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On Board QE2: Queen Elizabeth 2

October 16, 2008

Driving into work this morning, I heard on the radio that ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 would be docked on the West Side today.  For the first time in a long time of commuting, I was looking forward to coming down the West Side HIghway, seeing that familiar orange and black smokestack on the horizon.  It brought back a flood of memories.  That ship has been very influential in my life.

Growing up, I was a total Anglophile.  My mother watched Brit shows on PBS all the time and counted the days till her summer holiday in the UK, saving all year for the excursion.  That legacy, if you will, was passed down to me.  Of course, I had to take the obsession to a new level, and one of those areas was in travel.  When I went to the UK for the first time, I decided, it wasn’t going to be by airplane.  It was going to be by the most luxurious means possible, and at that time, it meant the QE2. 

I got on Cunard’s mailing list and got regular brochures detailing the ocean voyages.  I memorized deck plans and activities (A movie theatre at sea! Shuffleboard on the top deck!), planning for the day that I would step foot on board.  For a girl growing up in the Bronx, these were lofty goals indeed.  As it turned out, I did get to go to the UK was when I was 17, because we won the tickets in a British Airways contest.  I did finally live out that dream, but not by the means intended.  Never mind, it was still fulfilled.

Flash forward to 1990.  I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding.  I asked the bride several days before the ceremony if there were going to be any single guys at the wedding.  She said that there were, in fact one was going to be at my table.  He was a friend of the groom’s who went to Fuqua with him and later worked with him at CBS.  He was from the Massachusetts area, and yes, he was a Celtics fan (a sports loyalty that is very important to me.)

When I finally met him on the receiving line, Constance, the bridesmaid who knew him, leaned over to me and mentioned that he worked at Cunard, and if he got married, he would be able to take his honeymoon on the QE2.  I won’t say that it was a gold digger moment, because I already thought he was kind of cute.  It did however give me a bunch of stuff to talk to him about that night which helped make a connection. 

In case you didn’t recognize him in the earlier paragraph, that guy turned into Mr. IT.  We dated for 3 years before getting married, and in that time we went on 3 cruises, including the one he proposed marriage on.  None of those were on the QE2.  Not for lack of trying, mind you, but the other cruises were better fits with our time schedule.  Cunard employees got 2 weeks of free cruise time, and Alaska, Hawaii, and the Caribbean were our choices over a chilly North Atlantic crossing.  I did get to set foot on the QE2 as Cunard had their holiday parties on board the ship before she left for her holiday cruise in the Caribbean.  That was as exciting as anything to me.  Walking through history, literally, on board was such a thrill.  We didn’t even take our honeymoon on the ship.  Fearing it would be a bit of a “busman’s holiday”, we instead spent a week in San Francisco and another in Hawaii, and I wouldn’t think anything could have been better. 

In 1996, Mr. IT came home and asked if I wanted to come with him on a business trip he had to take on the QE2.  I’m surprised he even asked and didn’t just pack my bags right then and there.  Apparently, his boss was taking his wife and kids, and thought it would go over better with his employees if they could bring family as well.  At last! 

A week before I was to leave, I got sick with a horrible flu.  Spent the whole weekend in bed.  We were due to leave that Friday, but I knew I would be better in time.  However, by Wednesday, I feared I was about to hack up a lung, so I went to my doctor.  She took one look at me and sent me to the hospital.  Pneumonia was the diagnosis, and when the doctor at the hospital called the next day, he said I should be on bed rest for one week. 

ONE WEEK!  I was due to set sail the next day.  The dream trip!  It wasn’t to be?  Hell no, it was to be!  I called my doctor and explained the situation.  She talked to her colleagues, and they all agreed I should go for it with 2 conditions – no exercise and no drinking.  Fine, fine, whatever, I was going, antibiotics in hand.

I’ll never forget a single second of that trip, as it was everything I dreamed and more.  Taking a cab to the pier and feeling so special as we boarded the ship.  Being welcomed on board as guests.  Truly though, I count among the top 10 experiences of my life leaving NYC via the Hudson River at nighttime.  Looking up at the Verrazano bridge as we passed underneath was breathtaking.  And that was only the beginning.

