The 26-night Christmas/New Year cruise on Queen Mary 2 from Southampton to New York, the Caribbean and return to Southampton revealed the on-going cost cutting, rip-off prices and declining restaurant food provided by Cunard. It failed to provide shuttle buses when berthing some distance from a town; the ship’s toilet system failed on four occasions; and the entire water supply failed on another day.
I can safely comment on the decline of Cunard after many cruises on the company’s ships. The first problem was the check-in at Ocean Terminal. Cunard says my World Club Diamond membership gives me priority boarding but it is a second-class priority. On arrival I was told to sit and wait to be called even though the ‘priority’ check-in was open and was checking-in the occasional passenger. These, I was told, were ‘Grills passengers’ who had priority over my priority - even if they were first-time Cunarders with no loyalty to the brand.
In the cabin I was pleased to see a bottle of water available but not pleased to see its price label. The 1.5 litre bottle was $3.95 and, in very small print, a note that 15 per cent ‘service charge’ would be added. In Sterling that comes to about £3.40. At Waitrose a 2 litre bottle of comparable water costs 47p.
An ice bucket in the cabin contained the usual bottle of Pol Acker blanc-de-blanc sparkling wine. But the accompanying compliments’ slip wrongly described it as Champagne. At subsequent receptions, a flute containing what was referred to as champagne would be offered but it was merely sparkling wine. Perhaps the Commité Champagne - who control use of the Champagne name - are unaware of this misuse of the protected name.
An invitation to a ‘Complimentary wine tasting event’ ended with the words “A charge of $30.50 will apply”. My Oxford dictionary refers to complimentary as ‘given free of charge’.
Wine in the bars and restaurants continues to be outrageously priced - a mark-up of double or treble shore prices. Not only is the 15% ‘service charge’ added, but the voucher a passenger signs has space for a gratuity. Why should this 15% be charged at all when Cunard makes a charge of $11.50 per person per cabin per day for gratuities ?
The Cunard brochure - which dwells on standards of an era long-since gone and not present-day reality - says of the Britannia restaurant “the pace is unhurried, the service impeccable and the food superb”. But it is far from that accolade. For “unhurried” read long delays of up to an hour between ordering and receiving anything on a plate; poor service due to staff cuts; and food continuing to decline in both quality and quantity. It was often unappetising and bland. Food in the Kings Court self-service was often better but repetitive.
Arrival at New York on December 22 was at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal - a collection of depressing, converted old buildings surrounded by industrial premises and far from the Christmas lights of Times Square and Fifth Avenue. Whilst the ship’s Daily Programme listed numerous places to visit in Manhattan, no shuttle bus was provided to take passengers to Manhattan and no information was given on how to get there. Berthing at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal - as QM2 and Queen Victoria did in 2015 when I was on board - would have been far more convenient.
However, with a return-to-ship time of 4.30pm there was little time to do much in Manhattan, especially after the excessive time it took to get through US immigration. All passengers had to leave the ship to go through immigration including those not wishing to set foot in the US. Queuing to get through took at least an hour. Those wanting to re-board the ship had then to wait in the embarkation hall for up to two hours before being allowed back on board. A big waste of passengers’ holiday time.
At Brooklyn, hundreds of passengers, including children of all ages, boarded the ship. From then until they left the ship on January 3 the vacuum-type toilets ceased to function on four separate occasions. There were no such problems on the Atlantic crossings. From the early hours of January 5 until late morning, no running water was available in the cabins and hot water was not restored until the afternoon. Not what you expect on Cunard’s flagship !
The first Caribbean stop was at Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. The ship’s information sheet about the town said its Main Street was “one of the best shopping streets in the Caribbean” and was 2.5 miles from the ship’s berth. No shuttle bus was provided.
At Antigua the ship was to anchor away from the land and passengers taken ashore by tender. The captain decided the sea-swell was too high for safe use of the tenders so the visit was abandoned.
At Bridgetown, Barbados the berth was some distance from the terminal building and buses were provided by the Port Authority - not Cunard - to take passengers from the ship to the terminal. Unfortunately, they were mini buses of about 20 seats and difficult for old and infirm passengers to board.
The final Caribbean stop was at Amber Cove, Dominica. This development, on the otherwise unspoilt coast, was created by Carnival Corporation, owners of Cunard and several other cruise lines. No shuttle buses were provided to visit the nearest town, Puerto Plata, about 10kms away. A taxi to the town cost $35 for two people but there were no taxis for two people - they had to travel in an SUV with at least two other people. A passenger who had been resident in Dominica told me the fare for that distance would be about $10 anywhere else on the island.
As usual, there were a number of high-priced tours from the ship, so unless passengers paid for these or a high-priced taxi they were confined to Amber Cove and the high-priced shops owned by Carnival. Not a place I would wish to visit again.
On return to New York all passengers had to leave the ship again at Brooklyn and go through immigration. Those not wanting to visit the city had to wait over an hour before being allowed to re-board. Sail-away was planned for 5pm but soon after that time the captain told everyone that the oil tanker due to fill the ship’s tanks had only just arrived - no reason was given - and would take until 9pm to top-up. He then went on to say that due to a storm at sea the ship would stay overnight at its berth. The ship left about 7am next day just as the heavy snow was starting to fall on the US east coast and we sailed straight into another storm. High winds and seas for the next two days slowed progress but, in that weather, QM2 was the ship to be on.
Regarding Cunard’s failure to provide shuttle buses. A large proportion of the passengers on Cunard ships are elderly, disabled or inform and rely on the shuttle buses to get them into a nearby town centre. Cunard receives many hundreds of thousands of pounds on each cruise from them and should re-instate the buses or advise such passengers, before taking their money, that there will be no transport from ship to towns. The cost to Cunard would be far less than the revenue it would lose from loss of passengers.