Editor’s Note: In 2011 we launched a new section entitled, Excursion in TI Life. Rex Ennis and his wife Janet traveled on a transatlantic ship to Europe. He has been collecting family histories of so many Thousand Islands families who made similar trips during the Golden Era when they embarked on the Grand Tour – Now, in 2012, Rex made the voyage himself…
In August 1958, my family of five, mom, dad, brother, sister, and myself sailed aboard the Cunard’s famous RMS Queen Elizabeth liner to Southampton, England. We were setting out on the fabled “grand tour” of Europe that was to last two months before our return first class on the French Line’s SS Flandre. These were the last days of the great transatlantic liners before succumbing to the march of time in the form of the jet airplane.
England’s Cunard Line formed in 1840 by Samuel Cunard, who was born in Boston by the way, was the leader in transatlantic crossings. Cunard saw the value of a scheduled service and by the use of two or three ships could provide a sailing in each direction once a week.
The last two ships in this service were the RMS Queen Mary and the RMS Queen Elizabeth; they served right into the 1960’s. The Queen Elizabeth was scrapped after a fire in Hong Kong Harbor while being outfitted to be a floating university; while the Queen Mary was preserved as a floating museum and convention center in Long Beach, California.
Somehow neither ship’s end is befitting these great vessels. Both served as troop ships during World War II and some claim that their ability to transport large numbers of troops at relatively high speed shortened the war by a year!
Therefore, when Cunard decided to construct a new ocean liner Queen Mary 2 was chosen to honor its heroic predecessor. The RMS Queen Mary 2, yes it carries the Royal Mail, was designed as an ocean liner, being the first ship since the Queen Elizabeth 2 to be so constructed. The differences between an ocean liner and a cruise ship are many, but mentioning a cost differential of 40% more should bring the difference into focus.
Since that first trip on the RMS Queen Elizabeth I have had an interest in ships. I have collected books and ship related items over the years. The oldest example is my copy of the 31 March 1888 First Class or Saloon passenger list of Cunard’s RMS Umbria. The Umbria is considered to be one of the first true modern liners. Interestingly the passengers included Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr., Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Gertrude Vanderbilt, Reginald C. Vanderbilt, Gladys M. Vanderbilt, one valet, three maids, and stewardess!
Thus a trip on the QM2, as the Queen Mary 2 is known, was high on my bucket list! I did not realize it at the time I made my reservations (John Lang, The Cruise People, Toronto), but transatlantic crossings by ship is coming back in vogue. There appear to be two reasons for their increase in popularity: cruising itself has become very popular and the cost factor has declined.
To demonstrate this, my wife Jan and I took a Globus bus tour of England, Wales and Scotland; there were 40 persons on the tour, of that 8, including ourselves, were traveling transatlantic by ship and two were even returning on the QM2 with us!
The QM2 was built for year-a-round transatlantic sailing; but the ship also does cruises. We sailed for England out of New York’s Brooklyn Naval Yard on October 28 just as hurricane Sandy was arriving. The ship left a little early to be assured of clearing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The performance of the ship in an 80 mile an hour wind was fantastic. There was a little roll, but the ship’s stabilizers kept her remarkably steady, while she was making 24 knots! Captain Wells explained that if he had been on a cruise ship he would have had to reduce his speed by half.
Travelling aboard the QM2 is “living in abject luxury.” While the personal service has been reduced somewhat since 1958 the overall service is excellent. Gone are the three buttons to ring for the steward, stewardess, and the cabin boy. In their place is a telephone to call for room service, and breakfast is still served in bed if you desire, just fill out the menu and hang on your door before retiring.
There are all the other shipboard activities including the only shipboard planetarium! Swimming pools, inside and out, hot tubs, gyms, health spa, hair saloon, buffets, sit down restaurants (French service), internet connection, lectures, and films. Also a TV in your cabin with a continuous update of the ships progress as well as news channels, and rebroadcast of the day’s lecture in case you missed it while in the pool.
As I was a returning Cunard customer I was entitled to special deals and an invitation to a cocktail party. I applied for World Club status as Cunard calls it and they asked when I was a guest. I said that it was August 1958; they said can you prove it? I sent them the above picture and got my membership.
By Rexford M. Ennis, Grindstone Island
© Copyright Rexford M. Ennis 2012, All Rights Reserved
Rex Ennis is considered our “go to researcher” for describing the Golden Era of the Thousand Islands. His bio is recorded in Contributors in December, 2008. In the past three years Rex has published two important books on the Thousand Islands. The first , published in 2010 is Toujours Jeune Always Young the biography of Charles G. Emery. It was reviewed in June 2010 issue. The second, Saints, Sinners and Sailors of the Gilded Age: A compendium of biographical sketches centered on the Gilded Age in the Thousand Islands which describes the biographies of every name appearing on a 1889 map published by Frank H. Taylor called: Map of the Thousand Islands; Hotels, Parks and Cottages. See the book review in our July 2011 issue and you will find the map described in the July issue in the August 2011 issue. Many of the islanders who are featured in these books travelled across the oceans as Res has done this year.