MS Queen Mary 2
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Operator: Cunard Line, Ltd.
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 2003 / 2003
Length / Tonnage: 1132 / 150,000
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 1,310 / 2,620
Officers / Crew: British / International
Operating Area: Transatlantic, Europe, Caribbean, New England
Review by Malcolm Oliver, TravelPage.com, Cruise Editor - Europe
So much has been written about the Queen Mary 2, even before her first keel plates were laid in France and since her maiden voyage in January 2004. In fact never has a ship in modern times generated so much excitement and expectation. This must be a testament to both her design, and modern methods of global communications and marketing. Cunard certainly have a lot to live up to with this vessel.
At the time of writing the QM2 is in her second year of service. At 151,400 gross tons she is still the biggest, the longest, tallest and most expensive passenger ship in the world, until RCI's 158,000 gt monster, 'Freedom of the Seas', enters service in 2006. But let us not forget the QM2 is not just a 'Cruise Ship', but an 'Ocean Liner' built for the rigours of the North Atlantic. The QM2 will still retain the crown of world's biggest 'Ocean Liner', and probably will for many years to come.
The QM 2 has a twin passenger capacity of around 2,600 passengers. However she can accommodate a maximum of 3,090 passengers in her 1310 cabins which are spread over her 13 passenger decks. Interestingly she carries a thousand fewer passengers than some other mega-ships that are of a similar scale.
I am fortunate to have cruised on the QM2 multiple times. My first trip was a mini-cruise from Southampton to Europe in April 2004, during the ships inaugural season. In August 2005, I decided to take a Transatlantic crossing, from Southampton to New York, rather than a cruise. After all, crossing the 'pond' is primarily what she was built for.
On my first trip, in April 2004, due to technical problems, the QM2 arrived at Southampton, four hours late for the start of our cruise. Now a ship of this size takes half a day to disembark its passengers and their luggage, plus half a day to embark the next contingent of passengers, luggage and the ships provisions. The technical issue was rectified, but chaos ensued. The 2500+ embarking passengers met the 2500+ disembarking passengers; resulting in a stalemate. At the time I seriously doubted the Southampton Port Authority's ability to handle the embarkation and disembarkation of a ship of this size. However, I am pleased to say that a year later the embarkation process was very smooth will minimal delays.
Of course for a vessel this size, you must expect some lines to board while guest's documentation is checked and their baggage is x-rayed etc. You must also expect onboard delays before your baggage reaches your cabin. In fact your luggage may not reach your cabin until the ship has set sail, which is of course is a very nerve-racking experience. Will your luggage turn up or not?
You can read all of the superlatives you like, but nothing prepares you for the overwhelming size of this remarkable vessel when viewed from the quayside. In particular it is the height of the ship's stern and the bridge structures from the water, which simply makes you gasp. All those early opinions about her distinctive QE2 style funnel being too short, evaporates when you see how big it really is. If it were any taller it would reach to the moon. The other feature that distinguishes this ship from all other mega ships is her fantail. Various tiers step down from deck 13 towards the stern, only stopping at deck 5. This gives her a true Ocean Liner appearance, rather than that of just another floating resort. Of course the dark hull and white superstructure confirms her pedigree, if you had any lingering doubts.
As you board the ship, you enter via the Grand Lobby, which is relatively modest in height compared to Atriums on many other newbuilds. It stretches upwards for a mere six decks. However, its understated elegance, and the choice of regal colours tells you that this is something different. I was never a big fan of that giant mushroom in the centre of the QE2's Midships Lobby, but fortunately there are no mushrooms on this ship, apart from at breakfast.
You are immediately aware that you have not boarded a Carnival or Royal Caribbean ship, this is a Cunarder. Two simple white staircases sweep down from the second level of the lobby, complete with stately red carpets. White plaster work embellished the staircases. Some obligatory glass elevators serve the decks above. The shore excursions and purser desk are located here. There are twelve cabins which overlook the atrium and a large illuminated bas-relief of the ship itself, suspended high above your head. It glistens as the colour of illumination changes throughout the day,
Crew members lined the lobby, chatting to each other. Unfortunately they made little effort to assist guests to their cabin, unless you asked, and even then I got the impression that some of them were not very interested. Cunard did not capitalise on ensuring good first impressions.
