This ship and itinerary were chosen by my 84 year old Mother in Law, who wanted to go on a family cruise as her first holiday in 10 years, having previously sailed many times on QE2 with her husband.
Embarkation was a breeze, the easiest and quickest we have ever experienced. On arrival at Ocean Terminal in Southampton, you take an escalator up to the Embarkation Lounge, where you are allocated a boarding letter (we were J) This made me wonder how long it would take, a they had not started embarkation when we arrived. I needn't have worried, we were on within the hour.
Our cabins were ready, we had an obstructed balcony on deck 8, and Mother in Law and Sister in Law shared a balcony on Deck 4. Cabins were clean and similar size to balconies on other ships, with the exception of the bathroom, which was quite small. Our cabin unfortunately had a loudspeaker outside, which meant that any public announcements were very loud, and woke us up on occasion. OK if you're an early riser (I'm not!)
The ship is big, with beautiful public rooms and plenty of space. The Grand Lobby is relatively small, and the layout of the ship is confusing if you are used to cruise ships with most food venues & entertainment on the upper decks. QM2's layout is planned for mainly indoor activities, obviously to accommodate transatlantic voyages, and takes a bit of getting used to. There is no obvious route around the ship, and you have to go up, down and around to get anywhere, with the most direct routes from front to back being through either deck 7 Kings Court buffet, or along the length of the cabin passageways.
The outdoor pools are not particularly attractive, and both looked as though they could do with a good clean, but this did not deter the kids who were already in there by the time we boarded!
The shows in the main theatre were excellent, some of the best that I have seen, with the Cunard singers and dancers being particularly good. Guest entertainers were excellent, although I think any non-British guests would have found it hard to understand the UK comic and his references to UK life and locations.
Alternative entertainment tended to consist of musicians (pianist, harpist, string quartet, jazz trio) dotted around the ship, or ballroom & latin dancing in the Queens Room. We were disappointed by the lack of choice after the main show, with many entertainers finishing at 11.30. The only real alternative was the nightclub, adopted by the late teens and 20's on board. The Golden Lion Pub had karaoke 2 nights, which was hilarious, and ran until around 1 am. The entertainment is definitely geared to older travellers, and a couple of nights we struggled to find anything to do, particularly as all musicians seemed to take their breaks at the same time
The main thing that disappointed was the standard of food and service on board. My expectation was that this would exceed that of Royal Caribbean. I had fish the first night, which was so overcooked it was the same consistency as the gooey mashed potato that came with it. I also had very dry chicken one night, both of which I left. There was no enquiry from waiting staff as to how we found the food, or if I wanted anything else, having left most of the meal on the plate. Having said that, the steak and biryani were excellent, as were the lunches we had in the pub on board.
The Kings Court buffet was horrid, badly laid out, with 4 cramped serving stations, and with limited choices for breakfast and lunch. If you don't want cereal or an English cooked breakfast, or you object to standing in line, don't bother. The waiting times were made worse by having to wait for eggs cooked to order, and toast done for 1 guest at a time, which held up the lines for ages.We are not early risers, so tried the room service. Again, very limited choice, but arrived on time and without the 'elbows at dawn' chaos of the buffet. Breakfast choice in the main dining room was much better, with options like French Toast, pancakes, eggs benedict and the only place you could get American bacon! Sadly, we only made it to the main breakfast 3 days out of 7.
The ports of call were wonderful, and disembarkation was a breeze, even when tendering. Norway is a truly gorgeous country, and we did a mix of excursions, and doing our own thing.
Alesund is a pretty little town, easily walkable, and you are only a few hundred metres from the town when you dock, and can walk straight there. Don't miss the Church, Alesundkirke, it's beautiful, as is the marina area. We walked up the hill to the Alesund museum, which is interesting, and you can pick up English (and other language) guide pamphlets at reception. Beautiful views out over the town. As we sailed away, many people turned out to see us off, and God Save the Queen was played over the ships public address system, which was very moving.
Geiranger fjord is just as beautiful as everyone says. We took an excursion to Mount Dalsnibba, well worth doing, and scary going up the hairpins (worse going down!) As we sailed out of the fjord, We had a commentary from an onboard Norway expert, telling us what the sights and history were, which was great, and accompanied by music from Grieg, lovely (and didn't need to get up at the crack of dawn to see us sail the fjord!! Bonus!)
Flam is pretty, with little wooden chalets and well tended parks. The rib safari on the fjord was well worth doing, seeing porpoise along the way, and dressed up like a Michelin Man in all the safety gear! If you want to take the Flam Railway, you really need an excursion, as the only train with available seats for independent travellers is the 08.30 (needless to say, I knew we would never make that one!) The train has no air conditioning and no available water, and became unbearably hot, so make sure you take water if it's a sunny day.
Our final port of call was Bergen, a beautiful city, where we opted to wander independently. I really enjoyed this, the parks and the city are lovely, and the Bryggen area has lots of unusual craftsmen shops, bars and cafes. The fish market is well worth seeing, although before we got to Bergen I couldn't imagine finding it interesting! We enjoyed the covered food market, and decided after a late lazy lunch in the covered market, to take a wander to get a photo of the funicular station. We had no intention of going up, as we had read many reviews of the awful queues. We got there at 3, and were able to walk straight in! 10 mins later we were at the top, with amazing views of Bergen and the bay spread out before us. Well worth the trip, go later in the day if you want to avoid the queues, but be aware that your time at the top will be limited. We had plenty of time and were really glad that we'd made the effort, as it was one of the highlights of the day.
Would we sail with QM2 again? Yes, if we were travelling with my Mother in Law. At 84, she loved afternoon tea (we only made it on the last day!) the ballroom dances and dressing up for formal nights. If it's just he 2 of us travelling, I would stick with Royal Caribbean, as I prefer the more relaxed approach, better food and friendly service.