Sunday, December 18, 2016

Добро пожаловать на борт Аэрофлот! Welcome Aboard Aeroflot!

Have you ever had someone come back after flying on an airline simply ranting and raving about their experience, making you salivate at the thought of trying it out yourself?  Well, that happened to me, my parents having flown Aeroflot on several roundtrips between the United States and Greece.  I asked them to compare to flying on fellow SkyTeam member MEA, and they said it was better, by several levels of magnitude.  Well, I am very protective of MEA, so I had to put Aeroflot down on the list as another airline to fly, and quick.  So here it is, I finally made it on Aeroflot, from Athens, Greece, to Los Angeles, CA via Moscow, Russia.

So here I am, back at my home office just North of Salt Lake City, a few weeks after my grand trip that took me and the family from Utah to New York City for a night, a 7-day Trans-Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2, a few days in London, an overnight stay in Athens, Greece; Moscow, Russia; and Los Angeles, CA.  Our flights back from Athens were originally supposed to be just an overnight stay in Istanbul, flying on Turkish Airlines, but with the recent attempted coup d'etat and the ban of all flights to and from the United States and Turkey, we had the chance to cancel our tickets and fly another way home, and that's where this begins.  We had found a reasonable alternative out of Athens on the same date as originally planned, this time via Aeroflot through Moscow and Los Angeles, both overnight stays.  Granted, the hotel stays ended up being more than the next lowest fare, but, this was something I had to do, I had to try Aeroflot.

We woke up that morning at the Sofitel Athens Airport, across the street from the main terminal entrance.  Mom and I were running on maybe 3 hours of sleep, but that was OK, we spent the night at the hotel bar with the family from the village, and it was epic.  So there we were, after breakfast, bleary eyed, but hyped up.  Ground services for Aeroflot in Athens is handled by Goldair, and they did a fantastic job of checking us in, even gave us a few extra allotments for carryons due to my parents needing wheelchair assistance.  We were directed to a sitting area to wait for our wheelchair pushers to meet us.  Well, the waiting took forever, and they never showed up, and boarding time was getting close, so we hoofed it to the security queue and went to the gate.  Well, we made it to the gate and the staff there was wondering where we were as the wheelchair pushers had called about 30 seconds prior to say we were not where we were supposed to be, so we simply told them they were late, and it was no big deal, the gate was close by anyways.  That being said, they scanned our boarding passes and let us board first.

Boarding went by fairly quickly, despite more than three quarters of the passengers having oversize carryons and a LOT of fur coats and wraps.  Where we were going, they would need them anyways.  Luckily, for me, there was only one other person sitting in my block of three seats, and she was in the aisle seat whilst I had the window (yay me!).  With everyone seated and the more gorgeous than normal Russian flight attendants doing their safety demo, we were pushed back out onto Athens' not so busy ramp.  The only other planes in our portion of the terminal were a Turkish Airlines 737-800 that just pulled in, an Emirates Boeing 777-300 and an unmarked Airbus A319.

Our aircraft was a brand new one in the Aeroflot fleet, a Boeing 737-800 (registered VQ-BWC, named after Russian historian Sergey Soloviev) new build delivered to Aeroflot in June 2015, the 41,210th Boeing 737 off the line in Renton, WA.  She still had that new plane smell to her and a very new cabin.  Normally, I loathe Boeing 737 flights of longer than an hour or two, as I just cant get comfortable on them due to my height and size, always requiring a seat belt extension, but this ride to Moscow was shaping up and promising to be a good one, seat belt extender notwithstanding.  We rolled out to the departure runway and with hardly a second to wait were at full power and blasted off out of the Cradle of Civilization for the high Russian plains that Moscow is situated on.

I have to admit, I was amazed at how attentive the inflight crew was and the level of service for a 4 hour flight.  In the United States, on a 4 hour flight, there is no meal service, hell you're lucky you can get a small cup of soda thrown at ya with a $7 mini can of Pringles.  On Aeroflot, we had a full beverage service 3 times, and a full dinner service as well about a quarter of the way into the flight.  In Coach Class, of all things!  I spent most of the flight writing in my travel journal and listening to music on my phone, while the flight attendants kept me stocked with Coca Cola and water.  I had left my window shade up and caught a few glimpses outside during the flight and snapped pictures of the winglet and sunset before it got dark the further north we got.

