After four cruises on similar sized ships on different lines (H/A, Crown Princess, Carnival Miracle, and now the Cunard QM2), and all with similar stated offerings for the price, this is the most varied review I have written. A four- cruise history puts us still in the neophyte category of cruisers. And despite what follows, we had a good time. We have just completed a 4-night Labor Day get-away NYC to Halifax and the experience was a mixture of plusses and minuses. Cabins and overall service were a letdown; public areas a plus; food was good to OK, and the overall ambiance was definitely a plus for my wife and me. We traveled with two other couples, who had little or no cruise experience, and one set of infant twins who seemed to have a great time. (The kiddie facilities got high grades). They did comment on the small cabins, but all had a good time.
Overall, Cunard is reminiscent of, or actually probably still is, an old-World steamship line (my wife had sailed them long ago) with a real ballroom, large well-appointed restaurants, bars and lounges, which were intriguingly intimate, with a more staid, well-dressed and seasoned country club crowd, and a classic teak promenade deck that was straight out an old movie with real wooden deck chairs and cushions. This is a beautiful ship in and out, meticulously maintained, and well laid out with many elevator banks; very easy to master. The ride was rock steady - she cruises real well on her 30' hull.
Embarkation from Red Hook in Brooklyn (our second time) took more than an hour and a half - not staffed well enough (Princess took 20 minutes from the same terminal and that ship had 3600 passengers). Our friends had just gone out on QM2 earlier in the month and had the same experience.
Cabin steward - Ours was Stanley the ghost; we never met him in the flesh. This was the first cruise where we were not greeted by our steward or anyone one else that cared for our room and never met him afterwards. The room experience was just like a boring executive hotel experience, without the smiling concierge. Forget about any extra touches. Also, unlike other cruises, no passenger survey at the end of the trip....or maybe Stanley just forgot. This was bad.
Sadly, this kind of service was the theme reported by many throughout the ship for all not in First Class. Slow and detached, highly impersonal dining service was the rule, even in the Todd English dining room. It had that 'last morning on the ship' feel to it. The service was the worst of our four cruises by far and not at all what we were expecting. We were traveling second class, and were aptly treated as such. It was interesting, but this ship technically has a high percentage of premium cabins - the norm for all modern large (2000+ passengers), but it never felt premium. Only in the bars and lounges did you get the kind of attention that one would expect.
Considering the price was the same (about $200+ per person per day) as our other cruises, this was the smallest and least appointed 'premium balcony' cabin we had stayed in - #4163 B3 class. Upon first walking in I had the same feeling I had when I first stayed in an English hotel - even a good one - isn't this cozy. It had a small bathroom with a tiny, dark shower stall; the cabin barely had enough storage space. It was a 'hull-level' cutout premium balcony - just a 5 x 4 hole cut out of the ship's hull; very dark for a balcony cabin - all the B's were - which rarely received sunlight. When you sat in it you could only look-up at the sky, like being a steel basement with lawn furniture. But, it was a good place to enjoy a smoke. We saw some of the First Class A-class balconies on Deck 8 and these were still smaller than our other 'premium balcony' rooms on other cruise lines, but they at least had the glassed-in and airy open balconies (but 50%-100% more expensive). And on deck 8, the 'First Class upgrade deck', all these cabins faced the lifeboats.
Our cabin could use better sound-proofing - you could hear anyone talking on their balcony, as the steel box would reverberate with chatter; worse, in bed at night, you could hear the guy next store snoring.
Other features - The library was a fabulously singular and beautiful place, with a huge selection of books and downloads/printouts of the major newspapers each day, easy Internet access, and a great place to just hide out. Organized Duplicate Bridge was the best I have experienced (I had never played Duplicate, and neither had several others, to the chagrin of the more experienced set. At first I forgot most of Bridge, as I was blinded by protocol). Bridge players tended to be seasoned cruisers, and all that I met had 10 times my experience. Many were from First Class and their insight into QM2 was interesting. Anyone who used the spas or gym gave them high grades. The Churchill Cigar Bar was excellent, with a good selection of fair-priced Dominican and Cuban cigars (mine were the same price I pay at home - very unusual).
