When Cunard Line (well, Carnival Corp., really) re-flagged the three 'Queens' two years ago, hauling down the Union Jack after 172 years and raising the (convenience) flag of Bermuda, there was a great deal of concern among Cunard regulars as to how this cost-cutting action would effect the onboard experience.
After crossing to England aboard 'Queen Mary 2' last month, it is my impression that the re-flagging has resulted in not only the lowering of the British flag, but the lowering of shipboard standards as well.
Two years ago my spouse and I boarded QM2 on January 3rd and sailed from New York to Southampton and on to Cape Town. The three-week voyage exceeded our high expectations in every way. The ship, the crew and staff, the service and the cuisine were all outstanding. We said at the time that the voyage - one of more than 100 crossings, cruises and line voyages we have enjoyed over the past 45 years - was one of the best ever.
This year we sailed once again on January 3rd. But sadly, this most recent crossing bore no resemblance to that of two years ago; or any of our previous Cunard voyages. The bean-counters in Miami have been hard at work and their efforts to slash costs and remove traditional niceties are clearly evident onboard. We've purposely never sailed on a 'Fun Ship', but we disembarked at Southampton feeling distinctly Carnivalized.
The staff aboard QM2 - in the past, one of the pleasures of sailing with Cunard - seemed distracted and less than satisfied with their jobs. Many of those serving in the lounges and dining room were inexperienced, and while unfailingly kind, were not sure of themselves, and in many cases not comfortably conversant in English. There also seemed to be a real shortage of staff. Night after night, our second-seating dinners in Britannia reminded us of a chaotic first night at sea. None of our meals were served with any sense of pacing or flow. Our waiter (mostly without a busboy to assist him), was absent for long periods of time and we would see him hurriedly serving tables some distance from ours. Our empty water glasses and bread basket sat ignored. One night the menus for our table of four turned out to be different from all the others in the dining room. Our waiter wrote down all our choices, only to return - rattled and apologetic - having been informed by the galley that none of the appetizers, soups or entrees we had ordered were available that night. (!)
The meals we were served, throughout the crossing, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, were never more than merely satisfactory. We never once took a first bite and said "Wow!" And we were never able to relax, as every meal was served in a rush, as though the staff couldn't wait to get us fed and out of the dining room. The entire week-long dining experience was disheartening, failing as it did in every way to live up to the standards we've previously enjoyed onboard QM2.
Only in Todd English did we find the superb cuisine and service unchanged. If we do decide to cross again on the 'Mary' (a booked Grill crossing in November has been cancelled), we will take as many meals as possible in this extra tariff restaurant, which remains (for now anyway!) a delight, and worth every penny.
Carnival, by constantly catering to the very lowest denominator, has done a thorough job of ruining Costa Cruises, and a pretty good job of ruining Holland-America and Seabourn. It seems they won't be content until they've ruined Cunard as well.
I would caution both Cunard and Carnival that it is possible, by using ever cheaper and cheaper ingredients, to make a pizza that anyone can afford - but no one wants to eat...