I have just returned from a crossing on the new QM2. The ship itself is absolutely spectacular. much more like old Queen Mary than any other modern cruise ship. Sadly to sail in this spectacular setting you must put up with mediocre food and mostly poor service.
The Brittania Dining Room menus were designed more for European than American taste. There was only one truly enjoyable dinner in six nights aboard. The dining room service was the worst I have ever seen in 33 years of cruising. The casual dining rooms are chopped up into 4 small areas with the serving areas far apart and inadequate seating for a full ship.
The ship had a high percentage of British, rude French, and German passengers so the smell of smoke hits you the minute you board the ship. The incredibly beautiful Chart Room was so smoky in the evenings that I could not sit in it. Only in the lovely Commodore Room with two distinct halfs could you enjoy a cocktail in a relatively smoke free environment.
On a positive note, the lecture series was excellent and a highlight of the crossing. Sadly theevening shows were typical cruise ship dreck just on a larger stage.
The embarkation process was incredibly smooth, the debarkation the exact opposite. I am glad I experienced the QM2, just for the ship itself, but have no desire to return.
Prior to sailing we reviewed the 3 reviews from Cruisemates readers so I will not repeat what others have said but will add our comments.
We booked a standard outside cabin. It was roomy, nicely furnished but our window was a porthole---very small.Bathroom as small as any ship we had been on. It was certainly no better than other cabins on newer ships.
The ship is outstanding but it's size makes it a challenge to find everything. It took almost 3 days to find our way around and since the ship is so long,it is a long walk if you make a wrong turn. (We have been on 32 cruises in the past 10 years and we feel the ship is just too big).
As mentioned by other reviewers,there is no escort to your cabin and everyone we spoke to mentioned this was a bad start to a cruise. Food and service in main dining room average although it improved as we traveled. The 4 alternative restaurants which serve breakfast and dinner buffet style convert to sitdown, reservation requested restaurants in the evening and we found to be very satisfactory. The cultural programwas excellent---lectures and classical group by outstanding people. The entertainment was very uneven---production shows excellent, other entertainment, fair to poor.
Embarkation photo $27.50---no other photos are less.(Cunard would sell many more if they priced their photos more reasonably).
Our cruise origiated in England and about 60% of our passengers English, 25% Asian and about 15% American. Atmosphere very formal---most men wore coat and tie each evening.
Almost everyone we spoke to said the cruise did not meet their expectation as it was priced higher than premium lines they had sailed before. We felt the same way. Bob Roth
It turned out to be the smartest thing we did; both the transfer service and Sheraton Towers hotel in Manhattan were outstanding. The morning of the embarkation, we put our luggage outside our hotel room door. The next time we saw it was in our cabin. A bus picked us up about 1 PM and delivered us to the area of the embarkation processing. This consisted of presenting passports, signing a credit card authorization and making our QM2 security cards. We then had souvenir photos taken, and walked onto the ship, greeted by a line of crewmembers in their dress whites.
Our cabin on deck 6 was very nice, the "hull hole" balcony not as disappointing as I envisioned. A split of champagne iced down on our coffee table was totally unexpected. Until the stewardess told us it was complimentary, I wondered if we were in the right cabin. Having equitably shared our luggage space, my wife and I unpacked-her 30 outfits and my 5. All fit in the closets with room to spare. (We each packed in two suitcases) We were across the hall from the laundry room, which youmay think would be a disadvantage, but it turned out to be the opposite. The cabins are so well insulated there was never any noise from the hallway, or other rooms. Our stewardess gave us a good tip as far as finding our cabins..we were in the aft section of the ship. The door on the aft end has a porthole. The forward end does not. So our navigation was made somewhat easier after stepping off different elevators.
The ship, of course is absolutely magnificent. The first thing we did was to call for Todd English reservations, but the line was busy.then I used the speed dial button and got right through. By five PM we were involved in the lifeboat drill..a very pleasant trip to the Queens grill with our life jackets, and while sitting at their tables, a demonstration on donning them properly.
The first night on board, we missed our early dinner-time and found that there were no other dining areas open. We ordered a meal in the cabin and had a wonderful night's rest.
The first two nights following were "Formal" and I think most men had tuxes, and most women had cocktail dresses or sequin tops and pants. My wife, who was worried about being appropriately dressed, said she need not have worried. Nights that followed were "informal", "optional, formal or informal" and casual. Cool.
Our Britannia experience started out rather shaky. Our assigned table was taken by a German family of four who wanted to sit by the window. We took another table; then, when we reached Southampton we were moved to a very good table, but with an inexperienced wait staff. I guess wait is the appropriate term because that's what we mostly did. We ate at other venues, instead of the Britannia most of this segment. After we reached Southampton, the wait staff changed again, and we had the finest waiters you could imagine.and it made for most enjoyable dinners for the rest of the trip.
Our ports of call in the Mediterranean were superb. An itinerary change dropped Gibraltar and Cadiz; Ceuta, Morocco and Rome were substituted, although Ceuta was only an operational stop and we could not go ashore. $100 was credited to each passenger's account for the trouble. It was absolutely thrilling to see the reception of the QM2 in ports she had not called on before. Whistles blew, fireboats sprayed, helicopters flew by, and small craft followed us. Malaga was most impressive. They gave us a warm welcome off the gangway, provided busses to take us to the city, furnished us with passes to museums and tourist attractions, then set up a reception area in a city plaza with a band, free wine, beer and tapas. In fact, there were free air-conditioned busses at the pier to take passengers to the centers of the cities at each stop. Very nice touch. The one tour we took was "Imperial Rome" ($169) which was a nicely organized, quality tour, with a fine three-course lunch and wine included.
If all this were not enough, the cultural events on board were really well done. Oxford lecturers gave timely talks.in our case (near the 60th anniversary of D-day) I enjoyed the WWII background of how the German secret codes were broken. There was a nice classical trio (piano and violin) and a harpist that played the high tea, and bars. A band at the pool was great, as were the several piano players who rotated through the bars. We attended only one show, "Rock at the Opera". Nicely done with fresh costumes and sophisticated stage effects. I think the highlight for me was the Planetarium films, more like IMAX than a planetarium, but very interesting and thrilling to watch. The bars were popular. The Golden Lion Pub was a good place to have lunch and a Guinness, but the smoke might bother some, as it might in another popular bar, the Commodore Club. (Drink prices ran in the $5 range with beer $3.75 and the special martinis (2.5 oz pour) about $6) My wife and I gravitated to the forward area of the ship near the computer center (Connexions) where they have a coffee station with tea or chocolate available. There are tables along a corridor with large windows that were fun to sit at and watch the waves. There were many board games and puzzles available for those who wanted them. The library was another very nice space, and always full. We visited the Canyon Ranch area, but didn't use their facilities. I wanted a haircut, but a man's haircut was $39 so I passed.
We ate at two of the evening venues at King's Court. Both were good, with good service. Also good was Todd English, and the Britannia food I thought was very good most nights. We only occasionally ate other meals there.
Atlantic weather was cool on both crossings. About 55 F or so, but when the sun would shine, there was enough greenhouse effect with the roof closed on the swimming pool, that it was pleasant enough to sunbathe, if one wanted to.
We had a unique perspective being on board for three segments. The nationality mix changed, the average age changed, the dress changed. Eastbound it was about 1/3 American 2/3 English with sprinkles of many other nationalities. The age seemed very old (even to us). Dress was quite formal. On the Mediterranean portion, the age was still older, but dress was much less formal, and you saw more and more suits instead of tuxes, and more pants/tops instead of gowns. In the daytime, lots of shorts and jeans. By the time we were Westbound coming home, the passengers were much younger with many babies and small children, and the dress became more conservative again. Very refreshing.
Summing up, the Queen Mary 2 is a "must do". If you can remember it's just a "let's pretend" experience and to not let the little things bother you (even if you put out the big bucks for it), it will be a memorable experience. The Queen Mary 2, in this stage of its life, is unique, and to travel on her is a once in a lifetime experience.
This was a wonderful experience that shall not likely be repeated in my lifetime. I am so glad that I sailed on this worderful and grand true ocean liner, and I am thrilled with the service in first class, and with our suite and superb treatment by all staff. Queen Mary 2 is a winner, and our family shall sail on her again.
We were in the first class Queen's Grill of the QM2, and enjoyed our private dining room and lounge, as well as a massive (48 sq metre) cabin with all the amenities. Staff were almost universally attentive and well-trained and polished.
25 April 2004, Sunday Today is the day we have awaited since the summer of 2000. QM2 was available for boarding at noon, but was not scheduled to depart until 19:30. We arrived at the pier at about 13:00. Police controlled the entrance, and it was slow going. There were red-suited trumpeters at the doorway to the pier. Cunard had decorated the entire check-in area with Cunard pictures and paintings and ribbons. We went strait to the Grill-class check-in desks and were seen to immediately. Pam still didnot know about the Queen's Grill room, thinking we were still only in Princess Grill. It was instant boarding for us. The ship was impossible to see as it was up against the pier building, so it looked like a great black wall.
