Virtuoso Life - September/October 2017 - 196
years working for Cunard. "The heritage,
the history, and all those sterling-silver
teapots" - the crew serves enough tea each
year to fill an Olympic-size swimming
pool - "recall a time when women wore ball
gowns and gentlemen knew how to fox-trot.
On this ship, they still do."
She's not kidding. The first night, passing
through the giant columns into the Grand
Lobby, I could swear we've stumbled upon
a warm-up event for the Royal Ascot. The
ship is unique in disallowing casual attire
after 6 pm, and let me just say that the crowd
cleans up really well. Even though the
evening's dress code is "informal" (we have
three formal nights, including a masquerade ball, ahead), the men sport suits and
ties, and the women sparkle in cocktail
dresses and heels. As Perl puts it, "It's a
great show of respect for fellow passengers
V I RT U O S O L I F E
at a time when fewer and fewer people make an effort in these classic ways."
You get that sense at dinner, certainly. Without screens to distract or places to be,
strangers fall back on near-forgotten pastimes, like asking meaningful questions and
actually listening to the responses. Tablemates are assigned for the entire week; we
luck out with Karen and Doris, lifelong friends from New York who lived together in
London "when we were young and poor," and who are returning "now that we're free
and happy," as Doris puts it. Next to them are Ulrich and his wife, Karin, retirees from
Cologne, who have come for "the wine, the dancing, and the million other things we'll
be too lazy to do."
I figure out what he means back in our Britannia Club Balcony Stateroom, an elegant
retreat with a glass-fronted terrace and art deco seating area. Each night, passengers
receive an activities list for the day ahead that's as dense as an old Manhattan phone directory. Across six columns of single-spaced text are 18 hours of fencing instruction, fitness
classes, rehearsals for a talent show, a photo scavenger hunt, watercolor painting, an improv
workshop with members of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a bridge seminar, dance
tutorials, music trivia, an AA meeting, an LGBT gathering, a lecture by a New York Times
journalist, and another by hostage negotiator and humanitarian Terry Waite. This is just the
Before I can say, "Slow the ship down! I need more time!" I'm lulled by a gentle rocking
motion into a deep sleep.