QUEEN MARY 2
Having been on Queen Mary 2 for a somewhat disappointing Caribbean cruise in March 2004, we decided some nine months later to “try” the ship again to see if the problems encountered in March had been resolved and if the level of service and food had improved – we were not disappointed. For this cruise, we chose the New Yorker’s Caribbean cruise, departing from New York on 16 November 2004. We booked Cunard's fly/cruise programme from the United Kingdom. Pre-cruise documentation and information were issued on time; all was correct, relevant and informative.
At London Heathrow airport, we had an early check-in for our 8.20 a.m. departure to New York. At check-in a uniformed Cunard Representative was available to ensure that procedures progressed smoothly. The flight departed and arrived on schedule and on arrival in New York, after having passed through Immigration and Customs; we were greeted by a Cunard member of staff who directed us to our waiting coach for the transfer to the pier. After a short drive to the pier in Manhattan, luggage was quickly taken from the coach to the ship. The ship looked stunning and the first view of it had many of the passengers in the coach gasp with awe. The flight and transfer procedures were excellent, though I do wish that Cunard would re-introduce the included pre-cruise one night stay option at point of departure of the ship. As they now use same day connections to the ship from the UK, passengers travelling from UK Regional airports have to overnight at a London Heathrow hotel, as regional UK flights are not available to connect with the early morning departure to New York. It makes it a very long day, with the early start and 5 hour time difference.
At the pier we had to queue for almost two hours to board the vessel. Whilst this was frustrating, the need for the security for guests, crew and the ship is perfectly understandable, and procedures within the terminal building were in place to have passengers screened just as quickly as possible. When one actually arrived at the check-in desk, check-in was swift and efficient.
On boarding Queen Mary 2, guests are directed, rather than escorted to their staterooms, though members of staff are available on each floor level to further assist guests to reach their cabins. For this cruise, we chose a C1 grade outside cabin. This was situated immediately below the promenade deck which is also used as the jogging deck, unfortunately some guests on board did not adhere to the time schedules for using the deck for jogging and some noise from guests could be heard the cabins below though this was not excessive. The cabin was extremely spacious, decorated in light colours was warm, inviting and extremely comfortable. The cabin was airy and had excellent lighting. Drawer space and closet space is limited but adequate for a ten-day cruise. Beds are large, comfortable and furnished with crisp white sheets and light but effective duvets. The cabin was equipped with a compact en-suite shower room, a hairdryer, fridge. The television system on this ship is amazing and it actually is of benefit to spend a short time exploring the television in the stateroom, from here you can order room service, see your bill, find out what’s on, see who is who and so much more. The en-suite bathroom was adequate, there was always piping hot water and good pressure from the shower. Complimentary Canon Ranch toiletries were available.
Cabins were thoroughly serviced twice a day with great attention to detail – fresh flowers were watered regularly and other little "personal touches" were noticeable. Fluffy white towels were changed as necessary.
In relation to cabins, it is interesting to note that in the 2005 brochure, balcony cabins on decks 4, 5 and 6 (grades B3, B4, B5 and B7), which I call "hole in the wall cabins" are now described as "sheltered balcony cabins," and that obstructed view balcony cabins have been re-classified as B6 grades.
Notification of our dining allocation was contained in the copious amount of literature available and this was as per our request at the time of reservation. All the information awaiting us in the stateroom was relevant, factual and useful.
There is a reasonable room service menu available 24 hours a day as well as a full breakfast service between 7.00 a.m. and 10.00 a.m. Food ordered was promptly delivered, well presented and of good quality.
A word of warning - The light on the stateroom telephone indicating that there is a message waiting is so dim that it is hard to see, even in the dark – so messages can be easily missed. The cost of telephoning from the cabins and also the use of e-mail facilities on board are not cheap.
The ship itself is spectacular both in décor and appointment. Though plastic ashtrays in the Winter Garden do look out of place. The ship is maintained in an absolutely spotless condition throughout. Life on board is more casual than on other Cunard ships. I think that the expression sophisticated without being snooty describes it perfectly.