Immediately upon entering we were met by staff, and recognized Caroline, a tea-service girl from Ireland. She showed us to our suite, #9027. Pam writes: It was great to see people I knew on the voyage, even if they are the crew. I loved being shown to my cabin by Caroline whom we knew from Queen's room tea. Only once we are in our massive suite do I tell Pam that this is actually Queen's Grill and not Princess. There is a great deal of jumping up and down. She bounces. I am very pleased. I do not know how I managed to keep this a secret for nearly two years. Amazing. Our room is fantastic, and we play in and with everything. The room is already stocked with three bottles of champagne, including Moet & Chandon. Once the immediate novelty of a first class stateroom and a butler and sub-butler and concierge wore off, we then went to check out our table in the Queen's Grill private dining room, and discovered they were serving a late lunch for any starving first class passengers. We were starving, having not eaten since 10:30 that morning. The best part of first class service was immediately demonstrated when one of our three waiters placed a plate of wheat-free bread beside Pam without being asked. They were ready for her special dietary needs. Pam writes: The food in the grill was better, can you believe it? There was a second menu that was there every night behind the first one. It listed the escargot and the caviar and chateau briand and duck a'l'orange and all the other fine food you could want. We had the duck one night by ordering it before lunch, and it was divine. Patrick the maitre'd prepares the sauce in front of you. You can't beat that. It is now 17:15, and we must all attend the obligatory pre-sailing lifeboat drill. 2500 people are moving about wearing bright red-orange life jackets on seven deck. What strikes us again and again is that this is really a massive ship, with more than enough room for everyone. There are about 2500 passengers aboard for this historic crossing. But even with this vast number (not the largest passenger compliment at sea, but the largest passenger space ratio for a large ship: 57.25) there is always room to be alone. And it is off to dinner at 18:00: early so that we can eat and get outside for the sail away and the fireworks. QM2 pushes back from the pier at 19:30 with mighty blasts from the giant horns. QE2 remains at her pier until we have moved down the Hudson River. Dusk has begun as we move backwards into the Hudson, and the city is starting to light up. We make out way ever so slowly down the river, and see what must be hundreds of thousands of tiny flashes from cameras on both sides of the river, and from other boats. The police and airborne security forces are keeping boaters away from us, but the shores are lined with people by the thousands. Camera flashes are continuous for two hours. QE2 is following us down river, and stops near us to await the fireworks. The air is abuzz with police helicopters and news helicopters and aircraft. The water is full of guard vessels and sightseeing boats. The problem is that the weather has turned unseasonably cold. It was a warm sunny morning, but it is a windy and slightly drizzling evening and night. The cold is ripping at us, but there are probably 2000 people on deck to see the fireworks. We are not disappointed. From barges in the river are set off a beautifully choreographed display at 20:30. QE2 now passes us, and we head out under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and into the Atlantic Ocean. The historic tandem crossing is now underway. The journey is between 5650 and 5920 km depending on route.
26 April, Monday We are up at 7:30 and met our concierge. Jacqueline is from the former East Germany, having been 14 when the wall came down. Breakfast was served to us at 8:15 in the elegant Queen's Grill dining room. This is our third meal here, and we have yet to see our table-mates. We are not yet certain they are aboard. QE2 is off our port-bow. It is cloudy and very windy. Very very windy. Pam went to play deck quoits as a way to win tickets for prizes. It was so windy over the upper decks that one of her quoits, thrown outside the target, was blown across the teak deck into the target, thus scoring her an unintentional point, and winning for her an initial ticket. We went to clear UK Immigration in the G32 nightclub. The inspectors were wearing civilian clothes; unlike the overly militarized US officials. Our passports are stamped as of 01 May in Southampton even though that is still five days and thousands of km away. John went to the art auction, which droned on an on at a very slow pace. What was interesting was that the auctioneer sold nine prints of Gordon Bauwen's Queen leaving New York painting for $300 each ($406 total price). The 295 numbered prints are valued at $1500 each, but are only signed by the artist. This was the first time the prints were offered for sale, and it was interesting that he moved nine in less than a minute. At the cheaper end of the spectrum, many people spent their morning lining up in the grand lobby to buy commemorative t-shirts. Thousands of t-shirts were sold in two hours. In the afternoon we both play shuffleboard, on the theory that it is windy and we can pick up easy tickets. We are the only players, and get four tickets for winning, coming in second, and being insane enough to try to play a deck game in a wind storm at 8 degrees. We went for our first afternoon tea in the Queen's Grill Lounge near our dining room. This is the only private tea venue on board. After a delightful tea and treats, we retreated to our suite, and John had a bathe and enjoyed our private Jacuzzi. Pam writes: They even made me some wheat free scones one day at tea, now I must have them again. At tea, you come in and tell them what kind of tea you want. We mostly had earl grey and then they come around with sandwiches and sweets. You can ask for scones any day but we didn't actually know this and mine had to be made special anyway. Patrick asked if I would like them one day and of course the answer was yes. One of our staff delivered canapes at 17:30 as we were dressing for a reception, We had both been invited to the captain's reception for Grill passengers. This was a great opportunity to get autographs. John brought along a colour image of the Bauwen painting of the two ships leaving New York, and was able to get it signed by every senior officer, and by Pamela Conover, the CEO of Cunard. It is a most wonderful memento. Dinner in the Grill is appallingly slow. But at this fifth meal we do actually get to see our table-mates. We entered the dining room at 20:00, and managed to get out at 22:25, just in time for the late theatre stage show. My goodness, I am so disappointed with the dining room service. What is the point of charging first class prices, or of paying them, if the service is shoddy and inattentive? I should have bought Britannia class tickets instead of Grill. Service has been appalling. Water is a scarce item. Plates sit uncollected for long periods, so much so that food becomes crusty. Water glasses are NEVER refilled without a request. In fact, the ice totally melted in our glasses. Bread rolls are also a scarce commodity a second time round. Waiters bring or suggest wheat foods for Pam. It is so slow that we almost did not make it for the show. This has to be corrected, and I shall act in the morning. The show this evening is Appassionata, which we had seen in March. It is the best show aboard, and we would not miss seeing even a repeat. It is great. Amazing dance performances astound us. Now to bed, and the clocks move ahead one more hour. This makes our sleep a bit shorter than desirable.
27 April, Tuesday We awoke early and looked out the plate glass window beside our bed to see the QE2 directly abreast on the starboard side. It is a wonderful sight. There is a great beauty to the massive and stately beast surging though the North Atlantic swells. The waves are breaking high up the black hull. The tap dance instructor did not show up for the class, so John left after waiting thirty minutes. Pam and John played ring toss, a deck game held inside, and John won. This gained more tickets for Pam's quest to collect as many tickets as possible. She was saving them to get a QM2 travel alarm clock and thermometre. At 11:00, right after ring toss, John visited our deputy concierge to complain about the appalling service to which we were treated in Grill. Marie-Pierre went a bit white, and said it would be fixed. It was fixed by lunch, and from then on just about everything was nearly perfect. The surprise guest lecturer aboard is Terry Waite, the former hostage negotiator for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He gave a wonderful talk about hostage negotiation, and admitted that he was an 'ostrich' (according to a four year old child) for five years. QE2 pulled ahead and is now directly off the bow. This was done for photographic reasons. There are even photos of QM2 and QE2 leaving New York pier two days ago. This is rather amazing, as we have not stopped, and film was not dropped on our decks. It must all go by email and be printed in the on board darkroom. Our waiters, Simon, Tamryn, and Rosslyn, are getting ever so good. Raul, head of Queen's Grill, came to see us, and asked if everything had improved. All is well. We feel great. Pam played wipe-out trivia and lost. It is now tea-time, and Queen's Grill Lounge has wheat-free treats for Pam. After wrestling with wheat-free deserts, Pam had a rest in the suite while John went to the bookshop. He also bought postcards of the ship in addition to the endless supply of free postcards in our suite. The ship has rubber stamps saying 'Posted aboard Queen Mary 2' and John has this stamped on a massive number of cards. Even better, we learned that anything posted on board was stamped with a special commemorative note as to the tandem crossing and the date. Pam was feeling slightly ill, so John got her a package of motion sickness pills from the purser's office ($5). She immediately feels much better. There are swells, but no breaking crests on the waves. QM2 is pitching, with only slight roll. This dinner is the best yet! Superb food and service combined into a perfect dining experience. We went back to the suite instead of to the show, and discovered that our suite had been stripped. Everything was missing. There was a note on the bed from our butler, Jeffery, informing us that bad weather was expected, and that he had put away all breakables. We found the flowers in vases behind the chesterfield, and the champagne wedged between pillows in the cupboards.
28 April, Wednesday We both had a wonderful sleep. Pam said the ship was rocking, but John felt none of it. It is a beautiful morning, and the sun is shining upon us. Together we went to play both deck quoits and shuffleboard, winning a grand total of seven tickets. Since Pam only needs nine tickets for her clock, she already has more than enough. Today we have breakfast with new people. Breakfast is not an assigned seating meal, and we are pleased with our new companions, Harry and Jean. Our most important task is to arrange with the head of the dining room to host our guest. This is done, and we are most pleased. After a very nice lunch we attend an Oxford university lecture on the history and structure of the periodic table. There is a large series of classrooms aboard, and five profs are giving talks on a broad range of subjects. Talks are very well attended. We almost had a nap, but had to rush off to high tea in the lounge. One simply cannot survive without an infusion of Earl Grey tea and cucumber sandwiches and the usual host of desserts. So sad. Very tough life. There are of course special wheat-free sandwiches for Pam. It is a very sunny afternoon, and there are more than a hundred people in deck chairs trying to catch sun while wearing coats. We met our guest outside the lounge of the Queen's Grill right on time at 19:00. Although we had arranged to all meet in the lounge, our table mates, Ken and Barbie (really their names!) had gone directly into the dining room. So in we went. Being a cook himself, he delighted in the two offered menus. There is a changing daily menu, and a fixed a la carte menu. We had a wonderful, long, relaxed dinner of several courses and many wonderful things. After it was off to the Chart Room for drinks. After that it was back to our suite for more drinks and chatting in a quieter atmosphere. All in all a great evening, and perhaps the best of the crossing.
29 April, Thursday Today started perfectly with breakfast in bed. Jeffery brought in our cold and hot meals, laid out the linen, china, and silver table settings, and left us in peace and our bath robes. The salmon omelet was superb. In fact, all the smoked salmon each morning has been so fresh and wild tasting. It tastes too good to have been farmed salmon. Now for the ultimate relaxation: we are off to the Canyon Ranch spa. Our goal is to relax in the thalasotherapy spa pool and ancillary spa places until lunch. There are great changing rooms with a myriad of facilities: a Finnish sauna, reflexology foot baths, aromatherapy sauna, steam room, ice scrub, Jacuzzi, and full body shower and mist chamber. In the Turkish style aromatherapy sauna, there is a choice of music styles. After the heat of the saunas, John frequently rubs himself with the grated ice which continually falls into a bowl. Pam feels that this is a sign of insanity, yet tries it herself. She now knows it is a sign of insanity. We are now boneless. Our bones have melted away in the pleasure of the spa. We need wheelchairs to make it to lunch (not really). It is high tea time again, and wheat-free goodies are on the platter just for Pam. Patrick, our maitre d', had promised wheat-free scones, and his staff delivered. It was the first time Pam had eaten scones, and these came with the required Devon clotted cream. The pianist, who in the evenings performs in the Commodore (CommoDorothy) Club, is playing happy birthday in various styles of classical, including as a dirge. This afternoon we met Michael Binkley, the Vancouver sculptor. He carved the marble shells in the spa, and was teaching soapstone carving classes. People were doing fantastic things in only a short time. Cunard had approaching him about doing a class, and I think it was such a success that it will be repeated. Our problem this afternoon and evening is that we are invited to too many parties. This is not a problem causing us any anxiety, however. We totally skipped the first cocktail party, and only glanced in on the second. It was the final party which interested us. We had been nominated by a staff member to be invited to the senior staff reception. People who are noticed by senior staff as interacting, fun, conversational, or have a duplex suite are invited to the party. Not all Grill passengers are invited. Many are fun Britannia passengers. We both watch most of the Des O'Connor show from the back of the Royal Court Theatre, then went to the Queen's Room for the Royal Ascot Ball. We danced and were awful in the Gay Gordons. Then it was off to the G32 nightclub. We chatted with Helga 'Hurricane Helga' the Queen's Room singer from Montreal. The seas are rough, and the ship was shaking. Extra pillows were stuffed around Pam so that she would not fall our of bed.
