Queen Mary 2
8th December -- 'A Taste of France'
Let us set out my terms of reference first. This review has been written by a frequent Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruiser for similar RCI & CC cruisers and it is against those lines that most comparisons will be made. These notes were made contemporaneously into a dictating machine.
Arrived at the terminal at about 1.00pm to enormous queues in a 'zigzag' but it was only a few minutes to the actual check-in desks. Interestingly, unlike RCI & CC, one went through check-in (without having to present a ticket) before going through the security scanners, but I think this was more a function of the berth we were at than it was of Cunard. Unfortunately, there were only two security screens and that caused a tailback such that the queue for the scanners backed into the queue for the check-ins. We were not at the usual QM berth so this may be an unusual observation.
After going through security one went up some steps into a holding area -- you were given a ticket as you entered and in a few minutes my ticket was called to allow me on board. At 2.15 I arrived in my cabin, sorry -- stateroom.
For those not in the know, this was the maiden 'shakedown' voyage after a refit. A lot was new. This being my first time on the QM, I could not tell for sure what was new. Mostly I had to rely on what I had been told.
The carpet in my cabin was certainly new. It was an alternating dark and light brown wavy lined pattern -- and not to my taste. The curtains were certainly new as they had the crisp starchy feel that most new fabric has before it goes in for a wash. The bed linen looked clean and fresh. There was lots of light faux wood all over and the wardrobe, drawers, and the safe's position all met with my approval. The wardrobes were deep enough to hang my jacket 'straight' and not at an angle. There was a half bottle of sparkling wine for me, which was good, but no tea or coffee making facilities -- which was not good.
I would say the cabin was possibly slightly bigger than my usual RCI and certainly bigger than CC. The cabin was certainly wider as I could walk, without having to twist slightly, between the foot of the bed and the wall. The bed was King size whereas on RCI & CC it is only Queen sized. There was a medium sized TV in the corner on the writing desk, the usual ships information pack with a couple of postcards, but no souvenir pen. The sofa, perhaps a sofa bed, was very comfortable.
I did not go armed with a tape measure, but the bathroom seemed smaller compared to RCI -- there was certainly less 'standing' space. This was possibly down to the fact that there was a large shower cubicle -- with very uncomfortable anti-slip dimples (perhaps to encourage you to be quick and save water). A pleasing selection of toiletries was to be found.
OK, the ship had just come out of a refit, but the balcony was a disgrace. The last thing anyone would want -- even a team of navvies- would be to sit down on the balcony furniture and have a drink or something to eat from the table. Dirt, dust and rust were everywhere.
The card that I expected to see with my dining arrangements was not there. When I phoned the purser's desk, I was told to arrive at the dining room and my table number would be given then -- I could foresee a disaster if about four thousand people all did the same so went in search of the assistant Maitre De.
A lifeboat drill was scheduled for 4.00pm -- wearing the life jacket was not necessary but carrying them was. A register or roll call was not taken to ensure everyone attended, unlike RCI. Unlike all my previous experiences of lifeboat drills on RCI, my muster station was in a lounge area inside the ship and not stood outside in the cold.
I went to the Britannia Restaurant and witness my first 'domestic'. An elderly couple were trying to change sittings but could not agree what their cabin number was. I found my table, very nice table for eight by a window.
I needed nourishment before dinner so went in search of some. I then did battle at Kings Court. The coffee machines are the same as RCI, no jigger pots of milk but jugs labelled 'Full', 'Skimmed', 'Half and Half' and always at least one unlabelled to keep you guessing. The serveries were like RCI and the new CC -- islands serving specific items. However, they were small counters -- too small, and the tables were practically on top of the serveries. The whole area was cramped an unappealing. In addition, unlike other public areas (see below), the ceilings were low and it very much reminded one of the cafeterias you might find in a department store. I thought (at the time) that this must be because QM2 cruisers (like CC) prefer formal dining so the line puts little effort into casual eateries. (Either the people on this cruise were unrepresentative or I was wrong.) Still, I had a very nice slice of pear tart.
I found the 'Chart Room' -- and what a disappointment. All that has happened here is giving a sea going sounding name to a bar at sea. It could have had lots of shipping items on display but all there was was about 8 -10 prints on the walls. For something approaching a 'themed' bar, I would recommend the Schooner Bars on board RCI. The only thing positive I have to say about this venue (though in common with most other public areas on board) is that there are high ceilings.
