Queen Mary 2, and fleetmates Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, are the only ships afloat to assign dining based on a class system. Or, to be more charitable, to assign passengers to dining rooms based on the cabins they occupy.
As such, only the top-priced cabin categories entitle passengers to eat in the ship's most exclusive dining rooms -- Princess Grill and Queens Grill. These restaurants feature anytime seating between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. (although you're still placed at a regular set table) and menus with more flexibility, as well as access to the charming Queens Grill Lounge, which is across a hallway from the Queens Grill and just a few steps from Princess Grill.
Remaining passengers -- and these account for the vast majority -- are assigned to dine in the ship's eye-catching, double-deck Britannia Restaurant. Breakfast and lunch are open seating; passengers receive set tables and dining times -- either 6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. -- at dinner. One fare class, Britannia Club, does allow passengers to select anytime dining in the main dining room, with those tables set off in a corner of the restaurant.
In the Grills and Britannia, breakfast is served from 8 a.m. until 9:30 a.m., lunch from noon until 1:30 p.m. One interesting fact about Queen Mary 2's transatlantic sailings is that the lack of ports (and the subsequently more relaxed approached to dining) means that the restaurant tends to fill quickly for both meals (only the lower level is open). So get there early or late.
Overall, while the food in all the standard dining rooms is of average quality, the mealtime service is impeccable, and there are plenty of choices for picky eaters, including Canyon Ranch spa cuisine. Even passengers in the Princess and Queens classes should give dinner in Britannia a try, as the energy of the larger dining room gives the experience a more festive feel. Wine-lovers will be thrilled to find a dedicated button on in-room phones that connects to the sommelier, though there's a $20 corkage fee for personal bottles brought into the restaurants.
Kings Court serves as Queen Mary 2's lido buffet, located on Deck 7. It's a rather vast and complicated area, and it can get extremely crowded at prime breakfast and lunch hours. Snag a table near the bay windows if you can. While the waiters and waitresses do not offer to carry your trays to the table or get refills, they do bus the tables when you're finished. The area opens for continental breakfast at 4 a.m., and full breakfast runs from 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
For lunch, Kings Court has several themed areas: The Carvery (roasted meats and contemporary British cuisine), La Piazza (Italian) and Chef's Galley (hamburgers and sandwiches). These buffets are open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. At night, the different dining areas all get linen table cloths and decorative screens, along with waiter service, but are sadly lacking in any sort of atmosphere. One section is designated as a rotating alternative a la carte option -- American Bistro, Lotus (Asian) or Coriander (Indian) -- which comes with a $10 cover charge.
However, a note of caution: As ever, when the buffet area on a ship is 'transformed' into a specialty restaurant do not expect the quality you would get in a dedicated specialty restaurant. We made the mistake of eating in Lotus one evening and although the service was superb, the cuisine was inedible: it looked (and tasted) as if it had been reheated from the buffet earlier in the day, and rearranged on our plates.
Reservations are encouraged. Hours range from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., with late snacks offered from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Todd English is the ship's alternative restaurant. While the restaurant used to charge per person, it is now a la carte and it can add up mighty quick, with appetizers averaging $5, entrees $10 to $12 and desserts $5 to $7. Advance bookings for dinner are especially crucial. If you're a foodie, a meal there is well worth it; we felt the signature "love letters" -- potato ravioli stuffed with beef in truffle butter sauce -- was the best dish we tasted during our trip.
Another popular but completely free alternate dining area is the ship's Golden Lion Pub. It serves authentic pub food from noon until 2:30 p.m. and is often crowded with passengers seeking bangers and mash, fish and chips with mushy peas, and ploughman's lunch. You can dine at tables or at the bar. Light lunch choices, such as salads and quiches, and snacks are also served at Sir Samuel's, the liner's coffee bar.
Two other lunch outlets can be found on Deck 12, namely the Boardwalk Cafe and Pavilion Pool & Bar. While the Boardwalk Cafe is not open during inclement weather, the sliding-glass roof in the Pavilion ensures service during any kind of climate. The menu in the Boardwalk is typical of that found in onboard grills, while Pavilion serves a limited number of items, such as soups and sandwiches. Don't even attempt to go to Boardwalk Cafe if the weather is windy or rainy, as there's no indoor seating (or indoor access to the grill counter) available.
Beginning at 3:30 p.m., afternoon tea is available in three different areas. While Queens Grill Lounge is open only for "premium" passengers, Kings Court serves casual self-service snacks. More traditional English afternoon tea is served daily in the Queens Room, the ship's expansive ballroom. Don't miss an opportunity to sample this "white glove" service, where waiters and waitresses serve tea, finger sandwiches, pastries, and, of course, scones with clotted cream. It's quite an event.
Room service can be spotty; while a pot of coffee arrived quickly one morning, we couldn't even get through during peak hours on another, and Cunard stubbornly still refuse to provide in-room coffee or tea-making facilities which means you are at the mercy of room service. The breakfast menu provides a multitude of made-to-order choices, but the regular room service meal is limited to simple items, such as salads, sandwiches and pizza. Princess and Queens cruisers can order meals to their rooms from the grills.