Cruising typically evokes images of exotic ports, or at the very least, sailing into Caribbean waters from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Either way, there's usually a flight to endure before heading up the gangplank.
That is why a sail-away close to home is so appealing. The chance to experience the storied Queen Mary 2 on a six-night voyage from Brooklyn to Boston, Bar Harbor, Maine, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, without boarding a plane seemed the perfect way to extend the Fourth of July holiday.
At last count (2006) more than 1 million passengers came through New York City's cruise facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn, making the Big Apple the nation's sixth-busiest cruise port, according to Cruise Lines International Association. The new terminal in Red Hook, a gleaming sign that Brooklyn is a destination to be reckoned with, offers ample parking and easy embarkation. The sight of the mammoth QM2, which we could see from miles away on the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway, was simply awesome.
Cruising isn't for everybody. My husband and I didn't think it would be for us. We like active vacations. We're not big on crowds and aren't interested in spending time in either a floating mall or casino. But oddly enough, now we're hooked. We love the ease of cruising. It offers a relaxing way to dip in and out of new places, allowing us to decide where we'd like to return on our own. The creature comforts are many, the food and pubs usually top shelf. We like only having to unpack once. And since we're on the younger side of the passenger demographic, we often had the gym (almost) to ourselves.
Although we prefer to tour on our own, when we chose to pay for organized shore excursions we opted for the most active choices. Prices for the New England trip started at about $225 per person per day ($300 for a cabin with balcony), which included everything but alcoholic beverages and excursions. Not having to pay for a flight was an added bonus - a tank of gas did the trick.
Sailing with the Queen
The QM2 is a destination in itself. The liner, christened in 2004 and still the largest in the Cunard fleet, evokes the golden age of ocean travel. The first passenger ship built for trans-Atlantic service in 35 years, the newest queen has a reputation for stability, even in the roughest of seas. "We've been in gale force 12 winds and high seas, and she rides the waves elegantly," said Rudi Lainer, the ship's food and beverage manager. "The queen moves only when she wants to."
This queen is definitely elegant. High tea is served daily. And the ship's 8,000-volume library is stunning. It also has the largest dance floor at sea, with music provided by a full orchestra. The overall mood is upscale, from the Canyon Ranch spa to the shops with labels like Hermes, Swarovski, and H. Stern.
Loyalists to Cunard, like Dolly and Fred Paley from Warren, N.J., appreciate the line's formality and sense of history. The Paleys, resplendent in red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July, have cruised with Cunard since 1988, including 10 voyages on the QM2. "We love the transatlantic crossings the best," said Dolly Paley. "There's nowhere to go or be, just the ocean everywhere you look. You can really enjoy the ship then."
Lainer, who has worked for the line for more than 20 years, oversees 15,000 daily meals. Guests in the top tiers of suites dine in the Queens or Princess grills, with a first- and business-class service that allows greater flexibility in dining hours, additional menu options, and a more intimate setting. Most passengers are assigned to the three-tiered Britannia dining room, or opt for one of the four themed buffet restaurants, two of which offer a la carte service at night.
Food is also served in various pubs, including Sir Samuel's, a British spot where a Plowman's lunch and fish and chips are the order of the day. Todd English developed an eponymous gourmet eatery for the QM2, where guests can dine on the likes of ricotta gnudi with brown butter lobster or seared yellowfin with harissa risotto for an additional $20 at lunch, or $30 for dinner, per person. The ship boasts wine and champagne bars, where tastings are offered.
Cunard's history is detailed in dozens of vintage photos on the lower decks, including pictures of its ships carrying troops during World War II. Winston Churchill credited Cunard with shortening the war in Europe by a year, as the ships were able to transport 10,000 troops each trip - without escort - because of their speed.
Patriotic scenes and the Titanic
Spending the holiday in Boston was great fun. We took the transport from the cruise dock to Quincy Market for a walkabout. The area around the Old State House was abuzz with people in Colonial dress, a marching band, and crowds celebrating America's birthday. A stroll through the Common and lunch on Newbury Street was a great way to spend the day. That evening, as we sailed away, fireworks lighted the sky.
Bar Harbor was our second port of call. We had signed up to take an afternoon hike through Acadia National Park. The hike was more of a walk, but we still enjoyed seeing the harbor from atop Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the North Atlantic Seaboard.
Halifax, a walkable city of 360,000, offered a fascinating dose of history at its Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The city's emergency teams were the first responders to the Titanic disaster, and an exhibit of personal effects found floating around the wreck is on display. Another exhibit recalls the 1917 harbor explosion that killed 2,000 residents, the largest manmade explosion in history until Hiroshima. Cunard memorabilia is also on display. Samuel Cunard was a local son and founded the Cunard Line in Halifax in 1840, his first mission to carry the Royal Mail from Britain to North America every week.
We enjoyed a final relaxing day at sea, then a last sail into New York in the early morning. Since we handled our own luggage, we were quickly off the ship and in the car, and home in time for lunch.
Beth D'Addono can be reached at beth firstname.lastname@example.org.