While I wait for my martini (shaken; never stirred) in the Chart Room Bar I am lulled into a contemplative state as I glance out the window and watch our departure from Québec City, the beginning of an eight-day adventure on the legendary Queen Mary 2 luxury ocean liner.
Truth is, this trip isn’t just about sightseeing. My husband and I needed a digital detox – time together to slow down and recharge, to escape the busyness of life and get back to the soul of our relationship. We were forgetting who we are, what we mean to each other. When he suggested this itinerary – Québec City, Nova Scotia and New York, I was all in. The idea of traveling slowly, savoring our journey as well as our destinations was compelling.
Pre-boarding we spend a few days at Québec City’s iconic Le Château Frontenac, the castle-like hotel dominates the skyline high above the St. Lawrence River and Dufferin Terrace. Rich in history, this Canadian version of Hogwarts with a myriad of towers and turrets has welcomed countless celebs from Queen Elizabeth to Celine Dion. It is said to be the most photographed hotel in the world.
Even after 400 years, Old Québec (a UNESCO heritage site) is amazingly well-preserved and ideal for wandering. We meander cobblestone streets lined with shops and cafés a la a romantic European town, only this one is easily accessible from the northeast without enduring a long flight or jet lag.
There are an astonishing number of historic sites and world-class museums devoted to every taste but being a foodie, I gravitate to the “tasty” Érico Chocolaterie Patisserie museum and learn the history of my indulgence. My husband’s curiosity is peaked at Le Monastére Des Augustines’ fascinating medical museum housing thousands of medical artifacts. This former convent (1639) and hospital is now a beautifully restored and redesigned health and wellness retreat.
Each day we roam, we sightsee, we talk, we flirt, we drink more glasses of cabernet than we should before dining at epicurean restaurants. Champlain sates us with Scallops from the St. Lawrence, Caribou from Lapland and Icelandic Cod. A short ride down the funicular, the elegant yet rustic Chez Muffy the Auberge Saint-Antoine offers farmhouse-inspired choices. (Do not leave without indulging in the chef’s chocolate souffle with fresh mint ice cream.)
While we are excited about several Nova Scotia port stops, we are equally excited about exploring the Queen Mary 2, long heralded as the grandest liner ever built.
Our days on board are long and languorous. I spend a day at the Canyon Ranch spa and indulge in a deep tissue massage while my husband does laps around the ship. No need to miss my regular Pilates class, there’s one at 8 a.m. The ship boasts a Planetarium; a 9,000-volume library, the largest of any at sea; a Laurent-Perrier Champagne Bar; a two-level grand staircase ideal for photo ops, the world’s largest ballroom at sea and several well-edited shops. And, with one staff member for every two guests, we receive authentically warm service.
Accommodations range from a two-level 9,000-square-feet suite for those with serious money to cost-efficient inside cabins. We opt for a Princess Grill Suite with large balcony, walk-in closet and spacious bathroom. The best thing about a Grill Suite is access to a classy private dining room where we have our own table for two for the entire trip. If we decide to dine at 7 or 8 p.m. or whatever time we choose during serving hours, no problem – our table is waiting!
The ship’s size is a paradox. Even though it’s carrying over 2,600 passengers, it feels intimate. Most nights we dine in the Grill restaurant and savor world-class cuisine – lobster, Dover sole or rack of lamb, for example, but occasionally we eat casually at Kings Court’s for Pan-Asian, Indian or Italian fare before taking in a show.
Fellow travelers’ name drop that Meryl Streep was on board a few weeks earlier filming a Steven Soderbergh film, but the Queen Mary 2 isn’t about ogling celebs. It is about the rest of us experiencing the same lifestyle.
While the ship is a destination unto itself, we relish new sights during shore excursions at each port stop – glass blowers working in Saguenay, a walking tour of Sidney and charming fishing village near Halifax.
Crazy as it sounds, a highpoint of the trip is the end – our early morning arrival into New York. We giggle like teenagers at 4 a.m. as we wrap ourselves in thick bathrobes and wind our way to the top of the ship, gladly trading a few hours’ sleep for the exhilaration of seeing the first glimmer of the city against a pitch-black horizon. We remain silent and snuggle in the cold dark morning as the ship slowly glides under the Verrazano Bridge. Soon after, the Statue of Liberty, ablaze in light appears, welcoming us just as she did my grandparents. Straight ahead New York is waking up. No words are necessary. The moment is sublime.
By Mary Ann Treger
How To Get There
United Airlines has non-stop service from Newark International Airport to Québec City – a short 1-hour, 43-minute flight to a place where everyone speaks French (and English, too).
What To Do
In Québec City: Visit the Citadelle de Québec, the largest active fortress in Canada for impressive architecture and spectacular views; ride the Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec and travel at a 45-degree angle from the upper to lower part of town; stroll Quartier Petit-Champlain, once a portside village featuring fur traders of trading posts, now beautifully restored with updated shops along narrow cobblestone streets; Place-Royale where architecture reflects four centuries of history; Musée de la Civilisation for unique exhibits about everything from high fashion to poison.
On the Queen Mary 2: Choose from a full menu of services at the Canyon Ranch spa. Take a Pilates, Yoga or indoor cycling class or chill out in the jacuzzi. The ship’s daily activities guide details options that include lectures, movies, music, ballroom dancing or social hours. And, being a British ship, afternoon tea is served daily to perfection.
Cruise Travel Tips: Pre-boarding, spend a day or two at your departure city. This eliminates the stress of flight delays causing you to “miss the boat” and you’ll arrive on the ship relaxed and ready for your adventure.