Queen Mary 2 (QM2) Cruise Review by happymichael
- Sail Date: December 2014
- Destination: Southern Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Balcony
That's the short length review. The medium review, or summary, is that the Queen Mary 2 is the last true Ocean liner and it is like walking into a time machine of beauty and tradition. It may not be for younger cruisers and you won't find amusement park rides, rock climbing walls, skating rinks, or spiraling pool slides. You will find a ship that feels more like traveling in the 1920's-1940's aboard a stunning, grand, very traditional ship.
The full review:
I was on the 12 night Christmas cruise with my two sons, 12 and 14, traveling from New York to the Caribbean and back. It's difficult to write a review for the Queen Mary 2 because you want to give it a glowing report in all ways, but in truth, while the ship really is breathe taking, there are some issues (with the overall experience, not the ship).
The Brooklyn embarkation experience has a cold, low rent feel. Don't expect the union employees that search your bags or point you to the right line to smile or show the slightest courtesy. You feel like a cow being led to slaughter. You won't find as many crabs at a crab bake. The Royal Caribbean embarkation experience, with the gigantic Allure of the Seas, is so much classier and better run. Carnival, the cruise line that controls Cunard, ought to sail on the Allure to see how to do it right. Once you arrive at the counter the Cunard staff are pleasant enough.
When you enter the ship you are greeted by high level staff and directed to your cabin, I think they will walk you to your cabin if you need help, but the ship is so beautiful you are in awe. I have been on the original Queen Mary, the one that is "docked" permanently in Long Beach, and I have to say they are quire similar. There is a kind of Art Deco interior design that is sleek and colorful; think bright gold decor and lush reds and exotic wood paneling. You honestly feel as if you have entered a time machine and somehow entered this perfectly preserved vessel. As some of you may know, the Queen Mary 2 is a true ocean liner, meaning it is NOT a hotel laying on a barge, as most cruise ships of today are... THE QM2 is designed to handle all season transatlantic voyages. I spoke to a frequent passenger who, in the past, encountered enormous waves and gale force five conditions and he said you hardly noticed. It was the largest ship when built and still seems very large. It'll take you a couple days just to see most of the ship.
The sailing experience is traditional too. There is daily high tea served after lunch and, again, it's from another time. Think white gloves and English tea in fine china cups, served with finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, and small cakes. Even for my 12 and 14 old children, both boys, the experience was sublime. They looked forward to it each day.
Dinner in the main dining room is a dressy, fanciful affair. Service is not necessarily slow, certainly not by the standards of a land based five star restaurant, but it is quite leisurely, you don't want to be in a hurry. Some may find this tiring. The dress standard, unlike the other cruise lines, is quite high. You are expected to wear a jacket and tie for all dinners served in the main dining room, and there are several upscale nights as well. Again, while it's certainly fun to put a tie on, having to do so at every single dinner might be a bit much for some. We grew tired of the stuffiness after a few days.
The food: There were a few really special dinners, but honestly, it's hit and miss in the main dining room. Frankly, the chef tries way to hard with exotic, fine dining choices that would be difficult to master in a small seat fine dining restaurant, but to serve, what, 1000 people per meal, well, you just can't do it. It's basically mass, banquet food when you are serving about a 1000 at a time and you can't give the individual attention to each food item when you are cranking them out like a factory. Many on the ship agreed with me and felt you were lucky to get 6 nights of quality food on a 12 night voyage. It was never really bad, just average at times. The service is good enough, but you know that the staff is shoved into little rooms in the bowel of the ship and work every day for low wages and long hours -- you see it in their behavior and on their faces.
The Buffet: There is a horrible layout. Much of the time you aren't aware of what is there. It's sort of laid out in a bizarre zig zag of separate rooms, you leave one buffet area and enter another, as if exiting the restaurant, to reach other areas. The service is quite amazing. Unlike the Golden Corral buffet experience you get on other lines, Cunard has staff whisking away the plates and dishes. It's almost as if you are in a normal, upscale restaurant, not a buffet. No IKEA like self clearing here. The Buffet Food: Again, and it's really surprising how different each day is, it's hit and miss. When it's a hit IT IS AMAZING. I have never had such quality buffet food on a cruise line. Filet Mignon, six inch grilled ship, grilled lobster, etc. are available on certain nights. Other nights you wonder what in the heck they are serving. It's bloody awful, and I'm not English. I love Thai food and they have this horrendous thai green curry that looks like it had already been digested. Other choices are just very average, again, more Golden Corral than fine dining. Again, to compare it with another line, on Royal's Allure the buffet was fresh, hip, unique, quality -- all the time. On the QM2 you have a small dinner buffet section "served" by disinterested staff -- except for those amazing exceptions.
The breakfast buffet is better than average in all ways.
Special Find: I wish I had known about this. It fills up very fast. Each night the ship has a "special dining room" area set up in the buffet -- separate from the main buffet. One night it's Asian, another it's Indian, another it's American bistro. They put down table clothes and candles although you can't disguise that it's in the buffet dining area. The service is excellent, better than in the main dining room, the food IS THE BEST I had on the ship, and the surcharge is minimal, perhaps $10 per person.