The flight went by pretty quickly, and before I knew it, we were starting our descent into Moscow, slowly, but surely, and took a winding pattern into Sheremetyevo Airport.  Despite the winding down and anticipation of getting off in a new airport that I have never been to before, we managed to arrive a few minutes early, but had to park on a remote stand away from the terminal due to no gate space.  Looking out on the ramp, I could tell it was a busy night.  Sukhoi Super Jet 100's, 737's, A320's, A330's, and 777's were in various stages of arrival or departure and we took a spot away from the terminal in between another 737 and the Skyteam Alliance branded Boeing 777-300 for Aeroflot.  She was on her way to Tokyo that night, and I thought to myself, it'd be nice to be on her, but...the prize bird for this journey was 14 hours away from boarding time.

Deboarding was via airstairs for the upwardly mobile passengers, not us.  We waited until everyone was off, then we were guided to the R1 forward entry door on the starboard side, usually where caterers do their thing.  We were guided onto the lift, then down to the ramp where we were loaded into a van that took us directly to the transit connections desk for our connecting flight to Los Angeles.  Amazingly, there were not that many people connecting off of our flight, and we were the only ones at the transit desk and therefor were processed and on our way in less than 5 minutes.  The wheelchair folks were fantastic as well, taking my parents to the V Express capsule hotel located within the sterile area of the terminal for our 12 hours of rest and relaxation, then those same folks meeting us again in the morning and taking us to our departure gate.  Amazing service, and they were tipped heavily.

After lounging around and grabbing an early morning breakfast at TGI Fridays (in Moscow of all places, who would of thought?), we picked up a few trinkets and then were gathered up for boarding.  Again, we were the first onboard, and were helped to our seats by the ever attentive, gorgeous, and capable flight attendants, who also helped us stow our carryons (even my duffel bag full of books).  Our stay in Moscow was pleasant, inviting, and downright incredible.  It's now on my list of places I must return to, but for now, time to get settled in for the long haul to sunny Los Angeles.

Our plane was the 7 year old Airbus A330-200 (registered VQ-BBF, named after Russian diplomat and poet Alexander Griboyedov) leased to Aeroflot.  In pristine condition after its flight that morning from St. Petersburg, we settled in and got comfortable for the 14 hour jaunt over the Arctic and down through central Canada.  I have to interject here, the A330-200 was specifically built for flights like these, during its design phase in the mid 1990's it was specified to have a range capable of doing Los Angeles-Moscow or Vancouver-Athens with ease.  Airbus also designed it in conjuction with the four engined Airbus A340, with a wider cabin than the Boeing widebodies, and let me tell you, on a 14 hour flight, that extra six inches of shoulder space per seat makes a world of difference. In fact, it was so comfortable, me and Dad sat through the entire flight, not getting up for any single reason, not even to stretch, as we normally do on shorter flights in the cramped Boeings.  My Mom on the other hand, due to her bad knees, had to get up and stretch every so often.  Susie, in her diminutive size, curled up on her seat like a cat and either watched movies, played games or passed out in total comfort.

Even on a plane as large as the A330, boarding did not take long at all, and before we knew it, we were being pushed back and on our way out.  Sheremetyevo is a big airport, and it took a few minutes to get out to the departure runway, luckily we were one of a few planes taking at that time, lining up between an Air Astana A320 and another Aeroflot Boeing 777.  Lined up on runway 24L, we throttled up to full power and the Rolls Royce Trent engines rocketed us up and out of Moscow, and with a few slight turns we were pointed north and on our way up to the Arctic crossings.  Plugging my phone into the seatback power unit and turning on the tunes while leaving the IFE pegged on the inflight moving map was my idea of a good ride, as well as catching up in my journal.

