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Elinor Florence (Company name) Elinor Florence

Queen Mary 2: Ten Things to Know

I spent seven days crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the historic Queen Mary 2. Here are my top ten observations about sailing on the only passenger liner in the world.

 Laughing woman in red windbreaker clings to rail on the windy deck of a ship

Welcome to Letters From Windermere, a monthly blog in which I write about:

  • HISTORY: mostly Western Canada history, plus anything else that interests me.
  • WRITING: behind-the-scenes info about my next historical novel, to be released in April 2025!
  • BOOKS: I recommend a good book every month.

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It was a marriage of two passions—history AND writing—when I learned that four publishing experts were offering a week of workshops aboard Queen Mary 2.

I immediately signed up along with thirty other writers, four of us Canadian and the rest American.

Our fearless leaders were Jane Friedman (author of The Business of Publishing), and writing instructors Allison K Williams, Dinty W. Moore, and Amy Goldmacher. (If you are a writer, follow the links to learn more about what they offer.)

Our Craft & Publishing Voyage departed from Southampton, on the south coast of England, on April 28th, 2024 and we docked one week later in New York City.

The experience was not only great fun, but extremely motivating. When not listening and learning, I spent my time exploring the ship.

Here’s my advice for anyone considering a voyage on the Queen Mary 2.

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1. Queen Mary 2: A Floating Museum

Since I am a history buff, I loved roaming the hallways and lobbies lined with dozens of beautifully-prepared historic panels and photographs.

Over the decades, Cunard operated dozens of ships but now the company is down to four: Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, and Queen Anne.

The original Queen Mary was built for the Cunard Line in Clydebank, Scotland and sailed the Atlantic from 1936 to 1967, when she was permanently anchored in Los Angeles.

Entering service in 2004, the Queen Mary 2 is the world’s only ocean liner in existence.

She is a long, lean machine (147 feet longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall), and faster than the average cruise ship.

The ship makes seven-day trips between the U.S. and the U.K., but also longer voyages. Some of our passengers were disembarking in New York after several months at sea.

Here’s her complete itinerary: Queen Mary 2 Schedule.

The Cunard Line is now owned by an American company, Carnival Corporation, but it continues to showcase Cunard’s proud history.

This image of company founder Samuel Cunard is eight feet tall.

Portrait of Samuel Cunard on the Queen Mary 2 is collaged together with hundreds of tiny images of ships

It was created with hundreds of tiny vintage Cunard ship photographs.

Portrait of Samuel Cunard aboard the Queen Mary 2 is composed of hundreds of tiny ship images

 

It was a Cunard ship, the Carpathia, that rushed to the scene of the sinking Titanic, owned by the White Star line, and rescued 705 survivors from their lifeboats. The story is told with photos and text. To this day, the White Star flag is raised on all Cunard ships every April 15th in memory of the Titanic disaster.

Historic photos and text tells the story of the Carpathia rescuing Titanic survivors

 

During the Second World War, the Cunard ships Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary ferried one million men from North America to join the combat.

I could not help thinking as I gazed at the sea how terrifying it must have been for those men to imagine German submarines lurking in the depths.

Winston Churchill himself crossed the Atlantic four times in the Queen Mary to meet with other world leaders, and this display pictures him thanking Cunard for their contribution.

On one voyage in 1943, the Queen Mary carried over 16,600 people, the still-standing world record for the most people on a vessel!

Historic panel shows photo of Winston Churchill with text thanking the Cunard line for transporting men during wartime

 

In a lighter vein, there are also dozens of photographs of celebrities who sailed with Cunard, including such notables as Duke Ellington, Vera Lynn, Charlie Chaplin, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Vintage sepia photo of Elizabeth Taylor holding a fluffy white dog standing on board the Queen Mary

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2. Queen Mary 2: The Royal Treatment

My new American friends were impressed when someone asked: “Who was Queen Mary, anyway?” and I was able to tell them that she was King George’s mother (Queen Elizabeth the Second’s paternal grandmother). The Queen’s Room on the ship is filled with images of Queen Mary and her family members.

(This tiara was created for Queen Mary in 1911 and has since been worn by the current Queen Camilla).

