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March 28, 2008

Anchored in The Harbor

Posted by admin

My older son loves ocean liners and lighthouses. I know, not the typical fare of most 18-year-old boys, but he definitely has ensured that we have taken some very different vacations over the past few years. While some kids long to get to Disneyland, he has seen more than 175 lighthouses, many of them with my husband or me in tow.

His other passion ocean liners has presented a different challenge. He started enjoying ships (note these are NOT BOATS) back when he picked up a copy of LOST LINERS in my office about nine years ago. His favorite liner is the Queen Elizabeth 2. Last summer he got word that the ship had been sold to the government of Dubai and would only be making a few more transatlantic crossings. Greg not only wants to sail on the Queen Elizabeth 2, he wants to "cross the pond" on it.

Call me an indulgent mother, or call me insane, but when he called the office bereft over this news, I said, "See how much the cheapest cabin costs and maybe I will go with you." Well, somehow things escalated and this has now turned into a huge family adventure. In two weeks the four of us are taking the ship from New York to Southampton as Greg's early high school graduation present (of course I thought the fact that we were paying for college was the present) as once these plans started to materialize my younger son and husband thought it sounded like great fun...and said..."us too."

To add to the adventure this trek falls the week BEFORE Spring Break so I have been writing effusive notes to the boys' schools talking to them about this special "educational" adventure and why they both should be excused to embrace it. We also arrive in Southampton two days AFTER the London Book Fair ends, which would have been a great reason for me to be in England. The boys have suggested that I be choppered off the ship like Lucy was choppered onto the ship in an I Love Lucy episode. Clearly they forgot I have a fear of heights!

Somehow we now are in two cabins and we no longer are in the cheapest cabin. We are in cabins that ensure that we can have dinner anytime between certain hours instead of being locked into one of the two seatings. Yes, that was pitched to me at another one of my weak moments. I also have been informed that our cabins used to be the first class cabins and they have wood paneling. Which also seems to be VERY important.

And yes, this has gotten out of control. Ohhhhh...and since we are going to Southampton, we cannnot come right back since we will be in EUROPE! Oh, so, now we are spending the weekend in London where I weep each time I see what the dollar is worth against the pound. Friends tell me cab rides cost as much as limos in the States and a cup of coffee is frightfully expensive, making me glad that I do not drink coffee.

And we are not taking the train from Southampton to London since my son has researched it and a car service will be more expedient. Since I always have a lot of luggage I saw this as a small victory since I was trying to figure out how I was going to arrive in London not looking like a pack mule. Instead I am sure some bellman will be ever so happy to take my money to get my suitcases into the hotel from "the car." (Which I hope given the baggage we will be carrying will be the British version of an SUV. Land Rover anyone?) I wonder if they will be insulted if I hand them a dollar and call it a remembrance of a special time in bellman history.

I have joked --- or maybe not joked --- with the boys and told them that since cruises have endless amounts of food on them, maybe we should plan to just bring a picnic basket and a cooler and provision our weekend in London when we are aboard the QE2. But I digress.

This blog is really about our adventure a few weeks ago aboard the Queen Mary 2 (QM2). The kind folks from PEN invited me to join them for lunch on the QM2 to celebrate the upcoming PEN Festival events in New York in late April and early May. I asked if my son could join me for this sharing his love of liners. I left out the fact that I feared the endless questions he would be hurtling at me if he was not a part of this experience.

The organizers said yes, thus ensuring that I will be nominated for Mother of the Year in our house and I think I can call for a two-day celebration in May. I also made the mistake of telling my son that this event was on the QE2, which he quickly corrected me about. The QE2 would be in Tokyo that day while the QM2 would be in port in New York waiting to depart for a four-day Caribbean adventure. Do note that these facts were glibly recited by the same child who cannot remember to do his AP Environmental Science study guides, where his shoes are or to put a glass in the dishwasher. But hey, charting those ships is something VERY important.

Soooo I wrote yet another excuse note for him to get out of school after his first two classes for yet another wonderful educational maritime experience and then assured the school when they called to check with me that yes, he was allowed to drive himself home in the same car that he had driven to school that day and yes, I did realize he was doing this.

