You’ll be enthralled by the choice of cultural activities offered on board Queen Mary 2. Feel free to choose from watercolour art classes, learning to act or listening to first-class lectures from famous speakers
There’s standing room only in Illuminations, the theatre-cum-planetarium on Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2, as hundreds of us flock to hear historian Bill Miller talk about the great ocean liners, floating palaces as he called them, which transported people to and fro across the Atlantic in the days before air travel.
It’s very fitting given we have just set sail on our own transatlantic crossing – an eight-night voyage from Southampton to New York that you might expect to be about lazy days at sea but instead was all about listening, learning and developing skills.
An authority on all things to do with ocean travel, Mr Miller enthralled his audience as he spoke about the glamorous film stars who sailed the Atlantic and the race to the top in New York as companies built ever taller skyscrapers. We also had insightful talks about the Brighton bombing by a detective involved in the investigation, learned what it was like to fly at Mach 2 from a Concorde flight engineer and had a good laugh with comedy writer Jan Etherington.
All were guests of Insights, an exemplary lecture programme on all Queen Mary 2’s transatlantic voyages. Coming up in 2018, speakers will be talking about military history, spying, the secrets of running one of London’s top hotels and just what does go on behind the doors of Number 11 with a former Chancellor of the Exchequer.
There are numerous fascinating facts about Queen Mary 2: she is the world’s biggest (and only serving) liner; and she has a British lamppost and an American fire hydrant in the doggie-walking area so canine passengers from both sides of the Atlantic feel at home. But I reckon being able to go stargazing in the one and only planetarium at sea trumps all that.
I sat back – literally, because the dome-like screen, itself like something from Star Wars, comes down from the ceiling in Illuminations – and watched comets race across the night sky and planets collide to the dulcet tones of narrator Robert Redford – yes, the Sundance Kid himself.
For stargazing of a different sort, storyboards around Queen Mary 2’s vast corridors and stairwells lift the lid on some of the most famous names to have graced Cunard’s ships over the decades (apparently the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson embarked with 150 pieces of monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage), as well as telling how Sir Samuel Cunard started his first regular transatlantic service back in 1847: milestone moments for his fleet and the people who travelled on them.
The celebrities travelled in first-class luxury and it was all very glamorous, but I was just as interested to learn of the emigrants who scrimped and saved for years so they could set sail across the Atlantic in search a fresh life in the New World.
There is so much to do and so little time on a transatlantic voyage that it’s no wonder some people enjoy a few hours in New York and then hop back on board Queen Mary 2 to continue their cultural education as they sail back to Southampton.
Budding Picassos can sign up for watercolour art classes (places are limited so you need to be quick) or learn about some of the artists whose work is on board during talks with the ship’s art director.
On selected voyages, RADA graduates perform adaptations of the classics or some fun little cameo plays – we had a compilation of some of Shakespeare’s most famous death scenes and a light-hearted Cunard trivia show – and pass on some tips of stagecraft in acting workshops.
Music lovers can enjoy a string quartet with their afternoon tea and classical concerts in Illuminations while dance enthusiasts can learn to tango, cha-cha and jive in ballroom dance classes. There’s even a chance to gen up on the modern-day culture of iPhones, iPads and more at iStudy computer classes. No longer having to ask your kids to help out really is a worthwhile souvenir to bring home.
Discover more at cunard.com