Dining was a mixed affair - Room service in the morning was about the same as the other lines. Main dining room - diner food was about the same good quality as H/A or Carnival, but with fewer choices. Lunch in the dining room was better than any other ship we have been on - the Canyon Spa lunch was really good and only 400 calories! Breakfast - the food court seems half the size of those on similar ships, not laid out particularly well, and more difficult to find a table - and has a real cafeteria quality to it; hence, many people tend to eat more in the main dining rooms. Actually, it was just a case of becoming more savvy with your approach to eating there. After two days of trying all possibilities, the food court was fine for breakfast and lunch, but it would really disappoint the Carnival and Princess crowd. Junk food - Good hot dogs, sausage, mediocre pizza, drippy soft ice cream. The pub lunch in the Lion was a really good alternative to other restaurants (also free); excellent beer.
Todd's English premium restaurant - it was better than Princess (all service, mediocre food), but behind H/A (a truly great steak house) and way behind Carnival's Nick and Nora's (great steak, veal, fois gras, caviar, fish and lobster, etc., and drop dead service to go with it). TE is #3 on our list. TE is a very lovely room that, unlike other premium restaurants, is sited adjacent to and looking onto the pool deck, so we got to see up close how the staff cleans the aft deck and pool while we dined. This is due to the fact that the First Class dining rooms have taken all the best locations. Anyway, by all means, have drinks and tapas at the bar before sitting down, because the experience declines from there. No big steak (could not believe this), no giant lobster tail and no caviar (I mean the kind we normally pay extra for) and no table side Caesar salad. Just seemed a slicker version of what they served downstairs. My tuna was overcooked, after begging for anything other than well done. But then again, when one orders yellowtail filet, one expects a light filet and not a thick puck resembling a well-done filet mignon; I think 'Tuna Steak' might have been more descriptive. My grilled octopus and squid dish was squid only - I guess they figured no one would know the difference. The obviously vegan corn chowder had chunks of pork in it. The gnocchi, lamb, and veal dishes were very good. Desserts were OK to very good. My Crème Brulee did not have a proper glazed sugar crust (just syrupy) and was obviously made much earlier in the day and had dissolved - oh, please. Service was just ok (the norm for the ship). We still had a good time there.
Alcohol and wine - Here is what is really interesting about this ship - after the welcome aboard Veuve Cliquot on embarkation ($16 for a split!) - all other bar drinks ($3-4) and room service ($20 for a 5th of gin with 6 cans of tonic) were 25-50% cheaper than the other lines. Do try the Planters Punch for $3. Wine was even a better deal - again 25-50% less than the other ships. Very good selection and here, the sommeliers gave you the best service at each meal. Best was in Todd's - three really good bottles of wine, including a superb and well-priced Amorone.
Outside - As I said earlier, QM2 had the best promenade of any of the ships and we used it - great after breakfast and in the afternoon. The weather was perfect for this. What is really interesting is that although the overall pool and sundeck seemed smaller than any of the other ships, it was far superior, better designed and appointed, with better furniture, and better serviced throughout the day. Not as much food nearby so it never had that tacky look you see on Carnival and Princess (hence the importance of getting a really good balcony room on those lines).
Entertainment - We only saw one show, which was very good. Ballroom Swing night was excellent and a lot of the folks really knew how to dance. Lounge performers were better than most cruises; the reggae band was really good.
Bars and lounges - I give all of them high grades - big and well appointed, with carefully isolated smoking areas (no one complained either way). They also had the most attentive and friendly staff on board. We spent a lot of time in the Lions Pub during the day, the Commodore before dinner, and then back to the pub. Great cappuccino for $2 in all the bars and lounges - and in real china (or paper cup, if you want it 'to go.')
Disembarkation - out of your room by 8:30 and off the boat at 10:45 so they promised - but everyone was off the ship by 9:30 - a nice surprise. Yellow cabs were slow in coming, so we called our local car service.
I would like to return to Cunard QM2, but I would either stay in an inside window cabin (a nice sized room, as it includes what would be the balcony), especially in cooler weather, or save up money for an A-level balcony cabin on decks 11 or 12, even though it's considerably more expensive - and with it what are reported as superior dining and service amenities, and speedier embarkation and disembarkation. All of those that we spoke to that loved this ship had only sailed Cunard or were in the Deck 11&12 balconies or suites. Many had only done Atlantic crossings. I feel that, like it or not, this ship has been designed for such class-conscious travel and that they have failed to compete adequately with other premium balcony offerings on other lines.
An interesting plus about this trip was that I got as much good cruising time in 4 days as I have had in 9 days on others lines - so maybe First Class for 4 days might be a better bargain in that context.