The Ship - A very grand lady - outstanding in nearly every respect;
Embarkation/Disembarkation - No pain - just gain;
Cabin - Very Good - better than expected;
Public Rooms - the Atrium was quite understated, but many of the public areas were grand;
Dining - Consistently the Best we have experienced on any ship;
Service - Could not be faulted;
Shopping - Pretty Average
Entertainment - A varied programme to a very high standard;
Activities - A wide choice and pretty good in the main;
Value for Money - given the promotional price it was excellent value for money - thank you to the credit crunch!
Overall - this trip has spoiled us for other ships now!
We are British, retired and in our early 60s. We took this trip in response to a special promotion and whilst we have cruised numerous times before (including twice on Trans-Atlantic); this was our first crossing with Cunard.
Travel to Port of Embarkation:
We flew BA to JFK (typical tedious and uncomfortable 7 hour flight), and spent a few thoroughly enjoyable nights in NYC doing the tourist thing.
Our travel agent booked us at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, because it offered one free night. Excellent location, but a rather tired establishment in much need of a refurbishment, somewhat over-priced; not in our view meriting its 4 Star rating.
It is important to note that the QM2 is an Ocean Liner, not a boat or a cruise ship, and in sailing from New York to Southampton we were making a crossing, not doing a cruise - this seems particularly important for the dignity of the Commodore and his senior officers! Whatever, some of my references to comparable experiences on cruise ships will help to illustrate why the QM2 is quite rightly different.
She is a fabulous ship: huge - over 150K gross tonnage and with a capacity of some 3000 passenger berths - which calculates to approx 6 tons per passenger when full. We had about 2,400 passengers, so even more space per person. Last year we cruised on a 90,000 ton ship with 3,100 passengers - so about 3 tons per passenger. We really appreciated the extra space, wherever we went aboard the QM2. The ship is not only tastefully appointed, but cleverly designed to provide plenty of quiet places to escape to if preferred.
Passengers have access to Decks 1 to 13, with Decks 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 & 11 providing most of the cabin accommodation. The higher you go the larger the cabins and more pricy the fare - premium passengers have their own restaurants and sun deck too - so a two class system without saying so. Decks 2, 3 and 7 are primarily devoted to restaurants, entertainment and bars. Pools are situated on Deck 12 (covered) and aft on several lower decks. Deck 13 is the main Sun Deck, but after leaving sunny New York and entering six days of low cloud and fog, there were not too many people up there!
There is a large and impressive looking spa facility, 'Canyon Ranch', mainly sited on Deck 7, although we did not use it. Sometimes a ship can be a bit of a maze, taking the whole trip before knowing your way around. The QM2, whilst providing many bars, restaurants and other features, proved quite easy to navigate - provided you don't mind walking (3 x around the Promenade Deck (Deck 7) = 1 mile!
The balcony cabins on Decks 5 & 6 have substantial steel encasements which restrict the light to some degree, but afford protection in the heaviest of seas. The balcony cabins on Decks 8 and above are glass fronted, so are more airy and bright, but much more expensive.
Embarkation & Disembarkation:
From alighting our limo at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, to entering our stateroom, took 15 minutes - amply assisted by courteous Cunard personnel - fantastic. The disembarkation procedure at Southampton took longer in that we had to wait for our allotted slot to leave, but once given the go ahead (5 minutes ahead of time) it took just 15 minutes from ship to our son's awaiting car - we could not expect better.
Deck 6 with Sheltered Balcony - very satisfied - nice and bright, roomy and comfortable, with king-sized bed, sofa, fridge and ample wardrobes, a good-sized shower-room and a generous balcony.
For the first time we chose the early sitting - considering that as there would be no intermediate ports of call, we would have no concerns about getting back in time from visits ashore. This worked well and gave us all the evening to enjoy entertainment, etc.
Each evening, we dined in the Britannia Restaurant - nine passengers on our table from USA and UK enjoyed fine food, excellent wines and fun throughout. We found the quality of offering superb - the portions were not large, but were perfectly balanced and it was good to leave the table without feeling stuffed. And when we got home and weighed ourselves we had nothing to regret! We got on so well with our table companions that most of us continued the evening together until the wee small hours. The success of a holiday at sea depends so much upon your table company. We have never had any problems in this respect, but on this occasion it was exceptional. It meant however, that we did not try out any of the other dinner offerings on board.
Dress for dinner was formal for three nights (DJ/Tux/Eveningwear), semi formal for one (jacket & tie/cocktail dress), whilst the first and last nights were billed as elegant informal - this meant I didn't have to wear a tie! A lounge suit would have been tolerated on formal nights but we loved getting dressed up and went the whole hog - as did most people.
