The prospect of traveling onboard Queen Mary 2, the world's only ocean liner, is thrilling -- now more than ever -- following the ship's £90-million transformation in 2016. QM2's refurbishment has been carried out with equal amounts of style and sensitivity. The ship now truly feels like a five-star hotel, without losing Cunard's maritime heritage.
The biggest change is in the Kings Court buffet, which is unrecognizable with a completely fresh design and the removal of two central elevators. We love the area's new look; the redesign has transformed the space from a chaotic feeding frenzy into a calm space for daily grazing. The space could still benefit from more tables -- we spotted some passengers taking their plates to Carinthia Lounge (the former Winter Garden) to find a seat during the day.
The Grand Lobby has also lost its two glass elevators and thanks to its new starburst carpet, the space feels like it has come to life and finally found its purpose. QM2's 15 new Single cabins -- a first for the line -- are impressive, too. Designed to offer solo travelers or those traveling with friends their own cabin space, we love this new addition to the ship. Although they're the smallest cabins onboard, the new singles feel spacious and light and, best of all, everything from furnishings to the bathroom fit out is all shiny and new.
With four elevators removed and 50 new cabins added, the ship could have become overcrowded around the other elevators, but this doesn't seem to be a problem. Our transatlantic crossing sailed at capacity, yet the ship felt as spacious as ever. Remarkably, in fact, some areas often seemed quiet. One evening in the brand-new Carinthia Lounge, for example, we were among only a handful of passengers in the room. A favorite area during the day, Carinthia Lounge felt lacking in character in the evenings, although the sophisticated tones and seating is a step up from the aged space it replaced.
Some things never change, though. There's still just the one daily captain's announcement at noon, which provides an update on the ship's progress. From the row of wooden sun loungers bearing the ship's royal motif on the Promenade Deck to the Art Deco-style Britannia Restaurant, QM2 does an exceptionally good job at allowing its passengers to feel that they've stepped back in time.
Commodore Club and Churchill's Cigar Lounge also remain unchanged -- aside from fresh carpets and upholstery -- and they've lost none of their charm. Our tip is to spend a few hours after dinner in Churchill's to indulge in conversation with some of the ship's many fascinating characters. If you'd rather avoid the smell of smoke, Commodore Club is equally as charismatic.
For a line that bills itself as a luxury product, the ship under delivered in some areas. Notably the (un)helpfulness of receptionist and boutique staff and the quality of food in the ship's main dining room, Britannia Restaurant, where the majority of passengers eat. One evening in the Britannia Restaurant we ordered the beetroot salad, which arrived with a few tiny cubes of beetroot hidden below a handful of mixed green leaves, while on another occasion a fillet of haddock arrived overcooked and dry.
The ship's "remastering" was an opportunity not just for improved functionality and aesthetics, but for Cunard to improve on these areas, too, and we feel they haven't been addressed. However, the ship really excels in its specialty dining, both at Kings Court Specialty A La Carte -- the ship's daily changing themed restaurant -- and its new addition, The Verandah.
Traveling on QM2 still feels like an extremely special experience and there's a feeling of quiet excitement onboard, as you step back in time to a golden age of travel. Dressing for dinner is taken seriously and passengers enjoy the romance of taking walks on the Promenade Deck, dancing in the Queens Room and experiencing the Planetarium. And the thrill of approaching New York (if you're on a westbound crossing), becomes palpable the nearer you get to the U.S.
Passengers looking to experience cruising at its most elegant and formal will love QM2, but if you're looking for a more modern variety of relaxed luxury -- a ship that provides top-notch service without fanfare -- QM2 is probably not for you.