Sunday 7th September
As we live in The Midlands, we always prefer to travel to Southampton the previous day. It's too much rush and panic otherwise. Unlike our previous voyages though, this wasn't a round trip we couldn't really leave the car in Southampton. So we booked a train through Cross Country Trains to take us from our local station to Birmingham New Street and then direct to Southampton. The train journeys were quite painless. Booking direct through Cross Country means no booking or credit card fees either.
Both trains arrived and departed bang on time & the Station in Southampton is close to the docks. One word of warning. However, is that until September 2015 Birmingham's New Street Station is undergoing a major re-building project. At present, escalators and lifts are only available at one end of the platforms, so changing trains while having to take suitcases is quite time consuming. If you are travelling though New Street, please check their website and allow plenty of time to change trains.
On arrival into Southampton, it was a quick walk across the road to our Hotel, the Ibis Budget. Brilliant value for money and very conveniently located but you do get what you pay for. The rooms are little more than posh prison cells but have a bed, TV, Aircon, Shower, sink and Toilet. And for £36 we weren't bothered!
After unpacking our suits and dresses, we had a brief walk out for a bite to eat. Not fancying walking too far as it was 9PM by this point, we had a choice of McDonalds or TGI Fridays. We took the latter option & had quite a nice meal before retiring to bed.
Monday 8th September
I had intended to get up early and watch Queen Mary 2 arrive, but never managed to wake up until 8AM. With my wife still dozing, I decided to take a walk and saw some of the other cruise ships berthed before walking onto Town Quay to see Queen Mary 2. It really doesn't matter how many times you have see her, she really does take your breath away. Massive, Elegant, Beautiful.
A Text from my Wife asking if she was here meant that I knew she was awake so a quick walk back and Breakfast in the Hotel, which was okay but for £5 each, some may consider the McDonalds around the corner better value for money. Afterwards, we had a pleasant walk around Southampton City Centre's shops before coming back to the hotel for a 12 noon checkout.
Our check in time for Queen Mary 2 was 3:45, but we thought we'd chance our arm and head down to Ocean Terminal. Traffic was horrendous getting down, owing to major road works and the boat show. It took 35 minutes to get there!
Check in was swift and efficient. That we weren't supposed to check in until 3:45 wasn't mentioned and we were on the Queen Mary 2 in under half an hour! We also got chatting to a Lady who turned out to be Helen Doe
On to the first and only disappointment about the Ship. I remember reading or seeing a photograph here about damage to the ceiling in the Grand Lobby. Well. The lower level of the lobby was closed off by Tens-barriers and neat piles of carefully wrapped scaffolding were covering the floor.
We first went to our cabin, 6099, a IB Britannia inside on Deck 6. We've never had an inside cabin before, but found it perfectly adequate for our needs. Unfortunately, our cases had not yet arrived so we went for a walk and grabbed a quick bite to eat in King's Court, and a walk around our Magnificent Liner. On returning, our cases were inside our cabin so we started to unpack - and started to drink our Pol Acker. Our steward, Roy greeted us shortly afterwards. We then headed out to the Terrace Pool. Muster drill followed at 4PM and by 4:30 we were back on the Terrace Pool with a glass of Champagne in hand, listening to Vibz and ready for the off.
We stayed out on deck for a few hours and watched Southampton waft by before a quick visit to the Library to borrow some books and going back to our room to get ready.
We were on the late sitting for dinner, so the first of many trips to The Commodore Club followed before making our way to Britannia for dinner.
We were seated on the upper level and had a really pleasant surprise in seeing Rose (Our Wonderful Waitress on our first Voyage & who we also saw last year)
While we always find the food and service in Britannia to be excellent, we weren't wowed by it as we were on previous voyages. We put this down to becoming used to it, and perhaps by being spoiled by visiting Todd English last year, rather than any sort of decline. Our two waiters and sommelier were all great and warm people and we felt well looked after. Our table mates were also lovely people which made us relax a little more as we were apprehensive about sharing with strangers.
After dinner, we went to the Queens Room & G32 while our table mates went to see the film.
Tuesday 9th September
After a good night's sleep, I was awake before my Wife who loves her lie-ins, so I went up to the Gym and did an hour's workout. First time I've used the Gym facilities on QM2, so I was quite impressed with the variety and standard of equipment on offer.
We decided on Breakfast in Britannia. One of the main differences between a Voyage such as this and the Cruise type voyages we've done before is how much busier Britannia was! We had a light breakfast and were sat on one of the larger tables with some other people, then onto the Commodore Club for a seat by a window, a cup of tea and to start reading our books.
Shortly afterwards, one of the tours came through. With a number of people admiring the stunning views from the Windows. Then, I heard one of the ladies gasp and shout "Dauphin!" Immediately, as you can imagine, the whole Club was on their feet peering out of the windows and sure enough. A Pod of Dolphins were swimming alongside us and jumping out of the water. I grabbed my camera, but they never came back!
