Being a travel advisor with Bon Voyage Travel has offered me many wonderful opportunities, but none could match my recent crossing from New York to Southampton on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. While every voyage on the Queen Mary 2 is memorable, this one was especially so, given that Cunard had partnered with The Greatest Generations Foundation to honor World War II veterans. The Greatest Generations Foundation is an organization that works to recognize and honor veterans by ensuring their stories are shared and preserved. The foundation sponsors trips for veterans to return to battlefields and visit monuments to gain closure and honor their fallen comrades. The program on board our ship included lectures on major battles and the chance to hear firsthand from veterans about their experiences during America’s involvement in the war. My travel companion’s father fought in the Battle for Iwo Jima and we chose this sailing specifically for this unique opportunity to learn from the veterans.
The veterans reflected on the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Battle for Iwo Jima. The presentations were well attended by both veterans and history enthusiasts. The veterans’ presentations gave Cunard guests a very personal glimpse into the human elements of wartime service. A memory that stands out for me was when presenter Peter DuPre talked about playing his harmonica in the midst of war. He then shared with us a very touching rendition of “God Bless America.”
The World War II theme extended into other onboard entertainment as well. In addition to the daily presentations by veterans, there was a company of actors on board from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. They performed Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and scenes from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which was set at the end of World War II.
Cunard and many other cruise lines offer a variety of theme cruises. History buffs can enjoy itineraries that feature Civil War sites or a visit to Normandy. Other themes include wine, golf, astronomy, music, sports, photography, fitness, and gardening. Some theme cruises have enhanced features while others offer classroom-style seminars. Vacationing on a theme cruise is a unique way to customize your travel and connect with others who share your interests.
This sailing varied from a traditional cruise because there were no ports of call or excursions along the way. Repositioning cruises are offered when a ship needs to move from one region to another for the season. These cruises and crossings tend to cost less per day than traditional cruises that stop in multiple ports.
While there are no ports of call on a crossing, transatlantic itineraries offer so many activities on board that passengers never have time to be bored. Cunard boasts that there are more than 100 things to do on the ship, and that’s not an exaggeration. Staying on the ship means passengers have the chance to enjoy all the amenities; on the Queen Mary 2, options included a planetarium, a beautiful theatre, the largest dance floor at sea, two wonderful orchestras, five swimming pools, and a Canyon Ranch Spa Club.
Another unique feature of the ship is the ability to transport pets. Cats and dogs are cared for by the kennel master and allowed plenty of exercise and outdoor time. Pets even get their own life jackets and a staff member assigned to handle them in case of an emergency. Over 450 pets have crossed the Atlantic Ocean on board the Queen Mary 2.
Although there were no excursions on this crossing, we were able to enjoy some time in New York prior to the sailing and in London after disembarking. In New York, we stayed at the Roxy Hotel in the Tribeca area of lower Manhattan. The Roxy has a jazz club in its lower level, and the quintet that played was terrific (and with no cover charge). It is a delightful venue where one can relax after a cross-country flight and before setting sail from the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal the next day. The Roxy’s outdoor café was the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely lunch and great conversation.
Once the QM2 arrived in Southampton, I took an excellent car service called the Silver Fleet into London (a 2-hour drive from Southampton). I spent three nights at The Rubens at the Palace Hotel located on Buckingham Palace Road. The Rubens is one of Bon Voyage Travel’s Signature hotels; it is located across from the Royal Mews.
One of my favorite television programs has been Downton Abbey, and once I arrived in London I was able to join a small group tour to Highclere Castle where the series was filmed. The tour was operated by Brit Film Tours. We also toured Bampton, which is where the village scenes were filmed.
The Cunard transatlantic crossing was a wonderful experience. While I also enjoy visiting new ports of call each day on other itineraries, I found this sailing to be more relaxed since we never worried about cutting the fun short to get back to the ship on time. The educational component was important to me; I came away from the trip with a deeper appreciation for our veterans and the sacrifices they made and continue to make for our country.
Photos courtesy of Diane Radcliffe