My friend Jim and I had sailed on the January 12, 2004, maiden voyage and came away very unhappy. It seemed like everything went wrong; from service to food to entertainment and finally, debarkation. Here we are a year later and I am happy to report that there has been much improvement. The main reason -- Princess Line has come in and shaken things up. They have brought in their management and chefs and things are now running smoothly. I suspect, the most positive change is that Peter Ratcliffe has taken over as CEO of Cunard from Pamela Conover. Her blatant refusal to accept responsibility for the initial shortfalls that the ship had was disturbing. They were by no means "maiden voyage jitters," there were major operating errors.
The ship, I am glad to say, is finally coming into its own. We embarked from Ft. Lauderdale on February 5, 2005, and were kindly directed to the area where the Grille passengers were to wait. There was an initial delay as the computers weren't functioning. I would suggest that the computers be tested earlier in the day to avoid this in the future. Everything went fairly smoothly after that. The desk crew that took our info was exceptionally friendly and very helpful. We boarded the ship and entered the now familiar lobby, and I must say it felt as though we had never left. We expected to see friends that were on the last voyage to pop put from behind the corner, but it never happened.
We were greeted, but not taken to our cabin, which is a courtesy on other ships. So off we went with a basic idea of where we were going. Cabin 10081 is very nice and it had a comfortable green sofa and chair, walk in closet, full tub and balcony. The bed was not at all comfortable, it was like sleeping a slap of stone. Needless to say it was a very interrupted sleep as it was very uncomfortable. The tub is long, but very narrow. I am not fat, no matter what the furniture supplier for Cunard claimed about "obese Americans," but it was very narrow for my legs and it was not enjoyable to lay back in the tub so we opted mostly for showers. Ana Lisa, our cabin attendant, was quite friendly and very efficient. She's quite good at her job.
Dinner was very pleasant. We had several servers -- Aneke from South Africa, Dennis from Hungary and Pillai from India. They were true professionals and had sparkling personalities. The same goes for Nicolai, the assistant maitre d' -- he was wonderful. No reasonable request was refused. It was a pleasure to talk to them and get to know them. I can see them all rising within the company. Another surprise was Stephen, who was our server in Todd English on the maiden voyage. He now works in the Grille restaurant and he is still, "The best Irish waiter on the ship." The menu choices, for the most part, were good and the serving portions were large, a big step up from the maiden voyage where the choices were few and the portions small. I will say I was surprised that most of the same menu options were offered on Britannia Restaurant. You would think that with the extra cost of traveling Grille, that the menu would be different. I am glad to see that Cunard has gone a long way from offering ragout of beef and cabin biscuits to "3rd Class," but the main point is that people are paying extra for the cabin, not for the food. I think most people would elect to travel Britannia if they knew the food was, for the most part, the same. There is really no need for TWO Grille restaurants. Jim noted that it almost seems if Cunard is saying there is 1st Class and SUPER 1st Class. Why not knock out part of the wall and join the restaurants. I am sure it would also help with the flow of things. The restaurants, except for the color scheme, are identical. I guess the big "advantage" of traveling "Queens Grille" is that you have the painfully small private deck with hot tub. Does it really matter since people need to pass through it anyway to gain the upper deck?
The entertainment was so-so. Nothing really to write home about. The island ports of St Kitts, St. Thomas and St. Maarten were nice. The most fun we had was taking the lifeboat to and from the islands. It really is a nice joy ride, especially if you are seated on the top deck.
Looking at the layout, I hope they note what is wrong on the QM2 and apply a new design to the Queen Victoria. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the placement of rooms. For example, the largest suites are at the extreme bow and the extreme stern were motion is most noticeable. Why would you want one of the suites located in stern when anyone on deck could look directly into your suite? You most always have your curtains drawn. Why is the "Queen's Lounge," which is very elegant, located in an out of the way spot -- aft of the Britannia Restaurant? The G32 'disco' is actually very tasteful, but it is buried behind the "Queen's Lounge." They are two very different rooms for two very different types of people. Why are they side by side in a far off location? The hallways themselves seem to lead nowhere. One of the 4 main staircases leads all the way down, but you cannot enter any hallways on 2 or 3 deck. (This is the stairway with green carpeting.) What is the point? Even the Lobby decks have a bizarre layout as the hallways do not flow into rooms but into other hallways. I am not sure who designed the layout, perhaps Stephen Payne -- though I am not sure, but it is not passenger friendly. I would suggest Cunard look at the layouts from other ships, past and present, and ask the designer to see what will work and what will not. It's pretty obvious it was not done with this particular ship.
I am glad to hear there will be renovations to the King's Court and the Winter Garden. The Winter Garden is garish and could be pleasant if they took away some of the tacky displays, perhaps add some trellis and ivy as the Cunard ships of old used to have. The leopard spotted carpeting is also tacky as are the portraits of fruit that hang in the stairwell. I get the impression that several different people designed the interiors as it goes from sublime to subpar just from one corridor to the next. The King's Court is small and there are never enough seats. I think eliminating the specialty restaurants that they become at night might be a good idea. There is really no need for The Carvery at all. I never saw it filled to capacity and I think for what people pay to travel on the QM2, it is outrageous to ask people to pay to eat there. I can see the extra charge for Todd English, but The Carvery?
All in all, we had a good time, as the ship was what it should have been on the maiden voyage and we owe a big thank you to Princess for taking charge. We would definitely sail on the QM2 again, and am hoping that when the Queen Victoria is ready, all the mistakes that the company made with the QM2 are a thing of the past.