When deciding to book this cruise, we were really just looking for an option for an extended July 4th weekend getaway while our kids were away at camp. We were pleasantly surprised to find this not only as an option, but also as a relatively inexpensive option compared to other things we were considering. It was also a very easy option as this particular cruise left from the Manhattan Cruise Terminal (just one mile from our home) instead of the QM2's usual berth at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. My wife and I had always wanted to try a cruise and as we are not necessarily "party people" a Cunard cruise appealed to us.
It should be noted that we both read in advance and also heard from those on board that this particular cruise is not typical for Cunard as it draws predominantly Americans who, like us, want to test the waters. Of the 2600 passengers on board, 2300 were Americans. That ratio is usually flipped with the majority being British and European travelers, especially for the transatlantic crossings. I mention this because one of the things that bothered us a bit was that we took the dress code seriously, as do many others. A number of our fellow Americans, however, dressed more like they were on a Carnival cruise, and ignored the dress code. Cunard did not appear to enforce it either. I do not mention this to sound snobbish - I am most comfortable in a pair of jeans or shorts and a t-shirt. We chose this cruise, however, because we wanted to "dress up" and had hoped that our fellow passengers would as well. We were told that people do respect the dress code on TA crossings and world cruises.
EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION: The lines at the Manhattan terminal were huge and slow-moving. We arrived at our assigned time and from what I gather, we would have been better off arriving earlier. We also heard that the Brooklyn terminal is much more efficient. Also, while the website does indicate that you can use a WHTI document instead of a passport (if you don't know what that is, then don't worry about it and ignore this comment), and Cunard had entered my WHTI doc info into the system which accepted it in lieu of a passport, the staff at the cruise terminal clearly had no idea how to handle it which delayed the process even more. Quite pleasantly, however, dropping off our luggage when we pulled up to the terminal took all of about 30 seconds and by the time we got to our cabin, it was already there. Disembarkation is a trickier matter since it is quite a task to move that many people and their luggage off in an orderly fashion. We opted for the self-disembarkation method which works only if you can move your own luggage without assistance. We were off the boat, through Customs and in a taxi in a matter of just a few minutes.
CABIN: We had thought we would book a balcony cabin both for some additional room and the balcony, but as this was a last minute trip, all that were left were inside staterooms. Given that it was only 5 nights and that we didn't plan on spending much time in the cabin, we took it. We were pleasantly surprised because though small, it was very well laid out and every inch of space was made available for storage so that we were able to completely unpack AND have room to stow our luggage, with room to spare. We had a great cabin steward whom we tipped a bit extra upon our arrival - so maybe that helped. Also because we had booked late, we were not able to get an assigned stateroom at time of booking, and were just assigned one. We were on Deck 6 which was great in terms of proximity to everything, and as far forward as possible. There was no noise from anywhere EXCEPT the foghorn. This turned out to be quite a problem though as the foghorn is at the front of the ship and we had fog three nights out of five. Not only was it loud, but the cabin actually vibrated when it sounded about every two minutes. My wife was able to sleep through it but not I. The only other comment about the cabin is that the water pressure in the shower is not great (not great for personal use, but vey good for water conservation which is important on a ship) and the water is the type that leaves a soapy film feeling on your body (I forget whether that's hard or soft water). Neither of these were terrible things, but I mention it to help set expectations. Lastly, the only disconcerting part of being in an inside stateroom was that there was no sense as to whether it was light or dark outside, or what the weather was like. This was primarily an issue only in the morning.
