The Queen Mary 2 Easter sailing from Brooklyn sounded like an ideal break for a long weekend. I had always wanted to try the QM2 but generally don't have time to take one of the longer voyages it usually sails. During the cold winter months we booked our trip for me and three friends and spent those remaining weeks daydreaming of sea air and the sandy beach. As a somewhat experienced cruiser (this was my 13th voyage), I thought I would be in for an unparalleled experience aboard QM2. Unfortunately, this was far from the reality.
I flew into LaGuardia as it appeared to be the closest airport to the Brooklyn Cruise Port. A word of caution to those coming by cab or car service: no one knows how to access the port. It is a fairly new facility and most cruise ships sail from Manhattan, so bring directions. I had to call Cunard's 800 number from the taxi to get directions while we were en route.
Upon arrival at the port, check-in was quick and efficient. I found my stateroom easily and without assistance. The balcony room was pleasantly appointed with the usual features (TV, in room fridge, small sofa, etc...) I did feel that the room and especially the sofa were smaller than I had experienced in other balcony accommodations on other lines. The bathroom, however, was definitely a bit bigger than most cruise lines. There was really very little closet space, I can't imagine what passengers on a voyage of multiple weeks do for storage space. I also felt it was very cheap for a premium line to not have regular hangars in the closet, instead they were the type that hook into a central rod to prevent anyone from stealing the hangars. Our cabin steward was an invisible yet efficient presence throughout the trip, we did not see him very often but he always kept the room tidy.
After a snack at the buffet following the muster drill and an hour so of wandering around the ship, it was time for our dinner on the late seating in the Britannia Dining Room. This is where any pretenses at providing guests with a premium product went right out the window. Upon entering the upper level of the dining room we told the greeter our table number and were told vaguely, that we were "upstairs." After wandering around the upper level without assistance we found our table and sat down. And sat. And sat. No one came to offer us menus, bread, nor water. Eventually one of the waiters realized that no one was serving us and we were brought menus. He hurriedly took our orders, including our dessert order, without any introduction and left us languishing still without water glasses filled or bread being offered. After asking several of the staff members in our area we were able to get iced tea and a very minimal level of service. Two of my traveling companions are hotel food and beverage managers and they were in absolute agony watching the poor service as it unfolded before our eyes. The staff were in utter disarray and there appeared to be no maitre d' or head waiter to attempt to correct their floundering operation. Once it actually arrived the food was good but nothing spectacular. I would compare it to Royal Caribbean in terms of quality and presentation.
As the cruise went on, the service slowly improved, but to nowhere near the standards one would expect from any cruise line. Over the course of 4 nights we had three different waiters. Sometimes there would be an assistant waiter but the service never flowed in a proper manner. We would occasionally see a head waiter in our area but he seemed utterly unable to change the dismal service that guests were receiving. In our area of the dining room there were many tables that were not full so my only explanation for the positively awful dining room service would be due to understaffing
We were hoping this poor service would be limited to the Britannia but it was also the case in several other dining venues. On the second day of the cruise we decided to have a late lunch at the Golden Lion Pub, which offers a limited menu of English-style pub dishes. They were half empty but again, no one came to take our order or to offer us drinks. Dirty dishes were strewn across the unoccupied tables. After having placed our order we actually had to go to the bar and ask for waters since ours never came.
The service in the buffet restaurants was equally lackluster. Tables were left with uncleared plates long after guests had left. The buffet items were of the same quality as mainstream cruise lines. Lines were always lengthy and the layout of the buffet rooms was poor. The items on the buffets were not replenished frequently, you would often get to the front of the line only to find there was no more bacon, French fries, etc. They also would only maintain one buffet venue open outside of the peak meal hours, so if you wanted a late breakfast or lunch, there was only one buffet open and it was completely overrun with people. Additionally, I found that during off-peak hours the employees closed up the buffet lines about 10 minutes before the closing times posted in the ship's daily program.
Employees in all areas of the ship seemed overworked and somewhat distant from their guests. Part of this I expected due to the British standards of service that I had anticipated aboard QM2. But overall, no crew members made attempts to get to know the guests or develop personal relationships as I have seen on other lines. I also found myself having numerous communication difficulties with the crew, many of whom had rather poor English skills. As a speaker of several other languages I understand the difficulties in learning English, and certainly don't expect native speaker proficiency. However, this crew was not up to the standards of other cruise ships.
Some comments have been made that the short cruises cannot be compared to a regular Cunard voyage. All the guests we interacted with were experienced cruisers who observed normal levels of decorum as well as dinner dress codes. It was clear by the empty tables in our section in the dining room as well as the fact that cabins were still being sold online two days prior to sailing that this voyage was not at full capacity.
Asides from the subpar service, the cruise was actually rather fun. The brief stop at Princess Cays was blessed with good weather. The ship has several pools and ample deck space for sunbathers, a great library, and a good gym. The charge for the spa facilities is ridiculous and not comparable to other lines. The shows were enjoyable if a bit hokey and definitely not Vegas or even Carnival quality. I did enjoy the attention to detail concerning Cunard and its history through the exhibits scattered around the ship.
Unfortunately, when you and your dinner companions are suggested to agonizingly slow, incompetent service night after night, it began to wear on the members of our group and really had a negative effect on our overall vacation experience. Regardless of the length of the voyage, Cunard has fallen short in the areas of crew training and proper staffing. As it stands today, sailing on Cunard provides you with a subpar product at premium prices.