After 33 years crossing the North Atlantic between New York and Southampton, England, 2003 will be the last season the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner will sail this transatlantic route. The same year, Air France and British Air will cease all Concorde flights and will retire this supersonic passenger jet because of falling passenger demand.
These two announcements brought back a flood of memories of one of our most interesting and exciting trips. In 1991, accompanied by two teenage grandsons, sixteen and seventeen years old, my husband and I took a 17-day American Express tour to Europe. Rather than regular airplane flights, we were given the option of sailing on the QE2 from New York to Southampton, England, then flying on the British Airways Concorde from London back to New York for a very nominal fee. The price was so favorable we took advantage of it.
The QE2 is a beautiful, sleek and slender ship, unlike the floating skyscrapers being built today. It still claims to be the fastest passenger ship in service. There was no sensation of speed, and it was so stable with no pitch or roll that we felt as though we were on dry land. It holds 1782 passengers compared to its replacement, the Cunard's new Queen Mary 2 which will hold 2500 passengers.
Before they had even unpacked, our grandsons had explored the ship and were making plans for the next five days. It took them 24 hours to find some girls and the fun began. Our only stipulation was that they touch base with us occasionally during the day and that they join us for dinner in the evening dressed appropriately. They entered many of the activities offered and enjoyed the evening entertainment. The many daily food offerings delighted them. They started with breakfast in their cabin and ended with the late night buffet.
The five days aboard ship passed quickly and we reached London ready for our land adventure. Our tour of Europe included two or three nights each in London, Paris, Lucerne, Venice, Florence and Rome. Each of these cities has its own adventure stories etched in my memory. Each needs its own telling.
All too soon our trip was almost over. We were in the British Airways Concorde waiting room ready to board the plane headed for the U.S.A. As we looked out the large window showing us the Concorde on the tarmac, we saw the pilot climbing the stairs to the plane with a small bag and a set of golf clubs slung over his shoulder. Soon it was our turn to board.
There is only one class of service on this plane, but I understand celebrities and regulars expect to sit near the front. There are 100 passenger seats. The plane's cruising speed is Mach 2 or twice the speed of sound. Its cruising altitude is between 50,000 and 60,000 feet. As the plane reached its maximum altitude the sky turned dark as if it were night. A screen at the front of the cabin displayed the current speed and altitude of our plane.
There was no door between the cockpit and the passenger cabin. Over the loudspeaker system the pilot invited passengers to visit the cockpit. The pilot also came back to the passenger cabin to socialize. We told him we noticed he carried golf clubs aboard. He said, "Yes, I'm playing golf on Long Island this afternoon." We left Heathrow Airport, London at 10:30 AM and arrived JFK Airport, N.Y. at 9:20 AM, an hour before we left. Unbelievable!
Nowadays, the long lines and lengthy waits at airport security have made transportation to and from a destination the least enjoyable part of a vacation trip. Not so in this case. The voyage on the luxury ocean liner, the QE2, and the flight on the Concorde supersonic jet were the most exciting segments of our trip.
Our grandsons were cousins and could be described as the "odd couple". One a neatnik, a square and almost a nerd. The other not so neat and a typical, fun loving teenage boy. They lived in different parts of the U.S. and did not know each other very well. By the time this trip was over, they were good friends and this friendship has continued.
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