Jason, my steward introduced himself -- pleasant enough. A word about the cabin key card. Compared to RCI, there are two things missing: One's dining arrangements and muster station number -- so I wrote them both on the signature strip.
So, after one Dinner and one Breakfast, if all you ate were three meals a day then you would not get fat (but you might die of hunger waiting to be served). One of my table party at dinner had a digestive issue and the waiters took great care to ensure his meals took this into account. Last night the clocks moved forward an hour. At least the passengers' clocks had. I had gone to Kings Court at the appointed hour for breakfast but they were not ready for another hour. I went to the Britannia at the stroke of 8.00 but did not get any food until 08:50. I was new to Cunard cuisine so took my glasses to read the menu. Someone at breakfast was obviously experienced and accustomed to 'Eggs Benedict' that he ordered. However, they were not on the menu. Neither was the fish he wanted. When it was suggested that he order something from the menu he said that he could not read it. The assistant Maitre De came over and initially started to apologise to me until I pointed him in the right direction. Unfortunately, you get them everywhere, well no, you do not actually.
Then my moment of triumph (or so I thought at the time). I got a ticket to the Planetarium show in the afternoon from the desk outside the entrance.
I had been to the purser and obtained a foldout map of the ship and it had a slot into which you could put your room card. Then, as is my custom on a ship new to me, to the top deck and work my way down. Or I would have done if the weather had not been so bad and access to the outer decks had not been stopped by barriers. It was very windy and the ship was rolling a bit.
Here is now the opportunity to say something in general. There were, unlike RCI & CC, many quiet areas where one can just sit with no one attempting to sell you anything (like drink). Something I am sure does not happen on RCI & CC is someone in the cruise director's office has a plan of the ship and marks on it who is performing when and where. On board RCI & CC there is so much music (some live, most not) that the sounds bleed into one another and all you can hear is a noise. Moreover, for the most part, the only time (and place) you can 'just sit' is in the bars and before they open.
There will now follow a list of places I visited with simple comments that may (or may not) be of interest. I will make a comment about 'a bar' not because I am that concerned but because it usually forms an integral element of any public space on board RCI & CC.
Atlantic Room, a quiet public room, no bar, a bridge class was taking place at the time.
Oh, wonder of wonders -- the library is fantastic (as is the adjacent bookshop). Not only is there an excellent selection of reading material in wonderful displays but there are about eight seats looking over the ship's bow in which you can sit and read. The library would put my local lending library to shame, and the bookshop would do the same to that on the Independence of the Seas.
Something I have never read about anywhere is the observation lift. There is an observation lift on the outside of the ship, protected by the bridge structure that goes between decks 11 & 8. From this you can look astern - almost the length of the ship.
There is an observation area on deck 7 that is protected from the elements by glass screens and behind which is the weights room of the gym. Through the gym is the Winter Garden.
The Winter Garden is a nice open sitting area (with a bar) that makes one think of a continental courtyard. Through the Winter Garden lies the Kings Court casual eatery. At the time of recording, it was 10.00 and the queues were miles long (I did say earlier the place was too small) and in theory 10.00 is closing time for breakfast and food was actually being taken away from the serveries by the crew to much public annoyance.
I found myself in The Queens Room. It really was a very nice open ballroom. I am not a ballroom dancer but I could appreciate the place. I do not know if there is a bar, but it was not obvious. What is obvious is that Cunard has not learnt from RCI that so-called 'art auctions' are to be thrown overboard.
The Champagne bar seems to be exactly that, Champagne and Champagne only. It also seemed a very 'public' area; perhaps if you are quaffing glasses of champagne you want people to see you quaffing them. Interestingly, the public toilets were that -- public. Whether it was an accident of timing or not, but all the public toilets I passed in the morning had their outer doors open.
The shops (including Harrod's) were selling lots of quality merchandise, no tat. Much was un-priced. I was told that following the refit, the effort was to put the stuff out, never mind the pricing. Looking at some of the stuff, I think the saying 'if you have to ask the price you cannot afford it' rings true.
Opposite the Chart Room is Sir Samuel's. It used to be a bar but was now fitted out as a coffee shop selling specialty coffees. As it was nearly time for elevenses, it was time to put it to the test so I ordered a cappuccino. My cappuccino arrived with a sprinkle of chocolate (hooray) but no doily (boo). In truth I should have said my *COLD* cappuccino arrived, but it was served in good Wedgewood.
