I'm an active senior solo veteran traveler with 38 cruises experienced. As a child, my family went to a bon voyage party on the old Queen Mary, and I still remember the elegance and tradition of that grand old ship. With Carnival owning the Cunard brand, however, I did not expect anything special on my first voyage on a Cunard liner. I liked the idea of spending the Fourth of July week on a ship and booked the cruise when I saw that Boston was a port stop.
I rode Amtrak from my Northeast home city, and stayed at a mid-range Hilton near Times Square - a favorite hotel which welcomes me as family on my many visits to New York City. I used the Carey Limo Embarque reasonably priced limo service from mid-town Manhattan to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, and while it costs a bit more than the usual NYC cabs, it is well worth it for a serene, clean ride with a polite driver. I always "position" the day before a cruise, rather than risk stressing over a late train, plane, etc.
Cunard politely requests passengers to arrive at the cruise terminal for embarkation at "staggered" times to avoid crowding and expedite the boarding process. Times are given on the e-ticket. I arrived an hour early, and was still allowed to process through the usual security, filling out of health forms, and waiting in a slow-moving but cheerful line of eager passengers anticipating a nice getaway. It took 40 minutes to process, despite many agents at the check-in counter. The Brooklyn cruise terminal is a huge building, but there are chairs for those needing to sit, restrooms, and blessed air conditioning. Lots of passenger service agents are there to answer questions and make things easy. There is the usual security screening. Baggage is handed over to porters in front of the terminal entrance, and reappears in staterooms on board.
The first view of the Queen Mary 2 is stunning - absolutely enormous vessel towering over the pier. It looks like a traditional ocean liner of earlier times until ones sees the tiers of balconied staterooms and the taller profile. The ship has an elegant grace to it, and appears solid and capable. The traditional Cunard red, white and black coloring is lovely, and the ship appeared well maintained.
Boarding is like a scene from an old movie, with rows of smiling uniformed crew waiting to greet the passengers. Entrance is into the gorgeous center rotunda area of the ship, where huge fresh flower arrangements are visible. There are columns, graceful curving staircases, and beautiful red and gold carpeting and plush furniture. Helpful crew are stationed everywhere to direct passengers to their staterooms.
There are four main stairwells within the ship, all identified by letters. There are also helpful maps of the ship near elevators and stairs. Be prepared to hike - this is an enormous ship,, and elevators are small and usually crowded. Most of the public spaces are on the lower decks, with cabins above. Pocket-sized maps wait in the staterooms, and getting around is very easy with a little practice.
Once out of the main rotunda and public areas, there are beautiful and informative wall displays with information about Cunard, historic ships, and historic events in this venerable line's history. There are also original paintings and lovely marine portraits of Cunard ships in the stairwells all over the ship. Being British-themed, there are several impressive portraits, information displays, and memorabilia of the British Royal Family as well, including items for sale with signatures of Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and other Royals.
The colors within the ship are muted, and seemed to feature tans, brown, gray, and the decorative scheme looked more 1950s than traditional of earlier times and liners. It certainly wasn't elegant compared to the main public areas. The dining room was a two-story impressive venue, but again, rather colorless other than its decorative ceiling, impressive metallic marine-themed wall sculpture, and curving staircases. It has a faint resemblance to the original Queen Mary dining room in its columns. All varieties of seating are available, and there is enough room to get through the tables without a struggle.
This particular ship is fanatical (to their credit) about sanitation. Embarkation TV messages about Norovirus and proper shipboard sanitation are very prominent. Purell dispensers are found all over the ship, and the first 48 hours at sea, buffet diners are handed their eating equipment, and this after a smiling and gracious crewman personally squirts hand sanitizer into your hands for you. It takes a second to prevent problems, and it's well worth it. Sanitation procedures seem above-average and consistent on this ship.
My stateroom was a BD category lower aft sheltered balcony accommodation, and very large compared to the usual similar balcony cabins on other ships. The shower was huge, and the bathroom itself was spacious for a ship's facility. Everything looked very clean, but a bit dated with tile walls and a plastic shower stall. High-end British body lotion, shower gel, and shampoo were provided, as well as shower caps (my containers were empty - very peculiar), and there are is a lovely container of cotton balls and Q-tips provided as well, and of course Kleenex and plenty of towels. The bath soaps are also high-end and of sufficient quality to not melt into gooey messes, or dry out my skin for once. This ship practices green conservation, as well, with repeated towel usage encouraged. I suspect the bed linens are not changed daily, either, but I never actually saw what took place. The towels were very tired, with some faint stains visible, and so worn out that they were very scratchy with almost no material left on most of them.
