Queen Mary 2: January 30, 2004

Our three busses departed from Miami Beach at 12:30 pm Friday afternoon. About an hour later, we arrived at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. We first glimpsed the ship at some distance, and it was not immediately apparent just how big it was, but this became clearer as we approached. At the entrance to the terminal, arriving guests were welcomed by a brass quartet dressed in traditional English red uniforms with tall hats and a suitably regal entrance fašade. Inside the waiting area there were some people dressed in 1930s costumes. As we boarded the ship, we were each photographed; a large complimentary copy of this photo was available later.

The Grand Lobby is quite impressive, with red carpet, splendid twin staircases, and a large creatively lit metal artwork of the ship on the wall. Moving towards the elevators which would take us to our state rooms, the next thing I noticed was a little disconcerting--a big historical wall display on, of all things, the sinking of the Titanic! This might seem inexplicable, except that the emphasis was on the role played by the Carpathia, a Cunard vessel, in the rescue. As an indication of how big the ship is, I later attempted to return to this display but couldn't find it again until we were on our way off the boat this morning.

In the short interval before the rehearsal my roommate, oboist Dwight Parry, and I tried to explore as much of the vast ship as possible. We went all the way up to the top (deck 14), which provided a magnificent view of the harbor. Unfortunately it was cloudy & raining and everything was wet so being outside was not ideal. There were a lot of swimming pools and hot tubs. Back inside we were curious to see "Illuminations," the world's only planetarium on a boat. We arrived in the middle of a very abstract display of colorful designs, accompanied by loud rock music, which was impressive in its own strange way. In the nearby corridors there were lots of life-size photographs of famous passengers on previous Cunard liners. Dwight took my picture next to the Queen Mother and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, ironically right next to each other as the three were in life only briefly in 1967.

At 2:45, when it was almost time for rehearsal, we discovered that there was already a meal being served. This had never been announced; I guess we were supposed to come upon the cafeteria- style restaurant ("Kings Court") by chance and figure it out for ourselves. I had some steak which was excellent and a couple good chocolate desserts, cake and some sort of creamy roll. This was a very fast meal but as it turned out it was good thing we'd found it...

By 3 all musicians participating in the performance (ironically there wasn't room on stage for everyone, so those string players cut had to assist Development in welcoming guests, but I fortunately was sitting second stand) had assembled in the small but elegant Royal Court Theatre. Our conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, was late ("I got on the wrong ship," he joked) so David In-Jae Cho, our assistant conductor, started the rehearsal. All the music stands had stand lights on them; I discovered that we could actually see the music much better when I removed the light. We mostly rehearsed the Gershwin (An American in Paris) and then went on to "Mambo" from West Side Story and the "Infernal Dance" and Finale from Firebird. MTT warned us that he might have to cut the Finale if things were running late. Then he kept fiddling with the encore, "Rule Britannia" (which made me feel very British) because he didn't like the arrangement.

After rehearsal it was time for the "lifeboat drill." You might think that this would have something to do with lifeboats, in which case you would be wrong. What it consisted of was everyone putting on our orange life jackets and assembling in designated "assembly areas" to stand around and talk for a half hour until it was announced that the "lifeboat drill" was over. Our "assembly area" was a large, wonderfully elegant and beautiful room called the "Winter Garden" with lots of plants and a waterfall. With everyone having been thus prepared for any emergency it was time for the ship to depart. I sat out on deck 7 with other NWS people to watch the harbor gradually drift further away. An indication of the QM2's massive size and sophistication is that during the whole voyage, the only time I was able to perceive that I was actually on a boat was when I looked outside; once inside, everything seemed as smooth and solid as being in a hotel on land. Other people did ocasionally feel the boat moving, but I was never bothered.

When the ship had been sailing for some time, I went with a few others to look at the bookshop, which unfortunately was closed, and the library. There were computers there with internet access which I could have used if I'd had my "credit" card swiped when I checked in, but I didn't really regret this. The books were all locked in glass cases except for an atlas. We wandered through some other parts of the ship, including the "health and beauty" spa, which had a stunning entrance staircase. I noticed an exercise room with lots of workout machines, but did not use them.

