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Voyage to the Americas! Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossing to New York at Christmas Part 2

Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic Crossing

⇐ Read Part 1

 

On the boat there are a lot of different activities that you can do. There are lectures scheduled with a variety of speakers, films showing once or twice a day, a couple of planetarium shows a day and games available. There is also the deck areas outside but on our crossing it was too windy many most days and so you were not allowed out on deck. This at times made you feel a little claustrophobic or go a bit stir crazy, but trust me - on the days when they did allow you to go outside, it was so windy that at times you felt like you could get blown overboard, so I am absolutely fine with them keeping you inside for your own safety!

 

Arriving in New York on Queen Mary 2

Arriving in New York on Queen Mary 2

We ate lunch in a few different places - my favourite had to be the Golden Lion pub, the food was brilliant! However it was so very busy that we could only get seats on two occasions, the rest of the time we either went to the main restaurant, which also served gorgeous lunches or to the Kings Court café / buffet area upstairs which was nice but far less formal - more like a cafeteria, but everywhere we went the food was good.

Over the course of the week we went to a lot of the lectures - we attended one about Dr Harold Shipman which was fascinating and another about Near Death Experiences, both given by a fantastic pathologist. Other lectures were given by Astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman and adventurer Ted Scull. I'll be honest, I thought the pathologist's lectures (his name escapes me which I'm disappointed in as he was brilliant) were interesting and about fascinating subjects. We attended the NASA astronaut lecture which my husband enjoyed…I fell asleep!

We went to the cinema, the planetarium twice (bear in mind you have to get your tickets on the morning of the show - still free, but just to manage how busy it gets), went to afternoon tea and played chess and board games. We also read a lot in our room and - as sad as it sounds - slept a lot! Now I'm quite happy with this, but seriously, the gentle rocking of the boat is so relaxing, it's hard to stay awake when you're doing something sedentary like reading or in my case (much to my husband's embarrassment) in a lecture being given by a NASA astronaut!

Queen Mary 2 - Welcome to New York

Queen Mary 2 - Welcome to New York

QM2 Sunrise over Manhattan

QM2 Sunrise over Manhattan

The night before we arrived in New York, we set our alarm for 3am. We were desperate to see the lights appearing in the distance - especially as we hadn't seen a thing for 7 days! - and to capture the romance of arriving in New York. You pass under the Verrazano Bridge on approach and it is a very tight squeeze underneath, something else we were both keen to see. So up we got at 3am and went out to the balcony and looked…no lights on the horizon. Back to bed and up again 15 minutes later. This went on for about an hour and a half when we decided just to get up and go get a cup of tea and wait on deck. We wandered around and we were two of no more than two dozen people up and about.

We had our tea and came back out onto deck and it had got a little busier. We could see the Verrazano in the distance and went right up to the top of the ship to watch the Queen Mary 2 SQUEEZE underneath! By the time we passed under the bridge, it was really busy and we found ourselves being squashed by everyone else to get pictures of the fast approaching Statue of Liberty and Manhattan, still illuminated in the dark. Unfortunately, due to my diminutive stature, I found it hard to get any good shots or stand my ground when much taller and larger people wanted to push forwards. In the end my husband convinced me to go back to our room and gather our things for disembarking and not to worry too much about it.

We walked into the room and opened the curtains…you wouldn't believe it! We docked practically opposite the Statue of Liberty and could see that to the left of the balcony and the island of Manhattan with the still-under-construction One World Trade Center! We actually stood on our own balcony and had a far better view than we had upstairs, and absolutely no pushing or shoving! We sat on the balcony and soaked up that view for more than an hour before admitting defeat and sadly disembarking the Queen Mary 2, yet ready for the next part of our adventure - New York at Christmas!

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Voyage to the Americas! Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossing to New York at Christmas Part 1

Voyage to the Americas! Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossing to New York at Christmas Part One…

We often go away in winter - it's not intentional, more something that we realise has become a bit of a pattern. A couple of years ago we were looking for somewhere to go in Autumn/ Winter. We had a look at various places and hadn't come up with much when my mum flagged up the Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossing to New York in December.

