Queen Mary 2
by Paul Kennedy
July 30, 2006
This was our third time on Queen Mary 2 and our second this year, having done the first New York – Southampton transatlantic crossing of the year in April.
This cruise departed from and returned to Southampton and the itinerary was Southampton – Vigo, Spain – Barcelona, Spain – Cannes, France – Civitavecchia, Italy – Livorno, Italy – Gibraltar – Lisbon, Portugal – Southampton. The duration was 12 nights.
We were given an embarkation time of 1.30pm, but as usual, my partner and I left home far too early to drive the 150 miles to Southampton, arriving there at 11.30. Two years ago, we arrived at 11am and were on board before midday. Last year we arrived at the same time and had to wait until 2pm to board (QE2). We gave the car to valet parking and joined the queue for check in. From joining the queue to getting our boarding cards took 20 minutes. Expecting a wait to board, we went to the bar in the departure lounge for drinks but ended up gulping them down as we were called for boarding almost immediately. Hence, we were on board before midday again.
We spent most of the afternoon on deck – it was hot and sunny in Southampton for a change – and we had the added bonus of witnessing the retirement of the commodore of the fleet, Commodore Ronald Warwick. He left the ship and was piped along the quayside before being helicoptered away.
Our cabin, was 8047 on the starboard side of deck 8. This is one of the restricted-view cabins but along with the cabins on either side has a small rescue craft in front and so the view is reasonably open. In April, we had 8045 which arguably has a better view. These cabins have glass balconies and are much lighter than the more expensive cabins with hull balconies.
On the previous two voyages on QM2, I thought that the amount of storage space was limited, but as both were cool-weather voyages, there was no need for the whole range of shorts, T-shirts and accessories for a hot weather voyage. We were both concerned whether or not there would be sufficient room, but it worked out fine. One of us had everything hanging in the larger wardrobe, and the other everything folded on the shelves. Drawer space was fine.
The beds were very comfortable and made up as a double bed. In April, they were made up as two singles, although still side by side – I don't think the room configuration allows anything else. They were also sufficiently high to enable us to get our enormous suitcases underneath, plus carry-on bags and laptop.
We chose second sitting in the Britannia Restaurant and thought we had specified a table of 6. On the last two sailings, we had very good tables on the upper levels, but on this occasion, we were allocated a table of eight on the lower level at the foot of the staircase. We tried to change it, but were told to come back after 6pm because the maitre d' was off duty. As it was, we never did make the change and it turned out that our table was hosted by the Staff Captain! I discovered when we got home that the mix up was on our part as I had actually failed to specify table size in the booking.
We always select second sitting (except when on QE2 in the Caronia Restaurant) as this gives us ample time to get back from shore excursions, relax with a drink, watch the sail away and then wash and change for dinner.
I generally thought the quality of the ingredients used in the food was excellent, although unfortunately rather bland in taste. Sometimes I found it a little difficult to make a selection, particularly of entreés, and resorted to having two starters instead. I didn't mind unduly as the helpings could be very large.
I have to say, there were two exceptions to this. I ordered Tomato Carpaccio and this turned out to be four slices of wafer thin tomato with a tuft of lettuce on top, and a teaspoonful-sized scoop of Boursin (garlic) cheese. Fortunately, that was a starter. Later on, I ordered an asparagus dish (Green Asparagus, Pressed Tomato & Truffle Dressing) which even the steward tried to talk me out of as it was so small! It consisted of a fan of five asparagus tips about two inches long accompanied by a roasted half tomato and nothing else! I was thankful I wasn't hungry, but in fairness, the staff was always more than willing to change a dish or bring something extra.
In the past, we have always eaten all meals in the Britannia Restaurant, but on this occasion, used King's Court quite often, partly because it was convenient to the cabin and partly because of the timing of shore excursions. This time, rather than regarding it as one place spread over a large area, we viewed each servery separately and it made it much easier to use. We particularly liked the fresh sushi served several times during the voyage.
We didn't try any of the other eateries on board, although we did have a very nice afternoon tea in the Queen's Room.
Entertainment & Activities
We only attended three shows, the first being the Cruise Director's (Ray Rouse) introductory show and the second an excellent solo violinist, Claire Gobin. The third was part an Abba tribute and part an American comedian, Marty Brill. The latter had done an earlier show where I believe he offended some of the audience, and although his jokes were a little ponderous, they were funny in the end.
Other than a couple of films, we took no part in daytime activities being either ashore or enjoying the weather on deck. During the two cold days, the first and last, we spent most of the time reading in the Commodore Club, it still being the most intimate and comfortable space on the ship.