Public Rooms and Décor
They are too many public rooms to explore every one of them in detail, within this review. However, some of the smaller rooms are not unlike those found on many other modern ships. Therefore I will concentrate on the main public rooms and spaces.
The QE2 is not a replica of a classic Ocean Liner, she is a modern ship, with an Ocean Liner 'feel'. She is the first ever 'Ocean Liner' to have balconies, for example. However in contrast, she is also the first Cunard ship to have retro-styled décor, as all the 'Queens' that came before her were at the cutting edge of design in their era. This in itself says as much about our lack of confidence in modern interior design and Cunard's quest to recreate the nostalgia of the great liner era.
The corridors, staircases, and public rooms onboard the QM2, have a regal style of décor, that is reminiscent of the QE2, rather than the Las Vegas glitz that we now see on many other new ships. There are lots of red carpets and dark wood veneers. The 'Maritime Quest' is the QM2's version of the 'Heritage Trail'. It is a permanent exhibition of murals, paintings and ship models, displayed on the staircase landings and public rooms, which depict Cunard's great history. It is a maritime museum at sea. Artist, Stephen Card's wonderful paintings of Cunard vessels throughout history are predominantly featured, amongst others.
Some large and impressive ship models are on display in various public areas, and these include one of the original Queen Mary and one of the QM2 itself, which is behind the bar in the Commodore Club.
Each of the four main staircases has attractive colour coded leopard-print carpets, a pattern which I do not recall seeing on any other ship before. The wall panels are a mixture of dark wood veneers, reminiscent of the original Queen Mary and some of blonde woods.
Most of the public rooms on the QM2 look surprisingly small for the size of the ship. This is either a cunning illusion, or it is based on the concept that everyone will not be in the same room at once. However, on occasions the flaws behind this concept are apparent. For example, the QM2 does lack sufficiently large and/or numerous watering holes.
The 'Chart Room Bar and 'Golden Lion Pub' are ideas lifted from the QE2. For this reason they feel familiar to Cunard regulars. However, both rooms are somewhat 'plain' with their themed decor being almost too understated. They are both bigger than their counterparts on the QE2, but not big enough for this mega ship. For example, when the late sitting theatre show has finished, you may well fancy a drink. Your chances of getting a seat in the Chart Room bar or Golden Lion Pub are minimal - until people start heading to bed. Fortunately the Commodore Club is less utilised, simply because it is hidden away at the very bow of the ship.
The 'Golden Lion' does not look as much like a traditional British Pub, as those onboard the RCI's 'Voyager' class. However, it does sell some 'draught' (from the barrel) beer, including a 'bitter' ale. However, be warned, British 'real ale' connoisseurs do not consider it to be one of the UK's finest brands. One nice touch is you can have a pub lunch in the Golden Lion, with your pint, such as an Indian curry (a British favourite) at no extra charge for the food.
Disappointingly, the 'charts' in the chart room are etched on glass panels and are so nondescript, it is easy to overlook them. Once again this room lacks atmosphere and sufficient seating. Many evenings a Jazz band performs here, but this makes the room even more crowded.
The Queens Room and G32
The Queens room is just wonderful and probably my favourite room. It has mobile furniture, rather than fixed/tiered seating. It looks like the Club International from the SS Norway's has been cross-bred with the Hollywood bowl. It is much larger and so much more attractive that the QE2's version. It is both a ballroom with a large dance floor and serves as a third major show-lounge for entertainment. In addition, each day 'afternoon tea' is served by white-gloved waiters, complete with scones and sandwiches. The room was regularly decorated with different banners suspended from the ceiling.
The nightclub, G32, (named after the shipyards hull number for the QM2) is certainly the glitziest room on the ship. Its décor is straight out of a 1960's science-fiction movie, with multiple video screens and lots of metal furniture and scaffolding effects. It certainly is a room that would not be out of place on a Carnival ship. However, I must admit that it works well as a disco with a good atmosphere, yet its design seems almost inappropriate for the QM2. For example, the QE2's 'Yacht Club' provides a much more refined environment for this purpose.