My husband and I had both talked about going to New York at Christmas almost from when we met, and this cruise was perfect!

• Looking for a holiday - check
• We wanted to go to New York - check
• We had always talked about doing a cruise - check
• New York at Christmas - CHECK!

We booked a sheltered balcony as we felt a full balcony wouldn't be worth the money and didn't think we'd spend any time on it in the middle of the Atlantic, but at the same time we didn't want a claustrophobic feeling that we thought we'd get with an inside or outside cabin.

Queen Mary 2 - Scenes on QM2

Queen Mary 2 - Scenes on QM2

 

 

We booked through JetLineCruise and the deal was brilliant. It included 1 night stay in New York and flights back to Heathrow for less than just the crossing would cost direct from Cunard. (Blog post for New York is here).It is worth noting that the logistics can be complicated as you leave from Southampton, but return to London Heathrow, so on at least one of the legs, you'll need to rely on family or friends dropping you off / picking you up, or make your own way back.

 

We were dropped off at the port in Southampton by family on a grey and foggy 15th December and went into the terminal to await boarding. After going through security - much like an airport - we boarded the Queen Mary 2 around 3pm and to say we were taken aback would be an understatement.

QM2 Tree

QM2 Tree

We went to our room and were greeted with a bottle of bubbly on ice, and some chocolates - all adding to the excitement and spectacle of the trip. We wandered around the boat and explored a little before it was time to set sail, where we went up on deck to wave Southampton off and look at the bright lights down the Solent.

The first thing we did was visit the library on-board and checked out some books that would see us through the week. This was a tip from my parents (serial cruisers) who recommended an early visit to ensure you got your pick of the books. We then crossed over to the Commodore Club that is positioned right at the front of the boat and had a cocktail and beer respectively. In there, there is a fantastic model of the Queen Mary 2 behind the bar which is definitely worth going to see.

It is breath-taking. Its opulence and design is outstanding and it is so impressive upon entering the atrium. In addition, the whole ship is decorated for Christmas which only adds to its magnificence, with Wind in the Willow characters surrounding the statuesque Christmas tree in the Atrium, and the Christmas scene laid out in the foyer by the lifts.

One important element to remember is that, unlike most cruises, you don't get off. This was a little niggle in the back of my mind when we booked but I needn't have worried, there was plenty to do and we were also looking for a bit of time to unwind and relax and if you ask me, this is it! No mobile phone signal, no Wi-Fi (you can use the internet if you want but you pay for it) and no distractions.

 

 

Bubbly in room

Bubbly in room

Queen Mary Cocktails and Commodore Club

Queen Mary Cocktails and Commodore Club

We then dressed for dinner and headed down. The food was really nice, personally not as nice as P&O which I had been on twice before, but still good. We were on the early sitting on a table with a quiet group of older travellers who did not want to interact or chat much at dinner. Our sitting at 6:00 (which we had originally picked) was too early for us as we did feel that they turned the tables around quickly to prepare for the 8pm sitting. The first night we had finished dinner within an hour and were roaming the boat from 7:15 onwards without much idea on what to do.

In fact, we wandered down to the nightclub G32 and spent much of our evening there…perhaps too long…think we went to bed around 3am! However, we met a great group of people there - Brits, Americans and Canadians and we subsequently spent many nights with them over the course of the journey. 

The feel on the boat is very sociable, people you sit next to at mealtimes or in bars strike up conversation with you and its all very easy. The next day we spoke to the maître d' who changed our seating arrangements for us and we had a great table of people, again - much older than us, but great company and with some really interesting stories to tell. One owned a vineyard in Napa Valley, one lived in South Africa for many years and one was a former mayor of a town in Britain - all really interesting characters.

