Embarkation -- Although Cunard assigns you an embarkation time on your documents that they assure you is "strictly enforced", no one ever looked at this or even asked. We arrived at the NYC Cruise ship terminal at 1200 and embarkation was already underway. Our luggage was collected at the curb by a friendly steward who gave us directions to the check-in area. People were seated in a large open area in the order they arrived. We sat for about 20 minutes and then were led to the actual check-in desks. The check-in staff couldn't have been nicer. Picture ID ship cards were made and we were told all the cabins were ready. On the way to the ship they had set up a table where you could make your alternative dining reservations. I thought this was a nice touch to keep you from tearing around the ship in the first hour trying to find restaurants and make reservations. We made reservations for Todd English, the Chefs Galley, and Lotus. We then made our way onto the ship where there were crew members waiting to escort those who needed assistance. We opted to guide ourselves and found our way with no problem. We were in our cabin by 1250.
Cabin -- Our cabin was on deck 4, a category B4 "in hull" balcony cabin. The cabin layout was typical of ships of this price and age. The design was functional and well thought out, giving the illusion of roominess. The dEcor was clean and classic with more "relaxing" art then we have experienced on some cruise lines that tend to more "modern" interior decoration. The cabin was exceptionally quiet, and though we had neighbors on either side, we never heard a peep. The balcony was exactly as one would expect, a metal "box" set into the hull. As others have noted, the solid railing wall makes it impossible to see anything when seated in the cabin or even in the chairs on the balcony, however we did not find this to be an issue. Once at sea on the North Atlantic, we appreciated the sheltered nature of the balcony, since the design blocked 90% of the wind. In truth, we didn't use the balcony much on the transatlantic crossing: it was foggy many days with limited visibility and chilly every day. With little to see and frigid weather, an ocean view cabin would likely have been equally enjoyable. The cabin stewardess was efficient, unobtrusive and diligent. The room was always spotless and smelled "fresh". We are non-smokers and sensitive to any hint of stale smoke so this was especially welcome. In fact, nowhere in the ship did you smell even the faintest hint of the "mustiness" that seems endemic on oceangoing vessels.Dining -- Our seating assignment for dinner (Britannia Restaurant) was waiting for us in our cabin on arrival, including a map showing us where our table was located. Again, this saved a trip to the restaurant to consult the table map. In addition, there was much less of the incessant milling, so common the first night when everyone is trying to get directions to their table. We had a table for 8 at late seating instead of our requested table for 2 at early seating, but we had delightful tablemates and thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience. The food and the service were both very good. Despite Cunard's reputation, we found the service less formal than on Celebrity, but it was friendly and attentive in its own style. Again, while the food was very good, it was not up to the level we have experienced on Celebrity.
We ate one night at the Todd English Restaurant. I will say in advance, it was a fairly rough sea night so I did not experience it under the best of circumstances. The staff went out of their way to make the experience wonderful. The food was delicious, very rich, and artfully presented. It was not however, as noteworthy as we had expected. Again, because of the seas, diners were exiting at a fairly regular pace, but the staff remained upbeat and tried to assist however they could. While it was a good experience and we were both glad we went, with the $30 pp cover charge, we would not go again should we sail on the QM2 in the future.
On another night, we ate in the Chefs Galley. This is a demonstration kitchen where 30 guests can watch the Chef prepare each course as he narrates the process. The $30 cover charge includes champagne with the appetizers as well as unlimited wine specifically chosen to match each course. The extremely attentive waiters never let a glass drop below half full, so if one was not careful it would be all to easy to be inebriated by the time the entree was served. The food was delicious and the wines outstanding. It is truly an evenings entertainment, so plan for a full three hours for the experience. We had a wonderful time and it was one of the highlights of our trip.
The Kings Court Buffet was fine. It was as good as any buffet we have had on any cruise ship which is to say it was still a buffet. We actually enjoyed the fact that it was broken up into smaller areas since you did not get the feeling you were one of hundreds of "cattle" milling about. We did not experience any of the crowding other passengers have noted, but the ship was also only 80% full so this may have enhanced our experience.
We had tea in the Queens Room most days and this is an experience not to be missed. Amazingly attentive white-gloved waiters serve tea while a string quartet plays. Sweet cakes and sandwiches are served, as well as the most heavenly scones I have ever experienced. While some people "dressed" for tea, most came in their casual clothes and were equally welcomed. Again, this was another highlight of our cruise. Even my husband had to admit he enjoyed it despite initially going only to humor his wife.
The ship also has an English style pub, the Golden Lion. This was my husband's favorite "hangout" and we had lunch there most days. As well as having Guinness on tap, they serve pub lunch there every day at no charge. The fish and chips, Bangers and mash, and Ploughman's lunch were all equally delicious. The place was rarely crowded. There was a pianist there most days playing during lunch. He was very good, but did not play a repertoire one would associate with a pub (Judy Garland and Diana Ross?)