FOOD: We heard from others that the quality of the food on Cunard has steadily declined and we did not find many reasons to doubt that. The options were good, the sommelier at dinner was quite good (and very friendly) and the table service in the Kings Court (i.e. those clearing the tables) were all very good, and that is where the compliments end. The food quality was - as mentioned in another post - very good catering quality (think wedding). Our dinner waiter at the Britannia was horrible. We were at the late seating and while we were still eating the first night, they started breaking down tables around us which made us very uncomfortable. A word to the maitre' d took care of that. Also, we were seated on the first balcony in the Britannia which has a design flaw such that it vibrates quite noticeably almost all the time (we all just got used to it though some others asked to be reseated). Recommend the fish & chips at the Golden Lion Pub for lunch. The $5/day soft drink package was very helpful and easy. High Tea was overcrowded and while there seemed to be enough finger sandwiches and pastries, the scones which were the highlight were difficult to snag. The tea itself also was not very well done, and this was confirmed by several Brits we encountered. The Commodore's cocktail reception on the formal night was nicely done. Overall, not terrible but not what we expected. Best part of dining was meeting other people.
SPA and GYM: The gym was very good. Well-equipped, good selection and rarely a wait for a machine, though they did seem to keep running out of towels. The spa was nicely done for a shipboard facility and the aquatherapy options were fun. We did have a massage and my wife also had a body treatment. Our only two criticisms were that there was no orientation whatsoever to the facility offered (and which would have been helpful) and they are constantly trying to up-sell you. Lastly, we figured out too late that our 80 massage included only about 55 or 60 minutes of actual massage.
ENTERTAINMENT: This is an area in which the ship shined. Lots of options (lectures, planetarium, films, bingo, shows, trivia contests, music of all types and for all tastes) and with one notable exception all of high quality (the notable exception was one of the lecturers who was not only a lousy public speaker, he put the audience to sleep - twice!). Even the TV options were quite good, including lots of real-time information about your voyage and replays of the lectures.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: This is another area which needs some improvement on two fronts. First is the process. Our tickets for an excursion we had booked in advance were never delivered to our room, and the gathering and disembarkation process felt like a cattle herd. Then the excursion itself experienced a problem (not the fault of Cunard nor the hired tour company, but left a bad taste in our mouth). Lastly, it was quite clear that one of the stops on the excursion very clearly had little or no benefit to the participants but is likely included as a source of revenue for the tour company from the local merchants (i.e. we'll pay you to bring your groups here). That was a major disappointment and the tour could have been an hour shorter (and presumably less expensive) as a result.
MISCELLANEOUS: The ship, while fully booked to capacity, never felt crowded at all (except perhaps at High Tea); The ship is maintained extremely well, and all public areas, cabins, dining venues are spotless and squeaky clean (possibly also a result of the QM2 having failed a health inspection just 2 weeks prior . . .); While it is a huge boat, it was fairly easy to get your bearings and the maps and signage are very well done and plentiful so it is very difficult to get lost; The Library and Book Shop are excellent; There are a lot of very nice bar/lounge options, each with a different flavor and most with very good entertainment; The ship while looking grand and elegant, does not necessarily feel grand and elegant and I attribute this to the level of service or lack thereof. This was a comment we heard from a number of experienced cruisers who also attribute part of it to the collecting of standard tips from all passengers rather than passengers tipping individually for good service - there is no incentive on the part of the staff to excel in this area; A pleasant surprise were the prices on board, including for drinks as they were quite reasonable; Although this information is in the voyage documentation many people were not aware that if you leave your cell phone on, it will continue to work however once you are out of range of your carrier, it will switch to the ship's on-board system which uses a satellite hook-up and bills your carrier directly at very high roaming rates. While many people will not have discovered this until they get their regular cell phone bill, many did get text messages from their carriers that significant charges had been applied ($50 just from one day at sea); We did not use the internet service and not just because it was a bit pricey, but because we took the opportunity to "switch off" and truly relax - I highly recommend it; Similarly, it might take some getting used to the fact that the only item you need to carry with you while on-board is your room card which doubles as your charge card. I spent the first day or two patting my pockets alarmingly, thinking that I had lost my wallet, keys and phone while those items were safely ensconced in our cabin safe.
Overall, we are very glad we went and since we did not have a lot of expectations, we did enjoy ourselves. We met a lot of nice people, had a lot of fun, and were able to relax. While I would suggest this voyage for those who would like a quick getaway or who would like to say that they sailed on the QM2, I would surmise (and hope!) that one should not necessarily judge it as a typical Cunard voyage experience.