I suppose you could say that sailing to America ‘felt’ right; we didn’t realise that I would be taking the Queen Mary 2 from England to America when my friends gave me the gift of a little golden ship charm on a chain the year before I left. I had a dream last summer – again, before we decided to book the sea voyage to New York – that I was sailing along the Ligurian coast in a tiny one-person sailboat. In the dream I felt a pang of loneliness for a moment, but then when I glanced over my shoulder I saw that I was part of a huge fleet that included all of my family and friends; we started laughing and calling out to each other as we sped through the turquoise water past cliffs where brightly coloured houses and lemon trees clung to the rock face. I’ve been wearing the golden ship necklace almost every day for the past year as we prepared to leave England, and so yes – sailing to America felt right.
Lots of people have asked us why we decided to sail to the States rather than fly. The answer is that it cost roughly the same amount as flights would have done (we bought our tickets in a summer sale), and we thought it would be fun. There’s the fact that you basically get a week-long all-expenses paid holiday for the price of a flight, there’s the romance and intrigue of a sea voyage that passes right by the site where the Titanic sank, and then there’s the bonus that you can take as much luggage as you can fit in your cabin, instead of worrying about baggage allowances and weight restrictions.
It’s also a much nicer way to travel when you have a kid – instead of being stuck in a small, crowded space with a cranky toddler for eight hours or so, she can explore the ship, get settled into a routine and adjust her body clock to the time change an hour a day, and spend time playing in the ship’s crèche while you relax with a hot chocolate, reading and staring out at the waves and the endless horizon. In the seven days we spent at sea, I only saw a handful of other vessels on the water. It’s strange – exciting, a little lonely – going without a glimpse of land for so long.
The Queen Mary 2 is essentially a huge floating hotel. When we arrived on the boat I had planned to do an hour’s work every day using the ship’s internet service, but after discovering that it cost an extortionate $47 an hour, I decided to take the first proper break from work that I’ve taken in around a year and a half. This, combined with the fact that from every window all you can see is vast expanses of water stretching away as far as the eye can see, was just about the most extreme form of disconnecting I can imagine. Why is it so hard to tear your eyes away from those constantly evolving waves? Ocean waves and fire are two of the most soothing things I can think of to watch.
My husband teased me before we left about how eager I was to see dolphins on the voyage, and then – sod’s law – he saw a whole pod of them playing around the bow of the ship on the very first morning we were at sea, while I was having a shower. I spent every possible moment on our seven-day voyage staring out of the nearest window at the water, but didn’t see any living thing other than a few sea birds. At night halfway through our voyage I dreamed of polar bears and penguins on beautiful floating icebergs tinged pink and purple with an extraordinarily vivid sunset, as the ship rocked me in my sleep.
We had the cheapest cabin available, without a window, but it was perfectly comfortable with a decent en suite shower, a bottle of champagne to welcome us on board, and a cleaning twice a day – with chocolates and the day’s news left on the bed every evening while we were at dinner. I got glimpses of beautiful spacious suites with sea views and white orchids as we walked through the corridors, but even in one of the smallest rooms available we felt like we were living in the lap of luxury, being served a delicious breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner every day. (All the food on the voyage for these four meals was included in the ticket price, not including alcohol.)
The lunch and dinner menus were different every day, and we were always spoilt for choice. It was fun to have to dress up for dinner occasionally, too, and made us enjoy our meals all the more.
There was a free gym, as well as a spa (unfortunately ridiculously expensive, with most treatments upwards of $129), a free cinema (we went to see two films on our trip), a theatre and planetarium, daily mass, various musicians playing during tea and dinner, as well as several bars and a library.
Ever since we booked the trip, the part I had most been looking forward to was arriving into New York City. We sailed in slowly at 5am, the city all aglow with lights, and even though we didn’t have a magnificent sunrise that day, we had a great view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty as we docked.
We usually travel to get ourselves from one place to another as quickly as possible; I’m glad we took the time, while we had some to spare, to savour this particular journey. It ended up being a much-needed family holiday, as well as getting us where we needed to go.