We wanted our first cruise to be special so we chose Cunard and a transatlantic crossing from Southampton to Brooklyn New York. It was the second most expensive holiday we've ever had and the airfare and cruise cost averaged just over $1,000 per day. (And that doesn't include what we had to spend on board for the internet and for soft drinks, wine and beer, etc.) We are seasoned travellers and like to travel first class, and have high expectations, and with the Queen Mary's reputation, we were expecting a lot from this holiday. So here goes, good, bad and mediocre:
The overnight flight on British Airways from Toronto was turbulent, no one's fault there, but we arrived at Heathrow strung out and hungry. We travel with hand baggage only now, and so we cleared customs at 9:00 a.m. and were promptly met by a friendly Cunard representative. Charming, very English, but not very knowledgeable about when exactly we would be setting off for Southampton to meet the ship. This man asked us to please wait in the terminal for further instructions, and assured us that it would not be long. He repeated the "it won't be long" another three times and at 10:00 a.m. we were still sitting at the airport. Finally....a small shuttle bus arrived to take us to the Sheraton Heathrow to wait for the motor coach to Southampton. What annoyed us most was the lack of communication. We heard, again (!) that it wouldn't be long, but that we had to wait for other passengers to arrive. There was coffee tea, and a few cookies in the lounge which was full of other sleepy tired jet-lagged passengers waiting for the bus.
At 11:22 a.m, the coach arrived and we set off for Southampton. (Had we known that we would have to wait for nearly two and half hours, we would have rented a car and driven to Southampton ourselves. The extra $50.00 would have been worth it. The bus driver made good time and we were in Southampton by 12:30 p.m. and in the terminal to board the ship by 12:45 p.m. Or so we thought.
Be prepared, fellow travellers, the sight of hundreds of passengers waiting to check in is disheartening and intimidating. Cunard reps were handing out cards with letters on them. Ours was "L" and they were checking in "H" when we arrived. So we found it puzzling why our tickets specified a check-in time of 12:30 p.m. We didn't actually set foot in our stateroom until after 1:30 p.m. With the lovely large stateroom, our spirits began to rise. We met our very efficient, friendly cabin steward and then went to the King's Court to have lunch. Another disappointment. What food was on offer looked well picked over and it seemed that the catering staff was not yet organized. We hate buffets anyway, but on the first sailing day, the Golden Lion pub doesn't serve food, and we had to make do. After a snack we went back to the stateroom and had a much needed sleep. We then ordered room service, and the service was prompt, and sandwiches excellent.
We explored the ship for a couple of hours. It is impressive, very grand, and they employ the friendliest staff members we've ever met. We presented ourselves at the Britannia Restaurant for the late sitting and the food and service were excellent. Another warning: alcoholic, and non-alcoholic drinks on board are expensive, and a 15% service charge is applied to every bill. So think twice before you open that bottle of water on the table. It will cost you over four dollars. Tap water is fine to drink, and the wait staff doesn't seem to care whether you order alcohol or not. We had specified a table for two only, because when we're on holidays, we like to get to know our fellow travellers in our own good time. Unfortunately, we were placed at a table with a boring, annoying couple from South Carolina who did nothing but talk about work and money. The following night, the maitre'd could not guarantee us a table by ourselves until the third day of sailing, so we decided to try out the famous Todd English restaurant. My bad luck, my entrEe was awful, a piece of fatty lamb with a fancy name. My husband's meal was excellent. They offered me one other dish which didn't appeal, so it was back to room service again. I regretted having to pay the extra $30 US for dining at this restaurant. The Britannia was far superior, in dEcor, service and food. Granted, portions are small, but it is a four course meal, and when my husband asked for a second cheese plate, it was provided within seconds.
At .75 per minute the internet is ridiculously priced, but I had no choice because I had to keep touch with family when on board. I bought the 2-hour package for $47.95, and I could have done my laundry while waiting for the programs to load. It is glacially slow, and I think it's a rip-off, and cheap of Cunard to charge passengers. Even the most modest Canadian hotel offers free internet these days. Forget about ship-to-shore calls too, they cost $4.95 US per minute.
The planetarium is awesome, even if they do show the same two short films over and over all week. There were three interesting guest lecturers on board, and movies we enjoyed. The shows were excellent, as far as we could tell, musicals not being our cup of tea, so to speak. There was an incredible piano recital and also a violinist - both world class. All of the musicians on board were extremely talented. In fact, music is everywhere on the QM2, which is wonderful, and there are even passenger sing-alongs in the Grand Lobby. A nice touch. The Queen's ballroom is lovely, but doesn't have enough chairs, and the dance floor is small. The problem is that all early diners go there after dinner and stay until closing time, so the late dining guests have nowhere to sit when they want to enjoy the music and dancing.
The Golden Lion pub has excellent food and is easily the most popular venue on the ship. This is another place where it is hard to find seats, especially around pub quiz time. The ship's library is well stocked but again quite small (nothing like the photographs on the web site) and chairs are in short supply too.
Another caveat. Expect to be wakened very early at journey's end, if you arrive in New York. Helicopters overhead and docking noises, etc. Also, all passengers have to be out of their staterooms by 8:30 a.m. Breakfast is finished by 9:00 everywhere and passengers are asked to gather in various locations to wait for disembarkation. There was another suggestion which I thought was rather cheap: Since nothing free is available to eat and drink after 9:00 a.m., passengers were advised that they could purchase snacks in the Sir Samuel area while they waited to be disembarked.
Except for the bad beginning and the disembarkation and rather hurried "Ok-you-have-to-leave-right-now" feeling, we enjoyed ourselves. We were especially impressed with the staff, professional, caring and friendly. Dollar for dollar, we've had better value, and just as enjoyable holidays, but for our first cruise, it was mostly good.