My partner and I have been on 4 cruises before, all of them RSVP charters: a Caribbean cruise on the Caribbean Princess, an Alaskan cruise on Holland America's Amsterdam and two Caribbean cruises on Holland America's Zuiderdam and Eurodam.
For this cruise we booked as part of a Pied Piper group of about 50 gay men (no women in the group this time). Pied Piper had two hosts on board to coordinate our group and take care of any issues or arrangements. There was a Pied Piper welcome cocktail party at G32 before dinner the first night and we all had dinner together.
This was our first cruise from our homeport of Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We live in Brooklyn and drove the three miles to the Red Hook cruise terminal with our friends Max and Bob from Pennsylvania who stayed with us the night before. We left Prospect Heights at 11:25 am and were at the terminal entrance by 11:49 - traffic on Atlantic Avenue was hectic so I took back roads since I am familiar with the area (we shop at Fairways nearby for food!)
There was a long, slow moving line of vehicles at the cruise terminal waiting to unload passengers. It seemed that a long section of sidewalk area was needlessly unused for this purpose. After handing our luggage over to the stevedores we arrived inside the terminal where a line of people were checking in. Check in was much slower than on Holland America who seems to have gotten it right. After getting our pictures taken and receiving our key cards we had a quick stop to have our boarding pictures taken. The Grills passengers had a nice background for their pictures while ours was taken with a bare wall with some kind of sign behind us. A small detail that could easily have been fixed.
We were in our cabin by 12:45 pm and were surprised with a nice gift of wine from a friend of ours on his own cruise in Europe. Our luggage arrived with in 30 minutes, the fastest I have seen luggage delivered. We unpacked and met up with Max and Bob to start exploring the ship. We were surprised that it was quite difficult to find a place to get a drink as most of the bars were closed. We had our first drink at the Golden Lion pub followed by a snack in the Kings Court around 3:00 pm. It was busy there but not chaotic at all.
For the Emergency Drill we had to gather in the Winter Garden. It's amazing how many people disregarded instructions to not put on their life jackets until told to do so.
After the drill we headed back to our cabin to drop off our life jackets, grab our champagne and glasses and were off to the elevated section on Deck 13 to experience sailing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. We were scheduled to depart at 5:00 pm but were delayed for late arrivals. At 5:20 pm the ship's whistle almost blasted us off our platform as the ship started moving away from the pier.
NYPD helicopters buzzed by and we sailed along the Staten Island ferry for a while. I have watched a couple of ships depart from that ferry so it was nice to be on the other side of it for a change. When we sailed under the bridge at 6:05 pm gasps and cheers were heard. What an amazing experience!
Our cabin was a Premium Balcony Stateroom with an obstructed view. Cabin 8091 had a view of the stern of a lifeboat with a gap between it and the next lifeboat so one could see a piece of the horizon. The balcony is 6 feet by 9 feet with two chairs and a small table. It was great to have as much light as regular balconies and could go outside at Noon and hear the ships whistle (if we could not get to Deck 13 in time). We did not spend much time on the balcony since it was a short cruise and we had a lot to explore and do.
The cabin seemed similar in size to the balcony cabins we have had on the Zuiderdam and Eurodam but the bathroom was much smaller. Most Holland America bathrooms have a bathtub/shower while the QM2's only had a shower. The shower was bigger than the one we had on the Caribbean Princess.
The interior of the cabin is a very light colored wood (or fake wood) and was in good condition except for a few carpet stains near the sofa. The woodwork on the balcony railing needed some maintenance.
The closets had ample space. There is a safe that can be locked by entering a 4-digit code or by swiping any card with a magnetic stripe. The hangers in the closet are the annoying kind where you unhook the hangar from the bar's attachment. On the other side of the closet there was more hanging space that consisted of a rod with plastic hooks (to hook your own hangers through) with the rod running from the back of the closet to the front. It worked well for hanging shirts.
There is a TV (not flat panel) with various movie and cable channels such as ESPN, Fox News, BBC (no CNN) and the usual ships' channels. Other amenities: a phone; air conditioning with thermostat control that worked well; a hair dryer in a drawer under the TV and two US and two UK electrical outlets (the US outlets are so close together that sometimes you could only plug in one chord). The refrigerator was stocked with some items but there was enough room for a few bottles of our own.
When we arrived in the cabin there were no robes but they were laid out on the bed when we returned from dinner on the first night. There were chocolates every night but no towel animals (I did not expect to see such on a Cunard ship!)
We never heard any noise from the cabins on either side of us or from the corridor.
I would not hesitate to book this class of cabin again but may try for one of the cabins overlooking the smaller rescue crafts (in the area of 8048 and 8047).
Our cabin steward Vikash kept our ice bucket filled and attended our cabin as soon as we headed out in the morning or to dinner at night. We never had any need to all him for anything.
