On a July voyage between Liverpool, England, and Canada’s Halifax, Nova Scotia, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 spent six nights and five days at sea.
Nearly a week, without possibilities for going ashore, seems a long time when you are looking over a brochure for a future crossing of the North Atlantic.
But once Queen Mary 2 leaves the last glimpse of land and the sea-day countdown begins, time zips by in a series of meals, concerts, parties, movies, lectures, games, naps, reading, and hours for staring aimlessly at an expanse of gray-green water that never stops moving or changing.
Nature is most beautiful and powerful at sea, where you are at its mercy.
One day, you may see an empty ocean clear and calm to the horizon and greet July in short sleeves. The next day, capricious winds may whip an endless supply of waves’ tips in swirls of foam, and the air can be soupy with fog. You will want a sweater.
That’s when I feel how lucky I am, as insignificant as the next wave, to be alive in the middle of all this commotion in the cauldron of life at sea, yet about as safe as I can be.
Getting adjusted to a formal life at sea
The speed of passage across the North Atlantic on the 2,594-passenger Queen Mary 2 depends largely on your tolerance for, or love of, formality.
While the sea is in helter-skelter form, the folks managing Queen Mary 2 are organized and proper. They make lists, form lines, explain rules, establish and enforce dress codes, and oversee a day-to-day life style right out of the best days of the 20th century, when movie stars, business elite, and the moneyed set laughed, ate and danced their way between continents.
Today, most of us live in an age of encroaching informality. Our lifestyles increasingly are casual in relationships, business, attitudes and dress.
Then, we meet Queen Mary 2, the last of the great ocean liners, with dining rooms and manners as polished as in the movie “Titanic,” an orchestra and grand room for dancing, tea times served properly, an existence that sometimes seems out of a time warp.
“We are all about the golden age of travel,” says Queen Mary 2 Captain Kevin Oprey, “so that guests may get away from today’s world.”
Dressed for dinner at 6 p.m.
While the old age of strict proper dinner dressing has evolved about two steps downward -- to the disgust no doubt of some deeply aging passengers -- a modicum of formality exists throughout Queen Mary 2. For instance, there is no dress down Friday, or any other day for that matter. The word “casual” never appears on a list of the daily evening dress codes.
Formality is embraced by most passengers, who toss off their daytime casual clothes as the hour of 6 p.m. approaches. The ship’s male passengers, a majority of them from the United Kingdom, always wear, at the minimum, a jacket during the evenings, whether they are in a bar, in the dining rooms, or on deck for a party around the pools.
Nearly half of the evenings are called “formal,” during which black tie is the norm, a dark business suit and tie acceptable.
When was the last time you attended an affair with a thousand men wearing tuxedos? On our 12-night cruise west and south across the Atlantic from England and down the East Coast of North America to New York, five such evenings were designated.
The dress code seems to be accepted by all but a few passengers. Seldom do you see t-shirts and flip-flops after 6 p.m., except in the cafeteria or the Winter Garden, which are the lone public spaces reserved for less formality.
As the guide, printed and distributed to each cabin, points out daily, some dress is beyond the pale: “After 6 p.m., shorts and blue or worn denim (for men and women), sandals and sleeveless tops (for men) are not considered appropriate within the ship.” I suspect that no one cares what you wear in your own cabin, while consuming a meal from room service.
Passengers on their best behavior
Evening formality and rules of etiquette extend beyond the dress code.
Even in the Britannia Dining Room, which serves the majority of the ship’s passengers who are lodging in the least expensive of Cunard’s cabins, ladies are met at the door each evening by formally clad waiters who escort them to their tables. First seating is at 6 p.m. Second seating is at 8:30 p.m. Last orders to the kitchen are at 6:30 and 9. Your table mates will have expectations of etiquette.
“First-timers should be prepared for the formality,” said Robert Howie, Queen Mary’s hotel director. “Our regular guests keep coming back because these days they don’t get many opportunities at home to dress up, and socialize among like-minded people.”
Changes in luggage rules by airlines, which now allow fewer suitcases and less weight, have had an impact on the dress codes of other Cunard ships, especially when they are cruising in warmer climates.
But Queen Mary 2 continues its North Atlantic crossings in a sea of formality.
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column is published regularly in U.S. newspapers and on other Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com