Colored portrait photograph of Queen Mary wearing her tiara and jewels

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3. Queen Mary 2: The Stunning Décor

Aside from the history panels, the décor is gorgeous and leans toward Art Deco, a nod to the Golden Age of Ocean Travel in the 1920s and 1930s.

The ship contains 600 original pieces of art, including this giant tapestry hanging in the Britannia Restaurant.

Huge 20-foot tapestry of ship hangs over the tables in the Britannia Restaurant aboard the Queen Mary 2

The lighting, too, is spectacular.

Lifesized bronze sculpture of woman holding lamp in right hand, Art Deco style

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4. Queen Mary 2: Library Love

The Queen Mary 2 boasts the largest floating library in the world. Passengers can borrow books for free, and there’s also a free book swap.

Ceiling-high rows of wooden shelves filled with books in the ship's library

Best of all, there’s plenty of room for lounging and reading.

People reading books sit in a comfortable lounge overlooking the sea

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5. Queen Mary 2: Dress Up or Down

There are two dressy dinners each week. For the Black and White Ball, most people came to dinner wearing these colours, and some guests dressed to the nines in black tuxedos and snowy gowns. Following the meal, an orchestra played while some very professional dancers dipped and twirled around the floor. It was highly entertaining!

The Roaring Twenties Night saw many guests going all out on their costumes, with sequined dresses and feathered headbands. I joined them wearing my own flapper dress (although I never did find a cigarette for my holder.)

Author Elinor Florence standing on stairs with red flapper dress, beaded headband, black gloves, and cigarette holder.

Aside from those two events, formal attire is not required. Guests were requested to wear “smart casual” clothes to dinner, which seemed to include everything except jeans and shorts.

The clothing during the day ran the gamut from dresses and diamonds, to jeans and hoodies. I even saw a guy wander through the bar in his bathrobe!

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6. Queen Mary 2: The Mighty Atlantic

I have only been on one previous cruise, up the inside passage from Vancouver to Alaska in sheltered waters, so it was an amazing experience to witness the ocean in all its wild splendour.

I reflected on the fact that the ancestors of millions of non-indigenous North Americans, including my own, crossed this ocean—many of them in primitive wooden sailing ships. What a gruelling experience!

There were a couple of days when it felt like the ship was fighting its way through the sea. With the undercurrents and tides and winds all battling for supremacy, plus the forward thrust of the propellers, the movement resembled airplane turbulence rather than any kind of rhythmic motion.

It never swayed enough to make things fall off tables, or knock people down, but some passengers did seek medical help for nausea.

I found it quite relaxing and fell asleep each night feeling as if I were being rocked in a giant cradle.

However, I cannot in all conscience recommend this voyage to anyone who is inclined to motion sickness.

Once we approached the Maritimes, the ocean calmed down once again.

[A man and woman sit on deck chairs overlooking the ocean, reading books.

On the upper deck, though, it was still pretty windy!

Woman wearing glasses stands on deck of ship while her brunette hair blows straight upwards.

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7. Queen Mary 2: Time After Time

Because there is a five-hour time difference between Southampton and New York, the clocks went back one hour each night and we enjoyed five twenty-five-hour days.

When the ship sails in the other direction, from New York to Southampton, the passengers experience five shortened days instead.

It sounds great in theory, but I was pretty discombobulated. Not everyone’s devices automatically updated, so many guests (including me) went around asking: “What time is it today?”

White metal clock with black hands hangs above the deck on board the Queen Mary 2.

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8. Queen Mary 2: That’s Entertainment!

Since the passengers are captive on the ship for seven days and nights, Cunard does its best to keep them entertained. There is a planetarium, a movie theatre, a casino, an art gallery, live music at various venues, regular performances by the Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers, and lectures by various visiting experts.

Lessons are offered in such pursuits as singing, dancing, bridge, and watercolour painting. There is a swimming pool, fitness centre, beauty salon and spa. You can play shuffleboard, pickleball, shuffleboard, bingo, or board games. There is even a putting green.

Dogs spent the voyage in a dedicated kennel and deck area, complete with their own fire hydrant!

Man wearing hat with two small dogs on the deck of a ship, one brown and one white

Unfortunately, the entertainment was one aspect of my voyage which I couldn’t fully enjoy. I was busy during the day, and usually retired to my cabin shortly after dinner, exhausted by all the stimulation.

