It was with much excitement that my husband and I booked onto the QM2 for what we hoped would be a very special 4 night cruise on what Cunard call 'the best ocean liners in the world'. QM2 was to sail from Southampton on the 16th April 2004 and then on to make two maiden calls to Geurnsey and Cherbourg. It was to be our fourth cruise, the first being on Brilliance of the Seas in August 2002, Adonia in August 2003 and again on Brilliance in November 2003. We had been most impressed with all our cruising experiences, in particular, Brilliance of the Seas (Royal Caribbean)
We left our home in Lancashire on 11th April to travel to Southampton for our pre-cruise hotel organised independently by ourselves. QM2 was due to dock into Southampton at 6.00 a.m. on the 12th. We awoke relatively early and were informed by the local news on our hotel room TV that QM2 was in fact to dock some 5 hours late due to a technical difficulty. Whilst this was obviously disappointing, it gave us the unusual opportunity to see QM2 arrive into Southampton in daylight at 11.00 a.m. video camera in toe, we waited for the first glimpse of QM2 which was the top of her red funnel over the top of the port buildings in the distance and watched her gracefully, quietly and slowly take up her position at the QE2 terminal.
The time on our tickets showed embarkation to be 3.30 p.m. We had received no notification from Cunard (despite Cunard apparently being aware of this delay from the Friday before and in receipt of our mobile numbers) therefore, we attended at the terminal in accordance with the information given on our tickets. It took a significant amount of time to drive to the dock as the dock area was completely gridlocked with traffic. When we arrived at the terminal and parked our car our luggage was taken and we were asked to board a coach which would take us back through the terminal to the De Vere Hotel for refreshments. Whilst discussing what we should do we were informed by a fellow guest that if we chose to go to the local hotel then it would take at least an hour to get there and there was nowhere to sit. Therefore, we chose not to take up this offer and instead went into the terminal to wait for Cunard to open the doors. At 4.00 p.m. passengers on the previous voyage were still disembarking and the scene was one of absolute chaos. At 4.55 p.m. Cunard opened the doors and we were one of the first to be checked in. The signs to the ship were pointing in the wrong direction and the escalator to the waiting hall wasn't working. However, we were not too concerned, only eager to see what awaited us.
After a very short wait of only one or two minutes in the waiting hall we were told we could embark. We dashed to form a queue and were then told that actually, they weren't quite ready. Another 5 or 10 minutes later we were finally told we could embark. We walked straight into the Grand Lobby and were faced with a line of staff who greeted us by saying "welcome aboard". No-one offered to show us to our cabin and no-one offered to help carry some of our hand luggage. We were just pointed in the right direction which we felt was very lacking in comparison with our other cruises. Anyway, not to be perturbed we eagerly made our way to our cabin. We had been upgraded from an inside to an outside with a porthole and the cabin had been adapted to be wheelchair friendly, therefore, it was huge. We were extremely pleased with our cabin which was furnished to a delightful standard and was spotless. There was also a complimentary half bottle of champagne which I understand is provided on all cruises.
We left packing until later and explored the ship. If I had been a first time cruiser I am sure I would have been absolutely elated with her beauty however overall I felt the rooms were too similar and lacked atmosphere and character. There is very little wood, the wall panels are high gloss laminate and the huge murals which line the walls to the Britannia, whilst are designed to look like bronze appear to be made from plastic. I understand that wood has not been used to comply to fire regulations however Brilliance was only launched in 2002 and is full of beautiful wood panels and flooring.
Our first meal on board was taken in the Britannia restaurant. We were on late sitting however by the time the safety drill had been done, it was 9.20 p.m. before we were able to sit down. Quite simply, the service was appalling. The waitress had to ask my husband to help her support the overloaded drinks tray as she was going to drop it and beer was 'served' in the can unpoured and even unopened. My glass had a 'tide mark' and the food served was cold. We felt it may be unreasonable to complain on the first night and hoped our dining experiences would improve. They did not. Each night our food was served luke warm and each night the food served was sent back to the kitchen. The water glasses were always kept full and generally the wine waiter was excellent however on one occasion, when the wine was brought by the Maitre'd it took two attempts for us to receive our correct order. These are only a small selection of instances, there were many more. On the third night we advised the Senior Maitre'd that for our last night we were to dine elsewhere as we were so disappointed. The Maitre'd promised he would ensure if we did chose to dine in the Britannia on the last night that everything would be perfect. He also offered us a free bottle of wine. We felt we ought to give Cunard an extra chance to deliver and took him up on his offer.
The last night arrived and we went to sit at our table. There were no serviettes and no glasses. Starters were just about hot, mains were cold and the turkey served was processed. It tasted disgusting. We asked the Senior Maitre'd whether he was aware that the turkey was processed and he said he was, this was due to the chef running out of the carvery turkey. He said himself that it was unacceptable and embarrassing for him to serve food of this quality. There was no way I could eat the processed turkey as it tasted of chemicals and as there was nothing else I liked on the menu I was offered chicken. When this arrived it was a plain chicken fillet with boiled potatoes, broccoli and carrot. Not exactly imaginative however I considered myself lucky as it was steaming hot.
I tried room service once for breakfast which was good however one item was missing. The self service Kings Court was used only once, again for breakfast and we found only a limited choice of food available compared with Royal Caribbean Windjammer.
The Todd English Restaurant was excellent and was on a par with the alternative dining found on Royal Caribbean such as Chops Grill or Porto Fino.
The shows were some of the best we have seen and Jennie Bond who was on board gave a lecture about her life as a Royal Correspondent and her contribution to 'I'm a Celebrity' which was extremely interesting.
In my opinion, Geurnsey made no effort to welcome us (only had a tent selling special souvenirs) but we were tendered. We were much further out than when we have been to Guernsey before however the arrangements for the tenders seemed to be well organised. Arrival at Cherbourg was something else. The welcome Cherborg gave QM2 was amazing. As we sailed towards the docks at 6.00 a.m., the Navy and other little boats came to greet us spraying water. Several thousands of people lined the docks cheering and clapping and a band played. We disembarked and the tourist board had arranged for horse drawn carriages and antique cars or a shuttle bus to take us the short distance to the town. Many of the shops had posters of the ship welcoming its maiden call. Cherbourg had gone to so much effort and my husband and I will never forget it. The night time (11pm) send off was similar however more people lined the docks, someone said there were around 10,000 people holding torches. It was fantastic.
As a 'gesture of goodwill' Cunard have offered to contribute 25% of the price paid for this trip against a future trip with Cunard to compensate for the late arrival of the ship in Southampton. They also provided us with a complimentary sailaway champagne party from Guernsey.
All in all we were extremely disappointed with our QM2 experience mainly due to the apparent lack of organisation generally and awful service in the Britannnia Restaurant (especially with Cunard promoting their "White Star Service"). We also felt that the waiting staff seemed fed up and unhappy which is no surprise if their guests had as many complaints as what we had.
Finally, on the morning of disembarkation, our steward walked 'mistakenly' into our cabin whilst we were still in bed at 7.15 a.m. and our friends told us they had their steward knocking on their door at 6.00 a.m. to say 'good morning'.
With our hand luggage packed, we took the lift to disembark. A youngish male entered the lift with us with a suitcase and two boxes. One box had a picture of a toaster on it and the other box a kettle. I coyly said to him "the food wasn't that bad was it?" He replied no ma'am. My husband advised me once the male had left the lift that he was the cruise director who had completed his 4 month contract.
I hope it gives him and his peers food for thought.