Departed New York: 5th September
Current Position: 470 miles north of the Azores, 750 miles east of St John’s, Newfoundland
Sea Depth: 4000m
Speed: 21.5 knots
Distance remaining: 1290 miles
It’s the fifth day since we broke away from the port in Brooklyn – margarita in hand, sun in the sky and a veritable tear in the eye induced by the sounds of the poolside band playing “New York, New York.”
We slowly cruised past the NY skyline – the new tower on the WTC site already starting to dominate it – and the Statue of Liberty then under the Verazzano bridge with just a few metres to spare and out to sea.
We fully expected 7 days of pure far niente to follow… but nope, not a chance! Each day is a flurry of non-stop activity as we work our way through the daily program, an A4 sheet crammed with hour-by-hour listings, picking out those that interest us, sacrificing others and making trade-offs where necessary…. Ballroom dancing lessons or a presentation in the planetarium? If we do the martini mixology class can we make it to afternoon tea?
It’s incredible to think there is both a giant theatre – where you can see RADA performances of Cantebury Tales or Hamlet – and a cinema equipped with a planetarium aboard this ship.
We’ve gotten into the habit of starting the day in a seemingly relaxed fashion with breakfast in bed – partly because eating breakfast in the giant dining hall is a little intimidating (the first morning I didn’t realise the bright-eyed waiter was pulling out a chair for me but walked past him and plonked myself in the chair opposite instead!) but also because we’ve found that the anticipated knock on the door is the best way to get us up and out of bed in time for the 10am lecture. Although 10am may not seem too early, each morning it seems a little harder as we advance through the timezones.
Today’s morning lecture was from the resident astronomer on the topic of analysing starlight and what their spectra tells us about the universe. Yesterday we heard about Alan Turing and the bombe machine. Regardless of the topic, it’s usually best to be indoors at this time as the outdoor boardwalk on deck 7 is swarming with elderly power-walkers in 80s-style gym wear, all walking the 3 laps of the boat it takes to make up a mile. Get in the way of one at your own peril!
After the lecture we may poke our heads into the bridge (the ship’s control room) to make sure all the lights are green and there’s no mention of icebergs, or duck into the Golden Lion pub for a second coffee and the morning pub quiz. To avoid being shown up by the power walkers, the next stop is the gym, yoga class or maybe even a line dancing session.
At twelve noon the ship’s bell is rung and the captain, Commodore Christopher Rynd, gives us his update on “position, progress and weather”. His plummy tones belie his origins as a New Zealander but fail to disguise his excitement at being at sea. Yesterday he seemed to particularly relish telling us about the depression that is kicking up gale force winds just to the north of us and sending back the 5-metre swells that have been bouncing us around. The stabilisers prevent the boat from rocking sideways but we feel each wave being crested as our feet are alternately lifting away from the floor then boring back into it. The amount of movement has been surprising and not what we expected for such a large vessel but, according to one bartender, it’s the worst it’s been all year.
“Real ocean weather for a real ocean liner – It’s something to be savoured!” the commodore enthused, giving us the impression that, although we’ve altered course slightly to stay to the south of the weather system and follow behind it, he would have rather preferred to go straight through it and put the QM2 through her paces.
After lunch, the afternoon proceeds pretty much as busily as the morning and we also walk around on deck and take in the panorama of endless ocean. Even after 5 days its still hard to comprehend that we’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Stacker is in love with the ship and, with the rougher weather, less people have been out and about on the upper decks so he usually has his favourite lookout spot (Stacker’s Point) all to himself.
Then it’s time to dress for dinner. The dress code for dinner in the main dining room is also dictated by the daily program – either formal, semi-formal or casual, although Cunard’s definition of “casual” differs quite drastically from mine! For a break from formality you can pay a surcharge and go to one of the other restaurants or you can hit the buffet in the “Kings Court” which, although it has a fancy name, is more like a cantine.
When booking the trip, the Cunard representative recommended we choose to be seated at a table of 6 and told us the seating arrangements would be made according to age and languages spoken. Well it seems we’re a lot older than we thought as our dinner companions, initially, were an English couple in their 50s/60s and an elderly Maltese man with his mother of 97. The process of getting well-coiffed and bejewelled “Mama” out of her wheelchair and sat at the table strongly reminded me of my own grandmother. Similarly she also has trouble handling cutlery but her grip is suddenly a lot stronger around a glass of wine. Unfortunately she doesn’t share the same easy smile and is only now starting to warm up to us.
Though her son can be a bit brusque with the staff and has them running in rings around us, it’s easy to forgive him anything when one sees how he takes care of his mother, carefully spoon-feeding her at every meal. That very detail, though, seemed to freak out the other couple. They seemed horrified and actually whisperingly joked to us that Mama looked older than 97 and may not last the voyage. In the end they asked to be reseated, which is sad and more than a little rude in my opinion.
After dinner there is usually ballroom dancing in the stunning Queen’s Room but we usually skirt around it to the nightclub, called G32, that is hidden behind the ballroom, through double doors. On the second evening, after a lengthy game of craps with an uber-wealthy dame from New York, we headed down to the G32, expecting that that was where the action was. Before we made it to the doors, a young and intoxicated Russian turned us back saying it was closed and ranting about how we were on the wrong ship. “This ship is a pension club,” he moaned. Well, sorry mate, this ship is the only one that makes this crossing…
Tonight, I’m writing this after closing out the G32 with a handful of people, the DJ playing the necessarily cheesy music and the same Russian guy bantering with the Uruguayan bartender over important matters such as whether Forlan is past it. Whatever the barman’s footballing opinions may be, he sure can mix a mean martini – in fact it was him that had taught us the basics of how to order one in the Martini Mixology class we’d taken earlier. Sometimes, I find – as I wobble back to our “stateroom” on my vertiginous heels – being an eager pupil can have unintended consequences!
In our absence, our bed covers have been folded back, the fridge restocked, a chocolate and tomorrow’s breakfast-in-bed menu placed on the pillow. Say what you like about this crossing, there’s one indisputable fact: It’s going to be tough to arrive and go back to real life…