Queen Mary 2 attracts a wide range of passengers -- in addition to English, German and French can be heard widely spoken onboard. As a result of its size and truly unusual amenities, QM2 attracts many first-time cruisers (not to mention virgins to the trans-Atlantic circuit). During summer school holidays, there are also more children and teenagers onboard.
A trans-Atlantic cruise is more formal than a cruise in, say, the Caribbean. During the day, people definitely tended towards country club casual. At night, even when it wasn't a formal-designated evening, people dressed anyway. A crossing will typically feature two casual nights, three formal nights and one informal night. The dress for formal evening is a tuxedo or alternatively dark suit for gentlemen and evening gown or other appropriate attire for the ladies. While dress codes are enforced in Britannia and Grill restaurants, passengers can relax a bit when dining in the Kings Court.
Cunard charges a minimum $11 a day to your shipboard account. While making purchases in the bars and lounges, a 15 percent tip is automatically added to your bill -- but, oddly, you have to fill in the total amount (and there's a space for an "extra" gratuity). Treatments in Canyon Ranch SpaClub include tips (12.5 percent), but you can add more there as well.
Queen Mary 2 differs greatly from regular cruise ships in terms of its layout and public room design. Being one of the longest, widest and tallest passenger ship ever built (it trails only Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class duo), the designers have come up with interesting solutions in terms of traffic flow and public room design. If you don't find today's smaller mega-ships easy to navigate -- well, you may need a little extra time to figure out Queen Mary 2!
There are up to 14 decks of accommodations and public rooms. Most of the public rooms, such as the reception area, the Royal Court Theatre, Illuminations (Planetarium), Britannia Restaurant and the Queens Room (ballroom), are located on Decks 2 and 3. The ceiling height on these decks is awesome -- at 3.8 meters, the equivalent of 1 1/2 decks! Such expansiveness (not to mention fabulous art) contributes to an elegant ambience.
Deck 7 can be described as the ship's daytime/outdoor activity center and it's where you'll find the very popular encircling promenade deck -- complemented by comfortable lounge chairs -- and the Canyon Ranch SpaClub.
There are four different main staircases and these are marked A - D. The ship's daily program (inventively called "Daily Programme") offers, as a convenience, the deck number and stairway for each place of event or public room, so pay attention to this.
Many of the public lounges are in a class of their own on QM2. Queens Room is the largest ballroom on any passenger ship, and also features the largest dance floor afloat. This space is used regularly for horse racing, captain's cocktail parties, afternoon teas and ballroom dancing. All beverage service is taken from tables (there is no bar). Strangely unobtrusive is the ship's two-level disco, G32. It's tucked behind the Queens Room (you actually have to cross through it to get to the disco). Regardless of its tricky location, I have never seen such a popular disco on a ship. It was packed every evening (maybe because of its sleek steel-inspired interior, or -- perhaps more likely -- because passengers heading west on crossings get an extra hour of sleep five evenings in a row!).
Apart from the regular melange of public rooms featured on all cruise ships, QM2 offers a few "extras." Illuminations is the only planetarium at sea, and it is used for lectures, movies and of course planetarium films -- all of which proved to be very popular.
We also loved the huge, well-stocked library (and there are, in addition to terminals in the regular cyber center, a few extra Internet-connected computers here). It has some wonderful nooks and crannies. Adjacent is a fantastic book and souvenir shop, specializing in all things maritime (not limited to QM2); you can buy books, postcards, posters and other collectibles as well as writings by authors and lecturers sailing onboard.
QM2 does not accommodate bridge visits, but it has opened, on a trial basis, a viewing gallery behind the bridge. The facility is open on most (but not all) days, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.; only eight people are allowed to enter at the same time.
If you simply enjoy watching the sea -- the white caps and the endless horizon -- venture forward on Deck 2 where there are wide windows (almost at water level). Here you can really appreciate QM2's speed (up to 26 knots).
