These were two transatlantic crossings between New York and Southampton. Each voyage was seven days.
Queen Mary 2 seeks to provide a sophisticated cruise experience. Tradition is very much the watchword even though QM2 is a ship of her time. The emphasis on QM2 is on cultural and intellectual pursuits rather than on partying and sunbathing. QM2 has parties and there are pools but they are not the main focus.
I have now been on QM2 39 times and these were two of the most enjoyable voyages I have experienced on her. But that is not the criterion that I use to evaluate ships in these reviews. The criterion is how well did the ship do in presenting the experience the line seeks to offer. Happily, QM2 accomplished what Cunard sets out to do in good fashion.
The two crossings - - although only a few weeks apart - - had different atmospheres. The eastbound crossing was a summertime voyage with blue skies, fair seas and many sightings of marine life. There was more of a lazier feel to the days with guests spending more time outdoors. The westbound was more of an autumn crossing. Skies were gray most days and those guests going outside took a jacket or a sweater. Although there were reports of a hurricane in front of us, the seas were not bad. QM2 is a very powerful and stable ship and had no problem with this weather.
Queen Mary 2 has always had an outstanding enrichment program. People who have only experienced other cruise lines are often skeptical about spending seven days at sea. However, I have often heard people say after trying Queen Mary 2 that there was not enough time to do everything that they wanted to do.
Regular programming includes lectures by authors, scientists, historians and celebrities. On most crossings, there is a troupe from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts who not only perform but who give acting lessons and poetry readings. There are often classical and/or jazz concerts. QM2 has its own planetarium and the largest library at sea.
In the evenings, there are production shows by the Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers or shows by visiting singers or comedians. In addition, there are themed balls in the large, elegant Queens Room ballroom. When the ship entered service, these balls were not that well-attended and next to no one bothered with their themes but on these two voyages many people went to the balls and quite a few people brought attire to match the themes.
On top of all this, Cunard often has special programming on a crossing. On the eastbound crossing, Dr. Terry Waite spoke on his experiences as a hostage and on dealing with terrorist hostage takers. On a lighter note, there was also was a program previewing an upcoming auction of items from the estate of Marilyn Monroe. Guests were able to see the items and to bid on some of them. There was even a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who modeled some of the items.
A much more extensive special program was presented on the westbound crossing. Transatlantic Fashion Week provided insights into the fashion world by some major names in the industry including Dame Zandra Rhodes as well as fashion shows. (See separate review).
Turning to dining, the food was enjoyable throughout but then I have always enjoyed QM2's food. Service was attentive but respectful.
Dining is more formal on QM2 than on other passenger ships today. There are three formal nights each crossing and on other nights a jackets are required for men. In a nod towards today's informality, ties are optional.
The main dining room, the Britannia Restaurant, still has two seatings with assigned tables. The restaurants for the suites as well as the Britannia Club section of the main dining room are more flexible, allowing guests to arrive whenever these restaurants are open.
Passenger demographics were similar on each voyage. On the eastbound, there were more families with children as it still was the school holidays in both the United States and the UK. Still, there were nowhere near as many children as on the mass market lines during the summer, perhaps 200 or so On the westbound, there were hardly any children. Most passengers were at or near retirement age.
The two largest nationalities on both voyages were Americans and British. On the westbound crossing, there was also a large contingent of German guests as the ship had just come from Hamburg.
These were my first voyages on QM2 since her $132 million refit. In general, I was pleased with what Cunard has done. Overall, the ship looks brighter and renewed. The expansion of the Grand Lobby by the removal of the glass elevators opens up that space making it more attractive. At the same time, the removal of these elevators allowed the Kings Court Buffet to be re-arranged into a much more practical and aesthetic layout.
Along the same lines, the transformation of the Winter Garden, which neighbored the Kings Court, into the Carinthia Lounge was a success. Whereas the Winter Garden was a lost space, the Carinthia Lounge seems to attract guests. It is a combination bar, entertainment lounge and dining venue. The food is offered buffet style from a counter on the starboard side. The items offered are unique to this venue and are tasty. However, as with any buffet, they do lose some of their flavor the longer they sit on the counter.
The Todd English specialty restaurant has been transformed into the Verandah Restaurant. It has both a new menu and a new décor, which is reminiscent of the original Verandah Grill on the old Queen Mary. Instead, of Chef English's cutting edge recipes, the Verandah offers a more traditional menu. It is probably more like what guests would expect from a specialty restaurant on QM2 given Cunard's emphasis on the tradition of the great liners. Service at this venue was very good each of the three times that I went there.
Turning to entertainment, the Royal Court Theatre now has a video wall backdrop similar to those on the more recent Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line ships. The video wall provides the scenery for production shows and can show photographic images and animation. This versatility gives producers much greater freedom to develop shows and makes life easier for the crew since there is not as much need to construct, store, and deconstruct stage scenery.
To go along with the new video wall, QM2 has a new production show “Rhythm of the Night.” This is a fast paced dance musical revue with a Latin theme. It is well-done and enjoyable but I was left wondering why a show with this theme is on a ship that is never in Miami and which rarely goes to the Caribbean or South America.
One somewhat unsuccessful product of the refit was the new carpeting was laid down in the corridors outside the staterooms. The pattern of the carpet fades away as it gets closer to the interior wall of the corridors. As a result, it looks like that side of the carpet has worn out even though it is new carpet. This is hardly in keeping with the bright, fresh look of the rest of the ship.
Above: Dr. Terry Waite speaking in the Royal Court Theatre..
Below: Entertainment Director Jo Haley interviewing representatives of Julian's Auctions about their auction of items from the estate of Marilyn Monroe.
Above: BBC correspondent Jon Sopel.
Below: The Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers performing in front of the video wall that was added to the Royal Court Theatre in the 2016 refit.
Above; New carpet in the corridors by the staterooms.
Cruise review - - Cunard Line - - Queen Mary 2 - - Summer 2016