Our recent trip on the Queen Mary 2 showed how over the last year we are not guests on a Cunard Ship, but merely another customer to be mined.
This was the third Cunard Cruise for my wife and me this year. We gave high marks to our Panama Canal and Baltic cruises on the Queen Elizabeth. I wish the same were true for our Fall Colors of New England and Canada Cruise on the Queen Mary 2.
Cunard insists on calling all of us passengers “guests” but you quickly learn on the QM2 you are merely a customer and hopefully a “cash cow” in the eyes of Cunard.
GROSSLY OVERPRICED SHORE EXCURSIONS and the failure to mention the free public transportation system in Bar Harbor, Maine that goes to the same places the Cunard $75 a person tour went was one thing…but the ship to airport offers were something some state attorney generals could investigate.
In New York you can use a taxi on the meter or call for a service car, which is a set price. From LaGuardia Airport to the Brooklyn Cruise terminal the price is $40. If you throw-in a $5 or $10 tip, the tops you are looking at is $50. We called Arecib Car Service at 718-783-6465 once we were outside at LaGuardia. We were told a car would be there between 7 and 15 minutes. It arrived five minutes later.
Our return from the ship to the airport, we received a similar fast response.
Cunard placed a flier in our room offering a car service to the airports or downtown for a mere $225. That is a 500% markup. I don’t mind seeing anyone make a profit, but 500% is borderline thievery. It definitely moved us from the “guest” class to the “potential sucker” category.
The other thing that ripped on many Americans on board was the cruise was during the baseball playoffs and the start of the World Series. I can certainly understand if I was on a cruise out of Europe with a majority of passengers from the UK and Europe why the sports in the pubs would be soccer, cricket and rugby.
However on this cruise out of total of 2510 passengers, 1456 were from the United States, representing 58%. When you add in the 230 Canadian and 19 Japanese, you have 68% of the passengers from baseball countries. When passengers complained of no baseball games, they were told it was impossible to obtain the satellite rights for baseball. Of course these rights could be obtained if Cunard simply would pay for them. But we found out during our 12-night cruise that Cunard was doing its best to pay for as little as possible.
EMBARKATION…was easy even for us folks in the regular balcony staterooms. For the third time this year our luggage was waiting for us when we walked into our stateroom.
Unlike in Southampton Cunard did not try to make the photo department seem like part of the embarkation security routine.
FOOD: We were in the main Britannia dining room at a table for six, directly next to the captain’s table. We assumed due to the location of the table our service would be excellent. We were very wrong.
There was a clear English comprehension issue with the wait staff. Also our head waiter would occasionally forget to take a “guest’s” order. After taking five orders he would turn and leave. One night a diner’s order for a glass of ale never arrived. Waiting for coffee after a meal was often 10 minutes or longer.
On another night early into the cruise we asked jokingly why our waiter was offering extra vegetables to “guests” at the next table and not us. This resulted in not one but two lectures about how hard he was working despite demanding “guests.” However, for the rest of the cruise we were offered the same extras as the folks at the next table.
In an apparent effort to keep costs down, there were exactly six pads of butter on the table each evening and each dinner was served ONE roll. The bread basket did not stay on the table or return.
Food in the Britannia was inconsistent at best. Some meals were great and some were not very good. On the next to last night of the cruise when they offered lobster tails one was delivered to our table that was either spoiled or grossly overcooked and had the consistency of mashed potatoes. How it got out of the kitchen and past the wait staff was a mystery to everyone at our table. One night the “clam chowder” had the general appearance of a consommé. Another night saw an advertised “beet salad” consisted of a normal green salad with four very small cubes cut from a beet.
The three times we ate dinner at the Kings Court Buffet we again found the food to be inconsistent but it was good or excellent more often than poor.
The location of several similar buffets on Deck 7 was interesting. It did keep the lines down but could be challenging. Bagels were not out for the taking at breakfast, you had to find someone to serve you a bagel. Muffins, while in an attractive paper wrapper were in short supply. The fruit slices were placed out where people had great difficulty reaching the watermelon and pineapple slices. I’m 6-foot-3 and had trouble. For short older people it was impossible. It was like someone who was very sadistic had arranged the slices.
While on the Queen Elizabeth we never saw a reason to eat at a specialty restaurant on the ship, the food was that good. On the Queen Mary 2 the kitchen staff provided many reasons to eat somewhere else. We are guessing Todd English did well.
