My partner and I are both from Melbourne Australia and are what most consider "too young" for Cunard, my partner having just turned 30 and I 26. I am what you would call an "ocean liner buff", I love passenger ships and anything to do with them, I have a major collection of books, documentaries, models, posters and all kinds of memorabilia, obviously a lot of it relating to Cunard as it is such a historical line, my favourite historical line to research in fact! We are experienced cruises having sailed on Princess, Royal Caribbean, Cunard and Holland America in the past, I decided that it was time for my partner and I to take another trip on the QM2, our last being in 2012 (Maiden Royal circumnavigation of Australia). As it was my partners 30th birthday this year, we decided to spend some time in Singapore and Hong Kong (2 places he has always wanted to experience) before boarding the QM2 in Hong Kong during her world voyage and returning the Darwin over 10 nights, stopping at Kota Kinabalo and Bitung along the way. I booked the cruise through an Australian cruise travel agency during a Cunard sale and originally booked a BB Britannia Balcony stateroom at a great price (previously we sailed in a P1 Princess Grill). I later upgraded our booking to a P2 Princess Grill suite during another sale as they were asking for Princess Grill what we had paid for Britannia and on all previous cruises we have taken on other ships, we have always travelled in a suite as we enjoy the larger a larger stateroom and the usual perks that come with having a suite on a cruise. Two week's before boarding we received a complementary upgrade to a Q5 Queens Grill Suite which was extremely exciting for us as you could imagine. For an ocean liner buff, naturally Cunard is that last tie to the old world experince of the golden age of ocean liners. Unfortunately I was too young to be able to have travelled on the QE2, but I never missed the opportunity to go see her whenever she docked in Melbourne when I was a child/teenager. We enjoy cruising and have enjoyed the other cruise lines for what they are and the experience they have to offer but obviously when we decide to travel with Cunard, we are looking for that certain type of experience, that old world sophisticated charm that the line represents and still uses as a major selling point when advertising their fleet. Dressing for dinner, sophisticated and eccentric fellow passengers, afternoon teas, pre/post dinner drinks, late night conversations over cigars and cognacs, the overall look and feel of being onboard a true ocean liner is what draws us to Cunard. As i mentioned, to me, it is that last link to the golden age of liners. One week before departure we received our pre voyage documentation and luggage labels, although the luggage labels were of no use as the stateroom number reflected our original Britannia Balcony stateroom not our Queens Grill suite we had received, so I had to print the labels off myself which were showing the correct stateroom number.
Boarding the ship:
After spending the first few days of our holiday in Singapore and Hong Kong which was a fantastic, most enjoyable experience (we will be back), the day arrived to board what I have come to affectionately call after our last experience onboard her, "our old friend". The morning of embarkation we stood at the edge of Victoria Harbour peering across to the Kai Tak cruise ship terminal in the distance, QM2's profile and bright Cunard red funnel just slightly visible through that morning Hong Kong haze. It is at that point you can truly appreciate and grasp the size of Hong Kong, the city dwarfs the normally Gigantic ocean liner as if she was nothing more than little ferry. The first time I ever saw her in person was when we were about to embark on her for the first time, in the city of Fremantle Australia, she was the largest thing in town that day, there was no missing the QM2 in Fremantle.
Priority boarding time for the Queens Grill and platinum/diamond world club guests was 12pm so at about 11:30am we checked out of our hotel and took a cab to the terminal (a short 10-15 minute journey through Hong Kong), once we arrived at Kai Tak cruise terminal, it was still hard to truly grasp just how big the QM2 really is as the terminal itself is so large (probably one of the worlds greatest ocean liner terminals) that it too, dwarfed the ship! you could probably fit 3 QM2's lined up along that terminal all at once, it truly is massive.
We made our way upstairs following the signs directing us where to board the ship, I believe the terminal is 4 or 5 stories high and would be rather easy to get lost in. Luckily as well as the signs, there was also quite a few terminal employees positioned around directing guests and pointing which way to go. We finally got to where we needed to be to check in and were rather shocked to say the least..
