This was a 10-day cruise to the Caribbean from New York City. It was one of a series of Caribbean cruises that QUEEN MARY 2 is doing throughout the winter of 2007 to 2008. What an excellent concept! Leave the New York winter behind and sail in luxury to the tropics - - no airports, no hotels. Moreover, as an ocean liner, QM2 is built to handle any rough weather that may be encountered.
This cruise more than lived up to the concept. Captain Christopher Rynd and the ship's company provided an excellent cruise that was relaxing, interesting and fun. The service was outstanding, the food good, and the entertainment enjoyable. The weather also co-operated with warm sunny weather throughout.
QM2 is entering her fourth year of service and cost some three-quarters of a billion dollars to build. She could not be built for that amount today. She is the world's largest passenger ship in terms of physical size. Royal Caribbean's Freedom class ships are bigger in gross tonnage (a measure of revenue producing volume) but are slightly smaller physically. In addition to her luxurious appointments, the ship was built with a stronger hull than most cruise ships and with a power plant that gives her more speed than most ships sailing today.
Embarkation QM2 uses the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. This is a fairly new facility located just across from lower Manhattan. Because it is new, many taxis and limousine drivers do not know where it is. As a result, there is some tendency amongst drivers to attempt to get to the terminal from Manhattan using the Brooklyn Bridge. However, such a route often turns into a tour of sections of Brooklyn that are nowhere near the cruise terminal and involve navigating either the highway system or a maze of local Brooklyn streets for longer than necessary.
I have found that the best way to approach the terminal from Manhattan is through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Yes, there is more traffic leading up to the tunnel on the Manhattan side but usually there is no delay. More importantly, it only requires five turns to get to the terminal entrance from leaving the mouth of the tunnel on the Brooklyn side. Upon emerging from the tunnel in Brooklyn, there are a line of toll booths. Almost immediately thereafter, take the exit marked "Hamilton Avenue." (This is turn number 1). Proceed parallel to the highway until the traffic light. Turn left and go under the highway. (Turn number 2). Immediately after going under the highway, turn left again so that you are proceeding in the opposite direction from that which you were going on the highway (i.e. go toward Manhattan). (Turn number 3). Proceed along this road until it ends - - resist the temptation to get back on the highway or to enter the local streets which is harder than it sounds. At the end of this street, turn left onto Van Brunt Street. (Turn number 4). Proceed a few blocks and turn right onto Bowne Street. (Turn number 5). Straight ahead is the entrance to the Cruise Terminal. Along the way, there are blue and white signs indicating the direction to the terminal but they are not particularly prominent.
Once inside the terminal area, you have to drive through an immense parking area to the terminal itself. At that building, the porters take the bags and you enter into what is similar to a modern airport terminal.
I arrived at the terminal at approximately one p.m. and embarkation had already begun. However, the initial rush was over and I was onboard within 20 minutes of leaving the car.
Stateroom. For this cruise, I had an interior cabin with a window overlooking the central atrium. While not a sea view, the window does add something to the room. It lets in some light, albeit interior lighting from the atrium, and it makes the room feel less confined than the typical cruise ship interior cabin. At the same time, the view of the lobby below, while occasionally interesting, does not provide hours of entertainment. Also, one has to remember to close the shade when changing to avoid shocking the occupants of the cabins on the other side of the atrium and the people traveling in the glass elevators.
The layout of the cabin is nearly identical to the other categories of interior cabins on QM2. One difference is the bed (which can be separated into two beds) runs fore and aft whereas in the other cabins the beds run across the ship. I find the fore and aft configuration more comfortable because one is lying in the direction the ship is traveling. As a result, any rolling (all ships roll to some extent) is like being rocked in the cradle. Another difference is that this cabin did not have shelves and cabinets over the bed like in the other interior cabins that I have been in on QM2.
The cabin itself was very clean and the enthusiastic and energetic steward appeared to take a great deal of pride in keeping it that way.
Service. With QUEEN VICTORIA about to enter service, many of the veteran staff on QM2 were transferred to the new ship. This raised a doubt in my mind as to whether service on QM2 would falter. When the ship first entered service in 2004, there were problems with the service. Consequently, Cunard put a great deal of effort and investment into improving service and as a result, service on the cruises that I took on QM2 earlier in 2007 was very good. Any concern that the service might have deteriorated proved to be unfounded. Indeed, the service on this cruise was the best that I have experienced in nine voyages on QM2. The waiters, stewards and bar staff were attentive and eager to comply with requests. More importantly, they anticipated ones needs, which is the mark of good service. I was told that there had been no increase in the size of the crew. Rather, the approach was to retain a core of veteran people and then to bring in good people from outside. Service on QM2 is friendly but not unctuous. No one pretends that they are going to be your best friend forever more or that they cannot do enough for you because they fell in love with you at first sight (or more accurately with the large tip that they envision receiving). The staff on QM2 is more restrained. This may just be rooted in British traditional but to me it seems less servile and more dignified. There is mutual respect between passenger and staff. Itinerary. On this cruise, there were four sea days and five days of island hopping.
