Queen Mary 2 (QM2) Cruise Review by Phineas: Royal Rendezvous
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In over 50 cruises I have taken in the last 30 years or so I have always tried to eschew the megaships in favor of smaller ones. Indeed cruising has changed in that time and yesterdays' ships just don't possess the amenities one expects today. My Travel Agent finally said "You really must sail on the QM2 if for no other reason than to say you've been on it" and I had to agree. The scheduled rendezvous of the QM2, QE2, and the new Queen Victoria in New York along with a 10 day Caribbean cruise seemed to be the perfect opportunity.
Psyching myself up for a "big ship" experience I headed to Brooklyn (NY) Cruise Ship Terminal. The drive there could be intimidating but the signage was pretty good once on the back streets of Brooklyn leading to the terminal. The terminal and adjacent parking seemed compact but fairly well laid out.
Embarkation went as well as could be expected. I have surely seen worse embarkations and I have seen better. Each passenger was handed a More numbered card. As I had arrived way early check-in had not yet started so the number was used as for when to enter the check-in line and when to board. Even though I was in a Britannia cabin I was whisked into the Grill check-in line. There seemed to be some confusion and miscommunication among the shoreside check-in staff. There seemed to be no real order of "priority boarding" for Grill and Platinum World Club passengers but rather by the number assigned when you arrived at the terminal. Nonetheless I was happy to be aboard and in my cleaned and made up stateroom by 1:30 PM. No "waiting in public rooms until your stateroom is ready". Kudos to Cunard on that one!
I was in a "sheltered balcony" stateroom on deck 6. The room was of adequate size with ample closet space for 2 persons and thoughtfully laid out with desk, chair, table and loveseat and twin or double beds with nightstands. The bath was compact with the usual shower, vanity and "head". There was adequate space for 2 persons and plenty for solo passengers such as myself. The sheltered balconies are a bit different from your garden variety balconies or verandahs one encounters on most ships. These have steel decks and and a steel bulkhead with a large opening the size of a picture window cut out. This is an obvious necessity to maintain the strength of the ship's hull. If you are looking for a balcony to sit in your lounge chair all day with an ocean view and catching rays you might be disappointed. Look at it as a deluxe ocean view stateroom with a place to go stand a few minutes and get a sea breeze and you will be delighted. The interactive TV seemed to be balky and a lot of the features didn't work properly. The room steward (who by the way was plenty visible) didn't seem to be that up on the system either but I managed to live with it. Also, when I saw I had the promenade deck immediately above my stateroom and an adjoining stateroom separated by a single door I was concerned over a potential noise problem. Thankfully though the noise was not that much of an issue. Once you get the "lay of the ship" you can find your way around with relative ease. There is plenty of signage and diagrams around should you have a temporary lapse of your whereabouts. The Lobby and associated hallways, shops, bars and casino are gracious looking and accommodate the large volume of passengers without the crowded feeling. One could get the feel of being aboard a grand ocean liner for the most part. Toward the end of the cruise, however, the shops set up tables of "clearance merchandise" out in these areas causing a lot of congregating and giving it the ambience of a flea market. Each evening the ships' photographers set up portrait galleries in the hallways leading to the Britannia Restaurant making passage a bit difficult...and they weren't the least bit bashful about hawking their services. The "Queens Room" is a magnificent ballroom located toward the aft part of the ship but access can be a little tricky either using the appropriate stairway or the "secret access tunnels" known as deck 3L which pass "through" the Britannia Restaurant and contain the photo gallery on port side and art gallery on the starboard side. The G32 Night Club (named for the shipbuilder's hull number)is further aft and only accessible by passing through the Queens Room.
The Britannia Restaurant is the main dining venue on the QM2 where most of everyone eats. I considered the food to be very good for the most part. Cooked to order eggs for breakfast were always good along with the usual accompaniments. Salads, appetizers and main courses were usually very good while I thought soups and desserts fell short for the most part. Service in the dining room was slow and uneven often with long waits between courses. Our sommelier in the dining room was near the end of his contract and really needed a break! If you like fish and chips I rate the fish and chips served in the Golden Lion Pub at lunchtime to be excellent! The Kings Court on Deck 7 offers several alternate venues that were open at various hours of the day with one open most all of the time. While the food served here was good (particularly the Asian food at the Lotus) the layout of this facility is poor and the staff in here at times less than helpful. It seemed at times to be a main thoroughfare from the forward part of the ship to the aft and seemed to be used as a walking track during rainy weather. Regardless of the time of the day you could find multitudes of passengers here on a feeding frenzy. With various station scattered about it wasn't uncommon to see people pirouetting around with trays heaping with food, stopping suddenly, wondering which station to go to next. The staff were constantly mopping the floors and putting out those yellow "caution wet floor" signboards every 2 feet or so ensuring you'd trip over at least one. It was about a 50/50 crapshoot you'd find silverware and napkins at the tables so one is well advised to collect these before finding a seat. If you didn't, whatever you do, do not leave your tray to go back for silverware or anything or it would likely be "bussed" on you. Having been on as many cruises as I have I did not extensively tour the ports we stopped in. I was more or less "along for the ride". If you do visit St Kitts I would recommend the St Kitts Scenic Railway tour which I purchased from the shore excursion office on board. My tablemates bought a few tours but mostly toured independently. I heard nothing pro or con about the tours so can safely assume everything was adequate there.
As for entertainment, the shows in The Royal Court Theatre seemed to be pretty much the average cruise ship fare. I went to very few of the evening shows and heard mixed reviews from other passengers. The room itself was attractive and served its function well. The Illuminations planetarium further forward featured several interesting guest lecturers during our cruise. There were plenty of activities on the daily program for everyone.
There seemed to be a heightened Norovirus alert during this cruise. During the welcome aboard party passengers were advised there would be no shaking hands with the Captain or other senior officers. I cannot blame anyone for not wanting to shake 1,500 hands from unknown origins I guess! While there was an awareness aboard, sanitation procedures were ramped up particularly at Kings Court where everyones hands were sanitized at the entrances by crew with bottles spraying antiseptic soap. There were soap dispensers at the beginning of each buffet line which were frequently empty. No hand soap was available upon entering the dining room though there were rumors of occasional crew there offering it. Some bar stewards were diligently spraying and wiping down binders and pens after guests signed their bar tabs. This may sadly become a future part of cruising not unlike airport security when we fly.
Disembarkation was a fairly smooth event. Having already gone through US Immigration at St. Thomas, our last Caribbean port, we were spared this upon return to New York. Open seating breakfast was served in the respective dining rooms albeit earlier. There was surprisingly none of the surliness that one so often finds on the last morning. Passengers were asked to assemble in public rooms after breakfast according to debarkation number and were thus called in order. On a curious note we were told that porters were in very limited supply and we should consider "schlepping" our own bags out of the terminal.
In the end, the QM2 is a good mass cruise experience(perhaps excluding the grill accommodations) and I was glad to have sailed aboard her. I have to look at the diversity of passengers and the ever daunting task of cruise lines to be "as many things to as many people and at a reasonable cost", something Cunard tries to do. So while I wince at prepaid soda cards, photo galleries, art auctions, on deck "tag sales" and alot of this seemingly onboard catchpenny frippery aboard QM2 I try to understand that it is a business trying to cater to the masses and then some and still get a favorable return.
The next time I would definitely like to to a Transatlantic sailing. Less
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