The final leg of our trip upon the North American continent was a visit in Philadelphia, followed by a pass through New York City on our way to the cruise terminal. Cruise terminal? Well, yes. Almost as soon as we arrived in Portugal in late 2021, we booked a cruise to end our first return visit to the United States in 2023 – you’re right, that was quite early. However, we had a few prompts:
- One of our original plans for getting to Portugal, which fell through in the end, included taking the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) to add a celebratory air to the affair. We didn’t do it, but we were primed with interest in the cruise.
- It was on the (QM2) which is the kind of cruise that not only gives you discounts for booking early but books up fast in the best (read: least expensive) categories.
- It was a “bucket list” item, and we’d set aside a bit of the largesse from the sale of our home just for such adventures.
But we’ll get to the cruise. First stop, the city of [fatherly] love!
The stop in Phildelphia was delightfully low key. The cross country flight was drama free and we only had to deal with the perpetual, low-level existential dread of spending a whole day in airports. Early arrival, sit, wait, sit (on plane), wander a second airport, sit, wait, sit (on plane again), then squeak your way through the rat maze of unfamiliar concourses and luggage carousels. Lisa’s dad met us with a hilariously large amount of pizza – long story, but we ended up with two deep dish pizzas the size of wagon wheels for three people. Did we have pizza leftovers the whole entire rest of the trip? Why yes, yes we did!
Our days were filled with little walks through the neighborhood, which may sound a little dull but his neighborhood also contains most of Philadelphia’s best museums and outdoor sculpture areas. Traipsing through the streets and getting caught up with any last-minute shopping needs was what we sprinkled on top a lot of good old-fashioned shooting-the-shit, catching up on each other’s stories. It might sound dull but it was spiritually nourishing and just a really good time to boot.
Speaking of shopping – a quick aside for the non-immigrants among you. Portugal is absolutely a developed country and part of the European Union; we don’t lack for anything, really. However, no matter how much you assimilate there are some things you’ve been doing your entire adult life a certain way, and you just get an itch sometimes when things are different. Not worse, just different. One tiny example: we’ve been an ibuprofen house for decades, but that’s not something you find much in the EU. Aside from asprin the most common household pain reliever is paracetamol. Nothing wrong with the big P, it’s just not what we’re used to. And so, we pick up a 500-count bottle when we’re running low. It’s just little odds-n-sods like that, but it feels nice to restock before heading home.
After a couple of days we got a lift to the train station and scooted our way to the Big Apple itself. Lisa lived there for a few years so this wasn’t exactly new, but for John it was the first time that he “visited” New York with absolutely no tourism or work involved – we got off of our train, hauled our luggage to a taxi stand, and made for the cruise terminal. “Perfunctory” and “New York City” aren’t terms that usually sit next to one another, but here we are. And speaking of “here we are”:
The Queen Mary 2 is apparently the only ocean liner in the world, not a cruise ship, because its primary purpose is to transport passengers between New York and England. They (the operators of the QM2) also go to some pains not to be refer to their vessel as a “cruise ship” because they want to distinguish themselves from what might be seen as their competition on the Carribean and elsewhere. Hence our verbal tic/ joke where we will refer to being on the “boat, I mean ship… crap, I mean ocean liner. Sorry.” It made us giggle for a lot longer than you might expect. The boat (sorry, but it’s what we called it in our house for years) debuted in 2004 and carries up to 2,700 passengers. Because it’s an ocean liner, it’s built differently than standard cruise ships with a strengthened and thicker hull that is almost twice as thick as most standard cruise vessels. It also can travel much faster, reaching almost 30 knots in open water; that’s roughly 35 of your primitive land miles. The bow and hull shape also are designed to cut through the water even in rough seas, and this makes the journey much safer and more stable. (We learned this from their onboard safety drill, which you are required to complete before they will disembark. The drill was on our stateroom TV, and included checking in to our “safety meeting point,” three floors up and over one staircase.) Speaking of which, there are in fact four staircases (A, B, C, and D) and the easiest way to tell the difference between them was by the art. Most of it was themed — nautical, Hollywood stars, abstract art, and realistic.
We have been developing a lot of opinions about hotel rooms over the years, and we were legitimately blown away by our stateroom. Not that it was the absolute most luxurious thing ever, but the space management and amenities were legitimately unparalleled in our experience. There were sufficient closets. The sitting space wasn’t palatial but it was absolutely sufficient for not feeling like you had to sit on the bed. The desk had enough room to sit and write. The drawers were thoughtfully laid out. Even the bathroom had good space management, including actual storage shelves in the cabinets under the sink! That may sound ridiculous, but so many bathrooms we’ve had in hotels act like people don’t bring things to use in there. Heck, the shower had the best heat and water pressure in a single tub that we’ve ever had. No, it wasn’t marble tile, but functionally it honestly couldn’t be beat.
With all of this build-up, our voyage on this esteemed ship (cruise liner, shit, sorry) actually started off with a whimper. They get power from the shore while docked, and some kind of power surge or interruption or something took place that not only flickered the lights but fried the onboard computers. It was a fixable problem of course, but the thing is one cannot leave port without a true and verified manifest of everyone on the wessel (h/t Commander Chekov) which is something they do on computers these days. Yeeeeah. So, first we were delayed from setting sail for a few hours. In fact it was so long that another ship was expecting our parking space, so we actually did cast off… and went a couple miles up river and parked again, waiting for clearance to go. Gave us a chance to take some nice pictures, though.
In the end, we were dead asleep when the Queen Mary Dois actually made for open water, so we have no interesting memories of waving good bye to North America. We went to sleep in the mouth of a river and woke up the next morning in the Atlantic Ocean. But that’s a story for another time. Next time, in fact.