I recently sailed on Queen Mary 2 for a round-trip transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York and return.
This was my first experience of Cunard, having previously sailed once with Celebrity but mostly with Disney Cruise Line (with my late DH, as a couple who don’t particularly like children but enjoy the high Disney service standards whether on land or at sea).
I arrived at Ocean Terminal around 1215 and was in my cabin within the hour, which was a pleasant surprise. However, I believe some fellow passengers were not so fortunate due to computer issues later on, which resulted in our departure from Southampton being delayed.
As I was on early sitting for dinner, I missed the departure from Southampton which was disappointing. I did think of skipping dinner but decided that would be rude to the wait staff and my tablemates, none of whom I had yet met.
From everything I’d read (including the Haynes manual!) and watched, I expected to love this ship, and I wasn’t disappointed. She certainly has her quirks but they are all part of her charm and appeal. She pays homage to the original Queen Mary (which I’ve stayed on a few times in Long Beach) but has a character all her own. I enjoyed exploring the ship and simply being on board as she did what she does best, sail the Atlantic, most especially during the bad weather we encountered in both directions including a Force 10 storm.
We had 2 helicopter medevacs within the first 18 hours. In the early hours of the first morning we diverted towards Falmouth for one, then later that morning we turned back towards the Isles of Scilly for the second. Obviously I didn’t see anything of the nighttime medevac but it was interesting to watch (from an inside public area) the multiple approaches of the HM Coastguard helicopter before eventually the winchman was deployed.
I had a sheltered balcony cabin, far aft, Deck 4, which I chose in order to experience this almost unique accommodation. (Two of the Disney ships have ‘Navigator’s Verandah’ cabins which are very similar but the balconies are not as deep as on QM2.)
The location had advantages and disadvantages. I liked being low down, close to the water, but occasionally did get engine noise/vibration, especially when the ship was sailing at higher speeds. Fairly regularly there was also noise which I believe was music from the Queen’s Room, but it didn’t translate as music, just a loud, thumping reverberation. It was a long way from anywhere but that provided good exercise.
The cabin was comfortable and I did not find it dark, as I have read in some reviews. However, I did miss being able to see the sea whilst sitting down, whether inside the cabin or out on the balcony. It was handy during the storms though, being able to get outside onto the balcony when all other deck areas were closed off.
I like the décor of the cabin, neutrals with blue and gold accents. The wardrobe storage is good except for the shortage of hangers. The double wardrobe had a few hangers but not enough, even though I was travelling alone – I asked for more and was given a few wire hangers. The single wardrobe had no hangers at all, and even if I had brought my own I don’t think they would have fit into the rail fixture. Fortunately I didn’t need to use it, but why provide a wardrobe and no hangers? The middle section of the wardrobe provides handy shelf and drawer storage, and contains the safe.
The desk area is small and provides very little storage or counter space. There are 2 shallow drawers above the fridge but the larger one contains the hairdryer, which is fixed in so barely reaches the mirror and also requires the button to be kept pressed. (Another time I’ll take my own.) The fridge is a decent size but contains minibar items – I moved those around to make space for my own. The counter space above the fridge is taken up by the kettle and tea/coffee makings. As I wouldn’t be using those, I stored them in the wardrobe for the duration, freeing the space up for my own use. I had read about asking the cabin steward to remove them, and the minibar items, but couldn’t see the need to cause him any hassle when I could resolve the situation easily myself. The phone takes up a disproportionate (at least a quarter) part of the main desk area and seems unnecessarily large for the purpose, especially given the space is already small.
The large TV is fixed to the wall opposite the bed. It doesn’t appear to be adjustable although I didn’t try too hard for fear of causing any damage. It would be handy if it could swivel slightly towards the sofa but I suppose there isn’t really the space to allow that between the foot of the bed and the wall. There was a reasonable selection of channels but no guide in the cabin until one appeared on day 3 and then it was as good as useless. It only covered a few of the channels available and didn’t always take into account the regular change in ship’s time. The French, German, Spanish and Japanese channels seemed to get much better movies than those in English. Mostly I listened to ‘Cunard Radio’ on the ‘Voyage Information’ channel. None of the ‘smart’ features were enabled on the TV, no ‘on demand’ anything or the ability to check your on board account.
