We are a family of four; two boys aged 8 and 10, plus mum and dad in their late forties. We had a great experience last summer on the Norwegian Jewel in the Western Med, which was our first cruise as a family. Therefore when we were looking to visit relatives on the East coast of America this summer I was drawn to an advert with promotional deals on the QM2. The prices displayed for the crossing and return flight looked great in comparison to the cost of return flights to Philadelphia from Glasgow and we started making enquiries. To be really cost effective the option was an inside cabin for 4, this did not appeal! However we were then offered two balcony cabins on deck 5 with an interconnecting door which was a lot more appealing despite the kids then having to pay the adult fare.
We booked the cabins, and direct return flights from Newark to Glasgow as a package, allowing us 10 days in America. The documentation arrived in impressive folders, and we looked forward to the trip with great excitement.
The Flybe flight to Southampton went without hitch, and we arrived early at embarkation which went very smoothly. Our bags were whisked away from the taxi, and there was no wait to check in. We spent 40 minutes in the embarkation lounge before being invited aboard. The greeting from a line up of staff set the scene for the rest of the trip, and we made our way to our cabin helped by a crew member at every turn.
The cabins were great – light & airy with lots of closet space and a huge double bed in our cabin. The boys soon made themselves at home on the balcony whilst we enjoyed the complimentary half bottle of bubbly from the captain. Then we set off to explore the ship – it is huge! For the first couple of days you just see lots of people wandering around lost. I found it very handy to keep the fold up deck plan they provide on me, to check which staircase you should be using.
The sail away party was great, with a band playing and Champagne available, a great start to the holiday. Then a bit of a dash to get ready for a 6pm dinner – it was always a bit of a rush. The Britannia restaurant is very impressive, especially if you walk down the grand staircase to the main floor. We were shown to our allocated table for 4 and quickly met our waiter, assistant waiter and wine waiter who were all charming and from the Far East, Eastern Europe and Canada respectively. The wine list was extensive and being priced in American dollars very reasonable, we mostly paid $30 to $40 a bottle. They also keep the bottle for you if you do not finish it which can be handy. The menus are on the cabin TV service, as is the wine list; so many people ordered their wine on the interactive service, so that it was at the table when they arrived. The wine waiter having discovered that our kids like apple juice with dinner (which is free) had two glasses on the table waiting for them every night.
It’s difficult to comprehend how good the food is at the Britannia restaurant when you consider how many they are catering for. Every meal we had there was superb in both presentation and quality. We ate in the Todd English restaurant one night ($30pp supplement) and though it was very good, it was not substantially better than the Britannia, and the service was not quite as good. Don’t let me put you off though because Todd English is well worth trying for innovative dishes, choice of dining times , nice décor and less bustle for a romantic meal – it’s just that the Britannia was very good. Nothing was too much trouble to the waiters, and if you can’t decide what to have they bring an extra dish ‘for the table’ which was great when they were serving Chateaubriand and lobster one night!
The Kings Court Buffet was not quite as successful – the quality and selection of the food was great from the different outlets (Carvery, Stir Fry, Italian and Deli), but it was very busy and not a relaxing place to eat. We had a couple of breakfasts there, before realizing that eating in the Britannia was far more civilized ( and another morning the kids wanted room service which was great).On a side note many people ordered tea and coffee on room service (free) for the morning and then had breakfast in a restaurant. We had our lunches in Kings Court, mainly because we just wanted something very light – though it was so easy to be tempted by what was on offer. We never ate there at night, when it changes atmosphere and two of the outlets become restaurants. We did have one lunch in the ‘Pub’ which offered fish and chips etc –well worth trying. The other eating experience is the ‘white glove’ afternoon tea in the ballroom accompanied by a band or string quartet, which should not be missed.
I expected the trip to be quiet with lots of time to read and chill out – how wrong could I be. Cunard don’t promote the quality of the onboard programme in their literature. It was difficult most days choosing what you wanted to do – there were lectures from an astronaut, a US Ambassador, a superb naval historian and an award winning author, competing with Planetarium shows and my personal favorite a series of three drama workshops run by RADA. In addition there were top quality musical recitals competing with yoga and Pilates classes! The evening shows were of a very high quality in the luxurious theatre.
Because you gain an hour each evening on the crossing I was able to get up and use the well equipped gym each morning. I also took some of the classes run by very professional staff from the ‘Canyon Ranch’. We did not use the Spa, but on our tour round it the facilities looked very impressive. The library is huge and very well used, and the computer suite was very popular.
There is no shortage of bars from the pub to the champagne bar, but my favorite was the Commodore bar with its extensive Martini list. The only disappointment of the trip is that smoking is allowed on board, and some of the bars could become smoky.
The Kids had a fantastic time, enjoying many of the kids club activities (especially the scavenger hunts around the ship), but also sharing other activities with us like the RADA classes, Planetarium and theatre productions. They really enjoyed the covered pool on the top deck, and spent a lot of time there. They enjoyed the food, and experimented with lots of dishes. The crew were very friendly towards the kids over the whole trip.
We had a few problems at disembarkation getting a cab into New York, because 5’’ of rain had fallen, which left us waiting 2 hours. Otherwise the whole crossing was a delight, even though the weather was foggy most of the time and the decks were breezy (pack a windbreaker). Be prepared for an opulent ship with fantastic service and a real sense of style – especially on the formal nights! This really is a fantastic way to cross the Atlantic and I hope that we can do it again in the future.