EMBARKATION: The boarding process presented one of the few notable let-downs. Upon taxi arrival at the Brooklyn Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, a luggage handler wearing jeans and a yellow union shirt indicated he could take our bags. He bore no cruiseline identification, so we didn't know if he was simply working independently (presumably for tips) or represented the cruiseline. So although awkward, we declined his offer and continued with our bags towards the terminal entrance.
We soon spotted uniformed Cunard agents, but they were only there to tell us where to go and which line to use. Nobody indicated where to leave our bags, nor offered a hand, so we proceeded to the check-in counter where it became evident we could take our bags directly on board. In our estimation, the first customer-contact is essential to setting the tone of any trip. We'd suggest large, clearly marked signs with directions, and white-gloved, uniformed Cunard agents to greet each arriving group of passengers.
INTERIOR: Our experience changed for the better, once on board. Cunard representatives flanked our entrance, with one offering to escort us to our room. We respectfully declined, however, as we found it easy to navigate with the posted deck configuration signs. The warm welcome continued as we entered our Q6 stateroom suite. In addition to the cabin steward, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by our butler for the week who had a complimentary chilled Champaign and strawberries awaiting us. A note about the suites - they include balconies, but most on Deck 9 overlook large lifeboats directly below. We fortunately booked a suite near the rear of the ship (by Staircase "D"), without lifeboats, enabling an unencumbered view of ocean and the decks below. Also, the aft location meant we could enjoy relative quietude, without creaking chains and ropes from the lifeboats and blasts from the ship's forward horns. Even during fog when the horns sounded every four or five minutes, we were able to sleep comfortably.
The suite was a good choice for the two of us, being markedly larger at 506 sq ft, versus 381 sq ft and less for junior suites and other staterooms. We enjoyed a roomy sitting area with couch, desk, and chair, plus a coffee table that could raise to allow in-room dining. An adjacent bar area held a small, fully-stocked, and complementary refrigerator, plus beautifully lighted overhead glass cabinetry, filled with an assortment of cocktail glasses. The sleeping area featured a walk-in closet, complete with deep drawers and plenty of hangers. Loads of counter space and vanity storage complemented a jetted tub in our marbled bathroom. A minor recommendation - we would've enjoyed a map in the room to reference while we figured out each day's activities.
FOOD: Because we were suite guests, the staff assigned us to the upscale Queen's Grill, a smaller and quieter private dining venue, as compared to the Britannia dining room and King's Court buffet. We were pleased to discover Cunard successfully merged the best of assigned seating with "freestyle" dining. We had a table for two by a window with our name on it the entire cruise. We were free to show up during the posted dining hours whenever we chose, and they would show us to our table, always ready to go. The china consisted of a special pattern used only in the Queens Grille, and our food was served with grace and style. The only minor recommendation would be to offer a choice of a black cloth napkin, because the white could shed on black clothing. Otherwise, we couldn't have been happier with the quality, selection, and presentation of food and the restaurant experience truly one of the highlights of our trip.
ITINERARY: Our ports, consisting of Halifax, St. John, Boston, and Newport, stacked up favorably with other cruise lines serving the area. While we didn't book any excursions, we found either walking or renting a car easy and convenient. In Halifax, the seafood chowder at "Murphy's" was the best we've ever eaten (and we sample many). St. John boasted an attractive port with fireworks in the evening. Newport's vistas comprised the best for this trip and of course, Boston offered the widest variety of places to see. Unfortunately, with the removal of Portland from our itinerary, our shortened stay in Boston provided the first opportunity on return from Canada for non-American passengers to undergo immigration. Apparently, the Boston officials sent only six immigration agents, rather than the 16 expected in Portland. Together with less then ideal organization on Cunard's part, departing passengers experiences up to 2-hour logjams getting off the ship. Being Americans, we could skip the tight security check and exited the ship quickly, and without incident.
ENTERTAINMENT: We didn't partake of many entertainment offerings, primarily restricting ourselves to solo performers (piano and harp), a string quartet, and a poetry reading. They were all quite enjoyable and of high quality - definitely recommended.
OTHER: - Gymnasium: We frequently utilized the spacious gym, which featured free weights, fitness machines, and a many aerobic options. - Spa: We scheduled one spa treatment (a daily special of a mud-pack facial with algae) and found it to be on par with other premium spas, if perhaps a little pricey. - Concierge Lounge: Our deck offered a special Queen's Grille guest lounge with newspapers, coffee/tea, cookies/sandwiches, and concierge agents. We enjoyed taking breaks there. - TV/Video: Cunard's TV service indicated On-Demand Movies were available, but the TV screen guide said "Unavailable." We figured it'd be temporary, but after two nights, we called the Purser's Office, which informed us it hadn't been working for some time. Disappointed, we made do with a couple of the regular movie channels, before accidentally discovering videos available through the concierge lounge for which a DVD player had to be installed. - Cruise ride: For a large ship with state-of-the-art stabilization control, we experienced more ship's movement than expected while at sea. However, others commented on the ship's smoothness, so we may have simply been sensitive to the North Atlantic's choppier waters, as compared to our prior cruises in the Caribbean.
OVERALL: The QM2 provided our first exposure to 5-star cruising. In general, it delivered admirably. The regal ship was spotless and in great condition. The crew always appeared in full formal dress, performed well, and stayed "in character" the entire time. The food was top-notch in all the restaurants. And thankfully, "upselling" was kept to a minimum. While not inexpensive, the value was evident. Cunard's QM2 ocean liner provided a stately and refined experience a refreshing departure from mainstream cruising.