PRE-CRUISE -- We flew from Washington DC to Ft. Lauderdale on Spirit Airlines the day before our cruise—had a great on-time flight. We stayed at the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Blvd. and started our tans at the lovely pool. The hotel was charming and we enjoyed the nearby restaurant and boutique scene.
EMBARKATION -- If embarkation was any indication of the cruise to come, we were in for a miserable cruise. The embarkation process was the longest of any cruise I have been on. Part of this was due to a half-hour computer outage, but mostly it was just a long process. Since there was plenty of seating space and we were so excited to finally be there, we didn't let the delay dampen our spirits. I was surprised that there was very little welcome by staff when we went aboard, but being seasoned cruisers, we quickly found our stateroom and hit the decks to explore the ship. I might as well clear things up right now - the embarkation process was not an indication of things to come and we had a splendid vacation on a magnificent ship.
ONBOARD -- I'm not a writer and I won't do justice to this beautiful ship, but I will give it a good shot. This was the first time I was on a brand new ship. The fact that it was all new and shiny was, in itself, a wonderful experience. The next thing that jumps out is the length of the hallway as you walk to your stateroom. My, my, my, this is a big ship.
OUR STATEROOM -- We booked a balcony stateroom on Deck 5. The balcony is set inside the hull with a large cutout window. If I had it to do over, I would book a few decks up to get the full open balcony. I must say however, that I took more than one nap on the balcony and it was so peaceful with the sound of the ocean and the breeze, that I really have no complaints. We spent a lot of time at the pool anyway, and got our fill of ocean views everyday. The stateroom was roomy and had plenty of storage space. Since we are a gay couple and had 2 suits and 2 tuxes each, it was more than enough. However, I am not sure there would be enough room for all the dress-up wear for a woman on a long cruise. There were three formal nights, four informal nights, and three casual nights on our 10 day cruise (more on that later). I must say, the women on this cruise consistently "dressed to the nines" more than any other cruise I have been on. For that matter, so did the men. Evenings onboard were really quite elegant.
PUBLIC SPACES -- I need to book another cruise on QM2 because I am not sure I saw all the public rooms on this cruise. Rather than give a critique for each space, I will give my overall opinion. My impression is that the QM2, while on the whole quite magnificent, is a collection of individual "personalities" throughout the ship. Each area is intriguing in its own way. The one overall impression throughout the ship is there is plenty of space, with the exception of Kings Court (more on that later). Even on sea days, one could feel that most of the passengers must be asleep in their cabins. It seemed that passengers found their own favorite places (bars, lounges, etc) and as the cruise progressed, each place tended to define its own personality. For example, the Commodore Lounge became the Gay gathering place for pre-dinner drinks. Afternoon tea in the Winter Garden had an elegant, but relaxed feel, whereas, during the day, most of the ship's areas had a very informal feeling. It did seem, however, that people onboard made a concerted effort to dress just a little better when not in the pool areas than on most other ships I've been on.
I thought the ship had a nice combination of cruise ship/ocean liner design. The Promenade Deck felt like an ocean liner with all the wood lounge chairs, whereas some of the other areas seemed to be designed with less natural materials. I assume that designing something that is exposed to the ocean every minute of the day would pose some challenges in materials used and how natural they can look. For my tastes, even the shiny veneers where beautiful and quite to be expected.
What I really want to return to the Queen Mary 2 for is the art. I am not an artist, nor very knowledgeable about art, but I was fascinated by the art and historical maritime displays throughout the ship. Many media are used in this excellent collection of art and design. One might want to consider setting aside a part of their cruise to take a "museum tour." I would even recommend that Cunard institute an art tour of the QM2 as one of their enrichment series. Having seen pictures and quite a bit of television coverage of the QM2, nothing could capture the charm and size of the ship's areas. I became less interested in taking photos and videos as the cruise progressed. It just seemed impossible to really capture the experience. One must live it. Book now!
POOLS -- Swimming doesn't ever seem to be the main attraction on Caribbean cruises - it is tanning. The pool serves as a cooling off place when the sun gets too hot. There is plenty of sunning space on the QM2—around the pools and on the upper decks one can always find a place to relax and work on the tan.
CANYON RANCH SPA -- The therapy pool is grand (but the whirlpool was out of order during the entire cruise). I had my first-ever body massage—the sports massage. It was extremely relaxing and totally enjoyable. The staff doesn't push very hard to sell its products, but several in our party splurged on some creams and lotions. The most raves seemed to be for the facials. A spiritual experience according to some. The prices seemed a bit high, but the facilities are beautiful and the staff very professional. Vacations are just made for pampering.
