My husband and I want to cross to England and back by ship, and the big, steady (we hope!) QM2 seems the best choice for that adventure.(Previous cruises: 8, all on the small ships of Silversea, which we love.) We live in NYC, so the 5-day "July 4th Getaway" was an easy way to give QM2 a quick test.
We used the reliable Skyline car service for a pleasant ride to the new Brooklyn Terminal (fare approx $50). The courteous Terminal staff supplied a boarding number (how civilized!), ID cards, and took a credit card impression for onboard charges, so there was no need to bother with that later. The waiting area is clean, well lit for reading, and filled with comfortable seats. Boarding was wonderfully quick--groups of 10-15 were called up by our assigned numbers and we were in our cabin minutes later. The room steward gave us a warm welcome (greeting us by name) and made sure we had everything we needed. We had a quick bite in the Kings Court and our bags were in the cabin when we returned an hour later to unpack, then explore. A lovely, easy start.
Most balcony staterooms in the AA,A,B categories are identical in interior layout and size. We chose a B2 midship cabin/in-hull balcony for its stability. These solid in-hull balconies are actually larger than the glass balconies higher up, but we hardly used ours. (I believe you don't really need a balcony on a ship that has plenty of outdoor options, but that seems to be a minority opinion these days!) Like many passengers, we spend little time in the cabin--just to dress and sleep--you may want to think about this when selecting your cabin.
The stateroom is comfortable and well-designed, with a sleek Art Deco feel to it, suitable to the ship's overall look. Everything looked fresh and new. One spacious double closet was filled with even more hangers than we needed (thank you!), and a second closet can handle long items or suit bags, very convenient. We didn't overpack, so there was room for everything. Luggage stows under the bed or in the closet. We loved the easy-to-use thermostat, silent air conditioning, found the cabin lighting to be fine, and the bed firm and comfortable. Our vigilant steward took care of every detail and always had the cabin made up before we returned from breakfast or dinner.
Yes, the ship is huge, but Cunard supplies handy pocket maps, and signs and deck plans are everywhere. You get oriented pretty easily. Still, I led my husband the wrong way more than once and we had to re-tread the entire length of the ship. (Tip: cabin numbers go up as you head toward the stern.) Don't be put off by the size, though. Most activities are on perhaps 5 decks, the rest being staterooms.
This is a popular voyage and the ship was full. 2100 of the 2700 passengers were American. Apparently most of the British passengers who just crossed over stayed in NYC before crossing back. According to Cunard, these short trips target the American market, with many first-timers, and the passenger profile is unlike that on the crossings.
I'd read how well the ship absorbs its passengers, and it's true--we never sensed that 2700 other travelers were about. The main halls were usually quiet, with little traffic. There are many quiet, secluded areas. No lines for elevators. This ship is so, so well designed. After experiencing the tasteful design of Silversea's Cloud and Wind, we thought we might encounter garish visual elements on [Carnival's] Queen, but no. The public areas are attractive and the tones more subdued than some photos would lead you to believe. It's grand and it makes a statement, but it's not garish. The Art Deco decor reminds you of the great ocean liner tradition in the nicest possible way. It really is a beautiful ship. We quickly fell in love.
Service was unfailingly warm and polite, with smiles and hellos from staff throughout the ship. A previous review mentioned the smoking policy; it has been tightened and is now permitted in only a few areas.
We ate in the Britannia Restaurant, Kings Court, and Todd English. At first we were skeptical of the cafeteria-style Kings Court buffet, but soon appreciated it for a quick meal with many choices. The food is set out in four separate areas, so be sure to check them all out. No lines, and it was practically empty on days in port. The food was pretty good for the most part. You can always pick up [free] tea, coffee, juices. We had breakfasts there (lots of choices) or in the Britannia (where you order from a set menu and can share a table with others if you like--a nice way to meet fellow passengers). If you need anything, be sure to ask; the staff wants to please.
We don't sail to eat, and didn't want to overdo the meals or spend too much time sitting in restaurants, so we had all of our lunches at Kings Court (which isn't to say we didn't overdo it there...). We found it quite pleasant, with nice lighting and many window tables with wide open views of the Promenade deck and the sea. On our next voyage, we'll definitely try the Golden Lion for British pub specialties--it was a little noisy this time with soccer's World Cup underway.