Beds are twins convertible to king-size, and very comfortable with high-quality linens and seven pillows, plus a medium-weight cozy duvet, all in white with gold thread trim. The closet space is more than adequate, as are the drawers, considering this ship cruises the world. There are wood hangers in tandem on one hook tops. There is a safe in one closet. There is a vanity table and chair, small coffee table, love seat, and flat-screen TV with good variety. There are two night tables flanking the bed.
My cabin had a "within the hull, sheltered balcony", and was one of the largest I've ever seen, complete with two adjustable chairs and a small table. While not being able to see the water below while sitting on the balcony, the viewing above the solid wall and railing was still expansive and delightful. The shelter from the wind was also welcome, and I can imagine it would be great on a transatlantic crossing. The spray from our high speed did reach all the way to 5 Deck, and this was just a "local" cruise! There is a wall of glass and glass door which opens, not slides, from the cabin to the balcony.
The colors were a bit depressing in the cabin, with a dark brown print in the carpet, and white bedding, and brownish furniture and light walls with a few nice art prints. There was the usual cruise ship variety of ceiling and wall and table lighting. Cabin doors looked like fake wood, but were heavy polished metal. The corridors are narrow, and two people have trouble passing comfortably. There was a laundromat nearby, with gleaming clean new appliances.
My cabin was mercifully away from the midship engine vibration and noise, and I noticed almost nothing when it came to any motion - a surprise, as I was located about three-quarters of the way aft on the ship. I heard nothing through the walls, but some voices in the corridor were audible now and again. There is excellent climate control in the cabin. Internet or wifi is subject to the ship's location, and usually OK in the cabin but better in the ship's internet venue. It is also very expensive, and very slow.
All amenities in the cabins may be far better in the "Grills" level on the ship, but I was in the regular "Britannia" class and wasn't able to see what the other services provided.
There are several alternative restaurants, but I did not use them this trip. There is also a cheerful pub which was very popular when I stopped by on a walk through the ship. There is a designed cigar smoker's lounge, and restricted smoking access on the ship - however, tobacco smoke was noticeable throughout most of the ship to varying degrees, and also on deck where the smokers were in their area aft. No smoking in the staterooms.
The crew was visible doing routine maintenance on the ship and deck areas every day, and most of them seemed happy to be working on this ship. The crew attitude on the whole seemed far better than any ship I've been on to date, and there was total unfailing courtesy, respect, and helpfulness from all the crew I interacted with. Most seem to be young international people who are multilingual, and as with most ship crews these days, it appears that most are either from Asia or what used to be Russia and Middle Europe. Their ability with languages is enviable.
I did not see any officers, but had a unique meeting with the ship's Commodore while waiting to board in Halifax. He is a very gracious, personable, and well-spoken gentleman who knows his job depends on passenger satisfaction, and he obviously loves what he does He made clearly audible and informative announcements daily at noon from the bridge. There was no formal "meet and greet" with him this short voyage, unfortunately.
This is the fastest ship I've traveled on to date, and while it is huge, and goes fast, the ride is incredible smooth. We had good weather, other than fog, and the usual small seas off the New England and Maritimes coastline. I asked several crew if the ride was this good on transatlantic crossings and they replied that it is indeed, unless there is a severe storm. The ship goes even faster on the transatlantic crossings. I noticed a tiny bit of rolling the first night, but after that the seas were a bit smoother, and the ride was delightful.
The shore excursion variety is more than adequate, and there is something for everybody. I did not take tours this trip, having seen both port cities numerous times.
