This year’s cruise, aboard the QM2 was a combination of 3 separate cruises and the route….
Southampton – Hamburg – Southampton – New York – Southampton
We arrived at Southampton at 11.30 am (as a group) and had arranged with Cunard for Fast Track boarding. Check in, security and boarding took all of 15 minutes.
Security was interesting and like most things to do with cruising, in complete contrast to airports. Sure, you have metal detectors and some of your top layer clothing needs to come off, but generally, whilst remaining professional, was far more user friendly than going through an airport. Computers and mobile phones scanned separately, but shoes remained on, virtually no limit of liquids (water and alcohol). 2 of our party needed a secondary hand search, which was undertaken with respect, courtesy and professionalism.
Once on board, after the obligatory photograph at the doorway, we found our way to our various Staterooms. Again this year we all opted for inside Staterooms, which meant no need to close the curtains at night. The beds are extremely comfortable and the biggest problem over the 18 nights was managing to wake up as sleeping in a black out room, does allow a very good nights sleep.
The security Muster was in complete contrast to an airline safety briefing. Everyone who needed to attend, attended, listened and no one was reading a paper or had their headphones on. It lasted in excess of 30 minutes..
Most timings on a cruise seem to be scheduled against what’s on offer in the dining rooms. There was always a wonderful selection of food with a full complement of chefs, able to rustle special food orders if needed.
As our group was still the lowest of the low, in terms of Stateroom, we were again consigned to the Kings Court and Britannia restaurant. I know one day, we will climb up the Stateroom ladder, but quite honestly, I had a problem managing to keep up with the food, even though it was voluntary.
I then had some organizational work to do.
First stop was Connexions and a quick advanced thank you, to the Internet Manager. Most of the Group had donated their free Gold internet time to me. The benefit of booking 3 cruises was we all received 3 lots of complimentary Gold allowance internet time. I wanted some of the allowance to be rolled forward between the different legs. To be fair the Internet Manager agreed to look after me before the thank you… but I was very appreciative, as $48+ for a couple of hours of internet would have been quite expensive over the 18 days. I ended up with far more internet time that I needed, but my friends certainly saved my over a three to four hundred dollars.
Next stop was the Maitre’D as we had unfortunately been split up for the dinner sittings and tables. A quick handshake (with some ‘paper’) ensured we all sat together, in our favourite restaurant position at the time we preferred and with an excellent waiter.
Special food orders were discussed and even in the Britannia restaurant, NOTHING was too much trouble.
We all then settled in to what became a routine of breakfast, lectures, entertainment, lunch, afternoon tea, cocktails, more food, show time more alcohol and finally the midnight buffet and nights in G32, dancing the night away.
In between, a couple of us ran most days, anything between 3 and 9 miles around and around deck 7.
I did feel it was a real privilege to be running around the deck of the QM2, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and on 2 occasions, watching dolphins swimming around the ship (sadly no whales seen this year).
There is a challenge with running on deck 7, finding a way through the walkers. I would always slow down / walk when passing people – but eventually there was space created between the railings and the deck chairs which did separate the runners and walkers. We would try and run at quiet times and when there was a clear side of the deck would sprint down one side to increase the heart rate. It was wonderful… and very refreshing.
The highlights and challenges…
We did have a chance on the last day, just before de-boarding, to visit some of the more luxurious Staterooms. The balcony rooms certainly had more space but you really do have to choose a balcony room with extreme care.
Balconies can be covered, uncovered / blocked / partially blocked / clear views. Some of the larger suites were very palatial.
For a longer cruise and perhaps where there was a chance to sunbathe, an uncovered balcony room would be tempting. One of our group had booked a World Cruise for 2017 and due to cost, has taken an inside Stateroom. I think they are brave, but as they highlighted, there is a big cost difference between £13,000 each for an inside verses £26,000+ each for a good balcony room.