The best place to enjoy the horizon (and/or sunset) is in the Commodore Club on Deck 8, which offers also piano entertainment during the evening.
|Fitness and Recreation|
One of the nicest pleasures of a crossing is the luxury of time. And that means time to indulge in spa sessions or exercise. Even with high expectations, I was wowed by its fitness facilities! In Canyon Ranch's first-ever at-sea spa, there are 20,000 square feet of space on two different decks.
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub is divided in three different areas. The Fitness Centre is located foremost of Deck 7 and is fitted with latest gym equipment; each has its own TV. The Fitness Centre is open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily, and its use is complimentary. However, if you want to use any lockers or showers, you have to buy a SpaClub Passport, costing between $25 (one day) and $79 (five days).
The Beauty & Skin Care Centre is located on Deck 8 and offers lovely sea views as well as treatments. It is open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily. It is, alas, very popular; on my crossing, for example, a week's worth of pedicures was sold out by departure day. As far as prices are concerned, a woman's designer shampoo/haircut/blow dry starts at $89 (and goes up if you have medium or long hair) and men pay $38. Nail treatments range from $28 (finger or toes polish change) to $140 (full fingernails, pink & white acrylics), and pedicures range from $62 (gentleman's) to $135. Canyon Ranch SpaClub features an expansive Aqua Therapy Centre. To use any or all of these facilities, you can buy a one-, three- or five-day pass, costing between $40 and $95. The use of the center is complimentary with the purchase of any Health & Wellness service, massage or body treatment. The Aqua Therapy Centre is equipped with an aqua therapy pool, a whirlpool, reflexology basin, sensory showers, Finnish sauna, aromatic steam room, herbal sauna and ice fountain.
In the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, all prices include a 12.5 percent gratuity. The therapists also do not try to sell any body care products after the treatment, which is not the case in many other cruise lines' shipboard spas. Another plus? There's also no faux "health" questionnaire that passengers are required to fill out before their first treatment.
Sports facilities include a basketball court and a paddle tennis court on Deck 13 and a single (and sad looking) Ping-Pong table in the Pavilion pool area. The basketball and paddle tennis courts themselves were nice, but being located forward of the deck the place was normally too windy for an enjoyable game. There are also golf simulators, called Fairways, but they were already booked in the beginning of voyage.
Queen Mary 2, and fleetmates Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, are the only ships afloat to assign dining based on a class system. Or, to be more charitable, to assign passengers to dining rooms based on the fares they pay. As such, only the top-priced cabin categories entitle passengers to eat in the ship's most exclusive dining rooms -- Princess Grill and Queens Grill. These restaurants feature anytime seating and menus with more flexibility. At first, access to the Queens Grill Lounge was restricted to diners in that one grill room, but after passengers assigned to the Princess Grill complained, they too were admitted.
Remaining passengers -- and these account for the vast majority -- are assigned to dine in the ship's eye-catching, double-deck Britannia. Breakfast and lunch are open seating; passengers receive set tables and dining times at dinner.
Breakfast is served from 8 until 9:30 a.m., and lunch from noon until 2 p.m. One interesting fact about Queen Mary 2's trans-Atlantic sailings is that the lack of ports (and the subsequent more relaxed approached to dining) means that the restaurant tends to fill quickly for both meals (only the lower level was open). So get there early or late.
At dinner, though this is definitely a mass-dining experience, we were impressed with the overall consistent quality of cuisine (and loved the evening menu's lighter-fare spa choices).
Kings Court serves as Queen Mary 2's lido buffet, but on this vessel the area is located not at the top of the ship but on Deck 7. There are actually four different themed areas in Kings Court: The Carvery, La Piazza, Lotus and Chef's Galley. During breakfast each of the connected venues offers pretty much the usual morning fare. At lunchtime, however, they all focus on their specialties (roasted meats at the Carvery, pasta at La Piazza and Asian-influenced cuisine at Lotus). Kings Court is a vast area (and at lunch can appear crowded); your best bet is to walk around the buffet, get a feel for what's available and find a table. Usually the tables closest to the buffet lines and next to the bay windows fill up first, but if you are willing to walk with your tray a bit more, you can always find a seat. The waiters and waitresses do not offer to carry your trays to the table.
