Cruise: A wave of activity

By Alex Robertson

"Left two three and stop!" My dance partner, Reiko, joins in on the "and stop!" and we unclasp hands, smile and bow.

We are standing in the middle of the Queen's Room, a lavish, ornately parquet-floored ballroom replete with pendant chandeliers and large enough for 50 dancing couples.

It's an hour after midday and the ballroom is full. Petre and Roxanna Samoila's dance classes are very popular on the Queen Mary 2.

"Very good," says Reiko, smiling and making little clapping actions with her hands.

Petre speaks from somewhere over my left shoulder, "And now we will try the shoulder to shoulder ..." I bow to Reiko again, execute a swivel-turn and resume my place with the other men on one side of the ballroom.

I have never taken a dance class in my life but, by the end of the hour, I feel confident enough to rumba around the floor with anyone.

I must confess that I am not a fan of Dancing with the Stars, however I have always been fascinated with the elegance, romance and spectacle of couples dressed-up to the nines, gracefully flowing along in harmony to a band, as light dances from the glitter ball to sequin-studded dresses and back. And what could be more elegant than dancing on one of the world's great ocean liners?

Reiko likes to dance, too. This is her sixth world cruise on a Cunard liner - she's also sailed on the QE2 and the Queen Victoria - the realisation of a plan which began when she and her husband lived on the coast near Southampton where she watched the great Cunard liners sailing back and forth on their transatlantic voyages. And she dreamed of the ocean, the elegance and the romance. And the dance.

Reiko's husband still doesn't dance, but he's happy to watch as she sambas and jives around the Queen's Room with the gentlemen hosts every night.

The class is over and I step out to explore more of the QM2. I've only two days, the time it takes to sail from Auckland to Sydney, to experience everything the ship has to offer and I feel that two months wouldn't do it justice.

I decide to skip Alexander Downer's lecture on the rise of China (or was it the decline of the UN?) but hear later that he received a standing ovation from the mainly American audience of a certain demographic. Instead, I take a massage at the Canyon Ranch Spa, where Tomo kneads me into a woozy, floating state, made even more-so with the gentle swaying of the ship and the music with no beginning and no end, Japanese-inspired free-form jazz with the occasional ting of a Buddhist bell.

"Drink plenty of water for the next two hours," Tomo advises me, "and take more massages. Much tension."

I flop into a steam room for 10 minutes until my forearms run like rivers, drink a litre of water and wallow around water canon, over bubble-jets and under a tropical-rain shower in the marble-lined pool room.

Then it's off to to the pool terrace for some late-afternoon sun, where I meet Magolo, from Sydney, who joined the ship in Los Angeles. This is his second cruise and he's loving the break from the bustle of the real world, especially relaxing by the pool.

Obviously he sees no need to try everything on offer.

The sun dips below the QM2's funnel and it's time to dress for dinner. It's formal night and I have just an hour to tie my bow-tie. I borrowed the tie from a friend who told me to make it up on my thigh before moving it to my neck. After 15 attempts I give up and tie it directly around my shirt collar in one go. Another 10 minutes of fiddling with the rode and the rake and I'm ready to meet my companions in the Verve Cliquot Bar for pre-dinner bubbles.

From there to the Royal Court Theatre for a "song and dance spectacular" where the 800-strong audience are treated to one and a half hours of hits from the Cotton Club era, through Motown and into the 1980s. We'd learnt, via a backstage tour, that the four singers and six dance couples make eight costume changes each per show and perform six different shows per leg of a World Cruise.

After the show the Britannia Dining Room is a superb spectacle of stunning dresses, sharp suits and a sublime blue glass ceiling. We are having dinner with Cunard president and CEO Carol Marlow, who had earlier entertained an audience of more than 500 with her lecture on the history of Cunard Lines and the Queen Mary ships.

Marlow's enthusiasm for the Cunard fleet, and the QM2 in particular, is easy to understand. The sheer size and luxury of this boat makes even the most mundane things an event.

"She's an ocean liner, not a boat." Marlow informs us.

"We are on a voyage, not a cruise."

And the standards are moving with the times. Cunard boasts that it will better any environmental standard set for the industry, and the new Queen Elizabeth, to be launched in 2010, will take the cause further by using laminates and composites instead of hardwoods for her panelling and fixtures. I couldn't help thinking that the kilometres of teak decking all over the QM2 were one of the luxurious elements that forged a link with the past. I hope they were from sustainable sources.

The food for this evening is equally splendid. My choice of lobster thermidor is a superb melange of seafood served with a lobster tail moulded into a mini tower of Babel.

The dessert is a playfully spectacular chocolate cup (with handle) filled with whipped cafe-creme, a gingerbread fork and creme-anglaise-filled brandy snap served on a spun sugar plate.

Before I get half-way through the dessert, Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance blasts out from somewhere above our table and executive chef Klaus Kremer leads what seems to be his entire team of 150 chefs around the Britannia Restaurant in the famous Parade of the Chefs.

Everybody claps in time with the music as the men in white strut up stairs and down, finally coming to rest on both sweeping staircases of the restaurant, where they soak up applause from the appreciative diners.

Flashes pop and soon they are gone, back to their bustling cauldrons of creation and tomorrow's fare.

It's not quite witching hour, so a few of our group head down to the nightclub G32, passing through the Queen's Room where a few ball gowns are still twirling away to some exotic beat. We've missed the dance exhibition from Petre and Roxanna and Reiko must have turned in. G32 is similarly sparse, unlike last night when we grooved to early 80s disco 'til 3am.

Somebody remembers a bottle of Champagne sitting in their fridge and we organise an impromptu soiree on the pool terrace under a clear but warm sky.

Our glasses are soon empty and we make promises about a pre-breakfast gym visit or brisk walks around the 600m promenade deck whilst the sun rises over the ship's stern.

I close my eyes and feel the ship gently swaying to the rhythm of the sea and count, left two three and ...

QUEEN MARY 2

Cunard Line's flagship, Queen Mary 2, will visit New Zealand in 2010
during her third world voyage, which will see her call at 34 ports
over 108 days.

The elegant 151,400-tonne ocean liner will call at Auckland on March
4 before making her maiden visit to the Bay of Islands on March 5.
She'll then sail on to Sydney (March 7-8) before making her inaugural
visits to Adelaide (March 11) and Fremantle (March 14).

The full 2010 world voyage and a range of sector voyages are still available, with prices starting from $4349 per person for 17 nights
sailing from Sydney on March 8 to Cape Town in South Africa.

More details on Cunard's 2010 world voyage programme are available via travel agents or call Cunard on 0800 951 200 or visit cunardline.com.au.

Alex Robertson cruised from Auckland to Sydney as guest of Cunard Lines and Carnival Australia.

- NZ Herald

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