INTERNET AND EMAIL ACCESS
I needed an internet connection every day. Yes it’s expensive, but as I was lucky enough to have benefited from complimentary internet. The speeds varied depending on how many people were on line at any one time. I managed a couple of skype calls which remained high quality and a group call, but videos were turned off to get better quality.
Downloading emails onto my PC, could take up to 20 minutes. Downloading to my Blackberry passport, was far quicker. Apple users were in the main complaining, Blackberry users, were, in the main, praising. I also was receiving and making phone calls cross the Atlantic and am expecting a higher than usual phone bill, but not a horrendous bill.
Whilst the food was delicious and plenty full, we all commented that there was a slight reduction in variety and standard since last year. There were fewer themed dining lunch days than last year and the quality of some of the food was slightly less.
In the main dining room food was sent back on 3 out of the 18 meals for reasons from food being cold, to rare steaks being served overcooked. On the flip side, even when food was sent back, it was always served again within 10 minutes and ALWAYS, from a server with a smiling face. There was never an attitude problem from any of the waiters we encountered. Most nights we all had special food orders, from off menu items to extra vegetables and potatoes. One of the Group this year had ordered Kosher food which was always matched to the main menu items and always served in a timely and very correct manner.
A wonderful presentation of lectures, shows, enrichment programs as well as dance classes, water colour classes and other many other subjects I didn’t get time to even read about. The highlights of entertainment for me were:
Dr Robert Thirsk – a Canadian astronaut, who spoke about his time in space, his selection process and why he applied for the space programme and how he motivates to achieve aims and objectives. He used a saying ‘Saviour the Moment’ – if you do not enjoy what you are doing, you are more than likely not doing it right!! (Think about it)….
Capt Howard Deck a former British Airways pilot who presented a history of navigation and how modern jets travel the Atlantic. He also made a claim that it was Eric the Viking who discovered America and not Christopher Columbus.
The second week, was Jazz week and we were entertained by Gregory Porter and Blue Note records. I am not a big jazz fan, but the music and the passion all these musicians gave, was superb. Most nights, the Jazz players would set up shop in either the Chart Room or G32 (nightclub) and pay what they had been paid to play.. …Afterwards though, the real fun… the jamming sessions and the real music played and played and played. How often do professional artists play their gig and disappear? These guys and there were many of them, treated the passengers to hours of extra UNPAID music, because as they all say, they love to play jazz.
The ultimate karaoke for some passengers – when the artists invited passengers to join them on stage… this was amazing to see and hear. OK, the passengers knew how to play the instruments, some had brought own, but the real highlight was seeing a professional guitarist hand his guitar to a 15 or 16 year old guy. He brought the house down as well as a ‘senior’ gentleman that played the drums so well, the guys asked him to stay on for more.
It wasn’t only the Blue Notes that were very visible – Gregory Porter was very visible (and he is a larger than life guy), who was very approachable, willing to pose for photos, sign autographs, dance with passengers and was just a very down to earth guy, no head up in the clouds. He performed 3 excellent shows.
Stars of the Jazz week, Gregory Porter, Don Was, Robert Glasper, Lionel Loueke, Derridk Hodge, Kendrick Scott, MARCUS STRICKLAND and KEYON HARROLD
Other notable entertainers over the 3 cruisers..
Il Divina – Singers
Jane Corben from Panaroma
John Evans – Comedian (brilliant)
Rondell Sheridan – an American comedian that captured a mostly English audience..
There was also an English Mind Reader/Illusionist. He gave a very good show, but his highlight ‘trick’ was so overcooked that people thought there must be audience ‘plants’ in the audience. Nobody can pick a ‘random’ person and mind read their name, date of birth and car number plate!!!
Time Changes – The clocks went back by 1 hour each time change, in the middle of the night on the west bound crossing. However, on the east bound crossing, the time change forward, was carried out at 12 noon, after the midday Captains navigational report. The time went from 12 noon directly to 1pm. Most of us found this strange and one explanation is that a day time change was preferred by Cunard as it reduced the daily work schedule by 1 hour. We saw a lot of passengers confused and being late for events.