The bed was comfortable, with plenty of space underneath to stow cases, and the bedside tables provided handy extra storage. The bedside lights look good but, with the large bases being fixed right in the middle, take up most of the surface space of the bedside tables and are definitely a case of form over function. The sofa and coffee table serve their purpose, as do the chairs and table on the balcony.
The bathroom was fine but the shower cubicle constantly looked grubby due to age and wear rather than a lack of cleanliness. The towels are good quality and the toiletries fine, although I only had soap, lotion, bath/shower gel and conditioner on arrival, no shampoo. I did eventually get shampoo but only after asking for it from the cabin steward. There is plenty of storage in the bathroom, on the counter top, shelves and cupboard. Both the sink and shower have mixer taps but the thermostatic controls weren’t very good and most of the time it was impossible to get cold water.
Whoever chose to fit the square/rectangular knobs to all the fittings should be made to live with them permanently as they are annoyingly awkward to use. I did hear from a fellow passenger that they are in the process of being replaced so I hope the new ones are more user-friendly.
The pages in the stateroom folder were scruffy, dog-eared and scribbled on in places. Some pages were duplicated, others possibly missing as ‘Cunard Radio’ regularly stated about a variety of things, “Further information can be found in your stateroom guide” but it wasn’t in mine. I’d read online that pens were no longer provided, that these had been swapped for pencils, but I didn’t even get a pencil. There were some envelopes and notepaper, although the notepaper was headed ‘2019 World Cruise’, obviously left over from earlier in the year. I think not providing anything to write with is extremely miserly of Cunard – in the scheme of things, what does it cost to provide a branded pen when buying in such quantity? Perhaps a few pence, a cost they can easily recoup from the fare, yet it gives a better impression and provides advertising when passengers use them elsewhere.
It could be that there should have been a pencil in the cabin, perhaps the absence of one may have been another example of the overall lack of attention to detail. There was nothing major, only trivialities, but when added up it was noticeable and disappointing. As mentioned before, the lack of hangers, no shampoo, no pen or pencil, the initial lack of a TV guide and the scruffy stateroom folder. But also I didn’t have a ‘privacy please’ card (which I saw in the key slots of other cabins) or a laundry bag – I had the laundry order sheets but no bag, which would have made taking advantage of the laundry special (up to so many items in the bag for a set cost) somewhat difficult!
The bed was made each morning and turned down each evening. Towels were sometimes tidied or replaced, sometimes not, and the bathroom was wiped down. The ice bucket was filled if I left it out, not if it was in the fridge. I don’t think the cabin was hoovered during the 2 weeks. There was only me in the cabin and I’m a tidy person so very low maintenance. The toiletries were never replenished except when I asked for shampoo because initially none had been provided. The cabin was never returned to ‘check in’ standard during the 2 weeks, not even on ‘changeover day’ in New York as I would have expected from experience on other cruise lines and in hotels.
As I said before, only trivial things, but they all added up to give an overall impression of a lack of attention to detail, something which always niggles at me because it wasn’t acceptable in my working life.
I very much liked Illuminations as a venue but not the Royal Court Theatre, where the view from many seats is blocked by pillars.
I enjoyed some of the ‘Cunard Insight’ lectures, particularly those by Peter Dean, ‘the coroner’. He was a skilled speaker, both interesting and entertaining. Others, however, did make me wonder whether anyone actually ‘vets’ them before letting them loose on the paying public. I don’t want to be read to, I can read for myself. The best presentation by far was the one by Captain Hashmi, very informative and entertaining.
‘The 3 Tones’ group were very good, they deserved to be given more than only one full and one part show. I would have preferred to hear some of their more modern (70s-80s) offerings as mentioned in their write-up in the Daily Programme but appreciate they adapted their set to suit the audience demographic.
Singing/dancing theatre shows aren’t a favourite of mine but I do appreciate good production values when I see them. Which I didn’t on this trip. I’ll give the orchestra the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps the acoustics in the theatre leave something to be desired. However, I felt performances by the ‘Royal Court Theatre Company’ were more akin to a high school production than the professional shows I’ve previously enjoyed on other ships. Also, although I’m sure the Entertainments Director is a perfectly pleasant young woman, she appears to lack the personality I’d expect of someone in her position. The young man who was ‘ring master’ for the evening trivia quiz in the Golden Lion was much more what I would expect, with a friendly, outgoing personality, able to talk to anyone and everyone, make them feel welcome and included, and deal with whatever situation might arise.
