This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver explores today's options for transatlantic travelers.
The only way to cross - in comfort
London to New York by air, in economy class, consists of eight, circulation stopping, cramp inducing, stomach churning, jet-lag inducing, dehydrating, mind numbing, boring hours. It's no wonder that some call it 'cattle class'. As for the food - the plastic tray that they serve it on probably has more nutritional value than the food itself. O.K you could upgrade to a bigger seat or even a bed, if you have that kind of spare money, but you are still trapped in the same flying bullet for the equivalent of a working day.
If you are looking for an alternative, let me suggest a 'crossing' on board Cunard's Queen Mary 2 (QM2). She is the only ship still regularly scheduled to cross the 'pond' these days. She continues the tradition of the great Ocean Liners of the past, which in their day were the only form of intercontinental transport.
The six-night 'crossing' has no ports of call apart from Southampton and New York at either end, and approximately 3000 nautical miles of the Atlantic in between. Those who have not experienced a 'crossing' (…it's not a cruise) might imagine that it's a bit boring, but they could not be more wrong. QM2 offers a traditional atmosphere, with a host of cultured entertainment on board, including: lectures from Oxford University professors, Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RADA) plays and drama workshops, ITC courses and even planetarium shows. For those looking for something less cultured, there are multiple bars, west-end style shows, the nightly disco and the casino, which is one of the biggest afloat.
Those who have not seen the fares may think that only the rich could afford to go transatlantic, but once again they are wrong. I'm not going to claim that it is cheap, but it is probably not nearly as much as you might imagine. This year, QM2 departures from Southampton start from £799 per person (based on two people sharing an inside cabin), which includes a free flight home. US fares for a crossing start at $999, which is an even better deal. (For comparison, an economy flight to NY from London can cost over £600 return, at peak times of the year). However, if you really do need a two floor Duplex Suite, complete with your own butler, I would recommend that you consider a second mortgage.
Although QM2's 'class system' offers four grades of dining experience and many grades of cabin, the cheapest cabins are perfectly adequate and the 'Britannia' restaurant (the basic grade) now offers excellent food and service. It is also the most stunning in terms of size and grandeur of the restaurants on board QM2 and arguably any ship currently afloat.
OK, so maybe I've convinced you that you would not get bored and it's not totally unaffordable, but "wouldn't I get sea sick?" you might ask. Well the good news is that if you did a 'crossing' in the late spring or summer months the seas are likely to be kind. Let's also not forget that the QM2 is a very big stable ship. Apart from her older sister, the QE2, she is the only other ship specifically built to be able to regularly endure the rigors of the north Atlantic.
"Yes that's all very well, but six nights to get to NY is a waste of my vacation" you might say. May I suggest that six nights on board the QM2, eating fine food, being pampered by well trained staff, and relaxing and enjoying the extensive on board facilities is not just a journey, it's a vacation in itself.
Finally, if you are still not convinced, how about the fact that a crossing to NY on board the QM2 is one of travels great experiences. To stand on the deck in the early hours of the morning and see the QM2's majestic funnel pass under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, with only three meters of clearance to spare, is breathtaking. This is shortly followed by the first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and the NY skyline, which makes ones heart race, just as it once did for millions of migrants bound for the new world.
It's a priceless experience.