30 April, Friday Although it was a night of shaking, there were no big rolls or pitches. This is the afternoon when Pam claimed her prizes based on the number of tickets won at the various competitions. Pam got a QM2 digital travel alarm clock which displays the time, date, calendar, and temperature. She also got a black Cunard/QM2 t-shirt, and John got a rosewood photo album with an embossed cover and 100 photo sleeves. As Pam had twenty-one tickets, and we only used 18, she gave away the rest to people who needed an extra to get a better item. At 14:00 the RAF Nimrod anti-submarine jet roars overhead. We have just passed Land's End and can clearly see the English coast. We are just south of the Scilly Isles when the helicopters, Hawk training jet, and Nimrod arrive. The Nimrod did several passes: each one closer than the previous. QE2 has moved up very close, and is directly off our starboard stern. The Nimrod flies between us at funnel top level. We stood on the private deck reserved for Grill passengers and watched the Nimrod fly very very close. Bullion was served, and because of the wind and cold, I got a rug for Pam's shoulders. We packed much of our stuff, as it all had to be in the hallway for pickup by midnight. We paid off the remaining bill, which was just for the daily gratuities, in cash, and we would leave the ship with absolutely no debt at all. After dinner John spoke with Pamela Conover, the Cunard CEO. Pamela had approached him after dinner and asked if the overall experience was good. They had a short exchange, and Pamela said she hoped we would both be back. John thanked her for the ship. Her husband said it was great to be on such an historic voyage. But nothing is faultless. We found out that over night the spa pool flooded and sent water into passenger accommodations on decks five and six. We are now moving rather slowly. Our great speed and calm seas on the crossing have placed us too far along. We are expected at the pilot boat station at 03:00 in the morning, and at the Southampton docks at 06:00 tomorrow morning.
01 May 2004, Saturday The ships pulled into the Solent far too early for crowds to have gathered, or even for passengers to see the arrival. John got up at 05:00 expecting to see us sail up the Solent, but discovered we were already nearing the QEII ocean liner terminal in Southampton. The QE2 had gone ahead and was already docked far along the water nearer the container terminal. Southampton water was full of tour boats packed to the gills, and all kept away from our ship by a single police boat. There was not the overarching or menacing sense of police and paramilitary presence felt in New York. An old steam cargo vessel loaded with sightseers whistled at us after getting up a head of steam. The steam came pouring out of the whistle, and after about five second, the 'thweeee' grew in power, but never to the point of being a very serious sound. It is our last meal in the Queen's Grill dining room, and we have a lovely breakfast. There is of course wheat-free toast for Pam and smoked salmon for John. We chatted with many passengers and staff. Crew were in a bit of a frenzy, as the ship would be emptied, cleaned, and reloaded with provisions, baggage and passengers for the return crossing in less than ten hours. Pam got more autographs in our passenger list booklet given to all passengers. As Grill passengers can leave whenever they wish, we are off the ship by 09:00. There is no immigration, and customs is self-declaration.
The inaugural tandem trans-Atlantic crossing by Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 was a wonderful experience that shall not likely be repeated in my lifetime. I am so glad that I sailed on this worderful and grand true ocean liner, and I am thrilled with the service in first class, and with our suite and superb treatment by all staff. QM2 is a winner, and our family shall sail on her again.
25 April 2004, Sunday QM2 was available for boarding at noon, but was not scheduled to depart until 19:30. We arrived at the pier at about 13:00. Police controlled the entrance, and it was slow going. There were red-suited trumpeters at the doorway to the pier. Cunard had decorated the entire check-in area with Cunard pictures and paintings and ribbons. We went strait to the Grill-class check-in desks and were seen to immediately. Pam still did not know about the Queen's Grill room, thinking we were still only in Princess Grill. It was instant boarding for us. Only once we are in our massive suite do I tell Pam that this is actually Queen's Grill and not Princess. There is a great deal of jumping up and down. She bounces. I am very pleased. I do not know how I managed to keep this a secret for nearly two years. Amazing. Our room is fantastic, and we play in and with everything. The room is already stocked with three bottles of champagne, including Moet & Chandon. Once the immediate novelty of a first class stateroom and a butler and sub-butler and concierge wore off, we then went to check out our table in the Queen's Grill private dining room, and discovered they were serving a late lunch for any starving first class passengers. We were starving, having not eaten since 10:30 that morning. The best part of first class service was immediately demonstrated when one of our three waiters placed a plate of wheat-free bread beside Pam without being asked. They were ready for her special dietary needs. What strikes us again and again is that this is really a massive ship, with more than enough room for everyone. There are about 2500 passengers aboard for this historic crossing. But even with this vast number (not the largest passenger compliment at sea, but the largest passenger space ratio for a large ship: 57.25) there is always room to be alone. And it is off to dinner at 18:00: early so that we can eat and get outside for the sail away and the fireworks. QM2 pushes back from the pier at 19:30 with mighty blasts from the giant horns. QE2 remains at her pier until we have moved down the Hudson River. The cold is ripping at us, but there are probably 2000 people on deck to see the fireworks. We are not disappointed. From barges in the river are set off a beautifully choreographed display at 20:30. QE2 now passes us, and we head out under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and into the Atlantic Ocean. The historic tandem crossing is now underway. The journey is between 5650 and 5920 km depending on route.
26 April, Monday Breakfast was served to us at 8:15 in the elegant Queen's Grill dining room. We went to clear UK Immigration in the G32 nightclub. The inspectors were wearing civilian clothes; unlike the overly militarized US officials. Our passports are stamped as of 01 May in Southampton even though that is still five days and thousands of km away. We went for our first afternoon tea in the Queen's Grill Lounge near our dining room. This is the only private tea venue on board. After a delightful tea and treats, we retreated to our suite, and John had a bathe and enjoyed our private Jacuzzi. One of our staff delivered canapes at 17:30 as we were dressing for a reception, We had both been invited to the captain's reception for Grill passengers. Dinner in the Grill is appallingly slow. But at this fifth meal we do actually get to see our table-mates. We entered the dining room at 20:00, and managed to get out at 22:25, just in time for the late theatre stage show. My goodness, I am so disappointed with the dining room service. What is the point of charging first class prices, or of paying them, if the service is shoddy and inattentive? I should have bought Britannia class tickets instead of Grill. Service has been appalling. Water is a scarce item. Plates sit uncollected for long periods, so much so that food becomes crusty. Water glasses are NEVER refilled without a request. In fact, the ice totally melted in our glasses. Bread rolls are also a scarce commodity a second time round. Waiters bring or suggest wheat foods for Pam. It is so slow that we almost did not make it for the show. This has to be corrected, and I shall act in the morning. The show this evening is Appassionata, which we had seen in March. It is the best show aboard, and we would not miss seeing even a repeat. It is great. Amazing dance performances astound us.
27 April, Tuesday We awoke early and looked out the plate glass window beside our bed to see the QE2 directly abreast on the starboard side. It is a wonderful sight. There is a great beauty to the massive and stately beast surging though the North Atlantic swells. The waves are breaking high up the black hull. At 11:00, right after ring toss, John visited our deputy concierge to complain about the appalling service to which we were treated in Grill. Marie-Pierre went a bit white, and said it would be fixed. It was fixed by lunch, and from then on just about everything was nearly perfect. Our waiters, Simon, Tamryn, and Rosslyn, are getting ever so good. Raul, head of Queen's Grill, came to see us, and asked if everything had improved. All is well. We feel great. This dinner is the best yet! Superb food and service combined into a perfect dining experience. We went back to the suite instead of to the show, and discovered that our suite had been stripped. Everything was missing. There was a note on the bed from our butler, Jeffery, informing us that bad weather was expected, and that he had put away all breakables. We found the flowers in vases behind the chesterfield, and the champagne wedged between pillows in the cupboards.
28 April, Wednesday We both had a wonderful sleep. Pam said the ship was rocking, but John felt none of it. It is a beautiful morning, and the sun is shining upon us. After a very nice lunch we attend an Oxford university lecture on the history and structure of the periodic table. We almost had a nap, but had to rush off to high tea in the lounge. One simply cannot survive without an infusion of Earl Grey tea and cucumber sandwiches and the usual host of desserts. So sad. Very tough life. There are of course special wheat-free sandwiches for Pam. We had a wonderful, long, relaxed dinner of several courses and many wonderful things. After it was off to the Chart Room for drinks. After that it was back to our suite for more drinks and chatting in a quieter atmosphere. All in all a great evening, and perhaps the best of the crossing.
29 April, Thursday Today started perfectly with breakfast in bed. Jeffery brought in our cold and hot meals, laid out the linen, china, and silver table settings, and left us in peace and our bath robes. The salmon omelet was superb. In fact, all the smoked salmon each morning has been so fresh and wild tasting. It tastes too good to have been farmed salmon. Now for the ultimate relaxation: we are off to the Canyon Ranch spa. Our goal is to relax in the thalasotherapy spa pool and ancillary spa places until lunch. There are great changing rooms with a myriad of facilities: a Finnish sauna, reflexology foot baths, aromatherapy sauna, steam room, ice scrub, Jacuzzi, and full body shower and mist chamber. In the Turkish style aromatherapy sauna, there is a choice of music styles. After the heat of the saunas, John frequently rubs himself with the grated ice which continually falls into a bowl. Pam feels that this is a sign of insanity, yet tries it herself. She now knows it is a sign of insanity. We are now boneless. Our bones have melted away in the pleasure of the spa. We need wheelchairs to make it to lunch (not really). It is high tea time again, and wheat-free goodies are on the platter just for Pam. Patrick, our maitre d', had promised wheat-free scones, and his staff delivered. It was the first time Pam had eaten scones, and these came with the required Devon clotted cream. It was the final party which interested us. We had been nominated by a staff member to be invited to the senior staff reception. People who are noticed by senior staff as interacting, fun, conversational, or have a duplex suite are invited to the party. Not all Grill passengers are invited. Many are fun Britannia passengers. Then it was off to the G32 nightclub. We chatted with Helga 'Hurricane Helga' the Queen's Room singer from Montreal.