The Red Lion Pub is convincing as a pub -- perhaps a little too well decorated for one close to where I live. It was having a 'Name that tune' competition at the time.
Another general observation: I do not know if there has been a recent change in smoking policy but there was, to me, a smell of stale tobacco smoke almost everywhere. On the other hand, is that what new carpet smells of?
Now I would really have liked to have seen proper blue prints of the ship. Unlike RCI & CC, there were some very great enclosed areas that had no exterior feature or clue as to their purpose. Now I understand the exhaust form the ship's engines have to get to the stack somehow, but on RCI & CC there are no obvious clues as to the existence of the ship's workings but on QM2 there were floor to ceiling features (great chunks of ship) in public spaces that were not public.
A light lunch in Kings Court included a cheese roll that tasted of cheese that is not always the case. I am uncomfortable with the name Kings Court -- I think it should be either King's or Kings', but this is how Cunard names it.
Then my greatest disappointment -- there was no planetarium show on this cruise. Instead, a feature film was being shown.
Most people think their favourite cruise lines are the best. In the gap between breakfast and lunch, a crewmember was vacuuming the floor in Kings Court. I heard a passenger say in horror, "You'd never see than on P&O". Really? Because?
A word or two about lifts. They are generally smaller than RCI, they are much slower too. There are two 'express' lifts that connect only decks 2, 3 & 7 -- the eating areas. This enables you do perform a quick reconnoitre to see what was available at either venue before you commit yourself.
I found 'The Lookout' -- an observation area on open deck, again behind a glass screen overlooking the bow. Behind me was the sports deck with people playing tennis.
I then found a sort of 'look-in'. On deck 12 on the port side is an observation area into the ship's bridge. The wall between the crew and public has been replaced with glass so you can see the crew's activities. When I was there, there was not much activity to be seen but what I thought at the time was that the people on watch did not look old enough to be out of short trousers never mind in charge of a ship.
I found the Commodore Club where I expected the Cruise Critics to meet (but they obviously had heard of me and were elsewhere). I thought the layout odd. The curvature of the bar (and whatever was behind it -- another great chunk of ship) meant that you could not see from one side to the other.
A good night's sleep. I have been told that not only was the bedding new but the beds were too. However I was very conscious of the join where the two single mattresses were meeting in the middle, unlike on CC.
A word about my fellow guests. I was not aware of anyone slamming his or her doors at night (or anytime actually). This happens ALL the time on RCI (apart from when I close my door, as I am considerate). Are Cunard's doors different or are the guests better behaved?
I took breakfast at Kings Court at 7.45 as all the organised tours were scheduled to leave at or before 7.30. It was very quiet. The standard 'English Breakfast' items were all on display. Instead of plastic portions of preserve, small jars of Frank Cooper's were available.
Lunch, without fellow passengers, was good. Two things I liked: The drinks dispensers had orange juice (RCI & CC's machines only have orange juice at breakfast) and you had trays to carry all your spoils to your table (also unlike RCI & CC).
In the afternoon, it was sunny and with most of the passengers ashore, I took photographs.
Some places it was difficult to go from stem to stern on the same deck as something on the way went the full beam. Examples are the Britannia Restaurant on deck 3 blocking access to the Queens Room and G32, similarly the Todd English Restaurant on deck 8 barring access to the Terrace Bar and pools.
Some slip-on slippers have been delivered to my cabin along with a bathrobe. The balcony still looks like the residue of a building site.
Now the 'yard stick' changes. It is time for Afternoon Tea and the comparison to be made is against Reid's Hotel in Madeira. Punctuality seems not to be a Cunard strong point as the 'unveiling' was late. There were trays of finger sandwiches, all unlabelled -- I presume either you (like the person at my first breakfast) know what to expect or you take a guess based on the colour of the filling. Either way, they were not moist and had obviously not been covered since being cut. The scones were really very good and the cream bordered on clotted but just fell short as it was a little too runny. The jam however was something else. What that something was I do not know but it had a consistency of some builders' filler. It did look and taste of strawberry, but I feared for my stomach. I am sorry, but Reid's wins.
