This was our first trans-Atlantic crossing, though we have been on several Caribbean, Alaskan, Panama Canal and New England cruises. We've also sailed on everything from Carnival to NCL, from Celebrity to Holland America, but never before on Cunard. We're a family of three. 50+ year-old parents and a 13 year old daughter.
EMBARKATION: We arrived much too early (10:30 am) at Southampton, even as the ship was unloading from its arrival that morning from NY. We didn't expect to board until 2 or 3 pm, based on our cabins, but were on board at noon with no trouble. Check in was efficient as was embarkation, though we had to find our way to our own cabins once on board.
CABINS: We had two. an inside single on deck ten and a double with balcony on deck eight. We'd been warned that the deck 8 cabin would have a "restricted view", and it did. right into a lifeboat. You could glimpse a little water, but mostly we wanted it for the fresh air (and a place for me to smoke cigars), and the balcony was fine, complete with two chaise lounges and a small table.
The cabins were both quite roomy and well appointed. The bathrooms, though small, were fine, equipped with showers. Hair dryers were in a drawer in the living area, the telephones came with voice mail, and there were plugs for both 110 and 220 volts. The cabins were very quiet and well sound-proofed.
The TV offered the usual fare. CNN, BBC, movies. but reception in mid-Atlantic was spotty. There's also an interactive TV system where you could see daily schedules, report problems with your cabin (which didn't work), see the weather or a GPS map of the ship's location. One channel played nothing but documentaries of passenger shipping in its heyday, keeping in the mood of the rest of the QM2's décor and theme.
THE PASSENGERS: This was a much different crowd than we had sailed with before. There were only a few kids, though QM2 had programs for both younger kids and teens. I'd guess the mix was about 50% Americans, 30% Brit's and 10% each for Germans and French. Average age of the pax was 50+. But everyone was well -to-do, given the fares, and well behaved, ie no 20-somethings in drunken water fights in the pool. The behavior mirrored the service where everyone from waiters and stewards to deck-hands and painters greeted each passenger as "Sir" or "Madam".
There is a handsome disco, but it was near empty perhaps due to its mix of Tony Orlando and 70's dance hits. The big bands playing in the adjacent dance hall were excellent and well patronized. There were two formal balls.
PUBLIC ROOMS: The ship was truly spectacular with room after room, each in a different style. from the grand Royal Court Theater to the Illuminations auditorium and planetarium, to the many bars, cigar lounge and intimate (quiet) reading areas. The on-board library was incredible, with thousands of books on loan. The shops were very upscale and pricey, but offered reduced price sales on tables in the halls.
The Casino was spacious, with everything from table games to slots, from a nickel to $5 a pull. The corridors were wide and well appointed with art. And though fully loaded with 2500 passengers and 1500 crew, we never felt crowded. There are four major stairway / elevator passages to get you between decks 1 to 13, and unlike many ships the elevators are numerous and speedy. We never had to wait more than a minute for a lift, even at peak times.
THE FOOD: We weren't in first class, so we dined in the Britannia (main) dining room, early seating. The food was great and the service superb. The food choices were numerous, including Canyon Ranch Spa cuisine, and the servings were sufficient. In addition, the deck seven complex of four restaurants ("Kings Court") offered an alternative for lunch and dinner of Asian, Italian, Carvery and general buffets at no additional cost. We didn't try the premium surcharged Todd English or the 24 hr room service, but never felt hungry. Breakfast is offered as a sit-down in the Britannia or in a bit awkward free-for-all in the Kings Court.
Drinks aren't cheap, but the wine list is impressive and the sommeliers knowledgeable. Thanks to ownership by Carnival, the QM2 has adopted the all-you-can-drink soda card plan. though at $27.50 for a six day crossing, it isn't cheap either.
It being Cunard, there were three formal nights (black tie or suit for men, glittery gowns for the ladies), one informal night (jacket and tie for men) and two casual nights (our first and last at sea). Most men really did wear a tux, but I got by with a dark suit and bowtie.
ENTERTAINMENT: As we were constantly reminded, we were on a "voyage" and not a cruise. There were no ports of call, so everyone had to stay busy during five days at sea. Mind you, there was no shortage of activities to choose among.
The usual singers and dancers appeared each night in the Royal Court Theater in shows ranging from weak to pretty cool. A juggler / comedian named "Edge" was very good. Seating was plentiful, even just before show time, on two levels.
The Planetarium is not to be missed, offering three different programs across the week. Each of the five daily seatings holds only 150 people, so (free) tickets can go fast.
The Oxford University lecture series was an unexpected treat, replayed on the TV each evening. We had three professors discussing Art, Astronomy and Entomology. The bug guy was fabulous. funny and informative. culminating in a cooking demo of insects. Deep fried grub worms anyone?
The real celebrity of our crossing was mystery writer P.D. James who, at age 85, was sharp and articulate. Her lectures were very well attended and were worth everyone's time.
RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts did a three part workshop on acting which was fun, as well as offering two performances of brief plays and a Shakespeare workshop. The actors were great and every approachable.
CANYON RANCH SPA: Cunard has an interesting tie-in with the upscale US spa, Canyon Ranch, which runs its salons, exercise and wellness programs. My wife and daughter enjoyed their massage ($225 for the pair), I had a teeth-whitening session ($258) and my daughter got a haircut ($119). The yoga workshops (free) were quite good and the exercise machine-room was impressive.
There's a complete wrap-around outdoor deck (3 laps = 1.1 miles) which was also popular. The deck also had numerous deck chairs and blankets. The top-side region offered immense open spaces, most of them quite empty due to the coolish and windy weather of the crossing in late August.
There are several pools and hot tubs, one of them under a retractable glass roof.
TRANSATLANTIC: The QM2 is making a number of "trannies" this year and next, but if you can arrange it, go west. You gain an hour each of five nights! There's not much you can do about the weather, but be prepared. Our late August crossing was sunny and smooth, but another QM2 vet told of a May gale with waves crashing into deck eight! A big ship, even with stabilizers, isn't going to be smooth in weather like that.
ARRIVAL IN NYC: As an incentive to fill out the end-of-cruise questionnaire and survey, one winner had his bar tab wiped out. Arrival day in NYC you have to be up by 5 am to watch the QM2 sail into NY harbor, but it's worth it. There was an excellent marine historian who gave commentary on the outdoor decks, and we were at our berth by 6:30 am. Immigration was an on-board walk-thru formality by 6:45 am, and "self-help" (those with just carry-on bags) disembarkers were able to leave by 7:30 am. We walked off the ship at 8 am with our wheeled luggage, never saw a Customs agent and were on the streets by 8:15 am.
MORE INFO: If you have any specific questions on topics I didn't address, I'm happy to answer them as time allows. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check my travel blog at http://talkingtransportation.blogspot.com/