Now I have a good excuse to make another crossing!

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9. Queen Mary 2: Decent but Dull Food

I wanted to give the Queen Mary 2 a ten out of ten rating in all categories, but the meals were uninspiring.

The dinner menu in the spectacular Britannia Restaurant, shown here, offered four choices for each course, but they were usually overcooked or bland.

Overall, I would rate the dining experience at three stars out of five.

An overhead view of the spectacular two-storey Britannia Restaurant aboard the Queen Mary 2, which seats 1000 guests.

I ate breakfast and lunch in the buffet section called Kings Court, and found enough choices there to satisfy me.

I also had fish and chips for lunch one day in the English pub called The Golden Lion, but once again, the results were mediocre—although the beer was good!

Circular polished bar with glasses hanging overhead, and patrons sitting on bar stools

One meal that did not disappoint was High Tea, served every afternoon in the Queens Room.

I rarely managed more than a single delicious scone with cream and strawberry jam.

White china plate holds scone with butter and scarlet jam, with white cup and saucer sitting beside the plate

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10. Queen Mary 2: The Cost

The bookings for participants in the Craft & Publishing Voyage were handled by a tour company called Ahoy Cruises. All other arrangements were handled by writing coach Allison K Williams. She often organizes writing retreats (including one in Tuscany), so check her website for more information.

For my all-inclusive passage on the Queen Mary 2, I paid $3,200 Canadian. (Unless you are claustrophobic, save money by booking an inside cabin. There’s nothing to see out the window, especially after dark, and it’s much nicer to be out and about.)

My air fare from Calgary to London, and back again from New York to Calgary: $1,200 Canadian.

Additional expenses: three nights at a lovely London hotel, the Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton; plus my bus fare to Southampton.

The Craft & Publishing portion was charged separately. It was well worth the money since I learned so much, and will put my newfound knowledge to good use!

Writers will recognize Jane Friedman, the foremost expert today in the business of book publishing. It was a real pleasure to meet her in person.

Two women pose before a pair of vintage Cunard travel posters.

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Sailing Into Harbour

All too soon, it was over. Like millions of people before us, we sailed into New York Harbour.

I went up on deck at 5 a.m. as we scooted under the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge with only a few metres to spare, and then past the Statue of Liberty.

We disembarked at 8 a.m., just in time for the ship to welcome a new batch of passengers before heading back to Southampton.

And I must admit shedding a tear as I said goodbye to the ship, and my new writing friends.

In summary, the voyage is well worth the money—but only IF you are not prone to motion sickness, and IF you don’t expect fine dining.

In every other aspect, I give the voyage a ten out of ten.

Lighted bridge silhouetted against the night sky as the Queen Mary 2 approaches.

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BOOK OF THE MONTH

Fittingly, I reread this book while I was on the Queen Mary 2 and fell in love with it all over again. Captain Jack Aubrey and his sidekick Dr. Stephen Maturin are among the most engaging characters in literature. Disregard the movie with Russell Crowe—he’s a wonderful actor, but nobody can do justice to Captain Jack. Master and Commander is the first in a nineteen-book series. I have read them all!

Book cover shows antique compass against a raging sea

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WHAT’S UP NEXT

My next blog post will come to you from the lovely Wallace Stegner House in tiny Eastend, Saskatchewan, where I will spend the month of June in a Writer’s Retreat.

The newspaper in nearby Swift Current, Saskatchewan was kind enough to publish a story about me. (Below is the headline, but unfortunately I’m unable to link to the story).

Wallace Stegner was an American Pulitzer-winning author whose parents homesteaded in Saskatchewan before throwing in the towel and moving back to the States.

Wallace lived in this charming but humble home until he was twelve years old, and later wrote about it in his wonderful history/memoir, Wolf Willow.

I will tell you more about him, and the stunning prairie landscape, in my next post on June 19th.

News story headline reads Successful Sask. born writer receives the Wallace Stegner Grant, accompanied by photo of two-storey green house

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Friends, I love to hear from my followers, and I answer EVERY EMAIL. So feel free to drop me a line.

Until next time, enjoy the long, hot days of June. I’m so looking forward to those magnificent prairie sunsets!

Affectionately, Elinor

 

 

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