Overview. It is becoming traditional for Queen Mary 2 to do short sampler cruises over the major holiday weekends - - this year, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. They are designed to give people a taste of the giant Cunarder and have proven very popular. Another set of short voyages is on the schedule for 2008, albeit for a different set of holiday weekends. Unlike the short voyages earlier in the summer, which went to the Bahamas, this one was to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. At this time of year, cruises to Halifax can run into bad weather - - usually, the remains of hurricanes. Indeed, last year, on the same voyage, we ran into the remains of Hurricane Ernesto and there were Force Seven gales even in New York harbor. This year, however, the weather was fine with some clouds and wind the first day but with clear blue skies for the remainder of the trip. Beyond the weather, I found this year's Halifax cruise to be more enjoyable than last year's. This view seemed to be shared by most of the regular Cunard passengers and by the first time passengers that I spoke with although I note that some dissenting views have been posted on this site.
Embarkation: I have embarked on QM2 at the Brooklyn terminal several times, and each time, I have had my ticket processed and have gone aboard quickly. However, this time there was a considerable delay in boarding. The disembarkation of the passengers from the prior transatlantic crossing took longer than normal. There was a large percentage of non-US citizens onboard which may explain why the process took so long. Whatever the reason, until disembarkation is finished, new passengers cannot go onboard. This created a problem because passengers for the sampler cruise were arriving earlier than the boarding times suggested in the ticket documents. Indeed, by 11 a.m., an hour before the earliest suggested arrival time, there was already a long line of passengers waiting to have their tickets processed and get on the ship. No one likes to wait or stand in line and thus many people were unhappy. While the reasons for the delay were understandable, some things could have been done to avoid creating animosity. Since this was a short cruise, it should have been anticipated that people would arrive early so as to maximize time onboard. Accordingly, more ticket agents should have been on hand earlier in anticipation of an early rush. While this would have meant that people would have spent more time in the waiting area, they would have been seated rather than standing.
Accommodations: I had a D6 inside cabin on Six Deck. It was nicely furnished with light wood furniture, two twin beds put together to form a king-size bed, and a television. The television serves not just as an entertainment medium with programs and movies but also as a means for checking ones onboard account and for sending and receiving e-mails to ones onboard address. The room was clean as was the bathroom. There was plenty of closet and dresser space for a short cruise. Indeed, I have found the space in the inside cabins more than adequate for much longer voyages.
Dining: As I had requested, I was assigned to a table in the Britannia restaurant for the late seating. I find this a spectacular room with tremendous atmosphere. The giant pillars and wood paneling reflecting both candles and discrete electric light give the feel of dining in the elegant salons of the great ocean liners of the past. The service at my table was very good. In fact, the service at the various tables that I was assigned to during the open seating breakfasts and lunches was also faultless. I was able to place unique orders (e.g. order a hamburger that was not on the menu), ask for unusual condiments, and request expedited service so as to be able to leave at a particular time and the staff fulfilled these requests. Thus, I saw no evidence of a pattern of service problems. Of course, on every ship, there can be bad apples who, because of their attitude or poor abilities, can ruin a passenger's experience. But, all that can be done is to attempt to weed them out. Again, I did not run into any this trip. I would also give high marks to the quality of the food. The meat dishes, especially the steaks and lamb, were excellent. I also liked the cream soup starters. The best desert was the soufflé. I tried to have all of my meals in the Britannia. In addition to the atmosphere, the service and the food quality, the open-seating breakfasts and lunches are an excellent way to meet people and have interesting conversations. Cunard seems to attract people who are intellectual and with interesting backgrounds and thus the table conversation can be food for the mind. I do not care for the King's Court area, which is the ship's self-serve area. Why eat in a cafeteria when you can dine in a grand room? Also, the area is not as well designed as the food courts on some of the larger cruise ships. The different stations are too far apart, making it difficult to sample a variety of dishes during one meal.
Activities: Queen Mary 2 has always had good lecturers on board. Even though this was only a short cruise, it was no exception to the general rule. Dr. Eric Rooda spoke about Halifax, not just the typical recital of names and dates in the town's history but of the significance that it has played in transatlantic trade and strategy. Maritime historian and author Ted Skull discussed the five Cunard Queen-class ocean liners in an informative and well-researched talk. Both men also gave lectures about different aspects of New York City's maritime history. There were also daytime acting workshops with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts troupe and a performance by them of a play based upon Dicken's Great Expectations. This was on top of the usual cruise ship daytime activities such as trivia, art auctions, and spa lectures. In the evening, there were productions shows and performances by a comedian and a singer. There were also movies in Illuminations, which is designed like a large art movie palace. The films are shown on a big screen, the way movies were meant to be shown. There are several bars and lounges around the ship. My personal favorite is the Verve Clicquot Champagne Bar. There is a variety of different types of this extraordinary champagne at a reasonable price. Live jazz drifts in from The Chart Room bar next door but is not so loud as to impede conversation. If you are with the right person, this can be quite delightful. The Port: Halifax is built around a deep water bay. As you sail in, there are forests of trees and rocky shores. It can be quite pretty if the sun is shining. Although it is still a working port, the waterfront is rather attractive. In fact, in recent years the town has built a boardwalk along the water that one can follow from the cruise ship terminal to the naval base on the other side of the main business district. On the way, there are restaurants, the museums, berths for boats that take people on all sorts of aquatic tours (e.g. whale watching), new office buildings, and finally a casino. On this trip, I went with members of the World Ship Society to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to hear author John Langley speak about Samuel Cunard, the founder of Cunard Line, who was born in Halifax. The museum has a large display about Cunard as well as a display about the Titanic. (The search for survivors of that disaster was launched from Halifax and many of the victims were buried in the town's cemetery) . There are a number of other interesting places to see including the citadel fortress on top of the hill where college students dressed in Victorian uniforms put on military displays, including shooting off one of the Victorian cannons every day at noon. Outside the town, there are some scenic places such as Peggy's Cove, which looks like the quintessential Canadian/New England fishing village complete with lobster pots, rocky shore and lighthouse. Unfortunately, it attracts many tourists.
Disembarkation: We arrived at the Brooklyn terminal at six in the morning. I had a leisurely breakfast in the Britannia with very good service. There was no feeling of being rushed. Most of the passengers left the ship by nine. Summary: I had a very enjoyable short break. While these cruises are designed to give people a taste of QM2, they are also good for people who know the ship well and who can quickly pick up where they left off last time. I have posted some photos of QM2 from this voyage and prior voyages on my website at http://www.beyondships.com/QM2tour1.html.