This was a seven-night transatlantic voyage between Southampton, England and New York City.
Shortly before this voyage, more than a million people watched Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth meet in Liverpool to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Cunard Line's first transatlantic voyage. A meeting of three ships from one cruise line in the same port is nothing unusual. It happens on a regular basis in Miami and in Fort Lauderdale and includes meetings of ships which are physically larger and which carry more passengers than the three Cunarders. Yet, such meetings do not attract the media or public attention that the meetings of the three Queens command. It is thus clear that the Cunard ships have a special mystique that still captures the public imagination.
Of the three Cunarders, Queen Mary 2 is the most special. Not only is she the largest of three but she is a true ocean liner rather than a cruise ship. With her regular schedule of transatlantic voyages, she carries on the tradition of the great ocean liners of the 20th century. In addition, she is the fastest and most powerful passenger ship in service today.
A transatlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2 is different than most cruises. There are no port days and so the focus of attention is on what is happening aboard ship. Having specialized in such voyages for 175 years, Cunard is particularly adept at sea days. Most people find that there is not enough time to do everything they wanted to do.
Queen Mary 2 offers a cultured and sophisticated experience. Although the ship has outdoor pools and sports facilities, the North Atlantic usually does not usually lend itself to sunning yourself poolside. Thus, while there is a large spa, a fitness center and an indoor pool, the primary focus is on engaging the mind.
Cunard has the best enrichment program at sea. Speakers with impressive credentials give talks on a wide range of topics. On this voyage, “Mr. Ocean Liner” Bill Miller spoke on the history of transatlantic travel. Author Joshua Levine used excerpts from oral histories to tell of World War II. Neuro-surgeon Dr. Mary C. Neal, told of her own near-death experience. British actor Christopher Biggins related tales from his career. Film-maker Robert Marshall spoke on some of the topics covered by his films. Captain David Henderson gave a pilot's view of commercial air travel. Former Esquire food editor John Mariani talked about Italian cuisine and about New York restaurants.
If lectures are not your thing, a troupe from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts gave a series of acting lessons. They also performed condensed versions of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Romeo and Juliet” in the ship's main theater. In the evening, they gave a series of performances that included a jazz poetry reading and the telling of a bedtime story.
Unlike past QM2 voyages, there was no astronomer aboard. (See article). However, a set of films developed by the Hayden Planetarium were shown in the ship's purpose-built planetarium.
The art deco styled planetarium, was also used to show a 3D version of the opera Madame Butterfly as well as several recent Hollywood films.
In addition to the theater-size planetarium, QM2 has the Royal Court Theatre which is used in the evenings for productions shows and performances by visiting entertainers. The ship has offered the same set of production shows for several years now. They are good shows but considering the high number of repeat passengers who travel on QM2, it would be better if they were changed more often. Of the visiting performers, British comedian Mike Doyle was well-received by passengers of all nationalities.
Other evening activities included a series of balls in the ship's huge ballroom. The various balls had themes such as a Royal Ascot ball and an evening where the ship's musicians came together to form a 1940s style big band. All of these events were well-attended.
Each voyage on QM2 is different, not only because of the variety in the programming but also because of the people who share the voyage. As a result, different venues around the ship become center stage. On those voyages where I have been part of a trivia team, the Golden Lion Pub has been the central venue, not just during the quizzes but rather because the people that I was involved with seemed to gather there. On other voyages that had a more romantic coloring, the ship's champagne bar was center stage. On still other voyages, I gathered with ship enthusiasts in the nautical Commodore Club overlooking the ship's bow.
It is very easy to meet people on QM2. Breakfast and lunch in the ship's main dining room, the Britannia Restaurant, are open seating. At the door, the maitre d' asks whether you would like to share a table. An affirmative response usually leads to meeting new people who come from all over the globe. Most have an interesting story to tell and the biggest danger is that you will spend a couple of hours conversing.
Dinner in the Britannia is the traditional passenger ship system. Guests have an assigned table at either the early or the late sitting. Over the course of a voyage, you get to know your tablemates well and frequently enduring friendships are formed.
Traditionally, the senior officers on Cunard ships hosted tables in the main dining room. These were great fun and it created a human connection between the guests and the line. Unfortunately, Cunard has cut back on this so that now only the chief engineer and the hotel manager have tables. The captain also hosts a table but unlike the past the guests at the table change each evening making it much more difficult to establish a personal connection.
During this voyage, the food in the main dining room was very good but not quite outstanding. I prefer a mixture of subtle and stronger flavors. The menu offered variety with both standards and more creative dishes. Service was also good while distant and respectful.
Some people shy away from Cunard ships on the grounds that they are two class ships. However, on Queen Mary 2, all this rather unfair allegation boils down to is that the suites have their own dining rooms - - two rather small rooms on Deck 7 - - and their own lounge. The same can be said now for the larger Norwegian Cruise Line ships, the largest Royal Caribbean ships, and the larger MSC ships. Other lines have similar plans in the works.
The ship's specialty restaurant is the Todd English, named after the Boston-based celebrity chef. It is intended to be different from rather than better quality than the ship's complimentary restaurants. A lunch there on a crossing has become a ritual for me. The fig and prosciutto flatbread, an appetizer, is the highlight with its myriad of subtle contrasting flavors.
Each afternoon, Queen Mary 2 offers tea in the Queens Room. (See separate article) This is a unique elegant experience with white-gloved waiters offering sandwiches, scones and cakes. A harpist or a string quartet plays in the background. Warning - - if you go, do not have lunch because this is a meal in itself.
QM2 is more formal than most cruise ships. During the day, you can pretty much wear what you want but in the evening there is a dress code and it is enforced. Formal nights mean dinner wear or at least a dark suit for men and the equivalent for ladies. While there are fewer formal nights than in the past (three on this crossing) a jacket is required on informal nights and a tie strongly recommended. Furthermore, the dress code is not just for the restaurants but extends throughout the ship with the exception of the buffet area. Thus, QM2 is clearly for people who like to dress and who enjoy being around others who are similarly attired.
Cunard's loyalty program is being overwhelmed by the line's success. During the ship's early years, a guest in the top tier could expect to be invited to three parties during a crossing. The first was the general welcome aboard reception in QM2's grand ballroom. The next was a party open to the upper levels of the program held in the smaller Winter Garden lounge. The third was for the top level cruisers hosted by the senior officers in the ship's small nightclub. Now, so many people qualify that all three parties are held in the ballroom with seemingly everyone on the ship attending. As a result, the three parties are much the same and lack the intimacy of the early days. Clearly, the program has to be re-thought.
QM2 has spectacularly good nautical qualities. She is stable and fast. The ship is designed to go through the roughest seas. Thus, when QM2 is moving about, you can rest assured that things would be much worse on any other ship. To save fuel, the ship never travels at full speed anymore. This is unfortunate because there is a sense of excitement that comes from a great ship hurtling through the sea.
On this voyage, QM2' seakeeping abilities were not put to the test. While most days were overcast, there were some sunny days as well. Throughout it all, the Atlantic was doing its impression of the calm Caribbean.
Cruise review - - Cunard Line - - Queen Mary 2