Dinners in the Britannia were excellent, particularly the fish entrees. We appreciated the sensible portions, which are in line with multi-course European dining. Our waiter was exceptionally polished, professional, and attentive; flatware is brought out on a linen-covered silver tray (no clattering) and quietly set down one piece at a time. He always remembered beverage preferences. We tried Todd English, but didn't find the meal outstanding, despite the careful service and artfully-arranged food. Few tables were occupied, perhaps due to the nature of this voyage. It felt like a quiet, elegant restaurant in New York, which is fine. But we preferred the Britannia, which really makes you feel that you're in the dining room of a great ocean liner. A Grill passenger shared that he prefers the Britannia for the same reason. It just feels like an ocean liner.
It was wonderful to see everyone dressed up for formal nights. Passengers observe the evening dress codes, an important part of the Cunard experience. It may seem a bother to pack formal wear, but you really do get into the sense of occasion. The Royal Court shows featured very talented singers and dancers and were great fun, even one we didn't think we'd enjoy. We didn't get around to sampling the many lounges, so that's on our list for next time. Ballroom dancing to a live orchestra in the Queens Room is a lovely treat, and afternoon dance classes will bolster the fainthearted.
We selected this voyage to experience the ship, so we passed up excursions in Boston and in Halifax, where the Queen was met and, later, sent off by pipers, a moving experience. We stayed onboard the whole time and pretended we were on a crossing. Excellent lectures included great ocean liners of the past, New York as a port city, the Declaration of Independence, and Canyon Ranch Spa's Dr. Sam gave a useful talk on dealing with back problems. The planetarium show in Illuminations is a must-see for another brand of travel: an exciting visit to the farthest reaches of the universe.
The stateroom TV has a good selection of channels (CNN, Fox News, BBC News, movies, children's programs, sports). Clever Cunard also broadcast fascinating documentaries on the original Queen Mary, the history of Cunard, and building the QM2 (all available on DVD in the bookstore--they make great souvenirs). You'll discover the many Maritime Quest exhibits, which lay out a broad range of Cunard history in small bites, from the rough life of 1900s dockyards to celebrity passengers during the golden years. If you're the least bit inclined, you'll easily leave the ship inspired and feeling like a real part of the Cunard tradition.
I knew QM2 was designed specifically for crossings, but didn't fully appreciate what that meant. I thought a large hotel-like interior might negate the pleasures of being at sea. But when you're crossing for 7 days, you'll welcome the great comfort this ship provides, particularly on wet or windy days. The ship is so stable that we felt no movement at all. Granted, we weren't far offshore (100 miles?), so this short, close-in itinerary could be perfect for travelers who suffer from motion sickness but yearn to experience life aboard a great ship.
Any criticisms? A few. We looked forward to our first afternoon tea on board. Sadly, it was our last. Throngs poured into the Queens Room and guests were asked to share their tables with others, which diminishes the elegance of the experience. The finger sandwiches were all bread, the slices too thick for the thin fillings. And the scones were served with whipped cream instead of authentic British clotted cream (tsk, tsk).
At our first breakfast in the Britannia, tea arrived in individual pots (a nice touch), but it was extremely bitter, made ahead with the bags left in to oversteep. From then on, I requested a pot of hot water with bags on the side, and steeped it myself.
As others note, the main corridor on Deck 3 turns into a bizarre bazaar unworthy of Cunard. Long tables display perfumes, costume jewelry, branded clothing, gold-by-the-inch, and other items. The final day's "sale" created huge crowds blocking passage. I know it's revenue, but merchandise really should be left in the shops or at least set up in a less central location. If there's a sale, people will find it, you can be sure. Ditto for the tacky "art" auction canvases that took over the Winter Garden--is this representative of the Winter Garden on a crossing??
A quick kudo to Cunard's helpful phone reps. I particularly appreciated the many tips of one knowledgeable rep who'd spent time onboard and recommended a great cabin location. We booked early and benefitted from a good selection. Cunard says many passengers continue to check fares after booking; if the fare goes down and you contact them, they'll adjust your rate. So it really pays to sign up early if you can.
When we boarded, we weren't sure how we'd react to this great big ship. We left 5 days later delighted with our first ocean liner experience and ready to do it again (and again). We're hoping for a 2-way crossing in 2011 but, until then, we booked another short New England trip this October so we won't have to wait that long! Well done, Cunard.