Aboard the Queen Mary 2   (SCROLL DOWN FOR THREE STORIES)

Trans-Atlantic journey recalls the time I went west as a young man

There are two ways of getting to New York - one way is by air which takes around seven hours and which 99% of people do these days. But for those who fancy a more relaxed journey you can still go by ship and there's no better way than aboard the Queen Mary 2, the grandest ocean liner in the world.  For Richard Field the voyage recalled memories when he last made the journey by sea on the old Queen Elizabeth over 50 years ago.  Things on board have changed - but not that much!

Today's Queen Mary 2 
Luggage label for the old Queen Elizabeth

Letters are nearly 8ft deep 

Corridors are almost a quarter of mile long. 
One of the elegant dining rooms
The Grand Lobby

Clambering up the gang plank of the Queen Mary 2 for my voyage to New York brought back memories of the last time I made a similar journey - that time boarding the late lamented Queen Elizabeth (which ended its days at the bottom of Hong Kong Harbour) at the start of my 'go west young man' adventure more than 50 years ago - but that's another story.

That time I paid £72 for the steerage cabin with four austere bunks, the other three occupied by young Mormons, with slick suits and shiny shoes, on their way home after a year of evangelising and seeking converts.

They eyed me with quiet satisfaction as I introduced myself. In their eyes I detected their notion of getting one more convert to reach their quota.  After much cajoling their aim collapsed several days out when we had a hurricane alert and battoned down everything for the torrid time ahead. Their thoughts of another convert
crumbled as they retreated to their beds stricken with Mormon sea sickness, so I survived intact!

This time no such challenge. Not a Mormon in sight. Time for Pat and me to indulge in table tennis, shuffleboard and endless activities and lectures and shows. Not surprisingly, the fare  had gone up - now over £1,000 for one of the  cheaper (but remarkably spacious) cabins. 

The Queen Mary 2 is the largest ocean liner In the world, weighing a massive 150,000 tons and stretching almost a quarter of a mile in length. It has 17 decks ,seven restaurants, five swimming pools - and 2,620 passengers (but still far fewer passengers than some of the giant cruise ships). 

However the size of the ship is still awesome, with corridors almost a quarter of a mile long and requiring hiking skills to walk their length. On the top deck the name 'Queen Mary 2' has lettering eight feet deep just to let people on other ships know this is still 'The Queen of the Seas'.

The ship is floating  time warp  in many ways, with its Art Deco furnishings and decor and many wonderful reminders of an earlier age. There is, of course, afternoon tea in The Queen's Room, where a a line of liveried waiters in white glove process in to the jaunty  strains of Bach played by a string quartet. Then eager regulars are served danty cucumber and salmon sandwiches, scones with strawberry jam and cream and trays
of exotic cakes and, of course, champagne (after all it is a full two hours until a five course dinner!).  Many of the dinners are formal so it's black tie for the men and long dresses for the ladies (and who of those dares to appear in the same dress twice!)

The surprise is that despite the number of passengers and the 1,250 crew  to keep us all fed and entertained, this is a ship where you can, If you wish, escape  from the hubbub of a city on the high seas, and retreat to a quiet relaxing corner the ship. The library with 10,000 books is one such sanctuary of peace and quiet.

The journey takes six days to cross the North Atlantic, and when the weather is not suitable for relaxing on one of the hundreds of wooden deck chairs, there is a non stop round of entertainments in two large theatres (one which also serves as a planetarium) and numerous other activities to suit every taste  and mood.

The passengers are predominantly British and American, there in almost equal numbers. The crew is far more diverse representing no less than 58 different nationalities.

The atmosphere of the ship is predominantly British (although now American owned) with of the furnishing and decor reminiscent of an English stately home in the Twenties. There are benign portraits of Queen Mary and the present day Queen Elizabeth 2 smiling down on us from many walls.

While the basic costs of the trip is quite reasonable (about half that charged by smaller ships) the on board  costs can be high. A glass of Champagne is €16, a bottle of quite ordinary wine is around €40 or €50 and a bottle of Krug Champagne is  €250.  On top of this there is 15% added to these and every other purchase and then a€11.50 service charge is added  to every passenger's account for every day on board.  Many passengers are confronted with a steeper bill than expected when they get their final account on the last night.

Certainly getting to America by air  is quicker and cheaper than getting there by ship. But going there by ship, and relaxing for six days amid all the endless feasting, taking part in numerous activities, hearing celebrity lectures,
enjoying glittering previews of Broadway or West End shows, or just relaxing on a deck chair watching the Atlantic roll past make it a special and unforgettable experience (as many travellers from Bishop Monkton will concur)!

Here are just a few of the sights in New York which make it such an excitng place to visit .... 

Times Square. .

The Times Square ticker tape news. .
The Statue of Liberty.
Brooklyn Bridge.
The Immigration Museum.
Early immigrants.
The financial centre.

Central Park. 



Reminders of three great tragedies

It may sound odd but some the most memorable highlights of this trip all involved disasters and human tragedies.

They began when, after six days at sea, we landed at Halifax, in Nova Scotia, in Canada. Here we were quickly made aware that Halifax was the nearest port to the Titantic disaster which occurred on 2 April 1912.

The great Cunard liner, then the biggest ship in the world, had almost completed its maiden voyage when, in the middle of the night, it struck an iceberg. Although thought to be 'unsinkable' with its double hull and 16 watertight  compartments, the ship sank in less than three hours.

Unbeknown to the passengers, the number of lifeboats had been reduced twice, from an original 64 to 32 and then to 16. Being 'unsinkable', it was thought presumably that the space could be put to better use for more obvious embellishments

The ship was carrying 1,300 Passengers and had a crew of 900.

