CULTURE

The world’s greatest, tallest ocean liner

One of her whistles comes from the original Queen Mary, while the other is an exact replica. The old world meets the new one onboard the grand Queen Mary 2, a floating luxury hotel traveling the sea in style. Hailed as «the world’s largest, longest, tallest, grandest ocean liner ever,» the Queen Mary 2 was chartered by the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee to host a number of dignitaries and athletes during the Olympic Games. Docked at Piraeus harbor, the imposing vessel turned into a central attraction in the area; while guests – including the US basketball team – went about their Olympic business, a few lucky visitors were welcomed onboard. From the Britannia, launched in 1840, to the 14-deck Queen Mary 2, the Cunard company has a long list of accomplishments. The story begins with Samuel Cunard of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who became the successful bidder of a contract announced by Queen Victoria for the safe and prompt delivery of transatlantic mail. Assisted by engineer Robert Napier and with financial backing from three leading businessmen, George Burns, David Maclver and James Donaldson, he established the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet, later known as the Cunard Line. Today, the company is operated by Miami-based Cunard Line Limited, a member of the Carnival Corporation. The current fleet includes the Queen Elizabeth 2 (built in 1969 and recently refurbished), Caronia (built in 1973, the ship has now entered her last season) and the Queen Mary 2 – Queen Victoria is scheduled to conquer the seas in 2007. The company was the first to take passengers on regularly scheduled transatlantic sailings with the Britannia in 1840 (transatlantic crossings are still Cunard’s most coveted and glamorous journeys), owned the first passenger ship to be lit by electricity (Servia, 1881), and was also the first to introduce an indoor swimming pool onboard (Aquitania, 1914). Today, aboard the Queen Mary 2 – the ship’s maiden voyage began out of Southampton on January 12 of this year – 1,300 crew members cater to 2,620 passengers (at full capacity). There are also two full-time doctors and three nurses, assuring excellent healthcare facilities. Luxury abounds, with 5-million-dollars’ worth of artwork, specially commissioned Wedgwood china, round-the-clock food supply and never-ending entertainment. There’s the casino, of course, but also 14 bars and lounges – ranging from karaoke and dartboards to a wine bar featuring an impressive 50,000 bottles. For anyone wishing to indulge in high-end shopping, Hermes, H. Stern, Chopard and Dunhill all have boutiques here. From the junior suites all the way to the extraordinary duplex apartments (boasting 2,249 square feet of space) some lucky passengers succeed in making reservations at Todd English, the celebrity chef whose Queen Mary 2 restaurant offers whipped ricotta for truffle love-letters with a black truffle emulsion and Madeira jus, among others. The Queen Mary 2 offers the only planetarium aboard any ship, featuring museum and NASA shows, while the University of Oxford runs the lecture department. For those wishing to relax, a unit of the renowned Canyon Ranch Spa Club offers a plethora of treatment, ranging from thermal therapies to massages and facials. One piece of advice if you’re planning to book yourself the Queen Mary 2 experience: Don’t bring along your own book – a library featuring 8,000 titles will take care of those unique, transatlantic moments of reflection.