The best spots for some skinny-dipping this summer, and for working on that perfect all-over tan
Crossing the Atlantic the old-fashioned way
Voyage on Queen Mary 2, the world's grandest ocean liner, is like travelling back on time in a luxurious and elegant way
By Sam Wylie-Harris
"It's a crossing, not a cruise," said the Italian film director over the rim of his Martini. We were enjoying after-dinner cocktails in the Commodore Club on our first night aboard the world's grandest ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2.
And that is the difference. Sailing westbound from Southampton to New York on La Grande Dame is like taking a step back in time. It's a luxurious and elegant mode of travel. There's no island hopping and no day-trippers. This is life on the high seas as of yesteryear. And it's one big fancy dress party!
We were in a Princess suite with a private balcony, comfortable sitting area, mirrored dressing table and a marble bathroom. Numerous cupboards and large walk-in wardrobe gave the game away; Cunard don't expect their passengers to travel light and if you like to dress to impress, you won't be disappointed here.
The passenger ticket stipulated: A Black & White Ball, A Big Band Ball and an Ascot Ball (headwear optional).
Three formal black tie nights are a tall order for anyone. But it's more cocktail dresses than evening gowns and there was quite a loose interpretation of that from what I witnessed on the dance floor.
So when packing your travel trunk think more wedding reception soiree than Cinderella going to the palace ball.
The QM2 is 1,132ft long and its grand interior is a mixture of polished wood, marble and chandeliers. Sweeping staircases make for the perfect entrance, and she boasts the largest ballroom at sea.
There are three smart restaurants to dine in depending on your choice of stateroom - the Queen's Grill, Princess Grill and the Britannia Restaurant, all with 'white-glove' service.
Like a lot of hotel groups, the ship also has its own signature gourmet restaurant with American celebrity chef Todd English. The best tables overlook the pool terrace and it's worth paying the extra tariff for the sheer pleasure of dining there; the fillet steak melted in the mouth.
The daily routine was so relaxed that I found the voyage to be the ultimate 'switch off'. No mobile phones and no contact with the outside world. None of the usual holiday hassle of car hire or taxis and airports. Six nights at sea with a panoramic vista of nothing else but the Atlantic Ocean.
After breakfast in the room, mornings were spent power-walking the promenade deck which goes full-circle. With the wind in your hair and all that wonderful fresh air it really is the ultimate tonic.
Aft of the ship there are pools, whirlpool baths, hot tubs and numerous sunbathing decks to choose from. Relaxing in a lounger with a blanket to shield the breeze and tucking into complimentary cucumber sandwiches was rather lovely.
Bouillon was served daily at 11am and Eight Bells sounded at 12pm to mark midday, followed by a report from the bridge by Commodore Bernard Warner, whose very grand voice came over the loud speaker with navigation information, the weather forecast and some chatty banter.
We had the pleasure of being introduced to the Commodore when we were invited to join him and his officers for cocktails. If you like a man in uniform, you won't be disappointed!
The weather was mixed. We had three sunny days, quite a bit of rain and heavy fog. For two days the sea lashed against the ship and the whistle blew every ten minutes. The QM2 has four - two on the funnel, one on the mast and one on the bow. The starboard one is the original whistle from the Queen Mary and they can be heard for over ten miles.
At night it felt very surreal, a bit like something out of Titanic. Oh, and just to prepare you, they play the theme music from the film in all the public areas!
There are some modern touches too. Cunard offers an extraordinary choice of recreation over 14 decks, including sport facilities, shops, bars, lounges, and more casual dining. There's a planetarium, theatre, cinema, casino and library and daily programme of activities from 6am to 5pm.
Heading west, the advantage of clocks going back an hour each day is that you gain more time to enjoy the ship. But, like many other women on board, I found my self caught in the rigmarole of 'hair and make up', Having to don your glad rags for six nights on the trot became an additonal daily regime.
With so much excitement going on at night, I spent most of my days in the Canyon Ranch Spa Club. They have health resorts in Tucson, Arizona and Lenox, Massachusetts which are famous for world-class pampering.
Book early to avoid disappointment - because when the weather's stormy, this is where everybody goes.
The spa, beauty salon and gym cover two decks. They have an aqua therapy centre and the choice of treatments is vast.
I recommend the Aromatherapy and Thai massage. And if you feel like splashing out, it's worth going the extra mile and experiencing the Euphoria Body Treatment. It's $255 (about £130) but as the name implies, it's 100 minutes of pure heaven.
This is a very social ship and guests gravitate towards the Chart Room and the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar for pre-dinner cocktails.
There's live music in the Chart Room, a small dance floor and a smoking section which makes it extremely popular.
Dinner in the Princess Grill was a highlight. Our maitre d' Sandro showed us to table six with its window view every night. Favourites from the menu were Ahi Tuna Tartar and Beef Carpaccio, Grilled New York Pepper Steak with Parmesan Chips and Alaskan Crab Cake & Blackened Scallops.
Desserts such as Warm Apple Strudel with Brandy Sauce and Chocolate Lava Cake with 'Chocoholic' Sauce added a little extra to our hips but it was worth sinning for. After all, we later worked it off on the dance floor.
As well as dancing in the Queen's Room there's the nightclub G32. Disco tunes pump away late into the night and the DJ likes to take a request.
After all that partying, it was amazing we had enough energy left for New York!
But if you can spare the time for the sea crossing, it really is the most glamorous way to travel. And no jet-lag.
As the sun rose at 5.30am we sailed into Manhattan, with heat haze already rising over the city. The Statue of Liberty came majestically into view and when she passed my port-side balcony, I knew it was time to say goodbye to my sea legs and get ready for land.
:: Sam Wylie-Harris was a guest of Cunard which offers six-night transatlantic crossings on QM2 in either direction from £899 in October, including return flight in opposite direction and transfers.
Cunard reservations: 0845 071 0300.
:: Among specialist agents, Virgin Holidays Cruises offers transatlantic cruises on QM2 until November 2008, and may have a few spaces left on Southampton departure of August 13 from £791, incl six nights on board and return flight fron New York.
Virgin Holidays Cruises reservations: 0871 781 9893 and www.virginholidayscruises.com
:: Additional images of QM2 are available from Cunard press office. Contact Eric Flounders or Michael Gallagher on 0207 940 5390 or email email@example.com
External/internal images of all Cunard ships available for downloading at www.cunardimages.com - login: press, password: guyonda.