"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.
There's something ineffable about the ocean. But that hasn't stopped multitudinous writers from having a go at putting into words how the Big Blue makes them feel. Water imagery is bountiful in Shakespeare, and he never even left his home country. Imagine him crossing an ocean - what metaphors he would have made!
One of my favourite watery quotes is the closing line from The Great Gatsby (above). It's one of the most quoted in all of literature and many interpret it as a sad little coda to a sad little story. But for me it encapsulates how the ocean makes me feel: small.
You can achieve a similar effect by just looking up at a starry night sky and pondering the expanse of the universe and your infinitesimal place in it. But it's not as startling as that first time you look off to the horizon and realise, from both the port and starboard sides, you can no longer see dry land. Being on a ship in the middle of the ocean certainly helps put things in perspective.
The effect is enhanced no end if you're onboard the world's only true ocean liner: the Queen Mary 2. Even when you're not marvelling at the view from the window, the deck or your private balcony (of which the QM2, fortunately, has many more than the average pleasure vessel), the scale of everything on board is truly something to behold. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's just return to that view once more...
Ah, that view.
Actually, this photo one does feature a bit of dry land. We didn't take many photos of the untainted expanse of ocean. Leaving aside the fact that we were often too in awe to spoil the moment with a selfie (not all the time though, as you will see), there's little point taking photos of the sea stretching to the horizon. It makes for a pretty dull picture because it's impossible to capture visually the feeling you get from being there.
On the Queen Mary 2's Transatlantic Crossing you'll have ample opportunity to savour that feeling because you will be seeing the ocean a lot. When we departed Southampton on our eight night voyage we knew that we would be waking up the next five mornings to greet technically the same view: the Atlantic Ocean. Eventually we would dock at Halifax, Canada, before sailing down the East Coast of North America and into New York early on our final morning.
But that was still well ahead of us when we boarded. Standing on the Southampton dockside, the exterior of the world's only true ocean liner started putting things into perspective for us. There are bigger ships of course - much bigger ships - like those that cruise the Caribbean like giant mall/hotel complexes. There's no judgement implied there: I've yet to try one of these leviathans for myself. But the Queen Mary 2 was the biggest boat (sorry, Antony gets annoyed when I use the 'b' word)... the biggest ship we had ever set foot on.
Launched in 2003, the Queen Mary 2 strikes the perfect balance between modernity and recalling a bygone age. To torture Scott Fitzgerald/Gatbsy for a moment, it admirably beats on against the current (the crossing was exceptionally smooth), but also bears you into the past.
First impressions were very favourable. Anyone who has been on a cruise (which this is, minus lots of ports of call) and hasn't had to run to catch the gangplank knows how pleasurable it is to just wander the ship before your luggage arrives at your room. An aimless wander is advised, but if you must insist on getting your bearings be prepared to devote several hours to doing so on the QM2. Despite the clever design which attempts to orient passengers, there's just so much ship - and so much going on. It's a great place to get lost in.
When we found our way to our room, we weren't disappointed.
An article entitled 'rooms with a view' isn't the place to get sidetracked by rhapsodising the onboard food and drink so I'll keep focused on the visual pleasures of our giant floating hotel. And anyway, we didn't need the bottle of Champagne on the bed (with the compliments of Cunard because the trip was to celebrate my birthday) to give us a reason to be happy: it was all about the view.
The Queen Mary 2 has more balconies than most ships of its size. A relatively recent refit added several more. When you're looking at the sea for most of the trip, this might sound like a futile move. But trust me - it's all about that feeling.
To be honest, I could have spent even longer in our stateroom than we did. One of our favourite days involved nothing more strenuous than reading in bed and ordering room service (no additional charge of course - this IS Cunard after all).
To my great surprise, stateroom-fever didn't start to set in once. Just looking over the tops of our books every so often to glimpse the ocean sweeping by was wonderfully comforting but also thrilling.
But we weren't anti-social all of the time. We made some great friends on this trip, including a great couple we're still in touch with. And we got stuck into the full range of on board activities, from the usual (using the various different pools) to the less usual (fencing).
It's fair to say that Cunard don't intend to allow anyone to get bored. Not that I could imagine anyone getting bored when they could find all the entertainment they want just by looking out of the window.
I usually get through quite a few books on any trip and I did make a small dent in the QM2 library (the largest library at sea) but both of us found ourselves doing little more than peering into the endless blue more than we have on any of our previous cruises.
We still weren't bored of it by day six, when we reached Halifax, Canada. Delightful as this port of call was (that's a whole separate post, coming soon) we were almost sad to see dry land out of our stateroom window for a change.
After a final day (and night) at sea cruising down the Atlantic Seaboard, as we packed, we were in full on grieving mode. Not only would we be saying au revoir to our new onboard friends but we would be saying goodbye to the QM2 in the morning.
Fortunately, there was a new thrill to distract us. Both of us had independently visited New York before but neither of us had approached from the water before. When you've only snuck up on the city from the back of a taxi cab before, nothing can prepare you for sidling up to it from the deck of a luxury liner.
You have to be up early to catch the world's most iconic skyline at its best. It was just after 4am when we first made out what we soon identified as lights on the horizon. Slowly, the metropolis revealed itself.
From one of the uppermost decks we watched as the City That Never Sleeps woke from 'just resting its eyes'.
As the skyscrapers started casting shadows over the prows of the Queen Mary 2, we ran around the ship, trying to find a place where we could keep both the city and the ocean in our sights. We weren't ready to let go quite yet. Ironically, it was only when we returned to our room that we discovered we'd had the best view all along - right there on our balcony.