Leveling off to cruise at 31,000 feet (FL310), the flights attendants got down to the service.  As with the flight from Athens the day before, the crew made their round up and down the aisles looking after us passengers and there were hourly drink services.  Eventually, I did wonder why I didnt have to get up and relieve myself, but, I didnt so I stayed put and enjoyed the ride.  The first meal service was a lunch service, served about 2 hours into the flight, somewhere around Murmansk, Russia.  Since it was lunchtime, I was thinking it would be a sandwich and salad kind of serving, but no.  On the tray was a starter of mussels with celery and grilled sweet peppers on a salad, A bread plate (yes, a bread plate in Coach) with a roll and rye bread with Butter and a wedge of Brie, a berry cheesecake, and for the main we had a choice of either Chicken breast with oyster sauce, or lamb with buckwheat and broccoli.  Being low on my gout medication, I passed on the lamb and went with the chicken.  To my shock and surprise, it was tasty.  I haven't had a meal service like this or attention to detail from the flight attendants since the days of TWA.  In fact, my parents and friends were absolutely spot on right about Aeroflot.  They really are that amazing.  They are now in my top 3 airlines for North America to Europe.

Up past the coast of Northern Russia and over the Barents Sea, we turned to the West and the Norwegian Sea we crossed into the part of the Northern Hemisphere of perpetual twilight, with a thin band of sunlight that never faded the entire trip over Greenland and the earliest part of our turn down into Canada.  During most of this stage of the flight, the flight attendants still roamed the cabin every hour or so, but the cabin lights dimmed, allowing folks to sleep or watch the IFE in comfort.  I had my window shade up and kept the TV pegged on the inflight map while reading my new book or writing in my journal.  After my hand had cramped up, I stowed the journal and unfolded my laptop to watch some movies (the IFE had a huge selection to watch from, just nothing much that interested me enough to watch, or stuff that I have already seen).  My dad on the other hand, cranked his way through 5 movies (asleep through one of them), and was just chilling in his little cocoon of comfort.

We made landfall in Canada over Rankin Inlet, on the West coast of Hudson Bay, and continued our path down to the lower parts of the hemisphere.  The second meal service began while overflying Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and this service was just as large as the first, this time with mains consisting of either Chicken in carrot and tomato sauce with bulgur wheat and broccoli, or beef in black pepper sauce.  Seriously good stuff, and again, I was stuffed.  45 minutes later the trays were cleared and almost as soon as they were, we hit some rough air on the US/Canadian border into Montana, as if to welcome us to the United States.  Taking a glance on the geography below, it looked like there was a massive snowstorm that covered Montana, Idaho and Northern Nevada just a day or so before we flew over.  Gorgeous landscape, going from snow covered plateaus to desert over the West portion of the Great Basin National Park, then to the fertile coastline of Southern California and its palm trees, suntans, and gridlock traffic.

Once over Death Valley we turned West over the coast at Pismo Beach, and then another turn to the East  over the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga State Park, Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Alhambra (I can see our hotel for the night, the Langham Huntington Pasadena, on its hillside in the distance),  and our last turn onto final approach to the North runways at LAX.  We glided onto runway 24R and taxied around to our gate at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.  We have arrived, and in style!

In my opinion:  Aeroflot is a damn good airline, with service levels that eclipse most other airlines plying the skies between North America and Europe.  It is on par with the likes of MEA, Royal Jordanian, and British Airways.  The fares are also something else, right on par with Turkish Airlines as being the lowest fares across the pond, plus having the SkyTeam benefits we all know and recommend.  Definitely give them a try!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

London Calling! A stay at Europe's First Grand Hotel, the Langham Hotel

Y'all knew I couldn't go to London without staying at the Langham, knowing my addiction and passion (some say obsession) with the upscale brand.  But to stay at the flagship property, where Afternoon Tea was invented, where royalty stayed, where Allied planners first brainstormed the D-Day invasion to liberate Europe...well, I wasn't about to say no.  No way, no how, no chance.  Besides, it's a Langham, I knew I was going to be taken care of, and have an unforgettable stay.  The best part about this trip, I had my family in tow, so I they can see for themselves just how good Langham is.