Ports of Call
Last year, we did mainly day shore excursions at many of the same ports and these proved to be both expensive and tiring as it was extremely hot. This year, just as hot, we only did half-day trips with the exception of a day trip to Florence. This actually proved more enjoyable and gave us the opportunity to sit on deck in the afternoon, watch port activity and read. Also, with the exception of Florence, we avoided the big towns.
From Vigo, the excursion was Classical Galicia, touring around the estuaries to the north of Vigo, some of the coastal villages and ending with a tour of a winery and a wine tasting. This was not so much of a tasting as a guzzling as the winery was keen for us to sample as many of their whites, rosés and reds as possible! There was absolutely no pressure to buy, although the route out of the building was via the shop and a lot of people did make purchases.
The next port of call was Barcelona. We took a trip to the Monastery of Montserrat in the hills inland from the city, a spectacular setting at about 1400 feet above sea level. It was a rather industrial drive inland until we climbed into the hills but from there it was quite beautiful.
Cannes was another hilltop destination to the village of Gourdon by way of the Gorge de Loup. This village has been restored and has spectacular views over the coastal plane and the ship could just be seen through the haze. If you are not interested in soaps, fragrancies, glassware and wood carvings, there is not a lot to see in the village. We found a bar instead and enjoyed a couple of gins and tonic underneath an umbrella!
From there it was Civitavecchia where we avoided Rome and went to the town of Viterbo perhaps 25 miles to the north east of Civitavecchia and 45 miles north west of Rome. Here, we visited the 15th. century town hall with its magnificent interiors, the cathedral of St Lorenzo, and then the medieval San Pellegrino district. For a time, Viterbo was the home of the popes.
We elected to do a day trip from Livorno to visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It was quite a long coach trip, perhaps the best part of two hours. We had a short walk from the coach to the gallery in the Piazza della Signoria and a bit of a wait to get into the gallery itself. As soon as our guide started to talk about the artwork on display, we realised we had made a horrible mistake! It was all far too in-depth for us! As a result, we left the group, toured the gallery at our own (very fast) pace and walked around the town instead. The centre of Florence was very crowded (and extremely hot), but away from there it was quite pleasant.
During our day at sea between Vigo and Barcelona, we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar around midday. The captain took the ship close to the North African coast and then turned the ship north to sail past the Rock of Gibraltar. On the sea day between Livorno and the next port of call, Gibraltar, the ship sailed along the north coast of the Spanish islands of Majorca and Ibiza. This made for an interesting few hours.
Last year, we took an organised tour in Gibraltar – the cable car to the top and then a visit to the seige caves and St. Michael's Cave. This year, we went ashore on our own, walked through the town to the cable car and actually beat all the organised tours! We took the car to the top of the Rock to get the photographs we couldn't get last year because it was so misty, took the cable car back down, walked through the town and caught the tender back to the ship. It was a very pleasant morning, although very, very humid.
The next morning, we sailed up the estuary of the Tagus River towards Lisbon just before dawn, and got a spectacular view of the sunrise in front of us through the 25th. April Bridge. Our shore excursion was a coach tour of Lisbon with a visit to the district of Belém. This was probably the least satisfactory of our shore trips, as we saw little of the city itself. At Belém, we were taken to the Maritime Museum and the Church of Our Lady of Belém, the Monument to the Discoveries and Belém Tower. All a bit rushed and therefore not particularly interesting.
After a final (and rather cool) day at sea, we arrived back at Southampton at 8am. We had a leisurely breakfast and vacated our cabin at 9am. We were instructed to wait in the Royal Court Theatre until our deck was called to go ashore. Having sat in there at Easter in a dark and gloomy environment, I rebelled and we waited in a window seat in the Sir Samuel Bar. Disembarkation was called about 10.45. It took only minutes to find our luggage and clear customs, and although we had valet parking, the car was not waiting in the hall outside this time, but in a car park adjacent to the terminal. It took just a little bit longer to get going than usual, but we were home by 1pm, passing en route about 100 miles out of Southampton, two of our dinner table companions.
After three voyages on QM2, would we travel on her again? Unreservedly yes. It's a great ship for hot weather cruising with a huge amount of deck space for sitting out. The only drawback is the speed of the ship which can make it quite windy on deck. We had one rough day, and two rough nights (sailing through the Mistral wind blowing out of France) and the ship behaved impeccably. It's a luxurious ship with a very high standard of service and still turns heads. Whenever we passed another ship, the rails were lined with people looking at us.