In the morning neither Greg nor I could find his dress black slacks. I ripped his closet apart, as well as those of my younger son and my husband looking for them. No dice. I thought I remembered bringing them to the dry cleaners and thus we made a stop there on the way into the city. No dice. I convinced myself that black jeans and a sport jacket (hanging nicely on a hanger in the back of the car) would work for this event...and we could deal with tracking down the good slacks before our ship time where we actually would leave the harbor!!

Driving to the dock, we saw the ship from New Jersey. We saw it from New York. But trying to find the signs to actually park there was a whole new game. Three U-turns (all in front of policemen), one duck out between two cones before I went the wrong way through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and lots of lane changes at the 11th hour and we were there. For the record, I have no idea HOW to get there again and I cannot believe how poorly marked this entire area is. I am happy to report that our crossing on the QE2 next week will be from the Manhattan Terminal, which I can find.

We parked and I thrust Greg's sport jacket at him. And underneath I find...the dress black pants. Seeing them means he has to wear them. Sooooo with the wind whipping --- and I do mean whipping --- across the parking lot Greg changes into these slacks. The moment where Greg was standing in his red plaid boxers (Cunard red) in the parking lot is one I truly hope will not scar him too badly. Of course, we were laughing so hard that I think it truly will be a blur.

Once we surrendered our passports and were on board we made our way to the Illuminations Theatre (the Planetarium) for lots of speeches and "thank yous." We officially were welcomed at least four times and there was a terrific video presentation which truly illustrated the importance that PEN brings to the literary world which a host of international authors sharing their experiences. There was a band and singing. I was starving by this point since I had burned just a few calories on that stressful drive and the Pants Exploration.

Finally we moseyed onto lunch in the Britannia Restaurant where Greg quickly told me all the facts I needed to know --- and more --- about this part of the ship. I was starting to get into this adventure --- and really started looking forward to our upcoming one where we actually would leave the dock. We joined my friend John Searles, who is the Books Editor at Cosmopolitan, as well as an author. Also there were two of my pals from Publishers Weekly --- Dick Donahue and Louisa Ermelino, as well as two of their other colleagues who I was meeting for the first time.

Shortly after lunch started Greg disappeared, ostensibly to the men's room. Twenty minutes later when he returned he told us all about his tour of the ship and how he had gotten from Deck Two aft to Deck Nine forward. This is the same child who at the end of the driveway asks me which way to turn to go downtown to the grocery store. Note: we have lived in this house his entire life and we hit the grocery store at least once a week.

Lunch was lovely. After it was finished the tour leaders offered two options: We could return to Manhattan by car or bus, or we could take a tour of the ship with Cunard folks. Well, that was what everyone else could do. At our table there was a third option: A Tour Guided by Greg! We opted for the latter.

Let me set the stage. The ship was going to be sailing at 5 for the Caribbean and passengers were boarding and making their way to their staterooms. We mingled with them and there were moments I actually visualized setting sail. Greg walked us through the ship deck by deck from stem to stern reciting facts about the liner giving us tidbits, details and lore. It was hard to believe he had not been on the ship before! If only he could remember math facts the same way.

We spent more than an hour checking out features on the ship including a visit to the library, which "is the largest at sea library" as per tour guide Greg who can recite all Cunard propaganda. I had a small moment of panic when it was announced that the PEN guests should make their way from the ship as the transport to Manhattan was departing. (This even though we had my car.) This had been preceded by an announcement that there would be a lifeboat drill at 4:30. Once again citing Lucy, I had no desire to be on board like a stowaway when this began. I could see them now asking what cabin we were assigned to, us making something up and then being banned forever from Cunard before we even left the harbor. Thus I wrestled Greg towards the gangway nodding as he informed me that it also would be nice to sail on the QM2. As I nodded I feared that that nod could be interpreted as an sign to book a voyage so I stopped mid-nod knowing I already was in over my head.

I have to say that this afternoon has me looking forward to this crossing though I still would have liked to check out the Wi-Fi. And yes, you know that this trip will present all kinds of entertaining tales to share. I am off to finish knitting the tank top for one of the four black tie evenings. At least this time I have a REASON for lots of luggage!