G32 also has one major design fault. To enter the G32 you have to pass down either wing of the Queens room. I was watching a comedian in the Queens Room, late one evening. Every time somebody opened the entrance door to G32, the Bee Gee's pumped music pumped out, which was very annoying. Such an important public space as the 'Queens Room' should ideally be a no through way. G32 needs an alternative entrance, although I do not think this is possible. It certainly needs better air-lock type double doors.
G32 is also a very smokey room, which does not please me, either. The good news I that it is situated well away from passenger accommodation, so noise pollution should not be a problem (unless you are in the Queens Room).
The Navigational Bridge
The bridge has a viewing gallery, which is essentially a small corridor and window behind the bridge which allows about eight people at a time, to view. It is normally open on sea days, 9.00am - 5.00pm, but only offers a somewhat limited view. In fact it probably makes the bridge look less impressive, than it really is. RCI's Voyager class peek-a-boo bridge feature is better and looks down on the bridge. The QM2 idea is still on trial, so I suspect the crew are concerned about the noise from guests and unwelcome use of 'flash' behind them.
Connections with the Sea
As you might expect, such a large ship does not have a great connection with the sea, when compared to many smaller vessels. Many of the public rooms are so wide that you may be seated a very long way from a window. For example, our dining table did not have a sea view and neither did many others. Even standing on the rear of the bow, the wake is a very long way away. RCI lead the field in building big ships which still retaining a strong connection with the sea. The 'Radiance class' achieves this buy using many tons of glass, which offers great views for the guests. The downside is that this makes RCI ships resemble office blocks, externally. Ship design is all a compromise.
However, there are some good opportunities to get forward facing sea views on the QM2. There are a number of public rooms which are directly above or below the navigational bridge. However, they are surprisingly easy to miss. In fact I would bet some guests never discover all of them. There are also two small scenic elevators, which were well hidden too. These run behind the bridge wings, but the view they offer is hardly worth their instillation cost in my opinion.
Located directly above the bridge, the observation deck (11), has open bridge wings for guests. This is the perfect viewpoint to get a shot looking back along the length of the ship as it ploughs through the water. Unlike the QE2, I'm pleased to say that there is a forward observation lounge (deck 9 the 'Commodore Club'. However, it is misnamed because it is not a 'club', it's a 'public room'. Although not particularly large, the Commodore club would be the perfect place to watch the waves breaking over the bow in a storm, but unfortunately we had a calm sea.
Even the Library (deck 8) has good sea views. In fact the Library and the nearby book shop are very good indeed and are almost certainly the biggest at sea. The bookshop stocks an excellent range of maritime history books and post cards etc. The gym has big windows looking out onto the bow of this deck.
The ships main deck space, found on the Sun Deck (13), the Promenade (7) and the terraces at the stern, appears to be very extensive. However, I was not on a warm water cruise so I did not get to witness it being fully utilised.
The full wrap-around teak promenade has been provided with many wooden steamer chairs, so gets well used, unlike many promenade decks on other ships. When at the bow, the full promenade deck has a door at the very bow which makes it possible stand on the bow of the ship, dwarfed by the spare propeller blades.
The Winter Garden
The Winter Garden is a small colonial style lounge, with wicker chairs, potted trees and a ceiling painted with an attractive mural of a garden. It is often the venue for a pianist or harpist and on occasions is a second venue for afternoon tea. Personally I found this room to be a little disappointing when compared to the original artists renditions, although some guests were quite taken by it.
Other Public spaces
As with all modern cruise ships there are extensive spa, beauty and hairdressing facilities, in this case operated by 'Canyon Ranch'. Theses are located in a maze of small rooms, spread across deck 7 and 8, forward. I must admit that all Spa staff, scare me. It is probably because their brilliant white uniforms resemble those of dentists, although the prices scare me even more.
