I don't intend this to be an exhaustive review of every aspect of QM2: that's been done superbly by many luminaries of the Cunard boards! And I apologize in advance for any peculiarly British references, but this is a personal view of what worked and what didn't for us in our circumstances.
We are a British male/female couple aged 49 and 60 (just!). We think of ourselves as reasonably adventurous and independent travellers, rarely returning to the same country/location and enjoying active holidays. We dislike being organized by other people and are fairly self-sufficient in liking our own company and not needing or wanting to be entertained at every turn. The thought of a 'cruise' in the generally accepted sense of the word had never crossed our minds. However, when the time came for my partner to choose his 60th birthday treat, he unexpectedly plumped for a transatlantic crossing (he is a former master mariner, who had managed to wander the world's oceans without crossing the Atlantic and wanted to close the circle)...which is how we ended up contemplating the bulk of QM2 from Southampton Docks one day early in June.
Embarkation was a dog's breakfast. We arrived at our allotted boarding time to find a sea of people spilling out of the embarkation hall. Luckily (and thanks to reading the cruise critic message boards!) I knew that we should have a priority boarding channel because we were in Princess Grill, so I was able to collar a Cunard employee and ask to be let through the crowd to the (blissfully empty) priority channel. Without this insider knowledge we would have queued for ages - people we spoke to later had waited over an hour in line for their check-in. Disembarkation was a pretty smooth affair by contrast.
QM2 is a stately and impressive lady. Her condition seemed immaculate to us. Her public spaces are far more airy and spacious than we'd expected - the Queens Room being an obvious example - and she absorbs her huge number of passengers and crew with ease. We have photos of indoor and outdoor spaces, taken during the day, where there isn't a soul in sight - remarkable. Generally, the decor and design touches are quite restrained, making the occasional lurches into horrible Dubai-hotel territory all the more jarring. I believe that there is probably somewhere for everyone in terms of places to hang out, drink, relax etc. Our personal favorites were the Commodore Club (any secret Trekkies out there should know that at night it's a dead ringer for 10-Forward on the Enterprise...you half expect Worf to be propping up the bar with a prune juice) and the Chart Room. The 'pub' is a very anodyne, Wetherspoon-y area that seemed very popular but had zero appeal for us. The wine and champagne bars felt impersonal, perhaps because of their locations.The Winter Garden was teeth-grittingly awful - decorated by a crazed love-child of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen, methinks - and Cunard should immediately stop drawing any comparisons between it and Kew Gardens! It seemed fitting that the auctions of rather dodgy art (I was assured that there were some little gems there, but I didn't see any) were held there. And we liked the atmosphere in G32, the nightclub, even though the dancing space was small. Okay, so maybe the intended clientele aren't going to be ravers, but there are still a few disco queens among us!
We chose the Princess Grill category primarily because we wanted open dining and a better chance of a table for two, which we got. We were delighted with the P1 cabin and balcony - plenty of storage space, a spacious bathroom and decent lighting. Our steward did an excellent job and our one special request to him was handled promptly and efficiently. The Princess Grill itself didn't disappoint in any way - from the first lunch on embarkation day to our final breakfast, we loved it. The service, from well-chosen and well-trained staff, was exemplary: professional but friendly and not stuffy. Each day, the head waiter or maitre'd gave us that evening's menu and asked if we wanted any extras/adjustments. The food itself was first-class, especially in terms of the quality of produce. The beef particularly,in all its guises, was exceptionally good. And any operation that can produce perfect raspberries on the final morning of a six-day voyage is doing well. I confess that we ate all our meals there - the first couple of lunchtimes we ventured to the Kings Court, but couldn't face trailing around a crowded hall (and yes, as reported elsewhere the layout is very confusing) with a tray only to end up seated beside someone whose idea of lunch was four portions of pudding and so scuttled back to the safety of the Princess. We soon became so spoiled that we didn't think of going anywhere else.
The choice of activities and recreation was huge. By the time we'd been to lectures (our film historian was excellent and the scientist absorbing though a little time-management-challenged), attended the RADA drama sessions, played deck quoits, Baggo and shuffleboard (run very well by the sports staff in a friendly but competitive spirit), used the swimming pools, visited the planetarium and walked the decks we had little time for anything else other than sampling martinis. I booked ahead by e-mail for a hair appointment and had a great shampoo and style, by the way. The balance of activities seems to cater for all tastes and it would be a sad soul who couldn't find something to engage them. The same could be said for the entertainment - we dipped in to one of the big shows in the Royal Court Theatre, but it just wasn't to our taste, but found the classical guitar concert delightful, some of the jazz sessions terrific and the RADA poetry readings a lovely way to preface dinner one evening. The pianists in the bars/lounges played relentlessly middle-of-the-road muzak (in our hearing, anyway) and it would be nice if they were encouraged to be a little more challenging in their repertoire. Alastair Greener, the cruise director, impressed us with his professionalism, energy and style (he even popped up reading a poem!).
A few negatives, just a few: It seems crazy not to have indications of forward/aft and port/starboard at each stairwell/lift exit on each deck. Unless you can see the ocean, it's hard to tell back from front, let alone left from right. I heard one elderly passenger begging his daughter not to abandon him as he'd never find his way home.For the first couple of days, we knew how he felt. There has to be a better way to organize a buffet than the Kings Court.
Cunard doesn't make enough of the terrific historical displays and photographs scattered around the ship. A revamp of the Winter Garden using the photos of famous past Cunarders as the theme might not be a bad idea...
The 'Balls' were awful. We went to some effort to do the right thing for the Black and White Ball - I even abandoned my normal wardrobe of 'sludge' colors for a B&W gown - and it had all the style of a knees-up in a retirement home, culminating in some poor sap being chosen by lottery ticket to be "Queen of the Ball". In fact, the dress code was a bit of a disappointment overall - since when has a skirt and blouse been 'formal' wear in anyone's language? Cunard does nothing to help in this regard by being very woolly in its definitions.
This last mini-gripe illustrates quite well, I think, the main problem with QM2. She is a hybrid, trying to serve at least two, maybe more, markets at once. She is teetering along a very fine line of wanting (needing economically?) to attract 'cruisers' rather than 'crossers' and yet still trying to maintain the style and traditions of a Transatlantic liner. For us, she pulled it off, but I'd have to say that this may have been because we chose (and luckily could afford) a Grill class. We had a marvellous time and will carry some vivid memories with us - standing aft and watching the wake stretching miles back through a sparkling blue sea being one. If you've never considered a cruise but want a civilized, interesting way to spend six days and arrive in style in New York, then we can wholeheartedly recommend QM2.