Why cruises are more popular than ever

A day in the life of an ocean queen

The early afternoon sun streams down on the port of Southampton as gangs of dockers start to load fresh food and supplies aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 – the flagship of the Cunard Line and the only passenger ship to regularly cross the Atlantic. The liner docked at 1pm – and she will set out on the return voyage to New York seven hours later.

There is no time to be lost, and most of the supplies – including fruit and vegetables, tinned and frozen foods, and deep-frozen meat and fish – are carried on conveyor belts up four narrow gangways.

Meanwhile, most of the wines, spirits and soft drinks, packed into metal containers, are lifted gently aboard by crane. And 6000 gallons (27,300 litres) of draught beer are pumped straight from tankers parked at the quayside into huge stainless-steel tanks – which are linked by pipe to the QE2’s seven duty-free bars.

The food and drink will suffice for the five-day transatlantic crossing. By 7pm the supplies have been loaded; the cleaners have vacuumed the equivalent of 142 tennis courts of carpeting; the 1000 crew members are at their stations; and most of the 1800 or so passengers have arrived. They are greeted by a jazz band playing popular tunes from the latest hit shows, and are directed to their cabins by almost 80 stewards and stewardesses.

Everything has been arranged for the passengers’ enjoyment and comfort – from saunas and Jacuzzis to feature films and a computer centre where they can learn ‘new skills’, such as how to operate word processors.

Each of the ten passenger decks has its own pantries (combinations of kitchens and storerooms), and these allow the stewards and stewardesses to prepare and serve anything from early morning cups of tea and coffee to elaborate late-night suppers.

Once at sea, the 14 bakers start their long working day in the three main kitchens at 5am and begin to prepare the 3000 or more rolls, croissants and Danish pastries served at breakfast. At the same time, the ship’s confectioners make the 6000 pieces of cake needed for afternoon tea and the 5000 petits fours for the evening buffet.

At 7am the first chefs arrive to prepare the ingredients for the day’s soups and stews – amounting to almost 3500 pints (2000 litres). The 75 all-male chefs including a special kosher cook in his own kitchen – start work on the 2800 lunches and dinners as most of the passengers are finishing breakfast.

The 60 or so young cooks regularly work for up to 12 hours a day in the hot, windowless kitchens. They frequently feel homesick and tired – and occasionally some of them quit on docking at Southampton or New York. For most of them, however, it is a valuable way of gaining work experience and of seeing the world.

Hundreds of food items are kept in the storerooms, and vast meat safes stretch almost the width of the ship  105ft (32m). Inside, the temperature of 14°F (-10°C) could kill anyone trapped there for more than 12 hours. To avoid any such accident, there is an alarm bell inside each meat safe in case the doors are shut by mistake.

Farther along from the storerooms, the QE2’s giant machinery is housed in the engine room – actually several enormous high-ceilinged areas, two decks deep. The nine engines themselves are each the size of a double-decker bus. They generate 130,000hp and can slow the ship down from a top speed of 32h knots (37mph) to standstill in 3 minutes and 39 seconds over a distance of about 1.25 miles (2km). The engine room also contains a water-purification plant which takes sea water on board and purifies it for drinking. The plant processes about 480 tons of water a day – enough to fill seven swimming pools the size of those on the ship. In addition, four vacuum evaporators produce 250 tons of water each day. Checking the various water tanks – which are at the very bottom of the vessel – is the responsibility of the ship’s carpenters. Some of the tanks are there to help keep the ship properly balanced; others hold the drinking water and water used for washing the laundry.

If, for any reason, more water is used from a tank on one side of the ship than on the other, the vessel will begin to list. To correct this, extra water is quickly pumped into the depleted tank.

In a small room above the engines another team of professionals – the printers – play their role in the daily life of the liner. Late each night a printed programme of the following day’s events – ranging from children’s parties to clay-pigeon shooting is delivered to each passenger cabin. Early each morning newsletters are delivered to the cabins containing news from around the world, which is transmitted by satellite to the ship each day.

Nerve centre

The QE2’s nerve centre is the bridge, high up on Signal Deck. For security reasons, there is only one staircase leading up to the bridge – and only one entrance door, which can be opened only from the inside. The bridge bristles with the latest navigational equipment, including automatic steering. However, the wheel is still regularly used when there is heavy traffic, or whenever the liner is leaving or entering port. In addition, there is a collision avoidance system, which can show the course, speed and direction of up to 20 ships at a time. There is also a satellite navigator, the first to be fitted to a passenger ship, which is linked to various satellites orbiting the Earth. It plots the QE2’s position at intervals of from 35 to 100 minutes. The readings are accurate to within 110yds (100m).

As the ship’s control headquarters, the bridge is in close communication with the engine room – by direct-link telephone and other key areas. To cut errors and misunderstandings to a minimum, important orders are given to the engine room by means of a panel of labelled buttons. So when one of the buttons is pressed on the bridge, the equivalent button in the engine room’s main control section lights up – and the engineer knows exactly what is required of him. Even so, the engines can also be controlled directly from the bridge.

The crew includes six girl dancers, and everyone, from the captain downwards, receives a regular check-up. Anyone who is overweight is sent ashore until the excess weight has been shed.

The liner’s hospital is situated midships near the water line, where the movement of the 963ft (292m) long ship is hardly noticeable. The hospital is staffed by two doctors, three sisters and three medical attendants, who can deal with anything from dental work to removing an appendix in the fully equipped operating theatre.

As night begins to fall over Southampton the passengers have all boarded the liner and everything is ready for yet another crossing. So at 8pm the Queen Elizabeth 2 steams majestically out of port and heads for the Atlantic.

Wining and dining

For the crew, there are busy hours ahead. The waiters – at least two to every nine passengers – get ready to serve dinner in the ship’s four restaurants.

The a la carte menu is crammed with delicacies such as smoked salmon, caviar, lobsters and oysters – as well as cordon bleu creations of beef, lamb and poultry. By the time they reach New York the waiters will have served up some 12,500lb (5650kg) of beef, 11,000lb (5000kg) of fresh fruit, 7501b (340kg) of lobster, 501b (22kg) of pat6 de foie gras – and brought in about 4800 jars of jpatend marmalade and 100 bottles of sauces and pickles.

In addition, they and the barmen will have uncorked 600 bottles of assorted wines and 500 bottles of champagne – and opened 500 bottles of whisky, 300 bottles of gin and 120 bottles of brandy. In the bars themselves, the staff will have poured 6000 bottles of beer and 3000 gallons (13,650 litres) of draught beer.

Altogether, some 25,000 items of glassware will have been used and washed, as well as 32,000 items of crockery, 18,000 items of cutlery, and almost 3000 tablecloths will have been laundered and laid.

After dinner, the ship’s 60 entertainers musicians, croupiers, dancers and singers – provide the passengers with a wide-ranging choice of amusements.

The night life does not end until dawn shortly before the first sitting for breakfast, when the waiters are back on duty and the stewards and stewardesses offer the luxury of breakfast served in bed.

Whatever the hour, in whichever part of the ship, there is always work for the crew to perform.

From the bridge – manned around the clock – to the darkroom – where overnight the photographer develops pictures taken at functions such as the Captain’s Cocktail Party – the bustle builds up again as another day aboard the world’s most regal liner gets under way.