My partner and I travelled to Norway for the fourth time on Queen Mary 2 in July. Our 3 most recent voyages had been on Queen Elizabeth, which we were coming to view as our preferred ship, but wanted to see what QM2 was like following last ... Read More
My partner and I travelled to Norway for the fourth time on Queen Mary 2 in July. Our 3 most recent voyages had been on Queen Elizabeth, which we were coming to view as our preferred ship, but wanted to see what QM2 was like following last year's refit and to test whether any of the changes and 3 years away from the flagship had done anything to alter our minds. In short, this eight day trip did not, but more about the reasons below.
Embarkation was reasonably smooth - from dropping off our car with the excellent CPS - to stepping aboard, it took no more than 30 minutes. It probably would have been more like 20 were it not for the glitch with the computer terminal checking us in and the more stringent security checks they always seem to have at the Ocean Terminal (we were told once that it was something to do with the flooring which made the security arch more sensitive).
Our cabin (stateroom in Cunard parlance) was a forward, glass fronted balcony one on deck 8 and pretty much what we were expecting. Enhancements to the decor were overall welcome but the drawer and door handles were the triumph of (Art Deco-inspired) design over practicality. Squat, square knobs with sharp edges were definitely not user friendly. Bad idea Cunard! Did you test them on any real guests? The handheld shower on QM2 wins hands down over the fixed head one on QE and the bathroom (shower room, really), felt altogether more spacious. Although we have never missed it in the past, we made good use of the hospitality tray. We were comfortable in a cabin that was well cared for by Joselino, our steward, and because of the shower, felt the QM2 version of the glass fronted balcony stateroom shaded its QE counterpart (though storage, with the extra drawers, is better on QE).
Elsewhere, in terms of the re-fit, I thought the changed layout in Kings Court represented an improvement but the daily lunch and dinner menus are not posted anywhere, unlike on QE. Due to the understandable structural differences, the Lido on QE is lighter and there seem to be more window tables proportionately (though maybe I imagined that). Unless anything significantly has changed with regards to the Lido food since we were on in September, I felt the offerings in Kings Court were less appealing and varied and there were some obvious repeats during the eight day trip, which I would not have expected. Rice pudding is hardly the most exciting choice for a hot dessert, yet it featured twice, no doubt because it was cheap. However, on the plus side, we both thought Aztec, one of the evening pop-ups in Kings Court was really good and the changes to that area mean that the alternative dining is more discrete, with a better atmosphere. It was shame, though, that some diners in the Princess Grill choose to use it as a short-cut....
The re-invention of the Winter Garden as the Carinthia Lounge was welcome: we did try the pastries one afternoon but they were largely bland and not worth the bother. Better options could be found in the buffet. However, I do think the revamp improved the atmosphere in that lounge.
Having mentioned food, I do think this is one area where Cunard really needs to do better. The lunch and dinner menus in the Britannia restaurant are looking tired: I'm happy with continuity when it comes to truly popular or showstopper dishes, but it would be lovely to see some new inspiration, with different cuts of meat, a wider choice of poultry, more varied bakery products and some imagination when it comes to the garnishes. Furthermore, some of the starters are ludicrously small (a prawn cocktail with the tiniest shellfish and hardly any sauce or other adornments, which wasn't much bigger than a canapé) In my view, Cunard also needs to consider re-balancing the size of main courses, slightly reducing the meat portions and increasing the vegetables and other accompaniments.
Whilst we were underwhelmed with lunch and dinner offerings at times, we did enjoy cooked to order breakfast omlettes and the eggs Benedict. The evening hot canapés in the Commodore Club remain a treat, with pre-dinner cocktails and nibbles being one of the highlights of a Cunard voyage for me. In terms of comparing these two bars on QM2 and QE, the Commodore Club on QE is our clear favourite, due to the greater number of tables for two, the central location of the piano and the blinds not having to be lowered at dusk.
Where I did see some attempt at updating the food was at afternoon tea in the Queens Room - again another standout of a Cunard trip for me. I felt the range of cakes and sandwiches offered something different to previous voyages, so Cunard can adapt and renew when it wants. During the three or four occasions we took tea, I was able to conclude that again, I do prefer this room on QE (for the sake of balance, my other half said the opposite though!). For me, the light, tables for two and the lack of unseemly queuing/rugby scrum on QE, make up for the fact that one side of it is an open walk way along deck 2.
Where QM2 is outstanding, however, is in its exterior profile and outside space. The real teak decking and gently raking stern, together with the forward observation areas make it truly something special to spend time outside at sea, or in port.
Returning to the ships' interiors, whilst QE lacks the facility to show evening films which QM2's planetarium affords, I definitely prefer the theatre on QE and her Carinthia Lounge over the Chart Room or other equivalent. This is just probably a subjective question of personal taste in decor and ambiance, rather than any objective difference. I also like QE's Britannia restaurant a great deal more: lighter, better located tables for two and fewer areas where you might feel shoved away in the corner. We were on the upper Britannia level this time, on the tier between the window level and the balcony level, and it just felt claustrophobic, narrow and dark.
Across all ships, there is one significant area in which I think Cunard needs to improve and that is in the use of modern technology. Whilst the daily programme is great in printed form as a souvenir and I would not want to do change that, Cunard really needs to move with the times and improve the way it provides information to passengers. A smartphone and tablet app could offer so much more than the printed programme: all restaurant menus, booking for alternative dining, tours and spa treatments, including being able to see real time availability, deck plans, information about art works on board, the weather, guest onboard accounts and so on. I'm beginning to see more comment about this subject on the Cunard forum too, so my partner and I can't be the only ones who think this would be a great idea.
The main purpose of this review was to explain how I thought Cunard could improve and why this voyage confirmed Queen Elizabeth as my preferred ship (comparing QE and QM2 only as I have never been on the Victoria).
I haven't really touched on subjects which don't vary across the fleet, or at least I haven't found that they do. Firstly, we generally find the evening shows don't attract us, regardless of ship but on this occasion The Beatles Experience were superb. The range of live musicians across both ships continues to be excellent and again, it is something we really enjoy about Cunard. Service was generally pretty good, if not always polished and we never had trouble getting a drink in a bar. Occasionally, the wait in the Commodore Coub was a little long at peak time - it's the same on QE.
Aside from the chance to view QM2 post-refit, this itinerary really appealed due to the overnight stop at Olden and the chance to view the fjord sail-in during the day. We had been to all the ports before ((Stavanger, Flam & Bergen too) but found something different to do in each one. At the fourth time of visiting Stavanger we finally took a boat trip to Pulpit Rock, catching the boat just the other side of the harbour from where QM2 was docked. This independent cruise was cheaper than the Cunard excursion and went, for us, at a more civilised time of midday. In Olden, we used some of our onboard credit to take the the Cunard trip to the Briksdal Glacier and were glad we did this: according to our guide, the effects of global warming are likely to mean that the glacier will disappear in summer in about 10-15 years time. In Bergen, we had fantastic artisan coffee in "Kaf" in the Bryggen and in Flam, we hiked up the Brekkefossen, to enjoy spectacular views of the waterfall and the ship in the distance. I don't think we will ever tire of Norway- it so beautiful (though expensive!).
Taken as a whole, we did enjoy the voyage but felt, perhaps having given Cunard the benefit of the doubt recently, that there are improvements they could now make. I expect we will take a break from cruising in 2018, but since I put down a future cruise deposit whilst on board, I anticipate being back on Queen Elizabeth in 2019. I wonder what changes, good or bad, we will find.... Read Less