Queen Mary 2 (QM2) Entertainment
Regular transatlantic passengers are generally good self-entertainers, but the ship also provides plenty of organized activities, so no one will be bored.
Passengers looking for like-minded companions can find daily group sessions for bridge, needlework and knitting, watercolor painting, Texas Hold'em, whist, bingo and mahjong. Special classes in flower-arranging and napkin-folding are also held, and a book club meets every voyage. Trivia is always popular with British and North American passengers alike -- some days up to five contests are held -- and it can be hard to get a seat.
QM2 also sets itself apart with its multi-tiered enrichment and speaker program. "Cunard Insights" explores historical and contemporary issues presented by explorers, academics, former politicians, musicians, historians, filmmakers and the like. Obviously, there's quite a bit of variety. One crossing might feature former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn, another Jeffery Weinberg, an expert on U.S. presidents. On our crossing, author Bill Bryson appeared as the resident "celebrity" onboard; some passengers told us that they had booked the cruise just to see him.
There are several other prongs to the enrichment program. Depending on the sailing, 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. The Canyon Ranch spa also hosts daily lectures in nutrition and fitness in the Winter Garden.
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 Mac computers, cover topics like basic computer skills on Macs and PCs, photo editing, moviemaking, tablets and social networking. Some classes carry a fee, while others are free.
Many of the QM2 public lounges are in a class of their own. Queens Room is the largest ballroom on any passenger ship, and it also features the largest dance floor afloat. This space is used regularly for Captain's cocktail parties, afternoon teas and ballroom dancing to a live orchestra in the evenings. All beverage service is taken from tables, as 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, the bar can get packed (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's used for lectures, movies and, of course, planetarium films -- all of which prove to be very popular. Go early.
Shows and live entertainment are held every evening in the plush Royal Court Theater. Cunard strives for a variety; during our trip, shows ranged from an acrobatic display to a pianist concert and an oldies review performed by a 1950s-style girls group. There's usually an early and a later seating, typically at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
In addition to regular bars, such as the Golden Lion Pub 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 $13 per glass. Churchill's Cigar Bar provides a haven for stogie smokers. The best place to enjoy the horizon (and/or sunset) is in the martini-oriented Commodore Club on Deck 8, which offers piano entertainment during the evening.
Live music lovers will find plenty of opportunities to groove. Music starts in the Golden Lion and at the Pavilion Pool shortly after noon, and keeps going until the wee hours in the G32 nightclub. QM2 is also a dream for dancers, as classes in line and ballroom-style dance are held daily. Don't have a partner? No worries; QM2 has a Gentleman Hosts program, so single women (or those with flat-footed husbands) can have a chance on the floor.
Finally, the Empire Casino has 11 gaming tables -- including Roulette, Blackjack, Three Card Poker, Fun 21 and Texas Hold'em -- scattered around 100 slot machines. The minimum age to play is 18. Tokens can be purchased at the casino desk, either in cash or via your onboard account if you've registered a credit card. (There's a $1,000 per-day limit.) Some machines take money directly.
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 ships ever built (it trails only Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class), the designers have come up with interesting solutions in terms of traffic flow and public room design. You may need a little extra time to figure out Queen Mary 2; even after five days onboard, we still got lost.
There are four main staircases, and these are marked A to D, with a map of the ship at each. The ship's daily program offers, as a convenience, the deck number and stairway for each place hosting an event, so pay attention to this.
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 1.5 decks! Such expansiveness (not to mention fabulous art) contributes to an elegant ambience.
These lower decks also have a few smaller areas tucked away for activities, including the ship's ConneXions Internet cafe, where computers are available for passenger use. Internet and Wi-Fi rates are $0.75 per minute, even if you are on your own device, unless you buy a package: 120 minutes for $47.95, 240 minutes for $89.95 or 480 minutes for $167.95. (These bring the price down to about $0.30 to $0.40 per minute.) On our trip, we found that the Wi-Fi worked effectively for our phone, laptop and iPad within our stateroom and in public areas.
Close to ConneXions is the Apple Centre, a classroom where computer instruction takes place. (Some workshops are free, while some charge a fee.) Rooms for card games like bridge or and mahjong are also available there.
