Queen Mary 2 "Caribbean Calypso" 10 night Princess Grill Suite Jan 3, 2009
Considering that it was a record day for passenger traffic through the Port Everglades, FL - nearly 50,000 passengers with ten ships in port - embarkation was especially smooth. I speak only for grill-class passengers as we were onboard early in the afternoon after only a brief wait indoors in air conditioned, seated, comfort. Britannia passengers apparently endured a sometimes many hours-long standing wait in the sun.
Fresh from her November, 2008 drydock, the QM2's hull and superstructure were gleaming. Greeting onboard was even more perfunctory than at any time previously as the customary dual-flanking "receiving lines" of liveried crew were not in evidence.
Princess Grill Suite
Our forward Princess Grill suite on deck 10 was in fine condition (save one bedside lampshade which had a very small hole), spacious and well-appointed. I was surprised to find our balcony teak handrail had some salt stains; however, these were removed and the rail revarnished within two days without our comment.
Our steward was excellent - fully and promptly responsive to all our requests. We hardly ever encountered him so he did not function, as some do, as a quasi-butler/host, but we did not mind this at all.
This was our first departure from Port Everglades and I count it among my favorites as the residents of the homes and apartment towers along the channel make their evenings' entertainment of the ships' departures. As we passed, we heard shoreside megaphones encouraging Queen's Grill guests to "get your tuxedos on," sirens heralded our passage and, as we left the channel, residents of the tower along the coastline flashed their apartment lights. We responded with three long (and one short, naturally) "audible ten miles away" blasts of the QM2's great whistles.
Princess Grill Restaurant, Grills Lounge, Grills Terrace
Physically, the Grill amenities on QM2 lack grace, particularly the Grill restaurants when contrasted with the Britannia. Where the Britannia has its unobstructed sea views, sweeping staircases, grand full beam-width, triple-height, tapestry and light well, the Grill restaurants are shunted-off spaces aft of the cafeteria (King's Court) on Deck 7. Long, narrow, and unrelievedly rectilinear, the great majority of their windows face the partially-enclosed sections of the promenade deck. The remainder face the aft sundeck. These prospects would not be so unfortunate were passengers to maintain a greater sense of decorum during the day on deck. Rather, our table far aft gave onto an ever-changing, stomach-turning montage of sunbathers who, in great part, share their physiognomy with the subjects of Lucien Freud's "Naked Portraits." While I appreciate Maestro Freud's interest in people as animals and his aesthetic transfiguration of his subjects, we hapless viewers in the Grill restaurants enjoyed no such transformative artistry. Passengers on this deck displayed their variously hirsute, decayed, obese, and inadequately-clothed bodies in a panorama which filled the Grills restaurants' aft-facing windows. One might hope at least that when these persons laid prone and splayed they would at least lie facing aft (away from the restaurant) or clothe themselves; one would, however, be sorely disappointed.
A mitigation of this problem might be to install some form of semi-opaque scrim in the Grill restaurants' aft-facing window walls as, even at night, the windows gave onto a view of the loungers stacked high and close by.
Our Princess Grill restaurant table for eight was comfortable, capacious, well-laid, and expertly-attended. We enjoyed, as always on Cunard, the company of friendly and interesting tablemates, this time from the U.K. Their sense of conviviality, warmth, and wit added immeasurably to our enjoyment They told us that they shared our happy impression of our group. Our waiters provided prompt and attentive service enhanced immensely by our assistant maitre d', Fifi. She went far beyond the call of duty time and again on our behalf and on behalf of our tablemates. Ever present with her flambe trolley to finish a rack of lamb in preparation for English silver service or to make a dessert, she also fulfilled special requests, such as ours for an Indian dinner one night and a Philippine cuisine on another.
Food quality and presentation were excellent except for the kitchen-prepared desserts which were lackluster. The after-dinner petits-fours were uniformly-excellent, however.
The sommelier was by far the worst I have encountered of the dozens whose service I have enjoyed and from whom I have learned so much. He demonstrated no knowledge of wine and was unable to provide any assistance with ordering at all, being unaware even of the vintages of the Bordeaux. To each bottle, red or white, as I tasted it, he commented only: "it has a nice minerality, doesn't it." At least he omitted this comment with the champagne! Moreover, prices have suddenly jumped on the better selections, many of which were in any event unavailable.
