This was my first ever ocean cruise. I had been on a river cruise earlier this year. We got off to an inauspicious start, waiting around for about 3 hours at the Sheraton at Heathrow airport. We were treated to cookies and coffee or tea (self-service) and parked in the bar area while awaiting the arrival of the rest of the passengers who were to accompany us on the bus ride to Southampton. Why we were not simply put on a later flight from NYC, I don't know. There were plenty of flights that would have made the timing much better. (Cunard booked our flight on Virgin Atlantic. There's a reason why VA is so cheap. They don't feed you very much. Bring your own food or expect to land in Heathrow with a ravenous appetite. The seats are crowded together and seemed particularly narrow. If at all possible, have Cunard book you on British Air or book your own flight on another airline. Perhaps an upgrade to would have made the flight more bearable, but it was an extra $350 each.)
As was expected, the wait at the ship's terminal was lengthy, but there were over 2500 passengers checking in, passing through security, and boarding. It was civilized and organized. However, the only food available was from an independent kiosk that had a very limited selection of overpriced food and beverages.
Our cabin was roomy and clean, if somewhat worn-looking. This is a bit surprising considering the ship was only launched in 2004. Our king-sized bed had two parallel depressions, running from head to foot. However, it was still quite comfortable. The loveseat was a bit shabby, as was the bed cover. Everything was very clean. There was an abundant supply of quality toiletries. We were met with a split of sparkling white wine, chilling on ice, and two glasses.
The staff & crew are amazing. They do everything they can to make the voyage a wonderful experience. The word "no" is rarely heard from them. They are from dozens of different countries all over the world and are impeccably trained. We were always greeted and addressed as "madam" or "sir." The bathroom had one outlet that was only compatible with an electric shaver. My husband uses a Waterpik for dental hygiene. Our cabin steward tried to get us an adapter, which didn't do the job, and even went so far as to borrow an electrician's extension cord long enough for my husband to use his Waterpik in the bathroom while plugging it in to the only compatible outlet that was 10 feet away over the desk.
Afternoon tea was delightful but sometimes crowded, and was always accompanied by live music, either a solo harpist, or a five-piece band. The food included finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and an assortment of pastries. There was no choice of teas, but the blend served was fine. Waiters circulated about the room constantly offering more of whatever, and a teacup was never allowed to go empty. The British know how to do afternoon tea.
Despite 7"-9" seas, the trip was pretty smooth. The ship is huge. Three laps around the Lido deck is a mile. That's huge. Specs regarding the ship can be found on Cunard's web site.
We went to all three formal evenings and danced in the ballroom (also the room where they serve tea) on the "largest ballroom dance floor at sea" every night. The evening entertainment ranged from poor (a RADA production of a condensed version "Hobson's Choice" that was unintelligible; the tenor Preston Coe who was less then stellar) to excellent world-class musicians (Robin Hill, guitarist; Nicola Loud, violinist) performing.
The Illuminations planetarium was a neat daytime diversion, although some of the projectors were slightly out of alignment, thus making orbits segmented.
The downside? Mediocre to downright terrible food was the biggest disappointment, although I give kudos to the pastry chefs. If the QM2 can bring up the quality of the meals to be on par with the quality of the service, we'll be back. Otherwise, we'll take our future cruises on other lines.