The amount of people already lined up was amazing, as if everyone had all come at once regardless of what time Cunard told them to arrive, "oh god, hear we go..." was first thing that came to my mind. We joined the queue of guests as there did not seem to be any sort of "priority" or "grills guest" line. Immediately we realised that the crowed was already quite annoyed as everyone around us was already complaining about this so called priority boarding time allocation. One lady in front of us in a wheelchair (being pushed by a terminal staff member) was furious that she had to wait in the queue and demanded to be taken to the front as she was meant to have priority boarding, we actually felt sorry for the guy pushing her wheelchair as you could clearly tell that he was in no position to be making such decisions. The overall tension and frustration of the crowed was already a bit of a dampener on the start of the trip as it should have been an exciting moment leading up to boarding the ship, none the less we waited patiently, we had done this many times and to be honest had probably expected to wait in a long queue even though we were supposed to be given priority boarding, the reality is (in our past experience) that you are never going to just arrive and be boarded in under 15 minutes. Looking around us, I noticed that other guest were holding health check forms so I peered around to see where they got these from, luckily enough there was an employee standing close by holding them (not offering them out to people who had just arrived) so I went and asked for the forms. Lucky I also had a pen on me to fill them out whilst we waited in line. After about 10 minutes of slowly but surely shuffling along we noticed that the queue did seem to fork into two separate lines. One shorter and one much longer. We were then confronted by an employee asking guests if they were in the grills and if they were could they please join the shorter queue. she came near us but didn't say anything so we asked her if that shorter line was for grills guest to which she responded "Yes, but are you even in the grills?" we responded "yes, Queens Grill" she then asked to see our boarding passes which we had to point out where exactly on it, it stated Queens Grill, she then directed us to the shorter queue and then we noticed her telling her other staff to check the boarding passes, she asked to use my boarding pass as a quick reference to show them where exactly to look to see if the guest was a Grill guest. I must admit I did feel a little deflated as it did seem at first that she didn't believe that us two young blokes would be the Grills, but again we are used to that kind reaction as we are young for Cunard guests let alone Queens Grill Guests.
It probably took another 20 minutes to reach the check in desk, Im not sure how long the other queue would have taken, it was much larger than ours. Whilst waiting we spotted another Australian couple we had made great friends with on our last trip on QM2 which really added to the overall enjoyment of that trip so we were excited to seem them boarding again on the same trip as us!
Check in involved all the usual things they do, but they had a problem when the check in girl assumed we would have both our accounts linked to the one credit card we then had to tell her that we would each have a separate card linked to our accounts, she then had to call a supervisor over to help her correct it. They then could not seem to get my partners credit card linked to his account, it just wasn't working every time they swiped his credit card (which was worrying as by this stage we had been standing at the check in desk for about 15 minutes) they ended up telling us to sort it out onboard. Finally we were ready to board the ship!
Crossing the gangway and approaching the giant door that allowed guests to enter the giant liner, I immediately could smell something.. It was the smell of the QM2, the very same smell I could remember from last time we were onboard, a smell memory. I must admit that at this stage the long queue and check in issues were now a distant memory and excitement had again taken over. We were about to board the Queen Mary 2!
Up ahead just through the giant square hole in that thick black hull i could see the warm lighting, red carpet and marble columns of the Grand Lobby, the sound of the harp softly playing started to grow louder as we approached the entrance to the ship. The first point of contact onboard is always the person who swipes your card when you embark/disembark the ship, these people are just grim to be honest, always stern and usually wearing sunglasses, every now and then they may grunt hello or something, I feel they would usually be more suited to welcoming you to prison rather than a luxury ocean liner. Once past "the guards" you are greeted by the warmth and welcome of the QM2, what a truly stunning space to enter, the Grand Lobby really is something special, more luxury old world hotel than "cruise ship" in decor, it is designed to impress and as we all know, first impressions count! You are greeted by suited staff, who ask for your stateroom number and give you directions of how to get there. At least this time we were acknowledged, as last time I remember them ignoring us and letting us just walk straight past them to find our own way. Still, I could tell that they almost seemed unsure of us as we are young and should they take us seriously, the look and vibe we get is almost like "are you crew?”, you shouldn't be up here!", this would not be the last time the crew made us feel awkward. Guests are guests as far as I am concerned; we've all paid to be onboard regardless of age and should be treated all with the same respect.
