Ship of Foods: Dining Aboard the Queen Mary 2
Today on The Daily Meal
There are ocean cruises, and there are ocean crossings… and only one Queen Mary 2.
In the off-season, this jewel of the Cunard line sails on extended world cruises to multiple ports, but during warm weather, it is the only ocean-going vessel that hosts regularly scheduled crossings of the North Atlantic — 26 of them between New York City and Southampton, England. In an era before Boeing and Airbus, this was how kings and commoners commuted between the Old World and New World — although generally in less splendor.
A crossing today means that for five days and six nights going east — and six and seven coming back — the traveler is trapped inside a prison of delights. Once on board this huge vessel, there are no ports of call in between to vie for your attention and no way of changing your mind or getting off early — unless you enjoy high diving and marathon swimming. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Reinhard_Schuldt)
Boarding in New York is normally at the Brooklyn terminal on a Tuesday afternoon with a rigorously held departure time of 5 p.m. Take one last glance at lower Manhattan, wave goodbye to Lady Liberty, then marvel at how close the ship’s flags come to touching the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. This Tuesday evening will be your last sight of land, and perhaps even of other vessels, until daybreak off southern England the following Monday.
If all this relative solitude from the rest of the world makes you nervous — just you and around 2,500 other passengers and a crew of more than 1,300 — then quickly dress for the first seating, if you’ve planned ahead, at 6 p.m. For the next week, you can lose yourself in a sea of impeccably prepared food and drink.
This is what my two brothers and I did recently going to and coming from England where we drove on the wrong side of the road for a week in between while the ship did a one-trip-only extension to Germany and Norway. (Photo courtesy of Roger Morris)
The basic rhythm of the QM2 centers around two factors — where and when you eat the evening meal. Everything else is flexible. If you paid more money for a larger cabin or a suite, you will eat your main meals in the Grills. If you paid less, your cabin will be smaller, but still relatively large, and you will eat in the spacious and elegant Britannica restaurant. If you choose the 6 p.m. seating, you may have to rush to dinner. If you choose the 8:30 p.m. seating, you may have to rush to the evening show.
Men have to dress for dinner, according to the code of the day, in a tux or dark suit (formal), a jacket and tie (semi-formal) or a jacket sans tie (elegant casual). (Give women this information, and they can automatically match their own attire with no further help.) In theory, you sit with the same people every evening. Going over, our tablemates were from Germany, and on the return we dined with English and Scottish couples and another American.
How good is the food? Frankly, I was never disappointed in a meal or was served anything that wasn’t well-prepared. But don’t expect the food to be adventuresome, except for an occasional edgy note or wayward spice. There are many choices for vegetarians and vegans, and, as there is a Canyon Ranch Spa on board, each meal has that’s spa’s selection. Dinner consists of appetizers and soup course, salad course, entrée and dessert. Alcoholic drinks cost extra, but the wine list is good and the prices lower than in most American restaurants. (Photo courtesy of Roger Morris)
Menus for the Queen’s Grill (1st class) and the Britannia do not differ significantly, although the Grill get more choices and caviar. For example, on Friday, May 13, Grillers had choices of aïoli-glazed lobster with pineapple sauce (Canyon Ranch), braised beef ravioli with tomato sauce, pan-fried turbot meunière with new potatoes and niçoise green beans, braised lobster tail with drawn butter and garden risotto, roast duck a l’orange with hazelnut croquettes and Grand Marnier sauce, grilled veal cutlet with berner rösti (Swiss-style potaoes), chateaubriand with larded peas, gratin dauphinoise, and mushroom turnover, vegetable cottage pie glazed with mature cheddar and spinach, and corn crepes with basil-infused tomatoes and raclette cheese.
We hale Britannias also had the choices of most those dishes, but on other evenings.
The Queen also offers plenty of informal dining around the clock, served in a series of four inter-connected, buffet-style dining rooms, as well as limited room service. Night owls can always duck out for a 3 a.m. coffee and a nibble.
“Cunard has always been famous for its subdued elegance,” says Bernhard Fischer, who is in charge of ordering and taking on board the tons of food and hundreds of cases of wine consumed on each voyage. “We have framework menus that we are constantly tweaking,” he says. To get the job done, the QM2 has 150 chefs and 30 sommeliers. (Photo courtesy of Roger Morris)
Of course, there are things to do on the Queen besides eat. Here is a short sampling of random shipboard pleasures:
1. Check out a book from the ship’s extensive library and start reading it in one of its comfortable arm chairs overlooking the ship’s prowl.
2. Take a moonlight stroll around the deck (3 circuits make a mile plus).
3. Enjoy an evening or afternoon floor show or concert.
4. Go on a tour of the bridge to check out the driver’s seat.
5. Get a spa makeover at Canyon Ranch.
6. Or work out in the fully equipped gym.
7. Have afternoon tea.
8. Get bubbly or brut-ish at the Veuve Clicquot Champagne bar.
9. Help work a jigsaw puzzle at one of the game boards.
10. Count the cards or pull a handle at the ship’s casino.
11. Attend a lecture or enjoy a planetarium show.
12. Go swimming — in the pool, of course!
13. Then soak in a hot tub.
14. Play deck games from shuffleboard to basketball.
15. Take one of the many classes — for example, the Squeeze’s Chris Difford had one for songwriting on our voyage back with The Who’s Roger Daltrey as guest.
16. Go shopping at stores ranging from Hermès to H. Stern.
17. Join a trivia team in the bar.
18. Watch screenings of new and vintage films.
19. Go dancing at the masquerade ball.
20. Keep up with the news on satellite TV in each room.
21. Relax in a deck chair (and finish that library book).
22. Have formal photos taken.
23. Play bingo.
24. Sleep late.
25. Go back to eating with a reservation at the exclusive Todd English restaurant (pictured).
Whether it’s the food, the atmosphere and activities, or simply that people are tired of the hassle of flying, the Queen Mary 2 has some magic working for it. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Martha de Jong-Lantink)
“About 60 percent of our passengers on any voyage are return Cunard guests,” Fischer says. “It’s like a floating country club where you know all the members.”
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