My wife and I have just completed the Splendor of the Fall cruise on the QM2, Sept. 26 to October 8 2005, round trip NYC. We both agree that this has been our worst cruise, particularly with respect to value-for-money, among the 44 cruises that I have taken since 1955, and 41 cruises that we have taken together since 1970. There are so many aspects that went wrong during those horrifying twelve days that I feel it best to list them in the following categories for the sake of clarity:
I. Ship Construction: 1.) Upon entering the ship, the rampant employment of cheap Formica on almost every wall in the public areas envelops the passenger in an environment of imitations. If a wooden paneling theme is preferred, at least the use of wooden veneers should be considered, not shiny plastic sheets that actually allow the bumpy background to show through, making the Formica paneling to resemble wallpaper plastered on rough concrete surfaces. Coupled with those large faux copper wall murals in some of the major corridors, one feels like being entrapped in a penny arcade. The cubby-hold size Grand Lobby is simply pathetic.
2.) Although this is the largest passenger liner afloat, the width of corridors on the cabin decks is barely enough for a wheel chair to glide through and only if passing pedestrians would politely squash their bodies against the walls to make way, rubbing against the "wooden" railings constructed of thin steel tubing.
3.) The soundproofing of our cabin is adequate (deck 11, next to the top deck), if they have not installed an inter-connecting door that allows light, noise from TV, conversations and worst of all, alarm clock bells to seep through. We were awakened by our neighbor's two alarm clocks at 5 and 5:15 am every morning. This is a joke, a very sad one indeed.
4.) The hot water in the shower automatically switches at-will from ice cold to searing hot without warning, depending on whether your neighbors are simultaneously showering also or not.
5.) There is a small sign stating "Mind Your Steps" at eye-level on the inside of the toilet door. A cheap, thin and rectangular acrylic sheet with very sharp corners and edges was glued on it to protect the sign from wet steam, but not from cutting the fingers of anyone who happens to grab at it to open or close the door.
6.) The TV volume for different stations range from deaf to blaring loud, an annoying factor particularly during late night viewing. 7.) On the morning of disembarkation, I was trapped in one of the public toilets due to a defective lock. Fellow passengers went out immediately to ask for assistance from the crew, but none of the staff would respond. Fortunately, we finally managed to unlock it with brute force from both sides. I was amazed to find that a fellow female passenger told us later that she also encountered a similar experience in the ladies room. A warm farewell indeed.
8.) The tender station is a joke. There is a steep staircase that you must overcome before reaching the tender platform. Although there is a single wheel chair elevator available, with the majority of the passengers being quite elderly, the pace of movement is therefore unavoidably extremely slow. This phenomenon is never encountered in other ship designs.
9.) The huge doors leading to the promenade deck are all opened manually and not by push-button. This process against a strong wind or draft is almost impossible for a strong young man, let alone the average passenger. Some sections even have double doors. Getting out to the promenade deck from the inside is okay by opening the doors in sequence; however, coming back in is an entirely different story. One would feel trapped in that little cocoon space between the doors and would have to open the inner door against one's own body, a tricky maneuver even during calm seas.
10.) The main theatre is the smallest amongst ships of this size, with all the removable rotating seats impossible to get into unless one is blessed with string-bean legs that are flexible.
11.) The much lauded jogging path is a joke. It goes up and down steep staircases and cuts right into the playing areas of some deck shuffleboard. Either one of the two sports would have to be interrupted to maintain goodwill between passengers.
12) The full-width Lookout above the bridge has a parapet wall that is higher than the eye-level of most passengers, providing the majority therefore only a view of the sky. If they depend on this for iceberg-watching, good luck.
13.) On the top deck where many passengers congregate during departures from and arrivals at various ports, the view is blocked by numerous thick rectangular pieces of glass blurred by sea-spray that are installed at eye-level above the railings. It is a pitiful sight seeing everyone trying to peer through the slots between those glass blocks to catch a glimpse of the happenings outside.
14.) Although the ship is about 50% larger than the Golden Princess, it actually looks smaller and definitely less grand when both the ships were moored side by side at Newport. In my opinion, the overly tall black-colored hull makes the QM2 look like an oversized lifeboat.
15.) The designer apparently thought that he could get away by instituting three decks of hull-balcony cabins below the promenade deck. (the opening to the outside of a hull balcony is like that of a large rectangular window, having steel parapet wall below the railing instead of glass). In all others ships, the cabins with an outside large rectangular window but without a balcony would provide a good view and a feeling of closeness to the sea for the occupants, but not so with the "innovative" hull-balcony cabins on this QM2. Our fellow passengers in those cabins complain severely that they could not see anything but a small portion of the sky when inside the cabin, due to the faraway placement of the rectangular opening, with no improvement even when they were lying in the deck chaise lounges in the balcony, due to the tall steel wall.
