We have just completed a cruise of the Southern Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale to New York. April 2nd 2007. For the sake of all non-US nationals, Cunard should really try and avoid the USA - it is a nightmare at the moment - we took 31/2 hours to get off the plane at Fort Lauderdale and through passport control - no air-con or toilet facilities. We had everything but the marigolds at Gatwick and then to be treated this way by our bestest buddies is a disgrace. Cunard reps suggested that they weren't to blame and we should complain to the Dept of Homeland Security in the US. Well Cunard are certainly not to blame, but they are now no doubt aware of the hold-ups and should really bang the table on our behalf, or alternatively just avoid the USA particularly outside New York. When we arrived at New York it still took more than 5 hours to process all the 2300 passengers and it appears to be pot-luck where you are in the queue to get off, although you still get to use the on-board facilities and we even got lunch before disembarking - which was no consolation for those with short stays in New York. Well on with the actual review: The boat, ship or liner is certainly big and certainly impressive and after gaining an insight into the general layout - there is plenty to do. Each evening your steward leaves an itinerary for the following day - it's very informative and allows you to plan your time. The entertainment was exceptional in general with plenty to please all punters. There are two sittings for dinner and we did the 8.30 to avoid the kids. Why people take kids on the QM2 is beyond me - but there are plenty of them who either seemed completely bored or generally aloof. I'm sure they would prefer Disneyland and a burger rather than a violinist and fois grois. Anyhow - the entertainment was generally to our liking although the Royal Court Theatre was hardly in keeping with the general splendour of the ship. The theatre has about 1200 seats or so, with a high percentage of seats suffering an obstructed view. Whoever designed this part of the ship needs keelhauling. Even the balcony seats on the front row have a glass panel in the way with a support strut running through at eye-level. Simply genius. We were lucky enough to get good seats for the shows where the acts are also visually rewarding. But it is on a first-come first served basis, so you have been warned - the theatre is at best garbage and far from what you would expect from Cunard. Richard Dreyfuss was on our cruise and he did two shows which ended up with questions from the audience. We left during the first question as a rather large portly American spent nearly five minutes on "I'm your biggest fan" - well he did appear to particularly big - and "I've seen all your movies" right through to "what an honor it is" etc etc. As we had already left, I can't tell you any of the answers or whether or not Mr Dreyfuss had sufficient time to respond. I was hoping to ask if we were going to need a bigger boat ! Okay it wasn't his line in Jaws - but it seemed an amusing thing to ask on such an immense ship. The forthcoming Queen Victoria appears to have addressed the problem of the theatre and looks more in keeping with the splendour of that liner. The food on the QM2 is generally excellent and don't forget your camera on the next to last night when the chefs do a parade. We had three formal nights, along with a couple of elegant casual and casual nights. I wasn't looking forward to this aspect - but quite enjoyed the pomp of donning the tux and bow-tie. Lunch and breakfast can be taken in the Britannia restaurant, but generally we ate in the Kings Court area, which was self-service with a good selection on offer. At lunch there is a carvery, Oriental and Italian area along with a burger / pizzeria. However it's all pretty much the same in each zone at breakfast. I particularly liked the oriental cuisine in the Lotus area. The trips were generally okay - although the islands on our tour were slightly disappointing apart from St Kitts On Bonaire we did the snorkeling - which is exceptional and one of the highlights, but the island itself was not up to scratch and lacked a bit of soul. Grenada is still recovering from hurricane damage and the locals hardly seem in a hurry to carry out any repairs. We had to use the tenders to get ashore at Grenada, which was fun, but caused immense problems in the theatre. Depending on your tour, you have set times to meet in the theatre where you then wait to be called to your tender. This was running more than an hour late so the queues where something else - although again apparently outside Cunard's control. Why they couldn't announce to one and all to add 45mins onto the meeting time is beyond me. They seem to excel at logistics - but this was bordering on chaos. Once ashore we had a visit to a Rum Factory, which sounded appealing, although the factory had not been operational since 1995 and the tour was essentially a shop in a caravan alongside the factory ruin, complete with an awning. We then went to Great Anse beach, which actually wasn't that great. St Kitts was wonderful with a bit more money being spent on tourism. It seems to be recognized that this is where their future lies, and it is just a shame that some of the wonderful countryside will soon be spoilt by hotel complexes. The Hyatt chain has a particularly nice spot, which they will no doubt ruin.
