Who, What, When, Where, Why?
We sailed from New York to Southampton on the 1st-8th June 2013 crossing on the Cunard Queen Mary 2. This was our first time on Cunard, although we have cruised many times before, predominantly on Celebrity, but also on HAL, Azamara and (never again) RCCL. We are British expats who have been living in Maryland, USA for 25 years, and this trip was planned so we could visit friends and relatives back home and also to celebrate my husband retiring, although by the time we sailed, he had been persuaded back to his old job part time and had taken on a teaching job as well! We are very low key people, we can amuse ourselves and do not need a great deal in the form of entertainment, and after a very hectic two months prior to this crossing, we were very much looking forward to having permission to do nothing at all for seven days!
How did we get to New York?
Usually we take the train to New York, but this time we flew because when we bought Cunard air for the return trip from the UK, it included air to the departure port as well. The downside of this was the hassle of flying, coupled with having to pay for each of our 3 bags, but the upside was that flying into La Guardia gave the most spectacular birdseye views of Manhattan I had ever seen, and, thanks to the rules that severely limited carry-on bags on the small plane, I had to check my larger carry-on at the gate so had my camera with me under the seat, and was able to take some brilliant photos through the plane window.
Where did you stay in New York?
Pre-cruise we stayed at the Millennium Broadway Hotel Times Square, and while the room and facilities were very nice, other guests partying and playing loud music at 2am were not so nice and kept us awake despite Security having a word with them. We had stayed there before but probably will not choose to again, and after a sleepless night we were really looking forward to boarding the QM2.
How did embarkation go?
The QM2 was docked at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and check-in was in a nondescript warehouse-like building. Our documents showed a boarding time of 2pm but were able to walk right in and check in at noon, became part of boarding group number 5, and after a short wait were on board well before 1pm. It was nice to be able to go straight to our cabin and drop off our carry-ons before tracking down lunch. Usually embarkation day lunch in the buffet is my least favourite meal of the cruise (other than disembarkation day breakfast!), as I am not a buffet fan in general, nor do I enjoy the hassle of finding food and then scrambling to find somewhere to sit. On this occasion though I was successful in not only procuring a pretty darn good fish pie, but also an empty table.
Did you get things done?
We spent the afternoon taking care of business, as I like to put it, setting up spa appointments, checking that we really do have a table just for two at late seating, ordering an internet package and finally unpacking. That taken care of we went to muster drill. All the other passengers, bar us, must have been psychic because by the time the ship sounded the muster signal, we were the only people in the corridors and everyone else was already waiting at the muster station!
How was Sailaway?
Sailaway from New York is always impressive and we went onto the highest deck to watch the ship glide under the Verazzano Narrows Bridge, with inches to spare, and head out into the Atlantic.
What is the cabin like?
Our cabin, 8102, was an obstructed-view verandah. It was helpful to be able to go on the Cunard website and view the obstruction of each cabin before making a choice, and we were lucky enough to get one where there was a small gap between the lifeboats, so we had slightly more to look at than just a blob of orange! The bed was very comfortable and hard to tear myself out of. The bathroom was small, but functional and the shower had a soft spot in the floor that I was hoping would not give way and leave my leg poking through someone's ceiling! Toiletries were by Gilchrest and Soames. There was a half bottle of something fizzy in the cabin, a gift from Cunard. We had read about it online, but threw caution to the wind, drank it and survived!
Our cabin steward Robel was very attentive and ensured that I had feather-free bedding and extra towels. We rarely saw him but he did an excellent job servicing our cabin twice a day while we were out.
How is the ship?
Initial impressions of the QM2 are that she is very classy. Lots of hardwoods, comfy sofas, quiet little spots. She looks more like a well worn country house hotel than a modern glitzy cruise ship, which of course she is not, she is an ocean liner. We spent a good few days getting lost on her as she is not laid out like most ships with the dining room at the back and the buffet, disco, crows nest bar and the pools on the top deck. Not all the staircases and elevators go to all the floors which can be very confusing, and I never did master the layout of the Kings Court Buffet. I always saw people eating nice looking things but could never find out where they got them from! On the last day we discovered that the Photo Gallery was not an enclosed room, and that there are stairs at the back leading to the Queens Room and Nightclub! We never did find the Planetarium.
Did you try the Spa?
We went to the Canyon Ranch Spa for a Couples Hot Stones Massage. Although it was pricy it was an excellent massage and there was no attempt to sell us anything afterwards which made a pleasant change from other cruise lines.
