We took this “voyage” in late May and early June. It was our fourth trip on Queen Mary 2 and my fifteenth overall on various Cunard ships.
Journey to Southampton and Embarkation
Despite warnings about potential traffic problems in the waterfront area due to extensive road works we had a very smooth journey from West Berkshire to the Ocean terminal following our normal route. There were two other ships embarking passengers that day, including Queen Victoria, but we probably had our quickest ever journey to Southampton docks, arriving just before midday on a Friday morning. (As I am a Platinum World Club member, we can both take advantage of priority boarding). Embarkation started a little late as the shore-side staff waited for Captain Oprey’s permission to proceed and the inevitable queues caused by the need to remove footwear and anything metallic soon built up a little. Apparently the security arches are highly sensitive due to sprung metal floors. However, I didn’t think we were unduly delayed and of course, the experience is the same for everyone. Having said that, our previous cruise, on Queen Elizabeth, which departed from the QEII Terminal, provided a much better embarkation experience as there were no delays and no need to remove metallic items such as belts and watches.
We had an obstructed balcony cabin forward on deck 8 which was fine - the view was obscured by a lifeboat but it was light and we could see a lot more than I was anticipating so we were perfectly happy with it and its location, which was close to the library and bookshop, the gym (on deck 7) and Commodore Club on deck 9. (Anyone thinking of booking an obstructed view cabin can check out the photographs in the FAQ section of Cunard’s website to see what they will be getting.)
The cabin itself had worn well during its ten years of service. Everything worked and it was kept spotlessly clean and efficiently serviced by our steward, Ferdi. There was a fair amount of rust and peeling paint on the balcony, but the balcony was otherwise clean and to be honest, I think one has to expect this amount of wear and tear from a ship which routinely crosses the Atlantic in all weathers.
The one negative aspect to the cabin was that it had an inter-connecting door to the adjoining room, which meant that it didn’t have the same levels of sound proofing as a standard cabin (which I didn’t realise at the time of booking). We had problems with noise at unsocial hours on the first couple of nights (loud and lengthy phone calls at 3am) so on the third occasion contacted the Purser’s Desk which dealt with the situation promptly and after that the calls and loud conversations ceased. Based on that experience, I would not book such a cabin again and would recommend anyone who is a light sleeper to avoid these cabins.
Our luggage arrived promptly and a stress-free embarkation experience was topped off by lunch in the Golden Lion pub, which was very quiet and relaxed. We rarely visit the pub as it is normally so crowded at lunchtimes during sea days and on port days we tend to be ashore at lunchtime. I think the pub on QM2 is superior to the one on Queen Elizabeth which is rather dark due to the paneling around the windows which obscures a lot of daylight (I believe that may have been removed during QE’s recent re-fit, in which case that is good news.) We had a ploughman’s and the fish and chips. Both perfectly pleasant but the four “chips” were ungenerous compared to the size of the fish.
After lunch we had time to unpack before the emergency drill which unusually in our experience was conducted by the Deputy Captain who also did both drills for passengers embarking in Hamburg.
Evening Drinks & Dining
In the evening we made our way to the Britannia Restaurant and were pleased to find that we had a spacious table for four to ourselves on the second sitting (having requested a table for two). The table was located on the lower level, just to the starboard side of atrium area. Our waiters Jane and Sandy, Sommelier Octavian and head waiter Navneet were very efficient and friendly and they ensured we had a largely enjoyable evening meal experience.
I must say that I don’t think we enjoyed the food quite as much as on previous cruises but I think this might just be down to our personal preferences. I had a ribeye stuck which I couldn’t finish because it was too chewy - a second one was quickly sourced but again I didn’t enjoy that. It’s the first time I’ve seen ribeye on a Cunard menu and I probably won’t have it again if I see it in future… that said, having had a couple of bad previous experiences with risotto, the one I had accompanying a fish dish was perfect. Soups and starters were always good and stand out desserts included soufflés and crepes suzette.
On one evening we dined in Coriander, the Indian themed alternative restaurant. I don’t normally eat Indian food at home as I find it’s too rich and cloying but the food was light and interesting and the starter platter was especially good. The meal was worth the $10 a head cover charge although you are basically eating in a corridor. .. We didn’t book early enough for a window table (these are allocated on a first come, first served basis) which means people wander past your table on their way to the buffet or the Winter Garden. Cunard tries to prevent this with strategically placed notices asking guests to use entrances on the other side of the ship but these have limited effect. Comparing this experience to Aztec on Queen Elizabeth, we preferred Aztec for both the menu and the ambiance; The Lido can be closed off to create discrete areas and it feels much more like a proper restaurant.
The Commodore Club was our venue of choice for a pre-dinner drink; hot canapés were served at about six and eight pm which added a little extra something to the experience (calories principally!). This was also a great venue on sea days when the bar opened late morning and one could relax with a book and a drink. Having said earlier that the Golden Lion is nicer on the QM2 than QE, I do think, however, the Commodore Club on the QE has the edge for me in terms of its layout, particularly since it has the piano in the centre of the lounge rather than on the port side.
