This voyage was my third on the Queen Mary 2, yet it feels different. Maybe it's the warm weather -the previous occasions were during winter. Or maybe it is the destination that makes a difference as a transatlantic will draw a different passenger mix than a Caribbean cruise. (Or, maybe it's being a Grill passenger that allows me cut to the front of the check in lines.)
While docked in Redhook the starboard side of the promenade deck is the center of social activity. Many choose to lounge and just take in the sight of the Statue of Liberty and New York harbor. As for the port side of the ship -â€“ well, that's a lovely view of the Brooklyn container yard.
The ship was showing wear and tear from constant use. On the promenade deck the caulking was rising proud in a lot of places. Easy to feel if one is wearing thin soled dress shoes. "Dips" in the carpet and floor were also noticeable especially in high traffic areas such as the Purser's Desk.
The stateroom steward rings within the first twenty minutes on board and introduces himself. The Grill staterooms have welcome aboard sparkling wine, chocolate covered strawberries, and fresh fruit that is replenished as needed. On the negative side, the bed cover is more than a bit frayed. The tea table that is supposed to pneumatically pop up for dining doesn't. The television was a CRT and not a flat screen. A lot of these things however will be addressed in the November refit.
The sail away was a real celebration. The outside decks were alive with seemingly everybody outside and enjoying a sail away from New York that few will ever experience. This time, a Cunard Insights lecturer gave a narration as we move into the harbor. He did a good job in making people feel that they were part of a great ocean liner tradition that manages to continue today. The QM2 puts on quite a show for the Staten Island Ferry passengers. It's quite a feeling of privilege to be on this magnificent ship instead of the working person's harbor shuttle. As we approach the Verrazano Narrows Bridge everyone awaits the dramatic moment - will her funnel clear the bridge? (Yes, she made it under!)
Once out a sea, it become obvious why the QM2 has wind screens instead of cabanas. At times we encountered near gale force winds that would blow that stuff off. When the weather conditions require it certain doors to the promenade deck were blocked off. On this crossing we had two days where we were following a storm that caused the ship to pitch. One day the sea state was "very rough" meaning waves of 10-14ft. The stabilizers however minimized the rolling. The QM2 was specifically engineered to get through seas like this.
Dining in the Princess Grill was very enjoyable with a two part menu -â€“ al la carte available every day and plus selections that change daily. I had requested a table for eight, but the largest on this voyage were tables for six. One of my table mates sailed on both the QM2 and QE2, and thankfully he wasn't making comparisons. While never having sailed on the QE2, my experience with the old Yankee Stadium baseball field in New York allows me to have some understanding of how they feel. Like the QE2, the old stadium was showing its age yet was beloved by those who spent many happy times there. Their successors have all the modern amenities but don't have the same atmosphere as their replacements.
Room service on the QM2 is available 24/7 at no additional charge. The standard selections are what would be expected at a business hotel, and Grill passengers also have the option to order from that day's Grill menu. I prefer to have my meals in the dining room since that's what I'm paying for. But one morning I choose a simple room service breakfast because of an early morning Canyon Ranch Spa treatment. (Such disappointments must be accepted with grace on the QM2. I'd rather spend money in the Spa and feel great when I leave rather than spend money in the ship's casino and feel awful when I leave.) It was still pleasant because a balcony stateroom at sea makes for a wonderful ocean sight in the morning. (I really don't see the appeal of the new cruise ships which offer passengers an atrium view of a retail strip mall. I can check into a Motel 6 for that.)
Each morning promenade deck is alive with walkers making some brisk paces around the ship. The wrap around deck really helps make the ship feel so vast. When jogging one can keep going and going until tired instead of having to turn around at a wall.
Unfortunately, the Cruise Critic gathering that was supposed to happen in the Commodore Club never does. That's a profound disappointment as posts in the Cunard forum described it as a congenial gathering that typically includes 10-20 CC members.
Afternoon tea, in the Grills, is relaxed and elegant in the Queens Grill Lounge. Do make sure to ask for a scone -â€“ they are heavenly. (Although I'm told the crÃ¨me is not authentic English clotted cream. It's not available outside the UK and the ship was provisioned in New York.)
Diversions: Cunard is known for their Insight Lectures on sea days. On this trip maritime historian Bill Miller gave a total of three talks on the great ocean liners. As a speaker he was very passionate about this topic, and managed to squeeze in 100 years of history while interspersing it with humor. Each talk had a different perspective. Lectures take place in Illuminations: a multi-use presentation space for lectures, movies, recitals, and is also the Planetarium. Only the Planetarium shows require tickets. Unlike other shows, one must sit the red upholstered seats directly under the dome in the center of the room to see the Planetarium projections.
The real Planetarium can be seen outside on a clear night. For a city dweller, it's rare to see the more distant stars without their being obliterated by city lights. On nights which are partly cloudy, the shaded moonlight illuminates the surface of the Atlantic. It's an extraordinary sight that will only be seen by those who go to sea. One afternoon a scene almost out of a movie appeared - near the starboard bow a rainbow was bouncing on the water surface and a pair of dolphins came up to play with the ship's bow wake.
Another Insight Lecture concerned the Enigma cipher machines of WWII and the attempts by Polish, British, and French intelligence to unravel how the daily mechanical settings were changed.
The off-Broadway production shows take place in the Royal Court Theatre. Having been on the ship less than one year earlier I've seen them before, so I've opted for some of the smaller classical recitals in the Chart Room, Commodore Club, or Queens Grill Lounge.
The art auctions are gone, but in the afternoon the Winter Garden is taken up with "infomercial" type talks. Table sales outside the shops continue. Cunard is taking a marketing gimmick from New York sports teams and making available T-shirts proclaiming: "2011 Transatlantic Season". (I'm sure somebody has tried to wear one on formal night, reasoning that if they're sold on the ship they must be OK.)
The evening dress code on the QM2, especially on a transatlantic crossing, is taken very seriously. Many repeat transatlantic passengers adore the evening formality and elegance thank you, so please sail elsewhere if you are inclined to mess with it. The night before disembarkation is usually stated as "elegant casual". However only about one third of the passengers opted for that. While nobody was in formal black tie or long dresses, most men wore jackets with ties and women wear short evening dresses. Nobody looked like they went to dinner wearing whatever they had slipped on in the morning.
Slow internet connections on the maritime satellite system will happen depending on the position of the ship and how many passengers are connected. The five time zone changes are made one each night, effective at 2AM.
Upon returning to my stateroom each evening, my steward has laid out my PJs, robe, and the returned laundry. The QM2's laundry staff does an excellent job on pressing either cotton shirts or silk dresses.
For "in transit" guests during the Southampton layover, tour options for Windsor Castle or Bath were offered. The advantage to taking a Cunard-sponsored tour is that getting you back to the ship in time is their responsibility. The last evening began with an absolutely gorgeous sunset through the clouds, shining over the aft end, another sight that can only be experienced at sea.
The transatlantic crossing is a very special experience of the power and majesty of the Atlantic. The Queen Mary 2 is also a very special ship. She's built to handle the Atlantic and to do it with elegance that is increasing rare these days. The only reason I did not rate her five stars was due to the wear and tear throughout the ship, but by the time this review is read those issues will have been addressed in her November refit. I could not have known that Cunard would soon change her vessel registry and she loses the magic "Royal Mail Ship" title that made her a living link to the great past liners. How fortunate I was to have sailed her before that came to an end.