Did you snoop around the library?
Yes indeed I did. I confess I work in a public library and usually on cruises I sneak into the ships library and do a bit of therapeutic tidying and alphabetising. On the QM2 I did not. I could not. Everything was pristine and totally alphabetised. All the time. I had hoped it would be my home from home, where I could sit and write my blog every day, but it was a Shhhhhh type of library where no one spoke, just sat in silence and read, and I was unable to type in case it disturbed them, so I left.
How was the latte?
Sir Samuels was the go-to latte place and they made an excellent one if you were lucky, although they were always disappointed I chose not to add a flavour. I'm old school. A latte is a latte. It tastes of coffee. It is meant to taste of coffee. Why would I want it to taste of anything else and be ultra, teeth cringingly sweet? Sir Samuels was also the place for sitting by a big window, watching the waves and dolphins go by while you read, did a crossword or typed. This, became my home from home.
How was the food for a picky buffet-phobe like you?
We tried to find alternatives to the Kings Court Buffet for breakfast and lunch. As we were never awake early enough for the dining room breakfast, we typically ordered room service breakfast, either a full english (eggs, bacon sausage, mushrooms, beans, grilled tomato), or fruit and porridge. The room service order was always delivered properly without anything missing, although usually a few minutes before the designated time. As they do not call ahead they caught us in our dressing gowns a few times!
Any good lunches?
We enjoyed some great lunches at the Golden Lion which served traditional english fare such as Fish and Chips, Steak and Mushroom Pie, Cottage Pie and Bangers and Mash on piping hot plates. They always told us not to touch the plates, they were hot, but we always did, just to check! They also offered a traditional pudding of the day with custard, but we were always too full to partake. Another alternative was Sir Samuels which offered lighter fare, sandwiches and quiches with salad, which made a nice change. We never did get to the Queens Room for afternoon tea, although we did pop into the Kings Court occasionally for a scone!
How about dinner?
We ate dinner each night in the dining room. I had noticed that recent reviews had mentioned that the Britannia dining room food was bland and cold. Luckily that wasn't our experience. Our food was served hot by our wait-team Albert and Marlon under the supervision of Elvis, the MaitreD. I had to wonder whether these were their real names or whether they get to pick a new identity when they join Cunard?! The food itself was delicious, and I can be rather picky. Even when the menu did not look too inspiring, what showed up on the plate in front of you was surprisingly good. All the courses were nicely sized, with appetisers small enough to not leave you full before your main course arrived. I have to say that after many years of living in the USA, it was a pleasure to just be able to order tea after dinner and get what I wanted, rather than ordering hot tea please, english breakfast (not green tea or herbal tea) with milk (real milk not cream or dairy creamer in those little sachets) on the side please.
Anywhere good for an evening cocktail?
We would often have pre-dinner and post-dinner drinks in the the Golden Lion Pub or the Chart Room, and if they were full the Veuve Cliquot Champagne bar, which served other drinks as well as champagne. All the venues had evening music which was very pleasant.
Did you go to any shows?
We are not generally show people, (and if we do go we sit on an aisle at the back, ready to beat a hasty retreat!), but we did try a couple of evening ones . The first was a concert showcasing certain artists, in this case, ahem, The Osmonds and Neil Sedaka and some rather obscure songs from even obscurer musicals. We also saw a pianist / comedian, Jon Courtenay, who was actually rather good, and then later in the week he shared billing with Dale Kristien, a singer (actually melodramatic me me meeeeee diva) whose claim to fame was being chosen by Lloyd-Webber to be the lead when Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway. She seemed rather full of herself and had a shrill, piercing voice that drove us (and others) hastily away.
Was there other entertainment?
There was some excellent music in the lounges, including a couple of pianists, a jazz trio and a string quartet, who performed in the evenings. There was also a party band but we never really got to listen to then as they performed in the nightclub and as it was smoky and smelly in there we could not stay.
So how was the smoking on board?
Well as a non-smoker who likes Celebrity because of their strict no-smoking policy indoors in public rooms and cabins and on cabin balconies, I was a bit worried that I would find the smokers on QM2 annoying, but there was no problem. Luckily there were no neighbours who smoked on their balcony and there was no real cigarette smell anywhere other than the aforementioned nightclub and inexplicably C staircase on deck 7, which I avoided.
What about the dress code?
