R. Couri Hay is a New York City-based publicist and founder of R. Couri Hay Creative Public Relations. He started his career as one of the original contributing editors to Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine and went on to write for a variety of publications including Travel Squire and Social Life. Travels with Couri takes you on an adventure to some of the most premier resorts and locations around the world. Follow along with Couri as he shares some tips, tricks, and recommendations when traveling. From floating bars in Jamaica to art galleries in Berlin, Travels with Couri will inspire you to travel the world and become immersed in new cultures.
Queen Mary 2 Cruising Australia
SYDNEY TO SYDNEY
If you want to explore Australia and experience both the cultural and natural wonders of this enormous continent, Queen Mary 2 is absolutely the way to do it. During this year’s “World Voyage” the QM2 cruised into eight ports from Sydney to Perth, including Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Margaret River, Whitsunday Island, and Kangaroo Island. What’s exciting about the Queen’s annual adventure is that, with a little planning, you can join the ship almost anywhere in the world and see your choice of countries and cities. We chose a ten day, roundtrip, Sydney to Sydney cruise.
ROYALTY, VIPS & MOVIE STARS
Queen Mary 2 is the flagship of the Cunard Line and she is, without exception, the most luxurious passenger ship ever built. In 2004, Queen Elizabeth II christened this floating palace named after her grandmother. The queen proclaimed, “I name this ship Queen Mary 2. May God bless her and all who sail on her.” Countless VIPs have been welcomed on board during the QM2’s 14 years at sea, including Presidents Donald Trump and George H. W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Hollywood luminaries Uma Thurman, George Lucas, Lenny Kravitz, Ed Sheeran, and Helen Mirren. The latter won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the movie The Queen and inscribed a painting of Her Majesty in the ship’s casino, “From one Queen to another.”
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN
Recently, Aussie star Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Zac Efron, and Zendaya celebrated the premiere of their movie, The Greatest Showman, with a dinner dance on the ship in New York City and everyone on board joined the party.
MAJESTY OF THE HIGH SEAS
Cunard launched the original Queen Mary in 1934, and it was considered the grand dame of ships, carrying Holly-wood royalty such as Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable during the heyday of transatlantic ocean travel. The glamour and allure of cruising in true luxury lives on in her successor. In fact, today this bastion of seagoing extravagance is glossier than ever, after undergoing an extensive $132 million stem-to-stern refurbishment in 2016. Deluxe cabins were added, and furnishings were replaced throughout the ship. Cunard even created the hashtag #qm2remastered. The ship famously allows pets on board, employing a kennel master to mind dogs and cats, and they didn’t forget Fido and Fifi in the QM2 renovation, adding more kennels as well as a kennel lounge where owners can hang out with their furry friends.
BOOK A POSH GRILL SUITE
The QM2 has multiple sailing options, with a category for everyone. That said, the two top choices are the Queens Grill and Princess Grill Suites. These staterooms are the ultimate in luxury — seating and dining areas, walk-in closets, and spacious private balconies with deck chairs to lounge in. Queens Grill guests even have their own personal butler. The service is unparalleled: we had an attentive butler, tour director, and concierge that finessed our every wish. They also made getting on and off the ship a breeze. Everything is so impeccable, you might want to consider staying on for-ever. Some lucky guests come close, signing on for the World Voyage from New York to New York for a total of 133 days. cunard.com
DINING IN THE GRILLS
Both grills have their own private lounges, upper deck areas, and dining rooms. Whichever you choose, request a table next to the window ahead of time, and if you score one at the very back of either of the grills, you will have water views on two sides. Grill patrons always have their own table, with a dedicated waiter and captain so this can be a very private experience, almost like being on a yacht. These dining rooms seat about 150 people, making it very cozy. Service in the grills is friendly and of the highest professional standard. The food is exceptional, and you can pre-order old school dinner dishes for two like Chateaubriand, duck à l’orange, and rack of lamb. These dishes are flambéed and then carved tableside for extra drama by the maitre’d. Don’t’ forget to order the individual soufflés. In addition to chocolate, they come in almost every flavor of the fruit. Chef Klaus Kremer has mastered this delicate confection. The wine list is excellent and the sommelier is happy to help you make the perfect pairings with each dish. If you want to meet people and socialize, you certainly can, but if you desire a more private or romantic experience, these grills are the perfect choice
It’s a loooong flight to Sydney, a total of 22 hours in the air with a stop in L.A. Do yourself a favor and splash out for first class seats with a flatbed. We stayed at the Park Hyatt because of its location on Syd-ney Harbor. Be sure to reserve a room with a terrace overlooking the Sydney Opera House, which is the city’s major contribution to international architecture and art. This is the city’s top hotel, where all the stars stay, among them Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Kate Hudson (who was there when I was). Elton John stays so frequently he keeps his own piano there. The Hyatt’s bar and restaurant all have terrific harbor views. The chef is Etienne Karner, who trained in Michelin-star kitchens in France before landing in Sydney. Order the sumptuous tasting dinner that includes the signature dish: kangaroo tartar with quail egg, truffle mayo, radish, and sesame crisps. This goes beautifully with a 2016 Hans Herzog Pinot Gris or a glass of Champagne. hyatt.com Spend a day or two seeing Sydney before boarding the QM2. Our cruise started and ended in Sydney so we had plenty of time to see all the top attractions. Here are the best.
THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
Our balcony at the Hyatt overlooked the Opera House, which is arguably the eighth wonder of the world. We got up early to see the dawn break over the landmark, an unforgettable moment, and we promptly had Jonathan, the hotel’s prize-winning concierge, book a tour to see inside.
