We just returned four days ago from the Independence Day Getaway voyage aboard the Queen Mary 2, and already we miss her desperately. Though we were onboard for only 4 days, our experience aboard the grand QM2 provided a terrific introduction to cruising and has clearly shown what makes Cunard Line a step above the rest.
EMBARKATION: Getting onboard the ship was, well...an adventure in itself. Finding the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal required the strategy of a chess player and the patience of a saint. Now, stick five people in a minivan who can't play chess and have the patience of a New Yorker, and you're in for a very interesting ride. However, once parked and inside the cruise terminal, we met a speedy baggage inspection and check-in process. Following check-in, we were lead into one of several boarding lounges. Due to technical difficulties at the port, we had to wait in this lounge for over two hours, but this was clearly a rare situation and not the fault of Cunard. Finally, at a little before two o'clock, the gangway opened and we were among the first to board the QM2. In the Grand Lobby, members of the ship's staff were lined up on either side of the hallway, greeting passengers with sincere British welcomes and warm smiles-a real Titanic-style entrance.
THE SHIP: The Queen Mary 2 is, in a word, magnificent. Her exterior alone, painted in Cunard's signature black, white, and red color scheme, sets her apart from any other vessel afloat. The QM2 is an ocean liner - regal and majestic - not a lumbering, top-heavy "sea-bus" that many other ships have become. Every public room onboard the QM2 features contemporary elegance, not glitz, appointed with understated décor. Nothing is hosed down with neon. The Grand Lobby, a six-story affair, features crystal chandeliers and a sweeping grand staircase; not a towering inferno of glass and bad taste. The Britannia Restaurant has classical columns and an illuminated glass ceiling in a nod to liners like the Normandy. The Royal Court Theatre, accommodating over a third of the ship's passengers, has plush, comfortable seating and terrific sightlines throughout. High ceilings in all public areas provide a relaxed, airy atmosphere.
Though I never used the Canyon Ranch Spa or Fitness Center, I did take a brief walk through and both areas featured state of the art facilities, particularly the gym with its procession of treadmills and stationary bikes. Moving outdoors, the Promenade was the perfect spot to grab a teak lounger and a cool drink (served by an attentive wait staff) and simply enjoy the endless blue. All four outdoor pools (including that under the sliding magrodome) were adequately large, and the little kids seemed to be having a blast at Minnow's pool on deck 6. My grandfather tried out the driving range on deck 13-nothing to rave over, but a good workout.
As for the crowd onboard, it seemed that most passengers were from the NY-NJ-CT tri-state area, along with a few European passengers. Everyone was courteous, and I never got the pish posh, Thurston Howell III vibe one might associate with such a sophisticated liner.
THE CABIN: We chose an obstructed-view balcony stateroom on deck 8, and it greatly exceeded my expectations. The lifeboats/tenders are at least eight feet from the balcony rail, providing a sufficient view of the ocean and passersby on the promenade below. The bathrooms were quite adequate in size, offering a toilet, sink/vanity with faux granite countertops, a large mirror, and a roomy shower. As I had read in other reviews, there is a shower curtain instead of a glass door, but we discovered that the flexible shower curtain provides more elbowroom when shaving or drying off. Good thinking, Cunard!
FOOD: For the most part, onboard cuisine was excellent. We dined at the early seating at the Britannia Restaurant every night, and found every meal to be superb. On the night of departure, the roast duck was a little tough although quite flavorful, and this was the only instance where the food wasn't quite up to par. Some of my personal favorites were the Sesame Noodle Salad, Grilled Sirloin, and Broiled Lobster tail (without doubt, the largest and most delicious lobster I've ever eaten). As for the desserts? Perfection. The seven layer chocolate cake is a must!