On our first morning we tried out the Britannia Restaurant for breakfast, but the waiter got my order wrong, the service was slow, and the table company was rather boorish. So after that we used the buffet in the King's Court for breakfast and lunch. It is very large, but as it is split into four sections, each with its own serveries and then the seating areas broken down into lots of alcoves, we never had the feeling of the stampede so often associated with many a cruise ship. It was actually a pleasure to use the King's Court. Part of this was also used for the late night buffet, which we sometimes frequented for a cup of tea and a cake after dancing the night away. The quality and choice of food in the buffets - just faultless.
At every point - pre-boarding, room boy, waiting staff, bar staff, reception staff, etc, etc - service was absolutely professional - courteous, helpful, personal, friendly but never over-bearing or familiar - we could not fault it. Most of the crew were Filipinos, Indians or East Europeans. All spoke English pretty well.
Being Brits, we are not always comfortable with the tipping policy on ships and prefer to deal out our 'thank-yous' on a personal and individually considered basis. On QM2, $11 per passenger per day is added to your on-board account to cover gratuities. In addition, 15% is added to bar bills. On many a ship we would balk at this, but on this occasion, because service was so faultless we had absolutely no complaint. And nobody was buzzing around on the final evening looking for additional hand-outs.
The QM2 has a range of on-board shops similar in style to medium to large cruise ships. Service in the perfumery was outstanding. The Cunard Logo shop was rather typical and not special. The Duty Free shop would only deliver your alcoholic purchases to the cabin on the last evening. There was a good clothes boutique. The H Stern jewellery store reminded us that there are many passengers aboard QM2 that are exceedingly wealthy!
The Photography Shop was a license to print money. In fact the on-board photographers were much better than the norm and we spent a lot of money on studio shots, where a lot of care and expertise was taken to make us look right. However, they charged the same amount ($25) for pictures that were nothing more than snapshots - welcome aboard, commodore's cocktail party, at the dinner table, etc. We thought this was taking the rise, and we said so.
Every evening at sea there was a production show in the excellent theatre. The resident singers, dancers and band were first class. There was a lovely vocalist with wide experience of musical theatre from London, Broadway and Sydney. The flautist from Northern Ireland gave me a new respect for this type of music and instrument.
During the day there were various feature entertainments in the theatre - several plays put on by a very talented group from RADA, piano recitals and so on.
The ship also has a cinema larger than most screens that will be found on land, showing good feature films throughout the day/evening. This facility also converts to a planetarium with four showings per day.
The Cunard Insights (enrichment) programme consisted of lectures from various specialists, etc. I attended a talk given by a journalist who had covered the whole of the American presidential election campaign - the Q&A proved more interesting than the lecture. We listened to an author reading from his book - a monotone and as dull as ditchwater - we slipped out after about 15 minutes. These two experiences influenced us to give priority to other activities.
Day-time activities are many and varied, leaving little excuse for not having anything to do. Of particular note for our table companions and us was a dance class each day in the ballroom, given by a couple of professional show dancers from South Africa - excellent teachers - great fun and we learned a lot.
The Queen's Ballroom is the largest at sea and is most elegant - reminding us of a bygone era, before the days of cruise ships when ocean liners were the only option for traversing the pond. There were three balls, which we attended in our finery - in this informal world it is great to get togged up for a change and we really appreciated the efforts of the majority in dressing up in dinner suits, ball gowns and cocktail attire. Anyone feeling they could slop around in scruffies would have rightly felt out of place on the QM2. They have the rest of the year to do that; and what's more they would have missed out on one of the main distinctions of sailing on QM2. There was a Black & White Ball, a Masquerade Ball and a Royal Ascot Ball - all very elegant and charming, even though the prize-giving for Belle of the Ball, Best Mask and Best Hat respectively were all rather contrived, to say the least.
We were somewhat disappointed with the band and singer (a sort of Matt Munroe throw-back) in the Queen's Ballroom - the mean age of the passengers would have been around 55 to 65 - therefore baby-boomers, so a bit of music from the 1960s would not have gone amiss. Alas, anything outside of strict tempo, or more contemporary than 1950 seemed rather beyond them. On the last night we were attracted to a '70s Evening' - good we thought, a bit of 'Saturday Night Fever' and 'Mama Mia', but upon reflection they must have meant that this was an evening for those aged 70 and over! Thank goodness we had the jovial company of our table mates and the superb service of the bar staff; whilst the G32 Disco was just a few steps away.
Overall this was a great and most memorable crossing, which we would love to do again one day.