The 16 available lifeboats were quickly filled,  mostly  by women and children. Many of those left were tipped into the freezing waters, some wearing life belts, some without

The nearest ship was 58 miles away and, after receiving the mayday call, made top speed to the scene of the disaster, to find the ship sunk, and hundreds of bodies in the water.  Other ships converged to start a huge rescue operation.

In the end 1,500 men, women and children died. 706 were rescued and taken to ports in Halifax and other towns along the Maritime coastline.

Later three ships were sent out from Halifax to recover the dead.On return to port, the quayside was piled high with bodies. There were only a small number of coffins and a shortage of embalming fluid and these were used for first-class passengers. Many of the others had earlier been buried at sea.

The story of the Titanic disaster took on a new signifance for us being so near to where it happened, even though it had occurred over 100 years ago.

We went to the Maritime Museum where the Titanic story is retold in detail with relics from the ship displayed, like parts of the ornate balustrade from the ship's grand staircase, a fragment from one of the deckchairs and a pair of children's shoes from one of the infant victims.

From there we travelled to Fairfield Cemetery where over 100 of the victims are buried. Most graves are marked by identical stones (paid for by the White Star line) with just the name of the victim, the date of death (2 April 1912) and the order in which their body was placed into a recovery boat.

One or the most poignant graves is that of 'An unknown infant' whose identity remained unknown for 70 years until, through DNA, his identity was found, and a name and photo of the child was added. At the base of the memorial two teddy bears had been lain.

Remarkable is the fact that Halifax was also the location of another huge disaster which occurred within a few years of the first.

On 6 December 1917 two ships collided in the narrowest stretch of the  sea adjacent to the city. One of the ships, 
preparing to join one of the North Atlantic convoys, was laden with hundreds of tons of TNT, picric acid, benzene and other explosives, and was run into by another ship causing a horrendous explosion which flattened  8,000 houses in the northern end the city killing  2,000 residents and injuring over 10,000.

At the time it was the largest man made explosion ever, and it remained so unil the explosion of the first atomic bomb at Hiroshima in 1945.

Later, when we reached New York, there was an even worse tragedy to hear about - 9/11 when the Twin Towers were brought down by two terrorist planes flying into into them, resulting the loss of almost 3,000 lives and maiming and traumatising hundreds more.

Today on the spot is a tasteful and moving memorial, identifying the sites of the two towers by cascading waterfalls in two large sunken reflecting pools. Alongside this is the Memorial Museum, telling the story in vivid detail of that day of infamy and tragedy and etched on the minds of many of us on either side of the Atlantic who saw the drama unfold on TV.

Sad in a way that  on this trip we should be so preoccupied by remembering three great human tragedies, but important to see and remember them with pride and sadness.

However, while in New York we also found time to visit Times Square, Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, the Staten Island Museum of Immigration, the Rockefeller Centre, the Lincoln Centre, Central Park and the United Nations.

To add to the occasion President Trump came to town to add drama, dissent, protests and traffic chaos.

Quite a city!

The Titanic Disaster (1912)

A model of the Titanic. 

Passengers on the Titanic before it sank.
Water gushing down the ship's main staircase.

The graves of those who perished. 

The Twin Towers disaster (9/11)

The Twin Towers before 9/11.

Marking the spot of one of the towers after 9/11. 
A wrecked fire ladder used in the rescue bid.

Messages seeking missing people.

NOW READ STORY No. 3 .... 

It's not just the passengers who are pampered on thisTrans-Atlantic crossing. Dogs and cats are also catered for. It's all first class but it comes at a price!  

A doggy paradise on board the Queen Mary 2!



  For pampered pets
Nice for 'walkies'

In addition to the 2,620 passengers, there were 18 VIP dogs, housed in plush kennels located at the stern of the Queen Mary 2 on our voyage.

Loving owners queue up to take their pooches on twice daily 'walkies' round the decks.There has even been  a special lamp post located for their convenience!

No canine menus were available to view but no expense is spared on keeping the doggy contingent happy, healthy and content. All travel first class!

The tradition of taking dogs across the Atlantic on one or other of the Cunarders was made fashionable by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and there are pictures of the Royal couple cuddling one of their very pampered pets. It not clear whether this is Dizzy (named after British PM Benjamin Disraeli), Winston,  Davy Crockett, Mr Chu, Rufus, Minoru, Trooper, Ginseng or Diamond  - all names given to their precious darlings.

Actually the royal pets had to 'rough it' a bit when they were on board ship. Things never quite matched life at home when the pampered, high profile, endlessly photographed darlings had an entourage of chefs and servants to care for their every need.

Wearing mink and diamond collars and sprayed with Miss Dior, they dined from solid silver bowls. Their menu includued capon breasts, calves' livers, ground steak and specially flavoured dog biscuits cooked freshly by the chef every day. 

Dogs (and cats) are still welcome on board Queen Mary 2, on voyages between Southampton or Hamburg and New York, but they cannnot expect quite as much pampering as was demanded by the Windsors!

A dog (if he is content to be in an upper kennel) could bite your hand off if offered one at $800 while the more fastidious can opt for a lower kennel for $1,000.

Obviously Stanley, Mini, Ringo, Chester and Lucy and other aspiring Bishop Monktonian canine travellers will be keen to get their owner to get them booked up.  Certainly a lot of tail wagging is guaranteed if they do!

Nor are pussies missing the boat, but they will have to ask nicely because one needs a double cat kennel at a cost of $1,600 (although Cunard are generously allowing a second to share the cabin for an extra $800).

So far no local felines have applied to travel!