The prospect of traveling onboard Cunard Queen Mary 2, the world's only ocean liner, is thrilling -- now more than ever -- following the ship's £90-million transformation in 2016. The ship holds a spot in the heart of many types of travelers, but especially those who love history, whether it's maritime history or Gilded Age.
The biggest change was in the Kings Court buffet, which features a completely fresh design. The redesign transformed the space from a chaotic feeding frenzy into a calm space for daily grazing. The area could still benefit from more tables; we spotted some passengers taking their plates to Carinthia Lounge at busy times.
Thanks to its starburst carpet, the Grand Lobby on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 feels like it has come to life and finally found its purpose.
With four elevators removed and 50 new cabins added during the 2016 refurbishment, Cunard QM2 -- as the ship is sometimes known -- 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 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 are 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. In some ways -- from the row of wooden sun loungers bearing the ship's royal motif on the Promenade Deck to the Art Deco-style Britannia Restaurant and abysmally slow and expensive internet -- QM2 does a decent job of allowing its passengers to feel that they've stepped back in time.
In other ways, however, it's difficult to tell whether you're sailing with Cunard or some other mass-market cruise line. Apart from Cunard Queen Mary 2’s Art Deco ambiance, stellar enrichment, afternoon tea offerings and sometimes confusing deck plans, the often over-romanticized vessel offers only a surface-level taste of what a passenger would have experienced during the golden age of ocean liner travel.
We like to say that Cunard is formal, but not luxury. On recent crossings, the ship under delivered in some areas, notably the (un)helpfulness of a couple of crew members 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. On another occasion, a simple breaded chicken breast arrived soggy and inedible.
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.
Despite these issues, traveling on QM2 still feels like a special experience, and there's a feeling of quiet excitement onboard. Dressing for dinner is taken seriously, and passengers enjoy the romance of walking the Promenade Deck, dancing in the Queens Room and experiencing the Planetarium. And the thrill of approaching the New York port (if you're on a Cunard Queen Mary 2 westbound crossing) becomes progressively more palpable the nearer you get to the U.S.
Passengers wanting to experience cruising at its most elegant and formal will love Cunard Cruise Line’s Queen Mary 2, 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.
Although most people may immediately think of relaxing transatlantic voyages when imagining a trip on QM2, Cunard’s flagship vessel offers a wide range of itineraries. Sometimes combined with New York-to-Southampton crossings, 7-night Mediterranean itineraries offer an overview of the region with ports of call in Spain and Italy, including Sardinia.
Cunard Queen Mary 2 Caribbean itineraries, as well as sailings to the Norwegian Fjords, The Netherlands and Belgium, Canary Islands, and the Northern Lights, among many others, are also available. Christmas cruises on the ship are always popular for their lavish decorations.
Meals in the ship's main dining room, buffet and other select venues
Tea, coffee, water and fruit juice 24 hours a day at Kings Court, plus water during meals and coffee after meals
Traditional Afternoon Tea (Champagne and Godiva afternoon teas for a fee)
Most entertainment, including all theater shows
Most daily activities (exclusions below) and kids’ activities
Shows in the Planetarium
Use of the onboard fitness center (including some classes)
· Gratuities; hotel and dining services charges vary by stateroom category; bar, wine and salon services charges are automatically added to each purchase
Meals in some restaurants
Drinks other than water, coffee and tea
Use of the spa
Activities such as the Wine Experience
Items from the onboard shops
Naturally, Cunard Cruises Queen Mary 2 attracts a large amount of British and North American passengers because of its frequent transatlantic crossings. When the ship stops in Hamburg, there is also a large proportion of German passengers onboard.
Although passengers steer toward the 60-plus age group, we also found many younger couples, families traveling with babies, children and teenagers onboard.
Be prepared for some furry fellow passengers, too. Cunard Queen Mary 2’s pet policy allows up to 24 cats and dogs in the ship's dog kennels on transatlantic cruises. (They can't leave the area, however, so those with allergies need not fear.)
QM2 has one of the most rigorous and formal dress codes at sea. This is a ship where passengers appreciate formality; even informal nights require jackets and dresses. If dressing up isn't your thing, it's not the ship for you, unless you are OK being restricted to the buffet at night.
During the day, it is recommended that passengers dress in stylish casual wear, including shorts, smart jeans or chinos and collared or casual shirts. Swim and leisurewear are suitable around the pools.
On a seven-night transatlantic crossing, there are typically three formal nights, which means dinner jacket, tuxedo or dark suit with a tie for men or evening or cocktail dress for women. Men tend to stick to tuxedo on formal nights, and on themed nights, such as the Roaring Twenties, women go all-out. (Think feather boas, decade-appropriate headgear and tasseled dresses galore.)
On informal nights, men are still required to wear jackets, although ties are optional. Women are advised to wear cocktail dresses or two-pieces. After 6 p.m., shorts and blue or worn denim (for men and women), sandals and sleeveless tops (for men) are not appropriate in certain areas of the ship, such as the main dining rooms.
Passengers wishing to dress more informally in the evening are recommended to dine in the Kings Court buffet and use the Carinthia Lounge.
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QM2 Mixed review: Some deferred maintenance, poor food, but otherwise a delight
Getting There is Half the Fun: A Round-Trip Transatlantic Review