We have just returned to reality after spending 22 wonderful nights on Queen Mary 2 as she circumnavigated Australia during her 2012 World Voyage.
The QM2 docked in Sydney at the Garden Island naval base and therefore passengers were embarked and disembarked at Wharf 5 Darling Harbour. Arriving at Wharf 5 we received our boarding card relatively quickly and, despite being given the wrong one by the attendant, managed to pass through customs and board the catamaran (that would take us to the ship) within a reasonably short period of time. The catamaran ride from Darling Harbour to Garden Island was a lot of fun and provided many excellent photo opportunities of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House. Upon boarding the ship we were directed to the Queens Room where we handed over the credit card and were provided with our room swipe key. The whole process probably took no longer than an hour and a half (including catamaran ride) and I thought Cunard did an excellent job.
We'd booked a Princess Grill suite and were impressed with the new decor (following the Nov 2011 refit) and the cleanliness of the suite. The new carpet, bedding, fabric on the sofa & chair and curtains all looked wonderful. Having now seen a variety of staterooms on board QM2 (from Queens Grill down to an inside) I can honestly say that the Princess Grill suites enjoy the best location (deck 10 - not too high and the view not impacted by the lifeboats) and have an excellent floor plan. There was enough room for us to store three large suitcases and multiple bags along with what seemed like a ton of clothes. The bathroom is very large (includes bathtub) and can easily accommodate two people at once without feeling the slightest bit claustrophobic. The balcony is very spacious and includes proper steamer chairs (made of wood). We spent 22 nights in this suite and enjoyed every minute, the bed was so comfortable and the sheets and pillows were lovely and soft. Our suite was kept very clean by our steward who did a good job cleaning and maintaining it every day.
We ate in the Princess Grill and enjoyed open seating on a table for six. In addition to the daily chef's specials (which change daily) there is an a la carte menu which had some wonderful dishes on it such as Duck a l'orange & Dover Sole. The food in the Princess Grill was excellent. Each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner we enjoyed wonderful dishes that were cooked perfectly and always arrived at the table at the correct temperature. Ordering off-menu was never a problem and all of my requests were met (some with very short notice). During our voyage we decided at one point to only have desserts that were flambeed at the table, our head-waiter was excellent and came up with suggestions for flambeed desserts we hadn't thought of. During the 22 night voyage there were a couple of dishes I didn't care for (nothing wrong with them - I just didn't care for them) so I simply sent them back and ordered something else. The staff genuinely cared whether or not we enjoyed our meals. On the rare occasion we didn't eat everything (too full) they made enquiries to ensure that everything had been to our satisfaction. One of the pleasures of dining in the Princess Grill, in addition to being able to dine at whatever time you like (within the restaurant opening hours), is that you have the same waitstaff for each meal. This means that they quickly learn, and remember, your preferences, which means you no longer have to ask for your preferred breakfast tea or bread roll - they just appear.
On our last day we tried Todd English for lunch and were quite disappointed. The three of us all thought the food was nothing special and the service perfunctory. I remember a post on the Cunard boards were someone said that the way to have a Grills experience on a budget was to book a Britannia stateroom and eat at Todd English every night. Having now experienced Todd English, I can, with confidence, categorically reject this suggestion as the food and service is a thousand times better in the Grills.
Afternoon tea was wonderful, every day we'd enjoy tea with cakes and scones in the Queens Grill lounge. The offerings were always delicious and the service excellent (with one exception on one day).
The service on board:
Truly outstanding. The staff in the Princess Grill that looked after us were excellent. Our head waiter, two waiters and junior waiters were all consummate professionals and their attentive service made each meal feel as though it was a special occasion. We couldn't have asked for more, the service truly was exceptional.
Outside of the Princess Grill the excellent customer service was maintained throughout the ship. Each staff member we passed acknowledged and smiled at us. The staff in the shops were friendly and knowledgeable. From the deck attendants on the Grills deck (11) to the friendly bar staff in the Commodore Club, all of the staff on board were excellent. Throughout the ship the staff would remember us and what we regularly ordered; this includes Sir Samuel's, The Commodore Club and the Queens Grill lounge. The excellent service was replicated throughout the ship - in the Grills and everywhere else.
Tendering operations & tours:
The three tender ports on our itinerary were the Whitsunday Islands, Cairns and Bali. The tendering process at Cairns and Bali were well organised and when rough weather struck at Cairns a catamaran was provided by Cunard to prevent further guests from getting seasick. We did get seasick whilst on a catamaran from the Whitsundays to the Great Barrier Reef however this wasn't a Cunard tender ride as such. If Cunard offers this tour again they should advise passengers to take seasickness medication prior to going on the tour. All the tours we went on were well organised and reasonably priced.
