Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 6, 2021
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Ruler of the seas

The long-awaited Queen Mary 2 takes the throne as the world's largest cruise ship

A cruise is usually a chance to visit a series of interesting places without having to pack and unpack every day or get on and off buses and trains. But sometimes, even at sea, the journey can be more important than the destination.

As soon as my wife Catherine and I learned about the imminent launch of the Cunard Line's new Queen Mary 2 last April, a trip aboard the vessel soon to be dubbed "the world's largest cruise ship" became our top travel priority. Despite a longstanding preference for small ships -- where we won't be swamped by crowds when disembarking at ports of call -- we knew we had to do it.

Besides, the legendary Cunard Queens of the North Atlantic are part of my and my wife's heritage. We grew up on the banks of the River Clyde in Scotland in the 1940s and '50s. Starting in the early 1900s, Clydebank, my hometown, was the centre of the largest conglomeration of shipbuilding in the world and remained so until the early '60s.

Due to cost constraints, the Queen Mary 2 was built in France. But all of the previous Queens of the North Atlantic were built in Clydebank, the last being the Queen Elizabeth 2, almost 40 years ago. She made her maiden voyage in 1969 and has been the flagship of the Cunard Line ever since. We had fond memories of the ship from a transatlantic crossing we made with our two sons in 1981. With much pomp and circumstance, she ceded the flagship throne to the Queen Mary 2 on April 27, 2004, as they sailed out of New York Harbor together on their way to Southampton, England -- the first time two Queens had berthed in port together since March 1940.

The magnificent ships also lay claim to a strong Canadian connection. Samuel Cunard, founder of the line under whose flag all the North Atlantic Queens have sailed, was born in 1789, the son of a carpenter in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The ship itself is difficult to describe without a surfeit of superlatives. Of all the ocean liners ever built it is the tallest, towering as high as a 21-storey building. It is also the longest, the widest and, at $US800 million, the most expensive. Despite its massive bulk it retains elegant lines and a uniquely high prow profile, decked out in the traditional Cunard livery.

One of the most innovatively engineered ships on the high seas, it is driven by a unique group of four propeller pods -- one at the front, one at the back and one at each side -- making it much more maneuverable than any other ship afloat. Gone are the steering wheel and engine controls of yesteryear. The ship is directed by the captain using a video-game-style joystick.

We decided early on that with a historic ship of such a large scale, and flaunting so many innovations in design and engineering, we wanted more than a week on board. We booked the 17-day Three Continents cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton with stops in Barbados, Dakar, Senegal, the Canary Islands, Madeira and Lisbon.

While the ports of call were interesting and we were greeted royally at most of them -- with fire boats spouting like fountains for the maiden welcome of a new ship -- the highlight of the whole trip for us, and pretty well everyone we spoke to, was the ship itself.

Sailing from Fort Lauderdale on March 26 we had a standard outside cabin with veranda on the starboard side of Deck 5, so were facing south for most of the cruise.

Cabins range from standard inside staterooms to junior suites for Princess Grill Class passengers and large suites and two-storey penthouses for Queens Grill Class passengers. Needless to say, we had no opportunity to sample the latter!

Our stateroom was well designed and soundproofed and the television, in addition to providing entertainment on demand, allowed us to receive and send email directly using an attached keyboard (if we signed up for the service). We could also peruse the restaurant menus of the day and choose our dinner wines in advance.

The interior decor, much of it classic Art Deco, is magnificent. The use of high ceilings, elegant staircases, wide corridors and sun-filled atria in public spaces produces a feeling of spaciousness and grandeur without compromising functionality. In the Grand Lobby, sweeping staircases lead to a six-deck-high atrium.

It would be easy to get lost simply going from A to B on such a large and complex ship were it not for the excellent directional signs and an ingenious guide to all the ship's features and attractions which folds up to the size of a business card.


