Just a few decades ago, crossing the ocean by ship was the only way to get to Europe for most people. But by the 1950s the advent of commercial transatlantic air travel resulted in the popularity of ocean liner travel plummeting as the convenience and novelty of air travel took over. It’s hard to believe in these days of the indignities of air travel, but flying used to be glamorous. Today I’m just happy if the man sitting next to me has sleeves on his shirt.
But now the roles have reversed and crossing the Atlantic by ocean liner is the glamorous, or at least most comfortable way, to travel. It’s also a fantastic way to combine the necessity of having to get somewhere with a pleasurable experience. They always say getting there is half the fun, but when you take a transatlantic cruise that really is true. The price can be less expensive than a regular coach seat on an airplane, plus it includes all your meals, entertainment and very comfortable accommodations for the week.
There’s only one true ocean liner left. When Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 was christened in 2004 she was the first ocean liner built in more than 30 years. An ocean liner is a ship built to take rougher seas with a longer and narrower hull to cut through the water and a higher freeboard – which means the first open air deck sits higher off the water than most cruise ships. She can also go much faster. They say the Queen Mary 2 can go backwards faster than most cruise ships can go forwards! While most cruise ships sail in warmer waters and stay away from rough weather, the Queen Mary 2 sails back and forth between New York and Southampton, England all year round (look on Cunard.com for the schedule).
I recently sailed on the Queen Mary 2 from New York to England and was surprised to meet a community of people who use the Queen Mary 2 as a regular method of travel to and from Europe for a variety of reasons. There are the obvious people who are afraid to fly, for whom taking a ship to Europe or anywhere else over water is the only viable alternative. But there are also some surprising benefits that ocean liner travel has over air travel that I’d never considered.
No Jet Lag
I met a number of people onboard who have to travel for business in Europe every year, attending an annual trade show, for example, or an annual meeting. Taking the Queen Mary 2 across made it a much more leisurely and definitely more enjoyable way to travel than spending at least a day getting to their departure airport, another day flying, and more hours at the arrivals end going through immigration, getting your bags and maybe even making connecting flights. Of course this doesn’t take into consideration the possibility of flight delays or cancellations.
By contrast, these Queen Mary 2 commuters say that taking a cab to the Brooklyn terminal where the Queen Mary 2 docks is easy, your bags are taken to your cabin for you, and after a quick walk through security you settle into your cabin for a spa-like week of found time.
And one of the best parts they say? No jet-lag when you arrive. It can take days to adjust your body clock after a transatlantic flight, but the six-night journey on Queen Mary 2 takes you through time zones gently. By the time you arrive, you are good to go, no lost time or groggy days and sleepless nights!
Another group I met on the Queen Mary 2 that I hadn’t considered were the passengers with mild to serious health issues that took the luxury transatlantic ocean liner as a safer, healthier alternative. Flying from the U.S. to Europe may sound easy — just an 8-10-hour flight and you’re there! But it’s much longer than that in reality. For people with circulation issues or mobility problems, or who have to eat or take medications on a strict schedule, enduring long flights in cramped seats, rushing through airports for connecting flights, or experiencing those dreaded flight delays, besides being uncomfortable, can be downright dangerous to their health. Even the pressurization of an airplane can be hard for people with circulatory problems like heart or vascular issues or even diabetes. If needed, the Queen Mary 2 has a full medical staff on board to handle almost anything.
On the Queen Mary 2 passage I had a lobster lunch in Peggy’s Cove, a picturesque seaside town outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia, with two of my fellow passengers, a couple from California. The ship was making a special stop in Halifax and we were taking part in a tour of the town that included a lunch of the local lobster. The husband, a handsome gentleman in his early 70s who now walked slowly with a cane, was tall and had obviously been a robust and energetic man before his stroke a few years before. His wife, just a few years younger, was still active and together they love travelling to Europe but now at a slower pace. When I asked them over lunch about why they travelled regularly on the Queen Mary 2, her answer brought tears to my eyes. “When my husband had his stroke,” she explained, “it was a terrible tragedy for us. He’d always been very strong and active. But when we travel now on the Queen Mary we’re so well taken care of by the staff on the ship that we feel special, like we’re getting perks! They always make sure we get on and off first, that we’re comfortable instead of feeling marginalized or a burden. It’s like a blessing.”
And one further bonus and one of the most popular perks on the Queen Mary 2? A fully-equipped dog kennel on an upper deck. Dog owners can hang out with their dogs in the kennel’s open-air yard, and for those of us missing our dogs at home, it was an entertaining spot to stop for a while and watch the dogs play. The dog kennel is such a popular feature in fact, that the Queen Mary 2 is expanding it when it goes in for refurbishment this spring. Spots in the kennel are almost always sold out well in advance of sailing. Seems like even the dogs would rather cruise than fly.
Sharon Kenny is a food and travel writer based in South Florida. Her book, “Where Should We Eat?”, is in its fourth edition. Follow Sharonfoodlover on Twitter or visit wsweflorida.com or like Where Should We Eat? on Facebook.