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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