The QM2 is a big ship! At a length of 1,132 feet, a beam of 135 feet and at 151,400 gross tonnes she is much larger that the Holland America ships we have been on. At first I was quite intimidated by its size but that soon changed to awe. I got up early on the first morning and walked the ship familiarizing myself with the layout. Two days later I was still discovering areas I had not seen before. QM2 has 1,296 cabins with 78% of it outside cabins of which only 62 are without a balcony. The ship can accommodate 2,592 passengers in lower berths with a maximum capacity of 3,056. This cruise was sold out but nothing was ever crowded. Dining
Dining Room: We were assigned to table 145 on the lower level of the Britannia restaurant at the late sitting. Those in the Pied Piper group were seated together at tables and unfortunately our table was separated from the other tables by a wall. Four other gentlemen that were delightful company joined our group of four at our table. Our waiter Larry was attentive and always ready with recommendations from the menu. Food was delivered as ordered 99% of the time.
Wine service in the dining room was slow; as it has been on all our other cruises. To get your wine after appetizers have been served is annoying. One is luckier when there is wine left over form the previous night in which case the bottle is waiting for you on the table and the sommelier can pour soon after you are seated.
On the last night our cruise our friends Max and Bob would be celebrating their 29th anniversary and I spoke to the maitre' d about it and he said not to worry, they will take care of a little celebration. We then found out that the other four people at our table were dining in Todd English the last night so our friends inquired about moving to a table for four rather than sit on one side of a large eight top. The maitre'd found us a table on the upper level and we were happy to try out that different location in the dining room. We liked it up there. We remembered that we had wine left over from the previous night and the new sommelier was happy to retrieve it - even after I gave him the wrong table number! I also realized that the anniversary celebration was going to our old table but a quick word with the maitre' d sorted that out. The only problem was that the waiter came over and asked our friends whether they wanted the singing ("Let Me Call You Sweetheart ") and they said no. That gave away our little surprise but we enjoyed it anyway. The bottle of champagne we brought into the dining room arrived at just the right time as we requested.
I realized that we did not tell our waiter at our old table that we would not be eating there that night so I went over after dinner to explain and to thank him for serving us earlier.
We had breakfast in the dining room one morning so that I could have my kippers and it was a very enjoyable meal. Only later did I discover that there were kippers in the Kings Court too.
Todd English: Pied Piper arranged a group lunch in Todd English on the first day at sea and it was the most disappointing aspect of our sailing. Service was exceptionally slow - our reservation was for 1:15 pm and we left somewhere around 3:30 pm!
I ordered the Mediterranean Paella as main course and while the seafood was fine, the risotto it was served on was undercooked and nowhere near al dente. Another person at our table that ordered it had the same comment. At the pace we were being served we did not bother sending it back.
My partner's starter was a refreshing play between sweet (watermelon) and savory (feta cheese). His pasta dish with pork sausage was a surprise but not in a good way. Although the pork was tasty, the parpadelle was overdone and the pumpkin seed pesto was bland and a bit oily. Given English's reputation as a top Mediterranean chef, it was a disappointment.
Everyone around the table was pleased with their desserts.
After a protracted lunch we still had to deal with many errors on the bills, which had to be redone twice.
Kings Court: We ate in the Kings Court a couple of times: an afternoon snack after embarkation, breakfast and lunch as well as late night snacks. At breakfast and lunch the Kings Court was fine - we never found it as busy and chaotic as I have read on Cruise Critic. There would usually be a line for hot food depending of the time of day. We were always able to find a table at the windows. The curry dishes we had for late night/early morning snacks were really good.
The overnight crew was accommodating with our requests for pizza and other comfort food after our late night crawls.
The coffee in the Kings Court was the best coffee we have had on any cruise (other that the specialty coffee offerings).
Other: We never ordered from room service and unfortunately did not get a chance to eat in the Golden Lion Pub - everybody we spoke to had good things to say about their meals there. Those who ate there raved about the fish and chips and Chicken Korma.
We attended afternoon tea on the last sea day and after all the tables looked occupied there was still a line of people waiting to get in. Tea was served first and it took a long time to get milk for my tea which by then was getting colder. Tea sandwiches were served, followed by pasties and scones. The tasty offering offset the somewhat spotty service.
Overall the food was rather disappointing and did not quite match what we have had on Holland America. HAL offered more choices at both the buffet and the main dining room. The last night's meal was the best meal we had, the steak was excellent.
We attended the Cruise Critic meet-and-greet in the Commodore Club at 10:30 am on the first sea day and it was fun to finally meet people in person that I have gotten to know online. It was an informal gathering that Cruiserking a.k.a. Jonathan arranged.
Piped Piper arranged a galley tour for our group and while interesting it was not as good as galley tours that we had done on Princess and Holland America ships. There was no food samplings offered - and no attempts to sell cookbooks!
Jonathan also arranged a Cruise Critic Cabin Crawl/Cavalcade for the last sea day and after gathering in the Commodore Club we were off to see a variety of cabins: 5086 - D5 Standard Inside 5150 - B2 Premium Balcony (Sheltered) 8035 - B5 Premium Balcony (Slightly obstructed by lifeboats) 8048 - B5 Premium Balcony (Slightly obstructed by the smaller rescue craft) 10024 - Q7 Queens Suite 12007 - A1 deluxe Balcony (Note: the B5 Premium Balcony category is being renamed A4 Deluxe Balcony)
The cabin crawl ended in the Queens Suite where Richard (Mouthdoc) and Kelly hosted a very nice reception for us.
