Our Queen Mary 2© Singing at Sea Journey was simply incredible! I don't know where to begin...
More than half of the 21 traveling singers met at Union Station in Washington on Monday, July 6 for a 7:25am train to New York City. We all had lots of luggage because we had to pack all the formal attire, and you know ladies! We took gowns and then of course we had to take the shoes to match the gowns. We arrived in NYC three and a half hours later and walked across Seventh Ave to catch our bus that would take us to the Brooklyn Queen Mary 2 terminal. We were enough to stop traffic (actually, we did)!
I got so excited when we saw the ship. It was huge and magnificent. A beautiful navy blue hull with the famous red Cunard funnel. The ship towered over us. We all registered, got our security pictures taken, and then it was time to board the QM2. It was just like I imagined. When we arrived in the third deck Grand Foyer, there were at least 10 immaculately dressed men and women in Cunard uniforms welcoming us on board. Larry and I proceeded to our state room which was on the 11th deck. It was perfect! And it had a beautiful large balcony from which we could watch the boarding activity below and view all of Brooklyn. We were starved so we went to the King's Court for a light lunch, knowing that a fabulous dinner was to be served at 8:30pm. After unpacking, we explored the ship from one end to the other. And that is quite a walk! The ship is almost 1000 feet long. And it has everything! It was docked directly across from the Statue of Liberty.......so beautiful. It made my heart swell. There were lots of folks sunning on the famous deck chairs with their green cushions. And people were already swimming in the three pools situated around the ship. At 4pm, we all had to report to our lifeboat stations for a drill. We learned about our life jackets and where to report if there was a need. Being sailors, we took this seriously (About 3 days into the crossing, we came within 12 miles of the Titantic. Amazing).
Then the moment came. The ship blew the horns and with that we pulled away from the dock. I had no idea we would have a police and military security escort. At one point a helicopter buzzed in on a private yacht that was coming too close. That yacht went on its merry way very fast! You don't mess with the QM2. Everyone on deck was toasting and taking lots of pictures. It was so exciting. The harbor traffic was busy and it was interesting to watch the ship navigate the harbor. And then we went under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (we barely made it under) and we were out into the mighty Atlantic Ocean and on our way to England. The ship cruises at 25 knots - an incredible speed for a cruise ship. And because she is so long and her beam quite narrow, she really slices thru the ocean water rather gracefully. What a fantastic beginning to our journey.
Dinner dress that evening was what Cunard calls "elegant casual" and I must say it wasn't too casual. People really dress! We had an excellent dinner and off to bed we went. We were all exhausted from a long and exciting day. But not before we turned our clocks forward one hour. Each and every night we would be turning our clocks ahead. That was painful!
Tuesday came and we had our first rehearsal at 10am. The singers came prepared with their music and their prepared notes from home. Good singers! We rehearsed in the Kensington Tender Lounge on the first deck. Everything of significance on the ship is bolted down, even the pianos. We were not able to turn the piano around so I ended up rehearsing the singers with my back to some of them. Not the greatest of rehearsal techniques, but we made the most of it. We got through much of the music on the first day and we began counting our rehearsal hours. We only had a total of ten hours rehearsal time! Made me a little nervous, but the singers were really working hard. By the way, we had a wonderful gentleman from England join us after hearing about us from one of the singers. John Watling was just delightful and he was a great (and much needed) baritone!
The ship offers exceptional daytime lectures and classes which we all enjoyed. Or you could simply walk around the promenade deck and relax in a lounge chair if weather permitted (mostly, it didn't). Or you could go to the state of the art gym, sit or read in the beautiful library with large windows overlooking the ocean, or have a massage in the Canyon Ranch Spa, or have a drink in one of the nine spacious lounges. Or you could play pub trivia, take a French class or a dance class or an acting class with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts' actors from London. And of course you could partake in High Tea every afternoon at 3pm. Something for everyone - and all truly elegant! We all kept delightfully busy. On Friday, Larry and I indulged in massages for two at the incredible Canyon Ranch Spa. Wow! We figured it was a good gift to each other for our upcoming 60th birthdays. After our massages which left us completely like mush, we enjoyed the aquatherapy pool. It had so many water gadgets designed to melt all your tension. We must have stayed in there for two hours (actually, Larry stayed longer, sitting and memorizing his music while I went off to an interview - more on that below). Now that is a the best way I can think of to spend an afternoon. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
The weather on a North Atlantic crossing can be very chilly and ours was. Forget the lovely sundresses that I took. I wish I had taken a fleece jacket. And it can be - and was - very windy. We had gale force winds on our fifth day out. You could definitely feel that. But no one got sick. The ship moved quite well even in that wind.