16.) The buffet restaurant (King's Court) is made up of four small sections of identical size, with each one boasting some glassed in sections with sea-view that are blocked by some mysterious wall partitions that make it impossible for passengers to know if seats were available in those sections unless they carry their trays an actually venture into them, creating a chaos in traffic.
17.) Even though the elevators are equipped with gleaming stainless steel doors, the door sills are constructed of thin extruded and anodized aluminum angled beams that are all banged up, scratched and abused by wheelchairs and luggage carts.
18.) The buffet troughs in the Kings Court Restaurant has an inner row that cannot be reached without bending the back fully and fight for an abnormally long pair of tongs. The servers inside would simply watch the poor wobbly old ladies drop their pickings and forced to give up the dish without rendering any help.
II. Food 1.) The general quality of food is compatible with cruise fares for a lower deck inside cabin, but certainly not to our cabin with a glass veranda on the top of the fare list for Britannia Restaurant. I feel they should bring back the Caronia Restaurant on the QE2 due to the wide range of fares covered by the Britannia passengers, and perhaps combine the Princess and Queen's Grills into one.
2.) The opening hours of one and a half hours for most breakfasts and lunches force many passengers to retreat to the horrendous King's Court. Although there is an egg-cooking counter at each line, it is not always manned by chefs. There are always plenty of assistant M'ds, head-waiters and waiters milling around; however, they all looked and did not see anything, rendering absolutely no help to elderly passengers struggling with their wobbly trays.
3.) The food standard in Kings Court is pathetic at best, with no coffee or juice refilling by staff manning carts that are common in many other ships. The staff in fact was so rude as to tell passengers to go to the next restaurant section to get a plate if they run out in this line. No assistance is ever rendered. At times one could not help but feeling being thrown into a refugee food line.
4.) Two ladies in an adjacent table (Platinum members, traveling more than 7 times with Cunard) were complaining to the M'D during one dinner at the Britannia restaurant that their fish was impenetrable by a fork. The M'D tried and agreed that the fishes are occasionally tough, and that if they wanted to be assured to get fishes that could be cut, they should book on the Queen's Grill cabins during their next cruse. Simply horrifying! You should see the color of the two ladies’ faces.
5.) The "English" tea served every afternoon consisted of lukewarm and weak pre-brewed tea, scones that were tough and dry, left-over whipped cream instead of clotted cream, finger sandwiches made from thick bread slices and very thin fillings. We had to skip that practice after the first three days.
6.) The Todd English Restaurant that charges $30 per person extra was unbelievably bad. They actually charged my wife two dollars for ice tea. By the way, those "two and a half" ounce martinis served in the ship's numerous bars are barely one and a half ounce at best, including of course lots of melted ice thrown in, whether shaken or stirred. We had to send back the chef's recommendation of a tasteless, salty and sour conglomerate of seafood that was cold and stale. The lamb rack served was no better than the ones at Britannia. The restaurant was barely 30% full when we were there, and yet the waiters served dishes from left and right, and even across my nose to land onto my wife's side of the table, and vice versa. I believe that this venture is being kept alive, at the expense of abusing Mr. English's reputation, by the "oohs and ahhs" uttered by so many passengers that are apparently very impressed by the provision of finger-washing bowls, though served with water at an incorrect temperature, and the likes of having their soup poured into the plate, even though they are lukewarm to actually ice-cold. They offer a tasting menu that consists of one appetizer, one main course and a dessert. I would suggest calling it an eating menu instead, after all, even at the Britannia there are four groups of courses offered. The experience is a thirty dollars fiasco.
III. Entertainment 1.) The general entertainment including music combos and soloists at the various bars is quite adequate.
2.) Cunard went one step further to provide an onboard planetarium that provides a venue for movies, lectures in addition to the planetarium shows. During the latter showings to a limited crowd of guests in reclined chairs, the shows lasted only 25 minutes. There were a total of only three such films, forcing them to repeat four times during this 12-nights cruise. Basically after the first three days, the repetitions drew no more interest. Not a single of the many widely available hour-long shows such as those about the Grand Canyon, deep sea ventures were made available. All movies shown there were on a standard screen that was not an extra-wide screen, and yet the aspect ratio was left at the wrong setting, allowing the actors and actresses to become unusually fat and stubby, an annoying feature that could be so easily corrected by a flick of a switch, and yet no operator cared, or maybe simply ignorant and unaware of this very basic error.