We particularly enjoyed Kings Court at night -- what a transformation! The four different dining areas all get linen table cloths, and there's waiter service. The menus for each stay the same throughout the voyage. Passengers are encouraged to make reservations for this venue, though after numerous telephone attempts (nobody answered), I made an in-person visit to the door an hour before I wanted to dine -- and did succeed. As with casual dining on other lines, passengers eating at La Piazza and the Carvery help themselves to the appetizers from the buffet, while the main course and dessert are served to the table.
The most popular of these alternative dining areas was Lotus, the Asian-fusion place, and deservedly so. Its menu is mouthwatering, including a spicy lobster wonton, crab cakes, duck spring roll, stir fried king prawn and chicken with Singapore noodles.
Kings Court is open every night, and the culinary offerings vary nightly.
Adjacent to Kings Court is the interesting Chef's Galley. The big draw is that there's an open kitchen and you can watch the chef prepare your meal. We'd like to report on our experience there -- but couldn't get in to try it! Although it's open each evening throughout the voyage, you should still make your reservations early to secure a table.
La Piazza is also a great place if you feel peckish between regular meal hours. It serves snack daily from 3 until 6 p.m., and the Carvery serves from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. Featured is typical fast food fare such as hamburgers, French fries, hot dogs, pasta and pizza.
Todd English is the ship's much ballyhooed alternative restaurant. There is a per-person service charge to eat here of $20 for lunch and $30 for dinner. Advance bookings for dinner are especially crucial.
The lunch was fantastic. I started out thinking I'd order a "light" meal and instead ended up rolling out of the restaurant after a meal consisting of fig and prosciutto flatbread, pan roasted turbot on artichoke polenta, and a huge piece of Thai Iced Coffee Tiramisu for dessert. The dinner menu is mainly the same, but offers a larger selection of appetizers and main courses.
Another popular but completely free alternate dining area is the ship's Golden Lion Pub. It serves authentic pub food from noon until 3 p.m. Sadly, I didn't discover the place until the second to last sea day, and wow -- I loved it. My bangers and mash was among the best lunches I have ever enjoyed on any passenger ship. Other signature dishes include typical pub food such as different pies. You can dine at tables or at the bar.
Two other lunch outlets can be found from Deck 12, namely the Boardwalk Cafe and Pavilion Pool & Bar. While the Boardwalk Cafe is not open during inclement weather, the sliding glass roof in the Pavilion ensures service during any kind of climate. The menu in the Boardwalk is typical of that found on onboard grills while Pavilion serves a limited number of items, such as soups and sandwiches. Don't even attempt to go to Boardwalk Cafe if the weather is windy or rainy, as there is no indoor seating available -- or indoor access to the grill counter.
Afternoon tea is available in three different areas. While Queens Grill Lounge is open only for "premium" guests, Lotus at Kings Court serves a casual self-service afternoon tea. More traditional English afternoon Tea is served daily in the Queens Room, the ship's expansive ballroom. The Winter Garden was originally designed to be the venue, but it was too small. In Queens Room you can enjoy a traditional and more formal "white glove" service, where waiters and waitresses serve tea, finger sandwiches, pastries, and, of course, sconces with clotted cream. Don't miss this opportunity to be pampered.
If you are planning to dine in your cabin, prepare for a slight disappointment. The room service menu consists of simple items, such as salads, sandwiches and pizza. There is no separate dinner menu available (unless you qualify for Princess or Queens Grill).
During the school holidays there are a lot of children onboard. Queen Mary 2 employs nine nannies, which keep children busy during the crossing. There is a dedicated children and teens' area on Deck 6 -- including an outdoor pool area. A children's supper is given nightly in the Chef's Galley from 5 until 6 p.m. (As in England it is called Children's Tea.) And group babysitting is available until midnight.
Queen Mary 2 features a broad range of accommodations, from the most economical 194-square-foot inside cabins to lavish duplex suites. All in all, from a total of 1,310 cabins, 955 are fitted with the private balconies. As a rather unusual feature -- otherwise found only on Royal Caribbean's Voyager-, Freedom- and Oasis-class ships -- there are also 12 cabins looking out onto the atrium.