Dinner Tuesday (as well as Wednesday and Friday) evening was formal and it was simply elegant. All the men were handsome in black tie and the women looked fabulous. We all sat together and had a wonderful evening. Then it was off to a concert, featuring the excellent Cunard Singers and Dancers. What a day!
Every day brought new excitement. We saw the London actors do an abridged version of The Importance of Being Ernest and we heard their poetry readings. We saw wonderful concerts of classical music and the Cunard Singers and Dancers entertained us every evening. And each evening our dining experience was glorious. We dined for two hours every night. Ate, laughed, talked and simply enjoyed one another.
On Friday, I was interviewed for the QM2 Today Show, which aired each morning to let guests know all the specials events of the day. Just imagine...Jeanne Kelly being interviewed out in the North Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2. It was so much fun. It is all just starting to sink in.
Saturday came so quickly. It was our big day! Our concert appeared in the Daily Programme. We were going to perform in the magnificent Queen's Lounge for High Tea. The show aired and I must say I did a great interview. When I went down for breakfast, people were stopping me and said they would be coming to our concert. No pressure! Right. We rehearsed that morning and I was so pleased. The singers were full of energy and they were ready to do their thing. We arrived in the Queen's Room at 3 for our 3:30 performance and we found out that all the band equipment on the stage would be staying there. Oh my! Panic struck. I knew the grand piano could not be moved because it was bolted to the floor huge waves. So there we were...a piano that could not be moved and all that stuff on the stage. The crew brought in an electronic piano, but I knew that was just not going to cut it. So in a few seconds I made a decision that we would just perform with the singers in the front corner of the dance floor. It meant they'd have their backs to some of the audience, but it was the best we could do and still allow me to use the grand piano and conduct them. The room is huge and somehow we pulled it off. The audience loved our opening songs from West Side Story. We continued with a beautiful piece called I Cannot Count the Stars with violin obligato. We were lucky to have recruited the first violinist, Alexandra, with the Cunard String Quartet to play with us. That was really a treat. She was beautiful, the singers were smashing and it was a truly memorable moment. We closed with the a medley of Broadway Blockbusters, including music from Chorus Line, Beauty and the Beast, Fiddler on the Roof, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables. The singers really were fabulous! And the audience certainly did respond. We all felt spectacular. People were taking our pictures. We were a hit! I can't tell you how much fun that was. And many people came up asking about Encore. The QM2 never allows outsiders to perform and there we were! Encore Chorale! Quite an unforgettable experience. I do hope Encore will do many more "crossings" on the QM2 (I'll be working on that!).
We all had a spectacular dinner that evening, followed by another entertaining show of dance and singing. The headliner that evening was Gary Williams, the singer who starred in the London West End production of Rat Pack. A perfect day indeed! I keep saying it can't get any better and...it just does!
I did not sleep much the last night. Too excited and too tired! At 3am I got up and the wind was howling and I opened our drapes and unbelievably, out of the clouds and rain appeared the most beautiful castle on the shore of England. I will never forget that. Larry and I stood on our balcony and watched the shoreline and in a few hours we reached the Southampton QM2 terminal. What an unforgettable journey. As Cunard puts it, "It isn't the destination but it is the journey." An epic journey. And I hope there will be many more!
By the way, many of our singers were busy taking pictures throughout the cruise. I've asked them to send me their best, so in two or three weeks, we'll post a photo album of the cruise here on our web site. Watch for it!