A little history about the Langham.  It was built between 1863 and 1865 and is one of London's largest and best known Grand Hotels.  In fact, the Langham was the original Grand Hotel of Europe, with a fabled past, and very colorful future ahead of it.  It had the first hydraulic lifts in England, not to mention the first in a hotel, period.  Prominent figures such as Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Napoleon III, and Toscanini have held residence here.  The hotel was a landmark during war as well, serving as first aid post and an armory during World War II.  The BBC ended up moving part of its broadcasting to the Langham after their broadcasting house across the street was bombed.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set some of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at the Langham.  Princess Diana was a frequent visitor, as were heads of more than a few Royal Families from around the world.

So here we were, in London, after a 7 day trek across the Atlantic on Cunard's Queen Mary 2.  A marvelous ship it was, and the crossing went by without a hitch.  So, why not stay at the original Grand Hotel of Europe at the end of the cruise?  Of course we will!  Plus, it would be my parents first time in luxury hotel, so it better be a Langham.  Our driver took us right up to the front door and the bellhops quickly got our luggage, greeted me by name (they must've read the 1865 tag on one of the suitcases), and gave us our luggage tag to give to the front desk for delivery to our room.  We've only been here a minute, and we're already being taken care of.  That's one of the hotel's trademarks, bespoke and all-encompassing care and service.

The package I had booked for this trip was the Family Getaway package, and it's a heck of a value.  You have accomodations in either a Family Room that sleeps 4 people on 3 beds (the third is either a rollaway cot or the pull out couch), English breakfast at either restaurant for the whole family, complimentary wi-fi (Susie's favorite reason for staying at a Langham), a VIP Tour of Hamley's, one of the oldest toy stores in the world (tours were not available the dates we were in town, though), complimentary Kidzania tickets for stays of 3 nights or more (Susie wasnt up for that, she wanted to see the city itself), and the London pass, which allows entrance to London attrations for discounts of up to 15%.  I liked everything about this package, but was slightly miffed that Hamley's wasn't running a tour this time around, as I seriously love old toy stores.  Oh well, there's always next time.

Check-In was a breeze, since I was already a Gateway-level member of the 1865 Loyalty Program. The room wasn't ready, so we decided to hang out in the award winning Artesian Bar, which has recently won the coveted "World's Best Bar" award on top of the other accolades.  About an hour later, they came and got me, handed me the keys to the room, and had me sign in and took my baggage slip.  Even though I travel to Europe somewhat frequently, I was slightly taken aback from how small the elevators were as we piled in.  I laughed and reminded myself this was Europe, everything is much smaller on this side of the pond.

Luckily, the room was not a far distance from the elevator, and walking into the room I was surprised by how spacious it was upon first glance.  The bedroom area is around 420 square feet alone, and there was plenty of room for the two Queen beds, plus a pull out couch that my Teenager said was one of the most comfortable she's EVER slept on.  High praise coming from someone I've molded into a world traveler in her own right.  Next to the TV was a plate of fruit and a huge bottle of water that Langham provides to all elite-tier 1865 members.  The view out the window was look right across Regent Street onto the All Souls Church to one side and the BBC headquarters next to it.  This particular part of London was incredibly blasted and damaged by the Axis towards the end of the Battle of Britain in October of 1940.  At that moment we found out the room had a doorbell, as it rang, and first the bellhop delivered our luggage AND set it up for us where we wanted it.  Next one of the housekeepers came and delivered a plate of snacks and drinks for the four of us.  What a hell of a way to start off our visit to London!  We unpacked what we needed for the 3 days in town, and stowed the rest of the luggage in the large closets hidden away in the entry.  The bathroom was nice as well, with marble throughout, the signature Langham bathrobes and slippers, and toiletries from the Chuan Spa. Even my parents were impressed, this was their first true multi-night stay in a Luxury Hotel.  We were exhausted and still trying to get our land legs back, plus it was going to be an early day the next day, so we grabbed a quick bite of fast food from McDonald's across the street and hit the sack.

