June 24, 2013
Posted in: Forever Cunard
Now that is quite a statistic. On the 6 July Queen Mary 2 will make her 200th crossing of the Atlantic Ocean – and since 2004 will have delighted over 520,000 passengers. Over the coming weeks we will be celebrating this milestone – not least on the 200th crossing itself.
As we head towards that milestone my mind goes back to April 2004 when I stepped onboard Queen Mary 2 to travel on her maiden crossing from Southampton to New York. It was a special day in the QE2 Terminal. I had never seen so much luggage for a crossing – it was set to be a very special experience as after all – we were making history. We were about to set sail on the longest, widest, tallest and most expensive ship ever built.
Commodore Warwick was at the helm. One of the most interesting aspects was that this fine ocean liner had not encountered any challenging seas. Throughout her sea trials and during her first three months in service the ship had seen nothing but calm seas. Well that was all about to change. The weather forecast was for several Force 11-12 Storms – at last this fine ship that was designed and built for the Transatlantic – was about to earn her spurs.
We had the BBC Travel Show travelling with us, we had more journalists that you could shake a stick at, we had many of our most loyal passengers, and everyone had paid top dollar for their crossing which had sold out in record time. So the pressure was on for our Hotel team to deliver to the expected very high standards and for Commodore Warwick and his officers to get the ship to New York on time where the Mayor himself would be waiting to greet us. No pressure then.
There was a real sense of achievement as we set sail on time. Well it was a couple of days until we encountered the first storm. One of my tasks was to meet with and entertain key journalists. That evening I had dinner with a very eloquent and well known British journalist in our Todd English restaurant. Well I am not sure if many of you have had dinner in Todd English during a force 11 gale. I am a pretty good traveler and of course the ship was handling the seas remarkably well. Concentrating on articulating the merits of this fine ship to an inquisitive journalist, whilst watching how the team was coping in quite considerable movement, and trying to enjoy the excellent food with my stomach saying ‘No’ was quite a challenge. But we got through dinner – and the resulting article in the Daily telegraph was fine.
The next day I had lunch with some passengers in The Britannia. The sea had calmed to a force 5- 6 and despite the waves splashing above the main windows of the restaurant there was almost no movement of the ship at all. It was an awesome moment for all of us – here we were in the middle of the raging Atlantic and the Queen Mary 2 was handling exactly as she had been designed to. Our lead ship designer Stephen Payne was also onboard – and he was mightily relieved but of course not at all surprised as that is what she had been designed to do.
The following morning at 0545 I was awoken by the phone – I can still remember clearly seeing the clock as I answered the phone. It was from the Bridge, could I go and see Commodore Warwick. As I entered the Bridge the sea was a sight to behold – and the ship was ploughing through the waves magnificently. The news from Commodore Warwick was not good – given the challenging weather he thought we would be 6-8 hours late arriving into New York. Now, we had plans in place for a very special maiden arrival and the thought of the world’s media running the story of the Queen Mary 2 arriving late was not something we wanted. I like to think I have built a reputation as a thoughtful and caring leader in the business. But at that point all I could think of saying to Commodore Warwick was – ‘Thank you for that news and I fully understand that you will have safety uppermost in mind – but I am sure the weather will improve and we will not be late for New York’.
As the last two days went by and as we approached New York the weather subsided and we found ourselves in calm but foggy seas. All of our passengers were able to enjoy all that the ship had to offer and there was a lovely feeling around the ship and a growing sense of excitement of the pending historic arrival in New York. As each day went by the passengers discussed the excitable seas earlier in the voyage and how the size of the waves we had experienced had got bigger and bigger.
We approached New York at dawn. As we sailed under the Verrazano Bridge many cars and trucks had parked up to see this great ship arrive. Of the 2,620 passengers onboard many were up on deck. We were soon surrounded by boats and as the sun glinted off the top of the Statue of Liberty I counted a dozen media helicopters in the sky. And as the sun continued to rise – there was Manhattan in all its morning glory. Just at that point my phone rang – it was the Sky News TV Studios in London. They were receiving fabulous pictures of the ship in New York – but they had no reporter to hand and would I talk to the pictures. Well – not being shy of generating publicity for Cunard I spent much of the next hour giving live comments to millions of people in the UK from the top deck of Queen Mary 2 approaching New York– awesome. We arrived to an impressive marching band and a personal welcome from the Mayor of New York. Well Done to Commodore Warwick and his officers, we had arrived on time to the minute. And well done to every member of the ship’s company for looking after our passengers on this momentous voyage. I shall always remember that experience – as will the 3,820 passengers and crew who sailed with us. We made history that day.
Nine years and 200 crossings later on the 6th July, setting sail from New York will be every bit as special for those passengers lining the upper decks of Queen Mary 2. In our history, remarkably, we have carried over 10 million people to New York on our liners – many of whom have started a new life in North America. The world is a fast changing place – but there are some things in life that never change and some things in life that just get better and better. Queen Mary 2 on a Transatlantic Crossing is one of those things. If you have experienced it – then come and do so again. If you have not – then believe me you should.