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Luxury and family fun for five nights on the 'Queen Mary 2'

I thought I finally had persuaded my parents, ages 83 and 91, to put down a deposit at an assisted living facility in Raleigh, N.C., where they live.

But before they mailed the check, a thick brochure from Cunard Cruise Line landed in their mailbox.

"I've decided instead of sending this money to Whitaker Glen, I want us all to go on the Queen Mary 2 this summer," my mother told me one night on the phone.

Who was I to argue with two people who had worked hard their whole lives and wanted to splurge on something before accepting the dreaded move? Why, it would be almost selfish of me not to let them take me, my husband and our three kids, ages 12, 16 and 18, along on a five-night cruise in August from New York to Canada, Boston and back.

The Queen Mary 2 doesn't make only trans-Atlantic crossings. There are numerous shorter trips out of New York and Fort Lauderdale to Canada, South America, the islands and beyond.

Here are highlights from my onboard journal, to give you a taste of the biggest ocean liner on the sea.

Thursday

Boarded, pampered

Noon: Spent night before cruise at Comfort Inn a mile from Brooklyn port. Among the first to board. Lunch at King's Court, buffet on most of deck 7. Crowded, exciting, not too elegant. Good salad bar, sushi, Mexican bar.

Love the Digestive biscuits, which are more like cookies. When buffet ran out I asked a staff member for more. Suddenly it was like Carson and the whole Downton Abbey staff in a panic to please me.

"We are out of Digestives!" one said to another.

"We need more Digestives," he said to a third.

"Bring more Digestives. Quickly," their superior hissed to five people at once.

Within two minutes we had a full plate at our table.

1:30 p.m.: Unpacked. Explored ship. Twelve-year-old son insisted we check out all 13 decks. Played shuffleboard, basketball, went on stage in empty theater, saw vintage photos of Hollywood icons on Cunard ships, swam in three different pools. (Five on board.)

4:30 p.m.: Lifeboat drill. Reminded my grumbling kids of a ship called the Titanic.

5:30 p.m.: Set sail. Almost brushed elbows with Statue of Liberty.

6 p.m.: Dinner in Britannia dining room. Great table next to window. First night semiformal. Jackets for men, cocktail dresses or "smart" pantsuits for women. (Formal nights call for long dresses, tuxedos.)

Favorites at our table: chateaubriand, lamb chops with pomegranate molasses, ratatouille and Parmesan polenta with mushrooms and spinach.

8 p.m.: Trivia night at Golden Lion Pub.

9 p.m.: Husband and kids swam. I went to Three Tenors performance with parents. Not the Three Tenors, but a very good trio performing Broadway, pop and opera. I think I saw my mom tear up once and my dad doze off twice.

Friday

At sea, active day

Rainy. Still plenty to do.

8:20 a.m.: Stretching class in Queen's Room with 16-year-old daughter. Muscles from neck to my toes were gently elongated and rejuvenated.

9:15 a.m.: Breakfast in Chef's Corner, the "healthy" buffet spot on board. Smoothies made to order and muesli.

9:30 a.m.: Bridge class with son. He thinks it will help him with poker. Way confusing. Taking tricks, suits, trumps, bidding, evaluating hands.

"I believe this is the only game where you have a declarer and a dummy on the same team," our female instructor said.

"What about marriage?" I quipped. The round of applause was worth being worst card player on board.

10:30 a.m.: Son and I have another breakfast then try to get tickets for family to see planetarium show after lunch. (It's the only one at sea.)

Tickets for all four shows already gone.

Arrive late on the QM2 and you might as well not show up. Arrive 15 minutes early and you are still late.

Found out Americans and British each make up 40 percent of passengers on trans-Atlantic cruises. Breakdown not available for North American trips like ours. Whatever the case, nobody operates on Florida time.

11 a.m.: Met husband at political lecture led by Ken Walsh, White House correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. (At least three different guest speakers on different topics on each cruise.)

Noon: Saw parents leaving same talk. All went to lunch. Husband spotted a whale from window. Ran on deck in time to see water spout and black torso disappearing into the sea.

2 p.m.: Took son and 16-year-old daughter to watercolor painting class. Found parents in gorgeous library.

2:15 p.m.: My dad and I went down to computer lounge, Connections, where a "Wifi Help" session just started. Met another guest speaker, marine scientist Harry Strong. I asked what he thought of the Blue Ocean Film Festival that came to Tampa Bay last year. He raved that anything the festival's organizer Sylvia Earle is involved with is first rate.

Wi-Fi packages start at $47 for 120 minutes. The connections were spotty for us but we did get online about half the times we tried. And guess what. The worlds we left behind kept turning even when we couldn't read our local papers.

3 p.m.: Met kids at Lion's Head Pub for bingo. Great spot with decor and coziness of British pub but with a sunny view and no smoke.

3:40 p.m.: Rushed to Queen's Room for afternoon tea. It's served daily from 3:30 to 4:30. White-gloved waiters pass silver platters of crustless cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches along with eclairs, tarts, cake. Crowd favorite: scones and clotted cream. Clotted cream is sweet like whipped cream but thick like softened butter.

3:50 p.m.: Realized again that arriving late isn't an option. Queen's Room was packed. We joined other ne'er-do-wells (all Americans) in overflow afternoon tea at King's Court buffet.