Activities on board, once again, offer something for all interests, although it did not seem that children would enjoy this particular cruise line. Most activities are aimed at mature adults with interests in more cultured activities than the usual "knobby knees" type of fun things found on other cruise lines. The casino had its fans, bridge players found each other, and the unique planetarium on the ship was quite a feature - I missed that due to other activities. There is so much going on it's hard to get it all in. Nobody could be bored on this ship, and activities are ongoing from dawn until the wee hours of the night. There is a stunningly beautiful and huge well-stocked library, complete with a book store, and the famous Canyon Ranch Spa featuring a huge variety of personal body treatments to spoil anybody, but at the usual high shipboard prices. A variety of hot tubs and swimming pools were scattered around the beautiful traditional open teakwood decks, and plenty of deck chairs, towels, blankets, and deck stewards to attend to any needs.
The ship travels far faster than most cruise ships, and watching the waves rushing past the ship, and the bow wake, and hearing the sea sounds and smelling the salt spray were heavenly and soothing.
I'm a runner and workout fan, and was very happy simply running the 1.1 mile every three laps wooden promenade deck which ran all the way around the ship. The fitness center has the usual weights and machines, but is considerably smaller than usually found on cruise ships, p;perhaps a nod to the age demographics on this ship and line. There were "enrichment" lectures which were very popular, but I missed those due to trying to do something else. You can't do it all, even if you try, as the schedule overlaps at times.
This is not a ship for children, with the older crowd and more sedate behavior. There were at least 20 children on board that I observed, and they were not well behaved and probably bored. Parental supervision is encouraged on this ship, but it was missing with the kids I saw. They were fighting with each other, and running and screaming throughout the ship's corridors and stairwells, nearly knocking an elderly couple down the stairs at one time. I also did not see that many families - mainly older couples, or older people traveling together in small and large groups.
This cruise featured one formal evening with spectacular formal evening wear on display. The dress code did not seem to be enforced, however, and amongst the tuxedos and long gowns I did see some people who chose to wear very casual clothing as they would every day at home. There was a "Black and White Royal Ball" on formal night in the unique Queen's Room, the ship's ballroom. There is a live full orchestra who plays fantastically and in great variety with its music, as well as guest groups which are smaller. I loved the rare chance to wear a long formal evening gown, and my small tiara, and indeed felt like royalty for the night. Formal portraits were taken this night, and every night ($24 for an 8 x 10), and the ship's photographers have far better ability than average. For women traveling alone, six extremely personable "gentlemen hosts" are available as dance and social partners on the ship, and they can really dance! They are at least in their late 50s for the most part, and very professional social hosts who enhance the cruise tremendously for those of us who are widows and traveling alone. I love to dance, and this was my chance to shine! I danced every evening for nearly three hours, late into the night, and loved it while meeting others who partnered the single ladies when the hosts were dancing with other ladies. All types of dance styles are provided, but seemed to be mainly the typical Latin and ballroom and swing-type varieties. Each night's music and dancing in the ballroom is themed to something special and specific.
The "shows" were rather subdued, featuring a very good classical string quartet one night, an Olympic gymnast another, and fabulous Russian-trained professional dancers who put on the best shows, backed by a big stage with good costuming, lights and live orchestra. There was also a MoTown performance for the younger passengers. Various singers, pianists and others performed in the lounges around the ship.
Dining was an experience, as the food presentation and variety are British-themed. There are plenty of the usual American foods, however, for those less adventurous. The King's Court buffet is enormous, with big trays, big plates and real linen napkins, and big utensils. There did not seem to be quite the variety found on other cruise lines, however. The usual beverage services are available, and an elegant English tea takes place every afternoon which could easily substitute for the evening meal. Many hot food items on the buffet were not hot, but lukewarm or even cold. I did not see any sandwich or lighter fare available, but there is a small cafe higher up in the ship which makes fries, burgers, and related items, and a pizza place is also there. Soft-serve ice cream was everybody's favorite!
Dining room menus in the Britannia class restaurant had something for all tastes, and special foods could be ordered for medical reasons or dietary preference. There was always pasta, fish, meat, poultry and various very British "sides" and salads. Deserts were good, but again, British themed. Portion size would be considered a bit on the small side for some items, and sensible size by most of us. Nobody left the table hungry! Servers were nice, and very accommodating to requests. However, the dining service at my table for 6 was appalling slow, with some mixed-up orders. It may have been a problem in the galleys, as our waiter literally ran to get our food once it was available and couldn't be faulted for his pleasant service. It was also very hard to get water glasses refilled or even really cold water - perhaps another nod to the British not drinking water much or using ice. Nice silverware, china, and table linen at the spacious table for six I enjoyed right next to a huge window.