There were two Friends of Dorothy gatherings in the Commodore Club (does everything happen there?!) and we attended the second one. There were a good number from the Piped Piper group in attendance and we got a chance to meet other gays and lesbians on the ship.
Service was very good throughout the cruise. The crew was not as friendly and cheery as we have become accustomed to on Holland America but they were always polite and helpful. The only exception would be one gentleman at the purser's desk that I had to deal with when I received a letter stating that they did not have a credit card on record for my onboard expenses, even though I entered it online long before our trip. He kept telling me that what I did was online was to pay for my cruise and that I had to register a credit card for onboard expenses. From what I eventually could gather was that they were supposed to take an imprint of our credit cards upon embarkation in Brooklyn, which they never did.
Other crew members surprised me by how quickly they remembered your name. I may have ordered a drink or two from Sorin in G32 but did not recall having much of a discussion with him. When I ordered a drink from him in the Commodore Club before dinner one night he responded with: "Here's your beer, Mr. xxxx".
I did not attend any of the shows, as there was just not enough time for everything. My partner caught parts of the "Viva Italia" revenue. He said the performers were energetic and performed above the pedestrian, less than memorable material.
We did go to Illusions for the planetarium show 'Search for Life' and it was great despite all the snoring around us, as people were lulled into a port-lunch nap in the comfortable seats.
We did go to the casino a couple of nights and I played Blackjack on two occasions with the delightful Aussie dealer Annemarie. I also played the slots but unfortunately Lady Luck was not on my side this time around.
Our main entertainment was closing down the Commodore Club and G32 every night! I did not expect it to be that quiet late at night and there was not a lot of dancing going on either. I did not expect too much from a DJ called Graham Cracker; still he was very accommodating to requests.
Port & Shore Excursions
We had one port stop: Saint John, New Brunswick. We arrived at 4:15 am and were due to depart at 11:30 pm. It was a beautiful sunny day with a cool breeze and a temperature of around 70°F (20°C)
Pied Piper had arranged a private excursion that included a guided tour of the city followed by a jet boat ride through the Reversing Falls. The city tour was very informative with lots of mention of the "loyalists" that settled in the area. We were warned to bring a towel and change of clothing, as we would be getting wet. That was an understatement; we got soaked! After 20 minutes of riding the rapids with our crazy driver Andre we were back on land where we dried off, changed clothes and were treated to lobster rolls for lunch. The jet boat excursion was a lot of fun.
After we returned to the ship we headed back out to stroll around, do some shopping and had a couple of beers at O'Leary's. The local were very friendly and helpful around town.
Saint John experiences on average a 28 feet (8.5 meter) difference between low and high tide. It was most noticeable while we were having dinner in the Britannia Restaurant: we started dinner at low tide and the window at our table faced the dock. As diner progressed the ship kept rising and by the end of dinner we were about two feet above the dock.
The pilot boat arrived around 3:45 am and we were passing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at 4:57 am and docked in Red Hook some time after 6 am.
Disembarkation was done by deck: 8:00 am - Deck 9 Queens Grill 8:30 am - Deck 10 Princess Grill 8:45 am - Deck 12 9:15 am - Deck 11 9:45 am - Deck 8 10:00 am - Deck 6 10:15 am - Deck 5 10:30 am - Deck 4
Passengers had to vacate their cabins by 8:30 am and were assigned various locations to wait for their colors to be called.
We left our Deck 8 cabin at 8:30 am and waited in the Winter Garden for about 5 minutes when our color was called about an hour earlier than the scheduled. Disembarkation was from the Atrium on Deck 3 and there was no line at the checkout point. We found our luggage easily and had a short wait to get through immigration and customs (the same person doing both duties).
We called for local car service while we were on the gangway and by the time we walked out of the terminal building our car was waiting for us. We were home by 9:15 am.
I have read about short cruises attracting a different crowd and service on Cunard's ships to be not as good as on longer voyages and that seemed to hold true but not to the point of negatively affecting our experience.
Not everyone adhered to the dress codes at night but they were a small minority. Two tables next to us had most of the men without jackets on the Elegant Casual nights and in jackets without ties on the formal night. They also had a number of children at the late sitting and at times they got cranky or wanted to play their computer games with the volume turned up. At breakfast on the last morning I saw a young man walk around the Kings Court in his socks.
The Cunard "loyalists" may not be happy but I have to admit that I was not blown away by the QM2 as much as I expected to be. Yes, it is a beautiful ship but the service and food was just not as good and the crew not as friendly as we have experienced on Holland America ships and especially on the Eurodam.
Would I sail on her again? Definitely, especially on a Trans Atlantic crossing. I would have to find a traveling companion though since my partner is not interested in doing that, but who knows, he may change his mind!
Being on a regular cruise - even as part of a gay group - is very different from an all-gay charter. I would sail with Pied Piper again and I am not averse to going on a regular cruise itself, but for now we most enjoy our RSVP cruises and can't wait to get onboard the Eurodam in February 2010.