Read Part 2 ⇒

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Greece – Parga & the island of Paxos

Chapel on approach to Parga
Chapel on approach to Parga

Whilst in Corfu, Greece on honeymoon last summer, we decided to take a day trip to Parga and Paxos. Parga is nestled in the north-western region of Epirus, on mainland Greece, and Paxos is a small island to the south of Corfu. Legend has it that Paxos was created by Poseidon who struck Corfu with his trident to separate Paxos to create somewhere for he and his wife to have some peace and privacy.We booked the trip through our rep at the hotel and cost us around £30 each. I must say that when we set off, we didn’t know that the journey to Parga took approximately 2 hours – something that I think may well have put us off if we knew before going.You leave from Corfu Town harbour and sail past the spectacular Old Town and the fortress. It was pretty smooth sailing all the way to Parga, which was stunningly beautiful. We sailed past an archetypal Greek chapel on a lonely island on our approach, which set the scene for our visit to the pretty little town, and docked at the main jetty.

Views of Parga
Views of Parga

Parga

Walking along the front, you realise that this is a holiday destination for not only foreigners, but for Greeks too. The sea was full of families splashing and swimming and it really was breath-taking. We wandered through the cobbled streets and soaked up not only the sun, but the gorgeous architecture before settling on a seafront café for lunch, looking out to the small chapel on its own island, and with the castle looming over you. We then made our way back to the boat and set off for Paxos.As we sailed away and looked back, you could see the beautiful colours of all the houses – an elderly man next to me told me that in fishing villages – in Britain and abroad – you often find different colour painted houses as this was how the fisherman could identify their houses from off the coast. Staring back at the vista, it’s a lovely thought that even whilst miles away from land, you can still look back at home.

The seafront, castle and island at Parga
The seafront, castle and island at Parga

Paxos

A short 30 minute boat ride later, we arrived on the island of Paxos. The temperature had been building all day and was now peaking at around 40 degrees celsius. Nevertheless, Paxos was gorgeous and we went to look around. We walked along the harbour front and up the cobbled streets into beautiful little squares. Prominent on the island of Paxos is the beautiful purple Bougainvillea flowering shrubs that cover much of Western Greece and does not discriminate – growing outside of impressive stately looking habitats, as well as on the terraces of small little dwellings.

Marina and views of Island of Paxos
Marina and views of Island of Paxos

Down one of the cobbled streets we saw something great – I was determined to get a picture, although my husband was horrified – it was an elderly Greek man with a sign offering boat hire. The man was sat on a wooden chair but had fallen asleep in shade from the midday heat. I took a picture and it was like a postcard. I’m so proud of that picture.

Island of Paxos and sleeping fisherman
Island of Paxos and sleeping fisherman

We stopped off for ice cream and a drink (can you tell we were hot?!) and then wandered along to the mouth of the harbour. Every table out in the shaded square had fragrant herbs in pots, and the smell of mint pervaded the air. The road had the marina path along one side, and houses on the other side – some with the most amazing gardens. We arrived at a small pebble beach that stretched no more than 6 metres from the edge of the water to the wall along the road. There were lots of kids playing in the water and locals lying on the beach so we decided to join them in a bid to relax and enjoy the sun…It was around 2 minutes after we lay down that we heard a speedboat approaching the mouth of the marina and WHOOSH! It caused a huge wave that swept right up the beach and quite literally swept right over us to our heads! By complete luck I reacted enough to lift my bag up (containing my SLR camera!) whilst still completely horizontal. You should have seen us – still fully clothed and soaked right through, as were our shoes lying next to us and, quite ironically, our towels too. In fact the only thing that was dry was the bag with the camera in it – talk about lucky!

Island of Paxos
Island of Paxos

Well, it was hot anyway and this served as a slightly unorthodox but effective way of cooling off! We squelched our way back to the harbour and hopped back on the boat to set off back to Corfu Town. A long, but enjoyable day. I would say that if you are easily bored, or perhaps have small kids, this trip wouldn’t be for you as the boat journey is a huge part of the day, but for me – experiencing new parts of Greece was definitely worth it.

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