But, QM2 does not just do transatlantic crossings, she does cruises as well. How does a ship that proudly proclaims that she is not a cruise ship do cruising? During the Winter 2007 - 2008, QM2 has been making a series of cruises from New York to the Caribbean, thus putting her ability to cruise to the test.
This was the second of these 10-day cruises that I have taken and, as discussed below, QM2 does quite well at cruising. By way of background, I have done about 100 cruises and this was my tenth voyage on QM2.
EMBARKATION - - QM2 uses the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal, a new facility located across from lower Manhattan. It is relatively easy to get close to this facility - - just go through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel from Manhattan, take the first exit (Hamilton Avenue) and you are almost there. However, for those who are unfamiliar with the area - - and many taxi and limo drivers still are unfamiliar with this area - - the local streets can be something of a maze. Thus, it is important to keep a sharp eye out for the blue and white signs the City has posted to mark the way. In the end, if you have done it correctly, there only are four turns (three lefts and a right) once you leave the tunnel but it is more confusing than it sounds.
The terminal itself is well designed. It is not a great architectural masterpiece but it is quite functional with plenty of space for cars, taxis and buses. After leaving my bags off, I walked in and using the express line for passengers traveling in the suites or who are Diamond or Platinum members of the Cunard World Club (Cunard's repeat passenger association), I was on the ship within 15 minutes. The other lines were longer but they appeared to be moving quickly.
In the ticket packet, Cunard includes recommended boarding times for each deck of the ship. From past experience, most people seem to ignore these recommendations and turn up at noon or earlier. This leads to much waiting around as the large crowd is processed. The last two times I have traveled on QM2, I have arrived approximately at the time recommended by Cunard and the process went very smoothly.
SHIP INFORMATION - - QM2 is one of the world's largest passenger ships. Although slightly smaller in gross tonnage (a measure of a ship's revenue producing volume rather than weight) than Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships (Liberty of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas), QM2 is slightly larger in her physical dimensions. All three are approximately 150,000 gross tons.
QM2 carries 2,620 passengers, which is less than several ships that are much smaller. As a result, there is much more space per passenger than on most cruise ships. Thus, although QM2 is big, she is not crowded.
There are 1,254 crew members. As a result, there is a good ratio of approximately two passengers to each crew member, which helps to ensure good service. The ships officers are primarily from the United Kingdom. The other ranks are a mix of Eastern European and Asian nationalities.
The ship is propelled through the water by four pods each with a propeller in front. Two of these pods can turn 360 degrees and when combined with the three bow thrusters, the ship can turn 180 degrees in just about its own length. This maneuverability allows the ship to dock in some pretty tight harbors. Indeed, this ability was put to the test both in St. Thomas and in St. Kitts where the ship went along side despite some difficult channels leading to the berths.
Because QM2 is designed to remain stable in rough seas, she has a deeper draft than most cruise ships. Consequently, she did not dock in Tortola or St. Lucia even though Celebrity Galaxy and Crown Princess respectively were able to go along side. In those ports, QM2 used her tenders to ferry passengers ashore. The tender service was efficient and provided a great view of the ship and the harbor from the open decks of the tenders.
ITINERARY - - The itinerary for this cruise consisted of two sea days at each end of the voyage with five consecutive port days in between, The ports were Tortola, St. Kitts, Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Thomas.
Because she is an ocean liner, QM2 has certain advantages over the cruise ships that do winter cruises out of New York. First, because of her speed (top speed 30 knots), QM2 is able to get out of the cold weather faster than the other ships. By the first day, the ship was off of Virginia and the Carolinas and one could venture on deck with just a sweater. By that evening, it had become almost balmy.
Second, because of her deep draft and the fact that her hull was built to withstand the rigors of the North Atlantic, QM2 is better able to deal with storms than ships with shallower drafts and blunt bows. This time, we encountered a series of rain storms and a rapidly moving weather front. However, QM2 was quite stable and the passengers were out and about the ship.
The islands were a mix of some that have long been tourist favorites (Barbados and St. Thomas) and some islands that are still developing. It is a nice mixture but in my view, it would have been better to have had a sea day in the middle of the voyage to allow passengers to recover and re-group before the final two islands.
