This was a westbound transatlantic crossing to Brooklyn, New York. The voyage had three entry ports. The first guests to join the voyage embarked in Hamburg, Germany and for them it was a 10-day voyage; then another set of guests joined the ship in Southampton, England and yet another group of passengers joined in Le Havre, France and had seven days aboard the ship.
Having three entry ports had two effects on the voyage. First, it led to passenger diversity. The passengers joining in each of the three entry ports were primarily residents of the country in which each of the ports was located. As a result, of the two and a half thousand guests there were roughly equal contingents of German-speaking, English-speaking and French-speaking guests. (The English-speaking contingent also included a large number of North Americans, most of whom boarded in England). This diversity enhanced the voyage by leading to opportunities for cross-cultural interactions among the passengers.
Cunard did a good job of handling three groups of passengers who spoke different languages. It did not take the attitude that this is an English-speaking ship and it is up to non-English-speaking passengers to do the best they can. Rather, announcements were repeated in German and French, German and French versions of the menus were available and there were staff members designated as hosts for the German-speaking and French-speaking guests. In addition, there were lectures and activities in German and French. The only fault in this was that the English-speaking guests were not informed as to the lectures that were being given in the other languages. As a result, English-speaking guests with some knowledge of the other languages may have missed out on talks on topics that may have interested them.
The second effect of having three entry ports was that for passengers who joined in the first two ports, the voyage had cruise-like ports of call. The passengers who joined in Hamburg were able to take excursions to sites like Stonehenge and Windsor Castle during the day in Southampton. Guests who joined in the first two ports had a day in Le Havre in which they could explore the attractions of Normandy including the D-Day Beaches, the Bayeux Tapestry and Claude Monet's gardens at Giverny. Some passengers even went into Paris, which is about a three-hour journey by bus (each way) from Le Havre. The weather co-operated on both days.
Cunard prides itself on its heritage extending back some 180 years. However, the line is not as traditional as it once was. In the last century, a crossing on Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) was formal every night except the first and last night of the voyage and they meant formal, not just jacket and tie. On this voyage on QM2, there were two formal nights. This was the same number of formal nights as there were on the cruise ship in which I did the eastbound crossing just a few weeks before this crossing. Also, unlike the days of QE2, a jacket and tie were all you really needed to be seated in the main dining room on a formal night.
There is, however, peer pressure to wear your finery. People view coming on Cunard as a special occasion. They want to look their best and they want to be surrounded by others who are doing the same. This can be seen in the popularity of the gala balls held in the Queens Room ballroom on formal nights. Whereas on non-formal nights there may be a few couples enjoying ballroom dancing, the Queens Room is packed with elegantly-clad passengers for the Black and White Ball and the Masked Ball.
Up until the pandemic, dinner in the main dining room on QM2 was done according to the traditional system - - each guest was assigned to a specific table at either the first or second seating. There was no flexible, come-when-you-want option unless you booked a Britannia Club cabin or were a suite guest in the Princess Grill or Queens Grill restaurants.
Now, however, QM2 offers all guests a flexible dining option. I was pleased to find how well this option works as the ship was not designed for such a system. The flexible option uses the upper level of the Britannia main dining room. As on other cruise lines, guests using this system are encouaraged to make a reservation beforehand but this is not mandatory. Guests arrive at the maitre d' desk at the entrance and are quickly assigned to a table. The first night, I observed a short line at the desk but this moved rapidly and only reappeared at the most popular times. Unlike some other cruise lines, there was no handing out of beepers or guests being told that the wait for a table would be more than a half hour. It was perhaps the most efficient flexible dining operation I have seen in nearly 300 cruises.
One of the reasons the system works so well is that the waiters that handle the tables in the flexible dining section are quick and efficient. They remain good-humored but there is less of an opportunity for interaction than there was under the traditional system. Also, whereas under the traditional system you have the same waiters each night, you may have different waiters and a different table each night on a flex system. Nonetheless, QM2's flexible dining was a very enjoyable experience.
An area in which Cunard has traditionally excelled is in the speakers that lecture aboard. As usual, there were several speakers on this voyage who spoke on a diversity of topics. Leading them was Dr. Stephen Payne who spoke on ocean liners and air ships. Inasmuch as Dr. Payne designed QM2, he was also able to provide unique insights about the only true ocean liner in service today. Also lecturing in English were Andrew Lownie of the Royal Historical Society; journalist Paddy O'Connell; former BBC broadcaster Johnny Beerling and Mark Dawson who, among other things, has rowed across the Atlantic. In addition to the talks, there were feature films and films on astronomy in the ship's planetarium, a large library, multiple channels on the stateroom television, a spa, a casino and activities such as quizzes and watercolor classes.
QM2 is a very big ship. Yet, it carries about half the number of passengers as cruise ships of a similar size. Consequently, the public areas are not crowded and there is space to be by yourself. Furthermore, the décor is elegant and sophisticated – no Las Vegas glitz.
Embarkation at Southampton's Mayflower Cruise Terminal was efficient and painless even though it is not QM2's usual terminal. Unfortunately, disembarkation at the Brooklyn's Cruise Terminal involved long lines.
Guests were not required to submit evidence of a negative Covid test before boarding. Crew members served guests in the buffet on embarkation day but not subsequently. Traditional highlights of each voyage on QM2 are the grand receptions in the Queens Room ballroom. As a precaution, these events were suspended during the pandemic. I was delighted that one of these receptions – the Cunard World Club Party – has returned to the ship's line-up of events. The general reception for all guests has not yet returned.
Quite a few guests commented on the enjoyable quality of the food in the main dining room. My friends and I also dined in QM2's specialty restaurant, the Verandah Steakhouse and found that very enjoyable.
Turning to the nautical aspects of the voyage, the seas were calm throughout the trip and posed no challenge to QM2. There was essentially no rolling or pitching and the ship traveled around 20 knots most of the time. Fog appeared in the area around the Grand Banks, which necessitated sounding the fog horn but otherwise the weather was either overcast or partly cloudy. Most days, a jacket or sweater was called for on deck.
The ship itself looked well-maintained. Throughout the voyage, there were crew out and about painting the superstructure and attending to the lifeboats. This work is important because only through constant maintenance was QE2 able to serve for 40 years.
Along the same lines, when I came aboard in Southampton, a team was installing three new blades in the area in front of the forward superstructure that is used to store replacement propeller blades. These towering stainless steel blades are kept aboard so that if something should happen to the blades that are in service, their replacements will be on hand. However, the slots for three of the blades had been empty for quite some time leading some to wonder about the line's commitment to the ship. The installation of new replacement blades demonstrated Cunard's willingness to invest not insubstantial amounts in the ship's future.
QM2 along side in Le Havre.
Above: New replacement propeller blades were installed forward of the superstructure.
Below: QM2 sailing towards a beautiful sunset.
Cruise review - - Cunard Line - - Queen Mary 2 - - Transatlantic Crossing - Spring 2023