Just a little background information -- this was our (my husband and myself) 15th cruise. We've cruised on Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian previously. Since we've cruised 15 times, we obviously love cruising and have had many pleasant, positive experiences or we wouldn't keep coming back. We are experienced travelers and cruisers and cruising is my absolute favorite way to vacation. We've just started dancing (SOCIAL ballroom) and greatly looked forward to the "largest ballroom at sea". Also, I think when you say "Queen Mary 2", you are expecting an awesome experience -- much above "average" cruise lines. That part was somewhat of a disappointment. I think we set our standards higher BECAUSE it was the Queen Mary. Maybe, if you stayed in one of the "grills" you would have that kind of experience but staying in a regular room, even a balcony stateroom, you get pretty much the same experience you get on any other cruise line. I don't mean to say there weren't exceptional things about traveling on the Queen Mary 2, there were and here's a summary of the good and bad. There was no "ugly".
DRESS CODE - I added this category myself because I think it is worth including when you evaluate your experience. We were on a 7 night cruise. During that time we had 3 formal nights (tux), 2 formal nights (suit), and 2 elegant casual (sport coat), much to my husband's dismay. That's pretty dressy for what's supposed to be a relaxing cruise. Most of the passengers (probably 95%) I spoke with about the dress code said they would have preferred to NOT have to dress up so much. In fact, some people avoided the restaurant and other public areas at night because they didn't want to dress up. For my husband, the cruise would have to be super fantastic to balance out all the dressing for dinner. I only spoke to one person who liked the "dressing" for dinner every night. Most of the passengers who "dressed" stayed "dressed" all night -- the theater, lounges, etc. but, in general, passengers did not dress up as much as you see at the Cunard site online or in brochures.
EMBARKATION and DISEMBARKATION - The embarkation process was very good. We arrive in New York (LaGuardia)and were met by the Cunard folks (we purchased transfers that were very reasonably priced). There were just four of us and we had to wait about 20 minutes for the shuttle to arrive but then it was a quick (about 30 minute) ride to the terminal and right to the "front door". From that point our luggage was taken care of (which we received within one hour -- the best so far of any cruise we've been on) and we entered the terminal. There were a lot of people arriving at the same time and lines of people everywhere but everything moved quickly. We happened to get a trainee and our check in took a little longer than some others. Also, my room key didn't get activated correctly and wouldn't open our cabin door until the purser reactivated it for me. Within 30 minutes after entering the terminal, we were on the ship. We went to our room, dropped off our carry-ons and headed for the King's Court for lunch. I'd give the embarkation a 5 out of 5. The disembarkation was another matter. We were told -- verbally and in writing - to wait in the Champagne Bar and to be there by 7:45 am - we had an early flight. We were there by 7:30 am. About 8:10am I began to wonder why we hadn't been called and checked with one of the staff. At that time we were told (along with several other couples) that our number had already been called some time ago and that we were supposed to have been in the theater waiting. I produced our tickets and information, where in writing we were told to report to the Champagne Bar and we were told there must have been some mistake. We ran, and I do mean ran, to get off the ship, claim our luggage, get through customs, and find our bus/shuttle to get to LaGuardia. We made it on time and made it to the airport and boarded our plane, etc., no thanks to the disembarkation procedure. I would give the disembarkation procedure a 3 out of 5 and that's generous.
PUBLIC ROOMS AND THE SHIP - The ship is OMG beautiful!!! I can't put into words how beautiful the ship is. The main halls are lined with beautiful bas reliefs of the seasons, the continents, etc. All of the public areas are over-sized -- you never feel cramped -- and beautiful and there are lots of public areas. Every thing is decorated in a very "classy" way -- nothing tacky about this ship. The negative side of this is that the deck layouts are a little strange. Some of the things were a little hard to find. The bathrooms were so discretely placed that they were hard to find. Still you would have to give the public rooms and the ship a 5+.
CABIN - We had a "protected" balcony cabin on the 4th floor, starboard side, mid/back. The protected part means that the balcony is in the hull with a large opening - kind of like a picture window. This type of balcony worked well since it was October/November in New England. I think I would prefer the regular open balcony in warm climate but the sheltered balcony added square footage and made the room seem larger. The room was good size - about 210 sq feet plus the balcony with twin/king bed and a loveseat sized sofa. There was a good amount of storage - better than usual both in the room and bathroom. Unfortunately, there was just a shower, but it was pretty good size. There was no light in the shower and the curtain was opaque - not a good idea -- hard to see. The room was tastefully decorated and the layout made the room seem a little larger. I would rate the cabin 5 out of 5.
FITNESS/RECREATION - I read several reviews where people complained about the size of the gym -- it wasn't huge, but it was never, ever crowded. It had a variety of walking/riding machines as well as weights, etc. There was also the traditional promenade deck and an upper sun deck for walking/jogging. In inclement weather (such as when crossing the ocean) the halls of the second floor are set up to serve as a inside promenade. There were several pools on the ship, including one indoor heated pool. Obviously, since it was late October/early November, the outside pools were not used. The spa offered a variety of services but didn't hound you with fliers and announcements. The fees were actually pretty reasonable. For instance, an express manicure was $27, express pedicure was $35. I'd give the fitness/recreation a rating of 5 out of 5.
