Bid farewell to holiday shopping, stress, and merry meltdowns as you board the legendary Queen Mary 2 for the end of year…of a lifetime

By Matt Scanlon

From a high water mark in late summer, the cruise industry’s focus on New York City as a departure point cools off along with the weather. For reasons that passeth our editorial understanding, the major lines ratchet down offerings in December and January, at precisely the time we physically and psychologically need them the most. There are some exceptions, most immediately Norwegian Cruise Lines and its admirable seven- and nine-day round-trip Caribbean jaunts (originating in Manhattan) and Royal Caribbean’s seven- to eleven-day round-trip treks to both the Bahamas and the South Caribbean (pushing off from Cape Liberty, New Jersey), but lines such as Carnival skip city embarkations entirely from the end of October through February, along with a number of others.

All of this would be a source of immersing curiosity and depression, were it not for an utterly unique option—Cunard Line, which is now offering what could be succinctly described as the holiday adventure of a lifetime. Not only does Cunard offer regular cruises aboard a line of storied vessels through December and January, its 13-day holiday spanning voyage—alighting a number of Caribbean hotspots—is a way of celebrating this time of the year while skipping the entirety of its stress.

Cunard’s Eastern Caribbean Cruise departs December 22 at 5:00 p.m. from Manhattan, with ports of call in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, and St. Kitts, with three days entirely at sea on both the outbound and inbound legs. Passengers conclude their return journey on January 3 at 6:30 in the morning—presumably having just crested the vestigial hard edges of their New Year’s hangover. No in-law rancor, no last-minute shopping frenzy, no flight hassles, and no flat tires—just 13 days and 12 nights of either contemplative bliss or unbridled merrymaking (but in all likelihood a combination of the two).

All this sounds wonderful enough, but it gets better: the holiday journey has as its setting what we feel is the most gorgeous cruise ship coursing the waves: Queen Mary 2.

The 1,132-foot, 150,000-gross-ton vessel traces its corporate history to 1839, when Samuel Cunard, a Nova Scotian, was offered Britain’s first trans-Atlantic steamship mail contract, and soon after formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which later became Cunard Steamship Company. In competing with its principal rival, the White Star Line, Cunard set a number of transatlantic speed records, and was offered loans from the British government in 1934 to finish the first Queen Mary as well as Queen Elizabeth. Both offered levels of sophistication and accommodation theretofore unknown, even among White Star’s most prestigious liners. Commissioned in 1998, the Queen Mary 2 was completed five years later and is without question the jewel in the crown of a company that is actually now American owned and operated out of Santa Clara, California.

Hand & Stone SPREAD

Cunard is the only cruise company operating transatlantic voyages, a fact that weighs heavily in Queen Mary 2’s design. The ship’s operational mission of crossing unpredictable North Atlantic waters means the vessel has thicker steel plating than a typical Caribbean ship, a strengthened and lengthened bow, and engines proportionally more powerful than average. And despite American ownership, its sensibility and tempo is steeped in British tradition. The ship retains the tradition of assigning restaurants based on cabin class, for example; those who occupy the largest suites (which top out at a stunning 2,250 square feet) take their meals in the Queens Grill, whereas passengers booked in junior suites tuck in at the Princess Grill. All others dine in the stunning, three-story Britannia Restaurant, which is by no means a step down in food quality (the difference seems to only be manifest in service (the Princess and Queens Grills feature table-side food preparation, among other niceties). All passengers can marvel in the tradition of high tea, served white glove style, of course. There is also a British pub on board that looks for all the world as if it had been plucked whole from Fleet Street, plus a champagne bar, and no fewer than seven other possibilities for meals, including Todd English’s own restaurant and lunch and dinner venues serving traditional English, Asian, Italian, and mixed fare.

Continental norms extend to the ship’s dress code as well, which is among the most formal afloat. During morning and afternoon hours, attire trends toward country club casual, while jacket and shirt collar are expected for dinner. Most extended cruises—including this one—also feature three formal evening events, with themes such as “black-and-white” or “masquerade.”

The entirety of this magazine would be insufficient to detail the amount of activities and small corners of wonder aboard the Queen Mary 2, but some highlights certainly must include the world’s first planetarium at sea, acting workshops with instructors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and the Science at Sea lecture series featuring prominent science writers. Those with a taste for deeper luxury can always take in afternoons at Canyon Ranch’s spa and fitness facilities. Nightlife activities are various, too, and include chances to catch dramatic or musical productions at The Royal Court Theatre and/or a jaunt to the Empire Casino or G32 nightclub.

The ship’s 1,300 cabins (most of them exterior with balconies) can accommodate 2,620 passengers, and yet—owing likely to the generally overbuilt nature of the biggest vessel in Cunard’s three-ship line—the ship is a peculiarly hushed affair. There’s only one public announcement per day, for instance (from the captain remarking upon the ship’s progress), and its crowd seems to be blissfully bereft of the rock-wall-climbing, frat-party-throwing, pre-hospitalized amateur gymnasts of typical Caribbean cruise vessels. Instead, stately, gliding sophistication prevails, along with a proliferation of nooks and crannies in which one can simply be alone to read, contemplate, and enjoy the sound of the sea. Happy Christmas!