High-Tea in the afternoon in the Queens Room was good the two times we showed up. The trick was finding the place. The wait staff in the Queens Room was maybe the best on the ship, including Gabe from Argentina, who was on the QE for our March cruise and actually remembered our names, plus a young woman who would often be dancing to the band’s music while serving you.
STATEROOM: Our stateroom on Deck Six was nice. The bathroom was well designed and the shower was huge compared to those on the Queen Elizabeth, plus had a hand wand shower head.
We ate of the Hotel manager’s table one night. He took credit for being on scene in Japan when the QE was being built. I complained about the ridiculously small showers without a hand wand in the QE stateroom showers that made it very difficult to shower. The manager said that was the way the prefab units came and there was nothing they could do about it. I know this is false. If you can remove a single shower head you can replace it with a hand wand head. I have done it twice at my house.
Just like the QE the television programming for the room included some of the worst and insipid elevator style music I have heard in years. For a cruise line that brags about its dance music, you would think they feature big band music on at least one of the channels. The hotel manager mentioned that this had been a regular complaint that they were looking at.
Our room steward Joseph was excellent and we saw him at least twice a day.
We are still impressed that Cunard appears to be the last cruise line that still hires trumpet and trombone players. It is appreciated instead of having a keyboard player hitting keys to make computer generated sounds of brass instruments.
The Mark Hodgson Jazz Trio in the Chart Room was a treat. Hodgson is an excellent jazz pianist with his younger bass player and drummer made every evening fun.
The two other pianists who alternated between the Commodore Club and Chart Room were James Durcan (very good) and Geza Torocsik. The pianist and signer in the pub (Peter Kovacs) was an improvement over either pub performer on the Queen Elizabeth.
On the QE my wife and I spent part of every evening in the Commodore Club listening to Graham Wellard, a gifted performer. However the Commodore Club on the QM2 is walled off and partitioned, making it a much less sophisticated venue and harder to hear the music. We were there only one night.
The dance band and their vocalist were an improvement on the QM2. The woman pianist was really getting into some numbers. Unfortunately the dance band’s bass player left the ship in New York and a sax player was forced to play a key-bass keyboard that looked a bit awkward and took away from the performance. Of the 19 Japanese on board 16 appeared to be excellent dancers and were regularly on the floor.
However the Queen’s Room where the band played had view obstructions of square posts. Also the Queens Room is hidden forward of the Britannia Restaurant on Deck-3 making it difficult to get too. On the QE the Queen’s room was in mid ships allowing passengers to easily walk past it going to and from different venues.
The stage band was also excellent.
The string quartet was good, but not excellent. English was not a primary language. One afternoon toward the end of a 45-minute set they played a piece by Leroy Anderson. As they were leaving I asked the viola player if they had some other Leroy Anderson charts (songs). “We play over 100 songs,” was her reply in broken English not getting at all my question concerning a specific composer.
The Royal Court Theater did not have any of those stupid up-charged balcony box seats like on the QE. However the theater did have view obstructions, making a number of the seats pointless to use.
Movies were not shown in the main theater. There is a separate movie theater just beyond the main theater.
The fly-in entertainers were all British and were average at best. A British comic had the Brits laughing hysterically while the Americans were bored and looking at their watches.
The Lecture Series was okay with an American author, a former White House staffer speaking of social events over the years and a British speaker talking about the Royal Family. I give Cunard points for providing these talks on sea days.
THE SHIP: So many people on our QE cruises talked about how the Queen Mary 2 was a true Trans-Atlantic ship and was so great. We however found it difficult to find our way around. While there was no Chart Room on the QE, which was very nice, we liked the rest of the venues better on the QE.
The computer room was hidden behind the main theater. The library which was excellent (I checked out two great books which I read during our three sea days) but it was hidden on Deck 8. You had to walk past a number of staterooms to get to the library. Also there was nothing else around other than the book store. On the QE the computer room was next to the library on Deck-2 and on Deck-3 there was a café nearby and the card room.
We were routinely making wrong turns and having to ask staff members if we were headed in the right direction for an event.
Two hours after pulling out of the New York Harbor the loud speakers summoned crew members to respond to smoke in the engine room.
The evening of our second day we heard something I had never heard before after spending a couple hundred days on cruise ships. First there was a call for the medical emergency team to report to the medical offices. Apparently the staff was not present when an emergency arrived.
