My apologies for the length of this review, but I have based many vacation selections on these postings and I would not want anyone to miss the Queen Mary 2 experience because of an unfair evaluation of this cruise. My husband and I have done ten cruises in ten years on NCL, Holland America, Regent, and Celebrity with the most recent on the Constellation’s New England/Canada two-week trip in September. We always get a balcony cabin and now that we are retired are constantly on the lookout for great deals. A mailing from Cunard last May caught my attention. The Caribbean Delights 12-day cruise seemed to be a great bargain and a chance to experience the Queen Mary 2 while seeing some new ports. It was comparable to what we paid for similar accommodation on the Constellation. I don’t like to fly, so leaving from NY or Bayonne is my first choice.
Embarkation was fairly smooth. We drove from NJ and parked in the lot next to the dock for a total of $263 for 12 days. A car service from our home would have been about the same. We arrived in a little over an hour and after 45 minutes in line were checked in and onboard by noon. My first impression was that this is a very elegant ship. The biggest surprise was that we were allowed to go directly to our cabin on Deck 11 as soon as we boarded. No waiting in the dining room until 2:00 with all our carryon bags as on other ships. The other surprise was that our bags were promptly delivered within the hour. Our glass balcony cabin was nicely appointed and similar in size and layout to Celebrity. I had read that the hull balcony cabins can be hot in the tropics and you can only enjoy the view if you are standing up, so I am glad we opted for the glass balcony which we used almost everyday.
We took a quick look around and grabbed some lunch in the “Kings Court” buffet which to the first timer is a confusing and disjointed arrangement of 4 separate food areas. It took several days to figure it all out. We unpacked and looked forward to three days at sea to relax and get to know the ship I had read and heard so much about. The sailaway was magical with the beautiful lights of Manhattan receding as we toasted our adventure with the small bottle of champagne provided in our room. We also brought two bottles in our carryon as allowed, which were enjoyed during the trip.
Despite a small map in our cabin, and larger ones posted around the ship, there are many sections of the QM2 which are difficult to find, including the Queens Room and the G32 nightclub in the back of the ship because of a curious arrangement of levels on Deck 3, but that was part of the fun exploring on the first day. The other problem is the surprising amount of things to do while at sea and not enough time to do them all. Rows of tables by the windows along walkways on Deck 3 held a variety of board games and jigsaw puzzles, or offered a place to watch the ocean streaming by at close to 28 knots. A beautifully appointed library and book store in the front of the ship had comfortable chairs and couches with a view out the front of Deck 8. I envy those who had the time to enjoy it because I barely made it halfway through the first book I brought with me. We toured the Canyon Ranch Spa, but did not use the facilities. The prices were high and there is a $40 charge to use their Aqua Therapy Centre. My husband enjoyed the golf simulator with daily free competitions and prizes. He also thought the gym well-equipped.
One of the big events in the Queens Room is the daily formal white-glove tea at 3:30 with fresh warm scones, little sandwiches, and pastries to ruin your appetite for dinner. The evening brings dancing in the largest ballroom at sea. We have little experiences with formal dance, so I persuaded my husband, along with several hundred fellow passengers to attend the cha cha class given by the resident professional dancers. My visions of “Dancing With the Stars” were dashed when he dropped out after a few minutes because it was too complicated. We ended up watching on the sidelines at the formal balls held during the trip as many experienced dancers took to the floor with a live band and a singer crooning hits from the past. I particularly enjoyed watching the “male hosts” who are brought on to dance with the single women needing a partner. They got many of them up and dancing who might otherwise have been forced to just watch. We went to the G32 nightclub once, and there was a large crowd enjoying the live music, but it is one of the few places where smoking is allowed and we left after a short visit.
The Planetarium had some great shows and we were sorry we only had time for two of them. Also, we were able to fit in only one lecture by Peter Quartermaine on the history of the QE2 which we found interesting. The shopping was a little too upscale for our pocketbook. Didn’t see anyone buying the Hermes ties at $160 a pop, but I heard from someone that a gentlemen did buy his lady a $25,000 trinket in the jewelry shop. Enjoyed the covered pool on the first day and the two open ones once it got warm. Tough but not impossible to find a lounge chair on sea days.
The casino slots were not paying and I frankly got bored after a few nights of dealing with tokens in the machines and very little reward for my effort. I have become lazy using the ticket-only slots in Atlantic City and scooping up a bucketful of quarters is a pain in the neck when you want to change machines. The final Bingo was poorly attended despite the $1900 jackpot won by a single person.
We ate every meal except one at the 8:30 late seating, which we chose because we don’t like to rush getting ready for dinner after spending all day in port. My disappointment at being seated at one of the last tables in the back of the second floor of the beautiful Britannia Dining Room was short lived. Our six tablemates from Great Britain and Canada (by way of Scotland) were so entertaining and such wonderful dinner companions that we hardly noticed the location after the first night, and regretted leaving them for the one night we ate at Todd English.
Britannia offered a wide selection for dinner including a Canyon Ranch Spa selection with calorie and fat grams listed for the diet conscious as well as several vegetarian offerings indicated with a “V”. Not every dish was to our American taste, and we learned to stay away from their attempts at Italian entrees. For the most part the beef and lamb were exceptional, while several of the fish offerings were just ok. The chicken tended to be on the dry side and required additional gravy. I particularly enjoyed their version of Thanksgiving Dinner with turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings because I did not spend all day in the kitchen preparing it. The desserts were tempting and by the end of the cruise we were having trouble buttoning our clothes. We also enjoyed breakfast in Britannia when we had more time, since port days were hectic in the Kings Court with everyone trying to get out. Todd English is the specialty restaurant and it certainly was a wonderful experience even at $30 a person. I had what I consider the best filet mignon in recent memory.
