Yesterday, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II embarked on her last voyage. Later this year, the majestic ship will be transformed into an equally majestic floating hotel in Dubai. The announcement of her impending retirement brought back memories of the six-day transatlantic journey my husband and I took as part of our honeymoon six years ago.
As a child in my nerdiest days, I would spend hours watching old movies, and loved picturing myself on one of those slow, ocean-going voyages where people dressed for dinner and exchanged witty repartee. What could be better, I thought, than wearing an evening gown, sipping champagne and affecting a British accent while standing at the rail on a moonlit night, motoring slowly toward the chalky shores of England? I thought, “Doesn’t everyone want to take a trip like this?”
The answer? Nuh-uh. At least no one under the age of 75. We were the youngest people on the ship by at least four decades. We were the only couple at the ship’s crowded honeymoon reception, in fact, who hadn’t buried at least one previous spouse.
I’ve never been on a “regular” cruise – the kind where there’s rock climbing and Disney animals -- but based on years of watching “The Love Boat,” I assume that other cruise vacations include the following: copious hours in the hot tub, lots of bikini wearing and tanning, lots of swimming in heart-shaped pools, much wearing of Hawaiian shirts, lots of making out with Gopher and Doc, and lots of going ashore in places with sandy beaches.
This is what a QE II cruise entails: no rock climbing, no Disney animals, no bikinis, no tanning, no loud shirts, no making out with Gopher and Doc (who totally turned out to be fictional characters!) and no going ashore in places with sandy beaches.
But you know what? I’ll take the QE II any day. There’s a sense of adventure when you sit on deck, bundled up like Shackleton as you turn your face to the cold North Atlantic winds, half expecting to hear huskies barking in the distance. There’s quiet pub conversation and old men drunkenly singing Wayne Newton karaoke songs at night. There are cucumber sandwiches and tea cakes every afternoon followed by mass napping. There’s ballroom dancing, where you tear up a little watching white-haired men and women who look just like your grandparents, smiling and happy. There’s the addictive thrill of being just one dot short of bingo. There’s watching your husband artfully reject the advances of a 76-year-old card shark who looks -- and drinks -- just like Elaine Stritch. There’s a captain who announces over the loud speaker that we’ve just passed the site of the Titanic sinking – and here’s hoping it all goes better for the rest of us. There’s a beautiful library and a ship full of people who read – actually read! And for those of us pale types who burn on partly sunny days, there’s, well, no sun. There are, however, beautiful moonlit nights in the middle of a dark, magical ocean when you wonder if this is how it feels in space, floating weightless in the stars.
I’m sorry to see ships like the Queen Elizabeth go. She was this nerd’s perfect vacation. And most important of all, she lived up to all my childhood expectations. How many times does that ever happen in a lifetime?