DINING -- This was a highlight of our cruise. I traveled with a party of 11 friends and we dined together every night in the Britannia Restaurant. We had two tables on the upper level overlooking the main floor. The food was superb, the presentation elegant, and the service was right on the money. We heard the tales that a many of the staff were new on the QM2 and they were still getting their act together. This was the QM2's fourth voyage, so we were more than willing to be forgiving. No need. Our waiter, Rado, was perfection—never intrusive, always accommodating, and congenial when the occasion called for it. Our assistant server, Ilona, was new on the ship and she worked very carefully under Rado's guidance and couldn't have been more delightful. Dean, our Assistant Maitre 'd, stopped by our table several times during the course of the meal to make sure everything was going smoothly—we enjoyed getting to know him as the days progressed. Domenico, our sommelier, was truly a wonderful guide for those in our group who sought advice on the ship's large and very reasonably priced wines. These wonderful people were on the top of their game in every respect and added immensely to our dining experience.
I don't have the vocabulary to describe the meals. We enjoyed them all. We enjoyed them so much that we always ordered multiple appetizers, entrEes, and desserts just to make sure we didn't miss anything. After dinner, dancing was out of the question. You just can't dance when you are that full.
Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, we went to dinner at the Todd English restaurant. Even more fabulous than the Britannia restaurant, the food and service were impeccable. We enjoyed it so much we wanted to go again. But we also didn't want to miss our wonderful dinners in the Britannia. The compromise—we had lunch there twice. A slightly different menu is offered at lunch time, but all of it was superb. And needless to say, we tried more than one entrEe at our lunches as well. Even though there is a charge to eat at Todd English, I recommend at least one visit during your cruise.
The one slight disappointment was the Kings Court area. We don't expect much for the daytime meals—breakfast and lunch—so we didn't really have any complaints about the food. It is standard daytime cruise fare. The problem seemed to be the layout. There were always crowds of people blocking the flow, and even though there was adequate seating, it always seemed that people had to look around and walk a distance to find it. This added to the crowded feeling. The solution—eat in the dining room. We weren't in any hurry, so a nice relaxed lunch in the Britannia was another exercise in fine service and beautiful surroundings. Room service breakfast was also an option. They weren't always able to meet the time schedules on port days when many people used this service before they had to rendezvous for their excursions. One should request breakfast for an earlier timeslot to ensure against a possible late delivery.
SERVICE -- We couldn't have been more pleased with the service everywhere. Our stateroom attendant, Jenny, was loads of fun and very efficient. We don't make many special requests, but the few we did make were instantly met—like more pillows and opening the doors to the adjoining balconies so we could more easily visit with our traveling companions. As mentioned above, our service in the restaurants was perfection.
DRESS -- Between the Cunard website and the information we got before the cruise, we packed for 2 formal nights, 2 informal nights, and 6 casual nights. It ended up being 3 formal nights, 4 informal nights, and 3 casual nights. Even onboard, there was confusion as to which nights would be which. I would be happy to dress up every night on a ship as elegant as the QM2, but I sure would have appreciated knowing what to pack up front.
ENTERTAINMENT -- The entertainment on the QM2 is a mixed bag. The small groups are just fine—jazz, classical, a cappella singing group, Caribbean sounds, piano lounges are all perfectly enjoyable. The shows in the theater are well intended, but fall short of the professional touch needed to showcase the beautiful theater onboard—Cunard needs to knock this up a notch. Also, I would love a string quartet in the dining room from time to time.
PORTS -- We've been to the Caribbean many times and often stay on the ship during port days. However, we had never been to Panama and decided to book an excursion. We visited the Gamboa Resort and took the tram ride up into the rain forest. This was not an enjoyable excursion as there was a one-hour bus ride each way and visits to a rather makeshift reptile exhibit, a fish aquarium, and an orchid farm where not much was blooming. The tram ride was fine, but only lasted about 30 minutes—not much considering the tour was five hours long. Another lesson well learned—stay on the ship or explore on your own.
We did take our favorite excursion in St. Maarten—the Golden Eagle Catamaran. This was our third time and it was just as much fun as the first. A beautiful trip to a deserted island across choppy seas with lots of spray and plenty of laughter. I recommend this for anyone who wants a delightful ½-day away from the hustle-bustle.
DISEMBARKATION -- Since the embarkation took so long, we decided to book transportation to the airport on the ship. They informed us that by doing this, we would be among the first to disembark. It was worth it. We were off the ship in no time, had our luggage and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check in.
OVERVIEW -- Our group of eleven has nothing but superlatives for Cunard and the Queen Mary 2. This was a vacation that we had booked 1½ years prior to sailing. It was well worth the wait. I do have one caution, however. Cunard has marketed this ship as the biggest, tallest, fastest longest, heaviest, most expensive, grandest, most luxurious ship ever built (or something to that effect). I heard comments from some passengers about how they weren't that impressed. Taking into account that some people complain about everything, and others put negative spins on things in an effort to make themselves somehow feel important or sophisticated, there are those who will expect quite a lot based on all the hype, and might be somewhat disappointed. Be excited, but manage your expectations a bit and you will find the QM2 to be a fabulous ship. I'm ready to go again.
Entertainment 3 stars, Dining 6 stars!