Lots of pluses but some significant negatives for the Queen Mary 2 on our recent trip. The good stuff first. Our voyage was a short one, only Cape Town to Fremantle, and being virgin cruisers this was a treat that we had long been looking forward to. The ship is startlingly beautiful and we kept on finding lots of interesting new nooks and crannies. Everything on the ship was sparkingly clean -- I would love to find a hospital somewhere in the world that measures up in the cleanliness stakes. Our cabin, nay, stateroom, was fine...well designed, with excellent storage, a good little bathroom - all pristine and shipshape. The excellent bed linen seemed to be changed every other day and bathroom towels were replenished daily. We found the in-hull balcony just slightly oppressive but it was certainly sheltered from the wind and quite ok - except for a very distasteful sewage smell which I will come to later. The sun was directly overhead on our voyage but in a month or so either side of Jan/Feb it would slant in quite nicely if you were on the appropriate side of the ship for private sunbathing. Our cabin steward, Larry, was excellent and most efficient.
We just loved the grandeur of the Britannia dining room with its wonderful table settings and delightful waiting staff. In fact, did we meet any unfriendly, unhelpful crew members? No, not one. Where on earth do they find all these people? The food at first seemed gluggily British but in retrospect I think that was due to our unlucky choices early on. We got smarter as the days went by, and found that copying the menu choices made by our very Cunard-experienced tablemates yielded some excellent meals. Lunches in the Britannia room are not at set tables and these proved to be good experiences - meeting four or six new people every day resulted in some lengthy, hilarious and interesting lunches with nice people and only one chap who was a clunker in the entire 14 days of lunch companions. Our regular table of six for dinner each night was a treasure trove and I suspect we were very lucky to have been assigned to that table. The Commodore Club was our favourite place, a divine piano bar right at the front of the ship with a gazelle-like Russian waitress who is supremely watchable and elegant; second place went to the library where we sat for hour-long periods in superb chairs looking out at the prow of the ship and reading or, dammit, nodding off. The public rooms are well described by other reviewers and consequently they matched our expectations.
A crazy mixture of humanity comprised the complement of passengers. Before boarding in Cape Town we seemed to be surrounded by lots of old frumpies or over-tanned animal-print-wearers. But once on board everyone sorted themselves out and the frumpies obviously didn't bother dressing for dinner so I expect they would have spent most of their time in the English pub sort of bar or the casino, neither of which appealed to us, and then would probably cram themselves into the ghastly food court for their meals (24-hour hot and cold food, can you believe it) instead of Britannia.
Now for the bad bits which I feel compelled to mention, in spite of our enjoyment of the voyage. We didn't leave Cape Town until the morning after scheduled departure because of strong winds apparently. But isn't the QM2 supposed to be the most manoeuvrable ship of 'em all? Maybe the ghost of the sad old Costa Concordia affected this decision. The ship obviously took it easy going up to Durban, arriving a whole day later than planned, and after leaving Durban the commodore revealed his cunning plan of skipping our Mauritius stop altogether so that the ship could trundle at leisure (and economically) across to Fremantle. Curious, but he might have been rather more frank about that decision. We had ten straight days at sea and that isn't good, even on the QM2. People were disappointed, if not furious.
And the Queen Mary 2 with her much vaunted "pods" and engine efficiency failed not once but TWICE on the ten days from Durban to Fremantle. The first time was late one morning in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I was still in our room and my other half was playing, er, "golf" (yes, simulated golf but apparently rather fun) when I heard a hideous graunching noise down below and suddenly everything went deathly quiet. Emergency strip lighting came on in the passageway and when I looked out, I saw some alarmed faces peering from inside cabins which were apparently in total darkness (another good reason to have a balcony I figured). The commodore was being interviewed downstairs at the time, presumably about the wonders and efficiency of the QM2(!) and had to scarper up several flights of stairs to the bridge so his voice over the tannoy sounded alarmingly puffed. We were pleased to hear it was physical exertion, not panic, that caused his breathlessness. He assured us there was no shipping anywhere near us -- er, was THAT reassuring? About 15-20 minutes later, after lots of wobbly attempts, rather like granddad pulling on the cord of the old lawnmower to get the motor started, the huge engines kicked into life and we were off. I thought it was to be a one-off occurrence, but at about 1:52am on the night before arrival in Fremantle it happened again. This time for much longer -- it was not till about 2:45am before the constant thrum of engines could be heard after lots of "engine cord-pulling". This time they got away with it because most people were fast asleep, so there was no announcement made and most people were none the wiser on our arrival in Fremantle. I found the second failure rather alarming. The first could perhaps be written off as human error, but a second failure makes you think. I wonder if there have been previous engine failures on the QM2?
Finally, we are still trying to do a memory erasure on the smell of sewage on the ship. When we boarded in Cape Town the smell in stairwell D and the D lifts was sickening and I wondered how we could avoid that area during the trip. But it disappeared after day 2 and I noticed it in the stairwell on only one other occasion. However, the smell remained overpowering on our balcony for the first few days and on lots of subsequent occasions. We always opened our balcony door with trepidation and were relieved when we couldn't smell it out there. I mentioned it to a couple of people who had been on other ships and they laughed, saying it was just something that you had to put up with on cruise ships. Oh really? I rather wish the QM2 would conduct tours of their sewage treatment facility as well as their water treatment plant, both of which must be quite fascinating operations. I must say the water on the ship was lovely -- the iced water served at table was fantastic and was nice and "soft" in the shower.
It's a peculiar thing, this shipboard life, yet people go back again and again. I think that next time we would stick to a course where we were able to disembark every two or three days. And personally speaking, for my first cruise, I didn't like being away from the e-world for such long periods. The erratic and expensive satellite coverage didn't cut it for me.
But....ignoring the few negatives, it was a fascinating and enjoyable holiday at mass-market prices so perhaps we shouldn't complain.