Anyway back to the ship. The cabins were roomy, clean and the steward was exceptional (Reynaldo). We were celebrating our anniversary (April 1st) and received lots of goodies - certificate, anniversary card, flowers, champers and chockies and a free photo. My wife indulged in afternoon tea, which she had been so looking forward to. She was disappointed in the scones. Not particularly good with fresh cream and red-currant processed jelly. Hardly strawberry jam and clotted cream, but then again hardly afternoon tea either. A major disappointment. I watched a football match in the Golden Lion Bar and enjoyed a pint or two of Guinness. Seems she got the short-straw.
The planetarium in Illuminations is a must do and the Commodore Club and Cigar lounge are excellent - the cappuccino is a must. Illuminations also serves as a cinema and a church - so try and plan your activities as you may get all the thou-shalts and Onward Christian Soldiers when you might have been hoping for Casino Royale The library is extensive and while you are at the pointy end of the ship - you might as well have a look at the bridge. Men in uniforms looking through binoculars and looking very important but not seemingly doing much. I suppose it's a bit like flying a plane - not a lot to do between Go and Stop.
The shops on board are okay although the frequent sales that they have in the hallways appear to be selling stuff that they would seemingly never sell in the shops. The sale-clothing was not particularly good quality, but some of the gift sets were okay - but they are generally for other people and not yourself !
The casino is interesting and I tried to gain a smidgeon of understanding on the game of craps, but generally just enjoyed hooting and a hollering with our American cousins who can get overly animated around the table during a game. They roll dice, cheer and hoot, then lose or win - that's about all I learned. I did however win $50 at roulette which my wife spent on some tacky photo's that you are continuously hassled to stand for. Well at least we have a photo of us in all our finery, stood in front of another photograph of the ship As regards the general feel of the ship, I had imagined sheer opulence and was somewhat let down - not by Cunard, but possibly by my own envisaged standards. The best way of summing the décor and lavishness of being on the QM2 is that it is rather akin to being in Marks & Spencers for a week. I leave it you to judge whether or not this is of sufficient standard. Those I shared this snippet with generally smiled and nodded in agreement. However I must point out that the Britannia restaurant is rather grand. Don't forget there are 2300 customers and over a 1000 staff on board, so be prepared to queue - like everything else on board the queues are big. I suppose this is why the Queen Mary 2 is referred to as QM2 with a heavy emphasis on the Q.
The entertainment manger / director has a rather unpleasant manner in which he continually reminds everyone of the exceptional entertainment and how hard they all work. Well thanks Mr whoever you are- but I was quite capable of forming my own opinion on this. The entertainment was excellent and they all worked hard ! He is your archetypal salesman - your best mate - someone who's doing you a favor. He may however be a good organizer - but he should avoid the limelight of interviewing guest stars or introducing the acts. He is in fact so bad, he makes Charlotte Church look good.
Finally my biggest bug-bear; tipping or gratuities. They take $11 a day for some reason, We booked the cruise because of the envisaged high standards and quality. This was suggested in their adverts and glossies - just read some of their grandiose waffle as they describe the experience of cruising on the QM2. A gratuity is something beyond the call of duty, which is difficult in this case because they never actually improved on exceptional service, nor did I receive enhanced excellent standards. It was quite frankly, exactly just what I had ordered when I booked the cruise - so why should I pay more? I don't want any bull about low wages of their staff - now that is their fault - why should I subsidize the salary of Cunard's staff just so the Company can make more profit for their shareholders - I just don't get it. No one tips me, but you can do so if you like this review! We have all been to a posh restaurant where we pay more for just about everything and usually we expect to - for the very reason that it is posh. We can get the same stuff for less, at a less posh restaurant. So we booked a posh cruise then had to pay more for what they offered. This is a con-trick - just put the prices up to include a tipping levy so no-one will notice and people may still choose to tip if they so wish I enjoyed my Guinness on board and couldn't tell you what it actually cost - to me it doesn't really matter because at the time I just wanted a Guinness. What I object to is paying a little extra for someone just to pour it. Put the price up rather than take stealth tips.
We arrived at New York - the only way to arrive. It gives you a great sense of occasion. I just wish the skipper could have hung around a bit in the Atlantic so that the arrival was during daylight!
As for New York - well that's another story for another website
To finish up the review - it's not quite what I had imagined, but I have at least endless tales to share with friends - and no doubt bore them to death. It's something to tick off the list and I'm glad I've done it. It's certainly not my best holiday by any stretch - but it's also not my worst. It may though be my most disappointing, although I was not really disappointed with anything. It's not Cunard's fault - it's probably mine.
Just a word of warning - beware dealing with Sunterra.com - they will just want the sale and promise you everything then pass on any of your concerns to fictitious team leaders or alleged customer services. This company sit behind a lot of cruise booking sites - so just watch out where your booking site puts you. If it is Sunterra - try a different approach. They have no interest in anything other than your transaction - and are very good at fobbing off any complaints