30 April, Friday At 14:00 the RAF Nimrod anti-submarine jet did several passes: each one closer than the previous. QE2 has moved up very close, and is directly off our starboard stern. The Nimrod flies between us at funnel top level. Bullion was served, and because of the wind and cold, I got a rug for Pam's shoulders. But nothing is faultless. We found out that over night the spa pool flooded and sent water into passenger accommodations on decks five and six.
01 May 2004, Saturday The ships pulled into the Solent far too early for crowds to have gathered, or even for passengers to see the arrival. John got up at 05:00 expecting to see us sail up the Solent, but discovered we were already nearing the QEII ocean liner terminal in Southampton. The QE2 had gone ahead and was already docked far along the water nearer the container terminal. It is our last meal in the Queen's Grill dining room, and we have a lovely breakfast. There is of course wheat-free toast for Pam and smoked salmon for John. We chatted with many passengers and staff. Crew were in a bit of a frenzy, as the ship would be emptied, cleaned, and reloaded with provisions, baggage and passengers for the return crossing in less than ten hours. Pam got more autographs in our passenger list booklet given to all passengers. As Grill passengers can leave whenever they wish, we are off the ship by 09:00. There is no immigration, and customs is self-declaration.
I sailed with friends on Queen Mary 2's 17-night Three Continents Cruise on March 26th 2004, from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, calling at Barbados, Dakar, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Madeira and Lisbon. This review however is only about the ship.
Although I have sailed on the QE2 a number of times, my main cruising background is with Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, NCL, Holland America, P&O and Princess.
I noticed that the ship carries portable check-in terminals in large flight cases for processing passengers at the port of embarkation. They are taken off the ship on arrival. Credit card details are recorded, and key cards are produced with the passenger's photograph.
On this trip the embarkation procedure seemed to be well organised and the whole procedure was completed within an hour.
The ship's exterior is absolutely stunning and I feel she is as beautiful as any modern ocean liner could be, bearing in mind the economic necessity of having lots of balconies. The profile is very well balanced and until one sees the ship in person it is difficult to get a sense of scale. She has a very high waistline and I think this makesit difficult to appreciate her incredible height from a photograph. True perspective is gained when other "large" ships are alongside.
The interior depends very much on personal taste. It is more the general sense of scale and spaciousness that impresses than any specific feature. One's senses are not bombarded and there is nothing breathtaking like the Royal Promenade on the Voyager Class ships. Most of the interior décor is rather understated and many regard it as very tasteful. There are a lot of wood laminate finishes, some of which I found realistic and others that reminded me of "melamine" in the sixties.
I do not wish to give the impression that the décor is disappointing because, irrespective of flaws, the whole ship is just amazing. However, there is a rather indefinable synthetic feel, which denies the ship a solid character of its own. Perhaps it is trying too hard to recreate something that cannot be achieved with modern materials and labour costs.
On boarding the ship on deck 2, one enters the main lobby area, which has a warm feel with rich red carpeting, lots of wood effect, attractive plasterwork and cornicing, but compared to other ships it is otherwise rather restrained.
The atrium is not especially large and climbs only from deck two to deck seven. On both decks two and three, the ceilings are much higher than usual and on each of these floors there is a very broad passageway running from the Royal Court Theatre, forward, through the atrium to the Britannia restaurant, aft. Looking through from one end to the other is quite striking and gives a great sense of spaciousness.
Deck 7 has a wrap-around teak promenade deck - three times round equals 1.1 miles. There are traditional wooden steamer type deckchairs lining the length of the deck adjacent to the ships rails. These deckchairs are easily accommodated to the forward part of the ship where the deck is especially wide. Unfortunately, further aft there are numerous alcoves within the King's Court dining area that protrude onto the deck and also safety equipment, both of which cause narrowing which detracts from what would otherwise have been an extremely impressive feature.
The main dining room is initially very impressive, but within a few days the laminated wood panelling became wearing and looked unnatural to me and not as appealing as elsewhere on the ship. The sweeping staircases are no more impressive than I have seen on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity.
The illuminated art deco style glass ceiling and the huge QM2 tapestry can be seen from only from relatively few tables - those in or directly adjacent to the centre section of the room. There are some tables to be avoided, especially near to the kitchen entrance. They are rectangular and badly arranged, being close together and having the layout of a school canteen.
Service is very inconsistent with many of the waiters apparently still learning. This was the case with our initial waiters but after a table change we had two excellent waiters. Experienced waiters make a tremendous difference to one's dining experience.
The menus have a European influence and are quite imaginative. The choice is slightly narrower than I would have hoped for. Perhaps an extra option at each course would improve matters. The soups were all delicious. The regular bowls are small, but larger ones are available on request. In other respects it would seem that previous concerns over portion sizes have been addressed.
Although the quality of the beef was sometimes a little disappointing, the food overall was much better than I expected - certainly significantly better than Royal Caribbean and Princess, but not yet up to the standards I have experienced with Celebrity, which is my benchmark for quality. The lobster dish that came with steak was, without doubt, the best lobster I have ever had on a ship.
For past QE2 passengers, by comparison I felt the food quality was much better than the Mauretania Restaurant and compared favourably with the Princess Grill, but the dining experience certainly did not.
On one evening our waiter advised that one of the entrees was not available. This surprised me because, unlike other ships where the menus are re-used on each sailing, all the menus are individually dated at lunch and dinner.
There needs to be a decision taken about music in the restaurant. At the moment the same music is repeated at every meal. Little, if any, thought appears to have been given to the selection of recorded music, and much of it is inappropriate - including the 1812 Overture, which does nothing to help create the proper atmosphere. A live string quartet would be much more appropriate for this venue. If recorded music has to be used, there is no need for repetition.
I am delighted to report that the hackneyed nightly round of waiters singing "Happy Birthday" is not present on this ship. Nor is the tacky Baked Alaska Parade or any other similar tip-soliciting performance by the waiters. Also missing was any sort of gala buffet.
PRINCESS AND QUEENS GRILLS
I much preferred the décor and ambience of both Grills to the Britannia Restaurant, although I was not fortunate enough to dine there myself. There are no set seating times and one retains one's own table and waiter for all meals. A much superior level of service and a wider choice of food can be expected.
Due to overwhelming demand, this alternative-dining venue has had to introduce a charge of $30 for dinner and $20 at lunch.
Understandably, attempts are being made to discourage passengers from passing through the restaurant to the Terrace Pool and Bar during dining hours. However this is the only access route without using stairs, so I suggest requesting a table well away from the through traffic.
There has been a lot of hype about this restaurant and perhaps my expectations were too high. The décor, ambiance and service were all absolutely excellent. Although many of the dishes were individually good, I found the overall meal to be too rich.
The Lobster Chowder was very intense in flavour and there was too much. The Butternut Squash Ravioli had a beautiful taste but the portion was enormous and very, very rich. The Short Rib of Beef was melting and the accompanying gravy was full flavoured but, after the other food, this dish was rather heavy going. The Falling Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream was truly fantastic and was the only dish I would wish to eat again.
So when I look back at this dining experience, I am glad I tried it. However I cancelled my second booking not only because of the cost, but also the food in the Britannia Restaurant seemed to improve after the first couple of days.
Comparing Todd English with Ocean Liners on Constellation, both had excellent service, albeit in quite different styles - Ocean Liners being much more formal and theatrical. However the main difference to me was that I enjoyed every dish at Ocean Liners and the overall dining experience was more balanced and satisfying.
I suspect that the current charges will be necessary to control demand on the six-night transatlantic crossing but on longer cruises $20 for dinner and $10 for lunch would seem more realistic. If that were the case I would have given it a second chance and would have chosen much more carefully from the menu.
This is a very large area, which has four separate themed food sections, one at each corner. Chef's Galley and La Piazza are located forward and quite some considerable distance aft is The Carvery and Lotus.
At night, parts of this enormous venue are sub-divided into sections using screens that are assembled each afternoon. However, there is still no great sense of intimacy as passengers can still pass through.
Tablecloths and place settings are laid and waiter service is provided. There is no extra charge unless one chooses to dine in the Chef's Galley, which is a smaller section accommodating only around 25 passengers. Reservations are essential and there is a charge of $35, which includes wine. Diners get a good view of the chef preparing the meal in the open demonstration kitchen - aided by cameras and plasma television screens.
The oriental food served at Lotus made a pleasant change from the regular dining room food. The tasting menu with twelve different items was very enjoyable, but no a la carte alternative was offered. Initially, it seemed that twelve courses were going to be served but then dishes were grouped together on one plate, so there were actually only five courses.
Most passengers' experience of King's Court will be by day when it is used for buffet breakfast and lunch. A table can be hard to find unless one is a real early bird. The idea of extended choice sounds good but the problem is that with each section serving different food one has to wander about trying to find everything one wants, and at busy times this can be a slow and frustrating experience. So although some of the food is very good, it is almost impossible to have a relaxed meal.
One suggestion would be to ensure that every section (except Chef's Galley, which is too small) should have all the basic essentials available at breakfast and lunch. Another little thing that would be easy to do is to provide napkin-wrapped cutlery with the trays, rather than have waiters laying them on tables.
At breakfast, it is worth searching out the freshly made waffles, which were delicious. It was also a challenge to find the oatmeal. Then it ran out and was not available anywhere on board for over a week.
Other food items ran out half way through the cruise - frosted flakes, homemade cereals, fruit yoghurts and sugar-free maple syrup. Bagels were often unavailable. On one occasion the cartons of milk were sour even though they were within two days of their expiry date.
As is usual on ships, coffee was below expectations, varying from okay to undrinkable. It was impossible to get a decent piece of toast unless one found someone who was willing to go and make it fresh. Juices are always available from the fonts in King's Court - not just at breakfast.
At lunchtime, the Chef's Galley prepares sandwiches and burgers to order. Freshly carved meats are offered at The Carvery.
