|Artistic rendition of Queen Mary 2|
Cunard's recent announcement of its intention to build a second Queen Mary to operate alongside the second Queen Elizabeth is the best shipping news that could possibly cross my transom. As a most happy, if sometimes battered, veteran of more than 40 transatlantic crossings, 14 of them aboard the QE2, my sea way of life looks very bright indeed.
I had a hunch that we would see something spectacular when Carnival Corporation bought Cunard. What's the point of taking on a floundering company, if you don't intend to invest. And Carnival invests big, so we now have, at least in a letter of intent with the French shipyard Chantiers de l'Atlantique, the largest passenger liner ever built at approximately 150,000 tons. So move over Voyager of the Seas, and anyway, you are not a liner and could not take the pounding from the storm-tossed North Atlantic.
Apples and oranges. Ocean liner versus cruise ship. Purposeful versus sailing in circles. I loved sailing aboard the Voyager in the Caribbean, but my passion for an Atlantic crossing is greater. I grew up sailing to Europe, and swallowed whole the concept that getting there is more than half the fun. Now I prefer coming home by sea, because the time change provides 25-hour days for someone now both older and wiser.
Aboard the QE2, I have slept on every deck from Five up to One, but not in one of the newfangled veranda suites up on Sun and Signal Decks. The One Deck wood-paneled, elliptical porthole cabins are true to the ocean liner-style, while those high above are Johnny-come-latelies. And I don't want a Force 10 come through the glass door and wet my bed. However, the Queen Mary 2 is likely to boast four decks of veranda cabins, and according to the naval architect, they will be designed with storm protection, so I could change my mind, maybe, no promises.
The 76,000-ton SS France, the last liner built anywhere (also a child of Chantiers de l'Atlantique) and today known as Norwegian Cruise Lines' Norway, is the longest passenger ship at 1,035 feet. The piled up superstructure of the Voyager of the Seas may be almost twice the bulk, but she is 15 feet shorter. The Queen Mary 2 will stretch 1,130 feet, long and slender, to slice gracefully through all but the largest oncoming seas.
Informality and dressing down is the way of the world but not on a North Atlantic crossing. Four of the six nights are formal, so for men, women and children who like to look stylish after dark, the Queen Mary 2 will be your ship as she will certainly be mine. The liner will feature a grande descente, that impressive staircase that puts you on show when coming to dinner, providing a great sense of occasion. No ho hum here.
Speed is of the essence, and to maintain the six-night crossing and arrival on schedule, the new Queen will make 29.5 knots, fully fifty percent faster than your typical Caribbean megaship designed for leisurely island hopping. Face forward, stand aft and feel the sensation of power beneath you, emanating from an ocean liner taking you swiftly abroad or bringing you home.
On an Atlantic crossing, there are five full days uninterrupted by ports and shore excursions. Sound boring? Not for me, a social animal and a recluse all rolled up into one package. I start the day with a constitutional on the boat deck in the company of others and end it the same way late at night when there is no one else about.
Kindred spirits will be found in the QM2's library and bookshop browsing, buying, socializing. QE2 veterans will be scrutinizing everything about the new ship, the way Rotterdam V aficionados took apart the Rotterdam VI when new. Let's hope Cunard gets it right, it's a huge investment, about $700 million vs about $500 million for Voyager.
Why so expensive? Well, this is a one ship order, with maybe an option for a second. She has to be built with strength to take the punishing seas and she must live up to everyone's fantasy of what an ocean liner is expected to be. Most potential passengers never experienced the heady days of express liner travel, and with no comparison, the new Queen has got to be glamorous, romantic, and real and that costs bundles of bucks, euros and pounds to build.
The Queen Mary 2 will be an expensive ticket, and not everyone can afford a veranda cabin, but plans call for inexpensive, relatively speaking, accommodations, so the middle incomers can have their day too.
Veteran Cunard Captain Ronald Warwick will likely be master of the new ship, which is indeed good news, because ocean liners are in his blood. He looks and acts like the part, as did his father who served aboard the old Queens beginning in 1969 before Ronald assumed command of the new QE2. History is repeating itself, a family of captains and a continuum of Queens. For this passenger, the last quarter of 2003 cannot come soon enough.