Jørn Utzon, an unknown Danish architect, designed the building in 1955, winning an international design competition. Weirdly, Utzen’s world-famous sculptural design was initially rejected by the judges, but finally the renowned architect Eero Saarinen convinced the panel to choose it. Construction began in 1959, but wasn’t completed until 1973, thanks to a string of snafus, including cost overruns; the final construction costs totaled $79 million. In 1966, payment problems forced Utzon to resign from the project, and he left Australia and never saw his completed masterpiece.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Queen Elizabeth II opened the Sydney Opera House, and during the ceremony, she awarded Utzen the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of Architects Australia, but he was not present to receive it. However, there was finally détente in the 1990s, when Opera House officials reached out, and Utzen again signed on as design consultant. He passed away in 2009 and it was made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Despite its name, the Opera House has multiple purposes and presents many types of performance in addition to opera, including symphonic and popular music, and classic and experimental theater. We took the 4:30 pm tour, the last of the day, and simply stayed, had some Champagne, and saw Limbo, a sexy cabaret act.
After the show, we had a late dinner at the Cantonese hot spot, Mr. Wong. Hidden down an alley, it is very popular and reservations are a must, but the food and the people watching are excellent. We had delicious dim sum, Peking duck with all the trimmings, and for dessert a very decadent fried vanilla ice cream with butterscotch on top. Divine. merivale.com
SYDNEY HARBOUR & BRIDGE
In the morning, we hired a speed boat to take us around Sydney Harbor, which is the center of life in Australia’s biggest city. We kept an eye out for native daughter Cate Blanchett, who has been known to pilot a small skiff around the harbor. Alas, we didn’t see her. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, affectionately known as “The Coat Hanger” thanks to its arched design, is another memorable icon of the city. Opened in 1932, the bridge took eight years to complete. High-wire artist Philippe Petit crossed the bridge on a tightrope in 1973, but you can legally cross the bridge on foot via a pedestrian walkway. It’s an easy stroll of about 30 minutes, with magnificent views. You can also ride a bicycle across. Those more adventurous — and not afraid of heights — can scale the top of the bridge on a guided “bridge climb.” bridgeclimb.com
BONDI BEACH, ICEBERGS CLUB
Bondi Beach is one of Sydney’s top sights and the most popular of the many stretches of golden sand rimming this sunny city. It’s only a few miles from the center of town, and easily accessible. Here you might see Justin Beiber, Liev Schreiber, or Naomi Watts body surfing. Our driver dropped us off at the end of the cliff-top coastal walk, a spectacularly scenic route that we strolled until we found Icebergs, Bondi’s top beach club. The place has killer views of the crescent-shaped beach and endless blue water. You can check into the club to use the facilities, including the Olympic size saltwater pool. The restaurant is usually totally booked, but we snagged a table in the bar; we didn’t have a white tablecloth as do tables in the main dining room, but the burger was juicy, and the views were just as fabulous.
BOARDING THE QM2 — TIMING COUNTS
The QM2 had dramatically moored in front of our balcony at the Hyatt; looking out at the ship and the Opera House, two giant landmarks on Sydney’s famous harbor was a rare privilege. Time to pack and board! The QM2 runs like a Swiss clock so we were able to check in effortlessly and seamlessly. Be smart and check ahead to find out when guests will finish disembarking and boarding from early flights, this is usually between 9:30 am and 2 pm. Presto smooth boarding at 3 pm allowed plenty of time to explore the ship before she sailed at 9:30 pm. Uniformed porters brought the luggage to our stateroom, which had another perfect view of the Opera House. It doesn’t get old.
EXPLORING THE QM2
The staff unpacked us while we explored the ship, which has a Canyon Ranch Spa Club, a gigantic movie theater that plays current blockbusters, the only planetarium at sea, a Vegas-styled showroom that features elaborate musicals, multiple gourmet restaurants, tea rooms, a Champagne bar, a ballroom with a 12-piece orchestra, a disco, a gym with a killer view of the horizon, five outdoor and indoor swimming pools, seven Jacuzzis. There are also games galore, including shuffleboard, ping pong, paddle tennis, backgammon, bingo, bridge, and way too many other activities to list here. Additionally, the QM2 boasts the largest library at sea, with breathtaking ocean panoramas; an hourly schedule of things to do, including: lectures by famous authors, actors, and scientists; classical concerts; piano and harp recitals; a long list of fitness classes, including yoga, stretch, and circuit training; and gambling in a fully equipped casino. Daily laps around the deck (three times equals one mile), leisurely naps in a deckchair under a colorful plaid wool blanket from Scotland, and a nightcap in the Commodore Club were just a few of things to look forward to.
AWAY WE GO
We ordered Champagne on our balcony so we could watch the changing light and the sunset over the famous roofline “sails” of the Opera House. Sailing out of Sydney Harbor past the Opera House on the QM2 is one of the most memorable visual experiences you will ever have, akin to watching the mist lift to reveal the Taj Mahal from the presidential suite at the Oberoi Amarvillas in Agra, or seeing the Pyramids for the first time. With the stars and moon lighting the way, tiny tug boats guided us out of the harbor. As the ship rounded the Opera House, the “sails” seemed to blow in the wind, and with lights ablaze it was a sight to behold and treasure forever. It’s Australia’s Eiffel Tower, London’s Big Ben, and New York’s Empire State Building. You need to experience this. AT SEA In honor of our first night at sea, Captain Peter Philpott invited us to a cocktail party to meet the ship’s officers. This was also the first of four formal nights, so don’t forget to bring your jewels as this black-tie ritual is very much alive on the QM2. We quizzed the captain about what we could expect to see in New Zealand, our ultimate destination. I can’t wait to tell you all about it, next time.