At 1PM we saw "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" which was introduced by Celia Imrie herself. Afterwards, a walk through The Grand Lobby revealed that the lower level was still closed and that the scaffolding was being hoisted into place. The windows in 4 out of the 6 atrium view cabins had been removed and large scaffolding trusses were being positioned through the open windows to form a platform. Rather them than me on a moving ship which is crossing the Atlantic. However, it quickly became clear that the centre of the Lobby's lower level was going to be closed for the duration of the voyage due to this large platform being in place overhead. This was disappointing as like most people familiar with QM2 will probably agree, we feel that The Grand Lobby is the heart of the Ship. However, we weren't going to let it spoil things. Coming from an engineering background I fully accept that she is a Machine and does need constant maintenance.
This evening was our first Formal Night of the Voyage, the Black & White Ball. Ready reasonably early, we had a pre dinner drink in The Chart Room and had a conversation with an American Couple and another British Couple. One of the things I like best about Cunard is that there are always interesting people to chat to!
Dinner in Britannia was fine, and we shared a bottle with our Table Mates before heading into The Queen's Room for the Black & White Ball. On waiting to enter the Queen's room, we got talking to a French Couple who were lovely. By the end of the voyage we were on very good terms with them and I do hope that we will be able to stay in touch in the future.
The Queen's Room, even though I personally have all the grace and elegance of a drunken elephant is always a beautiful room. And even though there is absolutely no hope of me ever being able to do it, we always enjoy watching those who can ballroom dance. It's also worth mentioning that we think Imogen does a brilliant job of running the events in this room. We stayed a while and saw Sergiy and Olga do their stuff before moving into G32 next door where I feel more at home, randomly shuffling my feet roughly in time to the music. This is a close as I get to "Dancing"
One thing however, that does take a little shine off The Queens Room is that the music from G32 can sometimes drown out the Band as people go through the doors. The waiters also have to do this to fetch drinks. Maybe they could do something at the next refit? Perhaps better doors & a small bar somewhere in The Queens room itself?
Wednesday 10th September
Having never experienced a 25 hour day before, we think they are great. Every day should last 25 hours.
Up before my Wife again, I headed up to the Gym before meeting for Breakfast. This morning, we went to Kings Court and found it much less manic than we were used to on previous voyages. A Light, and tasty breakfast followed before again heading up to The Commodore Club to read our books and see if our Dolphins had returned.
Afterwards, we went and saw the film "Chef" and I was sat next to a chap I was sure that I recognised but wasn't sure. It was only after we got outside that I realised I was sat next to Roy Walker!
We had deliberately decided to skip lunch in order to enjoy Afternoon Tea in the Queens Room. AKA "Death by Sandwiches" - It's always a highlight of the Voyages on QM2 for us.
The evening was also a formal evening and the Captain's Cocktail Party, so an evening in the Queens Room and G32 followed again. While waiting for the Captain's Cocktail party to begin, we got chatting to Sergiy and Olga and got talking about my "Dancing" - Despite my offer of lessons, they both politely refused.
Thursday 11th September
As a mark of respect to those victims of September 11, 2001. The Ship's ensign was flown at half mast.
Our usual routine of my going for an hour in the Gym before meeting for Breakfast in Kings Court, then a few hours in the Commodore Club with our books was becoming habit by now. For lunch, we went to The Golden Lion for Fish & Chips and a bottle of "Titianic" Beer from the White Star Brewery in Staffordshire. Again, we got chatting to a couple of guys at the bar who turned out to be a part of The National Symphony Orchestra, who were playing in The Royal Court Theatre that evening.
What an Evening that was. We managed to get seats on the second row on the lower level, right in the centre. Got talking to another couple from Leicester before the show started which was utterly stunning. This first performance was "An American Evening" featuring Rhapsody in Blue and an epic Piano Solo.
Liberty Bell was also played, featuring Captain Oprey playing The Liberty Bell itself. And making great play of not playing it when instructed!
This evening was also our little treat to ourselves. This evening was Todd English Night. And we weren't disappointed. We both had Todd's signature Egg Plant Ravioli as Appetizers, my Wife had the Rack of Lamb and I had the Grilled Beef Tenderloin for Entree and we both had the Lava Cake to finish. Although the view wasn't as good as when we last eat in Todd English while in HjouronFjord, Norway everything else was as superb as we remembered. If you are travelling on QM2, then Todd English is a must.
After Dinner and feeling very full, we saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier at Illuminations, giving the Queens Room and G32 a miss.
Friday 12th September
We had Spa passes for Friday, so after Breakfast in we went and spent a good afternoon here with our books. It was a little choppy and quite something watching the water slosh around the pool!
A Ride on the Scenic Lifts in the Lobby showed that around half the ceiling in the Grand Lobby had been completely removed.
Planetarium Film "Search for Life" in the Afternoon & Roy Walker's Stand up comedy routine in the evening on what was a lovely, quiet and relaxing day.