There is a large Casino, called the 'Empire'. Unusually it has windows along its length, although heavy curtains are used to preserve the nocturnal atmosphere always associated with gambling. There is a golf simulator on deck 13, but no putting green. There are small kennels, for the transportation of pets. There is the obligatory 'images' photo gallery. A nice touch is the Art Gallery, which used for sales of Art work, which is so much better than monopolising the Atrium for this purpose. There are the 'Mayfair Shops' for retail therapy, with some exclusive (expensive) jewellery and perfume shops etc., including Hermes, Dunhill and Gucci. There is also a cigar lounge in the forward bridge structure.
There are no less than six self-service laundry rooms, which are very popular with us Brits. There is a children's play area, with a dedicated pool called 'Minnows', and a video arcade. The kids club is not well advertised in the Cunard brochure. I suspect that Cunard do not want position themselves as a family cruise line, although once onboard the kids club staff are very good. There is of course a medical centre on deck 1, which I fortunately never had to visit. There are three meeting rooms scattered around the ship. There is a Champagne bar, 'Sir Samuel's Wine Bar (named after Samuel Cunard), a 'Cruise Sales' office and a 'Concierge Lounge'. Finally, 'Cunard Connexions' provides a 'College at Sea' with classrooms, and computer facilities operated by 'Oxford University' staff.
I'm sure there were plenty of public toilets onboard, but I could never find them very easily! In fact navigating you way around the QM2 is not as easy as it is on other big ships, such as the Voyager class. I've no idea why?
There are a number of pools and hot-tubs on the ship, but most notably there is an inside pool called the 'Pavilion Pool' on deck 12, with it's own bar. It has a sliding glass roof. Although reasonably attractive, I've seen more attractive ones on other vessels. It also seems quite small given the size of this ship.
There was very little noise or vibration from the engines (mermaid pods) however, as the motors are under the water level, this is to be expected. Last year I found the tendering operation to be surprisingly efficient for a ship of this size.
It is great fun standing on the deck, watching and listening to the QM2's horns which are mounted on the funnel, blowing and billowing steam. One of the horns is from the original Queen Mary, the other is a working replica. I understand that they are operated by compressed air, so the steam which billows from them is just an 'effect'.
I'm pleased to say that Cunard have retained the tradition of the Captain's cocktail party, or in many cases Commodore Warwick's party, where you still get to shake hands with the man himself. There are also rather nice events such as the 'Ascot Ball' and the 'Masquerade Ball', held in the superb Queens room.
Cunard ships are now the only vessels that still operate a 'class' system for dining. It is an anachronism from the days of the great ocean Liners. The more expensive your cabin, the better of three dinning room that you are assigned to; 'Britannia', 'Princess Grill' and 'Queens Grill' (in ascending order).
Once again I will hark back to the QE2 for a comparison. The QE2 has four grades of dining; Mauritania, Caronia, Princess Grill and Queens Grill. I am of the opinion that the different grades of dining and price structure onboard the QE2, means that if you pay for the 'Mauritania' (basic grade) restaurant you may well get a sub-standard experience. However the 'Mauritania' grade is by no means cheap.
Cunard's dining structure gives them the perfect excuse to use inferior ingredients and poorly trained staff in the 'Mauritania' restaurant, without feeling guilty. Why not upgrade to 'Caronia' you may ask? Everyone agrees that it is better. Well I already feel that Cunard charge enough for the their 'M' grade, to be able to provide good food and service. Unfortunately they sometimes fail to achieve this. Another gripe of mine is that the 'Mauritania' dining room is clearly less attractive than the 'Caronia'. Now, on a one class-dining ship, which just about every other ship is, there is of course every incentive to keep the standard of food, service and decor high for all guests
I was concerned the Cunard would make the same mistake on the Queen Mary 2 and offer a poor experience for those who buy the basic 'Britannia' grade. However, on the QM2, there is no 'Caronia' type (intermediate dining grade) just the 'Britannia' and the two 'Grill' classes, 'Princess' and the higher 'Queens'. This suits me better, because, firstly, the Britannia dining room, although the biggest on the ship, and much bigger and than the QE2's 'Mauritania', is infinitely more attractive. Secondly, it is undoubtedly more attractive than the Grill rooms onboard both vessels. Therefore when you dine in the Britannia, you do not feel like a member of the under-class when you are assigned to it. Thirdly, and most importantly, I was not disappointed at all with the food and service this time around.