ACTIVITIES - - Since QM2 spends most of her time doing voyages that involve no port days at all, her onboard activities are both numerous and well-developed.
Cunard ships tend to attract a sophisticated audience and thus the enrichment lecture program is a highpoint. On this voyage, there was a British television producer, two astronomers and a former U. S. Navy officer who is also a professor at an American university. Each was very familiar with his subject matter. More importantly, they were engaging speakers so that even if one were not particularly interested in the subject matter, the talk was still entertaining.
In the Caribbean, QM2 added some additional activities to her repertoire. One was an outdoor screening of a movie. Deck chairs were lined up on the open deck behind the funnel and the film projected onto an area of white superstructure. While it would have been better technically if there had been a screen, it was very pleasant to be able to look up and see the stars over QM2's massive funnel or to glance off to the side and see the moon rising over a passing island.
The two astronomers from the Royal Astronomical Society held "Cunard's first official Royal Astronomical Star Party" on the open deck one evening. The lights in that area were turned off as the astronomers pointed out and discussed various stars.
Changing tempo, one night there was an outdoor Caribbean party by the Deck 8 pool featuring a band, dancing and a large buffet.
STATEROOM - - I had an interior cabin on this voyage near the stern of the ship. It appeared to be somewhat larger than similar cabins on other passenger ships. I had this one single occupancy but there was more than enough room for a couple. The room was equipped with a third and fourth bed that folded up into the ceiling. However, I would think that the stateroom would have been rather crowded if these beds had been in use.
The cabin was very clean when I arrived and well-serviced throughout the voyage. The stewardess was very prompt in making up the room in the morning and in refreshing it in the evening.
The furnishings in the cabin included a desk, a television, a small table and chair and two twin beds that had been put together to form a queen-size bed. There was also a mini-bar/refrigerator. In all, it was pleasantly decorated and furnished. It did not have that utilitarian atmosphere that one finds in inside cabins on some ships.
ENTERTAINMENT - - QM2 offers several evening entertainment options.
On three evenings during the voyage, the ship's production company performed revues in the Royal Court Theater. These were not done in the typical Las Vegas style that one finds on many cruise ships but rather with more sophisticated singing and dancing. Remarkably for a British-flagged ship, British music is essentially ignored in favor of American show tunes and lounge tunes from the period 1930 through 1960.
When the production company is not performing, visiting performers are featured. On this voyage British comedians John Evans and Mel Mellers were extremely funny. Vocalist Emma Sinclair has a beautiful voice and did selections from opera and West End shows while vocalist Gary Williams paid tribute to Frank Sinatra.
Very popular on QM2 is the nightly ballroom dancing. This is held in the giant Queens Room which not only has a large dance floor but an art deco inspired stage for the band. Once during the voyage, musicians from other bands on the ship join the Queens Room band for a 1940s Big Band Ball. There are also Masquerade Balls, Pirate Balls and various other themed events.
One feature that I like very much is the movies shown in the Illuminations theater. This room is very large and is decorated in the style of an art deco movie palace. During the day, it is used for lectures and as the planetarium. In the evenings and during the afternoons in port, however, movies are shown on a wide screen as in movie theaters in days gone by with the sound coming over the room's state of the art system. This is a treat for those who like to be absorbed into a film.
DISEMBARKATION - - QM2 arrived at the Brooklyn Terminal at 7 a.m. and by 10:30 a.m., the disembarkation was complete. This included the time necessary for the ship to clear with the authorities, unload baggage, and for passengers to have their breakfasts.
Passengers are asked to vacate their staterooms after breakfast. They are also asked to wait in certain designated areas until their baggage tag color is called. Thus, passengers with yellow tags may be asked to wait in the Royal Court Theater rather than wander around the ship. This appears to make the process go more quickly since it is possible for the staff to get all of the passengers in a particular group (e.g. those with airport transfers) off at once thus enabling the next group to leave.
As in all passenger terminals, the baggage is set in areas corresponding to the letter and number on the baggage tags. Since everybody in the world now has black luggage, there are a few minutes of confusion as passengers seek to identify their bags.
Because the ship enters United States waters in St. Thomas, immigration inspection is done there. As a result, there was only customs inspection in New York.
SUMMARY Although QM2 is not a cruise ship, she provides an excellent cruising experience.