It had been well-publicised ahead of time that there was now a new 2-tier dress code on board which was stricter than other cruise lines, but laxer than the former Cunard dress code, so we went prepared with tuxedo, suit, blazer, cocktail dresses and gowns. The jeans curfew, as we called it, was 6pm, and anyone not suitably attired after that time was banished to the Kings Court and the Winter Garden for the evening. Our crossing had 3 formal nights and 4 informal. It was really nice to spend the evening with nicely dressed people who had taken time and effort to look their best, rather than with lazy slobs in T shirts, flip-flops and backwards baseball caps who really just could not be bothered. The dress code really added to the elegance of the evenings and we never saw anyone inappropriately dressed.
How about laundry?
I had no plans to do it myself, and the prices for getting it done by the ship were astronomical, so I thought I'd give it a miss and wear smelly clothes, until near the end of the week there was a laundry special, 30 items for $30 and I was hooked. All the items came back either on hangers or neatly folded and wrapped in tissue, (yes even underpants!), and it was well worth the money.
So what do you do for seven straight sea days apart from climb the walls and go insane?
I have to say they were numerous activities on offer. Lectures, Book Club, Crafts, Planetarium Shows, Trivia, Theatre Shows, Live Music, Bridge, Exercise Classes, but we pretty much did, er, nothing, and loved it. I read a book from cover to cover in 2 days. I did crossword puzzles, took photos, wrote my blog, and generally chilled. I had an afternoon stroll round the deck. I stood and looked at the sea. I tried and failed to get a good internet connection. I tried to see through the mist. I listened to the foghorn. I ate....
So how was the weather on the crossing?
When I asked what sort of weather to expect on a crossing, the answer was everything. We didn't quite get everything. It didn't snow. We started out with unseasonably hot and humid weather for June in New York. Then came 3 days of fog, followed by a couple of grey cloudy days with sun occasionally breaking through, some wind, a bit of drizzle and finally cool sunny weather when we arrived in Southampton. So a bit of everything really, and very smooth seas. The QM2 is a very stable ship and if you did not look outside, it was hard to believe you were at sea.
Did you get ship-lag?
Sort of, yes, but it is nowhere near as bad as jet-lag. Everyday at noon, after the bells had chimed, the Commodore, (the title given to the Chief Cunard Captain), gave an update on weather and position and then announced that the clocks would go forward an hour, and that the time was now 1:05pm. This happened for 5 consecutive days and although it is a gentler adjustment than flying overnight to the UK, effectively missing a night of sleep, arriving very early in the morning and having to stay awake all day, you do still feel it, most noticeably on the last night when you are eating dinner at 8:30pm but your body still feels like it is the afternoon. A crossing is much more civilised than flying, but it must be even nicer sailing west and having an extra hour in bed for five consecutive nights!
How was the people-watching?
OMG it was amazing :) There was probably an equal mix of British, American and German passengers, as the crossing continued on to Hamburg, and it was fun trying to guess who was who. I had worried that the passengers would be snobby and unfriendly, but that was not the case at all. We met some very nice, interesting, well-travelled people on board. Of course there were the occasional miserable buggers, who, unbeknownst to themselves were entertaining in their own way, to everyone else. The crew, it has to be said, were polite and friendly and had the patience of a saint.
Anything uniquely Cunard that you noticed?
Some passengers had pets on board in the kennels and the photo gallery had photos of each of the animals on display.
The dolphin sculptures at the front of the ship, just off the promenade were in fact, spare propellors!
You get petits fours after dinner.
If you are crossing both ways and have a few days in Europe in between, Cunard will store luggage you don't need, such as formal clothes, until your return trip.
So it sounds like you had a good time. Is there anything that could be improved?
Yes! The internet was mind-numbingly slow and with so many people trying to use it, it was perhaps a little dishonest of Cunard to sell such big packages of minutes that you were ultimately unable to use because it was so hard to log on. Service was much faster on disembarkation morning, but we still had lots of minutes left when we disembarked.
So, all good things must come to an end. How was disembarkation?
We had reserved a rental car for 10 am, so chose a 9:30 disembarkation time. Cabins needed to be vacated by 8:30, so we were up by 7am, in the dining room at 7:30 for their very good express breakfast, and headed for the theatre, our designated waiting room, around 8:30. We were called for disembarkation shortly before 9:30, dinged our ID cards and then had them confiscated (so no getting back on!). We found our bags easily and because we had completed immigration on board ship during the crossing, just walked through the green customs channel headed out into the zoo that was the ship terminal at Southampton.
Would you do it again?
In a heartbeat, but both ways next time, as I was really envious at the number of people that were also sailing back on her after their travels.