The Suite/Butler service:
We arrived in our Q5 Queens Grill suite 11130, the very last stateroom aft of deck 11 on the port side (right beside the grills terrace) There are only 4 Queens Grill suites on this deck, all aft and I must say the location is fantastic, much better than deck 9 (the Queens Grill suite deck), the view is high and unobstructed. We find the suites on deck 9 rather silly as they are only one level above the lifeboats, which really take away from the view.
The layout of the suite is much like that of a Princess Grill suite, but larger with more room to move around, a larger bar area, larger balcony, larger seating area and an extra area with a dressing table just outside the walk in wardrobe before entering the bathroom. The bathroom itself features a shower over Jacuzzi bath set up with one basin. I believe for the extra price Queens Grill guests are charged, the bathroom really should feature a separate bath and shower and also feature two basins. The suite is large enough to accommodate a bathroom layout like that so I'm unsure as to why they didn't design it that way.
The suite is lovely but I cannot really justify paying the extra for a Queens Grill Q7,6 or 5 over a Princess Grill P2&1 in terms of the suite itself, Princess Grill suites are just as adequate and come with a much more reasonable price tag. Q4,3,2 & 1 suites are completely different and are much larger suites so those I can justify the higher price. We received our Queens Grill suite as a complementary upgrade so we certainly weren't complaining. There was a bottle of Champagne on Ice as well as an extra bottle of sparkling wine and some divine looking chocolates awaiting us on the table.
On closer inspection, the suite was a little tired. A few globes were out, some scuffs on the walls here and there, down lights not fixed into the ceiling properly, rust on the balcony, a dripping pipe above the balcony which dripped down onto one of the deck chairs (duct tape had been used to try stop the dripping pipe) and two cushions on the bed which smelt as if they hadn't been washed in years. Nothing too major, but keep in mind the premium price Cunard charges for this type of suite, from my knowledge they wanted over $10000 AUD per person for this suite on this trip. Had we paid that full price, I would have been outraged. note that the TV stations are boring and really need to be overhauled, also WIFI didn't work in the room.
Our bags were left outside the suite in the hall when usually they are brought into the room. After an hour and the Butler (a Queens Grill feature) /steward both being a no show, I decided to unpack our bags. I was aware that part of the Butler service was to help you unpack and really I wouldn't have accepted the help, but I did want to see if the butler would actually offer to help as Cunard advertise this feature as a Queens Grill perk.
After unpacking, drinking our bottle of champagne, eating our chocolates and taking a brief tour of the ship, say 4 hours after embarking, the Butler (David) and Steward (Joel) arrived at the suite to say hello. They were friendly enough and did offer to help with the bags but I had already unpacked them. We informed David of the blown light globes and he had them replaced that night. He also asked us to choose 2 bottles of spirits to have supplied in the suite and also informed us the mini bar was free in Queens Grill and would be replenished as would the 2 bottles of spirits! This was a great perk! I also asked him to change all the sodas in the mini bar to sugar free sodas, which he did. The mini bar also had beers in it.
Tired and not wanting to miss the sail away party we opted for our first dinner onboard to be taken in the suite (another QG feature), David the butler gave us the menus from the QG dinning room and gave us some recommendations. He then set the table and delivered and served each coarse as if we were dinning in the restaurant, this was a great service and the food came quickly and was hot!
The butler will always deliver your room service/breakfast if they are on duty and will set the table properly for it. They will also serve you afternoon tea in the suite if you request, again the table is set and all the scones, sandwiches and tea provided.
The butler will also help you cater a party in your suite if you wish to have guests. We went to a pre dinner drink party in a fellow QG guests suite and the butler served canapés, hot/cold nibbles as well as drinks whilst we all chatted and had a laugh.
Note that also every evening around 5pm the butler will bring pre dinner canapés to your suite, these were often hit and miss as far as taste/quality and they usually featured seafood.
So all in all the butler device in QG suites is quite good and really the butler can do as much or as little for you as you wish. They do tend to just ring the door bell and let themselves in though which isn't very good for privacy I guess.
