Review: Queen Mary 2 Independence Weekend Sampler Cruise (July 2-5, 2005)
Previous Cruises: Carnival Victory - Canada Voyager of the Seas - Western Caribbean
Members in our Party - 7 My wife and me (late 40s), two sons (12 and 17), my two sisters (early 60s) and a family friend (51)
Embarkation: A We used a car service to travel from Jersey City to the pier. They arrived early and we arrived at the pier in about 30 minutes at 10:45 a.m. Cunard's documents told us that no one would be boarded until 1:30 but you never believe your documents. We dropped off our luggage and went up to the waiting room in Customs Hall where chairs were set up. Your waiting area was based on the dining room you chose. At 12:30 they started the embarkation process. Less than a half hour later we were on board. As you entered the ship the Atrium was all decorated with flags and bunting for the Fourth and a line up of crew in tuxes and white gloves welcomed you aboard along with a harpist playing in the background.
We had two outside cabins towards the front of deck 6. Very roomy with lots of storage space. Met Deirdre, our stewardess (her term), and asked her to put our beds together for us, which she did while we were at lunch. The Cunard policy is not to put the beds together if you have people in the pullmans above, but they will do so upon request. The concern is that the kids will fall out on top of you, but I'd rather have them fall on me and a mattress than on the hard floor hitting their heads on the end tables. The configuration on Carnival makes more sense. They have a sofa that turns into a single with the pullman above that. Cunard also has a tasteful vinyl mat that they put on the bed for you to place your luggage and nice throw pillows and shams. The beds were the most comfortable I've had at sea as were the pillows, and the featherbed comforter was terrific. Robes were provided for everyone. There are no animal folded towels on the QM2.
The bathroom is adequate with the largest shower I've seen in an outside view stateroom. All the necessary soaps, shampoos, etc were provided. Pool towels were in the vanity. The safe was operated by combination or using a credit card's magnetic strip. When you enter your cabin the TV is already on and tuned to the video showing you how to use your life vest. The TV has limited channels but includes CNN and ESPN. Each morning, the cruise director hosted a show "Good Morning QM2" with the lead dancer serving as weather girl. The TVs also have a wireless keyboard for e-mail. Cost is $1.50 per message sent or received.
Muster drill: A
The muster drill on the QM2 is done in various rooms throughout the ship. Ours was in the gym.
Food: B- Service: C
The food in the dining room was very good, but the selection was limited. They try to be too fancy with sauces, etc. Carnival is superior and Royal Caribbean's is also better. One lobster tail had to be returned because it was rubbery and tasted bad. The prime rib and garlic shrimp were both excellent. The lemonade, iced tea and juices allowed us to get by without buying soda. Service in the dining room was sporadic and somewhat disorganized and slow. The layout is tight. Because of the fireworks in New York Harbor, the last night was open seating. We went at the usual time (early seating 5:45) and got seated right away. Those who came later had extremely long waits to get a table.
The variety in the King's Court is good, but the food is nothing special (although the fresh fruit selection was wonderful) Again Carnival was much better while Royal Caribbean's Windjammer was the worst of the three. The King's Court has 4 sections; the Carvery, the Lotus, La Piazza and the Chef's Galley. The Carvery and Chef's Galley were the better choices. There were a great variety of desserts as well as soft ice cream dispensers.
Breakfast in the dining room was painfully slow. Better to use the King's Court. My wife said that the Cream of Wheat was the best she's had. Cereal selections are limited with no pre sweetened for the kids.
We did not try Todd English so I cannot comment on it.
The stage shows were amateurish, too slow and too long. On the first night "Apassionata " was a history of dance ending with swing. The second night "Rock @ the Opera" mixed opera with modern rock. We chose not to attend. The last show was "Zing Went the Strings" a tribute to Judy Garland. It started with a video that was not visible because of stage props. We left when the Judy Garland wannabe started dancing to the music of Austin Powers. The theater was only half full at the start of the show and many left during the show.
Movies were shown each night in Illuminations (the planetarium) We went one evening to watch "National Treasure" which we had not seen before. The movie was good, but my surround sound at home offers better sound.
The planetarium show is worth attending if just for the novelty of it all. You must get tickets ahead of time for the half hour show which is interesting if you can stay awake listening to the monotone narrator.
Kid's Program: B
My 12 year old went one morning and enjoyed basketball, air hockey and X-box. The schedule seemed full with a number of options. The staff is small and you must choose morning or afternoon sessions ahead of time. Kids can attend more than one session per day only if room permits -- and on our cruise it did.
As for my 17 year old, there were activities but none that interested him. There were only 65 teens on board. Instead he joined pickup basketball on the sports deck.
Sports deck: C
There was a small basketball court and paddle tennis court that had limited hours. The ping pong tables and paddles were in bad shape. Shuffle board was near impossible as the pucks refused to slide on the wood decks. You will have some success if you turn them upside down.