I ate all dinners in the Britannia Restaurant main dining room, at a table for 6, early sitting. I’m far from being a foodie but I was not impressed with the food in the MDR, in 14 nights not a single dish – or even a dessert, which for me is unheard of – stands out as being memorable in a good way, although I remember a few as particularly mediocre. If it hadn’t been that I would have felt rude abandoning both my tablemates and wait staff, I would have given it up as a bad job and eaten in the buffet where the food appeared to be fresher and much tastier.
The MDR waiters were professional, polite, fairly friendly and unfailingly patient with my somewhat tricky at times, elderly tablemates. However, they didn’t seem to have any knowledge of the menu other than what was printed on it. I’m used to being given details and recommendations each night, able to ask questions such as ‘is that sauce cream or wine based’ and getting an immediate, knowledgeable, answer. But any such questions this time were only answered by the waiter looking at the menu and reading out what I could read for myself.
Service in the MDR was often slow, with long gaps between courses, especially between dessert and coffee. However this was obviously due to logistics rather than any fault on the part of our waiters (something my tablemates unfortunately didn’t appear to understand). From what was explained during the galley tour, I believe the orders are input into a computer system then the waiters are called forward when their orders are ready to collect. My table was on the upstairs level of the main MDR, on Deck 3. To access the galley, our waiters had to go up 2 sets of steps, to a door in the corner, then down an escalator to the galley on Deck 2. So even if the system allowed, which I don’t believe it does, it wouldn’t have been easy for them to simply ‘pop in’ to the galley to fetch something. Although out of sequence or off menu requests were never refused, they were clearly not easy to deal with and took a little time to facilitate.
For breakfast I ate in the buffet except for one day when I tried the MDR thinking the waffles would be fresher but they weren’t, they were exactly the same except for breakfast taking much longer.
The King’s Court buffet is huge, it has to be because it’s effectively the only option except for the MDR. There are some ‘small plate’ offerings available in the Carinthia Lounge at different times during the day but no ‘fast food’ options to cater for the masses. As far as I’m aware, the Boardwalk Café on Deck 12 didn’t open at all during the 2 weeks. King’s Court often got very busy around the food stations during core meal times but there always seemed to be plenty of seating available if you were prepared to move away from the central area. It has a somewhat strange layout but I soon got used to it and liked that I could find a quiet spot away from the food service stations, where it seemed a bit less like a works canteen. To my regret, I didn’t try dinner there but did occasionally pop in later in the evening to pick up a snack (they had an excellent cheese board) and it did seem that it was made to feel more like a restaurant for dinner, with place mats on the tables and possibly a change to the lighting.
The selection of food at the buffet is very good for all meals and I found everything fresher and tastier than in the MDR. At breakfast they had English as well as American bacon, something I greatly appreciated, and they appear to cater for a wide variety of nationalities. Croissants and mini pain au chocolat are available from warming ovens, both far too delicious for my own good. Strangely, pancakes and waffles were only available in a completely separate area, near the ‘gluten free’ corner. I wasn’t impressed by them, not helped by there being no warm syrup available, the only options being either Golden Syrup or a carob/maple, both cold from the bottle. Also, if you want fresh cut fruit with your waffle or pancake, that’s only available back in the main buffet area.
Lunch selections always included a roast meat and a variety of dishes again catering for different nationalities including British classics such as cottage pie and an absolutely delicious beef bourguignon (compared to the MDR version which was slices of beef with a tasteless gravy). There was always fresh seafood and sushi, cheeses and cold meats, baked potatoes and ‘fixings’ for them, and a good selection of fresh baked bread. Desserts were varied and very good, mostly cold but with one hot option each day, and far superior to the MDR. There are soft serve ice cream machines but I did miss not being able to get scooped ice cream, which I prefer.
Part of the King’s Court becomes a specialty restaurant for dinner with a changing menu, variously American Steakhouse, Coriander, Aztec and Bamboo (as I recall), at an additional cost. There is another permanent speciality restaurant, The Verandah, which offers lunch and dinner, again at an extra cost. I did not try any of these specialty options.
The Golden Lion ‘pub’ (lounge) offers a pub lunch each day with a limited menu of ‘pub grub’ main courses and one dessert. This is very popular and gets extremely busy. I did manage to try it one day and very much enjoyed the fish and chips.