At 6:00 there was supposed to be a "light snack" of "sandwiches" in the "Connexions Room" (behind the Royal Court Theatre), so many of us showed up there at that time only to discover nothing but a few cookies. Gradually it became apparent that there had been a miscommunication and the ship's food staff had brought the food two hours earlier by mistake. When no one came to eat it, they took it away. Apparently there was no way to get it back. Those people who had not been lucky enough to find the unannounced meal at 2:45 were all upset, but I wasn't very hungry so didn't mind. At about 6:45 a staff member appeared and announced that as a solution the orchestra were welcome to eat in the crew mess hall down below. I went along just to see what there was, and nothing there was at all tempting. So I returned to the planetarium in time for the 7:00 show, which unlike the afternoon one did actually concern outer space. There were lots of spectacular images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars ranger, some of the latter ones brand new. Laurence Fishbourne of "Matrix" fame narrated.

After this it was time to change into tails for the gala. First we waited backstage while two couples from the Miami City Ballet performed Edward Villella's "The Mambo" and Balanchine's "Sylvia Pas de Deux." After some sort of auction it was our turn. Since things were running a little late, we did indeed cut the Firebird finale. MTT made an odd speech which made me just beam about how this piece reflected the grandeur of the Tsars and how he was very grateful to the Tsars of Russia because if the Tsar hadn't sent his great-grandfather into the army, he wouldn't be here today. Everything went very well (I love playing all three of these pieces and had a great time) except for the encore; not everyone remembered MTT's alterations exactly and so the introduction sounded a little more...complicated than he had in mind. But things straightened themselves out after a few measures. The audience loved it, including Carnival chairman Micky Arison who is one of the richest men in the country.

After we had put our instruments away it was time for dinner, about which fortunately there was no miscommunication. By this time I was hungry. Many of the girls changed into formal evening gowns; some of them looked quite stunning. Our dinner (back in "Kings Court"), much to my delight, turned out to have an Asian theme, and included sweet and sour pork, rice, and noodles, which I enjoyed quite a bit. There were many desserts, including chocolate marble cheesecake (not as good as Mom's of course, but still tasty) and flan. I started out drinking just water, but when we were offered free alcoholic drinks I had a White Russian.

After dinner we were supposed to "mingle" with the rich guests (who included Gloria Estefan, a celebrity about whose presence some were considerably more excited than I was) at the fancier Britannia restaurant. This didn't really end up happening. However, I was determined to find out who the "princess" was who several people had told me would be there. I searched through the entire guest list and came to the name "Princess Marie von Landskron." I didn't know who this was, and still don't; I found what was supposed to be her table anyway but everyone there had left. This was not a big disappointment since that's not a family I'm familiar with.

I had another drink, a Pi˝a Colada. Many of us "hung out" for awhile in the lounge outside of the restaurant, where there was a jazz band playing. I took Spanish violinist Veronica Pellegrini's picture with Gloria Estefan, which made her night. I followed some friends, who must have been tired of elegance, down to the crew's bar, but it didn't take long to see that this wasn't my kind of place. There was still plenty of the ship I hadn't seen, and I was anxious to visit the Queens Room, where some of my friends were going anyway, so headed in that direction. I was with oboist Karen Birch and [Australian republican] violinist Reuben Blundell at that point, Reuben graciously took my picture next to some of the many portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and the Queen Mother. A passerby who earlier had been performing in a vocal quartet asked if we would like him to take a picture of both of us; Reuben said "Oh God no, I'm not a monarchist, he is." The singer said that he had performed for the Queen on the ship back in England.

The Queens Room is a large old-fashioned ballroom which I loved as it was decorated throughout with portraits, memorabilia, and busts of King George V and Queen Mary. I got a little carried away with my camera at this point. The band was playing Frank Sinatra songs. A few New World couples danced, but most of us did not. Past the Queens Room there was a much more modern disco where other NWS people were drinking and dancing. I put in a brief appearance. I ended up with a different group of friends who were heading back to "Kings Court" for, of all things, more food. It was after midnight at this point. Like everyone else there I gave in to the temptation to eat (a hamburger) without being hungry, although I didn't finish everything I took. This was a mistake as I had considerable difficulty getting to sleep when I went to bed not too much later. I think I would have been better off staying up later, as most people did.

I eventually drifted off a little but 7:30 came much too early. (We had to be off the boat by 8:45.) There was breakfast, but I didn't have anything, still being full from last night. I left the QM2 with several souvenirs, including a complimentary deluxe book and crown-decorated bedroom slippers, and a very positive memory of this unique experience. The busses left shortly after 9 and we were back in Miami Beach by 10, our adventure over.

Queen Mary 2
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