H.R.H. The Princess Royal, previously known as Princess Anne, is the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh and is the sister of Prince Charles, who is the subject of the Tony worthy new show King Charles III now on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre. But I digress. The Princess came to Brooklyn for a lavish luncheon aboard the Cunard Line’s flagship, the Queen Mary 2, in support of a 50 million dollar campaign to preserve and restore the HMS Victory.
This 18th century warship, arguably the most famous in the world because Lord Nelson died on it during the pivotal Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, is both a symbol of democracy and the oldest naval ship still in commission. The Victory, which celebrated its 250th birthday this past May, welcomes 500,000 visitors a year at the historic dockyard in Portsmouth, England.
The Princess regaled her table with stories she has been collecting from sailors including those “from men on submarines, and you hear stories, I mean real stories some of which have a basis in fact,” smiled The Princess cryptically. She added that she wished she’d had “more time to discover New York” and had arrived by sea instead of by air quipping, “It’s the only way to arrive in Istanbul, I have to say.” Among the 100 guests were Admiral of the Fleet, the Lord Michael Boyce; Richard Meadows, president, Cunard North America; the Queen Mary’s Captain Kevin Oprey; and Erik Olstrin, president of the American Friends of the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The benefit celebrated the history of British sea power and marked another milestone in Cunard’s 175th year. After the Princess Royal disembarked the Queen Mary 2, the ship sailed back to Southampton, England, which she does on a regular basis. The next crossing from New York City is scheduled for November 25th – December 3rd.
Chasing The Titanic
I decided to cross the pond myself on the Queen Mary 2, which is the longest, tallest, widest, most luxurious passenger ship ever built. Her 30-knot speed allows her to leave lesser ships in her wake. Queen Elizabeth II christened this floating palace named after her grandmother in 2004 proclaiming, “I name this ship Queen Mary 2. May God bless her and all who sail on her” breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow. Her maiden voyage was from Southampton to America and it was this itinerary that I decided to retrace, the very same as the fateful Titanic. The difference between a cruise and a voyage is that the latter takes you from one place to another with no stops. There are blissful days when you see nothing but the drama of rolling waves and black nights filled with stars, made all the more brilliant by the absence of civilization; this is the stuff of dreams, romance and memories.
The Queens Grill Suites
Shipside, we were greeted by a quartet of red-jacketed bellhops, their gold buttons gleaming and their traditional caps strapped on snuggly. As we embarked, White Star Service Bellmen picked up our Louis Vuitton trunks and we were escorted over the gangplank, through the Grand Lobby, where live music played in the background, and into our glamorous stateroom that was ritzier than the Ritz. We were in one of the Queens Grill Suites, which is limited to 192 guests of the 2,620 on board. Our personal butler and steward, who were on call 24/7, greeted us in our spacious suite that was comprised of sitting and dinning areas, a bar, a bedroom, two bathrooms and a walk-in closet. The pièce de résistance was our private balcony, which ran the length of our rooms, giving us a sea view from everywhere but the bathtub. It was all terribly POSH, which translates to Port Out Starboard Home, meaning our cabins were always sunny.
An extensive roster of royalty and luminaries have traveled on Samuel Cunard’s ships since he founded his legendary fleet in 1840, from H.R.H Princess Diana of Wales, Prince Charles, the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duchess of Cornwall to the Sultan of Johor, King Hussein of Jordan, Queen Marie of Romania and the Shah of Persia. Princess Grace of Monaco, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Robert F. Kennedy have also strolled Cunard’s hallowed halls. Hollywood royalty including Charlie Chaplin, Rita Hayworth, Walt Disney, Bob Hope, Joan Crawford, Noël Coward, Bing Crosby and Elizabeth Taylor, who spent four of her eight honeymoons on the high seas, two with Richard Burton, were also Cunarders. Silver screen goddess Marlene Dietrich was a frequent passenger, famous for never being seen at breakfast and rarely at lunch but never failing to make a dramatic entrance at dinner.
The Commodore Club
The staff unpacked us while we explored the ship which has five indoor and outdoor swimming pools, seven Jacuzzis, a Canyon Ranch Spa, a gigantic movie theater that also houses the only planetarium at sea, a music hall featuring elaborate musicals, multiple gourmet restaurants (including one by Todd English), several tea rooms, a Veuve Clicquot Champagne bar, a ballroom with a 12-piece orchestra, a disco, a gym with a killer view of the horizon and games galore including golf, shuffle board, ping pong, paddle tennis, darts, backgammon, bingo, bridge and way too many other activities to list.
Additionally, the QM2 boasts the largest library at sea with breathtaking ocean panoramas, an hourly schedule of guest lectures by famous authors, actors, poets and scientists, not to mention classical concerts, piano and harp recitals, Shakespeare performances by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and an endless list of fitness classes including yoga, stretch and circuit training from which to choose. There is also a fully equipped casino; professional gamblers and tricksters used to be a hazard of life at sea. In 1842, the writer Charles Dickens warned a fellow passenger on Cunard’s Britannia that there was a “card shark” on board; today there are spotters to keep things honest. Daily laps around the deck (three times equaling one mile), leisurely naps in a deckchair under a plaid woolen blanket from Scotland and a nightcap in the Commodore Club are de rigueur. Naturally, you can bring your four-legged friends who will enjoy play dates with other pampered pooches on their very own poop deck (did I just write that?).
Around the World in 81 Days
Cary Grant called the original Queen Mary “the eighth wonder of the world” and met one of his five wives at one of the ship’s black tie dinner dances. My favorite anecdotes are about cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein, who tossed her 20-carat diamond earrings out the porthole of her cabin because she forgot that she had hidden them in the tissue box that she was discarding, and screen queen Greta Garbo, who crisscrossed the Atlantic regularly during the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s but insisted on traveling incognito; not only did she sail under an alias, she disembarked disguised as a stewardess. The QM2 raced around the world in 81 days for the first time in 2007. Other VIPs who have been seduced by the many charms of the QM2 include President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, Donald Trump, Katie Couric, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Uma Thurman, George Lucas, Rod Stewart, Lenny Kravitz and Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in the movie “The Queen,” in 2006, and inscribed a painting of the QM2 in the ship’s casino, “From one Queen to another.”
The Captain’s Table
There are three black tie nights out of seven, so be sure to bring your best bib and tucker, gowns and jewels. Dinner at the Captain’s Table in the Britannia Restaurant is a highly sought after honor. It was over Oysters Rockefeller, Chateaubriand, Baked Alaska and several glasses of Cristal that Captain Kevin Oprey entertained us with stories about life at sea.
If you want to spend quality time with your family, mix, mingle and meet new people, or just want to be “left alone” like Greta Garbo, I highly recommend a transatlantic voyage on board the greatest ocean liner on earth.