4:30 p.m.: First moment alone all day. Settled into luscious, cream-colored leather chair in library and read.

6 p.m.: Dinner. Formal night. I wore a red and white chiffon dress that tied behind the neck and was open in the back. By the second night our waiter knew our names and what we liked most from the bread basket.

8 p.m.: Trivia in the Golden Lion Pub with most of the family.

9 p.m.: Most of us went to comedian John Joseph. He has opened for Don Rickles, Julio Iglesias and several others. Amusing, laughed out loud twice.

Saturday

History in Halifax

The sun was shining in Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia with just under 300,000 people. Husband, parents and oldest daughter had been before so only two kids and I disembarked.

This is closest city to where RMS Titanic sank in 1912. Has very cool Titanic museum and graveyard because 121 bodies that weren't claimed or were too expensive to ship home are buried there.

9 a.m.: Took cab ($50 round trip) to Fairview Lawn Cemetery to see the markers. Overheard a tour guide pointing out the grave of J. Dawson. Lovestruck girls believe it's the grave of Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack Dawson character from the movie. They leave notes, teddy bears there. Records show J. Dawson was crew member who shoveled coal into ship's furnace. Hope he has some sense of his postmortem popularity.

11 a.m.: Strolled Halifax's waterfront lined with shops, craft breweries and restaurants.

12:30 p.m.: Back on ship. Kids hit buffet. I had lunch in Britannia with my parents. Loved watching sailboats skirt past picturesque lighthouse perched on a green hill in Halifax.

2 p.m.: Tough afternoon of napping and reading in a deck chair.

6 p.m.: Formal dinner again. This time I was less formal, though, in a strapless, red Indian print maxi dress. Digestives are delicious with sorbet.

Sunday

Exploring Boston

11 a.m.: Husband, kids and I disembarked with other passengers signed up for "hop-on, hop-off" trolley in Boston. It loops through numerous stops including the Public Garden, Beacon Hill, Fenway Park. Passengers can get off to explore and catch another trolley later or stay on for the next stop.

Noon: Hopped off at the North End. Eclectic shops, delicious Italian restaurants. Walked through Paul Revere's home, saw Old North Church.

2 p.m.: Boston Tea Party museum and ships.

3 p.m.: Faneuil Hall was mosh pit of tourists and every food imaginable. Met friends from St. Petersburg at Newbury Comics. Has T-shirts, books, music, toys and more from old and new books, television and movies.

6 p.m.: Returned to ship just in time to for dinner. Didn't change. We put the "semi" in semiformal. Nobody kicked us out.

8 p.m.: Trivia, ale, Sprite and Shirley Temples at Golden Lion. Love those bottomless silver bowls of crisps/chips.

Monday

At sea, sharing moments

9 a.m.: During daily walk with husband on promenade deck (three laps equal a mile) debated if five days enough to do all the ship has to offer. After listing all we still hadn't done he agreed I was right. It's not long enough.

10:30 a.m.: Scrabble against my dad on Deck 3. Antique tables with games and jigsaw puzzles line the big windows next to the ocean.

12:30 p.m.: Lunch with my parents at Todd English Restaurant. Designed by the celebrity chef it is named after. Scrumptious butternut squash ravioli and pepper-crusted Atlantic salmon. Husband loved squid salad and a gyro made of roasted leg of lamb with tahini yogurt, shaved red onion and tomato-mint salad.

2:30 p.m.: Four of us were too late for planetarium show but kids liked it. Oldest daughter, my mom and I saw Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts' performance of Pride and Prejudice. They made Jane Austen proud.

4:30 p.m.: My father, son and I went for one last game of bingo. Woman sitting next to us won $1,000.

6 p.m.: Dinner. I had each one of us share fun moments of the cruise, which was returning to NYC Tuesday morning. My parents said they loved getting to spend time with each of us alone and in a group. Although my dad was exhausted from all the walking, he said it sure beats Whitaker Glen.

Afterword

Home less than a month and Mom is talking about going through the Panama Canal. Next year. On the Queen Victoria.

Contact Katherine Snow Smith at kssmith@tampabay.com. Follow @snowsmith.

.If you go

Queen Mary 2

The five-night cruise to Canada and New England aboard the Queen Mary 2 sets sail again July 1. (Fireworks in Boston on July 4.) A recent search on cunard.com shows inside staterooms beginning at $1,348 per person, with taxes, fees and port expenses additional. Oceanview staterooms start at $1,598. Guests dine in the Britannia Restaurant with a choice of an early (6 p.m.) or late (8 p.m.) sitting. Passengers in the more expensive Princess Grill (from $3,198) and Queens Grill ($3,998) suites have open dining choices in exclusive restaurants.

There are two seven-night cruises in fall 2016. The Queen Mary 2 sails from New York City to Quebec (Sept. 27-Oct. 4) with ports of call also in Newport, R.I., and Boston. Then a Canada-New York cruise (Oct. 4-11) departs Quebec, with Halifax and New York ports of call. On each, inside staterooms start at $1,348 per person; oceanview staterooms start at $1,698.

For more information on these five- or seven-night itineraries, including ports and excursions, go to cunard.com or call toll-free 1-800-728-6273.

Luxury and family fun for five nights on the 'Queen Mary 2' 10/07/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 1:52pm]
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