La Piazza has some imaginative salad combinations and a wide variety of hot dishes from run-of-the-mill to more adventurous Italian food. I did hear reports that the daily souffle was excellent. La Piazza is also open for late-night snacks serving pizza, pasta, chilli, burgers, fries and the like.
However the most popular section for lunch is Lotus. The stir-fries are delicious and passengers stand in line whilst two chefs freshly prepare them. Unfortunately the ventilation system is totally inadequate. The sizzling woks produce a lot of smoke, which permeates the decks above and below, adjacent to Stairway B.
The general consensus amongst those I spoke with was that the whole King's Court venue needs to be better organised. As the cruise went on, more and more frustrated passengers turned to the Britannia Restaurant. It is only the lower level of the dining room that is open for breakfast and lunch and demand was such that occasionally it struggled to accommodate everyone.
This is a small inconspicuous canteen situated forward of the covered pool area on deck 12. It has a very utilitarian feel and seems totally out of place on a ship like this. On entering one feels as if one has wandered into a crew area. The food is the most basic type of pizza, hot dog and burger food, which seems likely to be appreciated only by those who are in a hurry to find a quick snack.
Wood coloured plastic tables and chairs are set up on the huge open deck space outside the café, when weather permits. There has been no attempt to make this area attractive. The dining area needs to be more defined. Perhaps the deck space should be broken up in some way - maybe an elevated area with a canvas-type covering and some decorative lampposts might help.
If there is one room that captures the essence of what this ship is attempting to achieve, it is the Queens Room. It is a traditional style ballroom on a truly grand scale with a very high ceiling. The focal point is an unusual semi-circular art deco style bandstand protruding from the rear of the room directly onto the large dance floor, above which two large chandeliers hang from an imposing vaulted ceiling.
This is a quiet, elegant lounge for taking afternoon tea, but it really comes into its own when filled with passengers on a formal evening, for example at the Captain's Cocktail Party or a themed ball. The atmosphere is quite unique but not stuffy. It is difficult to imagine another venue that could more closely recreate the grandeur associated with ocean voyages of a bygone era.
An orchestra plays here nightly for traditional dancing. Sadly, the room seemed to be underused and the acoustics are bad unless the room is pretty full. The rather plain backdrop to the bandstand seems unimaginative, bland and out of place.
There is one other significant flaw: when people enter or leave the G32 nightclub, noise floods into the Queens Room. A late night comedian's routine was repeatedly interrupted and at other times blasts of disco music clashed with the orchestra and damaged the atmosphere.
It seems to be a standing joke that this room is difficult to find and the deck plans do not help much. One can either go directly there by going aft to Staircase D and taking the elevator to deck 3. Or one can simply make one's way to the entrance to The Britannia Restaurant where there are short stairways port and starboard to level 3 lower. There is a windowed corridor on each side of the ship cleverly wedged between the upper and lower level of the Britannia Restaurant. These corridors are in the void between the ceiling of the lower level and the floor of the highest tier of the upper level, at the sides.
This is the most impressive nightclub I have yet seen on any ship with an ideal layout. It is ultra modern, high tech and very tastefully done, with excellent sound and lighting and arrays of plasma screens. An excellent band called Onyx alternated with a DJ throughout most evenings until the early hours.
Accessible only from the Queens Room, one enters on the lower level and there are stairways at each side up to the mezzanine level. Here one can simply have a drink and listen to the music, or look down on the action below. On this cruise, the average age was over seventy, so it was rather underused. However, with a younger age group I really feel this would be a first-class venue.
This is another unique feature of this ship and is more than just a planetarium. When being used for the special shows, the large concave projection screen is lowered over the central section. Only the red, reclining seats in the middle section under the dome are used for the planetarium shows.
There are three special shows lasting about half an hour. Of the two shows for adults, "Infinity Express" was much the better being both educational and, through its use of special effects, very entertaining. There is also a children's show, which I did not see.
This venue is like a second theatre with lectures, concerts and recitals and is fully equipped as the ship's cinema. I prefer its design to the main theatre with its traditional individual seating and excellent sightlines.
ROYAL COURT THEATRE
This main theatre is rather smaller than one would expect. There is a large proscenium stage, which brings the audience closer to the action and makes the theatre feel more intimate. On the lower level the sightlines are better than upstairs, but it is nevertheless badly designed with lots of obstructions.
Downstairs, two rows of movable rotating chairs are crammed between each long row of fixed sofa-type seating. This makes it awkward to get in and out of some seats and also means that latecomers who move chairs around can affect one's view.
The theatre has all the latest high tech devices, including a hydraulic orchestra pit that can be raised or lowered on cue and the stage rotates and changes levels in seemingly endless variations.
There is a show each night at 8.30pm and 10.45pm. These are the usual type featuring either a headline act such as a singer, comedian, magician or instrumentalist, or a glamorously costumed production show performed by the ships troupe of singers and dancers. There was a fair mix - some good some bad. Of the three production shows " Rock @ the Opera" stood out but, disappointingly, the ending was an anti-climax.
This surprisingly small observation lounge seems rather plain by day; at night it is transformed. The combination of a talented pianist, subdued lighting and the professionalism of the bar stewards make this a superb venue for a pre-dinner drink. The atmosphere is intimate, very sophisticated and highly recommended.
There is a huge illuminated model of QM2 above the bar, which is stocked with an amazing variety of spirits - well over a hundred bottles all of which have to be removed for storage each night. The Martini and cocktail lists are impressive and the bartenders have the opportunity to show off their undoubted skills.
Alcohol prices seemed very reasonable to me and certainly much cheaper than I am used to on other cruise lines. Draught Becks, Stella Artois and Bass Ale are all on tap. There are no soda guns in this bar. This means that if one is having a spirit with a mixer one always gets it from a can or bottle, at no extra charge - what a difference it makes to a gin and tonic!
GOLDEN LION PUB
This is a large room with high ceilings, extremely popular at lunchtime when finding a table can be difficult. Typical "pub grub" such as bangers and mash and cottage pie are served at no extra charge. The fish and chips with mushy peas and tartare sauce are highly recommended.
The actual bar with its traditional barstools, wooden gantries and draught beer taps is very attractive and has an authentic feel, although the décor of the room as a whole lacks the true character of a British pub.
At least there is a good selection of beer on tap at only $3.50 per full Imperial pint (20 ounces). These include Bass Ale, Guinness and Boddingtons Pub Draught (this is the only location on board where this beautiful, smooth beer can be bought on draught). Lagers include Stella Artois, Becks and Budweiser. There is also the novelty of half-yards of ale, sometimes available on a "buy-one-got-one-free" offer after 9.00pm.
A pianist plays here during lunchtime and prior to dinner, and Karaoke takes place later in the evening.
This lounge is brightly decorated with plants and flowers painted on the walls and ceiling and has the feel of a conservatory. Background bird noises are played to add to the effect. I had mixed feelings about this room and did not spend much time there although many passengers really liked it. Afternoon tea is served here and live harp or piano music is played and, occasionally, a classical recital.
CHART ROOM BAR
This is the main venue for jazz, which was originally intended to be the Commodore Club. It is very elegant in cool pale green colours and very spacious - all the tables are set far apart. I don't think the wood effect works in this room but the ambiance would be improved if it had only one entrance, instead of three.
VEUVE CLIQUOT CHAMPAGNE BAR
This is a pleasant bar serving Champagne and caviar. A fine place to people watch, but its open plan style gives it the feel of a hotel lobby bar.
SIR SAMUEL'S WINE BAR
This is an attractive wine bar with wine and cheese tasting. Blocking off direct access from the shops would give the room a more intimate feel.
LIBRARY AND BOOKSHOP
The library is beautiful and the atmosphere is very pleasant. There really is a huge collection of books stored in beautiful shiny wood trimmed glass cabinets. The passageways between are a little narrow, and can become congested on sea days. There are computer stations for internet access and comfortable seating with views over the bow. The bookshop is adjacent and sells maritime books and cruise memorabilia.
This narrow card room overlooks the bow and is a lovely quiet spot when not being used for tournaments or lectures.
This is a very large facility with many different computer equipped rooms. There were seminars on various computer related topics like digital imaging and Windows XP.
Less glitzy than other ships, it is probably as tasteful as a casino can be, bearing in mind the number of slot machines and the noise that they generate.
CANYON RANCH SPA CLUB
All the latest treatments are available and the general impression is that the standard is high, as are the charges. Use of the beautiful Aqua Therapy Centre is included with most spa treatments or can be purchased for a charge of $25 per day ($19 on port days), and there are three-day and five-day packages available at $49 and $79 respectively, but these days must be taken consecutively.
The thalassotherapy pool features the usual neck fountains and (new to me) a "deluge waterfall" which was fantastic. At one end it has a submerged airbed where one can stretch out and be massaged by vigorous bubbles. There is a separate whirlpool that was out of order for the whole cruise, because of an electrical problem. There are two saunas: one herbal and one traditional Finnish and an aromatic steam room with a refreshing scent and relaxing music.
Whilst I accept the need to charge for the use of this facility to prevent it from being crowded, many people felt the charges were far too high. Also it seems wrong that on a ship like this that one cannot have access to a sauna without paying.
There is no charge to use the fully equipped gym.
The shops were mainly expensive big name franchises like Hermes, Dunhill and so on - so not much here for bargain hunters. There were however the usual sort of "inch of gold", "designer watches" and other "special sales", when display tables were set up outside the shops. Duty free alcohol was expensive and was stored until the last night of the cruise.
The Pavilion Pool is a solarium type area with a sliding glass roof. It is much smaller than similar facilities on other ships and also rather stark by comparison. There are comfortable wooden deckchairs with cushioned pads.
Considering the number of passengers, I was amazed that this smallish area was never full, and a deckchair could always be found. One has to bring one's own pool towel from the cabin, as they are not available poolside. Admittedly they are beautiful green jacquard towels with the Cunard logo. I know it doesn't seem right on an upmarket ship that one has to carry one's own towel around but, on the other hand, the fact that everyone was responsible for his or her own pool towel may have helped reduce chair hogging.
The main outdoor pool is the Terrace Pool on deck 8 aft. There is plenty of deck space and this is the normal venue for sailaway parties. The only access to this location without using stairs is via Todd English.
Minnows Pool on deck 6 is for children. There is also an extremely shallow splash pool on deck 13.