Ship -- The ship, like our cabin was spotless. Someone was always cleaning or polishing wherever you went. There is so much art and history on board that you can simply wander and look for hours on end. The ship is very stable. I am a fair weather sailor and even on the roughest day (25' seas), I was still OK. By North Atlantic standards I am told we had an easy crossing. Walking on the promenade deck on the north Atlantic is not for wimps. When you add the outside wind, to the 27 knots the ships was doing, account for the spray coming over the side, and then add in an outside temperature of about 50 degrees F, it makes for a blustery walk. The knowledgeable actually brought light parkas. At the minimum you need a coat, sweater/sweatshirt and head covering. While we took some walks, it was a bit too bracing for me. That being said, a large number of very elderly passengers were out there everyday strolling the decks in all weather with canes in hand. Better stock than me I guess.
For such a large ship, the designers did a very nice job of breaking the public spaces up into more intimate areas. Spaces ranged from about a dozen seats in the cigar bar, to a couple hundred in the Winter Garden. Even within each space, tables were arranged in such as way as to give privacy as opposed to expansive hordes of people. Waiters remembered your name after the first meeting and were attentive and professional. There was the typical assortment of "lounge" acts in the evening: all very good. There was dancing in the Queens Room before dinner and after every night. We preferred the before dinner event as the after dinner set tended to be more formal with the Cruise Director acting as MC and intimidatingly good dancers covering the floor. The Queens Room itself is huge and beautiful, riving many land based ballrooms for decor and size. Unlike many ships, smoking is not confined to one "side" of the ship, therefore many times it was impossible to escape the smoke. Given the large percentage of Europeans, smoke was fairly omnipresent in the public rooms.
There was a wonderful observation area directly behind the bridge where you could go and watch the crew without interfering with their work. It was fun to be able to see how few people it actually takes to "drive" the ship.Entertainment -- We are not much into the entertainment on ships, so we had limited experience with the shows. The one we went to was very professional. The other diners at our table went every night and raved about the quality. The Planetarium was a very good experience with entertaining if lightweight 25 minute shows several times a day. The daily activities were fairly typical of other cruises we have been on, with the exception of the Oxford lecturers. These Dons gave several talks daily that were geared to more erudite topics and were very well received. We attended one that was quite good, but the topics presented this trip simply did not appeal to us (Shakespeare, Child Psychology, Modern Art). Since they differ each cruise, I would suspect it might be very different next time.
We did not use the gym but toured thru it and found it small relative to the ship, but well supplied. It never seemed to be even half full. I used numerous spa services at the Canyon Ranch Spa. Though the prices are typical of cruise line treatments, the quality of the experience was much better than I have previously experienced. In addition, they never tried to sell me anything at the end of the treatment, a practice that makes me crazy with the Steiner run spas.
Fellow Passengers -- The passengers were as one would expect for a transatlantic crossing during the school year: predominantly retired persons, with probably less than 20% under age 50. There were few families and we only counted three children on the entire ship. There were also a large number of Gay men who were somewhat younger than the typical passengers. There was about a 50/50 split of Americans and Europeans. In general people dressed up a little more than other cruises we have been on. Though there were few jeans or t-shirts, those that did chose to wear them did not seem out of place. Dress code was however strictly enforced in the restaurants so there was none of the football jersey/ cutoff short wearing at dinner.
Gratuities -- Tips are ostensibly added onto your bill each day and onto your bar tab for drinks. However the staff made a point of telling us that all of these tips were pooled and that the only way to tip individual staff was in cash given to them personally. There was still a clear expectation that some cash would be given to your waiters and cabin attendants on the last night. While this was all done politely, with little pressure, I would still rather tip in person than have it added onto the daily bill which I find very impersonal.
Disembarkation -- An immigration officer actually sailed with the ship, so instead of clearing immigration in Southampton on arrival, it was done at a leisurely pace during the course of the trip. This was a great timesavings, as once in Southampton, one had simply to pick up ones luggage and find your transportation. This was the also first cruise line we had ever been on that allowed you to keep your luggage the last night instead of leaving it in the hall. Passengers opting for this “self-service” option simply carried their own bags off the ship. They were also allowed one of the very first departure times, being allowed off the ship anytime after 0730. This was a great option for the physically fit in a hurry. Disembarkation went as smoothly as Embarkation. We left our cabin at 0730, had breakfast and were off the ship and underway by 0845. We had purchased a bus transfer into London were dropped off at Victoria Station in about 90 minutes.
Altogether it was a wonderful experience. We have nothing but praise for the ship and her crew and would definitely sail again in the future.