Transatlanticism

Jenna, at sea

Exactly one year ago today, October 22, Jenna and I booked a one-way transatlantic crossing aboard the Queen Mary 2.

Originally, the idea was more joke than anything else. “Wouldn’t it be funny?” we’d ask each other. But the truth was, after almost a year living in France, we needed to get home to Toronto somehow.

We presumed we’d fly. That is, until we looked at the cost of one-way Christmastime flights from Lyon to Toronto. Or Paris to Toronto. Or London to Toronto. Or Anywhere in Europe to Anywhere in North America. Every flight we looked at seemed to be in the neighbourhood of $2,000. Per person.

So on a lark, we priced out Cunard’s 7-day Westbound Transatlantic Crossing aboard the Queen Mary 2.

$649.00 per person. Cunard was having a sale.

Jenna spent a lot of time on the telephone with a helpful rep to confirm the details. Yes, the price included a room (with a balcony!). Yes, it included all meals (breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner). Yes, it included complimentary 24-hour room service. Yes, it covered entertainment.

Obviously, we were going to sail.

So then, a little less than two months later, in the wee hours of the morning on December 15, we waited for a train to take us from Lyon to London St Pancras.

Jenna, at the train station

Arriving at St Pancras station, we were greeted by a Cunard employee who directed us to a coach that would take us (and a handful of other travellers) to Southampton, where we’d embark. The porter took our bags, and told us that the next place we’d see them would be inside our stateroom.

Given the sheer number of passengers, it’s impressive how smoothly embarkment went. Apparently, the QM2 has a crew-to-passenger ratio of one for every 2.1 passengers. It showed. There was a lot of hustle and bustle, but everything was quite orderly.

Our room was exactly as advertised. We picked the Britannia Balcony Stateroom which was small, but perfectly fine for two people. And, as promised, our bags were waiting for us inside when we arrived. Along with a bottle of sparkling wine.

If I had to sum up the QM2 experience in a word, it’d be fancy, with everything that word connotes. Fancy formal dining. Fancy servers, wearing fancy white gloves. Fancy dancing, on fancy dance floors (“among the largest at sea”). Fancy entertainment. And fancy passengers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a higher concentration of well-dressed classy older ladies than aboard the Queen Mary 2.

The food was good, the bars were well-stocked, and there was plenty to do aboard. Jenna and I took in a few of the lectures that were offered, and saw a handful of movies in the onboard theatre, but we didn’t partake in many of the formal, organized activities.

Because internet access was prohibitively expensive, we stayed offline the entire week. It was kind of nice.

Mostly, we ate, read, and walked around, exploring the ship. There was a lot to explore.

Jenna on an empty deck

Giant gingerbread house

Christmas tree

When we first told friends and family we were planning to come home by sea, we got two common responses. The first mentioned the Titanic. The second was a question: “Do you get seasick?”

As we learned, I don’t easily get seasick. Jenna does.

We knew we’d be crossing the North Atlantic in mid-December, and expected the seas to be rough, so we brought along a healthy supply of seasickness medication.

The first few days at sea were relatively calm, but mid-way through the voyage, things got rough. One particularly bad night, I remember waking up with my fingers clinging to the edge of the bed, because I thought I might fall out. I didn’t.

Over the next day or so, the waves got stronger, as did the smell of industrial-strength carpet cleaner. Walking through the hallways, I regularly passed small damp sections of capet, cordoned off with caution tape. One morning, sitting in the theatre, waiting for a lecture to begin, I watched a man in an aisle ahead of me stand up to quickly leave. But as soon as he stood, he lost his lunch all over the laps of his aisle-mates.

There were really only two really rough nights. I managed to catch a daytime video as things calmed down:

Looking back now, I didn’t take very detailed notes about our crossing. I wish I had. But on our last full day at sea, I stepped out onto our very windy balcony and asked Jenna what she wanted to remember:

Then, very early in the morning of December 22, we approached Brooklyn. After six full days at sea, land was a sight for sore eyes:

Arriving in Brooklyn

These days, the world can seem very small, and far-away people can seem very close. I can pick up the phone and dial friends and family anywhere. I can get on a plane and be halfway around the world in a handful of hours. I love that.

But spending a week aboard the Queen Mary 2 was a good reminder of just how big the world is. And how far away we’d really been. And how nice it was to be home.