The standard cabin style is as good as on any premium line. They are tastefully decorated and well fitted with wardrobe and storage space. The en-suite shower rooms have a slightly larger than usual shower compartment and an attractive sink top, but no toiletry compartments, just shelves.
There is an interactive television and a keypad is provided for internet access. There is a charge of $1.50 to send or receive an e-mail. In the cabin and throughout the ship my laptop displayed an available Wi-Fi connection to "QM2 Internet".
There has been a lot of talk about "hull balconies". These are the balcony cabins on decks 4, 5 and 6 where an opening is cut into the side of the ship. The superstructure restricts the view from inside these cabins.
As far as the Q and P categories are concerned, there is a very high premium to be paid for these. I think most people realise that a large part of this is for the privilege of dining in one of the grillrooms. Queens Grill passengers also have the use of their own lounge. There is also a very nice private deck aft on Deck 11 with its own Jacuzzi.
Everywhere she goes the QM2 attracts the sort of attention previously reserved exclusively for the QE2. Crowds gathered in all the ports - not just where she was making her maiden call. Security around the ship was very evident.
I know it is obvious but the ship is huge and there really can be a lot of walking between the various venues. The corridors are deceptive and seem to go on forever. Probably the best cabin location to minimise the amount of walking would be just aft of midships and slightly forward of the "C" stairway.
The cruise director, Paul Becque, was excellent. He had a great personality but was not overpowering. Not of his choosing I am sure, but there are too many unnecessary announcements repeating information contained in the daily programme. It's nowhere near as bad as most of the mainstream cruise lines, but I prefer Celebrity's "no announcements" policy.
Aside from the normal type of shows, this ship provides slightly more "highbrow" activities including a wide range of enrichment lectures, drama workshops and computer learning.
At only three months old one would not expect the ship to be lacking in routine maintenance, but many areas required paint retouching, varnishing, repairs etc. Many of the wooden deckchairs were unstable and needed bolts retightening. The moulded plastic strips around all the swimming pools (where the water overflows) were loose and were frequently floating in the water.
Many more staff need to be deployed on cleaning - especially windows. The carpeted areas of King's Court were heavily stained. You just do not see the continual cleaning that you do on other lines.
Towards the end of the cruise a medical emergency occurred when a passenger collapsed on the stairs that lead down to the dance floor in the Queens Room. The only crew reaction was to call the medical centre but no crewmember came to tend to the passenger whilst they lay on the floor. It took over twenty minutes for medical staff to arrive. Many passengers felt the response time and the failure of crew to provide immediate attention was rather poor.
Technical problems resulted in the ship's arrival in Southampton being delayed by over 4 hours. Many passengers due to fly back to the USA the same day had to have their flights rebooked and the majority were accommodated in a hotel overnight. This was a massive task and the staff seemed to do a good job.
QM2 is a special ship that provides a totally different experience and I think most open-minded cruise enthusiasts would be willing to pay a bit extra to experience her. I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise. The per diem cost was about 70% more than I normally pay. For me it was worth it on a one-off basis. I would gladly go again if the price was right, but I wouldn't be willing to pay anywhere near as much next time.
For those contemplating sailing on the QM2, I would recommend that they be realistic in their expectations. They should not expect the ship to match their fantasy of the ultimate possible cruise experience. Unless one travels in Grill Class, the standard one can expect is similar in many respects to that of other "premium" cruise lines, like Celebrity and Holland America. Although the ship has yet to reach its full potential, the plusses outweigh the minuses and the ship will provide a memorable experience because it is unique.
This was the Cunard's President Cruise with three special shore events in Barbados, Madiera, and Lisbon-they were all treats with plentiful wines, entertainment, and foods.Billed as the "Three Continents Cruise" Port of embarkation was Ft.Lauderdale, stops were Barbados,Dakar,Las Palmas,Lanzarote,Madeira, Lisbon, and disembarkation at Southampton,17 nights total. It was with a mixture of trepidation and some high expectation in boarding at Ft Lauderdale-processing was reasonable as the ship was full. Websites and news reports had reported problems with crew defections, questionable food, and ?service.As we arrived in time for the buffet service for luncheon at the King's Court-casual meal service offerings-the Oriental restaurant-was very good. Two chefs were cooking stir fry foods to order-fresh and fairly tasty. All the seating areas here are carpeted-must be painful to maintain. This is really a cut abve norm. Normally, for breakfasts and lunchs, food was varied in quality and flavors. The carved meats to order were very good. Evenings with dimmed lighting, the site became very attractive. In cases of high demand, without reservations, this was a zoo,passengers roaming everywhere. Our assigned dining w-as in the Britannia Restaurant-three levels. Comfort and service really depended on where you were assigned.We had a table of eight in the rear-first level-ambience was lacking-compared to the front and middle of the room. Service was good, but food variety-flavors-quality varied-I would say comparable to Princess-not what one would expect on a premium line. I would say that the food was even better on the Cunard Princess-servicewise too-before she was sold. I'ave been on the RV Sun, QE2,Caronia (Vistafjord) and Cunard Countess.
Entertainment was fairly good with some British acts for the large British passenger contingent,Only one comedian was not acceptable. Ethnicity of the entertainment was not a problem-no strange English pandering. There were three full production shows with 12 dancers, three troupe singers, and a 9 piece band-all more than the normal on ships. This talent sparkled. but the productions were incoherent in content. My cabin was category B6, Deck 4, with balcony. The catch was that it was cut in the hull-I'ave never experienced this type of balcony cabin before. The balcony was roomy enough for 2 lounges and table, but the hull stopped you from seeing the sea-only the skies. I would say-good for a private reading and sunning, but useless for the full sun-sky-sea effect. The stewardess-from Rumania-was very hard working, but disorganized and needing time management and organization. The ship itself is very attractive, decorwise, finishings, furniture quality. Public rooms are large and fairly well done. But, the ship is really too large-if you were to walk from the fore to aft-a very long 1000 feet walk. The crew was-for the most part-in disarray and many-many needed training-time-experience-morale boosting. Let's give this ship 12 months to settle in.
We had stateroom 5134, 5th deck, located on the portside and between stairwell/elevators C and B. Location was good as elevator B took us to amidships and elevator C directly to the dinning area. Our stateroom was small but comfortable. The veranda was not to our liking had a high solid front that obstructed the view unless you stood up. Our room Stewardess was very good.
Itinerary from Ft. Lauderdale included Panama Canal city of Chrisobal; Cacuaco; St. Maarten; and St. Thomas.
We found the public rooms to be wonderful and often uncrowded. The main dinning room, Britannia was often too crowded, not noisy. Service within the dinning room was often not well orchestrated, especially during the evening meal. All meals, including room service, were excellent and the food was ample and well prepared.
The ship's library was wonderful with a fine bookstore.
Entertainment: The Planetarium was excellent. Theater shows were, in our opinion, just average. Many lounges had piano players; some good others just average. Favorite Lounge: The Commodore Club, 9th deck forward, with view of bow. Inter-active TV within the stateroom was excellent.
During several days of rough seas, the ship was movingat 29 knots and it was not at all noticeable for passenger comfort. Truly, an ocean liner, designed for the worse of sea conditions.
Summary: All in all I enjoyed the cruise. I went to experience the Queen Mary 2 and be part of its heritage. I don't believe I'd sail on her again, as I prefer a smaller ship. I rate it 4 stars of 5 stars.
Queen Mary 2's first Yuletide in the Caribbean from Ft. Lauderdale was billed as a glorious adventure. It turned out to be most ordinary and, in some ways, disappointing.
With all of the hype about QM2 and the grand tradition of the Cunard line, our hopes were high. Embarkation at the pier was the first of a series of embarrassments for the Queen. For starters, the embarkation process itself was a disorganized frenzy. Port workers were rude and often mean, especially in dealing with passengers in wheelchairs or those using other mobility devices. Lines were not well marked and personnel were untrained. At shipboard ID issuance, the workers printed my ID card with my wife's picture and hers with mine. They were unable to correct the error despite several tries, even with ship Purser's personnel assisting. Once aboard, even the Purser's office could not correct the error until the second port call.
Staying in the suites was our only saving grace. The concierge and the suite butlers were superb as were most of the servers in the Queen's Grill. Unfortunately, they never got our names or our preferences down and each meal waslike starting from scratch. While menu choices were extensive, the galley had a very heavy hand with salt. It often took the wait staff several tries to get food the way it was palatable for us.
The King's Court, however, was horrid. At one of the ship's themed restaurants, they were unable to deliver a decent product. Dinnertime at La Piazza, the Italian eatery, required reservations. When we arrived at our scheduled time we waited for at least fifteen minutes before orders were taken. Then, it took me over an hour to get a bowl of spaghetti with tomatoes. When it arrived, the spaghetti was overcooked and had no flavor. After that, I stayed away from the King's Grill.
The shopping consultant was a constant source of misinformation. We repeatedly found her information to be either missing important details or inaccurate. Often, recommended stores were among the highest priced around with little, if any, true value. Seasoned travelers and those with any knowledge of jewelry and liquors could do much better at non-recommended stores.
The final blow was housekeeping. While our normal room cleaners were adequate, the "special cleaning" team was awful. My wife had a 24-hour virus. That day, the cleaners removed all the soap and toilet paper from the bathroom and never replaced it. It took a call to the butler to get it restocked. That's not what I expected at all.
All in all, QM2 was a disappointment. While the ship looks beautiful, the service leaves much to be desired. As we overheard many other passengers say, I don't think I'll be repeat passenger on Cunard. There is much better value for a lower price on other cruise lines.
Preface I knew that this was going to be a cruise to remember, therefore I took copious notes in my daily journal. The ship was advertised to be the most luxurious oceanliner in the world, with white glove service and attention to every detail. I typically travel the luxury lines of Seabourn, Radisson, and Crystal, so my expectations were heightened.
Embarkation My flight arrived at 12 noon, and although my cruise ticket indicated that I was to board no earlier than 3:00 PM, I got in line with several hundred passengers. Soon after, a Cunard representative announced that Queens Grill, Princess Grill passengers, and those paying with American Express Platinum card could skip the long line, and embark immediately. Having done the latter, I was whisked to the front area, checked in, and embarked the ship. This was very smooth for me, but I did hear a few people grumbling as to how long it took them to get on the ship. I expected to be greeted by a staff member, who like other lines, would take my hand luggage, and introduce me to my stateroom. This was not the case. Iwas told which floor to go to, and I was to find my stateroom on my own. I was a bit surprised, as this, being my 36th cruise in 9 years, was a first.
