Firstly, I must apologise for that little Pulp earworm that is affecting those of you, like me, of a certain age…
So what do you think of when I say the word “cruise”? Something your parents do? Something for the “newly-wed, over fed or nearly dead”, as the saying goes? Or is there something about the romance of the sea, and the chance of seeing so many different places on one trip that just makes you a little curious?
We weren’t sure. The first time we went on a cruise, we were in our forties, liked to think of ourselves as hip and with at least some semblance of cool about us, and had friends in all kinds of age brackets. We may have been somewhat over-fed, but we weren’t even newly wed at the time. Then we saw an advert for a local cruise fair. “C’mon”, I said to a lounging OH. “Let’s go. Not to buy a cruise, but to see what the people are like who might go on a cruise.” And off we trudged to a local hotel, where I acquired a lot of free stationery, and, purely by chance you understand, a cheap two night cruise to Cherbourg on one of the world’s finest (perhaps even the world’s only remaining) great ocean liners, the Queen Mary 2.
Arriving at Southampton a couple of months later, my first impression was just “wow!”. From the meet and greet parking at the terminal to the first arrival into the grand atrium on board, that’s some serious pampering! The first thing you notice is the sheer size of the ship, and that wonderful raked bow. Then you get to the cabin (we had a hull balcony – a cutout in the ship), and see the sleekly tailored furnishings, all so art deco in style. A quick unpack, a sensible muster (lifeboat) drill, and we were off to the top deck for the sailaway party, with music, cocktails and a genuinely good time.
I still remember lots about that trip. It was QM2’s first voyage to Cherbourg, so the locals were out in force to celebrate. The port is as lovely as I remember from my childhood. And they still sell Marron Suis (a chestnut dessert) in French supermarkets.
And the ship? She’s beautiful. There was far more to do than we could possibly achieve in a two day sailing (we ended up sailing on her again to see more of her!). There was a show each night, and plenty of alternative entertainment all the time. Fabulous pools and whirlpools. Fascinating talks (we got to hear about MI5 on the second trip). A magnificent gym, and the only Planetarium at sea. A nightclub (G32, named after the hanger in which QM2 was built) with the best guilty pleasures school disco right next to an elegant ballroom dance with full orchestra and gentleman hosts to dance with the ladies in the Queens’ Room. White glove service for afternoon tea. We chilled out in the Winter Garden with cocktails, and watched the world go by.
I’ll never forget leaving Cherbourg. A whole flotilla, comprising what seemed to be every craft in the surrounding area, arrived to see the Queen Mary 2 slip her lines and head back to Southampton. We had yachts, pilot boats, small motorised craft, the local tourist boats, a fire hose salute and even the odd jet ski or two escort us from our berth, and sail awhile alongside us. Returning to our cabin to watch from the balcony, we were amused to see a jet ski continue alongside us past the harbour wall, past the outer harbour, and into the open sea. I questioned whether we might draw our curtains at Southampton the next morning, and find him bobbing alongside us at our berth.
And the rest, as they say, is history.