Nautical Nostalgia – “Iceberg Dead Ahead!”
Published April 20, 2013 by Joy Thrun
That famous phrase went through my head repeatedly as I somewhat nervously anticipated our upcoming trans-Atlantic crossing aboard the famous Queen Elizabeth 2.
For as long as I have known my husband, he has spoken fondly about his family’s voyages on the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary back in the early 1960’s. My apprehension was not because of lack of adventurous spirit, it was because of my tendency to get sea sick at the sight of a wading pool. Well, after years of hearing his stories and with all of the hoopla recently about the Titanic, I finally decided it was time to set sail and attempt to recapture the romance and charm of this bygone era. No guts, no glory…anchors aweigh!
Since our six day crossing would begin in Southampton, we flew into London for four days before setting sail to enjoy this great city. Our time was spent sightseeing and shopping, combined with some intense theater going. We saw three plays during this relatively short period of time. The French comedy, “Art”, which comes to Broadway this year, and two plays that reflect the British take on violence in modern day America; “Popcorn” and “Hurly Burly”.
Our hotel in Knightsbridge was across the street from Harvey Nichols and a couple of blocks from Harrod’s, making these two shopping Mecca’s all too convenient to max out the credit cards.
We did the obligatory pub crawling and ate at several of the diverse restaurants the city has to offer. We had lunch at one of the best vegetarian restaurants in town called The Place Below, which is in the crypt of the church of St. Mary Le Bow near St. Paul’s Cathedral. After the theater one night we had dinner at the Chinese restaurant Lee Ho Fook, made famous in the song “Werewolves of London”. As much as I hated to leave London and dry land, it was time for our transfer to Southampton for our voyage across the North Atlantic.
As we approached the pier in this historic port, all of the old buildings along the waterfront made it easy to imagine what it must have been like years ago when it was filled with the grand ships during their heyday. As we pulled away from the dock, all of the passengers were on deck as a tuxedo-clad orchestra played “Auld Land Sine” while the huge ship’s horn blasted to signal its departure – It was just like the movies!
The QE2 is not like any other ship that I have sailed on. This is not a cruise ship, this is an ocean liner. The flagship of the Cunard Line recently underwent an $18 million dollar refurbishment, making it more like its ancestors than it was when they originally built it in 1967 and appointed it with a lot of plastic and Formica.
In keeping with the typical English tradition, there are four classes of cabins onboard, each with its own specific dinning room with a single seating for meals. The attentive, predominantly British crew makes the atmosphere seem a bit more cultured and Old World European. There is the authentic Golden Lion Pub, complete with hand drawn beer, and they serve high tea daily in the luxurious Queen’s Room.
ONBOARD THE QE2
You may ask yourself as I did, “What does one do on a ship for six days without seeing land?” The QE2 has been called “a city at sea”, and like any other sophisticated metropolis she offers an astounding array of activities to occupy your day.
You can shop in the upscale Royal Promenade that offers everything from designer fashions to nautical antiques. First run films are shown daily in the movie theater. There were two best selling authors, an antique expert, a travel writer, and the lead officer of the British Airways’ Concorde fleet, all giving lectures throughout the week. You can work out in the fully appointed gymnasium or get pampered in the opulent spa, rated one of the ten best in the world. Every night there is a different show in the Grand Lounge featuring colorful musical revues and celebrity performers. During our trip, the British invasion rock group, The Mindbenders, played their hits from the ’60s. There is something happening every minute of every day onboard the QE2. You can do as much or as little as you like, which brings me to our first two days out to sea, when I did very little.
On our first night we attended a cocktail party and everything was “smooth sailing” as they say. We got talking to one of the officers. I commented on how I was prone to seasickness and how stable the ship was. He responded, “Well Madame, technically we have not yet left the harbor and we have severe storms predicted for the next couple of days.” I guzzled my vodka realizing that my worst fears were about to come true.
For two solid days we experienced the full wrath of the North Atlantic. It was the roughest sea that the QE2 had seen in more than two years. The only thing I saw for the next 48 hours was the bottom of a large, green plastic Harrod’s shopping bag.
There were sustained winds of 70 miles an hour and the waves crashed over the bow reaching all the way up to the bridge. The giant vessel groaned and rocked as it was battered by the huge black swells. Those passengers who were not bedridden were forbidden to go out on deck because of the dangerous conditions. Had I been able to move, I would currently be serving a life sentence for first degree murder on my loving husband. On the third day the ocean and my stomach finally calmed and I was free to enjoy the many pleasures of the QE2.
What began as a nightmare suddenly transformed into a truly wonderful travel experience. On the day before our arrival we passed directly over the location where the Titanic went down on her maiden voyage, this moment in history was much more real to me now.
The entire crossing was a unique adventure, one that is becoming rare in this modern era of travel. As the New York skyline came into view on our final morning, I had a feeling of accomplishment and a new appreciation for this grand style of transportation.