Many of the smaller corridors have placards outlining the ship's history. Read them on your own, or pick up a headset at ConneXions that takes you through them. (A few corridors also have interactive kiosks for a kid-friendly history lesson.)
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. There you can really appreciate QM2's speed (up to 26 knots).
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 old-fashioned looking steamer lounge chairs -- and the Canyon Ranch SpaClub.
There's also the Winter Garden, a charming bar and "conservatory" modeled on Kew Gardens, with trees and natural light. We saw lots of small groups playing cards, reading or simply dozing in the Atlantic sun. The Winter Garden is also one of the venues where Cunard performs onboard weddings.
The huge, well-stocked library is deservedly popular, although don't expect to find the latest bestsellers. (Some of the choices are a little dated.) Still, the library has wooden carrels and some wonderful nooks and crannies; on sea days, it proved one of the most popular places to sit and read.
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.
Among more practical concerns: free self-service launderettes with complimentary detergent are found on decks 4, 5, 6 and 8. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Laundry and dry-cleaning services, including pressing for all those formal clothes, are also available for a fee.
A variety of smaller public rooms, including the elegant Boardroom adjacent to the Commodore Club on Deck 9 and the Atlantic Room on Deck 11, are available for small meetings and passenger-arranged cocktail parties.
QM2 does not accommodate bridge visits, but it does have an observation deck behind the bridge. The facility is open on sea days between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
QM2 is one of the few ships that allows four-legged friends onboard, with a kennel on Deck 12 that houses dogs and cats on transatlantic crossings only (for a fee). The kennel master walks the dogs and feeds them with the line's food (or you can bring your own). Not all breeds can be accommodated, however; if you have a big dog, check the line's restrictions.
Also keep in mind that the U.K. has very strict rules about bringing in animals, and Pet Passports are required. Plan ahead for any veterinary issues.
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. 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 into three different areas: the Fitness Centre foremost on Deck 7, the SpaClub and Aqua Therapy Centre just behind, and the Salon on Deck 8. The Fitness Centre 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 to the Aqua Therapy Centre, costing between $40 per day and $105 for a week. The Passport also allows you to take specialized fitness classes, such as Pilates or indoor cycling, and it gives you access to the Aqua Therapy Centre.
The expansive Aqua Therapy Centre is equipped with a good-sized aqua therapy pool, a whirlpool, reflexology basin and sensory showers. Sauna-lovers will be in heaven, as you can choose from a traditional Finnish sauna, an aromatic steam room and an herbal sauna before cooling down with the ice fountain. While access requires the aforementioned Passport, you can also use the center for free with the purchase of any Health & Wellness service, massage or body treatment. If you're a spa hound, make sure you leave enough time before or after your session to indulge.
At the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, services include a range of massages, facials, body wraps and scrubs. 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. The SpaClub does have a lounge where you can relax before and after your treatments; some fashion magazines and better-tasting flavored water (on the day we was there, the lemons made it too strong to drink) would have made this feel more indulgent.
The Beauty & Skin Care Centre one deck up offers lovely sea views in addition to treatments. It's open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily. Make your appointments early, as it's extremely popular. Services include hair styling (shampoo, haircut, blow dry) and nail treatments (ranging from finger or toe polish changes to full fingernails and even a 50-minute "age defying" treatment).
Shipboard sports facilities include a basketball court and a paddle tennis court on Deck 13 and a single Ping-Pong table in the Pavilion pool area. The basketball and paddle tennis courts themselves are nice, but their forward location normally makes them too windy for an enjoyable game. There are also golf simulators called Fairways that book up early, as well as extensive shuffleboard. There's no running track, although some passengers keep up a brisk pace on the Promenade.
Besides the Aqua Therapy Centre, QM2 has four pools (and, for Queens and Princess Grill passengers, a separate outdoor terrace with Jacuzzis). The Terrace Pool on Deck 8 is considered the "main" swimming area, with two whirlpools, the Terrace Bar and its own bandstand, where musicians play during sailaways and deck parties. Because weather on a transatlantic crossing can be iffy, the Pavilion Pool on Deck 12, which features a glass retractable roof, is your most reliable swimming option. When the sun is out, the chairs surrounding the top deck Splash Pool and accompanying whirlpools can get crowded.
The Minnows Pool adjoins the children's play area on Deck 6. Swim diapers are not allowed.