The Britannia Dining Room
The Britannia dining room is my other most favourite public room. In fact it is probably one of the most attractive dining rooms at sea. It is enormous, reaching three decks high and spanning the full beam of the ship. It is art deco in style, complete with classical columns and illuminated glass trumpet lamps. It is inspired by the opulent dining salons of the great ocean liners, such as the original Queen Mary. A large tapestry of the QM2 in New York is the backdrop and stretches the entire height of the room. A grand staircase allows guests to make a grand entry. This lovely room accommodates approximately 1,300 guests, but it feels much more intimate than it actually is, due to the tiered design and some well placed glass screens. It is interesting to note that some other new ships, such as RCI's 'Brilliance of the Seas', have dining rooms which are similar in design, although by no means identical. This is due to the fact that the Robert Tillberg Company designed both.
The majority of the tables in the Britannia are for four persons, and upwards, so you would be lucky to get a table for two, if required. The chairs were very comfortable and space between them was perfectly adequate, although it is rarely over generous on any big ship.
The QM2 initially had some problems providing high standards of food service in the Britannia dining room, for the first six months of operation. However even in 2004, the food and service was infinitely better than I had experience in the QE2's 'Mauritania' grade, a few years earlier. The good news is that in 2005 the QM2's issues of slow service and variable food quality have been completely resolved. It was excellent.
The daily menu in the Britannia for evening dining was very good. There was a choice of six appetizers, two salads, six entrée's and six desserts, which includes low fat and vegetarian options. The appetizers were very inventive and the entrée meats were particularly well prepared to your liking.
The long walk between the Britannia dining room and the Theatre reminds you what a big ship this is. The 'Grand Promenade', a central walkway from the Britannia dining room upper level (deck 3) and a similar one on the lower level (deck 2) are the widest corridors that I've ever seen on a ship. They are modelled on the great liner Normandie, and are lined with giant bronze 'effect' Art Deco murals, depicting nature and geography among other topics. One of them even has a hidden image of Homer Simpson.
The Kings Court Casual Dining
The Kings Court, the self-service dining area is a rather strange beast. It is an extremely long space, with rather bland décor. It is spread along a large portion of the ships length. I found it somewhat confusing to use. I've seen more pleasing designs of RCI and NCL ships.
On a positive note, the food was good, hot and plentiful. Many of the tables have a sea views. Real Wedgwood china plates and mugs are provided, not plastic. In fact the plates were enormous, possible like the ship itself, the biggest at sea? Self-service tea, coffee, and juice stations were available.
However, Kings Court did seem too small and a little too crowded for an upmarket ship during the peak times, especially at breakfast and lunch. Different food selections were served along its length. The problem was finding a seat near your food of choice.
Lines quickly formed and tables filled up. Several times I had to carry my tray into the winter garden, which acted as an overspill area due to lack of free tables in the Kings Court. Unlike a traditional lido-style buffet, kings Court does not extend outside onto the stern of the ship, as the Queens and Princess grills were effectively in the way. There was no outdoor dining on the QM2 apart from the tiny 'Broadwalk' Café on deck twelve and the patio of the extra-tarif Todd English resturant. This seemed to mainly offer burgers, hotdogs and French fries. There was no indoor seating there, just a few plastic tables (yes plastic!) outside on the deck. However this café was rarely open, probably due to the breezy transatlantic weather conditions. There would seem to be room for some rethinking and remodelling here.
Cleverly the Kings Count is transformed into four separate dining areas each evening, with the use of decorative screens. There is no charge for using these. This explains the Kings Court's unusual layout. Lotus, complete with square plates and chop sticks, serves Asian cuisine, La Piazza is a restaurant serving pasta, pizza and other Italian specialities. The Carvery is a reference to Cunard's British heritage, where diners can enjoy roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and other carved meats. The Chef's Galley, is the fourth area. This a new concept where you can pay $35 per head (yes pay) to watch a master chief at work, with the food freshly cooked food being brought straight to your table. I wonder what they will think of next. Maybe in the future you will be able to pay to watch the crew wash your laundry, too.
