As I write this, the magnificent Cunard flagship RMS Queen Mary 2 is docked at Port Melbourne giving her 2,500+ passengers a chance to sample our wonderful city and surroundings. Her time as the world’s largest passenger ship was short (being overtaken by Freedom of the Seas in 2006), but she still has a special place in my heart.
Between 1957 and 1959 my father worked in the British Embassy in Mexico City – it was a good life in a fine embassy house, two native maids (with whom I could apparently communicate in native Spanish) and a driver. On the outward trip we crossed the Atlantic on the Cunard RMS Media, a 250-passenger/cargo ship, then on by train from New York.
Two years later dad’s contract was over. Back then there were no ‘family friendly’ policies so for the homeward trip the British government put him on a plane so as to get him back to work asap, leaving my mum to cope with two small children for the four day train trip to NYC, then a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary.
This is a picture of me with my sister enjoying the crossing. Not so much fun for my mum though: with two small children and no husband to hand she had next no chance to enjoy the ship’s amenities. 1959 was notable as being the last year when more people crossed the Atlantic by sea than by air. By the mid 1960s the writing was on the wall and in 1967 the Queen Mary with withdrawn from service and sold to the city of Long Beach for use as a floating hotel and tourist attraction.
The end of the twentieth century saw cruise ships becoming more and more popular. In 1998 Carnival Corporation acquired Cunard with a view to re-establishing it as a premium brand. In 2000 they placed the order for what would become the Queen Mary 2, a true ocean liner, not just a cruise ship. For several years she held the distinction of being the longest (1,132ft) and largest (148,528 GT) passenger ship ever built. The QM2 entered service in 2004.
At this time I was still living in the UK. My mother held a few shares in Carnival and received an invitation to visit the new ship and I was thrilled to be able to accompany her on a special shareholder open day at Southampton, 24 May 2004. The programme (cover above) is one of my treasured possessions.
By now I was living in Melbourne. I decided to turn my annual trip to visit family into the UK into a round-the-world trip, going on to the Software Industry Conference in Dallas, followed by a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade!
It was a wonderful experience, especially being able to explore parts of the ship that would have never been open to passengers during her revenue-earning days.
We get an ever-increasing number of cruise ships visiting Melbourne and I have taken many Sunday afternoon trips down to Port Melbourne (a short tram ride away) to see them sail out. I was thrilled when Queen Mary 2 made her first visit here in 2014. I was even more thrilled to see that her 2017 itinerary included a 4-night cruise from Melbourne to Kangaroo Island and back to Melbourne, both affordable and compatible with work. Needless to say, I booked immediately.
And even better, I got upgraded from a balcony cabin to a suite! At first I wondered why since I wasn’t a long-standing customer but I now think that it’s because they were short of single men. Apart from the suite itself, this meant that I was now dining in the more exclusive Princes Grill restaurant. On my table of six my dining partner was a very pleasant retired woman …. from Twickenham, living not a mile from where I’d spent my first 50+ years! The cruise was a wonderful experience: the ship, the staff, the food and table companions who might have been chosen just for me.