Todd English: My, this guy likes himself. Watch his video. It's a nice room with good service. There is a fairly large surcharge if I remember. I think we spent over $100 for three. The food isn't nearly as good as he'd like you to believe and most on the ship that tried it agreed. However, there aren't the 20 restaurants aboard as on more contemporary cruise ships, just this, the buffet, and the main dining room and you'll probably want to try it. The food is good, to be fair, but it isn't any sort of five star experience. I think it all comes from the same kitchen that makes the 1000 meals at once dinner. My older son doesn't agree with me and thought it was great.
Passengers: I read somewhere that the average age is over 70. One would like to think that a Christmas cruise would lower this age somewhat -- and it does -- but not by much. It's sort of like being at a retirement home. I don't mind it so much, screaming teenagers and drunk seventeen year olds that other lines have aren't my cup of tea and the older gentleman and ladies on this ship are calming. However, I'm not sure this is the best choice if you are under 40, probably not if you're under 50, and frankly, might seem a bit dull for those under 60.
However, whenever we made an effort to talk to others they were very engaging and interesting and happy to talk with someone new. There were a lot of English on this ship, even though it was a cruise that left from the US, and it was fun to have people who weren't from the states.
Entertainment: Frankly, there were times when it seemed that they didn't even bother to try. No other ship near this size is devoid of all entertainment such as this one. Again, with the Allure, there is a broadway quality show, amazing Cirque du Soleil performers, and on and on. On this ship you have bingo, a movie, or ball room dancing. Which is probably just what one had in 1940. Sure, there are excellent musicians aboard, very talented, but if you are not into music from the 1930's-1940's, or so it seemed, you don't have a lot of choice. Ball room music and big band. Most of the acts brought aboard were low rent. The movies were near first run and very good. There is a planetarium that has short, 20 minute films about the universe. They aren't bad, but seem a trifle dated. It's unique, but not breathtaking.
The room: We had a deluxe balcony room. The room has a luxe feel and seemed classier than on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. We had three in a room. There is room for two and let's leave it at that. I would say even roomy for two, but three's a crowd. I've never been on any ship that was ever different. The room service food was certainly a step above what I've had on any other ship, just don't order the thai curry. Just don't. Trust me, it's even worse than the buffet version.
Staff: Honestly, despite that white glove marketing, you can tell it's run by Carnival. Not a horrible thing, I've sailed on Carnival and they're fine, but you don't have the same caliber of service you find on Celebrity. Also, this was for us an expensive ship, it's not as if the prices are low and so you expect more and don't always get it. So, don't expect more and you'll be fine. Plenty of forced smiles and how are you's and so on. I can't think of a particularly bad or dismissive staff experience, except perhaps in the library, which has very dated books, despite it's large size there isn't much you'll want to read unless you are into serialized novels or bibliography like books on Plato, and all of the staff seemed like jerks who had zero interest in the passengers. That is rare though.
The ports: On this 12 night trip you only stop at about four stops and all in a row. The small caribbean islands are poor and similar. St. Lucia? St. Kitts? Barbados? Couldn't tell you which were which -- somewhat repetitive. Still, it's fun to hop off and soak in the sun and culture. Seven nights at sea is a lot -- I'm surprised they didn't add another island.
SPA: Frankly, I didn't think the massages are of the same quality as on other lines, and they are very pricey. However, you get access to an interior area that has amazing features -- pools, numerous saunas, whirl pools, etc. It's really, really nice.
WARNING: As usual on cruise lines, you'll spend a fortune on internet and phone provider charges. Despite our having purchased expensive international add ons and data with AT&T, and buying the internet time on the ship, we had a $1500 cell phone bill and $600 cruise ship charge. If you have kids, tell them it's a computer free trip and lock them away (their equipment, not the kids). As you can imagine, the net service on the ship is grossly overpriced, erratic and extraordinarily slow. This is probably not a problem for the over 70 year olds, but honestly, we live in a mobile society and cruise ships won't have anyone under 30 on them if they can't get the data/net issues worked out.
Overall: 12 nights on a ship might seem like a lot, but it went very fast. Despite all I've said about the lack of things to do, it's really more a lack of splashy entertainment and activities you'll find on contemporary cruise ships, you'll find ways to make time disappear. We played monopoly, chess, walked the beautiful teak deck that surrounds the exterior, read books, went to bingo, deck quots and shuffle board, swimming, exercising, and just relaxing on a lounger watching the waves and the sun. We were rarely bored.
I chose this cruise because I am a fan of ocean liners and I wanted to experience the QM2. It really is a wonderful ship. Whether it's the right cruise for you depends on whether or not you are a foodie (there are probably better choices) and whether you will feel comfortable with an older crowd. I am very happy I chose Cunard and QM2 -- it's an experience that may not exist some day. Would I do the Christmas cruise again? No, been there, done that -- however, I would consider a different, shorter cruise in the future, just to experience this grand vessel again.
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