affair aboard Queen Mary 2, so break out your best cater waiter uniform, invest in a real tuxedo, or hope (as I did) that the lights are low enough that your black suit and bow tie will make due. In an effort to adjust to modern sensibilities, Cunard has revamped its dress code and four nights are now considered informal, although a jacket is still required. There is something quite majestic about showing up for dinner with hundreds of rhinestone-studded women and their gentlemen callers.
I’m seated with an older couple from Texas who lived in London for many years while the husband earned his wealth in the oil industry. I refer to my other dinner companions as "the grifters"-a sexy pair of 30-somethings who are traveling back to the UK after spending six months on a writing sabbatical in Los Angeles. They’re traveling with two dogs and a cat, which are ensconced as part of Queen Mary 2’s kennel program. This includes indoor/outdoor walking areas, complimentary gift pack (for the animals, that is) and a full-time Kennel Master. I have a feeling that my four-legged friends have a better view than me.
Behind the Scenes
When I’m not dancing the night away to the big band sounds of the Queens Room Orchestra, I’m catching a show by the Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers or a quirky spoken word performance by those free-floating RADA actors. The entertainment is a mixed bag, but after several Campari and sodas, I’m seeing double Sarah Brightmans around every corner.
I manage to get my name on a list for a behind-the-scenes tour, which culminates with a visit on the bridge with Captain Kevin Oprey. Lasting more than three hours, the tour is not for the faint of heart but offers exclusive access to the bowels of this magnificent ship.
A wealth of technical information is offered as we weave in and out of the lower decks. Four Rolls Royce Mermaid pods propel the ship and in lieu of conventional rudders, two Azimuthing pods steer the vessel while four stabilizers controlled by a gyroscopic vertical reference instrument keep the bowing and pitching to a minimum (although in the middle of the Atlantic, you’re bound hit some bumpy waters.)
On the food front, more than 16,000 meals are prepared and consumed each day with approximately 1,000 bottles of wine opened during each dinner service. The on board bakery operates 24/7 and there are two chefs specifically designated for fruit, vegetable and ice carving. Of course, that produces a lot of waste.
A ton of food waste is collected daily and processed into slurry that is discharged into the sea under certain specifications. Massive recycling efforts include 300 tons of crushed glass per year as well as 15,000 liters of used cooking oil recycled into bio-diesel.
The tour ends with a dozen or so of us flanking the captain on either side as we take in the full view from the Bridge. It is an awe-inspiring site as the deep ocean blue, spiked with foaming wave caps, meets the horizon. There is water as far as the eye can see in every direction. If I didn’t know better, I’d believe that the world was flat. But it is not flat; it is quite round... and quite Divine. I think she would have had a fabulous time.