The prospect of traveling onboard Queen Mary 2, the world's only ocean liner, is thrilling -- now more than ever -- following the ship's £90-million transformation in 2016. The ship truly feels like a five-star hotel, without losing Cunard's maritime heritage.
The biggest change was in the Kings Court buffet, which features a completely fresh design. Two central elevators were also removed. We love the area's new look; the redesign has transformed the space from a chaotic feeding frenzy into a calm space for daily grazing. The space could still benefit from more tables; we spotted some passengers taking their plates to Carinthia Lounge (the former Winter Garden) at busy times.
The Grand Lobby has also lost its two glass elevators, and thanks to its new starburst carpet, the space feels like it has come to life and finally found its purpose. QM2's 15 new single cabins -- a first for the line -- are impressive, too. Designed to offer solo travelers or those cruising with friends their own cabin space, this new addition to the ship is one we love. Although they're the smallest cabins onboard, the new singles feel spacious and light and, best of all, everything from furnishings to the bathroom fit-out is shiny and new.
With four elevators removed and 50 new cabins added, the ship could have become overcrowded around the other elevators, but this doesn't seem to be a problem. Our transatlantic crossing sailed at capacity, yet the ship felt as spacious as ever. Remarkably, in fact, some areas often seemed quiet. One evening in the brand-new Carinthia Lounge, for example, we were among only a handful of passengers in the room. A favorite area during the day, Carinthia Lounge felt lacking in character in the evenings, although the sophisticated tones and seating are a step up from the aged space it replaced.
Some things never change, though. There's still just the one daily captain's announcement at noon, which provides an update on the ship's progress. In some ways -- from the row of wooden sun loungers bearing the ship's royal motif on the Promenade Deck to the Art Deco-style Britannia Restaurant and abysmally slow and expensive internet -- QM2 does a decent job of allowing its passengers to feel that they've stepped back in time. In other ways, however, it's difficult to tell whether you're sailing with Cunard or some other mass-market cruise line. Apart from the ship's Art Deco ambiance, stellar enrichment, afternoon tea offerings and sometimes confusing layout, the often over-romanticized vessel offers only a surface-level taste of what a passenger would have experienced during the golden age of ocean liner travel.
For a line that bills itself as a luxury product, the ship under delivered in some areas. Notably the (un)helpfulness of a couple of crew members and the quality of food in the ship's main dining room, Britannia Restaurant, where the majority of passengers eat. One evening in the Britannia Restaurant we ordered the beetroot salad, which arrived with a few tiny cubes of beetroot hidden below a handful of mixed green leaves, while, on another occasion, a simple breaded chicken breast arrived soggy and inedible.
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The ship's "remastering" was an opportunity not just for improved functionality and aesthetics, but for Cunard to improve on these areas, too, and we feel they haven't been addressed. However, the ship really excels in its specialty dining, both at Kings Court Specialty A La Carte -- the ship's daily changing themed restaurant -- and its new addition, The Verandah.
Despite these niggles, traveling on QM2 still feels like a special experience, and there's a feeling of quiet excitement onboard. Dressing for dinner is taken seriously, and passengers enjoy the romance of walking the Promenade Deck, dancing in the Queens Room and experiencing the Planetarium. And the thrill of approaching New York (if you're on a westbound crossing) becomes progressively more palpable the nearer you get to the U.S.
Passengers wanting to experience cruising at its most elegant and formal will love QM2, but if you're looking for a more modern variety of relaxed luxury -- a ship that provides top-notch service without fanfare -- QM2 is probably not for you.
Naturally, QM2 attracts a large amount of British and North American passengers because of its frequent transatlantic crossings. When the ship stops in Hamburg, there is also a large proportion of German passengers onboard. Although passengers steer toward the 60-plus age group, we also found many younger couples, families traveling with babies, children and teenagers onboard. Be prepared for some furry fellow passengers, too, as the ship can carry up to 24 cats and dogs in the ship's Kennel Suites on transatlantic cruises. (They can't leave the area, however, so those with allergies need not fear.)
QM2 has one of the most rigorous and formal dress codes at sea. This is a ship where passengers appreciate formality; even informal nights require jackets and dresses. If dressing up isn't your thing, it's not the ship for you, unless you are OK being restricted to the buffet at night.
During the day, it is recommended that passengers dress in stylish casual wear, including shorts, smart jeans or chinos and collared or casual shirts. Swim and leisurewear are suitable around the pools.
On a seven-night transatlantic crossing, there are typically three formal nights, which means dinner jacket, tuxedo or dark suit with a tie for men or evening or cocktail dress for women. Men tend to stick to tuxedo on formal nights, and on themed nights, such as the Roaring Twenties, women go all-out. (Think feather boas, decade-appropriate headgear and tasseled dresses galore.)
On informal nights, men are still required to wear jackets, although ties are optional. Women are advised to wear cocktail dresses or two-pieces. After 6 p.m., shorts and blue or worn denim (for men and women), sandals and sleeveless tops (for men) are not appropriate in certain areas of the ship, such as the main dining rooms. Passengers wishing to dress more informally in the evening are recommended to dine in the Kings Court buffet and use the Carinthia Lounge.