Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017
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Queen of the Ocean

When the ship's the destination there's no better cruise than the QE2

It's pitch-black at 5AM when hundreds of people spill onto the breezy deck, eager to spot the first glimpse of land in five days. Silently, we hug the rails, spellbound by the apparition in the mist. The foghorn blasts and dawn's first sliver of light cracks the horizon, revealing the Manhattan skyline on the right, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on the left. A joyful chatter erupts across the deck, and everyone, it seems, has a palpable sentiment to express.

"This is how our Great Granny first saw the New World when she emigrated from Europe," said the young mother standing beside me to her three children. "Ah, but did she travel in such style, with her car in the auto hold below?" I asked Susie, who, I'd learned, was transferring back to New York after her husband's three-year stint in London. "She only wished! Great Granny needed quick transportation away from the war," she replied. "Flying would be faster, but we're sailing the Queen Elizabeth 2 for the experience."

ABOARD THE OCEAN LINER
And what a delightful experience indeed. The Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) is the world's most elegant ocean liner, and the last to make regular transatlantic crossings. Cruising at 28.5 knots, she's also the fastest of any large ocean liner, although you wouldn't notice that on board. In a world where time is measured by the nanoseconds of progress, and travel is described in practical, cost-efficient terms, a leisurely cruise aboard the QE2 -- where the ship itself is a destination -- may very well be the millennium era's ultimate luxury of time.

A band was playing a fanfare as we boarded the majestic vessel in Southampton for one of the five-day crossings the QE2 makes back and forth from England to New York, from April to December. We made our way up the gangplank steps behind a stylish young couple -- both blond, tall and model-thin -- whose matching set of Louis Vuitton luggage was being toted by a white-gloved aide. Behind us was a tanned couple with three impish, jet-black-haired sons, whose aide carried an identical set of Vuitton bags.

A parade of uniformed staff waited to escort guests to their staterooms. We were on Deck One, in the Queen's Grill Class -- first class, but not the epitome of first class on this ship. Directly above us were suites with balconies. Above them were the penthouse suites, where an indulgent concierge and staff cater to the likes of British royalty and international celebrities.

I later learned that the couples ahead of and behind us on the gangplank were staying in the penthouse suites. The blond lord and lady were honeymooning on the QE2 en route to Bermuda. The tanned Arabian prince and his young family were repeat guests -- apparently enjoying the convenience of vacationing aboard a ship where their boys can participate in programs without the supervision of guards.

Our wide-windowed room, where champagne chilled on ice, had loads of space. It was poshly decorated and elegant, yet functionally designed. The luxurious living quarters featured a king-size bed swathed with a puffy spread, two walk-in closets and a safe strong enough to protect a royal cache of jewels.

Grabbing a map, we ran out to explore the ship, following the Cunard Heritage Trail past its five restaurants, nine bars, big theatre, ballroom and vast library. We discovered that the library is the most extensive at sea and boasts a full-time librarian. We also noticed that the QE2 is scattered with fascinating bits of maritime memorabilia dating to the 1840s. Vintage photographs of classic liners, snapshots of celebrities on board and paintings of British royalty grace its decks. A royal charm exudes from the grand staircase, where portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip hold court.

INFORMATION BOOTH
We learned that the Cunard Line was born in 1839, when Canadian entrepreneur Samuel Cunard won a contract from the British government to provide regular mail service across the Atlantic by paddle steamer. By the 1890s, cruising aboard his liners was an elegant pastime of elite travellers. Less than 40 years later, Cunard had developed his line -- including the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth 1 -- into a smashing commercial success.

Originally touting three classes of travel (first, second and third), Cunard's liners tucked the poor below locked doors and ensconced the rich high above them. Today, all classes mingle freely in open decks, cafés, public lounges, the casino, theatre, spa and youth programs. Everyone shares a similar QE2 experience -- namely, the same social events, nightlife, programs and sports events. Only in the dining rooms are people seated according to the class of their cabins. On matters of service, the QE2 maintains an even-handed policy: Those splurging for top-dollar accommodations are pampered to the hilt in their suites, while others in the most reasonably priced inside cabins are catered to respectably.

Once aboard the QE2, we also discovered that the ship, launched in 1967, is embarking on an $US18-million refurbishment. She sailed into the millennium entirely updated in every detail, from fresh carpeting to new teak chaises reminiscent of the classic seats of the past. The goal of the QE2 experience, it seems, is to combine the elegance of the past with the convenience of the present.

 

FINE DINING
Checking out the meals in all the dining rooms for DOCTOR'S REVIEW was a delectable task. According to Executive Chef Karl Winkler, all the dining rooms feature the same quality and variety of food, from crisp salads, fish and seafood, to tender meat and game. For presentations that are decidedly more creative, however, guests should venture into the Queen's Grill. The meals were delicious and beautifully presented in all the dining rooms and at the Lido buffet, but they were consistently superb in the Queen's Grill. Not surprising, considering the chef is pleasing connoisseurs accustomed to haute cuisine around the world.

Each morning, as we nibbled scrumptious rolls with berries and cream, the maitre d' presented the dinner menu with the same statement, "Sir and Madam, if you desire something else, the chef will prepare it." Our Welsh table-mates, who'd notched every grand, global journey on their travelling belt -- from the Venice-Simplon Orient Express to the Blue Train in Africa -- were in seventh heaven. "We're living our dream to fly the Concorde and sail the QE2 while dining every night on caviar, foie gras and filet mignon," William announced the first night, while motioning the sommelier to top up the champagne for his wife, Beth. By the fourth night, we saw William take a pill with water before embarking on his marathon feast. "Aach, this stuff is manna for the ego but not for the gut," he opined, not noticing our healthy plates of grilled sea bass with vegetables.

The QE2 is also famed for her exquisite level of service; that is to say, she caters to her guests. She delivers superbly, much to the chagrin of people who lack dietary self-control. Early morning, fresh juice was delivered to our cabin before my husband, Ken, took his habitual jog around the deck; mid-morning, bouillon was poured on deck; afternoon, tea and sweets were served in an airy lounge. And just about anything else you could want was available morning, noon and night.

LEISURELY SCHEDULE
For all our anticipated leisure, the five days at sea whizzed by without a smidgen of boredom. We barely had time to slip into the Jacuzzis flanking the pool. Our sailing, whose theme was based on the Noel Coward Centenary, had evolved into a highly sophisticated, cultural and literary treat. Every day there were programs featuring Coward films, songs by British cabaret performer Michael Law, talks by Coward's biographer, Sheridan Morley, and lectures on how to become a successful writer by Jonathon Gash, author of the popular Lovejoy mystery novels. In between these programs, we mastered Latin-American dance steps and learned to design computer spreadsheets. It was during computer class that I met Susie, whose ocean-going pilgrimage to America was, as she put it, "beyond dreams." "I can't believe I'm finally learning this," she said of the computer lessons. "My kids are so rapt with the nanny and youth programs, I've got personal time that I never imagined possible!"

That first sight of land is a pleasant memory now. Face to face with the soaring Manhattan skyline, we had no desire to leave the ship. As we watched Captain Warwick delicately sidle the huge liner up against the pier, Susie asked, "Would you cross the ocean again?"

"Yes, in a royal heartbeat," I said. "Long live her majesty, the Queen."

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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