Originally appeared in June 2015 issue of Virtuoso Traveler
By Malene Zenaida
I f you’re toting a toddler on a cruise, the Queen Mary 2 probably isn’t the first ship you’d think about sailing. Many parents recoil at the idea of a seven-hour flight, much less a seven-day voyage, one that promises luxury and pageantry rather than breakfast with live cartoon characters. But intrigued by the fantasy and legacy of Cunard Line – which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year – I turned to my advisor, Ellen LoVerde in Denver, Colorado, for advice, assistance, and reassurance that a transatlantic crossing would create the kind of memorable experience my daughter and I would be telling stories about for years.
“A Cunard cruise is an enrichment experience in meeting children from around the world,” she says. “With several formal evenings, it’s also a great way for children to learn proper manners. Plus, there are children’s activities (for ages 2 to 17) and babysitting services in the evening.”
Even though the weather would be cool during our cruise from Southampton, England, to New York, I chose a balcony room on Deck 12 because of the generous views. “The lower 5 and 6 decks are called ‘in-hall balcony cabins’ because they protect clients from the weather,” Ellen says, “but Deck 12’s balcony is all glass, so you have an unobstructed view without leaving your cabin.”
Outside our window, the horizon served as a constant reminder that our lavish room wasn’t hemmed in by city gray, but surrounded by a cool, lapis-blue sea. It was the only way to know we weren’t in a five-star property on land – just close the curtains and it’s a European hotel room filled with traditional furnishings and a bed with a welcoming nest of fluffy white pillows and cozy duvets. A bottle of wine sat in a silver bucket on the table, and indulgent toiletries from Penhaligon’s sparkled on the bathroom shelf. The cabin was spacious enough that I wasn’t tripping over toys.
Ellen predicted that my daughter would be spoiled by all of the homesick grandparents on board. It’s true that Cunard tends to appeal to a more “traditional” age group, as evidenced by the on-board Doris Day lectures in the theater and the ballroom’s Big Band entertainment instead of rock-climbing walls and outdoor waterslides. As we entered the elevators that first night, we were met with a few scoffs as my stroller forced polished shoes to edge to the side. And when the maître d’ escorted us to our table, a few couples glanced our way in terror that they had been seated in the Chuck E. Cheese’s section. Intimidated, we retreated to our room in a hurry, lamenting our unused evening dresses, not yet sure how to acclimate to an atmosphere that was a bit more “Queen Motherly” than “grandmotherly.”
But the ship’s staff was helpful and accommodating, and the hotel manager offered suggestions on how to make the most of the ship with a toddler in tow. The next morning, we checked out The Play Zone, a three-room, kid-focused facility complete with a film-screening area with beanbag chairs, a book corner, and crafts that relate to daily themes and port cities. There’s an impressive ratio of children to caregivers, but with only a handful of children on board during our cruise, we often had the entire facility to ourselves. At no extra charge, the Zone opens from breakfast until lunch, and then reopens from dinner until 11 pm, allowing parents to enjoy the ship’s more formal areas on their own.
The manager also arranged to seat us in the dining room closer to other families with small children. Waitstaff greeted us with smiles, a high chair, and a kids’ menu featuring typical favorites such as margherita pizza and chicken tenders, while children in playful finery wandered over to the harpist plucking her strings, though still under their parents’ watch. After the cheese course, we returned to The Play Zone to watch a movie from its well-stocked selection.
Over the next few days, with a better knowledge of the ship, we knew exactly when to pop over to the coffee shop for an iced latte for me and a milkshake for her, or head to the outdoor playground on the sixth deck for some climbing and sliding in the fresh air. My daughter got to know the Play Zone staff so well that she asked for it first thing in the morning, and I could leave her to work on craft projects while I got a massage or took a yoga class at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub. When the Zone was closed, we napped or perused shops filled with perfumes and teddy bears (instead of the ones filled with diamonds and Champagne). We were getting the hang of life at sea.
As our trip progressed, we struck a balance of mommy and child time, with hours spent together as well as apart, when we could both let loose on our own. On the penultimate night of our trip, our worlds came together at the masquerade ball. Underneath the twinkling ballroom ceiling, my daughter whirled around with me, mask in hand, giggling wildly. Between each song, she clapped for more. Staff we had befriended stopped to chat, while other couples smiled as my daughter attempted to waltz. She was a true Cinderella, and we didn’t leave until the lights turned on at midnight. We collapsed on our bed, a pile of sequins and glitter, dreaming about the perfect finale to a fairy tale at sea.
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