I should point out that I had afternoon tea in the Kings Court though it is available in both the Winter Garden and Queens Room. A Champagne Afternoon Tea was available in a section of the Winter Garden for $26.50 -- though how much Champagne you got for that I do not know. Now I would remind you (if you are still with me) of something I said at the beginning about someone having a plan of the ship and knowing what was going on when and where. Now because of the layout, the Winter Garden neatly divides into four. It just so happens that the quarter serving the Champagne Afternoon Tea was adjacent to a section of corridor that was being decorated. Champagne was being served with an accompanying smell of paint and turps or white spirit. Lovely. Perhaps it was for the benefit of any former meths drinkers that had suddenly come into some money.
Back in the cabin and a good idea on the TV. Some of the in house channels are showing future cruises and images of the various cabins on the ship. Ah, some (soft) drink has arrived in my fridge -- a little late I suggest.
It is after dinner and my balcony has been cleaned. Dinner was OK, certainly not 'special' -- I cannot tell any difference between that and RCI & CC. Cunard certainly has knowledgeable wine waiters, unlike RCI. I have ordered breakfast in my room tomorrow as a test.
Something I noticed is my cabin is not very dark at night. There is quite a gap above and below my cabin door, there is some sort of illuminated panel above my cabin door (no doubt for emergencies) and outside my balcony is a floodlight so that the QM2 can advertise itself. I could almost read with my lights off and the curtains closed.
It is a good job I am an early riser as my in-cabin breakfast arrived 30 minutes earlier than it should. On RCI you are phoned in advance of your room service being delivered.
Now I do not know what was going through their minds but I ordered for one. Some things I ordered two portions, ie 2 x eggs and 2 x bacon, and the portions came on separate plates -- one with sausage and one with hash browns. However, it was quite good and as warm as I may have received in the restaurant. My carton of milk was labelled 'Welsh Milk'.
Later this morning is a ship's crew safety drill. Let's see if my cabin gets checked. Now here is an interesting offer (amongst all the papers I had delivered). You can pay a deposit against a cruise, any cruise -- it does not have to be specified at the time, and when you book your chosen cruise ashore you can use your deposit and it will operate as if you had booked on board and you get your on-board booking benefits. I do not know what that means for a Cunard cruiser but for RCI it could mean a lot.
I have had the disembarkation details. It is quite simple -- you disembark according to your deck number. It sounds sensible enough (great for me) but does not take into account passengers' onward travel arrangements -- that could be quite complicated.
Again, the Kings Court was not ready at the appointed hour for luncheon. Something that may have got lost in translation was the sign that said 'The Carvery', but it was above all the salad ingredients.
The drill was over but all of a sudden all the electricity failed. I was (or had been) watching television, some other people may have become alarmed. I was more worried about my wine in the fridge getting warm. Something I had noticed all day was quite a vibration. Whether it was a hang over from the refurbishment I do not know, but it was very noticeable.
I sat down and put the experience in review. What did I get, if anything, that was better than RCI or CC? I hope I am not being too unkind when I say I got passengers that even if they were not better than on other cruise lines, they smugly thought they were superior to most -- something they have in common with P&O. Perhaps some were but I wish they used the entire cutlery that was available to them and not use their fingers -- even in a supporting role. They are certainly polite from a young age. I was sat on one of the games tables, working out what the QM2 would cost me compared to the Independence for my Canaries cruise next April. A young boy came up to me and said, "Excuse me but are you playing that game?" I replied, "No, I'll move for you" to which that young boy said "Thank you sir". I found some things confusing and some annoying. Unlike the Independence where I can go anywhere with one exception and eat anywhere, here there were places off limits to oiks like me but the names they had were not explicit enough, ie some places called 'Queen's' I could go to and others not. I do not like the dress code -- I am happy to wear a tie every night but do not like to have to wear a jacket every night (even with no tie). The passengers were certainly obedient. At the performance by Blake in the (very small) theatre, patrons were requested not to use flash photography during the performance -- and none did. Moreover, there was not a constant coming and going throughout the performance. I listened, politely, to some thinly veiled criticism of RCI (from people that had not sailed on the line).
Breakfast in Kings Court was ready (for once). There was a printing problem overnight so no on board statements are available. I 'phoned for my balance -- it sounded right. I wondered if they would be posted on. My disembarkation was very quick and efficient and I found my bags quicker than I have ever done.
Overall conclusion. Never mind the cruise I had just been on as that was somewhat special given the circumstances. Knowing what I now know, would I book again? No, it is not worth it for me but if others are happy with the QM2 experience then good luck to them.