I peeked into the Grill-class dining areas and their table settings were fancier and more elegant in a smaller venue, and their menus were also more extensive and elaborate. There is a somewhat limited room-service menu available in the cabin. My cabin had a small refrigerator, stocked with various sodas and waters, for a small fee. Ice was not replenished after the first day without requesting it. Upon embarkation, a chilled ice bucket containing a large bottle of champagne was on my table in the cabin, with two champagne flute glasses, on a linen tablecloth - complimentary and very nice. Complimentary pink or white champagne was also offered around the ship upon sailing from the ports, too.
Halifax is a great port city, and while I did not take a tour this visit, I did get off the ship and walked the harbor-front boardwalk, visiting with friends I know in town. I was surprised to find the Pier 21 terminal mostly closed for renovations, and this has displaced the skilled and sociable crafts vendors and small booths found within the terminal - it makes ship-side shopping such a pleasure in a sheltered facility, especially for those who can't walk far. By the end of August, however, the shops will be back in position, or so I was told.
The port call to Boston was unforgettable, as it was on the Fourth of July. Even the British and Europeans on board celebrated with those from the USA (the voyage before mine was westbound transatlantic). On a brilliantly sunny and brutally hot day, the ship was in port from dawn until 1 AM, with plenty of shore tours for those interested. Nothing, however, could top what the city did for itself to celebrate the Fourth - the incomparable old US warship "Constitution" was under her own (motor) power out in Boston harbor, accompanied by many ships of varying sizes, and the harbor's fire boats spraying red, white and blue water plumes to honor "Old Ironsides". It was extremely moving to see this ancient wooden and rather small historic warship making its dignified progress through the water, and we could all see it perfectly from the ship's upper decks for more than an hour. It was quite a contrast to see the 21st century aircraft taking off above the "Constitution", as Logan Boston airport is directly on the harbor area.
It was a perfectly clear night on the Fourth, and many passengers went to the top decks of the ship to view the spectacular and colorful fireworks displays, clearly visible around the entire horizon. Small displays sparkled from various neighborhoods, and then the famous Boston "official" display began and thrilled the viewers for nearly 30 minutes. We could not hear the famous "1812" overture, other than its cannons, but the entire July Fourth celebration in Boston was magnificent and very special, considering it was viewed from a British ocean liner. The dance in the Queen's Room ballroom that evening was themed to the Big Band era music, with red, white and blue balloons in a net above, and which released onto the delighted celebrants at midnight, complete with singing the Star Spangled Banner as a group with the orchestra.
Shopping was plentiful despite a rather limited number of shops, with the usual "sidewalk bargain sales" during the sea days, and featured everything from affordable small souvenirs to high-end cosmetics, accessories, clothing, books, artwork, and logo items and children's gifts, with a section devoted to gifts from the famous London Harrods department store.
Disembarkation was typical but orderly, with color-coded and timed departures for most, and the fastest walk-off with your own baggage option I have ever used. I was off the ship and into my waiting limo in 10 minutes, at 7 AM. A very early and full breakfast was provided to fuel the homeward-bound.
For those wishing to book their next voyage on a Cunard liner, there are on-board booking discounts and nicely reduced deposit amounts available. This ship also gives single travelers a small price break (charging 175% for single occupancy rather than 200%) There are no real "bargains" on pricing that I could see, as there are just a very few cabins extremely fore and aft which don't have balconies, and not that many inside cabins (which appeared very large when viewed from the corridor) where savings might be possible.
While this short cruise was not exactly what I expected, it was foremost a marvelous ride on a unique vessel, impressive enough that I hope to do a transatlantic crossing soon. I could happily spend a week just riding across the ocean for the voyage without a lot of other activities. The chance to mingle with many international passengers is a definite plus. This is not a cruise for "party animals", but appeared to be aimed mainly at the more mature, dignified, and perhaps older passengers. The "Grills" level of service and amenities is supposed to be more elaborate and spectacular, but I received enough positives with my Britannia level voyage which was affordable for my circumstances. The ship is 10 years old, and could use some updating and renovation, but appears well maintained. My only wish is that I could have experienced the original Queen Mary in all its famous British traditions, rather than a somewhat generic version generated by the Carnival corporation.