Embarkation: We arranged for a private transfer from London to Southampton, taking a recommendation from the Britain and Cunard boards here on Cruise Critic to include a visit to Stonehenge en route. We used Woodruff Chauffeur Cars, who made the transfer easy and were responsive to all our email queries. Stonehenge was about 90 minutes from London, and we spent about 45 minutes at the site. It was a further 45 minutes to Southampton, and we arrived at the pier just before noon. Embarkation was handled very smoothly, and we were on the ship by 12:30 p.m. We had filled out all pre-cruise forms on the Cunard Voyage Personaliser site, and this expedited our processing--just a quick passport and credit card check. We proceeded to have lunch at Kings Court, and were in our staterooms by 1:30 p.m. Luggage began arriving by 2:00 p.m., including one bag we shipped ahead using the White Star Luggage service with DHL. The shipped bag was in good shape, and enabled us to forward all evening clothes and shoes. We sent tuxes/jackets/trousers down to be pressed that afternoon, and they were returned by 5:00 p.m. the following day.
Accommodations: We had booked connecting Britannia Club staterooms on Deck 12, 12065 and 12067. We made extensive use of the balconies during the crossing, and very much enjoyed the open configuration. Despite the ship's speed during the crossing, we read and watched for whales and dolphins from the balconies on all but one day of the crossing--more on that later..... There was ample storage, and we were very impressed by the bathrooms--ample shower space and storage and good quality toiletries. We selected the Britannia Club category mainly to access the single seat dining feature in the Britannia Club section of the dining Room, and expanded a la carte menu. We found the location on deck 12 very enjoyable, just steps from the covered pool, hot tubs and Pavilion Bar. It was a very quiet area of the ship, and we enjoyed excellent cabin service--friendly, very thorough and well-timed to our schedule.Dining: After reading a range of comments in previous Member reviews of the QM2, we were uncertain about what to expect in the dining room. We found the food quality, service, selection and pacing of dinner to be outstanding every evening in the Britannia Club. Our waiter was friendly, professional and very attentive to our kids--they enjoyed dinner every night. We found the main menu selections very appealing, but mixed in appetizers, salads and entrees from the a la carte menu at every meal--all arrived hot, well presented and flavorful. We found the food quality and service comparable to main dining room service on Celebrity, and the extra-fee restaurants on Royal Caribbean. I was especially impressed by the wine service. We ordered a different bottle each night for dinner, and the wine steward was very knowledgeable about the vintages for every selection we considered. Her advice steered us to several new choices, and we found the wine pricing very fair--with a good selection of French and Italian wines. Given the relaxed pace of the schedule, our kids posed no resistance to dressing for dinner--our daughter enjoyed the formal atmosphere, and our son actually stayed in his suit for the Kids Club activities on several nights.
We did not have breakfast in the dining room during the crossing, but did have lunch on four of the days. Service for lunch was on par with dinner, with again very good choices. It was a pleasure to have the dinner menu included with the menu for lunch, so we take dinner selections into account while ordering for lunch. Wine left over from the previous dinner was available at the table for lunch--that contributed to ordering a different wine at dinner each night!
Weather: Overall, very calm and the ship seemed to hardly register the sea conditions. We had one very rough day, with Force 11 (Gale) winds, and sea conditions of 6 to 9 meters--20 to 28 foot waves. Passengers and crew alike felt it, and the ship was fairly quiet during the day, and dinner was only about 60% attended that evening. By 9:00 p.m., the ship was back to normal, but we certainly knew we were in the North Atlantic. We were outside on deck every day with the exception of the storm, and while windy, enjoyed the balconies throughout the crossing.Activities/Atmosphere: After closing following postings and reviews about the QM2 on these boards, we had been amused by the many comments about "attire" on board the QM2. We found the ship during the day to be pretty much like any other cruise--shorts/khakis, polo shirts, jeans were all in abundance, and were absolutely appropriate and welcomed. Kids were largely in shorts and t-shirts. We found the atmosphere on the ship to be informal, inviting and family friendly. Attire at night was formal, and we found the overwhelming majority in the Britannia Dining Room in sync with the guidelines, including kids. Any anxieties about an overly formal environment were put aside on the first day--it was a very relaxed tone throughout the crossing.
We participated in the full range of activities during the day--enrichment lectures, trivia quizzes, bingo, fitness center, spa treatments, library and movies--there was never a dull moment, and found all of these offerings to be very professional and enjoyable. One of the lecturers on board was Stephen Payne, who served as chief architect of the QM 2 during its design and construction--he was fascinated, and made the connection to the ship very personal. We only tried a couple of the evening shows, and concluded they were barely "average" for cruise entertainment. Music in the various bars was very good--we found that to be the best after-dinner course.
Kid Program: There were about 400 children on this crossing, and our two enjoyed the range of day and evening activities offered in "The Zone". They generally tried to finish dinner by 8:30 p.m., and went right to the program. Our son was generally back by 11:00, and our daughter at 12:00 midnight. The teenage kids were very well behaved, had fun, and there was no sign of underage drinking, gambling in the casino or other antics. The Kings Court area and Connections were their main "hang-outs". For the 12-14 age group, activities were centered in "The Zone", and our son would return to the stateroom as soon as the program ended. Overall, different from Royal Caribbean and similar U.S. based lines, but well-suited to the wide international passenger mix on the QM2.
Debarkation: Arrival at Red Hook was right on schedule, and departure from the ship was the most organized and relaxed we had ever experienced on any cruise. Our baggage color was called 15 minutes early, and we were through Customs and Immigration within 20 minutes.
Overall Assessment: QM2 provides a premium ocean liner experience that was very well suited for family travel during the summer holiday period. We love days at sea on cruises, so eagerly looked forward to the six day crossing. Food and service exceeded many of the reviews on these boards, though that may be a function of expectations--our's were exceeded. Despite all the discussion about "preserving Cunard traditions", we found the atmosphere very relaxed, and the more formal evening environment enjoyable and appreciated by all the passengers we encountered. We will very much treasure having shared this experience as a family--Cunard set the bar very high for future cruises!