This was a seven-night crossing from New York City to Southampton, England. As in other reviews since the re-start of the cruise industry, I will first discuss the Covid-related protocals employed during this voyage and then present a more traditional review. Overall, Queen Mary 2 is making a strong comeback from the pause in operations that froze the cruise industry during the height of the Covid pandemic.
Throughout the industry the major cruise lines have altered their operations in order to reduce the risk of Covid. Cunard is no exception. It has taken a number of steps designed to protect passengers and crew from the disease. As a result, the travel experience on QM2 is different than it was pre-pandemic. However, the steps taken are not a significant intrusion upon the experience.
For this crossing, all guests had to take a Covid test two days prior to boarding. Both antigen tests and PCR tests were accepted. In addition, online tests done with medical supervision as well as in-person testing were acceptable. Thus, the pre-voyage test requirement was not difficult to satisfy.
Cunard also required proof of vaccination. This could be in written or digital form such as the New York State Empire Pass.
Passengers were also required to fill out a digital health questionnaire three days before sailing and submit it to Cunard. The questionnaire was similar to the ones that passengers had to answer at the cruise terminal before embarking on a voyage pre-pandemic but now with a few additional Covid-related questions.
On the day of sailing, QM2 was berthed at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Whereas prior to the pandemic, guests would go through security and then present their passports and boarding passes to the ticket agents, now there was a two-step process. Before going through security, guests had to present their Covid-related documents to one group of agents and then after going through security, they had to present their passports and boarding passes to another set of agents.
Having two-steps delayed the boarding process. In addition, inasmuch as it meant that the guests had to wait packed close together for a long period as they waited, it increased the potential for spreading the disease. If one of the passengers waiting on the first line had the disease, he or she could have passed it on to others who did not have the disease. A better approach is the quicker one-step process used by Royal Caribbean in which the passenger presents the Covid-related proof along with their travel documents.
Perhaps in an effort to avoid having a large number of passengers go through the embarkation process at the same time, guests were required to select a time slot for their arrival at the cruise terminal. All of the cruise lines that I have traveled with since the cruise lines resumed operations have imposed such a requirement. However, it never works. The delays of public transportation and the congestion of the highways make it impossible to accurately predict when one will arrive at a cruise terminal, especially if you are coming from some distance. Thus, it is just luck if you arrive within your scheduled half-hour window.
Wearing a mask aboard the ship was not mandatory. However, the crew wore masks and passengers were encouraged to do so as well. During the first day, passengers wearing masks were a common sight. However, as the voyage progressed, most passengers did without masks.
Another onboard Covid protocol was the elimination of the traditional receptions in the Queens Room ballroom. These elegant receptions are part of the charm of a Cunard voyage. Guests dressed in formal attire are presented to the captain, given sparkling wine and can mingle with fellow guests as the ship's orchestra plays. Depending on the length of the voyage and ones' level in the Cunard loyalty program, a guest can be invited up to three such receptions during one voyage. It was sad that they were not part of the program this time but since they do involve having a lot of people together, the suspension of these receptions is understandable.
All in all, however, the Covid protocols were not onerous and did not appreciably diminsh the travel experience.
QM2 is the only true ocean liner in operation today. (See our article explaining the difference between a cruise ship and an ocean liner). She was designed for crossing the Atlantic and in doing so carries on a tradition that goes back centuries.
The Atlantic can be a stormy sea and so QM2 was built strong and powerful. She is made of steel throughout and can reach speeds much faster than those of modern cruise ships. On this voyage, however, the weather did not put QM2 to the test. It was sunny and the waters were as calm as the Caribbean during cruise season. As a result, the promenade deck and the pools were popular. Colorful sunsets pleased those on deck.
Following in the ocean liner tradition, service on Cunard has traditionally been efficient but reserved. The waiters and the cabin stewards are friendly but respectful. Typically, they do not try and become your buddy as on some cruise ships.
On this voyage, the crew followed Cunard's traditional approach. The service they provided was quite good and there were smiles in the voices coming from under the masks. Those who have been with Cunard for some time appreciated seeing returning customers.
QM2 has three main dining rooms. As on many new cruise ships, there are restaurants for guests staying in the suites (The Queens Grill and the Princess Grill) and a large main dining room for guests staying in other cabin categories (The Britannia Restaurant). There is also a buffet restaurant and a number of casual venues.
As on her predecessor, Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2), dinner in the main dining room on QM2 has always followed the traditional passenger ship system with each guest assigned to a specific table at either the early or the late seating. While other cruise lines have introduced flexible dine-when-you want systems, Cunard has been steadfast in adhering to the old system.
Not anymore. On this voyage, guests could opt for the early seating (6:00 p.m.) where you dined at the same table every night or the late seating in which guests could arrive any time within a window (7:45 to 8:15) and be seated at a different table each night.