We had afternoon tea in the Queen’s Room on several occasions but Cunard still doesn’t have an answer for the long queues which form whilst the doors remain closed for the crew to set up; the dash for the best seats once they open is a little unedifying and certainly not in keeping with the refined atmosphere Cunard likes to conjure up in its PR materials. The room is lovely though, once you have made it through the queue and it does feel quite elegant with the tables beautifully laid and the waiting staff taking their cue to enter as the first notes from the harpist or string quartet strike up. A note on the food; I thought the sandwiches were fresher than on QE last year and the sandwich fillings more varied (my favourite being smoked salmon and cream cheese). The scones were freshly baked and still warm, but the cream is not clotted despite what Cunard claims – but it is nicely whipped and spreads well. I do think Cunard excels with its cakes - small and perfectly formed they are ideal for the occasion.
Regardless of being on QM2 or QE, the evening entertainment in the theatre generally holds little appeal for us. The most enjoyable entertainment was provided by RADA and we attended a number of productions including a challenging and thought-provoking A Merchant of Venice and an enchanting version of The Arabian Nights. These took place during the day – other performances such as a ghost story, jazz poetry and Pride & Prejudice began at 10pm which made it difficult for those of us on late dinner to be there at the start. If Cunard scheduled them to start 15 minutes later it would make such a difference and mean that we could enjoy both dinner and the show in a more leisurely way.
The other standout entertainment was provided by the classical guitarist Dimitris Dekavallas whom I would happily pay to see in a UK concert hall.
There was also a series of interesting lectures given by Martin Saunders, a wildlife cameraman who was worked extensively with David Attenborough.
Impact of the Itinerary
The itinerary called twice at Hamburg which impacted on the voyage in various ways. VAT was added to purchases in the shops between Southampton and Hamburg and again between Hamburg and Southampton. Similarly, during these sectors of the voyage no alcohol or cigarettes were sold. On the return leg from Hamburg to Southampton the bookshop was closed as well (although not on the outward leg strangely). These restrictions were variously ascribed to EU and German tax regulations. There was no afternoon tea in the Queens Room during Hamburg embarkation days but on the plus side it was a good time to visit the laundry for washing or ironing during the emergency drills held for the new arrivals. Most tours were offered in either English or German; we felt the negative side of this when a tour we had chosen in Olden was cancelled due to lack of take up (although the German language version was popular enough to go ahead). Naturally German was widely spoken and heard around the ship and there were German translations of all the major announcements as well as some German language signage. The whole voyage certainly had a different feel to it than previous ones we have been on and might be something that others would want to consider if looking at a similar future itinerary (of which there will be many I believe).
Of the ports of call, Blankenberge (from Zeebrugge) had little to recommend it and with hindsight we should have got the train to Bruges which is quick and easy as the shuttle bus drops you at the station.
Hamburg had more than enough to keep us occupied on two visits and we particularly recommend a visit to the remains of St Nicholas’s Church, which was largely destroyed by British bombing during World War II. The church spire was spared and now houses a lift which ascends to a viewing platform with panoramic views of the city, including the Hafen City cruise terminal. On both the viewing platform and outside within the footprint of the church ruins are information boards in German and English which movingly describe the impact the war had on the people of Hamburg. There’s also a museum in what was the church crypt. A shuttle bus is provided to one of the main shopping streets, Monckebergstrasse (Cunard suggests you visit Karstadt but we like Kaufhof). There’s also a U-bahn station just outside the port for trips further afield – it’s safe and easy to walk there from the terminal.
There were five ports on the Norwegian leg of the voyage and for us the standout one was Olden, a beautiful village situated within the Nordfjord, where mountains rise steeply and the waters are crystal clear. The locals are very geared up for tourists: just steps from the ship you can rent a bike, take a scenic open top bus ride, hire a taxi shuttle to the Briksdal glacier and even book a helicopter flight! If your tour gets cancelled as ours did, it needn’t ruin your visit at all. By contrast, there is little to see in Andalsnes, although you can pick up the Rauma scenic railway from the local station for a trip up to the Troll Wall and there is mountain hiking for the fit and energetic. We had been to Alesund, Stavanger and Bergen before and found these ports had enough of interest to repay a second visit (or in the case of Bergen a third one).
Taken as a whole, we had an enjoyable holiday for which we had paid a fair price and due to putting down a future cruise deposit on a previous trip, we had a significant amount of onboard credit too. The condition of the ship, standard of service and quality of the food and entertainment and activities were much as we were expecting and whilst there were a few little negatives or disappointments there was nothing significant enough which would discourage us from travelling with Cunard again. Indeed, we already have another voyage, on Queen Elizabeth this time, to look forward to next year. In this review I made several comparisons between that ship and QM2 – I do prefer QE’s interiors but as the only true ocean liner, QM2’s exterior appearance and wonderful open decks will I’m sure, keep tempting me back in the future!