Next the captain was asking for anyone with a specific blood type and a blood donor’s card to report to the medical office as a passenger needed an emergency transfusion. There was a line of passengers wanting to give blood, but most were turned away because they did not have their blood donor cards with them.
Four hours later at about 11 o’clock a Coast Guard medivac helicopter arrived and hovered over the ship while the passenger was taken up in a stretcher basket. Some passengers with cabins on Deck 11 were made to leave their staterooms while the evacuation was made due to the down draft of the helicopter.
We have been on cruises where multiple passengers died of heart attacks and have been abroad two ships where passengers were airlifted off, but we had never heard a call for blood donors before.
PORTS OF CALL:
As we mentioned the ship excursions were outrageously overpriced. As we have done for years when at American or Canadian ports, we rented a car with the one exception of traffic choked Boston.
In NEWPORT we drove past all the huge mansions of the dead rich people. We then enjoyed a county ride and took Rhode Island Highway 77 until it ended at the sea. On our return to Newport we drove past all the slightly smaller mansions of the alive rich people. Total cost was $62 for the rental car from Hertz, plus $20 for gas…or $41 per person for six hours.
In BOSTON my wife used city buses and the subway to visit museums. Total costs…$5 for transportation and $12 for admission fees.
In BAR HARBOR Enterprise Rent-a-Car picked us up at the ship and dropped us off five hours later. We had been to Bar Harbor twice before so we skipped the Arcadia National Park and drove along the coastal roads north of town. We stopped in a small town at a grocery store where I replenished my supply of cans of Diet Dr. Pepper and Coke Zero which are not sold on the ship. My wife bought a carton of Capt. Eli’s Blueberry Pop. (We would go to lounges and bars on the ship and tip a waiter a $1 to bring us a pint glass full of ice and then pour our own beverages.)
When at the grocery store we asked a manager for a recommendation for a lobster restaurant for lunch. She called the local eatery two doors away. Even through lobster was not on the menu for lunch they arranged to have a lobster lunch waiting. Lunch consisted of a whole lobster, a crab roll, fresh cut French fries and sweet potato fries, plus homemade coleslaw.
The car and gas were $60 and the lunch which was all the food we needed for the rest of the day was $30. Our 5-hour excursion was $45 a person.
In ST. JOHNS, New Brunswick we had to be back at the ship by 1pm due to tides. Our rented car took us to St. Andrews, NB, a beautiful tourist town on the coast. Rental car and gas was $75 or $37.50 a person.
In HALIFAX on Sunday it was another rental car and another adventure. We avoided the tour buses at Peggy’s Cove and went further south. We were driving around the residential streets of the Town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia around 10:45am when we saw and someone drive an antique fire truck out of a garage that was made to look like an old firehouse. We stopped and spent an hour with Will Brooks, a retired administrator at a nearby college and former volunteer fire department officer. The truck he had pulled out on the driveway to run was a 1937 American LaFrance pumper. Inside the garage was a 1915 Model-T Ford fire truck. For photos of the fire trucks go to:
Up the road in the Town of Mahone Bay, we stopped at a grocery store and bought some Honeycrisp apples which I would eat instead of going to breakfast on the ship. At the grocery store we asked where to get some good chowder since the ship’s kitchen did not have a clue what New England clam or seafood chowder consisted of. We were directed to Kedy’s Inlet Café, where we got an excellent bowl of chowder.
On the way back to Halifax we stopped and walked out on a bridge over the Gold River and snapped photos of the best fall foliage we would see on the whole trip. For the entire day the rental car, gas and lunch was $90. We did have to take cab rides back and worth to the Budget rental car Office that cost an additional $20. Total per person cost was $55, a lot better than a $75 bus ride to Peggy's Cove..
In QUEBEC CITY we were in port for two days. On the first day there was a cold rain falling all day. We got off the ship and got on a small electric city transit bus that took us all around the city's historic district for $2 each.
We had been to Quebec City before so on the second day we were picked up by Enterprise and got into a rental car and headed to the mountains, where we were driving through some of the first snow squalls of the year. As the snow continued and the temperatures dropped to 29-degrees my wife began to worry, but it was very pretty.
After three days at sea we arrived in New York. Disembarkation went exceeding smooth both on the part of Cunard and US Customs and Border Patrol. We called our $40 car service and were whisked away within five minutes. We arrived at the airport 2-hours before our flight.
Frankly we are not in a big hurry to return to the Queen Mary 2, but thanks to our adventures in ports we had a nice vacation.