Editor's note: Queen Mary 2 goes into dry dock on May 27th, 2016, for its most significant refurbishment in 12 years. It comes out on June 21st and will make its first post-refurb crossing from Southampton on June 23rd. Among the many changes planned are: Fifteen single staterooms, a first for the ship. Thirty additional Britannia Club Balcony cabins, giving more passengers access to the exclusive Britannia Club Restaurant (which will also be expanded during the refurb). Britannia Club Balcony rooms. The addition of the Verandah Restaurant, replacing the Todd English restaurant, with an all-new menu that will be rolled out to the rest of the fleet once Queen Mary 2 comes back into service. Ten new animal kennels, along with a new inside play area and a larger outside walking area -- plus a lampost, for the dogs. A complete redesign of Kings Court, the ship's central buffet, with new serving stations, pre-set tables, waiters serving drinks and a reconfigured seating arrangement to create a less crowded experience. As part of the redesign, a bank of elevators will be removed in order to use the space for a central serving station, also reducing the number of entrances and exits to the buffet to make the flow of traffic less confusing. The addition of the Carinthia Lounge (replacing the current Winter Garden), an all-day venue serving a light breakfast and lunch, followed by an afternoon tea and evening drinks, refreshments and entertainment.
Perhaps no ship currently at sea excites a lover of maritime history like the Queen Mary 2.
The flagship of the Cunard line and successor to the much-missed QE2 does its best to echo the company's storied past, evoking as much traditional 'Britishness' as possible, despite being part of US-owned Carnival Corp. Launched in 2004 with a christening featuring Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Mary 2 attempts to conjure the traditional charm of ocean voyages with classic afternoon tea, elegant decor and dressy eveningwear, along with an outstanding outdoor Promenade ringing Deck 7. No neon, no PA announcements and no vendors enticing you to buy things all contribute to a refreshingly adult cruising experience.
QM2 is also the world's only purpose-built liner, as opposed to a ship, designed especially for Transatlantic crossings.
In 2014 the ship marked its 10-year anniversary with another suitably royal occasion -- a tour by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was by his wife's side when she christened the ship 10 years previously.
Yet for a ship that's so formal, a cruise on QM2 doesn't always deliver the level of luxury that you might expect. The sprawling Kings Court buffet on Deck 7 can be a zoo at peak hours, with passengers jostling for prime window seats, and service in the shops can be indifferent. Even within the sanctuary of the vessel's upper echelons -- the Princess and Queens Grills Restaurants and Lounge -- some staff can still be stiff and unhelpful.
Thanks to its size (at 1,130 feet, Queen Mary 2 is longer than three football fields, and one of the longest passenger ships afloat) the ship can seem surprisingly quiet in spots -- despite carrying 2,600 passengers. Indeed, it has the highest passenger to space ratio in the industry, and as we prowled the corridors reading the delightful historical placards, we found ourselves alone in some hallways. Part of the appeal of this ship is just these nooks and crannies where you can read, play cards or simply stare out to sea.
And in an era of noisy cruise ship bells and whistles, this throwback to quieter values is exactly what Cunard's passengers crave. There is just one announcement a day -- at noon, by the Captain -- telling us our progress, and that's it. Otherwise silence. The daily program, along with Canyon Ranch's onboard spa and fitness facilities, provides plenty of diversions, but they're more sedate than rock-climbing competitions and waterslide races. Plus there is something to be said for a rigorous dress code; donning sport coats and cocktail dresses does prompt you to sit a little straighter (even if wearing heels gets old after a few days). If you're looking to add a little elegance to your life, a crossing on Queen Mary 2 will certainly fit the bill.
At time of writing (May 2014), the ship has completed 215 Atlantic crossings and sailed some 1.5 million nautical miles, 420 voyages and called at 177 ports in 60 countries.