Fishing boats crowd the waterfront in the port of Nha Trong, Vietnam. | Photo by Paul Lasley
I sat in the Queen Mary 2’s Carinthia Lounge, a quiet room with plush sofas in shades of gold and cornflower blue, and gazed through the window as the ship glided through the South China Sea.
“Did you get on in Hong Kong?” asked the woman at the next table.
“Yes,” I answered. “And you?”
“I boarded in Southampton,” said the woman, who had dark hair and huge brown eyes that seemed to take in everything around her. “I’m doing the entire world cruise.”
The entire world cruise. The phrase evoked images of far-flung ports and uncommon adventures. As a travel journalist, I’ve ventured to many distant lands and taken more than 100 cruises, but the prospect of setting sail for some three months to circumnavigate the globe holds a special appeal. A family friend named Alice used to reminisce at age 90 about a world cruise she’d taken in the 1930s, and her tales of meeting Balinese wood-carvers and Indian camel merchants captivated me.
I lack the time to embark on a complete world cruise right now, but Cunard Line offered segments of its 2018 World Voyage aboard Queen Mary 2 (QM2). I signed up for a five-night leg from Hong Kong to Singapore, eager to learn if this sampling would whet my appetite to one day take the whole trip.
Cunard launched the first world cruise on a passenger vessel in November 1922, when the RMS Laconia visited 22 ports in 130 days. Today, several lines offer world cruises, which typically begin in January and range from about 85 to 245 days.
On the QM2, some 270 passengers—out of a capacity of 2,620—were sailing the entire 120-night voyage. I’d assumed they’d all be wealthy. Many I met—like the handsome twentysomething Argentinian whom I could imagine in a sleek sports car—were. But some came from more modest means. What they all had in common, I observed, was an insatiable curiosity about other people and far-off places.
“My mind was always in the world,” said Mary Ann Molinaro, the woman I had met in the Carinthia Lounge. “I started collecting stamps from around the globe when I was 10.” When she and I later met for fish-and-chips in the ship’s Golden Lion Pub, I learned she was a retired high school Spanish teacher from Nevada.
These adventurers were on the right ship. The QM2, which entered service in 2004, was built to cruise the world. “She’s the one-and-only true ocean liner that sails the seven seas,” said Captain Peter Philpott when I visited the bridge. “QM2 has thicker steel than other cruise ships and a deeper draft, which means she can handle any weather the North Atlantic might throw at her. And she was designed to be at her best at high speed: 28.5 knots.” That makes QM2 perfect for long-range voyaging.
While the exterior is hardy, the ship also exudes elegance. In the two-deck-high atrium, a copper-colored wall sculpture depicts QM2 emerging from a sunburst, and murals along hallways celebrate the history, culture, and wildlife of six continents. The two-deck-high Britannia Restaurant is so glamorous, I felt like Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as I descended the double staircase that curved beneath a ceiling evocative of stained glass.