Before heading out the next day we got to try breakfast in the also acclaimed Roux at the Landau, run by the superstar chef team of Albert & Michel Roux.  The breakfast didn't disappoint, fluffy omelettes and half dollar pancakes, in addition to the large bread, cheese, and yogurt buffet, and the ever-present English scones with clotted cream and various jams and preserves.  Just right for a long day running around London and spending hours at Harrods fighting our way through the crowds and leisurely browsing through a good majority of the departments.  Upon returning to the hotel room, we found the room turned down for bedtime, with chocolates on the bed and bottles of water on ice for us.  A very nice and classy touch.  With all the hubbub of the day and yet another early and busy day tomorrow, we passed out quick, myself still trying to overcome the sea legs from the cruise to the UK just days before.

Monday morning we woke up at 6:00 AM, readied ourselves for the day ahead and went down to the Palm Court for breakfast.  This was more to my parents and Susie's liking, as they prefer buffets, while I like portioned servings.  But, I have to hand it to the Palm, the buffet they had was exceptional, even for my tastes.  But the room the Palm Court occupies is sheer elegance.  Pillars all the way up to the high ceiling (the original Palm Court was an open air space, covered over in the massive restoration in 1991), and a large, plush, high-backed couch makes for a hell of a comfortable centerpiece and photo op.  After breakfast, I stopped at the front desk and concierge to exchange some US Dollars for the Queens Currency, and tickets to the Hop-on Hop-off Big Bus for our tour around the London sights.

Upon our return, the parents rested while Susie and I got ready for the new Holiday Tea service in the Palm Court, created by in-house celebrity chef Cherish Finden in conjunction with luxury house Asprey.  Today was the first day of the new holiday tea service, and I was lucky enough to be given a menu commemorating the service.  There are three seating times for Tea, at 1:00PM, 3:15PM (our time), and 5:30PM.  There is a certain amount of Tea Time Etiquette that must be adhered to, otherwise you would be labeled an uncouth slob.  By the way, the tradition of Afternoon Tea first began at the Langham, over 150 years ago, and is still a staple of British culture today.

The Festive Asprey Afternoon Tea menu includes a seriously delicious Eggnog, Duck Egg and Oscietra Caviar, 3 different types of finger sandwiches, consisting of Balvenie Whiskey smoked salmon & fennel brioche, Stilton, red onion, and relish on Walnut Bread ( I really liked this one), the Classic Cucumber, cream cheese and chives, and a smoked turkey and marjoram stuffing on cranberry bread that was absolutely divine.  Next came the iconic warm scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry preserves, of which me and Susie could not get enough of.  The dessert round was a seriously festive (and seriously purple, as befits Asprey's house colors) plate of a mini gingerbread house, snowflake macaroon, a pistachio and cranberry slice, Asprey bauble, a tiny glass of rosehip and hibiscus topped with a white chocolate reindeer.  You also had 30 different tea blends to choose from, along with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne.  A seriously fantastic setup, and something that was on my London bucket to-do list.  At 62 GBP, it was well worth it, and I recommend it for everyone who visits during the holiday season.

After Tea I was in our room with Susie checking emails and beginning my writing process for this trip.  when the doorbell rang.  It was the hotel's resident Langham Service Stylist, Jessica, ready to show me around the property.

We started off at the Roux, and its massive wine collection and tucked away private dining room.  From there it was a quick view of the Palm Court, where I had spent considerable time today, and was just finishing up its third seating and gearing up for dinner.  From there it was up to the ballrooms, and I was shocked at how large the spaces were, considering I didn't think the building was THAT big.  Another case of appearances being deceiving!  From there it was down to the lower level meeting rooms and business center, one of the largest I've seen in a while.

