We try to visit our daughter, who married an American and lives just outside Chicago, twice a year and were planning a week's visit for November when an attractive Cunard Transatlantic offer came to my attention. The dates fitted and using airline points for the flights it worked out almost as inexpensive as flying with a weeks cruise thrown in!
It was inevitable that we compared our voyage on the QM2 with previous cruises, mainly with Celebrity where we are Elite members. Overall the Cunard and QM2 experience was (of course) excellent value for money and a very enjoyable and satisfactory way to cross the Atlantic.
Embarkation at Southampton was efficient and took about 45 minutes with adequate seating available whilst we were waiting to check in and then embark. We were greeted with a somewhat muted welcome as we boarded and then had to find our own way with our hand baggage to our stateroom. We were impressed to find all three of our suitcases had got there before us (a first) and so we unpacked before starting our exploration of the ship. Our standard inside stateroom was very similar to others we had occupied even if the decor was somewhat bland. There was more than adequate storage and everything worked properly with ample toileteries and a good shower in the usual small but almost perfectly formed bathroom. Our stateroom attendant introduced himself and was cheerfully efficient throughout the voyage.
We then needed sustenence and went up to the Kings Court cafeteria/buffet on deck 7. This facility is probably the only really unsatisfactory feature of the QM2; its design is unattractive and confusig with potentially dangerous people flows when the area is busy. Furthermore the standard of food was not good with limited selections of often tired and rather bland offerings. This seemed to be the case at both breakfast and lunch times which encouraged us to eat during the day in the Britannia dining room more often than we had on previous cruises.
The Britannia dining room is an elegant and impressive room with three floors of seating. We had requested second sitting (8.30pm) on a large table and were comfortably seated on a table for six with two other delightful couples with whom we enjoyed six very pleasant dinners. Our waiter was generally efficient and friendly but we felt that the food quality, presentation and style of service did not quite reach Celebrity Cruises levels. On one night we asked for the early seating as we wished to attend a3D screening of a Royal Opera House production of Carmen (which was excellent) and quite coincidentally were seated on our same table and met two other interesting couples. One advantage of breakfasting and lunching in the formal restaurant is that it again gives the opportunity to meet and converse with more guests: this we enjoyed. We used room service occasionally for food and beverages - this was good and prompt.
The many public areas of the ship are spacious and generally elegant with some interesting artwork and many murals and pictures depicting the history of Cunard, transatlantic sailing and previous vessels in the Cunard fleet. Our favourite places were the library and the Commodore Club. The QM2 is really spacious and absorbs its passengers well - the atrium and shops on decks 2 and 3 are very well done but not very well stocked.
Entertainment and activities are many and varied: the lectures were interesting (with the talks repeated on the in-room television over the following 24 hours). I attended bridge lessons and played duplicate bridge in the afternoons though the venue in the Atlantic Room was not ideal. My wife used the well equipped gym and the addictive golf simulator. We both attended the cinema twice (as well as Carmen) and took in one of the production shows (average) and a male singer who had sung the lead in a number of West End musicals (very good). Internet access is OK, if expensive, with the WiFi working in many parts of the ship (including our stateroom).
The QM2 sails well and even though we experienced some seas of up to 12 feet and force 7 winds for a couple of days and nights (which forced the closing off of some of the top deck areas) the voyage was generally quite smooth for us though we were aware that some passengers did find the sea conditions unpleasant on a couple of the days. Capable of sailing at least 28 knots we did in fact average about 21 knots - hence the 7 day scheduled time rather than the 5 days the old Cunarders used to take. Presumably the slower speed saves fuel and makes for a more comfortable crossing.
All too soon we arrived in New York at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and having requested an early disembarkation in order to ensure we caught our flight to Chicago from Newark the process was smooth and efficient and took about 30 minutes including clearing Customs and Immigration. We had prebooked a car to take us to Newark through the internet and the transfer took about 45 minutes -very satisfactory.
Our verdict: we would certainly take the Transatlantic crossing with Cunard again - much better than flying! However we are not convinced that the overall cruise experience measures up to Celebrity Cruises standards and there would have to be good reasons such as the itinerary or the cost for us choosing to cruise on Cunard rather than Celebrity.