At this stage we decided it was time to eat so we proceeded to the Kings Court for some food. Regretfully, whilst the food on display at all the stations looked appetising, was well displayed, and tasted good - this food service court is somewhat confusing as one has to visit and queue at many dispensaries to obtain their requirements. This area could have been designed better to be more user friendly but in saying that the food served in this area throughout the cruise was in general very good. The lack of staff available to assist guests who have difficulty in carrying trays was noticeable, as was the time taken to clear and refresh vacated tables.
The customary Muster Drill was scheduled for 5.00 p,m. In March I made comment that the notices on display on the back of cabin doors indicating the whereabouts of the Muster station should actually name the room where one should muster rather than show a marked deck plan. This would be very useful, as many guests had difficulty in finding their actual Muster Station, as was the case in March. Unfortunately this has not been acted on.
On completion of the Muster Drill, the Captain announced that our departure from New York was delayed to 8.00 p.m. due to operational reasons. This would not however delay our scheduled arrival time at our first port of call – St. Maarten.
On returning to our stateroom, our luggage was already in our cabin – not bad when one saw the huge amounts of luggage coming on board.
We were scheduled for first seating dinner at 6.00 p.m., we chose this rather than the later option of 8.30 p.m. in The Britannia Restaurant, as the earlier time best suited our needs. Our first meal in the Britannia Restaurant was excellent – there was a wide choice on the menu, served by most energetic and efficient waiters. The food was hot and well presented. Service was slick but not intrusive, quick but not rushed, a theme, which continued throughout the cruise at dinner. Our section waiter at the beginning of each meal carefully explained the contents of each dish to us. It was obvious that during the past number of months, Cunard has spent a great deal of time improving the operation and service in the Britannia and certainly it has now reached if not exceeded the Cunard standards that we know and expect at dinner at any rate. We were fortunate in this regard but we did hear from others who were very disappointed at the standard of service, so whilst we were very satisfied some stations in the Britannia have still to get there.
After dinner it was time to explore Queen Mary 2 and watch our departure from the port of New York which was spectacular – there is something beautiful about leaving this port in the evening with the lights of the buildings twinkling in the background.
The welcome aboard show was varied, though typical of most welcome aboard shows on cruise ships, however in the Royal Court Theatre there are a number of seats which have obstructed views of the stage, so be aware of this, additionally, it tends to get very hot in the upper level. The theatre is very busy most evenings. My advice is to go early and get a good seat.
On this first day, the thing that was most noticeable was that the crew seemed to me more relaxed and happy, they smiled and acknowledged guests in corridors and other public areas, with the simple greeting of good afternoon or good evening – this continued throughout the cruise - such a change from March when they seemed to be so tense, sullen and disinterested.
Two days at sea followed. It is pleasing that Cunard has the policy of not making unnecessary announcements over the ships loudspeaker system. Each day had a full programme of events catering for all tastes. From enrichment lectures, to quizzes, from Bingo to Art Auctions, (which in my opinion have now outlived their usefulness on all cruise ships), from Dance Instruction classes to deck tournaments – there is something for everyone – the full details are published the evening before and delivered to each cabin in the Daily Programme. Unfortunately the Port and shopping lectures dealt more with shopping than providing information on the actual ports. A good way of exploring the ship is to join one of the many ship familiarisation tours. There are shops on board to tempt you with their wares, one of the best libraries afloat, an excellent gymnasium, a beautiful spa and lots more to occupy the day. A visit to the Canon Ranch Spaclub is a must for those who wish to be pampered – there are wide ranges of excellent treatments available and not unrealistic prices. A number of swimming pools and lots of decks space to catch the rays during the day are available – the list of events is endless.