We had a cabin that allowed us to eat at the Princess Grill, not the highest level of the ship, but still considered first class.  We were treated like royalty, because Mr. IT was well known and liked among staff on the ship.  Since he was in meetings most of the days, I roamed the ship, found secluded corners and read books.  I attended movies during the day and sat in on many lectures.  I enjoyed high tea every day, and was most amused when the server found I was in the wrong tea room and escorted me to the first class lounge (as if the girl from the Bronx would have a problem being with the masses!).  I met celebrities, including Francis Ford Coppola, Ray Bradbury and Jack Germond (surely those encounters are worth a blog post alone). I made friends with two women, one who was sailing back to the UK to return home after living in the US for 6 years, the other friend who came with her to keep her company.  We all knew we were in a most special place, and enjoyed every second of the experience.

When the Queen Mary 2 came into service, she and the QE2 were due to depart the West Side together and head for Southampton.  Mr. IT and I came into Hoboken to watch.  It was very emotional for him, and for me, and we were able to share it with our daughter, bringing it all full circle in a way. 

The QE2 is leaving NYC for the last time today, heading to Dubai to be a floating hotel.  That saddens me in so many ways, thinking I may never see her again.  It was such a thrill to see her docked on the West Side, although several years ago that stopped when Carnival built a pier in Brooklyn to take their ships to.  Still, even in Brooklyn, she was close, and now she won’t be.  Bon Voyage mon ami, and here’s to our paths crossing again someday.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2008 1:33 pm

    “A floating hotel in Dubai”. Ugh – it just seems so not fitting – the land of human-created, palm tree-shaped islands. In any case, this is a lovely tribute and makes me sad I never had the chance to sail on on the QE2

  2. Jennifer permalink
    October 16, 2008 5:04 pm

    Awww…that post brought tears to my eyes! What a beautiful tribute. I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

  3. October 16, 2008 6:18 pm

    that was such a lovely post…I will have to share it with Joe my hubby- he is a brit. I loved that.

  4. October 17, 2008 6:32 pm

    What a lovely story with such a sad ending. I always wanted to sail the QE2. I’ll never have that chance. I’m so glad that you did.

  5. October 19, 2008 8:43 am

    You forgot the most important part – how I gently pushed you two onto the dance floor when you were too shy to do anything but look at each other shyly… And don’t forget how I got him the job at Cunard!

    Dea ex machina

  6. Mr. IT permalink
    October 20, 2008 9:12 am

    what a great read! Fond memories and the start of a great life together! I would like to take the opportunity to address Constance’s comments… Yes, we both owe Constance a whole lot when it comes to our meeting (Ian & Kathy also since it was their wedding we met at) anyhow, the part I am a little confused about is Constance taking credit for my getting the job at Cunard! Unless, she believes that by helping me get my first job, at CBS, and because I hated it and landed at Cunard, that she started the process to get me to Cunard! Accuracy in publishing is very important. Anyhow, we both will have fond memories of both the QE2 and the other Cunard vessels Sagafjord, Vistafjord and our engagement cruise and Constance who got the ball rolling. – I have just spoken via email to the purser on the QE2 and he sends his regards as he used to be on the Sagafjord/Vistafjord and is one of the few remaining people onboard the ship since my days at sea!

  7. October 20, 2008 12:56 pm


  8. October 23, 2008 3:27 pm

    Michael is right – I meant by my FORCING him to leave Springfield to interview for a job at CBS in New York he eventually wound up at Cunard, and because of sharing an office with Ian at CBS was invited to the wedding where he met Ellen. Just so long as I get lots of credit!

    And now Ian is a professional gambler (or so he asserts) and you and I work at law firms…

  9. October 30, 2008 3:39 pm

    Reminds me of listening to my mother’s stories about her first trip to Europe in, like, 1962, on the SS France. They came back on the SS United States

    Also reminds me that her father, John O’Connell worked for Cunard in the first half of the 20th century.

    Small world.


  1. QE2 - Saying Goodbye «

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