ENRICHMENT - There were a limited number of activities most of the days since we were in port almost every day. I've seen Daily Programmes from other Queen Mary 2 cruises and crossings and there are usually more enrichment/activities such as lectures, dance lessons, painting lessons, cooking demonstrations, etc. On a couple of days there were really nice enrichment activities at the planetarium. The planetarium is amazing and the films were as good as any you'd see at a Science Museum/Planetarium on land. Also, on the positive side, the library was huge with a good selection of books -- you just had to plan your visit with the times they were open, which varied and was not often. There were some "trivia" and "name that tune" type games -- some after 10pm at night. Players were pretty serious about the games and most of the material was British/European in nature. I'd rate the enrichment activities for this cruise as 4 out of 5
DINING - Also on the "good" side - The "King's Court" - the Queen Mary 2's version of the lido restaurant was excellent -- the best buffet we've had on a ship. It was set up as four different restaurant areas and (though it was confusing to some travelers) helped to separate the crowds and everything flowed the smoothest we've ever seen. The food was also the best we've ever had at a ship's buffet. At night, the some of the four restaurants change from buffet to order-from-the-menu restaurants, complete with tablecloths and waiters. We ate at the Italian restaurant/buffet La Piazza one night. The food was excellent and so was the service. There was no additional charge for this. There is a Todd English restaurant on board that several passengers told us was very good but we didn't try it. There is an additional charge of $30 per person for dinner at Todd English. There were several other dining options with no additional cost - Sir Samuel's (morning coffer and pastries, light lunch, and evening wine and cheese) and the Golden Lion Pub (lunch time traditional English pub food). All food was at no cost. The only cost at the venues was beverages. The negative part of the food came in the dining room. We ate in the Britannia Restaurant, first seating, at table 222. This was a table of 6 but we only had all six show up for 2 nights. We were lucky that we hit if off with one of the couples and dinner conversation was very enjoyable. The menus were a disappointment -- we didn't think they were even as good as our last cruise on Norwegian. If you liked lamb, you were in heaven. Otherwise, the menus lacked variety -- not at all what you would expect on a Cunard cruise. Our waiter and assistant waiter worked hard -- always running here and there, but the service was pretty slow. Part of the reason for this may be that no orders were supposed to be placed after 30 minutes, but this was violated several times. This means the waiters were trying to several many different courses at many different tables all at the same time. Most cruise lines we've been on that have assigned seating close the doors in 15 minutes. That way the waiters work the entire table and tables at the same courses, etc. I think this gives better service if you are going to do the assigned seating. The wine steward was excellent, was helpful and gave exceptional service. Overall, I'd give dining a rating of 4 out of 5.
ENTERTAINMENT - Almost all the public areas have live music at night -- some during the day also. The string group -- three violins and a cello - were excellent - unbelievably good. There were pianos in most of the lounges/bars and they rotated pianists so you got a variety of styles. There was also a jazz trio that played at night and they were excellent also. The Queen's Orchestra that played in the Queen's Ballroom (where else?) was also excellent. The Queen's ballroom is billed as the "largest ballroom at sea" and I guess it is -- it's pretty good size -- but the dance floor is small. We happened to be on the ship with about 15-20 couples who were into STRICT ballroom dancing and they tended to take over the entire floor. It was often impossible and sometimes dangerous to try to dance when they were there in mass - which was most of the time. Cunard is one of the few lines to still have "gentlemen hosts" -- gentlemen to dance with ladies without partners. I can tell you many, many ladies greatly appreciated this and one lady told me it, "made her vacation" to be able to dance. I wish more cruise lines would do this. The negative part of the entertainment was the theater shows -- usually one of our favorite parts of the cruise on other cruise lines. The final show preformed by the Royal Singers and Dancers was good but the other two were pretty bad. The first show, something in love -- I don't remember the exact title -- was probably the worst show I've seen on a cruise. The other entertainers were fair. Overall, I'd give the entertainment about a 4 out of 5 because of all the wonderful music. I wish I could take the orchestra home with me. SERVICE - Overall, the service was about the same as what you would expect on most cruise lines, but not above it. Our cabin stewardess was efficient but not exceptional. In the dining room, the service was spotty, some nights better than others. The only really negative experience I had with service was at the purser's desk. One of the young ladies there was very rude - on more than one occasion to me and to other passengers. The other staff at the purser's desk were excellent, very helpful and friendly. One of the things I liked about the Queen Mary was the lounge/bar staff didn't hound you to death. They were there, but if you wanted something to drink, most of the time, you had to signal them. This was completely different than most cruise experiences. You may or may not like this depending on whether you want a lot of bar service or not. I rate the service at 4 out of 5.
SHORE EXCUSIONS - Since we had been on Canada/New England cruises previously, and taken just about every shore excursion imaginable, we didn't take any shore excursions on this cruise. When we left the ship, we just wondered around on our own. We did talk to lots of passengers about their shore excursion experiences. Most had very pleasant experiences and I think Cunard does a good job planning their shore excursions. We were very lucky with the weather - which was unseasonably warm and sunny everywhere but St. John, New Brunswick. The only negative comment was the cost. Most passengers thought they were a little pricey. Based solely on 2nd hand information, I would rate the shore excursions at 4 out of 5.
VALUE and OVERALL experience. I put these two together because I think one relates to the other. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, we were probably expecting more because we were sailing on the Queen Mary. We were also PAYING more to sail on the Queen Mary. The fare is not cheap. You do pay a little more to sail on Cunard. Is it worth the difference? Maybe not. I am glad we had the experience, and I really, really enjoyed the beautiful ship and the fantastic orchestra but the cost, the dressing every night, and the let down of expectations took away from the experience somewhat. I rate the value and overall experience at 4 out of 5.