Travel

Living like royalty

ATTENTION SEEKER: The Queen Mary 2 is the talk of the town with people clambering for a vantage point to see her regal beauty.
ATTENTION SEEKER: The Queen Mary 2 is the talk of the town with people clambering for a vantage point to see her regal beauty. JAMES MORGAN

LIKE a Hollywood starlet entering the room, she turned heads and caused a stir wherever she went.

Whether at dawn, daylight or dinner time, those wanting a closer look took to vessels of all shapes and sizes - from cruisers and hovercraft to outrigger canoes and even stand-up paddleboards.

Others simply stepped out of their seaside homes, resorts and apartments to see what all the fuss was about.

Between neatly planted palm trees at Airlie Beach, on yachts in the marina at Yorkeys Knob and in the dockside carpark in Darwin, they stood, stared and clicked … and clicked … and clicked.

They all wanted to photograph this special maritime memory and slice of local history.

RMS Queen Mary 2 had come to town on her maiden Royal circumnavigation of Australia.

While QM2, as she is known, has ventured Down Under before - including four previous visits to Sydney - she was calling for the first time in Brisbane, Melbourne, Darwin and Cairns (Yorkeys Knob).

My husband and I considered ourselves fortunate to be able to soak up the ambience of life on board from Brisbane to Darwin.

And we were particularly chuffed while seated at dinner in the Brittania Restaurant on our first night to see countless camera flashes piercing the night from Caloundra Headland to Point Cartwright as hundreds took to every vantage point to see the classic Cunard black and red livery pass by.

The current 20 to 22-night adventure (depending where guests embarked) pays homage to Matthew Flinders who was the first to sail the length and breadth of our shores from 1802 to 1803 in his ship the Investigator.

The beautifully hand-written journal and atlas of the renowned English navigator and cartographer are on display on the ocean liner while she is in Australian waters.

One of our dinner companions, Mitchell Library (State Library of New South Wales) senior curator Paul Brunton joined the circumnavigation as a passionate authority on Matthew Flinders and is keeping an eye on the priceless pages of history under glass in the largest library at sea.

Cunard was inundated with inquiries

after the QM2's history-making circumnavigation was announced in early 2010. A spokesman said more than 90 Sunshine Coast residents had joined the grand ocean liner for all or part of her regal voyage.

Among them is June Upton, who is indeed in her element on Queen Mary 2 ("I've done 15 cruises but this is my first ocean voyage on an ocean liner") and at the Veuve Clicquot-Twinings Champagne Afternoon Tea in Winter Garden.

With white china cup in hand, champagne flute at the ready and a sweet tooth's smorgasbord of scones with jam and cream, swan-shaped profiteroles, strawberry tartlet, triple-choc layered sponge cake and savoury rolls at arm's length, the Nambour resident is lapping up the white-gloved service.

The charity queen and staunch royalist is no stranger to refined afternoon teas.

The mother of six daughters and grandmother of 11 even celebrated her 70th birthday last year with a high tea party at Maroochydore's Birch Carroll and Coyle Cinemas.

But she had never seen anything quite like the royal treatment on this particular afternoon at what is a quintessential Cunard experience. June was sharing the decadent activity with good friend Mary Clayton, a founder of Clayton's Towing on the Coast. Mary booked 18 months ago to undertake the 22-night Sydney-

Sydney circumnavigation as her first sailing adventure.

"I just thought it (a cruise) was something different to do and I thought this was the ultimate one," Mary said.

Less than a week into their trip, the two women were loving dressing up for dinner each night and dancing until midnight in the Queens Room - the largest ballroom at sea.

Cunard's spritely gentlemen hosts have a job to ensure every woman - no matter what her age - has the opportunity to have the time of her life on the dance floor.

And June and Mary agreed the service was an excellent idea to do away with wallflowers and make widowed, single and unaccompanied women (or even those with husbands with two left feet) all feel a little special.

The Coast pair's days are spent walking the decks and working out in the gym to combat the inevitable over-indulgence in the vast array of food onboard, and taking advantage

of world-class facilities including Illuminations - the only planetarium at sea.

June is also a big fan of the Canyon Ranch Spa Club: "After the steam room, hydrotherapy pool and a massage, I come out feeling a million dollars."

June said she had to keep pinching herself to know her adventure was real.

"It's very hard to comprehend that all this elegance is here on one ocean liner that you don't even feel is moving," she said.

"From the cabin boy to the Commodore, everybody goes out of their way and every wish is granted."

On a visit to Commodore Christopher Rynd's "office", he told our media group: "You are on the bridge of the greatest ship ever built in terms of speed, size, sheer strength and design for rough weather. This is as good as it ever gets."

Her strength lies in the 300,000 pieces of steel that were cut and welded into blocks during her construction.

The hull is in fact made up of 94 steel blocks, some of which weigh 600 tonnes, which help her tackle the sometimes monstrous seas and weather encountered on the seven-day trans-Atlantic crossings.

Commodore Rynd said the "40% more steelwork" than similar-sized liners also translated into "the most comfortable ship of any in the world today or ever".

He said the self-sufficient ocean liner was "a giant power station" with everything run by electric motors.

And while QM2 at the time of the media bridge visit was averaging "a very healthy 22.6knots", Commodore Rynd revealed that at some points in Torres Strait the afternoon before, she had had only a few metres under her keel, hence the slow going to avoid the phenomenon of squatting or dipping of the stern toward the seabed. But with a Torres Strait pilot onboard, it was all smooth sailing.

The New Zealand-born Commodore is likely to be well-known to Australian cruisers, having served previously as a captain with P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises, and commanding Royal Princess, Regal Princess, the two Pacific Princess ships, Pacific Sky and Sapphire Princess.

He said the maiden circumnaviagtion of Australia had been "quite a thrill", especially because of the first calls to some ports.

But as a proud Kiwi, an opportunity to command QM2 on the maiden Royal Circumnavigation of New Zealand next year would be even more special to him.

LUXURY AFLOAT

Dining options: 10 restaurants and cafes, including the signature fine-dining Todd English Restaurant and the 478-seat informal King's Court buffet for breakfast and lunch, which transforms at night into La Piazza (Italian), Lotus (Asian), The Carvery (British)

Bars and clubs: 14

Shops: eight different shops including boutiques from Chanel, Hermes and Dunhill

Facilities and other highlights: the six-storey grand lobby with its sweeping staircases; Illuminations - the first planetarium at sea; four pools including the popular Pavilion Pool with retractable glass roof and eight jacuzzis; the Canyon Ranch spa, health and beauty and fitness centre spanning two decks and with 24 treatment rooms; sports facilities including two golf simulators, a half-size basketball court, putting green, shuffleboard areas and paddle tennis court; Empire Casino.

>> Read more travel stories.

Topics:  cruise travel travelling



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