by Richard H. Wagner
(This article is reprinted with permission from the September 2004
issue of the New York Law Journal Magazine. © 2004 NLP IP
Company. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.
All rights reserved).
Queen Mary 2 has been part of my life since Cunard Line Ltd. announced
in 1998 that it was going to build a successor to the legendary Queen
Elizabeth 2. Having made 71 voyages on QE2, each step of the planning
and construction of the new ship was of keen interest to me.
My bias, I must confess, was that QE2 would be a hard act to follow and I
was skeptical about Cunard's newest ship. I had my first opportunity to go
aboard QM2 in New York after her first transatlantic voyage in April. Soon
after, I observed her in action from the deck of the QE2 as the two ships
sailed together to England. I returned home on QM2.
Any doubts about the new ship gradually fell away, and I have come to think
highly of QM2.
On a recent summer's evening, while standing at the foot of Pier 92 and
looking up at the immense bow of QM2, she suddenly came alive. The
longshoremen let go the lines that held her, her bow thrusters started to churn
the water and, with the help of two azimuthal pods suspended below the stern
that allow two of the ship's four main propellers to turn in any direction, QM2
moved sideways from the pier.
A blast from her whistle - - taken from the original Queen Mary - - and she
backed swiftly, without assistance, into the river. The open decks were lined
with travelers standing like sailors manning the rails of a warship. Power,
majesty, and perhaps, greatness.
Greatness is what Cunard wanted when they built the QM2. She was to be
the next in a line of a legacy of ships going back more than 160 years that
included the most famous of their times. If the Cunard brand was to mean
anything, this could not be just another passenger ship. So Cunard invested
more than $800 million to build the QM2. But spending money is not enough
to ensure greatness.
QM2 was built as an ocean liner - - the world's first in nearly 40 years. This
fact in itself distinguishes her from almost all other passenger ships operating
An ocean liner, with its strong hull and powerful engines, can withstand bad
weather and travel at nearly twice the speed of most cruise ships. Thus,
while cruise ships are best left to leisurely circuits in the Caribbean or
Mediterranean, an ocean liner can go just about anywhere and get there in a
reasonable time. QM2 not only sails to the popular cruise destinations but she
accomplishes the incomparable Atlantic crossing, too.
The most striking thing about QM2 is her awesome size. The dimensions are
about the same as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Her funnel had to be
lowered so she could clear the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and her stern
protrudes more than 100 feet into the river when she is docked at
Manhattan's Passenger Ship Terminal.
But QM2 is not just another of the ever-larger condos-on-a-raft now emerging
from shipyards. Rather, she has the streamlined bow and the graceful
uncluttered lines of an Atlantic greyhound.
Ocean liners have been called "floating palaces" because of their luxurious
interiors. But in the early 20th century, the luxury was limited to first class.
Even in later ships, while the designers strove to match the interiors of
shoreside hotels, even first-class passengers had to accept compromises
dictated by space and the need to work around the machinery that enabled a
ship to travel.
There are no such compromises on QM2. The public rooms and cabins
could easily be transplanted to a five-star hotel. Even at sea, the feeling is
more like being in a building than on a ship. QM2 is very comfortable.
Still, do not expect the Plaza or the Waldorf. Rather, the interior is like a
contemporary top-of-the-line hotel with good quality materials used in a
pleasant, but not particularly memorable, manner. While most of the public
rooms escape the glitz associated with many cruise ships, it is unlikely any of
QM2's decorations will follow those of the Normandie into the Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
Dining On Board
QM2 has six restaurants. Each passenger is assigned to one of the three main
restaurants, based upon cabin category. Passengers then have the choice of
eating in the assigned restaurant , in one of the alternatives, or in the cabin.
Most are assigned to the Britannia restaurant, which is built around a
three-story atrium that borrows ideas from the original Queen Mary, the
Normandie and Titanic.
The food is good and, at dinner, the service problems that plagued the maiden
voyage have been resolved. At breakfast and lunch, however, the restaurant
is open seating and everyone arrives at once with unfortunate consequences
for the atmosphere. At these meals, it is best to try one of the alternatives.
The most popular is the "King's Court" - - the name being a play on the
incongruous fact that this is a self-service food court on a luxury liner. At the
other end of the spectrum is the Todd English Restaurant, where, for
additional charge, inventive dishes developed by the well-known Boston chef,
from whom the restaurant takes its name, can be tried in an elegant setting.
But the best alternatives are the small eateries scattered around the ship, such
as the Golden Lion, which, not surprisingly, offers excellent pub food.
Entertainment for the Mind
QM2 has the swimming pools, fitness center, bars, casino, movie theaters,
stage shows, and dancing one expects on modern cruise ships, and these are
excellent. But where Cunard has excelled is in entertainment for the mind.
The on board lecture program is run by Oxford University, with first-rate
speakers on history, science, and the arts. A troop from the Royal Academy
of Dramatic Arts both performs and gives acting lessons. And the ship boasts
the largest library at sea, with spectacular views over the bow. There is also a
planetarium with films similar to those at the American Museum of Natural
But no one is forced to do anything. There are no over-enthusiastic hosts
pressuring passengers to attend a belly-flop contest at the pool. Moreover,
even though there can be more than 2,600 passengers aboard, there are places
to be alone and none of the activities seem overcrowded.
Still, what makes a ship great is not her list of amenities or even her size.
Indeed, the Queen Elizabeth 2 is now the 79th largest passenger ship, with
much fewer facilities than many of her competitors. Still, QE2 remains a
household name whereas the others are faceless giants.
Personality is what separates a great ship from an ordinary one - - the
indefinable aura that comes from a ship's crew, passengers, traditions, and
experiences. It is why some ships are fondly remembered while others, with
nearly identical technology, are soon forgotten.
As a new ship, QM2 is still something of a blank slate. But there is a quiet
confidence about her, as if she is sure there are great things ahead.
QM2 leaving the Manhattan Passenger
Ship Terminal in July 2004.
QM2 taken from QE2 during transatlantic
crossing April 2004.
Cruise ship review - - Cunard - - Queen Mary 2 - - The Floating Palace