QM2 was designed for, and spends the majority of her time, on the transatlantic run, so sea days are her specialty. There was plenty to do including formal nights, receptions and balls. (All three of the formal nights were on sea days). In addition, because of the ship's speed we were out of the cold Northeastern weather by the afternoon of the first day. While not sunbathing weather, one could comfortably go outside. The second day was tropical as was the first day of the homeward voyage. We also had warm weather on the second day of the homeward voyage as we traveled up the Gulf Stream.
The ports were: Tortola, St. Kitts, Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Thomas. This was a good selection of eastern Caribbean ports including some islands that are relatively undeveloped and some which have extensive vacation facilities.
QM2 docked in all of the ports except Tortola and St. Lucia where the ships tenders were used. Whenever tenders are used there are peak times and lulls. The peaks are when the ship arrives and the people going on tours are trying to reach shore and coming back to the ship, just before lunch and just before the ship sails. If one avoids these times, the tenders can be a pleasant, uncrowded, free boat ride that allows one the chance to get some good photographs of the ship.
Entertainment. Perhaps because this cruise encompassed the American Thanksgiving holiday, which is traditionally associated with home and family, the majority of the passengers who sailed from Brooklyn were British. As a result, the entertainment was geared toward a British audience. This included two piano-playing comedians who were quite good. As shown by the popularity of the various British comedy programs on American television, Americans do also enjoy this humor.
One disappointment on this cruise was that there was no resident troupe from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. When the ship is doing transatlantic crossings, there is a group of young actors from RADA who teach acting workshops and who give performances. These are very interesting and entertaining. As a result, their presence was missed.
Along the same lines, the lecture enrichment program on the transatlantic crossings is very good. These have included famous authors, political figures, corporate executives and professors. This time, there was a British theater agent and a stress manager. Their talks were fine but did not pack the theater as on some transatlantics or become a topic of conversation throughout the ship. Also, there was nothing about the history of the region or the ports that we would be visiting. With all of the interest in Caribbean pirates in the last few years and the rich maritime history of the area, this was a missed opportunity.
This cruise did have a very energetic and knowledgeable shopping consultant who gave talks about the shopping in the various ports, provided handouts and who stood by the gangway during peak periods to answer last minute questions. I had no particular interest in shopping but learned things I did not know about the islands and transportation on the various islands.
Dining. The main restaurant in QM2, the Britannia, has two seatings for dinner. Breakfast and lunch are open seating. I found the food and service here to be excellent. In addition, it is a great place to meet new people and converse. We had a very congenial group of people making up the table for dinner including people from England, Scotland, Bermuda and Canada. At the other meals, one could join a table of strangers from various parts of the world and end up talking until the dining room closed.
One does not have to eat in the main restaurant. There is the self-service King's Court with a variety of stations and, on days when the weather is good, the self-serve outdoor Boardwalk Cafe. These were both very popular during this cruise but for me, there is too much of an inconsistency between the concepts of self-serve dining and luxury liner.
Another alternative is the Golden Lion Pub, which as the name suggests, serves English pub-style dishes at lunch such as fish and chips, bangers and mash and steak and kidney pie. It gets crowded on sea days but this is a particularly enjoyable venue on port days when many people are ashore.
The ship's extra-tariff restaurant is the Todd English. It does not attempt to do the dishes served in the main dining room better but rather offers dishes that are prepared differently (in terms of spices, recipes, method of cooking etc) than one finds elsewhere. It was open for dinner each night and for lunch on sea days.
On the last sea day, the people from my table in the Britannia decided to try Todd English for lunch. We agreed to meet there at one. However, when the man who took on the task of making the reservation called, he was told that the restaurant could not take us at one but that they might be able to fit us in at 12:30. As a result, he had to race around the ship that morning trying to locate all of the people from the table to tell them to be at Todd English at 12:30. When we arrived, there was no one else in the restaurant. At one o'clock, there were only two other couples in the restaurant who had come in after us. The vast majority of the tables were empty and stayed that way until we left more than an hour later. Why we could not have been seated at the time we asked for remains a mystery to this day. Luckily, the food was good and it was an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Past Passenger Benefits. This was the first voyage that I had been on QM2 since Cunard re-structured its past passenger program. It has added a number of benefits to the various existing levels of membership in the Cunard World Club and created a new level (Diamond) at the top. I found the benefits at the Diamond level to be very useful enhancements, in particular, the eight hours of internet service, the wine tasting, and the lunch at Todd English. One purchases these items with ones room key card and then on the final night of the voyage one receives a credit for the ones purchased.
Disembarkation. Another enhancement at the Diamond level is a dedicated disembarkation lounge. The Todd English restaurant is used for this purpose and there is fruit juice and a selection of muffins and pastries. It is a nice room and makes waiting to leave much more comfortable.
Once ashore, one searches through the masses of black bags that are grouped under colored numbers in the terminal. There are some porters to help with the bags but most people seem to prefer wheeling their own to the customs inspection area. Outside, there are taxis and private cars. The elapsed tome from leaving the ship to finding a ride home was less than a half hour.
Summary. This was an excellent trip. It was relaxing, entertaining and interesting. In fact, I have already booked to do it again. My photos and collected materials from QM2 - - menus, programs etc. are posted at http://www.beyondships.com/QM2.html