Here’s a delightful essay by Dwight Garner, the NYT’s book critic, about crossing the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary 2. Excerpt:

A crossing is an interior as much as exterior voyage. Sepia-tinted photographs on the QM2 walls depict the actors, writers, politicians, aristocrats and playboys who crossed regularly during Cunard’s Champagne-soaked heyday, before the jet age robbed ocean liners of their reason for being. You recall Cunard’s wartime service. Winston Churchill observed that the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth helped shorten World War II by at least one year, such were their troop-carrying capacities.

There’s a strong temptation, during your first few days aboard the QM2, to scramble about frantically, trying to sample everything. It takes a few days to realize that the real pleasures of a winter crossing are deliberate ones. First of all there is the Bergmanesque beauty of the ocean, more entrancing to fixate upon than a fire.

You will find yourself devouring many books, because you’re mostly unplugged. (Internet service on the QM2 is slow and extortionately expensive.) You will mostly ignore world events, because the small newspaper the ship prints and distributes each morning, culled from wire service reports, is as upbeat and inane as an issue of USA Today edited by cocker spaniels.

Cree spent many of her daytime hours walking the ship’s promenade deck (three times around is about a mile) or soaking and reading in the Canyon Ranch Spa. I read, wrote a book review, and spent a fair amount of time in the late afternoons in an outdoor hot tub on Deck 8 with a commanding view over the aft.

It was cold out there, sometimes snowing, so these hot tubs were nearly always empty. The first evening I soaked there, alone in the gloaming, a pint of dry British cider at hand, watching the sky darken and the ship’s wake spread out, I was keenly aware that this was perhaps among the top 200 moments of my life.

I have never fancied a cruise or a crossing (Garner explains the difference), because I don’t think I would much like being bound to a floating hotel, and in the case of Caribbean cruises, I don’t care about their ports of call. But since I started watching Downton Abbey on PBS, I have developed an intensifying yen to take a Viking River Cruise.

Viking is a sponsor of the program, and runs this great commercial that makes you want to drop everything and jump on one of its longships. Watch their videos; it’s travel porn, basically. If I could afford to take one of them, I think I would choose one of the cruises on a German river, or the Danube cruise. I don’t know that part of the world, but am curious to see it. And to drink Riesling. 

I really do hope one day to take a river cruise in Europe. Years ago, Julie and I watched L’Atalante, the 1934 French film set aboard a barge on the Seine. It made me think that a European river cruise would be a lot of fun. Any of you readers ever been on one? If you could take one of the Viking cruises (or any cruise), which one would you choose, and why? Let’s make this a fun thread.