Next up was the famed Chuan Spa, winner of many accolades, and is one of the highest rated spas in the West End.  The spa itself is in the building adjoining the hotel, connected by corridor, and includes a private couples spa suite, pre and post treatment relaxation area, full size male and female changing areas, herbal steam rooms, and a full size salt sauna.  From there I was taken to the large and state of the art fitness center, the 16-meter pool, built into what used to be a vault from the bank that used to occupy the building.  Since the hotel was completely full that night we couldn't see any of the other rooms, but hey, I'm not above making another trip.  Especially if I can take a peek at the Sterling, Infinity, or Wedgwood Suites...

As a Travel Agent, I tend to book the Langham, London as much as I can for my clients (I average about 4-5 bookings a month for the property) .  The average rates are decent for the upper level of luxury hotel the Langham is, considering she's the original "Grand" Hotel of Europe.  Now that I've seen her in person and stayed there, it'll be far more easier for me to sell.  Being located in the West End at the top of Regent Street doesn't hurt either, and is a great place for shoppers to stay.  All in All, aside from being down by the Thames, you cant beat the location, the style, or the bespoke care you'll receive at the Grandest Hotel of them all, the Langham, London.

 * Photos courtesy the Langham, London, or the author.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Long Live the Queen! An Unforgettable Voyage on the Queen Mary 2

I have been waiting to try Cunard's Queen Mary 2 for more than 6 years now, ever since I was a wet behind the ears, newly minted travel agent.  I had heard the stories, knew the history, and started booking Cunard from the get go.  Well, this year, I finally got the chance, as I had passed Cunard's Commodore Training program and earned my Graduation Cruise.  Now, you have a choice of the 3 Queens of the fleet, but I wanted the Flagship, the Queen Mary 2, on the route the Queens made famous for centuries...the Transatlantic crossing between New York and Southampton, UK.

It all started during the Orthodox Easter week of 2016.  A bet was made with several coworkers that I could finish of the entire Cunard Commodore training in 3 days.  Not one to back down from a challenge, I accepted, and off I went, cramming my brain with everything Cunard had to offer and knocking down one level after another until late Sunday afternoon I had achieved my Commodore Status with a 98% passing grade.  Score!  I won my bet, and made plans to take the entire family with me across the pond later this November, for their 38th anniversary.  Pre- and Post- Cruise stays and airfare taken care of, my parents cabin upgraded to a Club Balcony Stateroom, and mine and my daughter's cabin paid for, and we were set.

Waking up in New York on November 12 (after an amazing eventful night on the town) we were filled with excitement and anticipation as our ride took us from the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown down across the Brooklyn Bridge and around to the cruise terminal.  Even before we got out of the ride the Cunard porters had already unloaded all our luggage and had them ready for check-in.

At the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, Cunard check-in is a snap, especially if you have a group that need wheelchair assistance, and/or are one of the higher Status World Club Members such as Platinum or Diamond Tier, you can take advantage of the expedited check-in and World Club Elite Lounge before boarding.  Because both of my parents were in wheelchairs and I am a Platinum Tier World Club member (Thank you Cunard Agent Training!), we were sent over to the World Club Elite Lounge, then on up to the Queen Mary 2.

Once on deck, you get a purely British welcome aboard and there are quite a few porters there to help you find your stateroom, and as we were taking Mom and Dad up to their stateroom first, we got a good look around at the Foyer and all the high end shops, and had our Embarkation photo taken (available for purchase from the photo shop during the cruise) while our luggage was delivered to either stateroom.  From the rotunda of shops you are taken to Stairwell B, the 2nd main elevator bank on the ship, and on up to Deck 12, where we were sent down the hallway to Stairwell A, the only elevator bank with access to the Club Balcony staterooms on Deck 13.

The Club Balcony staterooms on Deck 13 are nicely laid out and spacious, as far as cruise ship staterooms go.  Just a bit larger in square footage than the regular Balcony and Sheltered Balcony staterooms, it comes with an updated bathroom, glass-fronted balcony, and a slightly larger and more plush sitting area.  Deck 13 is the highest stateroom level on the ship, and you would think being that high up and that far forward from the ships center of gravity, you'd be rocking back and forth the whole time.  Not so much on the Queen Mary 2. She was designed as a higher speed ocean liner versus the regular cruise ships elsewhere, so no matter where you are on her, you're going to be rock steady, unless you're in a storm, of course, but that goes without saying.

