Our crossing on the Queen Mary 2 proved to be one of the loveliest travel experiences my partner and I have had - and we travel a lot, to destinations both traditional and off the beaten path.
Critics (and Cunard seems to attract a very steady stream of customers who are both repeat visitors and fiercely critical!) may carp, but in our seven days, we had consistently good to excellent service, food that regularly met or exceeded our high expectations, and activities that were on the whole highly enjoyable.
We traveled Britannia Club and will plan to do so again. The dining plan is the main attraction - open seating at the same table for all three meals, additional a la carte choices on the menu, and the same servers throughout. We lucked into a very congenial table for eight, and we really enjoyed the cosier atmosphere and more personal service in BC (we ate a couple of meals in the main Britannia room as well - fine, but not as polished). The additional menu choices (especially the excellent scallops) were much appreciated, as were the dramatic tableside dessert flambes. Highlights of the food included first-rate fish and seafood, and very good and unusual starters (in portions small enough one needn't feel guilty about have two - or more!). Soups were a disappointment, generally, and only once was there something we had to send back (tough, dry calve's liver).
We also really enjoyed our AA cabin up on Deck Twelve - we were directly adjacent to the Pavilion Pool and loved being able to slip out for a late-night swim (and, to allay a fear I'd had based on the deck plan - there was no additional noise that we noticed for being so close the pool). Cabin service was flawless - we made good use of the excellent quality (and not wildly expensive by hotel standards) laundry, dry cleaning, and pressing services, facilitated by our cheerful steward, and we were amused by our daily towel animals. Heck, we even enjoyed our embarkation bottle of the much-maligned Pol Acker bubbly.
Our crossing was smooth but foggy and so not all that conducive to deck time - still, it was wonderful to take a long daily constitutional on the Promenade Deck. Indoors, we found the Canyon Ranch spa both a haven and, with daily passes for the duration of the trip, rather a bargain. Only a morning or two were crowded, and we loved the thalassotherapy pool and the beautiful and supremely comfortable relaxation lounge. We each had an excellent massage from a first-rate therapist. Given shoreside Canyon Ranch prices, this feature on QM2 is an amazing value.
We took advantage of only a few organized activities, but greatly enjoyed the wine tasting (excellent choices, and very interesting to hear from the sommeliers), trivia quizzes in the Golden Lion, and watching the dancing nightly (and some afternoons - tea dances were enormous fun) in the Queens Room.
Since I don't want to give the impression that I'm without a single criticism, I will say that one of the two productions shows, "Hit Me with a Hot Note," was tired and seemed out of place (loud, paceless, and generally pointless). The other, "Apassionata," was better, but neither were as good as the welcome and farewell shows. The former, especially, which featured the best dancing and costumes we saw, set our expectations rather too high. Specialty entertainers were variable - soprano Annette Wardell rather too pleased with herself (and iffy on her high notes), all-around entertainer David Copperfield (NOT the magician!) actually great, if highly cheesy, fun, and a good piano/cello duo ruined, for me, by poor miking.
I'll close with a couple of thoughts for first-time crossers, based on things that enlivened our trip:
- Embark early. We got to S'ton at 11:00 and were on board by just past noon, embarking just after the Grills passengers. Getting there before the crowds was a great choice, although the staff otside the terminal were surprisingly unaware of even the basics of the procedures involved (especially in dropping luggage to be x-rayed). The stateroom was ready, and we dropped our things and immediately started exploring. We avoided the Kings Court and had a very good lunch in the Golden Lion - quiet, cosy, and a nice start to the week.
- As noted, if it's to your taste, take full advantage of the spa.
- Some features, such as the Commodore Club with its excellent cocktails and peerless views, are notably quieter at the start of the trip, before they're "discovered". Make yourself a regular early on for best service!
- If you want to avoid crowds (which personally we rarely found an issue), take advantage of popular features at off hours. We had the Pavilion Pool to ourselves late at night, and even the Kings Court can be a serene place to enjoy a pre-breakfast coffee at 6:30 a.m. The Winter Garden is often a pleasant getaway, and the Chart Room - packed pre-dinner - is a great spot for a mid-afternoon cocktail.
- If you're disembarking in New York, don't worry about transport - we grabbed a cab immediately on exit and paid far less than for a car service to our midtown hotel. Also, if lines at immigration seem long, grab a porter - they were taking their passengers to an expedited line that moved quickly and efficiently. Worth it for the tip!
Most of all - make the trip your own. Ignore the moaners and occasional bores (especially of the "well, it's not the QE2/last year the lobster tails were bigger/my steward doesn't scrub the bathroom on his knees" sort!). Explore the ship, meet some of your fellow travelers, and, above all, enjoy the too-rare opportunity to have seven days of time entirely at your own disposal.