Queen Mary 2 (QM2) Entertainment
Regular trans-Atlantic passengers are generally good self-entertainers, but today's cruise passengers expect the same types of programming from the trans-Atlantic voyage as from a sea day on a typical Caribbean cruise.
Apart from lavish evening shows, daytime Champagne art auctions and bingo sessions, QM2 really sets itself apart with its multi-tiered enrichment program. "Cunard Insights" explores historical and contemporary issues presented by explorers, academics, former politicians, musicians, historians, film makers and the like. Obviously, there's quite a bit of variety here. One crossing may feature former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn, another Jeffery Weinberg, an expert on U.S. presidents.
There are several other prongs to the enrichment program. The "Julliard Jazz Series" features performances by students and faculty from the prestigious music institution, Royal Astronomical Society presenters talk stars and solar systems, and the Royal Academy of Arts graduate company presents specially edited versions of classic plays and novels, each lasting no more than one hour.
Queen Mary 2 also offers an extensive computer learning program in its Apple Learning Centre, across from the Connexions Internet cafe. Apple iStudy courses, taught on iMac computers, cover topics such as basic computer skills on Macs and PCs, photo editing, movie making, and using new technology such as Facebook and iPads.
In addition to regular bars -- such as the Golden Lion Pub, Sir Samuel's Wine Bar and the Chart Room -- Queen Mary 2 features the first-ever Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar at sea. It serves seven different Veuve Clicquot Champagne labels, with prices from $7 per glass. Although the place was popular, the execution of the outlet could have been better. The barkeeper was also responsible for handling bills for the neighboring Chart Room (so service was intermittent) and Champagne was often poured into warm glasses. Nevertheless, it was one of my favorite spots.
Queen Mary 2 (QM2) Public Rooms
Queen Mary 2 differs greatly from regular cruise ships in terms of its layout and public room design. Being one of the longest, widest and tallest passenger ship ever built (it trails only Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class duo), the designers have come up with interesting solutions in terms of traffic flow and public room design. If you don't find today's smaller mega-ships easy to navigate -- well, you may need a little extra time to figure out Queen Mary 2!
There are up to 14 decks of accommodations and public rooms. Most of the public rooms, such as the reception area, the Royal Court Theatre, Illuminations (Planetarium), Britannia Restaurant and the Queens Room (ballroom), are located on Decks 2 and 3. The ceiling height on these decks is awesome -- at 3.8 meters, the equivalent of 1 1/2 decks! Such expansiveness (not to mention fabulous art) contributes to an elegant ambience.
Deck 7 can be described as the ship's daytime/outdoor activity center and it's where you'll find the very popular encircling promenade deck -- complemented by comfortable lounge chairs -- and the Canyon Ranch SpaClub.
There are four different main staircases and these are marked A - D. The ship's daily program (inventively called "Daily Programme") offers, as a convenience, the deck number and stairway for each place of event or public room, so pay attention to this.
Many of the public lounges are in a class of their own on QM2. Queens Room is the largest ballroom on any passenger ship, and also features the largest dance floor afloat. This space is used regularly for horse racing, captain's cocktail parties, afternoon teas and ballroom dancing. All beverage service is taken from tables (there is no bar). Strangely unobtrusive is the ship's two-level disco, G32. It's tucked behind the Queens Room (you actually have to cross through it to get to the disco). Regardless of its tricky location, I have never seen such a popular disco on a ship. It was packed every evening (maybe because of its sleek steel-inspired interior, or -- perhaps more likely -- because passengers heading west on crossings get an extra hour of sleep five evenings in a row!).
Apart from the regular melange of public rooms featured on all cruise ships, QM2 offers a few "extras." Illuminations is the only planetarium at sea, and it is used for lectures, movies and of course planetarium films -- all of which proved to be very popular.
We also loved the huge, well-stocked library (and there are, in addition to terminals in the regular cyber center, a few extra Internet-connected computers here). It has some wonderful nooks and crannies. Adjacent is a fantastic book and souvenir shop, specializing in all things maritime (not limited to QM2); you can buy books, postcards, posters and other collectibles as well as writings by authors and lecturers sailing onboard.
QM2 does not accommodate bridge visits, but it has opened, on a trial basis, a viewing gallery behind the bridge. The facility is open on most (but not all) days, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.; only eight people are allowed to enter at the same time.
If you simply enjoy watching the sea -- the white caps and the endless horizon -- venture forward on Deck 2 where there are wide windows (almost at water level). Here you can really appreciate QM2's speed (up to 26 knots).
The best place to enjoy the horizon (and/or sunset) is in the Commodore Club on Deck 8, which offers also piano entertainment during the evening.
Queen Mary 2 (QM2) Spa & Fitness
One of the nicest pleasures of a crossing is the luxury of time. And that means time to indulge in spa sessions or exercise. Even with high expectations, I was wowed by its fitness facilities! In Canyon Ranch's first-ever at-sea spa, there are 20,000 square feet of space on two different decks.
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub is divided in three different areas. The Fitness Centre is located foremost of Deck 7 and is fitted with latest gym equipment; each has its own TV. The Fitness Centre is open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily, and its use is complimentary. However, if you want to use any lockers or showers, you have to buy a SpaClub Passport, costing between $25 (one day) and $79 (five days).
The Beauty & Skin Care Centre is located on Deck 8 and offers lovely sea views as well as treatments. It is open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily. It is, alas, very popular; on my crossing, for example, a week's worth of pedicures was sold out by departure day. As far as prices are concerned, a woman's designer shampoo/haircut/blow dry starts at $89 (and goes up if you have medium or long hair) and men pay $38. Nail treatments range from $28 (finger or toes polish change) to $140 (full fingernails, pink & white acrylics), and pedicures range from $62 (gentleman's) to $135. Canyon Ranch SpaClub features an expansive Aqua Therapy Centre. To use any or all of these facilities, you can buy a one-, three- or five-day pass, costing between $40 and $95. The use of the center is complimentary with the purchase of any Health & Wellness service, massage or body treatment. The Aqua Therapy Centre is equipped with an aqua therapy pool, a whirlpool, reflexology basin, sensory showers, Finnish sauna, aromatic steam room, herbal sauna and ice fountain.
In the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, all prices include a 12.5 percent gratuity. The therapists also do not try to sell any body care products after the treatment, which is not the case in many other cruise lines' shipboard spas. Another plus? There's also no faux "health" questionnaire that passengers are required to fill out before their first treatment.
Sports facilities include a basketball court and a paddle tennis court on Deck 13 and a single (and sad looking) Ping-Pong table in the Pavilion pool area. The basketball and paddle tennis courts themselves were nice, but being located forward of the deck the place was normally too windy for an enjoyable game. There are also golf simulators, called Fairways, but they were already booked in the beginning of voyage.