Freelancer Suzanne Lavenas spent a week crossing the Atlantic
during the final transatlantic season of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Her
t's big, but other passenger
ships are bigger. It's elegant, but so are other vessels. The food
is exquisite and the service is impeccable, but these elements can
be matched on other ships. What makes the Queen Elizabeth 2 unique
is its style -- and its history.
And sad to say, this is to be the venerable ocean liner's last
transatlantic season. A few months after the QE2 makes its last
ocean crossing in December, the newly commissioned Queen Mary 2
will take over, offering the only scheduled transatlantic service
from New York to Southampton, England.
The QE2 is not -- repeat, not -- going into mothballs. This
fabled ship still will ply the oceans, concentrating on Europe
cruising and its 110-day round-the-world trip.
The QE2 and transatlantic travel go together like caviar and toast,
or at least they have since the liner was introduced in 1969. An
Atlantic crossing concentrates the traveler on the ship rather than
on the destinations. Life at sea becomes an end in itself.
On a recent crossing, we left New York bathed in a light fog. We
didn't see land again until the ship made an unaccustomed stop at
Cherbourg in Normandy, before turning north to Southampton, its
The mood on this almost-last trip of its kind was far from
solemn. The repeat travelers intended to keep on cruising on the
QE2 -- after they've sampled the QM2. The first-timers seized the
rapidly vanishing opportunity for a romantic transatlantic voyage
they had heard about for much of their lives.
Some of the passengers were long-time devotees, including the
Long Island couple who had sailed on this ship a staggering 40
More typical was Gordon Wise, a Texas attorney on his third
crossing. He had a conference to attend in Britain, but he also
wanted to see the landing beaches of Normandy, a side trip from
Wise reeled off a list of reasons for embarking on a leisurely
voyage instead of the quicker and cheaper plane ride: For one
thing, he welcomed the chance to live a life that harks back to
days gone by.
Above all, he was attracted to the formality.
Four of the seven nights aboard were designated as formal, and
men wore dinner jackets while the women flaunted a variety of
elegant dresses whose length depended on age and nationality. There
was nary a pantsuit or sports jacket in sight.
In fact, dressing up was so popular that many people did it
Other passengers remarked on the serenity and the slower pace.
"It gives me time to decompress," said one, a banker.
A further attraction was the international cast of passengers.
Only about half were American.
"Selling the QE2 is selling a dream," said William Brown, whose
company, Platinum Seminars, teaches agents how to do exactly
"The QE2 is an ocean liner, not a cruise ship," he said. "It's
more intellectual, classier."
Despite the designer clothes and jewels, the QE2 experience is
pretty relaxed. There are no announcements over the loudspeaker,
and there is no enforced fun. For three days, we enjoyed balmy
weather more associated with the Mediterranean than the Atlantic in
May, and you could find folks in their deck chairs nibbling scones
and sipping Earl Gray tea as if they were at London's Connaught
To most people, a luxury liner means lavish meals, spa
treatments and Broadway-style shows. The QE2 is no exception.
In the spa, passengers could enjoy a range of treatments, from
aromatherapy to thalassotherapy, seaweed and detoxifying
But guest speakers brought a more serious side to the ship.
On this sailing, mystery novelist and lawyer Linda Fairstein
talked about writing, crime and New York.
An intrepid husband-and-wife team recounted their hair-raising
trek across the Antarctic, and a Concorde pilot described his
adventures in the air, including the time his plane lost half its
By now you may have figured out the theme for this sailing:
"Exploration and Discovery." Each QE2 crossing keeps to a
particular theme, ranging from rock 'n' roll to movies to a
Many passengers also found food for the mind in the library and
bookshop, which were full of volumes on ships and the sea, poetry
and philosophy as well as the latest bestsellers.
In the dining rooms, there was fabulous food for the body. For
breakfast there were creamy shirred eggs topped with caviar. It was
a dish rich enough for the ruler of Bahrain, and it kept me going
-- until noon, that is. At lunch I tucked into a perfectly prepared
mixed grill with beef and pork mignon, lamb cutlet, bacon and
For dinner I went a little over the top with game terrine for a
starter and a main course of colonial lamb curry. It had just
enough bite to display authenticity but still be nonthreatening to
Western taste buds. The menu also featured Continental dishes, such
as duck l'orange and rack of lamb.
And if you weren't pleased with that day's five or six
selections and five courses, there was always the a la carte menu.
An excellent vegetarian main course, such as corn and spinach
fritters on sauteed bok choy, was offered at every meal, as was a
As on the famous ocean liners of the past, passengers are
assigned a dining room according to class of cabin. I had a Queens
Grill cabin and ate at the top level, but the quality of the other
four restaurants was just as high. The single seating encouraged
diners to relax and have a leisurely meal.
There were fewer choices at the Caronia and the Mauretania, the
only restaurant to require two seatings instead of one. The casual
Lido buffet was a haven for those who wanted to forego
Except for the dining room tiers, everything else on the ship
was open to all cabin designations: the lively casino, the Yacht
Club dance floor and the Golden Lion Pub.
At the end of a long day, I happily retreated to my stateroom,
which was almost as big as a New York studio apartment. Three
windows and two dressing areas complemented the standard cabin
accouterments. I sat back in my chair and imagined myself on a
round-the-world journey. There certainly was enough room for 110
days' worth of clothes.
The remaining crossings scheduled for this farewell
transatlantic season are: eastbound, June 25 to July 1, July 22 to
28, Aug. 17 to 23, Sept 1 to 7, Sept. 25 to Oct. 1 and Oct. 19 to
25; westbound, June 19 to 25, July 16 to 22, Aug. 11 to 17, Aug. 26
to Sept. 1, Sept. 19 to 25, Oct. 1 to 7, Oct. 19 to 25. All are for
The distinguished Queen will sail in tandem with the Queen Mary
2 from New York to Southampton on April 25, 2004. The ships will be
docked in the Port of New York together -- the first time two
"Queens" have been in port together since the 1940s, Cunard Line
For more details on this article, see Cunard guests can pair final QE2, Concorde
crossings with packages.