The Ship itself:
There is no denying the ship needs to be dry docked and overhauled! It seems to be a constant topic that has been arising of late on the Cruise Critic forums and I can confirm that yes, she does need it! Her last dry docking was for 2 weeks in late 2011 a few months before our last trip on her and even after that it seemed that not everything was attended too, well it is really showing now which is sad and frankly un acceptable really for the prices this "premium" line charges. It is hard to explain but I think I can, its as if at face value she look fine, her interiors are fine, but after a few days onboard and settling in, getting to know the ship, you can really notice all the issues. Externally, she needs to be completely repainted. EVERYTHING! the black hull is rusty and scratched, faded her and there and the red colour of the keel is no longer red at the water liner but a slimy, rusty green, the white stripe dividing the black and red is now hardly visible and is hardly a line or even white for that matter anymore. Now lets keep in mind that the ship itself is an advertisement for Cunard, she makes the news wherever she goes and people always come out to see her in the flesh when she visits ports all over the world, some ports are maiden calls so the ship has never been seen by the people of those ports. If you watch your local news when she arrives in your town, you will be bombarded with images of luxury and wealth, stories of her high fares and impressive passenger lists, but then to see her in person you are confronted with this poorly presented and maintained vessel which up close (one of our ports was tendered so we got a very close look) could pass for the hull of a container ship! a very disappointing sight indeed.
Her outdoor areas look tired and old, deck chairs with miss matching cousins, some royal blue with the Cunard symbol, others beige and white stripped, some plain beige, some no cushions at all. The pools and Jacuzzis are all worn and torn, the grills Jacuzzi on the grills terrace we often used needs to be completely replaced as it is no longer pure white, with damaged chipped paint showing the brown material that it is made of and is quite rough to touch...the outdoor pool tiles are faded, damaged and hardly look appealing especially when you think of these luxury oasis like pools on offer onboard other ships which truly do look inviting on a hot day at sea. QM2 pools and Jacuzzis look dirty and old.
WIFI onboard is a disgrace, it is 2015, its no longer a gimmick to have internet at sea, the technology to do so has been around for years and it is just expected by guests now and should/can run perfectly, update your systems and sort it out otherwise don't charge people as the service is so poor!
Stateroom Corridors (the worst of all the deck 9 Queens Grill suites corridor) are in terrible condition. Deck 9 corridor has damaged ceilings and actually drips water in many spots long the corridor, often into a light fixture below (safety hazard?), the smell of dampness in the air, doors and door frames are dented and scratched.
There are random pot holes all over the ship under the carpets which is weird as you will just be walking along then you randomly step into one, again safety hazard.
In the day spa, as you lay back relaxed in the therapy pool you can't help but notice the missing lights, mold and damage on the ceiling or the chipped tiles around the pool, the broke showers that don't work properly, the overall dirty look of the tiles and it costs money to use this day spa?
Most of the seats in the planetarium are broken so cross your fingers you get a good one.
Overall the ship just isn't up to standard not only for a ship which people pay to travel on but for a Cunard ship, the line, which charges more than most lines because of its "premium" reputation.
Why do I point out all these faults? Its not because I'm picky or a snob or have un realistic expectations, it is simply that based on what Cunard advertises, charges and claims to offer simply does reflect in the quality of the product they are truly offering and you are kidding yourself if you think otherwise! It truly is sad to have to view the ship in this way and yes it is disappointing after some people pay fortunes to be onboard for the trip of a lifetime, the last ocean liner and this is what is presented to them, it just isn't right and its time Cunard/Carnival understand that you simply cannot hide behind a "good name", you must deliver, you cannot continue to charge premium prices and deliver guest a low budget product. I take this hard stance with Cunard because I believe that if people do not speak up, they will continue to let the ship go down hill and I do not want to see that happen, I want the line to continue on successfully and offer ships that truly live up to the historical Cunard reputation and inspire new generations to keep the old liner traditions alive not to mention retain their loyal client base, many of which have been with them since the original Queen Mary was in service. They deserve better.
Food and service in the Queens Grill was top notch! we truly had a lovely time whenever we dined in there and the waiters were fabulous. The food is not really that much different from Britannia, but it is presented better I feel and there is also dishes on offer that are finished tableside and are truly amazing and tasty! Please try every one if you can but you do need to let them know you wish to order it not later than lunch time that day. Note that those dishes are large servings! They really were fantastic dinners. The staff in the QG are lovely and remember everything you like, couldn't fault them. Many lovely nights were had in that dinning room and the other guests seated around us were lovely to meet. The only negative I will say is that the breakfast hours need to be revised, currently it is served between 8am-9:30am, we feel that 7am-10/10:30am would work better and give you a bigger window as after a few days we started sleeping in until 9 and it was often to late to make it to breakfast. 9am isn't exactly a late sleep in in our books.
