Tuesday, January 15, 2013

CRUISING - Proud Mary

Sailing on the Queen Mary 2 is an insight into the past glories of ocean cruising. Bev Malzard was all at sea.

There is something about Mary, she’s a big-boned gal, fills a wide space of water, slices through the ocean and cuts huge waves like butter. Her royal standing gives her the credentials to take her place among the finest Cunard ships at sea. Queen Mary 2 is the ship that has brought back the art of elegant ocean voyaging.

In a world that sees its shipping lanes getting more and more crowded with a variety of bigger and bigger cruising ships carrying more passengers than ever, QM2 is a standout – for size, service, and itineraries and because of its moniker– it’s got form!

I’m not the world’s most experienced ‘cruiser’ but I’ve had my share of ocean-going cruises and have always ‘quite’ enjoyed them but this time enjoying a short trip on the royal personage I was blown out of the water – so to speak.

Leaving Port Melbourne, onlookers lined the shore and packed two long finger wharves – they lent a sense of old-world pageantry that smacked of the days when it was rare to see a leisure ship departing the harbour – especially a ship this size. Passengers gathered at various deck levels at the bow of the ship (call it an ocean liner, not a cruise ship), the Calypso band played some ABBA tunes, a group of four sat in the hot tub while a couple of thousand of their fellow passengers looked on - and we departed the port in high spirits and a sense of eager entitlement.

Once onboard her royal highness QM2, I took off on an exploration walk and was charmed by the memorabilia of past voyages, past guests and their dogs (the QM2 still carries pets onboard and provides dog walkers), movie stars and heiresses, which were in black and white, framed and neatly placed next to each other along a nostalgic promenade walk.

There are 2600 passengers onboard – some have been sailing since Southampton and look as if they have settled in for life, while the ‘newbies’ who had just circumnavigated Australia were definitely in holiday mode: ‘theatre, lessons, lectures, the pub, spa, what’s next?’ The people I spoke to told me of their obsession to cruise – they named the ships, the routes around the world they had taken and the season they sailed – and all were proud as punch to be part of the QM2’s sail to Australia.

The QM2 is British to its polished boot straps. And following the British tradition of afternoon tea at 3pm, there’s a rush to get to the Queen’s Room with pianist Anatolie tinkling the ivories, and tables to be snaffled – ‘whoops, sorry Madam, this is your table? It has been for the past six weeks? Of course I’ll move.’

Ribbon sandwiches are served; scones are handed around to smother with thick cream and delicious strawberry jam – washed down with a cup of golden liquid – nothing like a good cup of tea from a pot!

There are more than 1000 deckchairs onboard, so take your seats and rest after the sugar hit!

Back to walking and a visit to the magnificent library – apparently the largest afloat, this splendid room is a joy. No maritime history for me – I go directly to the Agatha Christie section...

Cruising brings out the ‘strange’ in me and instead of sticking to a cruising ‘script’ I decided to have a haircut onboard – why not, I had the time. And talking to the hairdresser, you get to know all the gossip on the ship . . .

Dinner at the QM2’s signature restaurant, Todd English, and the menu has guests’ tummies aflutter as they line up for the degustation tonight. Dish after dish appearing and introduced by an Italian charmer – this is worth every kilo gained.

Last morning at breakfast is in the main dining room for all to gather – the Britannia Room; at two levels it’s all go for passengers and wait staff feeding the gang before disembarkation in Sydney. The food is good, aside from coffee served at Sir Samuel’s bar - the coffee is as bad here as any ship in any port in any country. But, picky, picky me. If that’s all I have to complain about then well and good. I have just spent 48 hours on one of the grandest ships that sails the seven seas, have been fed, watered, entertained and educated to a world of elegant sailing. I’m in the modern world of the big liners – the one with the Cunard red funnels.

Cruising today can be a minefield but find the right ship in the right fleet and you’ll continue to cruise until you drop or the cash runs out. • 

(Images above: The QM2 ad the QM2 Grand Lobby)

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