Leaving the folks to relax, unwind and unpack, me and the Teenager headed on down to Deck 6 to our stateroom.  Our room was in the aft-middle of the ship, and a heck of a long hike from Stairwell A (our stateroom was two doors down from the entry to stairwell C, the third main elevator bank onboard).  Long trek aside, our stateroom was another Cunard-Only design, the Sheltered Balcony.  What's interesting about these cabins is that they are balconies that have been "punched out" of the ship's hull below the deck line, allowing for a huge increase in total balconies available.  The balcony is the same size as the normal balconies above, but it is not as exposed to the elements with the hull surrounding it, giving a massive open air "window" to the sea.

With our luggage unpacked and stowed, we met up with the folks in the Kings Court buffet, up one level on Deck 7.  In the hustle and bustle of checking out of the Waldorf Astoria, to checking in and getting onboard, somehow we forgot to eat a single thing, and we knew we couldn't hold out until our reservation at the Smokehouse.  So, snack time it was, and having killed the hunger pangs sufficiently, the Teen and I went exploring.

We managed to cover Decks 2 (Cunard Connexions Internet and communication center, the Royal Court Theatre, Casino, Purser's Office, the Photo Gallery, Golden Lion Pub, and the lower level of the Britannia Restaurant), Deck 3 (Illuminations Planetarium, the upper level of the Royal Court Theatre, the galleria of shops, upper portion of the Grand Lobby, the Duty Free shop, Veuve Cliquot Champagne Bar, the Chart Room, Sir Samuel's Coffee Bar,  the Upper Level of the Britannia Restaurant, the Queen's Room, the Art Gallery, and the G32 night club), and Deck 8 (the well-stocked Library and Bookshop,  the Beauty Salon, the Verandah Restaurant, and the outdoor Terrace Pool).  Having explored a bit, we hustled back to the stateroom and changed for the folks' Anniversary Dinner.

On any given Trans-Atlantic crossing there are 3 formal nights, where ladies are in elegant gowns or fine dresses and the Gents in tuxes or dark suits with ties frolic the night away.  The first night out of port is an informal night, as it should be, as passengers are unwinding from the hustle and bustle of embarkation.  For someone like me, I relish and look forward to formal nights. Dressing up to the nines and looking like an overfed and underpowered James Bond is my forte!  During formal nights there are balls and dances to go to, and cocktail receptions to sip champagne at, and even a Captain's night for the upper Tier World Club members and Club and Suite level passengers to hobnob with the Senior Staff and get their photo taken with Captain Wells.

On the typical Trans-Atlantic sojourn, you have a wealth of activities to do and places to see to while the time away.  Our favorite places were the board game tables on Deck 3 on either side of the Royal Court Theatre, the Library, both stateroom balconies (believe it or not, it was not that cold for being early November), and the Golden Lion Pub.  The Carinthia Lounge is also a great place to relax, and have a sip of wine and some very fine canapes.  There's also the plethora of shopping choices and the casino as well.

Disembarking in Southampton was quick and painless, especially since we had early disembarkation due to the Platinum Tier status and wheelchair assistance.  The gangway in Southampton was smaller than the one in New York, and less steep, which made the descent to dry land easier.  Since we had already cleared UK Customs onboard during the voyage across the pond, all we had to do was pick up our luggage and find our driver for the 2 hour journey to London.  Luckily, he was already there waiting for us, and within 10 minutes of disembarking, we were cruising up the M3 to the 2nd greatest city on Earth.

The week onboard the Queen Mary 2 was one of the most sensational , relaxing, and uplifting travel experiences I've had yet, and even though I'm not much of a Cruise fanatic, I would gladly board the Queen again, hopefully I'll get my chance to travel on all 3 of the Cunard Queens.