I tried the Lotus one evening. Although an interesting experience, the 'set meal' on offer (the only choice) was a sort of nuevo-cuisine, Asia style. It was certainly not the best Asia food that I have ever had. The presentation seemed to dominate, rather than the content and flavour.
Grill Class Dining
The class system is still alive and well on Cunard ships. If you can afford to stay in one of the Q category cabins, you are assigned to the Queens Grill dining room, or if you have a P category cabin, you are assigned to the Princess Grill. I cannot comment on the grill classes food or service as I could not afford to book them. The price differentials, linked to higher cabin grades, when compared to the Britannia grade are staggering, in my opinion.
Both the Princess and Queens Grill are similar rooms, holding around 200 guests and offering a single seating for the evening meal. The Queens room does have nicer/brighter décor. Both are bigger than their QE2 counterparts. Curiously the windows in both these rooms lookout onto the prom deck and in turn promenade walkers often look in. The Queens grill passengers do get their own private lounge and bar, which is very attractive, plus a private terrace at the stern of the ship.
If you wish to walk down from the top deck, via the fantail, to the lower pool, you need to use one of two long staircases which pass through the duplex suites. Unfortunately, you need to pass through the 'Queens Grill' private deck to do so. I have no problem doing this but I'm not sure the Grill passengers like to see the lower classes pass through their private deck.
On the subject of deck space, there is plenty of it. 3.1 laps = 1 mile. Unfortunately there seem to be no staff looking after the deck areas, except for the Princess Grill terrace - surprise, surprise. There was generally a serious shortage of blankets and lounger cushions on deck, but I suspect they were hidden somewhere. They were certainly not in the storage trunks on deck. Now real luxury would be lying on a steamer chair, covered with a warm blanket and being served tea on deck.
Todd English Alternative Restaurant
Additional charges for specialist dining is becoming common place on most new ships. Todd English is not in fact English, he is one of America's leading chefs and owner of the internationally famous 'Olives' restaurant in Boston, among others. His QM2 dining room serves Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. Maybe he should change his name to 'Todd Mediterranean', to avoid any confusion. Almost everyone agrees that the QM2's Todd English restaurant was superb. Unfortunately this alternative restaurant carries a supplement of $20 for lunch or $30 for dinner, per head. Bar beverages are not included and advance booking is normally required.
I prefer not to frequent 'specialist dining' which carries an additional charges, although if they allowed you to book Todd English every night (which they don't) it would certainly be considerably cheaper than dining in the Grill classes. The Todd English dining room is reasonably intimate (in comparison to 'Kings Court' and 'Britannia') accommodating 200 guests, which is about the same size as the grill rooms. It has very colourful decor, with its own small foyer, confusingly reminiscent of a Turkish harem. The room also has its own terrace offering some outdoor tables. Personally, I found the 'Britannia' food to be so good, that I had no need or desire to pay a supplement to eat in the Todd English, but many guests did and enjoyed it.
Most of the cabins, sorry, staterooms are of the typical modern modular design and layout. Even the inside staterooms are relatively spacious, at 194 square feet. Unlike the lower grades of the QE2 there are no weird shapes, microscopic rooms or bunk beds here. However, surprisingly unlike the QE2, there are no single staterooms.
Nearly 80% of staterooms have ocean views and over 94% of these feature balconies. Standard amenities include interactive TV with multi-language film and music channels, data port outlet, refrigerator, hair dryer, bathrobes and slippers, a safe and both 110 (US) and 240 (UK) volt outlets for electrical power. Mini-bar refrigerators have now been added to all staterooms.
In 2004 I had an Atrium cabin, which is an inside cabin with a view of the Grand foyer. It was perfectly adequate for two people. This time my stateroom was on deck six and was one of the 'hull-hole' type balcony rooms. This grade is unique to the QM2. It is a balcony which is cut into the hull almost like a picture window, without the glass. This protects those cabins on the lower decks from the sea, yet affords some fresh air. The hull-hole in no way detracted from the views, although its design would probably impair sunbathing. The balconies on higher decks have conventional balconies.