Saturday 13th September
During the day, we saw Dr. Helen Doe's lecture on Isambard Kingdom Brunel which was very interesting. Thank you Helen!
Then it was Masquerade Ball night! Something my wife had been looking forward to ever since getting a Masquerade Mask from Venice as a Christmas Present.
This, was one of the many highlights of the voyage for us. We started in The Commodore Club where we had drinks with our new found friends from France before making our way over to The Queen's Room together for the Ball.
Imogen's genuine reaction to my wife's mask was lovely, along with the very kind comments about her dress and mask from several other guests made her feel like a Princess. If anyone is reading this who made those kind comments. Thank You. You made that a very special evening.
Despite my two leaden left feet we did attempt to shuffle around the floor on the Queens Room that evening, for one dance. Feeling relieved that we hadn't tripped anyone over our caused some other disaster we again went into G32 and stayed until gone 2AM
Sunday 14th September
A Late start and no gym this morning. Owing to slightly fragile heads from the previous night. Breakfast in Kings Court, followed by John Maclean's very interesting lecture on Aliens & UFOs. Thank you John!
The weather was warm so we headed over to the Terrace Pool to finish our books and enjoy the weather. The noon announcement indicated that arrival into New York would be earlier than we'd thought. Passing under The Narrows at 3:30AM and docking at 5! The idea of not going to bed at all briefly went through my head, but we decided instead to have our last night in the Queens Room and G32 before a relatively early night and an alarm set for 3AM
We met our new friends in their Princess Grill Suite (We've got to have a go in one of those one day!) before separating for the 7PM showing of "Last Night of the Proms" with Anthony Inglis and the National Symphony Orchestra.
Wow. No other words to describe it. I just hope that it wasn't the last time I get to wave a Union Flag in its current form!
It was especially nice also that as we were heading towards the A Stairwell to go up to The Commodore Club that we passed the Orchestra and were able to thank them all personally.
On getting into The Commodore Club, the Sunset was absolutely spectacular. Perfect end to a Perfect Voyage!
Just before Dinner, we gave our Waiters, our Sommelier and our Steward a big bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk as a thank you. These people work damned hard for us and we think they deserved it!
At dinner, we shared drinks with our Table Mates again, and wished each other well.
Monday 15th September. 3AM!
The alarm went off and a few moans and groans later, we were in Kings Court getting a coffee before going up to the viewing platform on Deck 13. By this time we could see the lights of the Verrazano Narrows along with the lights of New York and a huge column of white light which was the new World Trade Centre.
We managed to video our passage under the Narrows, but not much is visible due to the light. We then swung around past the Statue of Liberty and towards Brooklyn. We took a walk around the Ship and appreciated the views of Manhattan at Dawn & took a stack load of photographs of the brilliant sunrise.
Our Last QM2 Breakfast followed in Kings Court with the New York Skyline visible out of the window. Disembarkation followed and was fairly quick getting off the ship. We briefly saw Sergiy and Olga as we departed and I promised them some Dance Lessons next time I'm onboard!
After security, we got onto our Cunard arranged minibus and taken to the Marriot Marquis Hotel in Times Square in order to leave our bags and arrange pickup to Newark Airport. After leaving Cunard's care it became quickly apparent how good Cunard are and others..... Aren't.
Severely restricted for time due to a 19:05 flight and hoping to meet a friend, we got to reception and found nothing but utter confusion. We apparently had a liaison from the hotel but nobody could find her & none of the staff knew either. Our bags were given to some staff who loaded them onto baggage trolleys and then decided to confirm whether or not we were all going to JFK. When we said that we weren't a huff and a sigh, accompanied by the baggage trolley being unloaded again and separated into two trolleys. One for JFK, and one for Newark. Hardly rocket science?
After an hour of waiting and meeting our friend in the Hotel Lobby, she eventually surfaced and told us that she'd been waiting for us by "The Other Entrance." We suggested that in future, she wait in reception at the desk with the big Cunard logo on it. We were especially amused to see our Luggage Trolley labelled "Cunyard."
Oh well. Never mind. We'll just remember not to use Marriot Hotels in the future.
Coffee in Time Square and a walk up to Central Park. A Ride on the Carrousel and a walk back via 5th Avenue was pretty much all we had time for.
Then 4 hours of utter boredom in Newark Airport and a very bumpy flight back to Birmingham, arriving at 7AM Tuesday morning. Flying is so uncivilised.
Perhaps next time, we'll do a round trip :)
9.5/10 With half a point deducted for Scaffolding in the Grand Lobby and the disorganisation at the Marriot Maquis.
First time in a Standard Inside. Perfectly adequate, and the lack of natural light actually proved to be an advantage as it helped us sleep. Still can't beat sleeping with the balcony door open, listening to the Ocean though!
Ocean Terminal is very efficient, clean and modern. Southampton is a fine city, but cannot match Liverpool's history, culture, architecture or heritage.