I have just completed my first crossing or voyage (note – not cruise) on QM2 on the routing NYC – Halifax – Southampton. Seven sea days and one day in Halifax, NS (picture is of QM2 in the Halifax rain and fog!!). Before booking, I read Martyn’s fabulous reviews in detail and my expectations were certainly shaped by your experiences, Martyn. I should say that this was my first ever experience of a voyage in anything bigger than a cross-channel ferry and, on careful reflection, it will probably be my last for another 10 to 15 years!!
Don’t get me wrong – QM2 is amazing and I loved the experience. From an organisational point of view, watching the smooth operations (both marine and service) was amazing and it generally operated like clockwork. Managing, feeding, entertaining, extracting $$$ from over 2,600 pax was accomplished with few complaints and ever fewer hiccups. The staff were generally engaged, helpful and the real strength was their diversity – there were over 60 nationalities among the crew. Passengers were much less diverse – about 25 nationalities – with 40% from the UK, 35% from the US and the balance from the rest of the (developed) world. The Americans appeared to be generally rather older with a very strong representation of very senior citizens. Some families but mainly couples. Singles appeared to be well catered for with special events and dining arrangements. Interesting comment from an American I was talking to on our last sea day was that I was the first Brit he had met on the voyage who had not voted for Brexit!!
As Martyn anticipates, QM2 has recently completed an extensive refit and the seasoned travellers (of whom there were very many) among us were full of praise for many of the changes, especially the mass catering outlet, King’s Court where much of the breakfast and lunch feeding takes place. Our Stateroom (no longer the English ‘cabin’ as Cunard is now American owned!!) was on Deck 11 with a portside balcony and was a fantastic space – not massive but great use of the available area, very comfortable, quiet and made up daily to a great (if slightly inconsistent) standard. Having the balcony was important to me, even if about 50% of the voyage was in the mists and fogs and the North Atlantic. It gave me somewhere to sit and enjoy a degree of privacy which the rest of the ship denies.
I really enjoyed the dressing up aspect of the formal dining (3 nights out of 8) and even the semi-formal. Very few people appeared to break the rules and those that did elicited severe ‘tut tuts’ from the regulars. Our table was located next to the Captain’s Table – I think the captain actually dined there just the once, delegating the role to other officers – but were not invited to sit there. We chose the late dinner sitting (thank goodness) and were seated with two veteran cruising couples who explained many of the ropes to us. The quality and choice of the food was generally very good – we did not try any of the outlets for which additional payment is extracted – but the main Britannia restaurant offered very good choice with efficient, friendly plated service. Not surprising, in any institutionalised setting (and make no mistake, QM2 and, I guess, any cruising is institutionalised travel) that food is a main topic of conversation and Cunard make big efforts to get things right on that front. While I fully understand the need for the highest hygiene standards on shipboard travel, one of my abiding memories of the voyage will be the image of folk in formal wear and looking fantastic having their hands disinfected by crew members on entry to the restaurant and then appearing to wring their hands as they approached the table.
Entertainment was good if not spectacular. Gone are the days, we were told, when Cunard would be able to line up really big names (Diamond and Sedaka were mentioned) but there was good variety and lots of energy!! I enjoyed the eclectic lecture programme – some excellent inputs with a good dose of controversy as well.
I did not think on-board costs for drinks etc. were unreasonable. We did stock up with a few bottles in NYC for our stateroom and this was certainly worthwhile. But bar drinks (even though priced in US$) were not outrageous. Although on holiday, sad soul that I am, I could not resist buying internet access but managed my time effectively – speeds are considerably improved after the refit – so that I would send stuff in relatively short bursts. I reckoned that the time I actually bought over the voyage (4 hours) cost rather less than some folk’s bar bill for an evening in the English Pub (horrible place) so was acceptable value for me.
I am delighted that I have now crossed the Atlantic by sea and just loved the sights and sounds – leaving New York was amazing and slipping down the Solent yesterday morning was special as well. Seeing whales, dolphins etc. at close quarters was magical. The sea was flat as a pancake throughout – probably just as well for me!! Why will I wait a few years before travelling this way again? I think it is the sense of being institutionalised (even in reasonable luxury) for such a long time. I know the same is true on a flight but it is over much quicker. I was certainly ready for dry land after 8 days – that probably says more about me than about QM2. Cunard are, apparently, near the top of the sea experiences available but even they (according to our informants) have dunned down their offering in many small ways. It is certainly not top-end luxury – that would be impossible to deliver for the numbers concerned and their diverse demands – but QM2 does most things very well and is to be recommended.