Traditional, waiter-served, afternoon tea is available each day in the Queen’s Room. I believe it is popular and gets very busy, with passengers often having to wait for a table. Not drinking tea or being bothered for the fussiness involved, I enjoyed afternoon tea in the buffet instead. All the same offerings are available to help yourself – finger sandwiches, cakes, cookies, and warm scones, with jam and clotted cream if you so desire.
I enjoyed room service breakfast on a couple of occasions. Hot items are available but I didn’t try these, only the danish, croissants and juice. I didn’t try the daytime room service menu as it was so easy to pop up to the buffet and have more choice. Although the buffet supposedly has a 30 minute closure between meals, effectively it’s open all day from early morning to late night.
The drinks machines in the buffet are available 24 hours a day. The orange juice from them was surprisingly good, better than I was expecting. There are also drinks machines on Deck 2, far forward, in the computer centre area, which is handy if you’re down that way for a talk in Illuminations (the theatre/planetarium).
The Golden Lion is a pub-themed lounge which bears only a passing resemblance to a genuine British pub. I enjoyed attending some of the evening trivia quizzes there but mostly it was too busy and noisy for my liking. There never seemed to be a moment without a quiz or bingo or live music, which isn’t my kind of pub.
The Commodore Club is well situated overlooking the front of the ship, a very pleasant place to while away some time watching the sea and enjoying a drink. The Chart Room is a large but pleasant lounge, somewhere else to watch the sea but with a view to the side and lower down than the Commodore Club. Next to the Chart Room is the champagne lounge which opens onto the Grand Lobby. Sir Samuel’s is the coffee/Godiva chocolate lounge which looks very nice but I didn’t experience it other than to buy a few chocolates to eat elsewhere.
There are other bars/lounges around the ship including in the casino, by the Pavilion (undercover) pool and on the aft terrace but I didn’t visit any of these except in passing.
The library has an impressive selection of books and is an attractive area to spend some time in, although it can be difficult to find a seat as it is popular and seating is limited. The book shop has a good selection of books to buy, particularly those on Cunard and maritime history, along with some greetings cards, bookmarks and other such bookshop items.
The public areas of the ship always appeared immaculately clean. However, there was very little encouragement for passengers to wash their hands or use the Purell gel before entering the MDR or buffet. The buffet is large and spread across several areas of Deck 7 with stairwells and elevators in between. There are some handwashing stations but I never saw these being used by anyone, and generally if there was a crew member present holding a bottle of Purell, they would be standing in front of the handwash station effectively blocking access to it. After the first day, the supposedly automatic Purell dispensers were usually empty or not working. Sometimes staff would be there holding bottles but not always, and they were never proactive in offering it, they stood to one side and waited to be approached.
I am used to being handed an antibacterial wipe, really whether I want it or not, or being politely directed to a handwashing station, in a friendly manner but which encourages everyone to comply. The lack of this on QM2 concerned me, and made me become somewhat obsessed with thoroughly washing my hands at every available opportunity.
I have been teased by family and friends because later this year I’m going on a Saga cruise, tempted by the look of their new ship and the fact it has 100 solo cabins so I won’t be paying for my invisible companion. The teasing is due to the age restriction, with passengers having to be 50+. However, I really don’t see how Saga passengers can possibly be older and less active than the majority of those on the westbound leg of my QM2 crossing!
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect lots of families and children. But neither did I expect to feel like I was on a floating nursing home – and that is how it felt at times. I’m not ageist, mostly I’m completely useless at guessing anyone’s age between 18 and 80, but what surprised me was the sheer number of inactive, elderly people slowly shuffling around, or sitting propped up with their walkers in the Grand Lobby apparently asleep. For that first week when I walked up or down the stairs, I rarely met anyone else using them, it seemed the majority of my fellow passengers were reliant on the elevators.
One day I got chatting to a lady who said she and her husband had been dismayed to see the average age and lack of mobility on board, and it had made them regret their decision to sail on QM2 (they were only doing the westbound trip). She was in her mid-70s, some 20 years older than me, and it was a relief to know I wasn’t alone in my thoughts on the passenger demographic.
When I arrived at dinner on the first night and met my tablemates, I couldn’t help but wonder if whoever allocated places had misread my date of birth. All 5 of them were at the very least 30 years older than me, one was 41 years older. Fortunately they were all (bar one) pleasant company but conversation obviously had some limitations, and at times it seemed as if we came from different planets rather than different generations. Most of us shared the fact that we are widowed, we are all from the UK, all doing the round-trip, so perhaps that’s why I was considered a suitable match for the table. However, I would have preferred a better mix of people, some nearer my age, some American rather than all British, and I had thought the second week would bring new people to meet.
