Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2: In A Class By Itself
Cunard Line’s QM2 experience is pretty unique in several ways, and it’s important to understand it can be both a luxury cruise or a premium cruise experience based on stateroom category/dining assignment. Cunard is unique among cruise lines in distinguishing classes of service, though more cruise lines now are experimenting with this in creative ways.
The ship has 17 decks and is 200 feet above the waterline, or equal to a 23-story building. Three walks around the promenade deck equals a mile.
For those in Queen’s or Princess Grilles, this is a deluxe cruise. The service and dining rivals that of deluxe ships, though one can certainly make arguments whether different deluxe stateroom categories on this ship are equal to or not those on other deluxe ships. The Grille restaurants are just that: restaurants as opposed to dining rooms. Passengers are not seated with ‘strangers’ at tables, and the ambience and quality of service and food is excellent. The cut of beef melted in the mouth, and the fish was cooked to perfection. Service was exceptional.
On one occasion following dinner, when asked, I made a comment to the maitre d’ that I thought the cognac sauce for the lobster was far too salty (it was the only time I really had an issue with any of the food). He apologized, and within minutes we had complimentary after-dinner drinks served us by way of apology.
For Grille category staterooms, complimentary bottled water (replenished throughout the cruise) and a welcome bottle of champagne is offered. It’s also clear Grille passengers are given priority on disembarkation, reservations at Todd English, and probably in other ways as well.
For those in Britannia dining and non-suite accommodations, the ship is more of a typical premium cruise experience.
There’s hardly any ships I know of (outside of UK brands) offering theatrical arts experiences (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts graduates are onboard Cunard‘s ships), Oxford university lecturers (three on my 6-day crossing), plus we enjoyed noted author PD James, a classical quartet and classical solo pianist, along with jazz combo, a Celtic-style electric violinist, and other entertainers. There were a number of opportunities to enjoy small concerts by each of the performers. (Grille passengers also have a concierge lounge as well as a private cocktail lounge where “private concerts” were given in the evenings.) No ventriloquist or corny comedians here. The entertainment caters to intellectual inquiry. And after all, how can you not enjoy a lecture entitled: “The Excrement Files.” Noteworthy, too, was the entomologist who, for one of his lectures, cooked up over 1,000 worms and crickets for audience consumption (strictly voluntary). The production shows in the evening, however, are much like other shipboard shows.
In addition to the main dining, there’s Todd English at $30pp (dinner, $20pp lunch). Indeed, the food here is of a very fine quality, and what one would expect from a fine dining experience. I found some of Todd’s food overly rich. But it’s a nice diversion in the middle of the Atlantic. Other unique eating options onboard include the “pub,” which offers typical pub fare for lunch, from fish and chips, steak and kidney pie, cottage pie, sausage rolls, and even a noteworthy chicken korma. Another bar area offers sandwiches and coffee drinks, as well as cheeses with wine in the evenings. (The Wensleydale cheese — a favorite of Wallace and Grommit’s, is well worth the calories!)
Room service is efficient and offers a variety of choices, including full English breakfast around the clock.
Embarkation for those staying in London and departing from the Victoria coach station was less than noteworthy. The coach station is large, and the Cunard coach leaves from station 20, the last in the line of stations located there. There is little room to sit and relax, and with all the luggage, was quite a scene. However, there are probably few options other than Cunard using a large hotel space for this purpose instead (which would be far more civil). The Cunard staff at the station get the job done, but don’t go out of their way to accommodate passengers. It would, i.e., be somewhat embarrassing to send a suite passengers spending time in London on the coach transfer. However, a private car hire can be $400USD+. The transfer is just under two hours to Southampton, where one stands in line again to embark. Grill passengers have a priority check-in which went quickly, but non-Grille passengers were stuck waiting in long lines.
I was surprised passengers are not shown to their cabins once onboard, particularly in Grille categories, as one might expect. There is staff positioned in stairwells to provide general direction. However, once past that less than personal welcome, things went smoothly.
The ship remains stunning, and in pretty immaculate shape, with few signs of wear and tear. Everything is clean and spotless, upholstery and carpeting in excellent shape for the most part. The upholstered sofas in Kings Grille could use better cleaning, but generally the staff is working around the clock keeping everything in top shape, and it shows.
I was impressed with the quality of food throughout. In Kings Court there is an Asian station, a carvery, Italian station, and a Chef’s Galley that makes omelettes in the morning, sandwiches and burgers for lunch, and for dinner can seat up to about 30 to watch a chef prepare a dinner passengers will then consume,. The Asian food was very good, as was the carvery. The Italian seemed to lack a bit in quality and more creative offerings (my opinion), Fine pastas did not seem to be a hallmark onboard – but maybe I just missed something.
The Kings Court area doesn’t make for a very satisfying alternative dinner venue, but it works ok. Given three formal nights and one informal night, there were many passengers that chose not to dress up and dine in Kings Court in the evening. In fact, I was surprised how relatively few passengers dressed to the nine’s. Formal nights on QM2 saw far less formal attire
Staterooms are comfortable and attractively furnished with pale wood paneling and beige carpeting. Staff were much improved from my first experience, and consistently friendly and eager to please.
So what about transatlantic cruises? I found the voyage very relaxing – being at sea with no ports of call was quite wonderful, and focused attention on how to enjoy the ship and being onboard. There was no lack of activities available.