My wife and I have previously cruised with HAL (Maasdam,Veendam & Prinsendam,) Celebrity (Mercury), Radisson Seven Seas (Seven Seas Voyager) and Cunard (QE2). In May 2004, following a trip to America, we decided to take the easy way home aboard the QM2.
Embarkation. We drove from Washington DC to New York as Amtrak refused to accept our large case. Luckily we had been warned about their policy and upon checking in Washington, they refused the case but gave us a full refund. Hertz to the rescue! It took about 4 hours to drive to New York and stress levels were high by the time we reached the pier. The pier was dirty and unwelcoming and the atmosphere, as at most embarkations was one of disorganisation. There were a large number of badly dressed Cunard personnel directing operations and we were processed fairly quickly by the dour check in staff. We had upgraded our booking and Cunard had not issued tickets for the new cabin so there was confusion, albeit quickly resolved. It took about 20 minutes from arrival at the pier until embarkation.
The Cabin. We were aboard by about 1.30pm and the smiling faces at the gangway were the first we had seen since we arrived at the pier (or in indeed New York). No assistance was offered in carrying hand luggage and no one showed us to our cabin, we were merely waved towards a lift. This was not a favourable first impression of the pier or the ship and we felt that the crew had to work hard in the first couple of days to overcome this. Our cabin, a P grade mini suite was located midships on the starboard side of deck 10 and was beautiful, square in shape and decorated in soothing tones of pale green and cream with blonde wood fittings and a pale beige carpet. The sitting area was furnished with a large settee, an armchair and an oval table. Along the inward wall were shelves, mirrored to reflect the sea outside, the interactive television, storage and bookshelves. The very comfortable queen sized bed had bedside tables with drawers. The entire seaward wall of the cabin was glazed, with a door to the generous balcony, which was furnished with 2 comfortable wooden padded steamer chairs and a table. The balcony was also glazed. Adjoining the door on the inboard side of the room was a run of three hanging wardrobes, a dresser and a walk in closet. The bathroom was more pedestrian with a ¾ tub, with a good shower attachment, a washbasin and WC. The shower attachment was hanging loose but was quickly repaired upon request. (It should have been checked prior to embarkation!) Towels and robes were plentiful and were replaced frequently. We judged the cabin very comfortable and particularly liked the glazing which contributed to the feeling of light and space. If one had a criticism, it is that the bathroom was not up to the standard of the rest of the cabin.
The Ship. Queen Mary 2 is huge but absorbs her passengers very well. The decor is for the most part tasteful and in some cases surprisingly restrained. There is an eclectic mix of interior design ranging from Art Deco to plain funky. There are some startling colours and some very restrained and restful areas. Above all, there is a feeling of space. We understood that there were about 2200 passengers aboard on our trip and one never felt crowded. . Because of the chilly weather, although mostly calm and sunny, it was too cold to spend to much time on deck, other than walking off the effects of the excellent cuisine, 3 complete circuits of the promenade deck equated to a mile. On 2 afternoons we snoozed on our balcony shrouded in thoughtfully provided woollen steamer rugs. . The sun deck boasted a magradome topped swimming pool and Lido area but this became very crowded and there was rarely space available to relax. There were 2 further outside pools and hot tubs but these were very little used. Cunard run excellent entertainment programmes and we particularly liked the RADA workshops and performances. I attended 2 excellent lectures in the Oxford lecture series. The usual range of quizzes, wine tastings etc were available but somehow we never seemed to have time! There was a wide range of public rooms including a superb 2 deck Royal Court Theatre. A secondary single deck theatre called Illuminations offered planetarium type shows and this doubled for more intimate studio type productions as well as lectures. Canyon Ranch managed a luxurious spa and a comprehensive range of treatments were offered at normal spa prices. One of the features of the spa was a beautiful hydrotherapy pool with steam rooms and saunas etc adjoining. Access to this was by day pass or was complimentary if one had booked a treatment. There was an excellent and well-stocked library and Internet centre as well as a wide variety of bars. We noticed a Golden Lion pub although we never frequented it. Off the main lobby was a champagne bar but generally this appeared to be under used. Afternoon tea was served in the most impressive Queens Room which doubled as a show lounge and ballroom. On two evenings formal balls were held here, a Black and White ball and an Ascot Ball. It was a pity that the pre voyage information did not mention these, as passengers could have packed appropriate costumes which would have contributed to the atmosphere of the evening. A range of shops catered for most needs but seemed to be very expensive.