The pools were really nice. The Promenade pool on deck 12 had a roof for cool evenings. On deck 8 on the back of the ship was the Terrace pool And on deck 13 towards the front of the ship was a splash pool. Also in the back of the ship there was a family pool and a sprinkler areas for the kids. Unfortunately that pool had to be close on our last day when someone got sick and lost their lunch. A mandatory emptying, cleaning and 24 hour closure meant families then had to use the other pools.
As we left New York Harbor, the cruise director, Brian Pierce, pointed out the sights A fire boat led us out of the harbor with water spraying.
This was a 3 day trip with fireworks scheduled for New York harbor. We got a bonus because Newport Rhode Island scheduled their fireworks for July 3rd. The captain decided that would be a good show so on Sunday night we anchored just off the fireworks sight in the harbor with the rear of the ship facing the fireworks. They were so close you felt as if you could reach out and touch them. It was a cool night so stewards came out and distributed blankets and towels to keep people warm. a nice touch. Patriotic music blared over the sound system adding to the festive evening. On Monday night we anchored just north of Staten Island for the Macy's New York fireworks extravaganza. Desserts and drinks were brought out along with a contemporary band for a party atmosphere. Blankets were again provided. Because of our distance, the fireworks were visible but seemed small. We were so glad that we had the show in Newport the night before. After the fireworks show we again left New York Harbor and went out to sea before returning to port on Tuesday morning.
The ship itself and its size are incredible. You can't see the end of the hallway of the floor you are on. Because capacity is about 2,600 people the ship never seems crowded and at times feels downright empty. For comparison, the Voyager of the Seas which is only slightly smaller carries 3,800 people at full capacity) There is one staff member for every two passengers. Most of the staff are British and all are very friendly and helpful. Stewards remove towels from deck chairs that do not seem to be in use.
The QM2 is the only ship with a permanent exhibit. "Maritime Quest" is basically a history of Cunard. It is fascinating and well worth it if you have the time to explore the various items. A guide is on the back of the fold out map you find in your cabin.
The QM2 is also a quiet ship: no announcements except for the captain's update each noon. Yes there are are auctions, bingo, etc, but you need to read your Daily Programme to know what is going on.
Shops are limited and expensive. We've always purchased a Christmas ornament of each ship we've been on but the QM2 did not have them. My son suggested buying 2 QM2 magnets which we can put together and then use a string to make our own ornament: a great idea if you check the polarity of the magnets to make sure they will go together. Pictures were the most expensive I've ever seen. Prints of your various activities and poses were available at $27.50 each! Another item i've always bought on cruses is a photo album with the ship's logo for 4X6 prints. usually these cost about $10 On the QM2 the only way to get such an album was to buy 15 professional images and the album for $49.49.95. you could not buy the album separately. On the second day of the cruise they sold 250 T-shirts made specifically for this weekend. The mob and lines for these limited edition shirts was worse than Macy's bargain tables at Christmas.
The ship itself is incredible. The Promenade deck has wooden chairs with comfortable cushions and is wide enough for jogging and walking. Three times around equals 1.1 miles. Toward the front of Promenade there is an elevator that goes up the outside of the ship to an observation deck. Breathtaking views can be had from both.
The ship's library is extensive and the gym is well equipped. The spa offers an all day pass for $29. There is a book store, an internet center called Connexions, a casino, several laundries and a number of lounges with a good variety of musical choices. . On Deck two there are game tables lining the side of the ship near windows with games such as Scrabble, Checkers, Chutes and Ladders and more.
As with most cruise lines you get colored tags. The difference on the QM2 is that you also get the schedule for the colors so you know when your color will be called. We chose self disembarkation because our car service was scheduled to pick us up prior to our color being called. This also allowed us to keep our luggage and not have it collected the night before docking. The ship docked at 6:30 a.m. with disembarking scheduled to start at 8. we had a leisurely breakfast and walked on deck one last time. Self disembarking began at 7:30 with colors for tags starting at 8. There was no immigration processing because we had no ports of call on this trip. We left the ship shortly after 8. Once the car service van cleared security we were on our way home and arrived there before 9:30.
I took this short cruise because I wanted to be able to say i sailed on the QM2. I wanted to see the difference between an ocean liner and a cruise ship, and there were some differences. I've always been fascinated by the old liners and was delighted to have the chance to try the modern Queen. The weekend cruise was about what my budget could handle. This weekend schedule also worked as well for my sisters who hadn't cruised in 20 years. The last time they cruised they had tiny cabins with bunk beds and sections of the ship that they could not access. They had been on the Bremen, The France The Raffaello and the SS United States. I think they were amazed at how ships have changed.
A cruise is what you make of it. People can always find things to complain about. For me though, I feel blessed to be able to take a cruise and will always enjoy what is offered. And I fully enjoyed my weekend. Just wish it was longer.
The QM2 is indeed a tremendous ship and I am glad I sailed on her, but unless I am doing a transatlantic voyage, i will probably not sail on her again. There are better cruise offerings out there at better prices.
Next month it is back to the Voyager of the Seas for a family cruise to Bermuda (with a balcony room and a promenade view room.. i can't wait. As you can probably tell, I am addicted.
For pictures from this cruise go to http://homepage.mac.com/pekrause/PhotoAlbum16.html