Kings Court, as most people who have travelled on the QM2 will confirm, is terrible. School cafeteria is probably the best way to describe it, confusing and not worthy of such a ship. The layout is shocking and the food is just sad looking. It’s a shame because on other ships we always enjoy the buffets and find them exciting. Not on QM2. It also feels like they often pack up areas well before the finish times listed, we often would arrive just to grab something and next minute they starting packing up shop, with plenty of food and at 1:50pm, we really couldn't understand why.
Todd English, fabulous! You must try it! Probably some of the best food/service onboard and for such reasonable cover chargers, you will not be disappointed. Although i had pre booked a table for two before boarding on the night of my partners 30th birthday and then changed it to a table of four once we realised friends were onboard and wanted them to dine with us that night, I went the restaurant to make the change and was assured all was fine. Well on the night our extra guests arrived before us and were told there was no booking for four just two which was highly embarrassing but was addressed quickly upon our arrival and we were all easily seated.
Afternoon tea, we often had in the QG lounge, couldn't fault it, food and service, Devine.
Room service, pretty good for ship standards, they often took a while to deliver 30+ mins but it was always pretty good.
Boardwalk cafe, much like king’s court but worse, we walked in, took one look at the sad food and walked away. Disappointing, as the idea of an outdoor cafe is great, but Cunard have it all wrong.
Golden Lion, a great place to try some English inspired food at no extra cost! Very tasty pies! but get in quick as seats fill fast! its a shame about the music in their though during lunch hours, relaxation spa music? we were expecting some British classics for a British pub!
Sir Samuel's, One night I said "we must try the coffee there" as we had never done it and I do like good coffee, so we gave it a shot. I ordered a large iced mocha! (it was after dinner) the picture and description in the menu grabbed me! It did look wonderful, tall glass, ice cold mocha coffee with lashing of whipped cream on top!
What arrived was a tall glass, filled with Mocha and ice. I looked at the waiter and said "no cream?" he responded, "only if you ask for it.." and walked away. Another glance at the menu told me that cream was included. Do they not no their own drinks? so I drank my watery semi boring mocha and never returned.
We were disappointed that during the whole 10 nights not once was there an open air buffet on deck or dessert buffet at night which most ships seem to do these days just for a bit of extra excitement. The weather was fantastic the whole voyage so we found it unusual to not have any on deck buffets.
Shocking seemed to be the general review from most guests. Paul the cruise director needs to go, he's tired, outdated a has been, in my opinion. The ship has no atmosphere to it, even on the open decks on a beautiful day or sailing away from a beautiful port, they seem to have some music and drinks for a minute then just as soon as its started they pack it all up and finish. Spas & pools also covered over by 7pm so don't even think about a night swim.
In all Grill areas (dinning room, Concierge lounge & Grills lounge) service was great and as expected!
In all other areas, service was good (in some areas) and poor in most others. Most bar staff were average and dull. If they asked you the first time if you wanted a drink and you replied no, they certainly would never ask again (even after 3hrs of sitting there). The retail shop staff were too casual; they were probably the youngest staff on the ship and seemed more interested in gossiping loudly amongst themselves rather than providing a helpful service. My overall vibe from the staff (outside of the Grill areas) were that they truly didn't understand what Cunard stands for, what the line is all about and the historical value of the line. My guess is most of them a just moved around the carnival fleet and don't really care to be honest, just after some cash and free travel for a few months.
The worst service of all I have ever seen in my life (at sea or ashore) would have to have been from the hotel manager. One night on deck 7 aft (smoking area) we were seated and a cigarette as most the other smokers were and out there with us were two staff members in white uniform (male and female) having a glass of wine and a smoke. I'm not sure why but they were. An elderly couple (veteran Cunarders we late learned) must have started a conversation with the staff members about the smoking policy and lack of smoking areas onboard, which turned a bit heated. Next minute the guest were arguing with the staff and the staff were arguing back. One of the guests asked who this lady staff member was and what she did onboard? Her response was "I’m the hotel manager and it is my job to make you lot spend more money!" which I think is a hideous thing to say to the guests. The argument about smoking continued to and at one stage the hotel manager told the guest that they shouldn't be smoking anyway as its bad for them.
