Nary an iceberg nor rogue wave in sight, I had the opportunity yesterday to board the Queen Mary 2 during her brief stay in San Francisco. The biggest, widest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world visited our fair city for a scant 24 hours.
In the interest of full transparency I must disclose two things: First, this opportunity arose because the company I work for owns a vacation and events company that targets the GLBT community. This same company has booked the entire QM2 for a GLBT Trans-Atlantic cruise this May, the first time a booking of such scale has ever occurred in the community. (And yes, we have already made all the Queen and Mary jokes imaginable about this. It gets old fast.)
Second, I hate cruises.
Why? Well, about four years ago, I embarked on a GLBT cruise (via a competing gay vacations company, with whom we had a more harmonious relationship at the time) for work purposes, promoting our products and services on board. It was the company’s inaugural Mediterranean cruise, with ports of call in Barcelona, Cannes, Florence (well, Livorno), Rome (aka Civitavecchia), Palmas de Mallorca and (inevitably) Ibiza.
Sounds like a dream come true, no? Well, for the paying guests it certainly appeared to be. But I was traveling without DPaul, and on the ship, there were effectively two communities: The singles and the couples. (There was some overlap there, but enough about that.) I couldn’t socialize well with the singles, as I was not interested in hooking up, and it was awkward to try to insinuate myself in with couples sans my apparently imaginary husband. And so, like Tom Hanks in that movie, I was effectively stateless for a solid week. And I was jet-lagged and cranky to boot.
So I know that my predisposition against cruises is my problem, not the Queen Mary’s. And anyway, I surely wasn’t going to turn away the chance to check out the superfabulous ship without actually having to set sail on it.
(Click any image to see the entire photostream of my images on Flickr, coworkers and all.)
One thing’s for sure: The Queen Mary 2 delivers on size. I decided to drive to the office (scarcely a block from where she was docked, which made this a very bad idea … more on that later), and coming up the Embarcadero at one point I had the bow in the left half of my field of vision; to the right of my field of vision the stacks towered over the piers … and there was still another third of the ship beyond that. It dwarfed the pier it was docked at. From our office, it was like a whole new skyscraper had been plonked down overnight.
And to be sure, La Mary is luxe. It is stunningly appointed in gorgeous veneers, lots of brass and no shortage of really over-the-top statuary. No, really, over-the-top. There are a dozen shops on board, and all would feel welcome in the swankest Vegas casino or OC mall: Hermès, H.Stern, Swarovski. You get the idea.
The QM2 is a true ocean liner, so it’s designed to endure harsh conditions. As such, it also features somewhat less outdoor space than the boats that frequent warm-weather destinations like the Caribbean or Hawaii. In fact, despite being by a wide margin the largest ship of its kind (i.e., not an aircraft carrier), it often feels almost snug.
Typical to cruises, dining is a multi-tiered affair. If you’ve booked one of the swanky supersuites, you may reserve a seating at one of the fancy grills; everyone else can dine at one of the main dining halls, such as the Britannia Lounge, where we had our luncheon. There are also a few casual eateries open to all (such as a pub with fish and chips, for example), and on the other end two restaurants (including Todd English Restaurant) which you may book for an additional prix-fixe expense. Normally, of course, the upper crust may go slumming in the mainstream dining halls, but not vice versa. However, we were told that if you had less privileged friends, you might be able to work something out with the maître-d’ pending availability.
Luckily, bars abound. There’s a two-tiered maritime-slash-techno themed disco called G32 (perfect for the swingin’ AARP crowd) and, perhaps most importantly, a Veuve Clicquot Champagne Lounge. Guess where I’d spend my entire trans-oceanic crossing?
In my mind, the greatest appearance of luxe was in the entertainment arenas. There are two really quite lovely theaters, one featuring a planetarium no less, and a fairly spacious ballroom called the Queens Room.
A friend of mine noted, aptly, a peculiar design language suited to the ship (and all ships). I have to agree, this is the greatest appeal to me. There is a strange beauty involved in the commingling of form and function that are so tightly compressed in even a ship as massive as the QM2. There were vignettes I could not capture in the viewfinder of my camera, like the astonishingly lengthy peripheral deck, a thousand feet long if it’s an inch, peppered with green-and-white lounge chairs perched under ominously suspended lifeboats. Or the highly graphical signage. On a small deck area in the stern were several large metallic fins, whether for functional or strictly decorative purposes I do not know, but they were awfully cool.
My favorite moments, though, were milling amidst the crowds that thronged around Pier 37 to gawk at the giant iron goddess who had descended upon us. On the one hand, it was a colossal drag, as traffic and parking in our otherwise quiet neighborhood were phenomenally bad. But there was a palpable excitement in the air as people stared, pointed, giggled, fantasized. Returning to the office, though, I heard one fella approaching the boat say, "I thought it would be bigger." It’s almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall. How much bigger does it need to be to impress you, buddy?
But Mary don’t come cheap. Our company’s booking has cabins for as little as $1,600 a head, which actually is a relative bargain. By contrast, if you were to book the full 106-day round-the-world trip in the best cabin at the full retail price, that would set you back $205,000. Per person.
But think about it. Trip of a lifetime with your honey on the most luxurious boat ever created, $410,000. Additional booze, gambling and assorted shore leaves over the course of three months, gosh maybe $25,000. Sharing the deck with the elderly gentleman in the red-and-black plaid pants with the lavender shirt and purple tie …
One year ago today … I was a busy bee. I lamented the impending loss of Tallula, one of my erstwhile favorite restos. I ranted about the ongoing grocery problems in Noe Valley (which, incidentally, are largely unchanged one year later). I shared some recipes for cocktails by the pitcher, perfect for any occasion, as well as a recipe for Pimm’s Cup, suitable only for croquet in the Park. And I discovered a gem of a wine store in Cole Valley.
Now I know why Shuna called me prolific.