This was my very first cruise and my first time in the Caribbean so I did not know what to expect but the folks at the travel agency said we were sailing with the best and I have to agree with them.
There were three of us, my wife and my mother-in-law (both have sailed before on the France and the Liberte and several Carnival cruises) and myself. We all thought QM2 was big, beautiful, fast and comfortable. We all had a great time and can't wait to sail on QM2 again (we just booked our second cruise on QM2 for the September 2005 cruise to New England/Canada).
Part of the package we got from the travel agency was round trip bus transportation from Union Station in Washington, DC, to the pier in NYC. The bus trip was quick and comfortable. The sight of QM2 when we got close to the waterfront was awe inspiring. She is one seriously big hunk of beautiful ship.
We got our bags off the bus and our tour guide got us into the building to begin checking in. The lines were huge; it seemed all 2600 plus passengers on this cruise showed up right then. I was wondering what I'd gotten myself into when all I could see was a mass of people as far as I could see. The lines moved at a decent pace but there has to be a better way to do this, and you need to demand from NY that they place some benches along the way so the older passengers can sit down because we saw and heard many complaining about not being able to take any more standing.
Once we cleared the security checkpoint, there were more lines to actually check in with Cunard. The staff did their best herding us cats through the lines and the actual check in at the desk went very, very smoothly. We were checked in; photos shot and ship IDs in our hands in less than 10 minutes. It was getting to this point that was the most painful. It took more than an hour from entry to boarding but it seemed a lot longer than that.
We boarded QM2 and the staff got us pointed in the right direction to our cabin. We had a B5 cabin with balcony. The room was clean, bright and comfortable. We were on the right side of the ship and pretty far aft. QM2 looked big on the outside but once we got inside, those hallways looked like they went on forever. We dropped our hand luggage and went to find some food.
It took a little time to get ourselves oriented but if you use the small pocket maps of the ship and pay attention to where you are, you can find your way. In addition, my wife is visually impaired and we would tell her where we were and she is a wiz to get you to places, just stay away from her cane. We never got lost when we were with her. She says it was very handicapped friendly (more on this later).
We were supposed to depart NYC at 5:30 p.m. but we didn't actually leave the pier until after 8:00 p.m. The crew discovered during the previous cruise they were running short on fresh water so the Captain decided to spend more time at the dock to top up the fresh water tanks.
The public rooms were beautiful and we especially liked the Chart Room (great jazz music), the Commodore Club (a real hidden jewel), the Golden Lion Pub (excellent beers) and the Britannia Dining Room. The Queens room is spacious with a large dance floor. The G-32 disco has two levels and we always enjoyed our time there. The library on deck eight is expansive with an incredible selection of reading materials in several languages and the view is beautiful. The book shop next door has an excellent selection of items. The artwork located throughout the ship is interesting and beautiful.
Our table in Britannia was in a separate room toward the rear of the main dining room with eight tables. We loved it, it was quiet and cozy. We chose the early seating, 6:00 p.m., and dinner was the only meal we had in the main dining room, we usually skipped lunch or ate elsewhere.
We never had a bad meal in Britannia. My wife and I are vegetarians and they not only had a separate vegetarian menu but they always had veggie items (Gazpacho soup, Portobello mushrooms stuffed with risotto, roasted pepper soup, vol au vent stuffed with mushrooms, are some of the delicious items we tried) on the regular daily menu.
Our waiters were outstanding, they kept our drinks filled, fresh bread replenished, and the table clean. The hot dishes were served hot and the cold dishes were served cold. The food was great; the service was attentive and quick.
Our wine steward was excellent. He suggested an excellent wine my wife loved and to make sure we could remember the name, after the bottle was empty, he glued the label to a card for us to take home.
We had breakfast in our room. Room service was always delivered our breakfast at the time we requested and the food, cereals, Danish, juices, hot tea and the kitchen even had soy milk for me, was just fine.
The King's Court food court is an interesting concept but it needs more refinement. The food was good and plentiful but the layout needs work. People would line up at the different cooking stations but the line would block the entry/exit doors used by the staff which caused bottlenecks. The tables did not get bused as quickly as they should have. Once you got your food, finding a table could be a challenge but if you walked around some you could find an open table.
The fruit juices, especially the cranberry juice was so weak it literally was like drinking reddish water with very little to no taste. The self serving stations could also be a challenge. I'm six feet tall and have a good reach but even I had a hard time reaching the food at these stations.
The afternoon tea in the Queen's room was very nice. The sandwiches were fresh and the desserts were very tasty. The serving staff kept your tea cup full and made sure you did not go hungry. It is a beautiful, spacious room with super views.
We did not try out Todd English this trip. The food we had on board was very good, well prepared and served with pride. If you went hungry on QM2, it was your fault.
