Queen Mary 2 - Royal Rendezvous
This review is written by Amy Blume.

On February 22nd, 2006, Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 made her maiden entrance into the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro.  It would have been a special event had we merely gone down to see her arrive, but on this day my family and I were going to get aboard for a three day trip.  Not just any old three day cruise to nowhere, but the glistening new QM2 was headed the next day to Long Beach to salute her namesake the original Queen Mary, in an event dubbed by Cunard as A Royal Rendezvous.

The giant Queen was parked, across not one but across two terminals, pier 91 and pier 92.  Unfortunately these are not the best location to get pictures from, but I would have ample opportunity to get pictures of her later at Ensenada after we had met QM.  In fact, her parking job as it were, is the only one possible for her in Los Angeles.  She can't turn around in the turning circle and she's too large for any other berth, so she had to come in the breakwater and turn around before sailing backward down the channel to her pier!  Her captain would be right at home parallel parking in my crowded SoCal neighborhood!  We unloaded our baggage and were sent over to the terminal building that is actually for pier 93.  It took us about an hour to go through the whole process of checking in and walking to the bus that was going to take us back to where we had originally come from (and of course we had to be photographed).  Then we walked outside and were on our way to the ship.

Over the gangway and surrounded by the usual ranks of white gloved Cunard staff, we enter the ship.  The grand lobby is impressive with a pair of glass elevators and surmounted by a portrait of the ship done in an art deco style metal relief.

The entire ship is modern but obviously inspired by the original Queen Mary and Normandie.  We do not get ushered to our rooms as we did on QE2, but instead we are pointed to a bank of six elevators jus aft of the main lobby.  Very reminscent of the original Mary in their faux wood paneling, the elevator shows the beginning of an impressive collection of paintings of the Cunard Queens with a print of QE2.We arrive at our deck, run to our hull hole balcony stateroom, which is all cream and light colored faux wood panels, and cannot resist running out to explore the ship a little as well as get some great lunch at the Kings Court.

After a run about the outside we have a nip at Kings Court's La Piazza. The staff makes sure that everyone gets their hands santized before going at the buffet and we have excellent minute steaks and French fries.  Hoards of touring travel agents and other visitors slip past us as we eat and finally feeling human again we head back to our cabins in time to grab the life vests and muster!  This time we muster in the Kings Court and it is mercifully brief.  The light has begun to fail so we get dressed for dinner and head out on deck to watch the ship sail.  This was the first time I sailed from Los Angeles, and I took tons of video but no images.  We are astonished as we start to pull away and see hundreds if not a thousand onlookers lining the sides of the channel at the viewing area they set up for the Queen's maiden visit and at Ports O'Call as we slip effortlessly by in the darkness.  It is as though the quay is a mass of twinkling flashbulbs paying homage to the Queen as she blasts her way out of port and out to sea.  We had a late seating, so after a few Irish Coffees to keep us warm on the now frigid deck, we head in and sit down for dinner.  Below is the menu for the evening.

The food is standard Cunard fare.  It is tasty and all of high quality.  There is a sameness to all ship food that I think is a product of having to cook for hundreds of people at a time that is still evident in the food aboard, but we are still very happy with the meal.  Traveling Britannia, Jason and I were seated at a table for six with my sister Karla and her beau Justin.  My parents were supposed to travel with us, but my father was too ill to travel.  Luckily they didn't have to fill their seats though when our wait staff introduced themselves as David and Carolyn, it gave us pause, as those are our parents names!  After dessert and petit fours we decided to turn in early, after spending a little bit of quiet time on our balconies as we circled Catalina Island and headed back towards Los Angeles for our rendezvous.  "Hail to the Queens" was emblazoned by a skywriter across our path as we approached Long Beach on the 23rd.  After a nice breakfast at the Kings Court, we wandered to the front of the ship to find ourselves a little spot at the observation area under the bridge and watch us sail to see our ships' namesake the original Queen Mary.  I could only imagine the tense situation on the bridge above us as we approached Long Beach and the breakwater's entrance to the rather shallow bay.  The Queens gate was nearly invisible against the skyline of Long Beach as we stopped to pick up our pilot and begin the slow creep towards our rendezvous.

As we got closer the flotilla that was waiting to escort us became thicker with boats of all kinds.  Tall sailing ships, small sail boats, private yachts, dinghies and every kind of pleasure boat you can imagine were out in force to see us approach.  Above you can see the break water of Queen's Gate and the fire boat that would salute us in the coming hours of our visit.  The house band of traditional bagpipers and the elite guests stand on the prow of the ship as we inch our way forward.  The crew ever mindful of the comfort of their guests (and of an opportunity to sell drinks) set up temporary bars in all forward areas and deck areas in preparation for the onslaught of patrons.

Queen Mary is finally close enough to photograph as Commodore Warwick and a ship historian came over the loud speaker to perform a running commentary of facts about the two Queens.

The fireboat and a view that shows you how little room the giant Queen has for clearance.  She's kicking up prodigious amounts of sand as she creeps forward.  Finally the two Queens are about to salute each other, and in order to hear the salutes over the noise of helicopters and blimps we move aft towards the ships whistles.  Finally the horn blows! A poetic sort of three-blast salute given in part from a horn that was once a part of Queen Mary 1.  You can see in this image that steam still comes through the old horn when it blasts and it has a more modern duplicate sound.  You can see all the people standing on the observation area and on deck 12 around us watching the show.  I have it on good authority that at this point Queen Mary 1 blasted back, I have seen recordings of it, but for the life of us we couldn't hear it over the noise!

