I suppose you could say that sailing to America just felt right. After spending the first few years of our married life in my hometown, Oxford, we were preparing to leave England for a somewhat uncertain future that would at least begin in America, while my husband applied for jobs all over the world. It was the first time I’d ever left England to live in another country for more than a few months. We weren’t sure where we would ultimately settle and make our home, but we knew that this was the start of a new phase, and it felt momentous.
I had a dream last summer—before we decided to book the sea voyage on the Queen Mary 2 from Southampton to New York—that I was sailing along the Ligurian coast in a tiny one-person sailboat. In the dream I felt a pang of loneliness for a moment, but then when I glanced over my shoulder I saw that I was part of a huge fleet that included all of my family and friends; we started laughing and calling out to each other as we sped through the turquoise water past cliffs where brightly coloured houses and lemon trees clung to the rock face.
Many people have asked us why we decided to sail to the States for our big move rather than fly—it seems like kind of a quirky decision after all, to deliberately take the slower route. The answer is that it cost roughly the same amount as flights would have done (we bought our tickets in a summer sale), we had time to spare, and we thought it would be fun.
You basically get a week-long all-expenses paid holiday for the price of a flight, and then there’s the romance and intrigue of a sea voyage that passes right by the site where the Titanic sank, as well as the added bonus that you can take as much luggage as you can fit in your cabin, instead of worrying about baggage allowances and weight restrictions.
It’s also a much nicer way to travel when you have a kid; instead of being stuck in a small, crowded space with a cranky toddler for eight hours or so, she can explore the ship, get settled into a routine and adjust her body clock to the time change an hour a day, and spend time playing in the ship’s crèche while you relax with a hot chocolate, reading and staring out at the waves and the endless horizon. In the seven days we spent at sea, I only saw a handful of other vessels on the water. It’s strange—exhilarating, awe-inspiring, if a little frightening—going without a glimpse of land for so long.
The Queen Mary 2 is essentially a huge floating hotel. When we arrived on the boat I had planned to do an hour’s work every day using the ship’s internet service, but after discovering that it cost $47 an hour, I decided to take the first proper break from work that I’ve taken in around a year and a half. This, combined with the fact that from every window all you can see is vast expanses of water stretching away as far as the eye can see, was just about the most extreme form of disconnecting I can imagine. It’s so hard to tear your eyes away from the constant motion of those waves.
My husband teased me before we left about how eager I was to see dolphins on the voyage, and then—sod’s law—he saw a whole pod of them playing around the bow of the ship on the very first morning we were at sea, while I was having a shower. I spent every possible moment on our seven-day voyage staring out of the nearest window at the water, but didn’t see any living thing other than a few sea birds. At night halfway through our voyage I dreamed of polar bears and penguins on beautiful floating icebergs tinged pink and purple with an extraordinarily vivid sunset, as the ship rocked me in my sleep.
We had the cheapest cabin available, without a window, but it was perfectly comfortable with a decent en suite shower, a bottle of champagne to welcome us on board, and a cleaning twice a day—with chocolates and the day’s news left on the bed every evening while we were at dinner. I got glimpses of beautiful spacious suites with sea views and white orchids as we walked through the corridors, but even in one of the smallest rooms available we felt like we were living in the lap of luxury, being served a delicious breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner every day. (All the food on the voyage for these four meals was included in the ticket price, not including alcohol.)
The lunch and dinner menus were different every day, and we were always spoilt for choice. It was fun to have to dress up for dinner occasionally, too, and helped us savour our meals all the more. There was a free gym, as well as a spa (unfortunately ridiculously expensive, with most treatments upwards of $129), a free cinema (we went to see two films on our trip), a theatre and planetarium, daily Catholic mass, various musicians playing during tea and dinner, as well as several bars and a library.
The part of the voyage that I was most looking forward to was that iconic moment of our arrival in New York City. We sailed slowly in at 5am, the city all aglow with lights, and even though we didn’t have a magnificent sunrise that day (just a surreal, hazy purple glow), we had a great view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty as we docked.
We usually travel in a rush to get ourselves from one place to another as quickly as possible; I’m glad we took the time, while we had some to spare, to savour this particular journey. It ended up being a much-needed family holiday, as well as getting us where we needed to go.