This is not how you deal with guests, you do not get into a silly argument with them, nor do you judge that way. You simply just take onboard what they are saying and let them know you will pass it on. it was truly a sight to behold, this hotel manager arguing with these guests with a glass of wine in her hand. The guest involved were furious afterwards and in their own words "had had it with the Cunard line and never again!". It is my belief that this hotel manager should loose her job, as it truly was a rude embarrassment to behold.
We enjoy a Cigar in Churchill's with a drink at the night time, every night it was always the exact same 4 or 5 people in there and we all became very familiar with each other. it was a great little "crew" to be apart of and we really enjoyed our nights in there. The only problem was that the ship was lacking most cigar brands they had on the menu and also many of the expensive Cognacs. The attendant in Churchill's also was not educated in the topic of cigars and cognacs as opposed to when we last sailed onboard the attendant in Churchill’s knew everything there was to know about the matter! The attendant on this trip, didn't even have a cigar cutter at the start so everyone had to bite their cigars before lighting them. On average we all probably spent $200+ each per night, every night in Churchill's. Most people who frequent Churchill's are not short of money to be honest. so you would think that Cunard would value these particular guests. Some in our group often enjoyed a glass or more of Cognac worth $120 per glass. Money was hardly an issue. But still even in Churchill's Cunard's slipping standards were taking over. we had issue we not being able to smoke cigarettes in there, last time the policy was "if you ask all other cigar smokers in the room first and they give the ok you can smoke in there" this time it was "no smoking cigarettes" full stop. It got so bad that even the captain told a lady at one stage, she could smoke in there as long as the cigar smokers said they didn't mind. well can they just please make that the policy again? our group were the only cigar smokers and we didn't mind if each other smoked in there!
On QM2 there is 3 smoking areas all aft of the ship, an area on deck 8/7 and in G32 upper level. All smokers are irritated by this policy as for example if you are situated at the front of the ship, say in Churchill’s or even your cabin, you need to walk all that distance in order to have smoke. Furthermore, even in the smoking areas there were always non-smokers sitting at the smoking tables that asked you not to smoke or had something rude to say about it! The none-smokers have 90% of the ship, please be kind enough to let the smokers enjoy their small smoking spaces. I laugh as most none smokers call smoker selfish.. Well this shows a different side. Smoking is also not permitted on the stateroom balconies. This apparently does not include the Grand Duplex suites aft of the ship as we often saw this guests smoking on their balconies with a Cunard supplied ash tray. I would rather G32 be none smoking, and another outdoor area be made smoking. also Cunard need to update their stateroom books as they do not state the current smoking policy correctly. Our book said we could smoke on the grills terrace on the starboard side but the current policy is no smoking on the grills deck not even on one side which is ridiculous because it then meant I had to go smoke on deck 8, why should I when I’ve paid to have my own private terrace? but anyway times are changing in regards to smoking, it will be interesting to see how the policy further changes in the years to come especially as every smoker is un happy with the current policy.
On a final note I will say that the night we ate in Todd English, we engaged in an interesting conversation with the head waiting about the slipping standards onboard and received quite a surprising response.. He couldn't agree more! He stated that Carnival was now running Cunard on a Carnival style budget and that staff like him were so frustrated that they are receiving less and less to work with! he stated that he keeps ordering cognac and expensive alcohol to service in Todd English and his orders keep getting denied by shore based management. he confirmed that the line was running on more of a budget than it ever has before and yes that was affecting the service onboard and the products offered. He actually got somewhat emotional about it to be honest as you could tell he was one who truly enjoyed his job but could see the standards slipping. This is sad to see this happen to Cunard and I hope that with enough complaints they turn it back around, but in the meantime, I really cannot justify the premium pricing they charge, as it is not a premium line anymore.
Next time we want to try QE/QV just to see how they compare as many fellow passengers told us those two ships are in much better condition than the QM2. Lift your game Cunard; you cannot continue providing your loyal guests with this type of inferior product.
I’ve been told that if you truly want luxury, only Seaborne & Crystal are the way to go.
So what is Cunard going to do about that?