The Food. Aboard QM2 the choice of cabin dictates in which restaurant one will eat.. We chose a P grade cabin because we had heard that the Princess Grill on the QM2 was outstanding. We were not disappointed in any way. The grill, which is situated on the port side of the vessel aft, was beautifully appointed and decorated in muted shades of cream and beige with subdued lamp lighting. The highest quality linen and flatware were used. After a slight hiatus (Cunard Southampton had failed to transmit our request for a table for 2) we obtained a beautiful table for 2 by a window. The service was simply outstanding. Although we are fans of Radisson Seven Seas which offers a choice of three or four different restaurants, there is a great deal to be said for having the same table and waiting team for every meal. After the first evening, our duo, Vito and Reena established our preferences and after that, nothing was too much trouble. The quality of the food and service was first class. In the main, the food was European with Asian influences. There was always a spa option available. Although ostensibly a table d'hote menu (a la carte is only offered in the Queens Grill) there was always the option of ordering off menu if one wished. Flambee cuisine was much in evidence and the desserts in particular were excellent. Breakfast was offered in the Princess Grill up to 9.30 am but we usually breakfasted in the cabin. This was a disappointing element of the trip. Delivered on a tray with no attempt to set up the table, the food was usually hot but I felt that there should have been some attempt to present it in a more professional and appropriate manner. The Kings Court offered a normal ships buffet at lunchtime and smaller specialty restaurants in the evening. This restaurant appeared to be somewhat disjointed in its layout, being broken down into small areas but with no sense of cohesion. We ate lunch and dinner in the Princess Grill so did not use this eatery. On one evening we dined in the much-vaunted Todd English extra tariff restaurant. We were disappointed - we thought the food and service levels in the Princess Grill considerably better.
The Entertainment. My wife was a professional Theatre director and we are usually critical of shipboard entertainment. However the QM2 is in a class of its own. The size of the ship means that there is a higher entertainment budget. What a difference it makes to have a show backed by live music and not the ubiquitous clic track. The Royal Court Orchestra are excellent. 2 major production shows were staged during the crossing and we found the dancing and singing both professional and entertaining. All the very best technology available today is incorporated into the theatre and the director made full use of it. On two other evenings a funny British comic entertained - we are not sure that his humour was completely understood by the US contingent in the audience. On a another night a mediocre female singer was featured. We attended the second of the nightly shows and they were well supported and well received. As previously stated, there was a wealth of entertainment and activities provided all over the ship during the day and evening throughout the voyage.
Disembarkation. We breakfasted at 8am in the Grill and were ashore and in a taxi by 9.15 with no hassles. Our luggage was waiting and there were plenty of porters and taxis. Gratuities were added to one's shipboard account although we gave an additional tip our excellent dining room team. Considering the number of passengers aboard the ship, the disembarkation process was smooth and painless.
Conclusion. Avid fans of 'sea days', we found the voyage restful and relaxing. The wide variety of activities available would suit all tastes. However, QM2 is a 2 class ship. The differentiation is not called 'first' and 'tourist' any more, but Grill & Britannia. There is virtually no discrimination on space available for passengers apart from the Queens grill bar which was only available to Grill passengers. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience in Grill class. The dining experience was equal to, if not better than, the Seven Seas Voyager aboard which we cruised last year. However, if Cunard is trying to court the top end customer, details such as the welcome aboard and cabin service will have to be substantially improved.. The majority of passengers are American and the organisation of the ship is geared to their preferences. Although it did not bother us, those expecting a recreation of the 'Britishness' of the old Queens will be disappointed. However, for us, Queen Mary 2 herself was the star of the show, classy, surprisingly understated and entertaining - she represents a wonderful way to cross the Atlantic. We can't wait to go again!