I know that I could have asked to be moved but that seemed rude, both to my tablemates and wait staff. I decided to stick with it for a couple of nights, see how it went, but of course once I’d started to get to know these people I felt it would be even ruder to move. Similarly when I discovered that we would be the same group on the same table for the second leg, by then it really would seem discourteous to request a move.
Fortunately, although the second week didn’t bring different dinner companions, the demographic across the ship as a whole changed to more as I’d expected and it no longer had the overwhelming appearance of a nursing home. I met other people using the stairs, which initially came as a bit of a surprise, and saw a much wider mix of ages and more actively mobile passengers.
I did meet some interesting and pleasant people during both weeks, mostly in passing, whilst waiting for a show to start or queuing for planetarium tickets, or those who struck up a conversation with me when they saw I was sitting alone in the buffet. I enjoyed all those interactions and appreciated the many small kindnesses.
The majority of people did seem to adhere to the dress code each evening. I was surprised how little red I saw worn on the ‘Royal Cunard’ night but the ‘20s’ night was popular with plenty of flapper dresses and feathers in evidence. One man turned up to dinner dressed as Oliver Hardy, complete with hat and moustache, which caused some bemusement.
The shops on board don’t hold much interest for me other than the occasional bit of window shopping. Mostly high-end jewellery, watches and handbags, and I’ve no idea how the prices compare to those ashore. I was a little disappointed in the Cunard merchandise, I expected more variety. I found it amusing that the first week they announced ‘the launch of our 2019 transatlantic merchandise’ when I knew it wasn’t the first transatlantic crossing of the season. Sure enough, the following week it was ‘launched’ again. What I found strange was the juxtaposition of such high end shops having trestle tables regularly placed outside bearing supposed sale items, which were clearly not genuine sale items from those shops but bought in specially. It was like a car boot sale and seemed very downmarket.
Westbound, on 5 nights, the clocks are set back an hour overnight so that on arrival in New York the ship is already on local time. Eastbound the clocks are set forward an hour at noon on 5 days, so the Captain starts his broadcast at midday but as he finishes he says it’s now however many minutes past 1300. It makes the afternoons seem very short but I understand that it’s far better for the crew this way than to lose an hour overnight.
Having visited New York city with my husband previously, it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to explore again alone. Instead I decided to have a walk around Red Hook, the local area by the Brooklyn cruise terminal. The weather wasn’t very favourable but I still enjoyed exploring and seeing the places I’d looked at online. Google Earth street view was particularly helpful as it meant I’d ‘walked around’ there before, it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. There are a couple of waterside parks with good views across to the Statue of Liberty, interesting even on a wet and foggy day. Having a keen interest in industrial archaeology, I especially enjoyed seeing the old warehouses, both outside and in – inside one being a supermarket and another an ice cream factory, what more could you want on a wet Sunday! I even came across a small urban garden centre which had such beautiful displays they would have been justified in charging an entrance fee. I thoroughly enjoyed my time ashore and would recommend it without hesitation.
I registered for self-disembarkation and was given a card but no instructions, and only late on the last night discovered I should have been told to report to the Queen’s Room at 0645. Having trekked there with my luggage in tow, we then had to trek back through the upper level of the MDR to the gangway to disembark which didn’t seem particularly logical or user-friendly. Anyway, other than some passengers apparently not quite having understood the instruction that you must be able to handle all your own luggage unaided in order to self-disembark, it went very smoothly. The taxi queue outside the terminal was well organised, although my taxi driver was clearly unhappy that I was only doing the short journey to the railway station. But I was in the station waiting room by 0730, having escaped the potential congestion of what I believe was 14K passengers disembarking from ships in Southampton that morning.
Queen Mary 2 lived up to all my expectations as a ship like no other currently at sea. The crossing experience was excellent, with the Atlantic providing a wide mix of weather conditions from fair to stormy.
Cunard’s ‘White Star Service’ I found to be mostly hype, more so than expected, and rather disappointing across the board.
I plan to sail on QM2 again for the ship and the crossing, now in the knowledge that those aspects make up for the service standards not being what they could or should be.