Food, food glorious food, is available almost 24 hours a day in the Kings Court –the buffet style system in operation on deck 7, whilst in my opinion it is not really user-friendly as previously mentioned, offers a wide choice of fresh, and attractively displayed food, catering for all tastes. The wide breakfast menu is excellent both in the buffet and in the Britannia Restaurant – however it was noticeable that Fruit Juices available were very weak, as if they had been watered down to such an extent that it was difficult to actually taste the flavour - On occasions in the Britannia Restaurant at breakfast, service was unacceptably slow – a wait of 45 minutes from ordering until the fruit juice arrived. – When the main course arrived some further 15 minutes later, it was more often than not what we had indeed ordered – on most occasions the breakfast hot food was only just lukewarm. I brought this to the attention of the assistant maitre-de in-charge of the section at the time and also to the attention of the Pursers Office – but many others guests experienced the same thing. This matter needs Urgent attention. The Britannia Restaurant operates as open seating for both breakfast and lunch.
For a typical English style pub lunch – the Golden Lion pub is outstanding, especially the fish, chips and mushy peas. Formal afternoon teas on all Cunard ships are served in the finest British tradition – from freshly cut sandwiches, to scones with fresh cream to calorie-controlled (if only) cakes in the elegant Queens Room – a far superior location than the Winter Garden which was previously used or informally in the Lotus eatery. In the evening, the ship takes on a completely different character and transformation, especially in the Kings Court dining area. Numerous specialty restaurants are available for that perfect evening meal – note that some of these restaurants require advance reservation and some have an additional but not expensive service charge.
In relation to alternative restaurants, The Todd English restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner but reservations are a must – whilst I did not experience this particular restaurant, reports from other guests were good – members of my group remarked that it had exceeded their expectations an ideal place for a meal to celebrate a special occasion.
The evening entertainment programme was varied, professional and indeed entertaining. The young and enthusiastic Royal Cunard singers and dancers gave it their all – the three major shows performed were outstanding. Guest entertainers on others evenings did exactly what they were engaged to do – entertain - Cunard have now got it right in respect of variety, excellence in respect of the individual artistes and scheduling of evening entertainment events.
Bars took on a different ambiance with different styles and types of music filtering from each – again something for everyone. Drinks were attractively presented, full of content and reasonably priced. In saying this a 15% automatic gratuity is added to all drinks on board. However on the receipt document they have a section for guests to include a tip if required – this is already included and in my opinion is "naughty." The layout of the receipt is presented in such a way to confuse passengers – Cunard - don’t be greedy. A gratuity and a tip are the same thing.
Thankfully in these times of cutbacks, one of the oldest traditions of cruising is still maintained by Cunard – the Captains Welcome Onboard Cocktail party – albeit of a shorter duration - as a frequent cruiser, I still enjoy these most formal of formal events. True you have to queue to meet the Captain, but in the end its worth it – unfortunately many cruise companies have wiped this great social event onboard from their schedules – please Cunard or should I say to the President of the Carnival Corporation – keep this event ongoing, especially on the ships of the Cunard and P&O fleet.
There also seems to be also a vast reduction in the number of Officer Hosted tables at dinner.
Photographers as on all cruise ships were all around the vessel to catch those special moments on camera. Portraits while of good quality were expensive. The Photoshop offered a wide range of facilities, including developing services, cameras and accessories for sale and simply offering advice.
Well stocked and well laid out shops on board offered a wide range of good quality merchandise and fairly reasonable prices – the staff were friendly, and anxious to satisfy the customers needs rather than just make a sale. However the setting up of tables for "sales" in the passageway on deck two, turned the area into what looked like a public market – this should be discouraged by the ship's on-board management.
The shore excursion office offers interesting and a variety of tours of differing durations in each of the ports of call. These can be booked via your stateroom interactive television, by completing a booking forms and dropping it off in a box at the office or by personally visiting the office. Staff on duty were most knowledgeable and gave frank and honest opinions as to tours best suited to guests requirements. Do book early as some of the most popular tours do get booked out quickly. There were mixed reports as to the quality and content of the tours offered. Numerous passengers complained of the poor quality of tours especially in St. Thomas, together with the aggressive attitude of some drivers demanding "tips" and making guests "feel uncomfortable" if they didn’t subscribe to the "suggested amount."