The Stateroom I booked a category B1, outside stateroom with a balcony. The cabin was a bit crowded, with little storage space. It was very plain, and although it had a refrigerator, there wasn't anything in it. The wood tones were actually plastic, and the carpet was already showing signs of wear. Email was available on your television at a cost of $1.50 per incoming and outgoing emails. The cabin had a balcony that was basically a picture window with the glass removed. It was actually a hole in the hull. This made the cabin strangely dark and gloomy. If laying on the lounge out on the balcony, there was no water view. I was a bit disappointed in this arrangement. Had I known this fact in July of 2002 when I booked the cruise, I would have chosen another balcony category. The balcony staterooms on the higher levels offered clear glass balconies with beautiful views. The only category one should be aware of is B3. These balconies are fully obstructed by the lifeboats.
The Stewardess I heard from the majority of the passengers that their stewards or stewardesses were very good. Unfortunately mine was not. On 3 occasions, she did not make up the stateroom (the card was out every time), and had to be reminded daily that I was out of things. We were not provided a pool towel until the 3rd day. There were plenty of excuses. When my stateroom was ignored the day of the second leg of the trip, I was told that she was busy making up the staterooms for the new passengers. I could understand that, but I was also a paying passenger who happened to elect to do 2 segments. She told me that she used to work for Silversea Cruises, to my amazement. She was not up to standard. This was just my experience, and not the experience of others.
The Ship Obviously this ship is quite a sight to behold. She has lovely lines and a prominent bow. The designers achieved a look of a traditional oceanliner with the size of a mega cruise ship. The interior space was a bit disappointing, and so much of the ship's accessories were plastic. The public rooms were generous yet lacked the traditional elegance of yesterday. It was a bit difficult to find certain rooms such as the Queens Room and G32 nightclub, without much practice. 3 times around deck is over a mile, which illustrates just how big this ship is. Although she can accommodate 2600 passengers, I was able to make friends easily and was able to find them on deck or the many public areas. The only areas that were not accessible to everyone were the Queens Grill lounge and dining room, the Princess Grill dining room and the Queens Grill sundeck. The ship being so huge, it was agreed by all the staff that 1800 crew was needed to run this ship. The ship has a capacity for only 1300 staff, so service across the board was extremely slow, spotty and disappointing. Much of the crew had never been on board a ship before.
The Bars and Lounges I personally preferred the Commodore Club for pre-dinner cocktails and post dinner brandies, and the G32 nightclub for late night dancing. G32 was well attended, but the DJ was limited to what songs he could play. Many requests were not on his corporate "play list". Policies like this are ridiculous. This is supposed to be an adult nightclub with adult music. There were other bars and lounges such as Winter Garden, Golden Lion Pub, Sir Samuel's Wine bar, the outdoor Regatta Bar and the Veuve Clicquot Champagne bar. Each offered its own feel or personality. There was one similarity though. The liquor pour was slight across the board. Although drinks were on the expensive side, from $4.50 to over $6.00 a pour, one could never say they were heavy handed or a drink was ever on the house. I experienced an incident where management threatened a group of bartenders in one of the lounges if they strayed from Cunard's drink policies. The ship claimed to have the most extensive wine cellar at sea, yet they were out of several selections throughout the voyage.
The Culinary Experience The Kings Court for breakfast and lunch were at the very best, mediocre. The food was cold a lot of the time, the juices were thick and there was no skim milk to be found. Never staff members to carry a tray, only to quickly take your plate if you look the other way. Very crowded at times, and nicknamed by many, "the trough". For dinner, the Kings Court is transformed to 4 alternative restaurants. The Chefs Galley offers a type of interactive cooking demonstration. You watch the chef prepare your meal, as he explains his techniques. Wine is included, and there is a charge of $30 per person. The Carvery offers a selection of heavier meats and fare. La Piazza is the Italian restaurant, and offers pastas, red sauces and the like. The Lotus is the Asian restaurant. Though the first mentioned restaurants were average to good, the Lotus was the worst alternative restaurant experience I have ever had on a cruise ship. The nice table promised by the maitre 'd faced a blank wall, the unusual "condiments" on the table were never explained. No bar service, and the wait between courses was agonizing. After the 4th course (of 12) and 1-½ hours later, we left. The service was non-existent and the only way I can describe the food was that it looked and tasted like a $5.99 all you can eat Chinese lunch buffet. Todd English was the stand-alone alternative restaurant. It is open for lunch and dinner, and reservations are required. The ambience didn't strike me as elegant, and much of the wait staff was inexperienced. I did, however, recognize a wine steward from the Royal Viking Line, and was happy to see him. The food was very good, but a bit on the rich side. I understand that after my cruise, Todd English will command a surcharge of $20 per person for lunch and $30 per person for dinner. This is a shame, as its one of the only "escapes" from the poor food and service in the Britannia Restaurant. I witnessed a fiasco at Todd English during disembarkation / embarkation day on the second leg of my voyage. Because so many staying on board wanted a reservation at Todd English, many crowded the restaurant 2 hours before reservations were to be made. Because of the sheer size of the crowd, a passenger suggested that everyone write their name and stateroom number on a list of paper until the maitre 'd arrived. It actually was a very good idea, until someone lost page 1 with 20 names on it! The "honor system" did not prevail, and tempers rose. I was able to make my reservation, but soon after a punch was thrown, security called, and Todd English was closed due to a "technical difficulty". All this over trying to make a dinner reservation. This incident was very sad. They opened for business the next day with little fanfare. The Britannia Restaurant is the 2-seating restaurant where the majority of the passengers dine. The majority of the food is bland and unappetizing, although some items such as the lamb and rolls were tasty. Because the room is so understaffed, the wait throughout dinner can be irritating. Often the food is cold, because the kitchen is so far away. Without a lot more wait staff, this restaurant will never be right. Also missing was the on site flambés, special orders, and baked Alaska. The room itself is very grand, but the food and service do not do it justice. There was an incident where a waiter knocked one of the maitre 'd's over the head with a peppermill, after being berated in front of several passengers. I assume he was asked to disembark at the next port! Princess Grill and Queens Grill are the 2 restaurants for the upper class stateroom passengers. I dined in Queens Grill several times, invited by friends, and enjoyed first class food and service. The ambiance was charming and relaxed, and the food selection grand. The only difference between the Princess Grill menu and the Queens Grill menu is that the Queens Grill menu has an additional "ala carte" section. During the day, the Boardwalk Café opens at deck 12. It is open air, and because it is on an empty deck, you have the feel of eating in a parking lot. The fare is hamburgers, hotdogs and chicken. Overcooked, stale buns, and bad taste. This is a "must avoid". Overall, QM2 MUST get their act together in the food and service categories, or I believe she will not survive. She most certainly did not live up to her advertisements and promises in this category.
The Canyon Ranch Spa and Gymnasium
This was a pet peeve of mine. I regularly use the gym, and found out that the way Canyon Ranch designed this area, you either had to sign up for a spa service, or pay $19 a day to use the locker room to shower and change. This was ridiculous. So many of us had to drag our sweaty bodies along public areas, to our staterooms, only to take a shower and change. I'm assuming that Canyon Ranch planned to charge for use of the gym across the board, therefore stowing the changing areas deep in the spa area. The gym itself is equipped with all the latest machines and free-weights. The only minor complaint in the gym was that the music videos on the small TV's in front of the machines were so outdated. I did not book any of the over-priced spa services.
I always say that if you make new friends on board a ship, you are definitely going to have a good cruise. If you meet new friends and can enjoy a first class experience on board, you are going to have a great cruise. This cruise was a good cruise. The marketing team for the QM2 should receive a medal for their efforts. The hype and expectations were high, and Cunard fell flat on its face. For the fares charged, one should have received 5 star service, great food, and lovely accommodations. This did not happen. I personally would never sail QM2 again, and would think twice about Cunard line in the future. Had I known its shortcomings, (especially the lack of crew, and the impossible task of finding births for more), I would have cancelled this cruise in a heart beat. I'm sure others had a good time, and were awe struck by the ship itself. The awe of being on her, in my opinion, goes away in a day or so.
With high expectations, we finally arrived at Queen Elizabeth II terminal in Southampton for the voyage we were awaiting for so long. The terminal was buzzing with excitement, and embarkation was very smooth. After 45 minutes in the waiting room, we were ushered aboard. As we entered the Grand Lobby, between ranks of white-uniformed staff, this ship touched our emotions as none had before. Although we were not greeted nor offered assistance in finding our stateroom (a missed opportunity that did not bode well for service expectations), we wandered through the heart of QM2 impressed by the scale, richness and ocean liner tradition that oozes from the design. It is possible to stand with your back to the Samuel Cunard mural adjacent to the Royal Court entrance on Deck 3 and look through the Grand Lobby to the QM2 tapestry on the back wall of the Britannia Dining Room -- more than 360 feet away! It was remarkably easy to find our B4 grade stateroom on Deck 6 and we were suitably impressed when our South African stewardess greeted us by name in the corridor as we opened the door.
The stateroomsare a leap forward for Cunard, but no better or no worse than the latest staterooms on RCI, Celebrity, HAL or Princess. In design terms it is simplistic (not even central light switching), showing art deco influences in the pale wood with black inlay headboard and furniture. Storage space includes a double wardrobe with about 25 hangers, a second single wardrobe with a pullout rail for hangers from a suit carrier, four drawers, two shelves and a safe. For two weeks the storage is more than adequate, and for longer trips there are free launderettes on each deck. Bedside tables with annoyingly stiff anti-roll catches, a dressing table/fridge/TV console with chair, height-adjustable coffee table and sofa complete the furniture.
Apart from the black inlays, pale red sofa and primary-colored art, the color scheme is generally beige and pale neutral. The shower room is more compact than expected, but with a huge shower tray and adequate storage, size was never an issue. The internal layout of the B4 grade stateroom is similar in size and style to all B, C and D categories, except that some C's (standard ocean-view) have the combined space of the B stateroom plus its balcony and are huge. The only other grade of stateroom we saw was a P grade Mini Suite, which had identical decor but was 50 percent larger than the normal staterooms and had a walk-in wardrobe plus a more generous bathroom with full-size bathtub.
