A transatlantic voyage has been sold to us all on the basis that it is a grand experience. Well, on the QM2, it is and it isn't. Boarding at New York is something of a let down. I expected something more than what is effectively a large shed with a slab of concrete next to it. Where were all the waving crowds and streamers we've all seen? My partner was in her wheelchair, and access is not easy. The ramps have raised joined plates and little lip to aid getting over. Granted, we had not paid full tilt and thus we were assigned a stateroom on Deck 4 and midships. Now here is the first thing Cunard don't mention. The vibration midships is horrendous. My partner suffers from MS. If Cunard are going to send out medical questionnaires, I fully expect them to have an understanding of the condition upon reply. Thus, in my partner's case, the lesions on the brain associated with MS were nicely being vibrated against her skull, triggering an episode there and then. To their credit, the Pursers office (not for the only time on the trip, kudos to them) sorted the situation as fast as possible and moved us up a deck and forward. So my advice is try and get a forward cabin. At least that way, your teeth will stay in your head.
Dining. The Britannia Grill. God help you if you are, like me, a non-meat eater. I phrase it that way as I am not fond of vegetables, so if you want a vegetarian option that does not include rabbit food or lasagne, be prepared to go hungry. Also be prepared for a table than can be vibrating heavily underfoot turning your stomach into a blender and snotty waiters getting upset that you don't wish to eat from the menu. Again, to the credit of the maitre'd, he was superb in trying to sort our table problem, but the whole experience meant we gave up eating there and opted for the Kings Court instead.
Now, again, this is a problem if you are a vegetarian. Yes, you can get pizza. Yes, you can get salad. Yes, you can usually get some sort of potato product. But that is not what you came on board the QM2 for. There were days when I existed on bread rolls and nuts as the choice was meat, meat, and more meat. Something simple like a hot cheese and onion pie would have sufficed. The Kings Court needs to put on a simple vegetarian option alongside other food. On the plus side, once warned, you can take your fill at breakfast of hash browns, toast, beans and suchlike.
So here is the second thing Cunard fail to mention. Certain other areas of the ship also do food and it was not until the very last day that my partner and I discovered the Golden Lion pub did Quorn pies. Perfect! You are not charged extra for this. I'm sure there must be other parts of the ship where food is served too, but the staff neglect to tell you.
However, where the staff are magnificent is looking after those in a wheelchair. My partner was able to move about the ship independently as the staff were always willing to lend a hand, particularly in the Kings Food Court, where credit must go to a waiter called Manoj. Make friends with him, he is the guy to know in that area.
The ship requires you to search out places. Take your first day to have a really good look round as many decks as you can. Do this before midday if possible. Not a lot happens prior to that. The ship really only comes alive after 6pm, when the dress code kicks in and you actually feel like you've entered the era of cultured cruising. The balls are great fun if a little cringeworthy thanks to the singer. The Chart Room has a terrific jazz trio. The Golden Lion pub has quizzes most evening, but if you are under 40 you will struggle with the music ones as these are orientated towards the older generation. The Winter Gardens are a good place to chill out for a while, although this is where the big screen tv is deployed if a major event is taking place, such as the French Open Tennis. The productions at the theatre did not really grab my attention, and neither did the lectures or films. None of these lasted more than 30 minutes, which I felt did not give me enough time to enjoy the subject in depth. If you are a cigar fan, the Commordore Club has the Churchill Room within it, and I must say it was great fun puffing on a stupid size cigar whilst chatting with fellow passengers about all things under the sun.
So that is the third thing Cunard don't tell you. There are places you have to find for yourself. The map they provide is small and not really descriptive enough. For example, there are games on board, such as Scrabble, Monopoly, etc, tucked away down on the lower decks which you can play next to a large window with the sea mere feet away. These help pass away gray days yet you still have a sense of travelling.
Be prepared to spend cash. On-board prices can make you blush. If you are feeling lucky, try the casino to win back some that you will have to spend. The shops are limited and if like me you have a sudden craving for say, peanuts, you are out of luck. Here again, Purser's office to the rescue. They suggested I try the pub, and it turns out nuts and crisps are complimentary in there. Another little thing Cunard fail to mention.
So, in summary, if you can find the hidden delights, if you can find food that will suit your own requirements, and if you manage to get a stateroom that does not shake, rattle and roll, there is much to recommend this. Hellfire, you can say you actually crossed an ocean! The sense of history as you stand on the promenade looking at at this vast expanse is awesome. Take time to understand where you are. The QM2 offers an experience that is either brilliant or a nightmare. There is no in between when on board. When it is good, it is magnificent, and when it is bad, the Purser's office will usually do their utmost to help.
Would we do it again? Yes, but only because we now know where to look, where to eat and who we need to clap round the ear if something is going wrong.