IV. Service 1.) While our regular room steward Alex was ashore, his temporary replacement of Serbian descent was extremely rude. When we requested clean towels for covering the wet cushions on our balcony chaise lounges, she repeatedly accused and scolded us for taking the old towels away from our cabin, refusing to stop even after being told that the old towels were taking away by Alex for washing. This unbelievable behavior from a stewardess somewhat reflects a general discontent among the service staff, causing me to wonder whether Cunard truly distribute our mandatory $11 per day gratuity fairly among them. In our interim on board charge statement the mandatory gratuity of $11 per day was listed as gratuity; however, after apparently numerous complaints from passengers about the level of service, in the final statement, this item was changed from "Gratuity" to "Hotel and Dining Charge", secretly implying that this item is no longer optional for guests who wanted to give their own desired amount of gratuity directly to the staff of their choice.
2.) The massage staff at the Canyon Ranch rendered good service, while the same could not be said about the rude staff at the check-in counter, possibly explaining why the Ranch was never fully occupied. 3.) No service is ever provided to guide passengers to tenders or the gangway(s) in the form of numerous signs with arrows normally found on other cruise ships. Most gangways are located high up that required long zigzag staircases to reach the pier. No officers are ever in sight to guide the passengers, resulting in our first time experience of queuing up around the ship in circles just to get to the gangway.
V. The Mentality and Rudeness of the Ships' Officers 1.) We booked our cruise months ago and were promised a table for two for late seating. We confronted the M D' of Britannia at 1 pm on the day of embarkation about the 8:30 dinner seating. He rudely informed us that priority is given according cabin grade and time of booking. We tried to tell him that our 11th deck cabin commands almost the highest price for this Britannia restaurant scale of passengers, to no avail, and were rudely told that we would be put on the waiting list. The next day we noticed that there were many empty tables left unoccupied and confronted him again. He very rudely and reluctantly assigned us to a corner table.
2.) The lady officer manning the waiting-room for passengers awaiting tenders to shore was commanding us to take a seat, never have we heard the word "please" among any officers on the ship.
3.) One morning while dashing to the elevator in order to make it to the restaurant for breakfast before closing (after witnessing their refusing an old crippled man in wheelchair who was half a minute late at arriving at the door) we were followed into the elevator by a lady officer in a white security uniform. She dashed in and continuously punched at the button with two triangles having their respective points facing toward the sides. She mumbled and cursed at the maintenance staff for failing to heed to her repeated complaints about the working function of that button. We of course did not have the heart to tell her that she was punching the door opening button. She gave up after a minute or so and we were on our way down, not before we had to give up going to Britannia and settle for deck 7 in order to join fellow refugees at the Kings Court food line that closes later than the Britannia.
4.) One old lady friend of ours forgot to take her cruise card out for scanning before getting on a tender and was stopped by an officer, who upon seeing her card in her purse told her it was okay for her to proceed to the tender, to the horror of the crew manning the scanning station who had to run to fetch her back in order to scan her card.
5.) While fumbling my cruise documents during embarkation at the New York pier, one lady Cunard officer asked me whether I was a platinum card holder. I told her I was an American Express Platinum card holder and she sneered back at me with utter contempt. That was when I found out that there were actually people who have traveled more than seven times on Cunard to receive that "honor". To be put down before even entering the ship is downright demoralizing, to say the least.
6.) As we queued one day waiting for a tender, we were approached by a nice older lady from Hawaii. She was worried about boarding the tender and asked me to hold her. As we were about to go down the step stairs, I asked an officer to help hold the lady too as the staircase was very steep. The officer had the guts to just snicker and look away.
7.) Toward the end of the cruise I receive an invitation to attend a cocktail party for repeaters, together with a small box containing a Cunard pin. Since my wife and my two sons traveled with me some years ago both on the QE2 and the Dynasty, she should also be awarded a Gold Member status. We ventured down to the cruise sales office to clear up the record. Two British lady officers by the names of Anna and Wendy were sitting there with empty seats in front of them. We explained to them our plight while all the time standing on our feet. Suddenly Wendy waved her hand rapidly and signaled for me to scoot sideways. I moved aside and was surprised to see a British gentleman enter and was immediately invited to sit down, while all along my wife and I were left standing. Anna was hopeless in pretending that she could operate the computer in front of her and suddenly stopped her computer searching and handed me a box containing a pin very reluctantly. I asked about the invitation to the party, to which she rudely replied that my wife may also attend, if she wants to. This is truly magnificent guest relationship at its opposite end.
8.) After a shore excursion taken in full sunshine tour ended I entered Britannia Restaurant for lunch, while still wearing my college baseball cap. Upon entering, a head waiter or assistant head waiter by the name of Ancyn used his finger and pointed directly at my face while blurting out the order of "Remove that cap!" I was too shocked to raise any objection to this utter rudeness. Is Cunard really going out of their way to make their customers feel that they are first class passengers only if they book Queen's or Princess Grill cabins, and retreat to accepting steerage treatment in Britannia? I am finding it difficult to try to remember any more aspects of our horrifying experience. Many fellow passengers shared our same feeling towards QM2 and it became perversely amusing hearing the constant whines of passengers. We were all actually counting the hours before we could disembark that contraption.