The stateroom décor was a very tasteful cream and gold, with lots of Beachwood veneer. Art Deco style fittings including light switches and two attractive bedside tables, with attractive table lamps. There was a nice circular 'occasional' table which could be raised or lowered in height - a nice touch. My stateroom had two twin beds that could be pushed together, to form a double. Other grades had real double beds, and some even had king-sized beds. There were plentiful drawer space, a cupboard and three full-length closets, although the inside cabins had a little less closet space. The hangers are made of real wooden but are the hotel anti-theft type. However, I am informed that the Queen's Grill passengers have real hangers with hooks - obviously we lower classes just can't be trusted.
The bathroom was well stocked with Canyon Ranch shampoo products. The shower was of adequate size for most people, but had quite a weak water pressure. However, maybe this was to save water? Strangely there was no light in the actual shower cubical. The heavy shower curtain made it rather dark inside, and of course the curtain stuck to ones back like Superman's cape.
The stateroom was either very well sound-insulated, or I had very considerate neighbours. The air conditioning was very responsive, but you would expect that on a new ship. The stateroom safe was more spacious than on most other ships, and allowed you to use a PIN number of credit card, as a key.
The interactive TV in the stateroom was most useful. Celebrity Cruises did much to pioneer this concept in the late 1990's. You could use the TV to display information about the ship, check your cashless account, order room service, book a table at an alternative restaurant, and read and send E-mail's, but there is no internet capability. An infrared keyboard is provided for ease of use. It was very easy to set up your own account; all you needed to do was select your own PIN. The cost of sending or reading an E-mail was $1.50, (not per minute, each) although attachments could not be read. To do this you would have to go to 'Connexions' cyber room, which had conventional PC's with full functionality.
I only got to have a quick glance at a Junior Suites and a Duplex suite, with its two floors. As you might expect these grades are very impressive, as are their fares. In fact the QM2 probably has the widest differential in price between cabin grades of any ship. They range form fairly expensive to totally unaffordable.
The Royal Court Theatre holds approximately 1100 guests, but looks surprisingly small and has quite an intimate feel about it. It has two tiers; a ground level and a balcony. None of the seats are very far from the large proscenium stage, allowing the Orchestra to rise from their pit. There was also an interesting illuminated dome on the ceiling above the stage, which opens up, and a chandelier and/or mirror ball descended. No one attempts to sell you drinks if you sit in the upper level, but there were small tables in the lower level, for this very purpose.
Most of the seats have good views, but a few have poor sight lines with some columns limiting the view. I appreciate that these are structural necessities, but they never-the-less get in the way. The upper tier of the theatre also has a Plexiglass screen at the front, which is strangely positioned within the sight line of guests sitting in the front row and is not as transparent as it sounds. The lower level of the theatre has rows of fixed seating, plus some mobile ones in from of each row. How odd? People can come and sit right in front of your field of vision.
The production shows were very good. The quality of the singers and dancers in the troupe were far more talented than on most ships. One dance show in particular 'Apassionata' was one of the best dance shows that I have ever seen on a ship. The other entertainers around the QM2 were of a good standard in general, too.
There were a number of pianos around the ship such as in the Winter Garden, Grand Foyer etc. which sometimes played themselves! How is that for a bold new money saving concept? I'm surprised that the musicians union have not called a strike.
Much of the daily onboard activities are pretty high-brow. Fortunately there are no 'belly-flop' or 'Mr. sexy-legs' competitions onboard the QM2. For example the Oxford University 'Discovery' program offers educational lectures from the Universities professors. RADA members offer acting workshops and perform excerpts of plays. The wonderful Bill Miller (Mr. Ocean Liner) was the guest lecturer for our crossing.
Illuminations offers is a second tiered theatre style venue with tiered seating. It is used for lectures, movies, entertainment and is the first 'Planetarium' at sea. It is located beyond the Theatre Royal, at the bow, a particularly quiet part of the ship. It normally holds 500 guests at a time, and the sight lines are excellent without any columns. The room is extensively used for Oxford University lectures, RADA presentations, movies and of course Planetarium presentations.