The Kings Court Buffet is one of the lower points on QM2 for two reasons: 1) As commented on in numerous other reviews, the layout is a little tricky and needs improvement. 2) Long buffet lines breed impatience and aggression among some passengers at prime meal times. That said, the buffet offers a wide variety of delicious food, especially at breakfast with a great selection of omelets, pancakes, waffles, and the like. And, if you have a craving at 11:47pm for a double cheeseburger with fries, the Court's doors are wide open (that was a great burger...).
Unfortunately, we never ate a meal at Todd English. I know, shame on us! We just ran out of time. Well, there's always the next cruise, right?
SERVICE: If there's one area where Cunard really shines, it's service. I did not pass a single crewmember without receiving a big smile and "Good afternoon, sir." Our cabin steward, Demy, was attentive and cheerful, and seemed to be right outside the cabin whenever we needed him. On the second day of the cruise, I asked him if he could open the partition between my balcony and that of my grandparents next door; it was done within the hour. Dining room service was just as polished. We had two servers: Czaba and Sasa. Czaba brought warm rolls and appetizers, while Sasa handled the main course and desert. Both offered a pleasant "good evening" to everyone at the table, and refilled ice water on a constant basis. Sasa even offered his recommendations on the night's desert. Take my word for it - he was always right on the money! We also received a nightly visit from the maitre d', as well as the beverage server. Alcohol and soft drinks were only offered, not pushed. All in all, the entire crew works together to run a very tight ship.
ENTERTAINMENT: Onboard entertainment was outstanding! We attended two shows in the Royal Court Theatre: The Welcome Aboard Show, and Apassionata. The Welcome Aboard Show was just plain hysterical, with a terrific impersonator who became Bobby Darin, Louie Armstrong, Michael Jackson (that was a crowd pleaser), Elvis Presley, and many others. Apassionata is an absolute must, with singing and dancing that more than rivals a Broadway performance (or should I say West End?). I also attended a two-day lecture in Illuminations by renowned maritime historian John Maxtone-Graham. Titled “The Only Way to Cross,” he discussed the great ocean liners of the bygone Age of Ocean Travel with added twists of British humor. Dr. Ruth Westheimer was the other celebrity guest onboard, with lectures about…well, you know. Additionally, the string quartet in the Grand Lobby and the harpist at the Britannia Restaurant played quite professionally and added an ambience that was reminiscent of that onboard the Titanic.
PRINCESS CAYS, BAHAMAS: Princess Cays, located at the southern tip of Eleuthera Island, embodies everything that is the Caribbean. Swaying palm trees; crystal clear, turquoise waters; sprawling, white-sand beaches; calypso bands; and, of course, a blistering 91°F. Besides the heat, the weather was perfect. A brilliant blue sky stretched overhead, dotted with a few white clouds. We rented three cabanas and two floats. The cabanas, while shady, turned into pizza ovens by the end of the day. However, the floats were terrific! My dad also rented snorkeling gear, and made friends with a giant lobster. The beach barbeque was a nice touch. Burgers and hotdogs were unexpectedly tasty, as well as the fruit salad. The tender service was no hassle whatsoever, and the QM2 on the horizon was a remarkable backdrop for all those beach snapshots.
DISEMBARKATION: Debarking from the QM2 was much smoother than getting onboard. After being assembled in the Royal Court Theatre, we were called by the cruise director, Ray Rouse, to head ashore. Quick. Efficient. No lines. We picked up our luggage, breezed through customs, and out the door we went.
OTHER COMMENTS: The QM2 is the most stable, smooth-sailing vessel afloat. Any motion we felt was barely noticeable and nothing capable of causing seasickness.
The QM2 is the fastest passenger ship in the world, thus resulting in gale force winds on deck. Bring a jacket.
The ship is very easy to navigate despite its tremendous size. Signs and diagrams are posted throughout to help those of us who are “navigationally challenged”.
CONCLUSION: Sailing on the Queen Mary 2 was an amazing experience, especially for first time cruisers. I would recommend the QM2 to anyone, as there is something onboard for everyone. Thanks, Cunard, for a great vacation! You haven’t seen the last of us.