My wife and I embarked at Southampton for a 29 night Christmas and New Year cruise on board Queen Mary 2 . aptly entitled by Cunard as a 'Grand Caribbean Celebration'. As it turned out we were amongst the seven hundred or so passengers who were doing the full 29 nights, the balance of the 2,500 passengers on this, the first of three legs, opting just for the single west bound Atlantic crossing.
Check-in was relatively swift and easy and, as with all Cunard embarkations, staterooms were immediately available. From arrival at the Ocean Terminal to actual embarkation was under 30 minutes. Though we did have priority boarding, it was interesting to note the numbers of passengers without such an advantage arriving early, and being issued check-in allocation tickets.
Our accommodation was a Queens Grill Stateroom on Deck 9 which was very central and ideally close to the Grills Concierge Lounge. Luggage arrival was relatively slow compared with previous Cunard sailings though this was only a minor irritant and soon forgotten after an excellent lunch in the Queens Grill.
The ship had already been decorated for Christmas in a tasteful manner with understated elegance. Nothing was overdone and an unusual centre piece graced the Grand lobby: a collage of the main animals from 'Toad of Toad Hall. As on all Cunard voyages there were outstanding displays of fresh flowers throughout the ship.
All staterooms and many public areas had recently undergone major refurbishment only weeks before this voyage. As it was only eight weeks since our previous voyage we were keen to see the differences. Our Q5 suite was most impressive with curtains, carpets, bed covers and some furniture having all been replaced.
For us the best of the public room enhancements were in The Golden Lion pub and The Commodore Club. Carpets throughout the ship were generally much improved and offered a nice 'spring in the step' feeling.
We encountered a patch of rough weather on the initial trans Atlantic crossing. While there was some ship movement QM2 took the whole crossing in her stride while offering a degree of excitement to those who chose to watch her 'ride the seas' from those large windows on Decks 2 and 3.
If my memory serves me correctly one production show was postponed to the following evening due to the weather. Not at all bad for a winter crossing. We found both the daily and evening entertainment programmes well up to the usual Cunard standard. and the Insights lecture programmes were always well attended. Highlight for us on this crossing were intelligence analyst Glenmore Trenear-Harvey and Dr Alan Hamilton who gave a fascinating series of talks entitled 'confessions of a brain surgeon'.
Our evenings were mainly spent enjoying the dining experience, dancing in both the Queens Room and G32 Night Club or watching the occasional theatre show. Oh, and the odd cocktail party. There was always plenty to do and the various musical entertainers in the major bars and lounges were always well supported.
We arrived in New York's Brooklyn Cruise Terminal early morning and after a very early breakfast immediately headed off to Manhattan via the New York Subway. A description of our day in New York can be found at...
That evening, having turned around some 1,800 passengers, we headed south to the Caribbean. Our first stop on a slightly re-scheduled itinerary was St Thomas followed by Curacao and then a day at sea for Christmas day. We then visited Grenada on Boxing Day followed by Barbados, St Lucia, St Maarten and Tortola before heading back northwards for New York and eventually home to Southampton.
The ships entertainment programme again provided something for almost everyone and the festive party atmosphere seemed to go on endlessly.
There were three particularly outstanding entertainment artists on this second leg. The ever popular Roger McGuinn, co-founder and lead singer/guitarist with the legendary Byrds, a Jersey Boys tribute group called 'The Unexpected Boys' and for us, an unusual but most entertaining slapstick classical string quartet by the name of 'Graffiti Classics'. Great entertainment.
Christmas Day was, as usual for cruise ships, spent at sea. For the more traditional minded there was plenty on offer, a Christmas celebration Parade, church services, two Grand Lobby Christmas Carol events complete with snow and of course, the Queen's Speech broadcast throughout the ship. For the remainder of us sun worshippers there were the acres of deck space for which the QM2 is renowned.
Two of the above mentioned islands were tender ports.: St Lucia and Tortola. Tender routines were prompt and efficient. QM2 operates her tenders from two separate boarding positions. After a relatively short initial period tender ticket allocation was dispensed with and free access given. Having visited St Lucia so many times we opted to spend that day on board otherwise all other island visits lived up to expectations. We did one ships excursion at St Thomas which was fun and good value for money.
This particular leg of the cruise had a good international mix of passengers. Britain just about dominated at 1080 closely followed by Americans at 891, 212 Canadians and 123 Germans and 38 other nationalities.
One Cunard service that certainly delighted the British passengers was the full coverage given to Premiership football over the holiday period.
Our second stop at New York also saw a major passenger changeover. We again spent the day in Manhattan, indulging in a bit of US style January retail therapy. Getting off the ship and through US Immigration was not a problem, very slick if you are in transit.
The final leg of our Christmas voyage, between New York and Southampton was vintage Cunard and QM2. Even before we slipped away from the Brooklyn Terminal the bars and lounges were in full swing, you just knew that these passengers were going to enjoy themselves and money wasn't a problem. Indeed, despite its recent increase in seating, the Golden Lion was standing room only by 4.00pm, and that was before boat drill.
The whole entertainment programme took on a new lease of life. Guest speakers included General Lord Richard Dannatt and an outstanding Arabist speaker, Eamonn Gearon. For these two speakers there were full houses on each occasion. One 'Headline' artist on this leg stood out for the whole voyage. Dale Kristien is well known for her record breaking four-and-a-half years (1,700 performances) in the role of Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera. Ms Kristien first played Christine opposite the original phantom, Michael Crawford, on Broadway and they both premiered the show in Los Angeles
One of the benefits of multiple passenger changeovers is the opportunity to meet such a variety of table mates. Our chosen table for six in the Queens Grill proved more than interesting and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting an amazing variety of guests on each changeover. These ranged from a retired Brooklyn Commissioner who was in office at the time of 9/11, a retired US Navy Captain who had served on an exchange visit at the air station where my wife and I met and were married, and one of the guest speakers, General The Lord Richard Dannatt.
On two occasions we dined in the Britannia Restaurant. Once as a guest of the Captain and once to join friends whom we had met on this cruise. On both occasions we found the food, service and ambiance in the Britannia Restaurant to be superb.
The home crossing was smooth and the daily atmosphere on board was vintage QM2 for quality, variety and social activity. A thoroughly enjoyable 29 days.