It was with the recent maiden sailing of the current World’s largest cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas, from Southampton docks that it dawned on me. Massive crowds flocked to see the huge Royal Caribbean ship cruise from Southampton for the first time and as we watched the ship from the little village of Hythe on the opposite side of Southampton Water, a friend said to me, “I bet people were stood here watching when the Titanic set sail.”
It was true though. For the first time since the 1960’s there seems to be a real enthusiasm about cruise ships again. It actually started about two years ago with the arrival in Southampton of the Queen Mary 2. Its classic Cunard lines brought back memories of the great ocean liners of yesteryear; the Queen Elizabeth, the original Queen Mary, the Canberra, the original Oriana and even the QE2, which, although still a regular visitor to Southampton docks, had become such a familiar sight that nobody really batted an eyelid at her anymore.
Over the last decade or so there has been a regular stream of new ships into Southampton such as the Arcadia, the Aurora and the new Oriana. Unfortunately, these P&O ships just didn’t seem to whet the appetite of the old cruise ship fans. They would normally be greeted with comments such as, “It looks more like a ferry than a cruise liner!”
However, when the Queen Mary 2 arrived in Southampton you finally started to hear some approving comments. “Now that’s what a cruise liner is supposed to look like,” they’d say. Personally, I think I’d have to agree with them. The QM2 has the classic sleek lines and clipper bow that symbolises Cunard liners and is really what you would picture if asked to describe a great cruise ship.
Ah, the fresh sea air, the towering waves, the endless cocktails. How I miss it so. There is something else I miss greatly…the shopping on the QM2. In all honestly, before we set sail, I was already trying to find out just what kind of retail offerings were on the ship. This actually proved to be a difficult topic to sleuth out on the web! So I turned to the message boards. Would I be able to buy magazines? Bonine? Dental Floss? A dress for the ball? Nobody seemed too interested in any of these questions. So here it is everyone: your guide to Shopping on the QM2.
We shall start with the Mayfair Shops. Located just off the grand lobby in the center of the ship, they offer a wonderful array of cosmetic brands, including Chanel, Estee Lauder, Lancome, Clarins, La Prarie and more. While you can shop for wonderful perfumes and single items needed for your beauty regimen, what dazzled me were the travel gift sets. Estee Lauder and Clarins had beautiful packaged skincare sets and Lancome’s cosmetics case had everything you could need to keep your nose powdered at dinner. You could go nuts in here, as everything is tax free when the ship is out on the seas (but not in port, so be mindful of that). Actually, I think I did. I now have enough makeup to get us through 2020.
Attached to the duty free cosmetics store, they also have a small shop for sunglasses and sport watches.
But what to do if you packed in a hurry and forgot your clothing? Never fear! The shops on QM2 stock a variety of dresses, tops, cardigans (that’s jumpers to the Brits), pants, and skirts. Some of it was a bit artsy for my taste. Actually, Stevie Nicks might have a field day in there. But other pieces were quite nice. I added a sleek black top with zippered shoulders and a white sweater with lace cutouts to my wardrobe from the shop. If you just need something informal to keep you warm in the wind as you do laps around deck 7, or want to show off at the gym when you get home, you can also purchase QM2 sweatshirts and windbreakers in the shops.
If you are in the mood for bags of Cadbury chocolates or Malteesers by the gallon, you can head to the duty free general store located next door to the cosmetics counter. In there you will find alcohol, cigarettes, and chocolate (a chain-smoking hypoglycemic’s dream) as well as assorted useful sundries like toothpaste and bandaids. I would not, however, rely on this for any of your essentials, as the variety of sundries was in a word: slim. So pack that steamer trunk full of what you need before you get onboard the ship. That means shoelaces, manicure scissors, and mouthwash to you folks!
When the glory days of the ocean liners came toan end in the late 1960’s, it was the jet airliners that killed them off. Suddenly, people didn’t have to spend weeks on a ship with maybe only a couple of days’ shore time thrown in. They could reach their destination within a matter of hours giving them more time to enjoy their holiday. As for the millionaires and movie stars that had made the great transatlantic ocean liners so glamorous, they no longer had the time to spare on ships. They now wanted to be members of the jet set. If you were anybody important then you had to be seen to be moving quickly.
Perhaps it’s some weird twist of fate then that some terrible incidents involving airliners would give cruise ships new appeal. It’s no secret that after the events of 9-11 in the US there was a massive drop in the number of people travelling by aeroplane. The sights from that fateful day would be enough to put some people off flying for good. It seems quite understandable then that people would look for a more relaxed alternative. One that seems almost detached from the worries of the World.
There’s not really a better place to do that than on a cruise ship. When you’re out in the middle of the ocean, it seems like all the bad things in the World are a million miles away. Modern cruise ships like the Freedom of the Seas and the Queen Mary 2 boast all the luxuries of a top hotel together with shops, bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres so keeping entertained is definitely not a problem. And, with the ship’s staff there to wait on you hand and foot, it certainly seems a nice alternative to six hours cramped up in an airline seat followed by two weeks on an over-crowded beach surrounded by drunken hooligans.
I think we are on the brink of new glory days for cruise ships and I hope that in years to come people will look back on some of our current batch of ocean liners as classics. They’re fabulous ships and they deserve it.