After a 25-day voyage on the Queen Mary 2 round-trip from New York, I am pleased to provide my perspective on the embarkation/disembarkation process, the ship, its staff, and its passengers.
Check-in at Red Hook Terminal was a bit tedious because the ship had been five hours late in arriving due to electrical problems experienced near Quebec. My initial impression of staff in the terminal was a bit gruff as that was how we were welcomed to the terminal: a guy with a clipboard barking orders. We arrived early (around 11 am) and sat until 2 pm when we were finally able to check in. Cunard provided some food for embarking passengers in the terminal in the meantime. The ship didn't leave until around 10 pm but we were on board by 3 pm.
The ship met all my expectations. Although I don't find her particularly elegant viewed from the exterior, on the interior she surely is. I particularly liked the Chart Room, the Royal Court Theatre, the Queen's Ballroom, and the Britannia More
Our Britannia stateroom (in this case an in-hull balcony on deck six) was amazingly practical. You can't tell from the photos, but you can store a lot of clothes and personal items in the room without clutter. It's also comfortable. The bed was so comfortable that we stripped the sheets to determine the manufacturer of the mattress before disembarking in preparation for replacing our own.
The passengers were overwhelmingly older than 60 (including me) and on the eastbound crossing, predominantly British. On the Mediterranean voyage the British were even a larger proportion of passengers, much like folks you'd find on a Mexican Riviera cruise in the U.S., but less outgoing. The westbound crossing had a majority of Americans but I wouldn't have known it had they not announced the fact at the commodore's reception.
The dress code during the day is relaxed. No one needs to fret. Surprisingly, there were people walking in the hallways in their Cunard robes and slippers, something that I found a bit over the top. In the evenings, formal/semi-formal nights outnumber the "elegant casual" by far. Although I enjoy wearing a tuxedo, I have to admit to having faced "formal fatigue" after almost a month. Many others—men and women—expressed the same. Having said that, "elegance" is in the eye of the beholder. Based on what I saw, I would advise anyone considering QM2 not to expect the image from the Cunard brochures. There is, in my opinion, a substantial dose of dowdiness. Many women on Cruise Critic worry they won't have the right clothes. Take my word for it: no worries. Watch some of the YouTube videos of QM2 trips or look at pictures passengers have taken on Flickr or other online photo sites for a reality check.
The experience of QM2 staff was mixed. In the Britannia Room, many of the wait staff appeared both inexperienced and uncoordinated. (The person assigned "pepper grinding" duty became a standing joke at our table: he dispensed black pepper from his grinder as if he had been asked by the company to preserve every precious peppercorn). According to veterans of the line, many of the experienced staff had been assigned to the new Queen Elizabeth. It's curious to me why Cunard would ever sell its flagship short. On the other hand, the stateroom staff was outstanding. I couldn't have asked for better. Wait staff in the Commodore Club was particularly good as well. The pub was mixed: when Cszabo the Hungarian bartender was there, it was excellent; other times it could be lackadaisical. I had one negative experience with staff in the Queen's Ballroom for tea when staff initially refused to seat us because it was 10 minutes before the end of service. Overall however, staff was friendly and competent. Staff invariably greeted passengers in the hallways.
The entertainment on-board was also mixed. I found the stage shows to be kitschy and boring, although the talent was fine overall. The RADA plays were quite good, as were the lectures. Overall, there were many more activities than could be accommodated, especially by anyone trying to sleep-in and relax. I particularly loved the jazz in the Commodore Club at night and the special concerts by Julliard School jazz faculty. The Planetarium is worth the effort, if only to remind one how small we are in context of the universe. Just pick up tickets in a little plastic stand on the desk near the Connexions (internet access) area on deck two forward before lunch. There is a show every half hour in early afternoon and there are four different shows altogether.
We enjoyed an occasional darts game in the pub as well as the trivia contests that proved good fun and were intensely competitive. The games area on either side of foredeck two was also fun and relaxing, especially given its perspective on the ocean: up close and personal!
I'd recommend the crossing to anyone who wants to arrive on the eastern or western shore of the Atlantic relaxed, with a preference for the westbound crossing, since one gains an hour almost every night. I had hoped for rougher seas but had to accept seas like glass on this voyage. The small swells of 9-12 feet we experienced for a day and half after leaving Southampton for New York appeared to cause some people to lose their minds, but there is no way to appreciate QM2's abilities without some good-sized North Atlantic swells and I had hoped for something more exciting.
A couple of other tips: lunch in Britannia was, in my opinion, almost always better than what was offered in the Kings Court, and choices for breakfast were quite a bit better if you can get yourself up early enough, i.e. before 9:30 am. However, in the evening, we discovered that the food in the Kings Court was often better than what was offered in Britannia, and with better service. One must reserve, but there's a little button on the phone in your room to do so. If you want to attend the Chef's Kitchen dinner, make reservations without delay after boarding. There aren't many places available. There was a French evening we had wanted to enjoy but found that by waiting one day after leaving Southampton, we were already too late.
We had mixed experience with our dinner tables that changed on each segment of the voyage. On the way back from Southampton, we were paired with a family group traveling together who had not expected to have to sit with others. By the time the maitre d' figured things out, the trip was over. We were moving tables every evening. One way to avoid such a situation is to travel and eat with a group, or get a table for two.
One other observation from my perspective is that the cruise in the Mediterranean, moving every night to a new port at which one disembarks at 9-10 am and has to embark again at 4 pm for a 5 pm departure, is exhausting. We got frustrated both with the pace (especially after the leisurely crossing) and not being able to spend enough time in cities/regions we liked. We decided we probably wouldn't bother cruising again on QM2 (with perhaps the exception of a World Cruise) but would continue gladly to use her for the transatlantic crossing.
We discovered, comparing notes with other passengers who had purchased Cunard tours in Naples, that we were all fed the identical and very poor lunch in spite of the fact that we were in different areas of the region and eating in different restaurants. For a line that sells itself as "luxury" it was surprising and a not a little depressing. We had the sense that the restaurant staff where we ate was a bit embarrassed to be serving such dreck.
One more thing: a fellow passenger with whom we'd become acquainted found in Southampton that another passenger had taken her luggage away. She had nothing but the clothes on her back and was headed for London for two days of theater before flying home. She was in a panic. In New York, a few bags fell into the river as they were being removed from the hold, at least one of which was permanently lost. Beware. I was not at all impressed by the staff's consideration of the inconvenienced passengers.
Disembarkation was easy and efficient overall. We stayed on the ship as long as we could and upon departure found our luggage with no problem.
In sum, I'd recommend this ship to anyone who wants to experience a real ocean liner on a transatlantic crossing. As Maxton said it's "The Only Way to Cross." Less