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Queen Mary II, Cunard
When you see the QM2 in port, you wonder how anything can be that big. She's more than twice as long as the Washington Monument, and her 17 decks hover 200 feet above the waterline (that's roughly one 23-story building). To sail on one of her transatlantic crossings—she's the first ocean liner to be constructed for this purpose in 35 years—is to be swept back into a bygone era of cruising when luxury came standard. In addition to the New York/Southampton route, the QM2 also sails to the Caribbean, Europe, New England, and Canada.
Even if you can't eat at "the grills" (see below), you don't have to miss out on the celeb chef experience. Todd English, the wunderkind of Mediterranean cuisine who runs the stunningly popular Olives restaurants, has an eponymous restaurant on the ship. Diners can choose the ornate dining room, with its red table linens and gold curtains, or opt to dine on deck. This new outpost is just as beloved as his others, so if you can't get in for dinner, try lunch, as the menu is nearly identical. You'll enjoy polished service and sample dishes such as the savory signature flatbread (set off perfectly with sweet-and-sour fig jam, Gorgonzola, and prosciutto), as well as a creamy ham hock risotto with crispy sweetbreads.
At capacity, the ship can carry 3,000 people. The crowd runs the gamut from veteran crossers to lots of transatlantic "newbies," drawn by buzz about the ship. You'll hear plenty of passengers speaking French and German, and there are many families (especially during school holidays).
The ship houses a dizzying array of accommodations, all the way up to a ginormous suite totaling 9,000 square feet (created by joining five duplex apartments). But even mere mortals should avoid claustrophobic interior staterooms, especially since nearly 75 percent of cabins have generously sized balconies.
In 2006, Cunard will introduce a 38-day "South America Odyssey" that rounds Cape Horn via the Drake Passage, Beagle Channel, and the Straits of Magellan. She will be the largest passenger ship to ever trawl these waters.
Good to Know:
You'll be dining based on your accommodations: Those in the higher category suites and apartments have their own two intimate restaurants (Princess Grill and Queens' Grill) with unhurried seating policies—not to mention fare devised by Daniel Boulud.
To book, call 800-7-CUNARD or go to www.cunard.com.
Seven-night sailings from $899 per person.