To Dine For
After a comfortable bed and a quiet room, my priorities for any cruise turn to the food and wine -- I wish it were not so, but it is. Fortunately, the quality of both on the Queen Mary 2 exceeded my expectations. Two dining rooms are reserved for Princess and Queen's Grill Class passengers, but the quality of the food and wines available in the other restaurants was so high that we never felt that that we were missing anything.

The main restaurant is the Britannia, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also open for breakfast, the King's Court restaurant has a lunch buffet with a wide variety of choices for all courses and many tables with great ocean views. In the evening, the King's Court splits into four different restaurants: Lotus, a pan-Asian restaurant; La Piazza, an Italian trattoria; the meat-oriented Carvery; and the open-kitchen Chefs' Galley which hosts visiting chefs. In addition, there is the Todd English restaurant (available at an additional charge), run by the well-known American chef. Menus in all of the restaurants were created by some of the world's top chefs and overseen by culinary consultant Daniel Bolud. The food was excellent in all except the Carvery where we had a disappointing steak the only night we ate there.

Most evenings we dined in the stunning Britannia restaurant, a vast three-storey-high room encompassing an atrium. The food was superb, varying nightly, with plenty of choices from a number of cuisines. We had the same friendly staff, a cosmopolitan and diverse group of young people, serving us each evening. The ship boasts the largest wine selection afloat, and we chose from a wide range of vintages from the New World, French classics and several other European countries. Prices were reasonable.

Recommended dress codes varies from casual to elegant casual and formal. The program delivered to the cabin the previous night advises the appropriate dress code for each day. On our 17-day sailing, five of the evenings were formal.

For those seeking liquid refreshment of the alcoholic kind, 13 bars and lounges are scattered throughout the ship. They include an English pub, the Churchill cigar lounge, a champagne-only bar, a wine bar and the Winter Garden which also serves English high tea each afternoon.

My favourite was the bright and spacious Chart Room piano bar where I could indulge in surfing the Internet by Wi-Fi on my laptop. This is one of several wireless hot spots scattered throughout public areas of the ship.

Everything under the Stars
Entertainment facilities, far from being an afterthought, are up to the standards set by all the amenities aboard. The unique Illuminations is the only full-size planetarium at sea. The two shows we saw, Stars over the Atlantic and Cosmos, were fascinating and educational.

The nightly shows at the Royal Court Theater are of a calibre comparable to London's West End. The Queens Room is the place to trip the light fantastic, take in a show or parade your formal attire or evening gown. The Masked Ball on our cruise was an extravaganza of elegance, style and mystery.

One of the busiest educational sites on board was Cunard ConneXions, several rooms with access to computers, Internet and printers, available for use for an added cost. This area was busy most of the time. It seemed most of the seniors on board were taking computer lessons! The large library, well-stocked with books and videos, was also busy much of the time.

Many guests took advantage of the Oxford Discovery Programs, with workshops and seminars on everything from writing to history or art. Other enrichment programs include the Chefs or Designers at Sea workshops, led by leading names from Europe and North America.

Wining and dining and sitting around decks and theatres takes its toll on the rotundity of the body -- it eventually increases it! Since decreasing the intake while on board was not an option, at least for me, exercise was the only remedy. Fortunately the ship is well equipped with facilities, including four pools, a sport and exercise centre and a golf simulator. There is also the inevitable spa club, in this case a branch of the much-vaunted Canyon Ranch, to sooth the aching body.

For many, my wife and I included, the only sensible way to attack the cruise-induced corpulence was fast walking the Promenade decks. There are several, all wide and spacious enough to have sturdy deck chairs and loungers and still leave a path free for the walkers.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time on board the Queen Mary 2, truly a city on the seas. Its grandeur, class, efficiency and friendliness were part of its mystique. If you ever have the opportunity to sail on this wonder of the seas, whether it is a crossing or a cruise, take my advice -- carpe diem! Or let me go in your place.

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