As a long time Cunarder, I thought I would hate the new system. However, once I tried it, I liked it. The window provided flexibility and a sense of freedom. In addition, each night, I had the option of joining other guests or of private dining. I had a number of waiters and the service was consistently good. This should not have come as a surprise as the Britannia has been open seating for lunch since the ship entered service.
The quality of the food offerings throughout the ship was good. I was particularly pleased by the King's Court buffet, which offered a good variety of tasty dishes. (As a Covid protocol, the food in the King's Court is placed on your plate by a crew member as opposed to self-serve).
QM2 has one purpose-built specialty restaurant. (An area of the King's Court is also used at night to provide a venue for a rotating array of additional extra-tariff dining venues). Over the years, QM2 has struggled with a number of different concepts for this restaurant but while they were often culinary successes, none really caught on with a large number of passengers.
Before the pandemic, Cunard decided to experiment with the concept of having a steakhouse specialty restaurant. While such a mass-market venue seemed an odd bedfellow for an elegant traditional liner, it worked and has become a favorite with guests.
On this voyage, I had both a lunch and a dinner (on different days) at the Verandah Steakhouse. The elegance and the sophisticated service that the venue has always had was still there so it was still a special experience. Furthermore, the chefs are very good at making something special out of familiar dishes. For example, the Cunarder Burger is not an escapee from a fast food restaurant. Rather, it is top quality beef cooked with spices and unique sauces that make it delicious. In fact, I think I preferred it over the excellent filet mignon.
I was also impressed by the room service breakfast. Ordered via a door hanger the night before, the meals arrived on time the next morning. The menu offerings included various egg dishes, cereals and an array of sides. There was no additional fee for this service.
People who have not experienced a crossing on QM2 often ask “what do you do during all those days at sea?” The answer most people discover is that there is not enough time to do everything that you want to do.
QM2 has all the features one would expect on a contemporary adult-oriented cruise ship – pools, sun loungers, spa, fitness center, bars and lounges, sports facilities, shops etc. But it also has facilities for entertaining the mind including a large library and a planetarium/movie theater.
In addition to such facilities, each day on QM2 offers an array of talks on different topics. On this voyage, the lecturers covered topics as diverse as British politics, touring London, the original Queen Mary, pirates and show business personalities. In addition, Julien's Auctions had an exhibition of items collected by the late actress Betty White and the Royal Shakespeare Company gave acting lessons as well as performances.
Evening entertainment included singer Harriette Mullen and stand-up comedian Jeff Stevenson. The ship's singers and dancers perfomred several production shows. Recent movies were shown in the large movie theater/planetarium.
As has become a tradition, there were themed balls in the ship's ballroom. While these occasions recall another time, they are an opportunity to dress in finery and escape the cares of these toubled times. Consequently, they are well-attended by passengers of all ages.
Cruise ships connect to the internet via radio waves. The signal goes through communications satellites or occsaionally through antennas mounted on nearby islands. The cruise lines and various entrepaneurs have invested in enhancing the coverage in places where a lot of cruise ships sail such as the Caribbean. However, in the Atlantic, there are not so many satellites and, as a practical matter, not much in the way of islands to place antennas on. Consequently, the internet coverage on Atlantic crossings is rarely satisfactory.
Cunard has improved the internet service on QM2 but it is still problematic. There are not enough satellites over the Atlantic for several thousand people to use the internet the way they do at home. In addition, QM2's all-steel construction is difficult for wi-fi signals to penetrate and as a result, there are too many dead areas on the ship.
Also, the system disconnects if it thinks a user has not been active for a certain length of time. The idea is that disconnecting idle users will free up limited resources on this shared system so that other guests can use them. However, on this voyage, this feature was tuned to be overly sensitive and one would find it disconnecting while reading or composing a long email.
A welcome change is that the old per-minute pricing has been changed so that guests can now purchase per day or per voyage packages. Thus, one no longer has to worry that all of your minutes will be eaten up during a slow connection.
Cunard has introduced an app-like program called “My Voyage” that provides information about your account, activities, dining etc. It is complimentary as is the internet connection needed to use it. However, the internet problems rendered it inoperable on this voyage.
Despite Covid a crossing on QM2 remains a unique experience. In the interests of safety the experience has been modified but with a minimum of intrusion on the guests. At the same time, Cunard continues to evolve as it has for nearly two centuries introducing new ideas into the experience while still being faithful to its heritage of elegance and sophistication.
Above: The Cunarder Burger of the Steakhouse at the Verandah specialty restaurant.
Below: A dessert from the Verandah.
Cruise review - - Cunard Line - - Queen Mary 2 - - Transatlantic Crossing - Summer 2022