The two days at sea was just perfect and we where moving at least 28 knots on our way to St. Maarten. It was really impressive to see more than 150,000 tons of ship moving through the sea at those speeds. QM2 is really designed as an ocean liner first with cruise ship amenities. We checked out the ship and enjoyed the various activities. We were never bored, if you were, that was your fault.
The cabin TV system was easy to use and there were any number of things that could be accessed through it. CNN International, the various ship-board lectures and ocean liner histories were always available. I booked our submarine tour through the TV and it worked fine. The music selections available through the system were extensive and I never ran out of music choices. As for other TV shows available, I didn't really care...I came on this cruise to explore the ship and the Caribbean, not to watch TV.
The shops onboard covered the spectrum from basic necessities to jewelry, Hermes scarves, basic watches to watches costing more than $18,000. There were extensive port lectures with recommended shopping venues conducted almost daily. The staff was the best. They went out of their way to help us out, making suggestions on the different tours and shows and in general to make us feel welcome.
The biggest embarrassment of the cruise was during the 50 percent off sale toward the end of the cruise on T-shirts and Polo shirts. It was the passengers not the staff who were at fault. These are people in their 50s and 60s who were actually fighting over the shirts, would not listen to the staff, cussed at the staff, actually stole shirts right off the tables and were generally an obnoxious bunch of jerks during this sale. Afterward, the three of us apologized to the shop staff for what they went through. I've never felt as embarrassed as a passenger in my life.
The weather for the first four stops was overcast and rainy but we still had a lot of fun. We don't let weather get in the way of a good time. We were in Fort-de-France, Martinique, shopping at a local French supermarket and the skies opened up on us. We got soaked on our walk back to the dock and looked like drowned rats but we had our goodies.
The tenders were another great adventure. Since QM2 is so big the only port where we could dock was in Barbados. We never had to wait very long for any tender ride, no more than 10 to 15 minutes. They sure could rock and roll so we considered this another thrill ride provided for free by Mother Nature to be enjoyed. Only off St. Lucia were there any real problems with the tenders because the weather was so bad they could only launch four of the usual eight tenders but the crew did a great job.
The evening shows were very good and the cast worked hard to please the audience. The Royal Court Theater is beautiful but the design could be better. There are a number of seats that have obstructed or completely blocked views so you need to get there early to get a good seat.
Illuminations, the planetarium, is well designed with excellent sight lines. The planetarium shows were always interesting but a little short. They also showed movies there in the evening and during the day it was used for different lectures. This is not a criticism but this excellent facility did not seem to be used very much, at least not on this cruise.
We did not try out the Canyon Ranch Spa or the gym this trip but we did plenty of walking exploring the ship. If the Canyon Ranch Spa on board QM2 is the same as the spa at the Venetian in Las Vegas, it's got to be good.
The Winter Garden is a beautiful space but once again it did not seem to be used very often. There was a daily art auction and it looked fairly crowded but I don't know how well they did. Aside from the auction, I don't recall any other events going on in there.
We hit some rough seas when we were heading back to New York and quite a few passengers were getting sick and items on display in the shops were getting tossed on the floor. Even as big as QM2 is, there was quite a bit of up and down pitching and rolling side to side. We were fine; it was like surfing 150,000 tons of surf board. For those of you who do get seasick, it's a good idea to take your Dramamine or what ever you use.
One sad thing is that since QM2 is a European ship, smoking is allowed. The smoke smell is beginning to permeate the furniture, rugs, drapes and the rooms. The casino is really bad. We loved the pub but after 30 minutes or so, the smoke was too much and we had to leave.
Overall, it was a great cruise and we will be sailing on QM2 again. My mother-in-law thought the ship was too big but my wife and I think QM2 is just right. This cruise was completely sold out and even with more than 2,600 passengers, we never felt crowded.
Information for the disabled:
I am visually impaired and will share with you the things that I found to be helpful to me. 1. The elevators have Braille on all the deck buttons and the elevators also talk and tell you what deck you are on. It was very easy for me to find my way around the ship. 2. The stairwells and the different decks are marked in Braille. Also, the numbers on the cabin doors are raised assisting you to know where you were on the left or right side of the ship. 3. A lot of the artwork on board can be touched and you can experience it through your fingers and hands. That was wonderful. The hallways were like art galleries to explore. 4. The staff is always prepared to help and point you in the right direction if you do get lost, just ask. 5. For the evacuation drill a staff member will walk you through and count the doors and decks, etc., with you leading to your life boat station. 6. The library has books on tape and I think they also had a few books in Braille. 7. The tender crews were extra careful with me getting on and off the tenders, letting me know where the step was, how much the tender was moving up or down, side to side, and holding on to me whether it was rough water or calm. 8. All you need to do is advise the staff and let them know what your disability is and tell them how much help you need and they will comply. I happen to be quite independent and try to do everything myself or my husband helps me.