In June 2010, we embarked on a 12-day cruise on Disney Magic to the Northern European capitals (see another review for this experience). As the time approached for our cruise, Europe was experiencing periodic airport closures due to the pesky unpronounceable volcano on Iceland. We weren't too concerned about not making it over there to begin with, but did not relish the thought of getting stuck on the way back due to jobs and other commitments. A little research determined that the QM2 embarked on a 6-day westbound transatlantic voyage on the day after our Disney cruise (disembarking in Dover) was completed. I contacted Cunard and booked a low-price inside cabin on a guarantee, with the hopes that we would get an upgrade. We had already planned to rent a car for a day and stay overnight at Heathrow after leaving our other cruise, so we changed the car rental, booked a Hilton in Southampton on Hilton Honors points and decided to end our vacation with our first transatlantic voyage. We are veteran cruisers and world travelers (QM2 was cruise number 17), mid-fifties, no children. I have some disability issues, walking with a cane or occasionally using a travel wheelchair.
Pre-cruise booking experience: The agent at Cunard was very helpful and courteous. He did not guarantee that we would have an upgrade, but was optimistic. Our fare seemed very reasonable as insurance to get us home ($2200 total) in case of airport problems. By comparison, we had originally booked a shore excursion to Berlin on the Disney Cruise when we were in Warnemunde that was going to cost us almost half this amount! Needless to say, we canceled out of the Berlin trip and took a much cheaper excursion, now that we were adding on to our trip expenses.
Embarkation in Southampton: We were told to arrive at the ship by 3:00 pm, for staggered embarkation based on our cabin level. We got there a little early, thank goodness. The ship was docked at the Mayflower docks, which are apparently inferior to the docks that are normally used (occupied by a P&O ship). The lines were horrendous, even in the disabled line. We were not upgraded, unfortunately, and proceeded on board after over an hour in line. A nice attendant helped us find our room (4198 - very far aft, inside cabin, port side) just in time for us to grab the life jackets for the safety drill.
Room experience: Our inside cabin seemed adequate, with plenty of storage space. We had a small bottle of champagne on ice, which was nice for first-time Cunard cruisers. However, later that first evening and on the second night, we found out the truth about room 4198. This room is located above the bandstand in the Queen's Room. The music was quite loud and we noticed some minor vibration. A call to the purser's office did get results and they turned down the volume on the band music until it finally stopped at 12:30 am. On the second night, we returned to our room to the sound of loud music again, this time accompanied by the worst vibration we have ever experienced on any ship. Apparently, room 4198 is positioned perfectly to pick up vibrations from the azipods; these vibrations apparently increased significantly when the ship went to a faster transatlantic speed after clearing the ship traffic around England. Another call to the Purser's office got results, to Cunard's credit. A Purser came to our cabin almost immediately, evaluated the vibration and offered to move us that night. It was now after midnight and we were in our sleep wear, so we agreed to move in the morning. We wish we had moved during the night, because the vibration was almost enough to shake you out of the bed and the bathroom was a nightmare (extreme vibration in a closed space that shook you to the bones). The next morning, the Purser's staff quickly and efficiently helped us move to another inside cabin 6005, far forward on the starboard side. This room was very nice and quiet and we didn't mind the ship movement. Kudos to Cunard, unlike our experience on Disney that required multiple complaints before action was taken.
Ship experience: The QM2 is gorgeous, in our opinion, with immaculate public spaces and lounges and beautiful works of art. The captain is quite personable and we loved his jokes every day with the noon report. We liked the shipboard history museum plaques (located all over the ship), spent time in several lounges (favorites: Chart Room and Sir Samuel's), and enjoyed the Illuminations planetarium (it was a dated show, but a planetarium at sea is incredibly cool). The weather was quite chilly on this voyage, so we spent almost all of our time indoors. Our cabin attendants (first and second cabins) were somewhat indifferent. We saw our attendant for our second room one morning and said hello and he barely spoke to us, running down the hall to work on cleaning rooms. The shops were nice, with an interesting variety of items for sale, including a good one-day sale on QM2 shirts and hats. The eight bells ceremony was fun every day at noon and we also liked the tradition of paying honor to the victims of Titanic when we passed near its location. One other very positive thing: The shipboard internet was very quite fast and reliable, when compared to other cruise ships we have been on in recent times. The prices were reasonable and included thirty free minutes if you signed up the first day. Apparently, they had upped the bandwidth for the system on-board to ensure good reception for the World Cup games. Two sad notes: We did hear a "code alpha" on the public address system during the night (third night out) and found out that a gentleman passed away during the night in a cabin on our same deck (mid-ships). We also had to return to the Southampton docks right after leaving them, because a crew member had become critically ill right after sailing out (we heard it was a heart attack).
Food and beverage experience: We had early seating in the Britannia and had a great table with two other couples on the upper level near the center. The food ranged from adequate to quite good, with very unobtrusive service. The soups were the best thing on the menu, but we also enjoyed a couple of the entrees, especially the pork and beef. The portion sizes are reasonable. We ate in the specialty restaurant, Todd English, one night and had an excellent dinner. They charge $30 per person for this experience. Wine prices all over the ship were very high (glass and bottle), but the selection is quite nice. Our wine steward in Britannia was a charming character and he have some good recommendations and we attended a wine tasting (mostly boring commentary). The bar staff was good, but seemed overworked. We had lunch twice in the Golden Lion Pub and really loved the fish and chips and Ploughman's lunches. The pub was packed with World Cup game viewers, but was still a great experience. The King's Court was massive (the buffet service on deck 7). We only had breakfast there every day and thought it was merely adequate, with the same English-type breakfasts. Don't arrive too late in the morning, as you will spend your time trying to eat your breakfast while the staff mops the floors and vacuums the carpets under your feet.
Entertainment: We are inveterate show-avoiders on most cruises so we cannot speak about the shows, but we did enjoy the music in the Chart Room, particularly the jazz trio and the harpist. We did not attend any lectures, but some of them looked interesting, particularly the ones on ship navigation. We also avoided the casino, although it looked quite nice. There are lots of good places on board to sit and read a book or play board games.
Debarkation: This was not fun. We had booked a bus transfer to LaGuardia airport and were advised that we would leave the ship by 8:15 am. The line was long to get off the ship and there were no porters available in the terminal to help move bags. I ended up pushing my own wheelchair with two bags in it and dragging another, while my husband pulled the two big roller bags from the terminal to the bus (quite a distance). I was not a happy camper and probably turned the air blue with my commentary. Lots of elderly people were struggling with their bags with no help available. Shame on the Port of Brooklyn - apparently many of the porters were off for a five-day holiday weekend (July 4th). Once we got to the bus, we sat on board for almost an hour before leaving for the airport.
Overall: We would definitely do another transatlantic voyage or minimum-stop voyage on the QM2 and know which cabins to avoid. I'm not sure I would do a conventional cruise on this ship with lots of ports, as the embarkation/debarkation experiences were not the best.