However, for the planetarium shows, the room only holds 150 people. The audience sit in reclining chair under a domed projection screen mounted on the ceiling, in the centre of the room, The night sky and the solar system etc. is then projected above their heads. These tend to be short presentations of no more than about 30 minutes, such as 'Stars over the Atlantic', and are scheduled regularly throughout the day, during each sea days. There are five Planetarium movies on offer.
This facility has attracted some criticism from the traditionalists, but in my opinion it is quite a spectacle and a novel addition to the usual shipboard experience. My only complaint is that only one regular movie is shown in illuminations per day and this is always a late night showing which coincides with the late sitting Theatre show. Unfortunately some of the reclining seats had broken, but I'm sure this will be addressed during the refit. I'm pleased to report that there is no additional charge for the planetarium presentations.
This year she will sail 26 crossings between England and New York. In between offering April to October transatlantic crossings, In addition Queen Mary 2 offers a variety of cruises to Northern Europe, the Mediterreanan and the Caribbean.
In 2007 Queen Mary 2 will embark on her first world cruise. The maiden world cruise will transport guests on an 80-day voyage visiting 20 of the world’s most famous cities (including 13 capitals), such as Athens, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Cairo, San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro.
Your fellow passengers are likely to be very mixed bag who have booked this ship for a multitude of different reasons. Don't be surprised if you happen to run into someone who sailed on the original Queen Mary or one of the dozens of ocean liner enthusiasts that are sure to be on board. Alternatively, you are just as likely to meet a first time Cunarder who just had to see what all the hype was about. For QM2 to be successful she will need to attract the mainstream cruising community so expect a range of opinions and experience on board.
The QM2 is an astonishing vessel. It most ways she does not disappoint. I feel very fortunate to have been able to cruise on her twice. Drawing comparisons between the QM2 and QE2 is inevitable; however, the QM2 is not the QE2. They were built more than three decades apart. The QM2 does have enough references in terms of décor and names of the public rooms and to make her feel like the QE2's 'big sister'. I did hear one or two people call the QM2's décor 'over the top' and 'gaudy', but they obviously do not get out much. They have certainly not visited any other new cruise ships. However, I would agree that some areas of the vessel (Kings Court, Todd English, G32 etc) are similar to many other modern cruise ships, rather than fitting for a grand transatlantic liner. However the Grand Lobby, Britannia dining room and Queens Room are gorgeous.
The QM2 is a big and spacious ship. She certainly has more choice of comfortable staterooms and facilities, than the QE2. Even if you book the cheapest cabin, the accommodation is good and the food and service in the Britannia dining room is excellent. Although some QE2 regulars onboard appeared to be a little shocked by the QM2's scale, her décor certainly is a lot less radical when compared to the QE2, that the QE2's was compared to the original Queen Mary.
The QM2 is not a 'Fun' ship, it is a 'Class' ship. Her upmarket entertainment and activities form a large part of her atmosphere.
I enjoyed the Atlantic crossing very much. Cruising under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with only 3 metres of clearance, and up the Hudson to New York, is one of travels great experiences. The QM2 is definitely a big ship experience with all of the pluses and minuses that this brings. Terms like 'personal' and 'intimate' only belong in the brochure. Some queuing for the buffet, embarkation and disembarkation, are going to be a fact of onboard life. However let us not forget that the QM2 carries at least 1000 less people than the 'Voyager' class.
Cunard have set themselves an almost impossible task; to achieve a refined, stylish and a high quality experience, on a mass scale. However, they have probably got as close to it as is possible, given the physical constraints of such a large vessel.
Finally, I was initially quoted as saying the ship was too big and should have been 100,000 tons maximum. However, on reflection that is a bit like saying Mount Everest is too big! Her scale, space and choice is much of her appeal. It is certainly is a thrill to cruise into any port, and to see the local people line the quay in awe of this leviathan, it almost makes you feel like a celebrity yourself.
I would sail on her again tomorrow, if I could.
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