We didn't see as many shows as we should have done. We enjoyed watching the Cunard singers and dancers, they are excellent and put on a great show. The other entertainers that we saw were okay but nothing to write home about. With regards to the lecturers we enjoyed very much the lectures by Chris Frame and Dr Denny Whitford. There were other lectures on board but we never attended their lectures (we didn't hear glowing reports from those passengers that did attend).
Whilst we don't dance we did enjoy watching the dancing in the lovely surroundings of the Queens Room. G32 continues to disappoint as it's not a nightclub in the traditional sense, what with there being a Caribbean band in residence. What you need to do is work out when the DJ is playing (usually 10:30 - 11:30) and attend at those times with your friends. Expect to see a nearly empty dance floor and no atmosphere (except on Abba night when the place is pumping and the dance floor is full). The music isn't current so you'll need to make lots of requests to the DJ. Once you've got your requests in, and they're being played, you can dance with your friends and have a good time.
It's always enjoyable having pre-dinner or post-dinner drinks with friends in your favourite bar. Whether it's the Queens Grill lounge, the Chartroom or the Commodore Club there are plenty of really cool places to simply hangout and chat over drinks. We usually had pre-dinner drinks in the Queens Grill lounge and ended the night in the Commodore Club. The price of alcohol on board is quite reasonable and the staff are very helpful with suggestions of new cocktails to try.
The revamped shops are looking great and there is a really good selection of perfumes, aftershaves and merchandise. Everything was reasonably priced and I was pleased to see that the so called 'tables of tat' were set up near the shops and not in the main corridor on level three. There is also a good selection of basics (white shirts etc) if you find you haven't packed enough.
The photo packages are reasonably priced and they have some lovely albums you can purchase. There is also the option to purchase digital or print packages.
Purser's desk & Grills Concierge:
There were no issues with our interim or final on board account; everything was 100% accurate. We visited the purser's desk on about three occasions and each time they were very helpful and efficient. The Grills concierge was also very helpful, assisting us to cancel booked tours, book lunch at Todd English and also helping out with organising a drinks party in our suite by organising nibbles and complimentary champagne. One of our friends also hosted a drinks party in their suite and the Grills concierge sent out lovely invitations to the invitees.
On board maintenance:
The ship sparkled from top to bottom and we saw no signs of any lack of attention to detail with the maintenance of the ship. One of the vanity lights in our bathroom blew and our steward organised a replacement without us having to ask him to do so. Speaking of our steward he did a really good job of keeping our stateroom clean and tidy. We were always pleased with the job he did.
The gym and spa:
The gym is located forward on deck 7 and contains a large number of machines, free weights and treadmills. I never had to wait for a machine and found it to be very well equipped.
The Canyon Ranch Spa is also located forward on deck 7. There are spa packages you can purchase and these are very good value which also give you free access to the spa facilities for a set number of days. The spa itself is well equipped with various saunas, spas and a large pool. It was very relaxing using these facilities. The Canyon ranch staff who provided the various treatments we purchased were very professional and friendly.
We waited in the Chartroom until our number was called and exited the ship to find that our bags were waiting in the passenger terminal. Pleasingly they only had the bags for the number that had been called so we found our bags really quickly. There were plenty of trolleys available and once we passed through customs we were pleased to see that there were plenty of taxis waiting.Cunard was organising everything so that there were no big queues. A very smooth disembarkation.
Just one. I lodged a complaint at the Purser's desk and spoke with the Princess Grill maitre d' about it (as it occurred in the Queens Grill lounge) and I was very pleased with the way the maitre d' handled and resolved the situation for me. The maitre d' followed up with me that evening to advise me on what action he'd taken and include me in the decision on the final outcome, which I really appreciated. Because of the excellent manner in which Cunard resolved this matter for me it was no longer an issue and I continued to enjoy my cruise. I won't judge Cunard on the actions of one employee but I will judge them on how they responded to and resolved my complaint (and whether I feel I am genuinely being listened to) and in this respect I was entirely happy (and very impressed to be honest).
This cruise cost a lot of money and as far as I am concerned every cent was well spent. We had a wonderful time on board and met some lovely people. The food and service was excellent and ship itself is a dream - so stable and magnificent. Paying extra for the Grills is worth it in my opinion. As one of our waiters said to us "The service is good everywhere but in the Grills it's just different". And I agree, the service is excellent everywhere but we were made to feel very special in the Grills and I appreciated that.
If you're looking for a special cruising experience with wonderful food and attentive service, and you enjoy dressing for dinner and being surrounded by like-minded people, then you can't go past Cunard. If you're having a bad time on board Queen Mary 2 then you must be really working at it.