Queen Mary 2 (QM2) Cruise Review by Firstimer: Queen Mary 2 (QM2) - Trans-Atlantic
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Queen Mary 2 (QM2) - Trans-Atlantic
Just a few random notes from a first-time cruiser which will hopefully be of help to other first-timers by answering a few questions.
First, should you travel transatlantic? One of the things that has often made me discard the idea of cruising is the rapid-fire way in which one sees destinations - arriving in the early hours of the morning and pulling out again around 05.00 pm in the afternoon. None of that on the QM2! Instead, you have six nights to make use of the facilities of this massive floating resort. The size really is a major surprise...quickly followed by other surprises such as the excellent food, amusing entertainment, great conferences, endless opportunities to learn new things, lots of dancing (we love ballroom dancing) and, above all, the way in which the staff really works hard to make every moment a pleasure. I would wholeheartedly recommend the QM2 to anyone above the age of 20, preferably in couples and (this is important)English speaking. Everything on More the boat happens in English and we occasionally encountered people whose handling of English was rudimentary and who, frankly, must have found this a big disadvantage.
Second, what kind of cabin (or stateroom, as Cunard rather pompously called it)should one choose? Obviously, money is an issue here and many people reading this may not choose to spend the kind of money required for a Princess or Queen suite. That was our case and we didn't regret our choice. The key thing about the choice of room is that it determines in which restaurant you eat. All of the non-suite people (i.e. the majority)eat in the Britannia restaurant. The food is excellent but the problem comes with seating for dinner. Even though the place is palatial, it's not big enough to hold everyone for dinner in one shot. So, when booking, you have to choose between eating at 18:00 (which I find too early) or 20:30 (which is rather late). However, if this restaurant is your choice, I would recommend choosing the late sitting for the westbound crossing (when you get 1 hour of extra sleep every night so that when you arrive in New York you are on local time) and the early sitting when travelling eastbound (when you lose 1 hour every night). This allows you to follow dinner with some entertainment or dancing and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.
There is another option (a recent addition to the QM2), which is the Britannia Club (this was our choice). This is a separate area of the main restaurant where there is only one seating (like the Princess and Queens restaurants). There are also extra a la carte options and the service seems less frenetic, but don't believe the brochure when it says you get table-side flambE service. For safety reasons, the flambE station is bolted to the floor so, while it may be in the same general area, it is certainly not table-side. We were also lucky enough on our return journey (we did the trip both ways with a four-day stop in New York)to have a table for two next to the window (which afforded the added pleasure one day of seeing dolphins chasing the ship). So,if the budget will bear it, I would thoroughly recommend upgrading from Britannia to Britannia Club.
Going "Club" doesn't necessarily mean a better room. We originally booked a balcony stateroom and then upgraded to Club. As a result we moved up one deck (to the 12th), but the size and style of the balcony room didn't change. A few little things are added, like a half-bottle of sparkling wine and a dish of strawberries delivered to the room when the boat leaves port, plus a "pillow concierge" service (which allows you to choose from a selection of different types of pillow), which we didn't try. I understand also that we could have requested a complimentary bowl of fruit, which we didn't bother with (there is just so much to eat on this boat, it really isn't necessary). With regard to rooms, we did manage to glance one day into a Princess suite (which was being cleaned) and, yes, it is very nice. But, given the size of the ship and the wide range of things going on, how much time will you actually spend in your bigger (and much more expensive) suite? However, on the other end of the scale, we also got to glance into one of the inside staterooms (i.e. no windows). I really wouldn't recommend it.
But is a balcony room worth the added expense? Crossing the Atlantic is a very windy experience and it is unlikely that you will spend much time sitting there sun-bathing (although, on the way back, there were a couple of days when this was possible). However, the real advantage is the floor to ceiling windows and the knowledge that, if you want to, you can step outside, lean on the rail and watch the sea go by in the privacy of your own room.
Third, what about all the dressing up? Yes, there is a lot of that, but I rather enjoyed it. Of the six nights, three were "formal" (tuxedo, black tie), one was "informal" (jacket and tie) and two "elegant casual" (same as "informal" but without the tie). The dress code is obligatory in the evening if you eat in the main restaurants, but you can escape it (if you really hate the idea) by eating in one of the optional restaurants in the Kings Court area. Men can replace the tuxedo with a dark suit and tie but (at least on my two crossings) very few do.
Finally, if you only want to do the crossing one way, do you go westbound or eastbound? I have read many critics who say "go west", for the entry into New York harbour. Yes, perhaps, but it is a very early arrival (in our case, around five in the morning) and you have to get showered in time to get off the boat and so on... I watched a bit of the arrival in a bath robe from my balcony but.. well, it was just too early for me. By contrast, leaving New York on a bright summer evening (at least, it was for us) is a magical experience. On top of it all, as this was our second crossing, we had learned how to reach an observation deck just under the bridge and where to get a drink with which to enjoy the departure (thereby avoiding the scrum around the bar on deck at the back of the boat). And on top of this, we had a running commentary over the tannoy system from historian John Maxtone-Graham. DO NOT MISS THIS MAN'S CONFERENCES! He is a truly amazing speaker.
So, should you try the QM2. Absolutely! As a first-timer, it is an experience I will never forget. Will you get bored with six nights at sea? Never, unless you really don't bother to get involved in any of the activities on offer. If anything, we enjoyed the second trip more than the first. This was partly because we knew our way around and made maximum use of the activities programme and partly because of the welcome we got from our restaurant staff, who remembered all our likes and dislikes. Wonderful people (particularly "Newton"). But one last little tip: keep an eye (through the interactive TV system in each room) on your additional expenses. All the food is obviously free, but not the drinks, nor the wonderful spa treatments, nor the books you will buy as souvenirs of the trip etc etc .......... Less
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