The closest view of QM1 we were able to get due to the shallow waters around her.  From land it no doubt was a fascinating sight to see us there together.  In fact, by dinner time there was already a photograph wired to us from shore.  I can't imagine how much stranger it would have looked if we'd been able to really approach the stationary QM; how we would have towered over her.  But alas the new Queen is too large and we perform a graceful 360 degree turn for our audience on the Queen Mary and on shore.

An interesting shot of the two Queens together from farther aft on QM2.  You can see her bridge area on the left side of the image and the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose dome with the city of Long Beach in the background.

One of the blimps attending the occasion with the back of QM2's main stack.  We headed down to the boat deck to see if the view was any different below.  By now we had been on deck for several hours and were starting to get tired and ready for lunch!

With the rendezvous mostly complete we decided to head inside.  My sister Karla had procured tickets to the short planetarium show and since tickets were hard to come by on this short trip we decided to stave off our hunger a little longer and see the show.  We actually ended up seeing two shows over the next day and a half and as a Museum Guide at Griffith Observatory I was expecting to the disappointed in the show.  However, they seem to have done a really good job with the facilities they could afford to put on the ship.  The shows they purchased from other planetariums over the country were very good. The show that was an originally produced one called Stars over the Atlantic was only alright, though definitely not the worse thing I've seen and it was all better than I had hoped. Then it was time for lunch in the Golden Lion Pub.

The Golden Lion is a very inviting place in the daytime with trivia games and entertainment.  The Karaoke in the evenings can sometimes be painful, but there's always lots of good alcohol to take away the pain.  Lunch at the pub is traditional fare with bangers and mash and fish and chips as well as other pub favourites.  I definitely recommend eating there at least once on your voyage as it is a welcome break from the Kings Court food and the Britannia food, which though excellent can get a little boring.  Finally the rendezvous seemed to be over, so we headed back to the cabin for a nap and to get ready for the gala formal dinner of our cruise.  The Commodore attended dinner that night, entering to a fanfare from our bagpipers.  We were given commemorative books at dinner to show that indeed we had been there when the Queens met.  The dinner menu was excellent and everyone looked wonderful dressed to the nines.  We took pictures (most of which turned out inevitably terrifying) and wandered the ship a bit until the long day caught up with us and we retired for an early morning in Ensenada.  Now if you know nothing about sailing on the west coast of the United States, I have to explain a little about Ensenada for you.  It's a port that is just a few hours south of San Diego, California and is mostly used as an international stop for cruise ships who must stop in a non-US port to avoid taxation.  To use the term tourist trap to describe the place is pretty mild.  It's an unfortunate truth that if there are quaint out of the way spots that are really phenomenal places to visit, I've never known anyone to find them.  However if Los Bufadores (an interesting geological formation wherein the ocean blows spray through holes in the rocks near an area of shoreline) interests you, you will have to brave the lines of people hawking this or that drug etc. to go on a tour of this oddity or see any of the other advertised tours.  It just isn't really fun for me to fight people like that while I am on vacation so I decided that we would ride the tenders back and forth but not really leave the ship I still hadn't fully explored to go ashore.  From our balcony we had a nice view of the lifeboats being dropped into the waters from above us.  Then it was time to go down and take a ride.  You can see Jason leading the way bracely as we boarded the slightly bouncy tender and climbed to its roof to have a view of the ship we wanted.
On our way to Ensenada, a man next to me pointed to a wreck in the harbor and told me it was the Catalina.  The Catalina was an old steam ship ferry that did the Los Angeles to Catalina run.  In fact there are images of the Catalina in the observation area at the Port of Los Angeles.  She was brought to Ensenada when she was retired to be a museum and restaurant, but eventually plans fell through and she was left to rot until she started taking on water and now sits half sunk in the waters of the Port of Ensenada.  It is a sad sight to behold but the sea lions don't seem to mind.  Noticing our interest the nice Cunard staff member piloting our little tender drove us close by the wreck on the way back to the Queen.  Residensea's The World was also in dock in Ensenada that day.  To see images of The World, see the link at the end of the review.
You can see my hull-hole balcony in this picture, in the first row of black above the huge square thing that isn't a window.  Next it was up to take some afternoon tea after the nice ocean air in the Queens Room.  The Queens Room is almost all the way aft on 2 deck.  It is a little confusing at first how to get there as you either have to go through the photo gallery or the art gallery to get there.  It's a very popular location not only for afternoon tea, but for ballroom dancing lessons in the daytime and fancy balls and other gatherings at night.
After tea I thought some lounging on the boat deck was in order.  Before our last dinner aboard I watched them raise the last tenders and set sail.  The Queen slipped silently and rather mournfully away from Mexico and headed north towards home.  I took a couple of images from the abandoned deck 13 before the wind made me seek refuge and dinner below.
We arrived in Los Angeles even before my wake up call for 4am.  I had wanted to watch us swing around and back down the channel, but it all happened so silently that we were already in port when the call came.  It was too soon to leave, but then it always is.  When we did Sapphire Princess was at the other pier.  My final feelings about the ship were that she's really lovely.  More so on the inside than QE2 but she still feels like a modern ship even for all her art deco glory.  An improvement by far over the other ships that cannot call themselves liners, I still feel a longing to go back on board her elder sister and fall into that magical reverie of old.

I decided to separate the pictures I took of the other ships so they didn't get lost among this review.  For images of
The World at Ensenada, please go here.  For a photo of Sapphire Princess go here.

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© Amy Blume 22nd-25th February 2006 & 6th March 2007
Not to be reproduced without permission