We had what is known as a 'hull' balcony, an open balcony space within the hull with a rectangular opening cut into the top half. The balcony is accessed by a glazed door in the floor-to-ceiling glazing of the stateroom. To me the location of this rectangular opening in the hull is a major design flaw: It is impossible to see anything except the sky unless you stand at the rail. I can see no reason why the hole couldn't have been lower, or a second hole cut below the first. The lounging furniture is nonsense and takes up half the floor space. A table and chairs would be much more useful. That said, it was still good to have a balcony and we made good use of it - especially on the very rough Bay of Biscay crossing (when fresh air was sometimes needed in a hurry and this type of balcony becomes much preferable to the unsheltered, inaccessible 'glass' variety.
With great excitement, we ventured to the Britannia Dining Room. The photographs of this room catch the grandeur of the design but give no clue to its vastness, seating up to 1,300 passengers. The vast illuminated glass ceiling over the double-height space and curving double stairways gave the feeling of being in a large Edwardian liner. The space, however, is cleverly broken up so there are only a few places where you are aware of more than a hundred fellow diners. We were unlucky with our table companions but had no problems being moved. Many people we spoke to in the first two days were also unhappy with their tables and had moved. After three restless nights, we were invited to a table for eight and were set fair for the rest of the voyage.
Whether it was too few waiters, poor training, lack of planning or galley problems (probably a combination of all four), service fell far short of what anybody could reasonably expect on the maiden voyage of a Cunard flagship. Service was very inconsistent, and varied from the appalling to the acceptable. Food overall was a good banqueting standard. Ingredients were good, presentation was good but menus were lacking in imagination; after a week it boiled down to a choice of fish, beef, chicken or pasta every night. If they can raise standards to those found in The Franconia Dining Room on the Caronia, then they will have a winner.
The 280-seat Queens and Princess Grills on Deck 7 are a stark contrast to the Britannia, being very simple in decor. Initially I felt glad to be dining in Britannia with its wow factor decor, but after about a week it became a little overpowering (or maybe that was the stress of wondering what the service would be like each night) and the Grills started to look and feel more elegant each time I saw them. We heard that both these dining rooms also experienced service problems on the same scale as the Britannia.
We generally took lunch in Kings Court on Deck 7, which is cleverly divided into four distinct areas by color scheme and menu. Asian dishes; fish, meat and chicken; pasta and pizza; carved roasts; sandwiches; salads; - these delicious offerings and more were available at these four daytime buffets (Lotus, The Carvery, Piazza and The Chef's Galley). Again the downside was lack of staff at busy times, when tables weren't cleared quickly enough. Against lunch buffets on other ships this compared very favorably. Like many other ships, QM2 has done away with the midnight buffet in favor of a late-night buffet in Kings Court Piazza. We tried lunch in the Britannia, but strange table mates, haphazard service that included forgetting water and bread for the whole table, plus an uninspired menu meant the experience was not repeated.
The alternative dining onboard has much to recommend it. Service and food in Todd English and especially Kings Court Lotus were pretty good considering the stress on the staff by the second week. The rich decor of Todd English is an amazing concoction of styles somewhere between Morocco and Byzantium - check out the tented entrance. Lotus (as well as Piazza and The Carvery) in Kings Court is transformed by screens and soft lighting into a series of charming and intimate casual dining booths. It seems that Todd English will soon be imposing a surcharge, which is hardly surprising given its popularity. But the Kings Court venues (apart from the Chef's Galley, which charges $35 including wine) still remain an excellent free alternative to the main dining rooms.
The bars offer a variety of styles and atmospheres to suit every taste. Grand in scale and size, the three central bars adjacent to the Britannia Dining Room are ideally located for pre-lunch or pre-dinner drinks or for a quick one during a busy day tracking down those elusive souvenirs. Sir Samuels is modern and sharp in decor but colors, lighting and furnishing feel a little harsh. The Chart Room is Cunard elegance at its best. During the day, very calm and restful; and at night, a sophisticated bar with live music (also one of the most stable places to be in case of storms). The much maligned Golden Lion was as expected, typical faux pub design (the steamer trunks and hat boxes were a step too far) but high on atmosphere which, as any Brit will tell you, makes any real pub more than just its decor. Always busy, this was the place for pub food, a pint and karaoke!
The Veuve Cliquot Champagne bar is a very nicely designed corner of the Grand Lobby with a few art deco references, but blink and you'll miss it! The Commodore Club on Deck 9 became our favorite haunt. Restful observation room by day, it became sophisticated cocktail bar par excellence at night - even dispensing cocktails in Stuart Crystal, 'Jasper Conran' designed glasses that retail in the U.K. at $55 each! The decor with its dark wood and muted colors accentuates the shape and location of the space which - with the huge bar-mounted model of QM2 - are the keys to its success. If you like to ride a roller coaster, then drink in the Commodore in rough seas - those G forces are something else. As for service in the bars, Cunard probably missed between 25 and 50 percent of its potential revenue from pre-dinner drinks by having insufficient staff or inadequate bar facilities to cope with peak demand. With empty glasses on most tables and in many hands during the last 15 to 20 minutes before dinner, it was not uncommon to wait 5 to 10 minutes when actively seeking to be served.
The Winter Garden is a strange mix of lounge and bar (which closed at 7 p.m.), and was largely empty and underused once we reached warmer climes. Its decor is very tropical with wicker chairs, a trompe l'oeil ceiling full of palms and blue sky, and a rather garish waterfall with bright fluorescent colors that seem out of place. The entrance like a shrub-lined park gate is a nice eye to detail. This strikes me as one of the areas that relate more to the Liner role than to warm weather cruising and I'm sure it will be a bright and popular day lounge on cold grey North Atlantic crossings.
One annoying aspect common to all these rooms was the smoking policy. If most passengers are non-smokers, which is a fair assumption, you would expect a well ventilated space in each room to be set aside for smokers. Unfortunately, on QM2 smoking is also allowed along the length of all bar tops, which spreads cigarette smoke almost everywhere except the farthest corners of non-smoking areas in what have effectively become smoking rooms.
The main entertainment areas of the ship are grouped together forward on Decks 2 and 3. The Royal Court is a 'state of the art' theatre with a stage almost in the round and seating more akin to a luxurious cabaret lounge than a true theatre. The three or four shows we saw there were all technically superb, with great sightlines from comfortable bench or club seats. Dame Shirley Bassey gave two superb one-hour concerts after a very rough crossing of the Bay of Biscay and laughed about it (no mean feat). Two production shows, La Passionatta and Rock @ the Opera, are very good and could be excellent once the cast eases into them more. Rock @ the Opera is worth seeing for the stage effects and costumes alone. Opera Babes, Magicians and Comedians we gave a miss. Curiosity drove us to witness Ruben Studdard killing us not-so-softly with some songs in between complaining how seasick he was (no mean feat on QM2 in a very calm Caribbean).
For me the real jewel in the crown is Illuminations. Theatre, cinema, lecture hall and planetarium - this space not only looks like a fabulous 1930s art deco cinema, it also doles out excellent entertainment at every level. The illustrated lectures given by John Maxtone-Graham and Steven Payne were enthralling and packed to the rafters and the planetarium experience is mind blowing.
Attending any of the lectures at the well laid out Cunard Connexions we deemed unnecessary when it became clear they were being taped and screened on stateroom TV. The much vaunted interactive QM2 TV had not yet been fully commissioned so many of the functions were unavailable and, disappointingly, this included the normal details on ship course, speed, location and weather conditions.
The largest ballroom at sea is also one of the most stunning spaces on Queen Mary 2. The Queens Room is cunningly accessed via two Deck 3L fenestrated corridors housing the photo and art galleries. It is an impressive space richly decorated in blue and gold, with a lavish inlaid dance floor and sparkling crystal chandeliers. The busts and memorabilia of Queen Mary and King George V add a sense of being somewhere exclusive. Not being a ballroom dancer, I can't extend an opinion on the music or dancing offered there. If you venture through the Queens Room you reach the dark, double-height space of G32, the supposed late-night club. This is a big disappointment for me in design and how it is used. From the richness of other public areas you are plunged into a hi-tech space with uninspired 1960s retro decor. Its convenient proximity to the Queens Room but remoteness from everywhere else means that when the ballroom band stops playing there is usually a dichotomy of groups patronizing G32 (the ballroom dancers vs. the partygoers). Throughout the voyage a combination of vocal groups (how many Nat King Cole tributes can you take in 30 minutes?) and an inexperienced DJ (who looked all of 16) cleared the dance floor by half past midnight and kept all party fun to a minimum. Low bar returns from G32 must surely lead to a rethink and early changes.
QM2, CRUISE SHIP OR LINER?
Having traveled onboard and having listened to authoritative sources, I know for sure that this ship has been built as a transatlantic liner. There is no cruise ship on earth that can sail at 26 knots through 40 foot seas, and there is no way on earth that Mickey Arison has spent a 40 percent premium (over $200 million) for a cruise ship that looks like a liner!
John Maxtone-Graham credits Mickey Arison with being so inspired by the movie 'Titanic' that he wanted to build the largest and most expensive transatlantic liner - why else would he want to buy Cunard? Stephen Payne described in great detail the research in designing this ship to handle any weather the Atlantic has produced in the past 25 years, and to be twice as seaworthy as QE2 (for example, a sea that produces a 10-degree roll in QE2 will only produce 5 degrees in QM2). Stephen also added that Mickey Arison told him, "I need seven decks of balconies or she doesn't get built," and how he was able to give him eight!
The head of Carnival has a dream -- to re-establish transatlantic travel by sea as a major rather than a niche market. Who can doubt that dream will probably come true? In 2005 QM2 is slated for 26 Atlantic crossings, which is already 42 percent of the year, and I believe in the years following, the Atlantic 'season' will increase to whatever the market will support. She is used for cruising when the North Atlantic is too uninviting, like other great liners of the past; hence the seven-day jaunts out of Fort Lauderdale and New York from December to March. Only market demand will decide if these warm-weather cruises settle into premium or discount rates. I also believe that if Mickey Arison has gotten it right, we will see a sister ship in service on the North Atlantic in seven to 10 years.
If, as I believe, Queen Mary 2 has been built primarily for the six-day North Atlantic crossing, and if Cunard can overcome the annoying service problems caused by lack of crew or insufficient training, then I think she will be a huge success and take on the title 'Most famous ship in the World,' if she hasn't done so already!