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Crossing the Ocean on the QM2
Last uploaded : Friday 10th Nov 2006 at 03:34
Contributed by : Carol Gould



I packed for my Transatlantic crossing on the hottest night of the year so far. At 12 midnight my London flat was registering 92 Fahrenheit. My brains were frying.

The trip to Southampton the next, even hotter day was to be bearable because the friend who was to drive me to the Queen Mary 2 Dock had an air-conditioned car. The downside was that her husband decided at the last minute to come along for the rise, and I was subjected to a protracted lecture from this elderly, Korean war veteran hubby about my evil Zionist ancestors and the imminent ( he hoped) demise of Israel. When we stopped at a roadside restaurant he began to get so agitated about the wicked deeds inflicted upon the world by the Jews and Yanks since the year dot that his wife told him to belt up or she would abandon him at the rest stop.

Thankfully he did belt up and soon we could see the majestic sight of the Queen Mary 2 from miles away. I could not wait to board and was astonished by the ease of the process compared to the nightmare of an airport departure. No shoe-removal here. This was July 2006, before the liquid container scare.

The gigantic ship is difficult to navigate on day one but all I could be grateful for was the wonderful air conditioning. Apparently this had been the hottest day on record in Britain in almost a century, but by late evening I had to switch to heat in my stateroom because the outside temperature had dropped to near-wintry levels.

On night one I went to dinner with my table card in hand. Arriving at my designated seat the other dinner companions said ‘No!’ I realised they were not going to let me take my seat so I went to see the restaurant manager. The queue went all the way out into the corridor; it transpired that hundreds of guests like me had been spurned by our dinner companions because we had picked up 1,400 Germans in Hamburg who wanted to sit with Germans only.

I ended up, like so many other English and American passengers, being seated with a delightful set of American singles who proved warm and welcoming companions for the duration of the voyage.

The food? Every day the three main meals offered everything any fussy eater could desire. Breakfasts were out of this world: the Scottish smoked salmon was the best I have ever eaten and the porridge second to none. Lunch and dinner each day offered a different permutation of soup. One thing I missed was sorbet to cleanse the pallet, which I had so enjoyed on my previous eleven crossings on the QE2. Each lunch and dinner had offered a different flavour of sorbet, and one could imagine the chefs thinking up such a variety for ten meals.

Lobster in various preparations was on offer almost every day. Vegetarian meals were not simply overcooked stodge with mushrooms, and fish dishes were seasoned to perfection.

My major complaint about the Queen Mary 2 is that the utterly astounding Midnight banquet is no more. This was a feature of life on the QE2 and included the nightly ice sculptures and efforts by each chef to outdo the other with mountains of beautifully-laid out surplus delicacies from the First and Deluxe Class kitchens.

My other complaint is a feature of the QM2 that did not exist on the QE2: the all-day buffet. This is a good idea but the décor is a cross between a Little Chef and working men’s café.

On the journey back from the USA we took onboard 1,100 Britons from Up North on package tours. They virtually never ate in the dining room but used the buffet to such excess that the ship was completely unprepared for the volume of food, trays and utensils needed to accommodate the scantily-clad holidaymakers. The tacky décor and fish-fry smells of the buffet are reminiscent of cross-channel ferries.

The QM2 has no British flavour. The corridors in the accommodation are blank. There are various peculiarly inscrutable murals adorning the public areas, but nothing to make one feel one is aboard an elegant, expensive Cunarder. Whoever own Cunard should be made to feel some degree of shame that this enormous liner could easily be a ferry. With all the photographs by Cecil Beaton and other British geniuses of great performers, musicians and literary giants, one wonders who decided the walls would be empty or decorated with rather inconsequential murals.

There is one dessert I found only in New York and Philadelphia whilst in the USA: chocolate sorbet. This is a delicacy I could eat until the cows come home. Honestly, I would even have it for breakfast. Fortnum and Mason used to serve it but it is now completely unavailable in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Another dessert that is peculiar to Japanese American restaurants but never to be found in the UK is ’Yokan’ or delicately sliced red bean paste with a chestnut in its midsection. I have tried for years to convince London Japanese proprietors to offer this divine dessert but nobody ever puts this into practice even though Yokan is available in every Japanese supermarket in London.

Travelling back from New York to Southampton on the QM2 we passed through September 11th. The Captain asked us to observe a moment of silence during lunch and it was moving to see so many people of all nationalities in tears. On a Friday night at sea the Jewish passengers held a Sabbath service open to anyone who wished to attend. A blonde, blue-eyed German passenger sat next to me and wept during the prayers. Afterwards he partook of gefilte fish and challah, ( his first time, he told us) and then revealed he had discovered he was Jewish during a research trip to New York, where he had found the records of his mother, who had arrived in the USA as a concentration camp survivor and then had gone back to Germany, raising him Lutheran. His overwhelming emotion attending his first Sabbath service and wearing a ‘kippa’ for the first time left an indelible impression on all the passengers who witnessed his personal journey.

Crossing on the QM2 is not a life-altering experience in terms of food and luxuries, but these special moments on an ocean crossing make the price eminently worthwhile.


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