Cristobal was our first stop and one of the reasons we chose this cruise. My husband’s great-uncle worked as an engineer on the Panama Canal and we have some of his pictures of the early construction. As we approached the port I was amazed to see more than twenty tankers and cargo ships lined up waiting for their turn to approach the Gatun Locks. Although the QM2 is too large to transit the Canal we signed up for a ship’s tour that is a partial transit by ferry boat. A bus ride of a little over an hour on their new highway brings you to the dock where you embark on a fascinating ferry ride through the Pedro Miguel Locks and the Miraflores Locks. I have read many descriptions of transit by cruise ship, but on the ferry boat you really experience the rising and lowering water levels. We were in the lane next to an enormous cargo ship that dwarfed our little boat. A new canal is being built parallel to the existing one and should be finished in two years. It will be big enough to hold ships which cannot fit in the current locks. We ended up in the Pacific Ocean with a view of Panama City in the distance. Since reading “A Path Between the Seas” I had a greater appreciation for the years of hard work (and Congressional bickering) that went into the construction of the Canal. Also, after driving through Colon on the bus I would agree that it is not a town that you want to wander through on your own. Be aware that the rainy season in Panama extends from May through November. We experienced a few downpours but when the sun came out it was hot and humid.
Curacao was new to us and we chose to do the Kayak and Snorkel Tour offered by the ship as we had to be back on board by 1:00. It was very windy and we had a difficult time paddling the boat in the open water. The snorkeling was good, but not great. We had no extra time to explore the town, but we feel it was not the prettiest island of the trip.
Grenada was also a new port for us. We chose the Catamaran and Snorkel trip and had a lot of fun on board the “High Time” with some good snorkeling and lots of rum punch. Several of our dinner companions enjoyed tours to the spice production areas where they purchased spices to bring home.
Barbados was one of our favorite stops. We took a taxi to Payne’s Bay and with our own snorkel equipment were able to swim out to the same spot where the tour boats anchored to swim with the turtles. It was a wonderful experience. The large turtles are fed by the guides and seem comfortable swimming around with dozens of people in the water. The island is clean and the people kind and helpful.
St. Kitts was also a new port for us and competes with Barbados as one of our favorites. We chose the Nevis Sailaway despite its hefty price tag. We went by catamaran to the nearby island of Nevis. Great snorkeling and a barbeque on the beach were included. Unfortunately, all the palm trees on the beach had been stripped of their palms by a blight caused by trees imported for the nearby Four Seasons Hotel. It detracted from an otherwise beautiful location.
Tortola is a part of the gorgeous British Virgin Islands. We had been there on a previous cruise and went to the Baths on Virgin Gorda. This time we chose to take a taxi to Brewers Bay where we spent the day relaxing on the Beach and watching the pelicans dive for lunch. The snorkeling was disappointing as the water was too cloudy to see much. The taxi driver returned for us at 3:00 as promised and we reluctantly ended our last day in the tropics.
Just a short comment on the entertainment. Many of the late seating shows were at 10:30 and frankly it was tough staying awake after eating a big meal and a full day of activities. There were some hits and some misses. While I felt the big production show “Viva Italia” was awful, “Apassionata” was quite good. The individual acts were talented and tried hard to entertain a sluggish audience.
Our cabin attendant did a wonderful job of looking after us. After explaining that I required a top sheet between the duvet and bottom sheet she made sure that the bed was made up that way. We usually did not have time before dinner to try the lounges, but my husband enjoyed The Golden Lion Pub because of the great beer selection. I appreciate that the drink servers do not pester you in the theater or lounges if you do not want anything from the bar. One waiter in the Queens Room put a cocktail napkin down on the table after I indicated we did not want anything, explaining that would let the other servers know we had been approached so they would not keep asking us if we needed anything. Much different than the hardsell on other ships we have been on.
We experienced calm seas and were amazed as the ship cut through the water like a knife through butter, but we also heard many tales of the horrible transatlantic crossing that 400 of our fellow travelers experienced the week before. It was labeled by the Captain as the roughest the ship had ever experienced, but several brave souls remarked that it really wasn’t that bad. We enjoyed Captain Nick Bates and his daily updates with a humorous quip for the day. The crowds at his book signing (“A Pinch of Salt”) attest to his popularity with the regular Cunard crowd as well. My biggest complaint would have to be the 5 formal and 4 semiformal nights on a Caribbean vacation. There are alternatives for those who don’t want to dress, but the majority of passengers were decked out in ballgowns, jewels, and tuxedos. It’s fine for the days at sea, but really two much after a tough day at the beach.
Our biggest disappointment was the disembarkation, which was not totally the fault of the Cunard staff. Our group was forced to wait almost two hours past our scheduled departure time because of “technical difficulties” and when we finally got off could not find a porter or cart to help with our five very heavy bags. By 11:30 the departing passengers were competing with the newly arrived for assistance and we ended up maneuvering the bags across the terminal and loading them into our car ourselves. Despite that unhappy ending we would definitely sail with Cunard again. We went into this trip with a sense of discovery, without some of the expectations that past passengers may have from other sailings and enjoyed our experience immensely for what it was -- a great time on a great ship.