I was disappointed with the $ 45 surcharge for caviar but it was of very fine quality and the serving was generous, much more so than on the single night when it was offered us gratis.
The Grills Lounge is a similarly-unprepossessing space, narrow and awkward. The furniture is also slightly tatty at this point.
The Grills Terrace is a mean space aft of the funnel on deck 11, making for less than clean air at times. Smoking restriction was not enforced, forcing us to move at times. Deck service is occasional and listless. Decor is non-existent: were it used instead as a crew area, it would look no different. This is an especially disappointing contrast to the Upper Grills Terrace on the Queen Victoria which is a smashing success both in its design, finish, (except for the ghastly linoleum decking where teak should be found) and stellar deck service.
During drydock, the Chart Room was refitted to great effect. It was always a successful room and is improved by the new carpet and furniture. The photographs of the new room available online cannot convey what a complete success it is. Of equal import is the new non-smoking policy there. Indeed, we could never make use of the room before the refit because it, and the furniture especially, always reeked of stale smoke.
Unfortunately, the smokers have moved on to the G32 (disco) where, although smoking is only permitted on the upstairs level, people smoked with impunity on the lower level. Vibz, the casual band, is not improving as time goes on. Perhaps it is time for a change.
The highlight, for us, continues to be the ballroom orchestra which now plays consistently at strict dance tempo (except during the occasional "slow sways" which are, admittedly, necessary these days to accommodate those who do not know how to dance but enjoy taking to the floor in any case.) Overall, there has been a consistently improving quality of movement on the floor (e.g. couples moving counterclockwise in the smooth dances and staying in their spots in the spot dances), perhaps aided by the gentlemen hosts. Bravo.
The lead singer, Michel Chartier, was not of great voice and the ballroom performance dancers were poor; the jazz band (playing variously in the Golden Lion pub or in the Chart Room) was superlative, as always.
We avoided the by now five year old shows - never a draw to begin with. I do not exaggerate when I recount that one evening, while window-shopping on deck 3, just aft of the corridor leading to an entrance to the Royal Court Theatre, the door to the theater opened during a highly-amplified soprano aria and my wife asked why she heard a hair dryer blowing.
The shopping was as poor as ever onboard but at least the displays of trashy merchandise outside the shops were more occasional and much more restrained than in the past. This is a great improvement. Indeed, we are happy to report that Cunard has implemented many improvements. To wit: children are no longer permitted in the G32, recorded strict tempo dance music is played in the ballroom before the orchestra appears in the evening and also during their breaks, and smoking has been further restricted. The dress code is the most formal at sea (a minimum of jackets being required for men on all evenings in the public rooms, sea days in tuxedo and some evenings in suit and tie) and everyone appears to enjoy it and adhere to it, thank goodness.
In contrast, we were awakened early one morning in port to find the Carnival Victory backing in beside us. Awakened, I say, because, even early in the morn', the Victory blasts pounding bass-heavy "music" in its outdoor areas. As we looked down upon her pool deck, the scene was out of Dante: an enormous television screen loomed over a pit containing "water features," levels of tightly-packed loungers, dining facilities with plastic lawn chairs for seating, children running amok while undershirted, tattoo-wearing men and women roamed carrying brightly-colored "slurpee"-style cups while the deafening music played. I suppose I should be grateful for the relative quiet of the QM2's open decks though the incessant musak is ghastly. Fortunately, one can avoid it along the length of the promenade deck.
Wireless internet service was poor (my laptop never was able to connect as a result of the ship's technical problems). I know this because I could access the free Cunard website wirelessly but could not logon to my shipboard account. Conexxions technical support was unable to help.
We enjoyed and appreciated the privilege of our first-ever dinner at the Captain's table. Word was that, a few nights previously, an obviously dotty woman had received such an invitation, had accepted it, and then could not be found at the appointed hour. A search party was sent out and she was found dining with her friends at her usual table. When reminded to join the Captain, she, like Melville's cracked lawclerk, Bartelby the Srivener, opined that she "preferr[ed] not to." Appalling!
At dawn, on the 13th, it was thrilling to see the Queen Victoria coming up the Port Everglades channel behind us and to think, with pleasure and happy anticipation that we will watch from her decks, next January, the jungles of Panama, as we sail from New York to San Francisco, and that we will enjoy as much seeing the waters of the Pacific lap against her hull as we have before those of the Aegean, of the Ionian, and the of Mediterranean and the Atlantic.