The Pursers Office is open 24 hours a day and staff on duty were totally professional in their approach, taking time to listen to exactly what the passenger inquiry or complaint was and dealing with the inquiry or problem in a sympathetic, yet decisive manner resulting in most cases to satisfactory resolution.
The Future Cruise Sales Office – office? -It is more like a cupboard tucked away under the stairs from the main thoroughfare on Deck 3, has an excellent and knowledgeable staff but who must be frustrated to have to work in such cramped conditions. There is very little in the way of privacy for guests wishing to discuss their future cruise requirements. This is a popular and no doubt very profitable office for the company – yet there are no seats or indeed a place to even to wait other than in the corridor if both the consultants are busy. This office needs to be relocated to gain maximum benefit and increase its potential.
During the next five days the ship visited the delightful and so different islands in the Caribbean of St. Maarten, Martinique, Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Thomas. Regretfully the weather was not kind on our visit to the islands, incessant rain most days until we reached our last port of call, St. Thomas, when the sun shone all day.
Queen Mary 2, being so large has to anchor at many ports of call. On this cruise, Barbados was the only port where the ship could dock. At all the other ports, she commanded her position at her anchorage point as the true "Queen of the Seas." There was no mistake the Queen Mary 2 was in town.
The organisation and tendering ashore procedures were excellent. When one considers that some 2600 people may want to go ashore at an anchor port, in addition to the crew members who have time off, we never had to wait longer than 10 minutes to catch a tender from the ship to the shore. A slight delay did occur in St. Lucia due to the fact that the weather was so bad and only half of the number of tenders could be used, but again the waiting time was minimal.
I had many reservations about coming back on Queen Mary 2 after such a disastrous cruise in March, but credit where credit is due – this time I certainly was not disappointed – many of the problems experienced by passengers in the "early" days have been resolved and in time with a few minor adjustments things will be as near perfect as possible.
I recognised many staff on board who had sailed with me on previous Princess cruises, as well as from other Cunard ships - this is good in some ways, but needs sensitivity. Cunard has a tradition all of its own, as does Princess and indeed as does P&O Cruises and for that matter Carnival Cruises – each must remain different – each must be identifiable to their own specific individuality, to their own particular line or brand product – which over the years has proved so popular with their band of loyal followers -minor interaction in the interests of efficiency and cost effectiveness are possible, but to try to blend and mix the products together would in my opinion spell disaster.
A further point for the Carnival Corporation to note is that since the beginning of the great Cunard line, single passengers have always been staunch supporters of the company and the same applies today. Whilst on Queen Elizabeth 2 and on the former Caronia there were many single cabins for solo guests – this is not the case on Queen Mary 2 or as I understand on the new Queen Victoria – please don’t ignore or neglect these passengers – many more solos are taking holidays and research shows that this trend will continue and in fact grow. Solos do not mind paying a supplement for the sole occupancy of a double cabin, but in the lower grades to charge a supplement of 200% for sole occupancy is outrageous. When one considers that solos only pay one Port Tax charge, only occupy one seat on an aircraft and only pay one airport tax and security charge, on fly/cruises, only occupy one seat on transfer coaches, have only luggage for one to be transferred and in most cases only eat an amount of food for one, but can 200% be justifiable? I know the arguments of the cruise companies – selling a double cabin for sole use means lost revenue. Is it really? If single supplements were more realistic – say 50% - this is guaranteed income – more often than not what happens is that companies find that they have a number of empty cabins when doing their analysis a few weeks before sailing, and what do they do – they discount – which causes annoyance to those passengers who have booked and paid for their cruise many months in advance as recommended by cruise companies – but herein lies another story. All that I ask is please do not take advantage of the single traveller and do let them continue to travel with Cunard at realistic supplements.
In all a very good cruise, despite poor weather and I look forward to further voyages or cruises on Queen Mary 2.