After 94 cruises over 30+ years, I have sailed many ships, cruise lines, itineraries, etc. This trip was for my 50th birthday so I wanted it to be special. I hadn't been on a transatlantic or a Cunard ship since 2002. I read the reviews with great passion. Most weren't very kind so I went in with somewhat low expectations. All I can say is that I must have been on a different ship than the negative reviewers. This trip ranks a firm number 1 out of 94.
Embarkation: We took the Cunard transfer service from Heathrow to Southampton. We arrived a day early and stayed at a hotel near Heathrow. We meet the Cunard representative at terminal 3 arrivals, were greeted warmly, waited about 20 minutes and were led out to the coach loading area. We waited about 10 minutes for the coach to arrive since they are not allowed to wait/idle. This caused one woman to start moaning and groaning about the terrible inconvenience. Really? TIP: The Cunard transfer costs more than National Express but they load your bags on the coach and you don't have to deal with them again until they arrive in your cabin. Also, National Express doesn't take you to the ship so you have an additional taxi expense involved.
Check-in at the Ocean Terminal was quick and painless. Granted we had "Grills" check-in but in general people were moving and I didn't see major lines/queues. Security was tight - only thing missing was a full body scanner.
CABIN TIP: Had a category P1, Princess Grill Suite, sort of forward on Deck 10. Unlike most cabins, this one looked EXACTLY like the pictures and video on the Cunard website. No airbrushing or special props. Well designed, tons of space, great bathroom with the best water pressure and temperature control I have experienced. Nice towels, great shampoo, lotion, soap/shower gel, Q-tips, cotton balls, sewing kit, and a loofa thingy. Bathrobes were thick and plush - not waffle weave. Slippers were skimpy but hey - they were there! The bed was so comfortable (tons better than sister companies Princess and Carnival and on par with Holland America). Old TV (CRT type) but clear picture and fairly good programming. I think all TVs will be flat screen following Dec 2011 drydock. Balcony was spacious, room was quiet. Internet was painfully slow but not any more or less than on other ships.
TIP: I always like being forward since I like the "motion of the ocean". But on this ship I would recommend something aft. The Princess Grill is on Deck 7 - stairway D. A real schlep on a ship this big. Also, be sure you don't get a cabin with a connecting room unless you need that. Your sofa is reduced to a love seat and I understand the soundproofing suffers.
DINING: Again, exactly as portrayed on the website. Simply outstanding. Answer was always yes to anything we wanted. Service was friendly but at the same time refined. This is not a singing waiter, conga line parade, dance on the table tops experience. If that is what you are expecting, then you will leave disappointed. If you long for the days of fine service, great variety, table side preparation on some dishes (not just the flaming cherries), in a smaller room minus clanging dishes - this is for you. I asked how the Queens Grill was different since I could not imagine how things could be better. The answer was more selection and a bigger cabin. On both counts I already felt spoiled so I think the benefits are not worth the substantial increase in price.
SERVICE: Again, if you want the singing waiters, Red Team/Blue team silliness, practical jokes, etc., this isn't for you. I felt like a guest at a sophisticated resort. Lots of cruise lines use the term "guest" to describe passengers. When in reality your are a folio/cabin number revenue generating passenger among thousands of people. If your idea of service is ask for something, you get what you asked for, a pleasant brief exchange, and then left to your own business - this is your ship. Other reviewers have bemoaned the pursers desk on this ship. I never ran into anything like people described. We had a few issues and they were handled efficiently and effectively. Did we exchange email address or talk about our life stories, no. We simply took care of things and went on about our day. A lot of the crew were from South Africa. We didn't run into the communication problems that one often experiences on ships these days.
We did have ongoing problems with our cabin door. This ranged from being locked out 2 nights in a row to the handle coming off in my hand one morning. This bit could have been handled with a bit more haste but all in all = stuff happens and they handled it.
SHIP CONDITION: Here we go again. EXACTLY as portrayed online and in brochures. If anything, the grandness was more than expected. Yes, there are soft spots which are concerning. These are mostly on deck 2 around the Grand Lobby and casino. These are supposed to be handled in Dec 2011 drydock. I searched for wear and tear. Saw very little. I went looking for cleanliness issues (after the summer 2011 health inspection failure), I found none. Queen Mary 2 sparkles and shines at every turn. I will agree that the Kings Court (buffet area) is a disaster. It is vast and split in many sections. It is in this area that the carpets seemed out of place and the seating areas appeared disheveled. The food serving areas were spotless.
SHIP AT SEA: Simply amazing. She slices through waves that would have most of today's cruise ships tossing. QM2 is an ocean liner and she earns that distinction at sea on the North Atlantic.
ENTERTAINMENT: This is a big area of difference from most ships today. The shows were done well with a live orchestra (very rare these days). The singers actually sang and the dancers were amazing. You are not asked to meet your neighbors, give a shout out for everyone from Florida - yee haaa, Arkansas - yee haaa. Red team - yee haaa. How is everybody doing??? I can't hear you, etc. If you are looking for forced group socialization you will be miserable. This ship provides a plethora of things to do but most are based on the assumption that you have an eagerness to learn. Lectures were informative, the films in the planetarium were interesting and fun. Seven days with no ports and I was never bored. Ever.
FELLOW PASSENGERS: On this sailing the Brits were the majority, followed by Americans, and then Germans. People followed the dress codes, I didn't see one wife beater t-shirt, drunken partier, or buffet trough hog. People were friendly but in a formal sort of way. I didn't go on this trip to meet people or engage in endless banter about nothing. This area was where the whole experience was vastly different from today's cruise experience. If you find yourself understanding what I am trying to say here than this may be a good fit for you too.
DEBARKATION - well, as far as getting off the ship - excellent. As far as Brooklyn Cruise Terminal goes - not very impressive. I missed the experience of sailing up the Hudson. The area around the terminal would give a first time visitor to the US a real scare. I am sure economics were a factor in deciding to use Brooklyn. It is a shame and not the best way to end/start your voyage.
SUMMARY: Not for everyone. If you yearn for how cruising "used to be" this may be for you. It is a tad ironic that Carnival has saved this treasure for all of us. Carnival has changed the cruise industry in so many ways and have made the cruise experience more affordable and accessible for so many people. But they have also targeted the lowest common denominator so as to appeal to people that would not thing a cruise if for them. It is wonderful that they have invested in this piece of history and have left so much of the Cunard experience intact and made improvements where needed. I loved LOVED LOVED this trip. And I will be back. Any questions, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org