It has been a while since I returned from New York, and I have been thinking about publishing my thoughts on the ship, rather than just reactions as I went along. I have had the opportunity to think about the ship in comparison with Queen Elizabeth 2.
I'd ask those who read this to remember that the viewpoint is of a Queen Elizabeth 2 veteran, who travels Queens' Grill routinely. Indeed, this was the first crossing that I haven't been in the Queen's Grill, and since I have met my wife I have only had cabins on the Signal Deck. I think it is always best to be aware of where a reviewer has been before!
Arrival and Embarkation. My wife drove me down to Southampton, which was clearly easy. I was dropped off in the usual place, and had my luggage taken very promptly by a porter. The queue was out of the door for non-priority, but as a Platinum World Class member that didn't worry me. I went to the front of the Platinum/Grill queue, which was empty, and walked straight to a check in desk. A very few minutes later I was armed with my Queen Mary 2 passenger card, and a photograph of me that would have curdled milk. Much as normal there then! Once I reached the waiting area I was sent directly to the embarkation queue, and could have walked straight on had I not decided to have my photograph taken. Another mistake, as I learned later, but it only delayed me a couple of minutes.
The ship, against the quay, has something of the Pyramid of Khufu about it - one really knows how big it is, but seeing is believing. We'd noticed this as we were driving up - Queen Elizabeth 2 is hardly a minnow, but Queen Mary 2 is in another league.
And so on, over the threshold and on to the ship. The usual "welcome aboard" but no white gloved steward to take me to my cabin. Whilst I know that this is a combination of the cabins being easy to find, and lunch being provided, it is still a bit of a disappointment. Sent over to stairwell B I took a lift to deck 12, and soon found 12.027. But the key didn't work. I'm no fan of these card keys, but at times like this they are really annoying. I got a nearby steward to let me in, left my carry on and then went down to the Purser's Office.
A welcome surprise for a Queen Elizabeth 2 regular. It was efficient and friendly, and I was soon armed with a replacement which not only worked, but stayed working. Having therefore dealt with the teething troubles, I went off to explore.
First Impressions. The ship is immense. It is a long walk from one end to the other. The layout at first seems a little confusing, especially around the Queen's Room. But I was impressed by the finish of the ship, and the high ceilings giving a superbly spacious feeling to the ship. Walking into the famous Britannia Restaurant I was impressed further - and a little daunted at the sheer size of it. There were two young waitresses at the entrance, one of whom asked if she could help. I told her I was looking for table 160 in the Club area. Her face lit up and she told me that was one of her tables, and took me over to inspect it. It seemed well placed, slightly out of the way, but with views of the restaurant and the sea if one got the right seats.
I then braved Kings Court, and had lunch in what I realized later was the Lotus area. I found this area confusing, and other than cookies in the small hours, didn't return. I'm sure I could have worked it out, and the area is infinitely nicer than the Lido on Queen Elizabeth 2, which always reminds me of the Watford Gap Services, but with the Britannia Club I really didn't see the point.
Having looked over the ship I went up to deck 13. Such a huge area of deck is definitely and advantage, and the Lookout is a nice design.
Dining. In a word, superb. The first night was very good, and things got better as the crossing went along. Meat was the usual very high standard, and flambé was on the menu each night. There was no problem in being a little greedy - in fact the greediest evening was at the instigation of our waiter, who suggested that we might like a lobster as a side order! Needless to say we did…..
The Britannia restaurant may be spectacular but during dinner what matters is quality of food and service, and both have been superb. The service in particular has been wonderful - the Maitre'D has molded a superb team - which, in our case, is all ex-Queens' Grill. And it shows. I have never had better service on a Cunarder. I'm convinced that this grade offers the best value on board - by a wide margin. I know what one gets over and above this grade in Queens' Grill, and the difference in food isn't worth the difference. Unless the cabin is important to you (and I'll discuss this later) then Britannia Club offers 90% of the value of Queens' Grill at 50% of the price. That's not to say that the Queens' Grill isn't worth it if you can afford it, or that it isn't better - because it clearly is. But it does mean that you could do a back to back for the price of a westbound.
Cabin Identical to a A1. Actually, other than the view, identical to a B6! None of the promised extras were in the cabin when I embarked, and only the bathrobe arrived later. No bottle of Pole Acker (I wasn't going to complain, but I did note this) and nothing indicating that there was a pillow concierges. I was happy enough, so didn't ask.
The 'fridge had a variety of soft drinks, to be paid for if consumed. I did consume a couple, and whilst the steward was diligent in getting the chitty signed, he wasn't very diligent about having them replaced. Normally I can't leave the cabin or they are restocked - and that's when they are free! But that's Queen Elizabeth 2 Signal Deck service.....
The cabin itself was small, and the bathroom very small. Both were in excellent condition. Plenty of hanging space for a single man, but I think that had I had my wife with me we'd have been a bit tight - so what would it be like on a world cruise? The balcony was equipped with plastic chairs, which was a pity. The balcony on a B6 was far better - less wet and less windy. However there was a lot of light let in by it, so I was pleased to have an unobstructed balcony.
The steward was a disappointment. I didn't feel that he knew who I was, and he never really tried to do anything extra. He didn't do anything wrong, but that is really the best I can say. More than once I had to ask for further laundry bags.
Bars. I only used the Commodore Club, where there was extensive testing, and the Veuve Clicquot bar. Both were excellent - the waitress in the champagne bar was lovely, but I didn't really get much from her as I was there only once.
The Commodore club was my place. Late morning for a martini, and then late afternoon, and late evening. Service was superb - within 24 hours one waitress already knew my name and likely drink. I loved it.
Whistle. Disappointment at Southampton as only the port whistle sounded - and it sounded slightly flatulent at that. One noon neither sounded, notwithstanding the fact that the officer of the watch announced their imminent use. The last sea day we heard them together - very impressive indeed. I'd still take Queen Elizabeth 2's whistle though.
Entertainment. I only went to one thing - the second guitar recital - which was lovely. The theatre looks impressive, as does the planetarium, but I can't really say much more than that.
Overall impressions A superb ship, and a true Cunarder. No replacement for the Queen Elizabeth 2, but a worthy consort. The ship is incredibly stable, and just oozes class in almost all respects. I'd prefer that she had fewer models of herself and more of other Cunarders, a la Queen Elizabeth 2, and at least one of these should be a model of her older sister - perhaps that one on deck 2 midships lobby could be changed?
I'm not sure if she is not too large for cruising - but then she wasn't built for cruising but crossing. As a transatlantic liner she excels, and those of us who have partners who are wary of "Neptune's Back Yard" will be pleased at her addition stability.
The crew is excellent - I was always greeted if I met a member of staff, and almost all gave an active impression of wanting to make the trip good. The ship felt a happy ship.
So, what of Queen Elizabeth 2? Well, I'm really looking forward to getting on board once more. I certainly don't feel that there is anything that Queen Mary 2 offers that would tempt me to abandon the Queen Elizabeth 2. Apart from transatlantics, that is.
Where people can go wrong is trying to decide which is better. What one needs to do is to realize that they are both wonderful, and that we are lucky to have both. Not that this will last long however, with the retirement of Queen Elizabeth 2. However, this will leave Queen Mary 2 as undoubtably the greatest ship afloat - and the only liner left.