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 fares they pay. 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 and menus with more flexibility. At first, access to the Queens Grill Lounge was restricted to diners in that one grill room, but after passengers assigned to the Princess Grill complained, they too were admitted.
Remaining passengers -- and these account for the vast majority -- are assigned to dine in the ship's eye-catching, double-deck Britannia. Breakfast and lunch are open seating; passengers receive set tables and dining times at dinner.
Breakfast is served from 8 until 9:30 a.m., and lunch from noon until 2 p.m. One interesting fact about Queen Mary 2's trans-Atlantic sailings is that the lack of ports (and the subsequent more relaxed approached to dining) means that the restaurant tends to fill quickly for both meals (only the lower level was open). So get there early or late.
At dinner, though this is definitely a mass-dining experience, we were impressed with the overall consistent quality of cuisine (and loved the evening menu's lighter-fare spa choices).
Kings Court serves as Queen Mary 2's lido buffet, but on this vessel the area is located not at the top of the ship but on Deck 7. There are actually four different themed areas in Kings Court: The Carvery, La Piazza, Lotus and Chef's Galley. During breakfast each of the connected venues offers pretty much the usual morning fare. At lunchtime, however, they all focus on their specialties (roasted meats at the Carvery, pasta at La Piazza and Asian-influenced cuisine at Lotus). Kings Court is a vast area (and at lunch can appear crowded); your best bet is to walk around the buffet, get a feel for what's available and find a table. Usually the tables closest to the buffet lines and next to the bay windows fill up first, but if you are willing to walk with your tray a bit more, you can always find a seat. The waiters and waitresses do not offer to carry your trays to the table.
We particularly enjoyed Kings Court at night -- what a transformation! The four different dining areas all get linen table cloths, and there's waiter service. The menus for each stay the same throughout the voyage. Passengers are encouraged to make reservations for this venue, though after numerous telephone attempts (nobody answered), I made an in-person visit to the door an hour before I wanted to dine -- and did succeed. As with casual dining on other lines, passengers eating at La Piazza and the Carvery help themselves to the appetizers from the buffet, while the main course and dessert are served to the table.
The most popular of these alternative dining areas was Lotus, the Asian-fusion place, and deservedly so. Its menu is mouthwatering, including a spicy lobster wonton, crab cakes, duck spring roll, stir fried king prawn and chicken with Singapore noodles.
Kings Court is open every night, and the culinary offerings vary nightly.
Adjacent to Kings Court is the interesting Chef's Galley. The big draw is that there's an open kitchen and you can watch the chef prepare your meal. We'd like to report on our experience there -- but couldn't get in to try it! Although it's open each evening throughout the voyage, you should still make your reservations early to secure a table.
La Piazza is also a great place if you feel peckish between regular meal hours. It serves snack daily from 3 until 6 p.m., and the Carvery serves from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. Featured is typical fast food fare such as hamburgers, French fries, hot dogs, pasta and pizza.
Todd English is the ship's much ballyhooed alternative restaurant. There is a per-person service charge to eat here of $20 for lunch and $30 for dinner. Advance bookings for dinner are especially crucial.
The lunch was fantastic. I started out thinking I'd order a "light" meal and instead ended up rolling out of the restaurant after a meal consisting of fig and prosciutto flatbread, pan roasted turbot on artichoke polenta, and a huge piece of Thai Iced Coffee Tiramisu for dessert. The dinner menu is mainly the same, but offers a larger selection of appetizers and main courses.
Another popular but completely free alternate dining area is the ship's Golden Lion Pub. It serves authentic pub food from noon until 3 p.m. Sadly, I didn't discover the place until the second to last sea day, and wow -- I loved it. My bangers and mash was among the best lunches I have ever enjoyed on any passenger ship. Other signature dishes include typical pub food such as different pies. You can dine at tables or at the bar.
Two other lunch outlets can be found from 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 on 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 is no indoor seating available -- or indoor access to the grill counter.
Afternoon tea is available in three different areas. While Queens Grill Lounge is open only for "premium" guests, Lotus at Kings Court serves a casual self-service afternoon tea. More traditional English afternoon Tea is served daily in the Queens Room, the ship's expansive ballroom. The Winter Garden was originally designed to be the venue, but it was too small. In Queens Room you can enjoy a traditional and more formal "white glove" service, where waiters and waitresses serve tea, finger sandwiches, pastries, and, of course, sconces with clotted cream. Don't miss this opportunity to be pampered.
If you are planning to dine in your cabin, prepare for a slight disappointment. The room service menu consists of simple items, such as salads, sandwiches and pizza. There is no separate dinner menu available (unless you qualify for Princess or Queens Grill).