The recent retirement of the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship stirs some memories in me, not all of them fond. But I didn't experience the great oceanliner as a guest or a travel writer; in 1983, when I was still figuring out what to do for a living and how to become a writer, I worked briefly on the ship. At the time, it was the height of sea-going elegance, and for me, it provided my first glimpses at luxury travel.
(AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
I was living in New York at the time and answered an ad looking for cruise staff – those smiling, energetic members of the ship's crew who interact with passengers, host activities and man the gangways for meet-and-greets – and within three weeks I was bound for London with a vague promise of employment on the ship. The Brits on board were not pleased to see an American manning a job that had been traditionally British – as I was to learn, there was a great deal of history and stewardship of the old ship, and newcomers were not warmly received.
I was told to pick out a uniform and show up at eight a.m. on the day of embarkation – no orientation, no introduction or tour of the ship. I had never even been on a ship, and had no idea what I was supposed to do.
I worked for most of a summer, crossing the Atlantic and going on a long tour of Scandinavia. It was fun to see everyone dressed in tuxedoes and enjoying fine dining and cocktails; for many people, the QE2 was like a member of their family whom they returned to visit every year. For others, a sailing was the reward for years of hard work and saving money.
I found that the job wasn't for me – way too many hours for too little money – but the travel was. That experience launched my interest in traveling for a living, and it would take a few years more to figure out how to go on cruises as a travel writer. I've been on about twenty since. To the QE2, which is now a floating hotel in Dubai, I bid a fond retirement; some of my youthful memories still linger in those corridors.