On boarding the Queen Mary 2 do not expect a Cunard experience but rather a Carnival experience. It is not an elegant sailing experience any more, thanks to the Carnival bean counters and the practice of deeply discounted last minute cruise offers.
Last August, we booked a cabin (Balcony Deluxe) on the maiden Transatlantic crossing of the Queen Elizabeth and then the cruise from New York to Cape Town on the QM2, through White Star Cruises in England. On the first leg of our voyage we met numerous passengers who had booked their cruise through English newspapers and were bragging about how little they had paid. Many had not paid for the transatlantic crossing (which we had) and received $400 onboard spending (which we did not). One passenger had booked the same trip, paid for an inside cabin, been upgraded to the same category cabin as ours on top of not paying for the transatlantic crossing. To add insult to injury one of these couples was upgraded to the Britannia Club on the QM2, while we were not.
As a result of this last minute discounting fares, about half of the passengers on the QM2 looked "rough", as another passenger put it. We were surrounded by the tattooed, obese, polyester clad, socks in sandals, tight perm, blue rinse brigade. We were sharing our space with people we would never have otherwise met socially. We changed tables six times in the hope of meeting like-minded passengers. We sat with people who did not drink wine but water or iced tea, because it was free, they said. At one table, one lady only drank port and lemon with her food!
We met passengers who had travelled on QM2 eighteen months ago and they all agreed there has been a serious degradation of the food and the type of fellow passengers.
DINING: This was not fine dining.
Breakfast: excellent with fresh fruit, smoked salmon and a wide selection of food including full English breakfast.
Lunch and dinner: we could not believe the poor quality of the food we were served. There was an abundance of rice, pasta, potatoes and carrots, with only small amounts of green vegetables. We were offered breaded, deep fried food like deep fried catfish, fish and ships, deep fried onions and for a change chicken pie, shepherd's pie, chicken livers, meat loaf and numerous dishes with sugary sauces - all in all stodgy and fattening menus. I would guess the food budget to have been less than $10 per passenger per day.
KINGS COURT is a cafeteria alternative on the 7th deck, which we did not bother with.
TODD ENGLISH RESTAURANT: serves fine dining at a charge of $30 per person. This is the type of food we expected would be served in the Britannia Restaurant. The chefs on board can prepare excellent food, but only at an extra cost. It is unacceptable that we paid thousands of pounds for this cruise and were expected to pay extra to eat the fine dining promised by Cunard.
WINE: $35 minimum for a bottle of wine - which compares favourably with prices charged in American restaurants. Wine waiters were friendly and efficient.
BARS: always full with passengers, mostly sipping their glasses of water - made it difficult to find a seat to enjoy our pre or after-dinner drink. Waiters were excellent.
ENRICHMENT PROGRAMME: Good and varied.
CABIN: Perfect. Well appointed and plenty of storage space. However, you can quite clearly hear sounds from the next cabin if you have adjoining doors.
CREW: the hard working, international crew, from the Captain down were brilliant. They were courteous, efficient, smiling and friendly and nothing was too much trouble. The Eastern European contingent was particularly attentive and professional.
LAUNDRY ROOM: also known as "laundry as a combat sport". Laundry rooms are available on all decks and also have irons and ironing boards. Very useful. Always busy and did bring out the worst in fellow passengers. Some clothing was stolen.
SHIP: beautiful and very well maintained.
PUBLIC SPACES: it felt very crowded at all times probably because passengers were, for most of the day, sitting in public rooms, sucking on their ubiquitous (free) mugs of coffees.
LIBRARY: Excellent with very helpful and knowledgeable librarian.
BEAUTY SALON: good, but very expensive - $65 for a short hair wash and dry.
ACTIVITIES: the duplicate bridge was oversubscribed and we had to cut our lunch short to ensure we had a table. Other activities included line dancing, bingo, and more of the same. Again, not what you expect on a 5-star liner. There was no sign of the dramatic RADA programme widely advertised on Cunard's web page. Where did it go?
EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION: very good and straightforward.
PORTS OF CALL - SHUTTLE SERVICE: free, frequent and excellent especially in New York.
CONCLUSION: should you decide to sail on QM2 for all her good points (beautiful ship, excellent cabins, great crew, good ports of call), ensure that you get a newspaper or last-minute discounted offer which will give you value for money. We did not and felt complete idiots for the whole cruise as our fellow passengers never tired of mentioning how little they had paid..
Finally, I find the publicity shots on Cunard's webpage and brochures very deceptive. Some passengers were as elegant as the models depicted on the photos but, to represent the full reality of sailing on QM2, the webpage should be amended to include photos of the majority of the real passengers, who could accurately be represented by the cast of characters of the BBC series "Benidorm". For our American friends, they would be well represented by the cast of "All in the family" sitcom. Archie Bunker would have felt right at home on our cruise.