The largest number of cabins falls into the category of deluxe and premium balcony staterooms. The 248-square-foot (including the balcony) cabins are spread over six decks. They include a sitting area with a sofa, a wardrobe space and a bathroom with a shower. A handful of the cabins have also connecting doors and/or third berth as a single sofa bed. Be careful if booking a cabin with a connecting door, as the soundproofing could have been (much) better.
The desk is rather small, but can accommodate a laptop computer. The corners for both bathroom unit and a wardrobe are rounded which gives a feeling of more space. The wardrobe space itself is ample, and there is also a safe and drawer space. The colors of the cabins are light and airy.
The shower-only bathroom itself is spacious, but there is no light inside the shower, and as there is no shower door (instead a thick curtain), it is rather dark in there.
All cabins on Queen Mary 2 are also equipped with a fridge and interactive TV. Called QM2TV, it features several channels of movies, documentaries and satellite channels. Don't count on following your favorite channels every day as the lack of satellite connection during the crossing may cut all the programming, except the ship's own. Many shipboard activities, such as the celebrity lectures, can be watched on the TV later on. QM2 Interactive Television allows guests to order room service (I tried mine, and the breakfast order arrived on time in the morning), review your folio and order pay-per-view movies (from children movies to adult desires). As a hint: When reviewing your folio, please note that purchases necessarily don't show up immediately, but may appear there a day later.
Other comments: The balcony is spacious, but there is no teak flooring (except in the most expensive range of suites). The balcony furniture consists of plastic lounge chairs, but there are cushions; if your steward doesn't put them out, check under your bed. Cabins are also furnished with ashtrays, so prepare to smell smoke in your cabin (during my crossing, there was a smell of smoke during the entire voyage).
Regular trans-Atlantic passengers are generally good self-entertainers, but today's cruise passengers expect the same types of programming from the trans-Atlantic voyage as from a sea day on a typical Caribbean cruise.
Apart from lavish evening shows, daytime Champagne art auctions and bingo sessions, QM2 really sets itself apart with its multi-tiered enrichment program. "Cunard Insights" explores historical and contemporary issues presented by explorers, academics, former politicians, musicians, historians, film makers and the like. Obviously, there's quite a bit of variety here. One crossing may feature former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn, another Jeffery Weinberg, an expert on U.S. presidents.
There are several other prongs to the enrichment program. The "Julliard Jazz Series" features performances by students and faculty from the prestigious music institution, Royal Astronomical Society presenters talk stars and solar systems, and the Royal Academy of Arts graduate company presents specially edited versions of classic plays and novels, each lasting no more than one hour.
Queen Mary 2 also offers an extensive computer learning program in its Apple Learning Centre, across from the Connexions Internet cafe. Apple iStudy courses, taught on iMac computers, cover topics such as basic computer skills on Macs and PCs, photo editing, movie making, and using new technology such as Facebook and iPads.
In addition to regular bars -- such as the Golden Lion Pub, Sir Samuel's Wine Bar and the Chart Room -- Queen Mary 2 features the first-ever Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar at sea. It serves seven different Veuve Clicquot Champagne labels, with prices from $7 per glass. Although the place was popular, the execution of the outlet could have been better. The barkeeper was also responsible for handling bills for the neighboring Chart Room (so service was intermittent) and Champagne was often poured into warm glasses. Nevertheless, it was one of my favorite spots.
The superlatives speak for themselves.
Queen Mary 2 was the first passenger liner purpose-built for trans-Atlantic service in 35 years. That's quite a stretch when you consider that its predecessor, the half-the-size Queen Elizabeth 2, started service at about the same time the first jumbo jet took to the skies. To further the sea-air scenario comparing the venerable Queen Elizabeth 2 to the new Queen Mary 2 is like contrasting an early Pan Am Boeing 747 with today's oh-so-forward new Airbus A380 (like QM2, it will be the largest and most expensive of its kind ever to be built).
Indeed, perhaps Queen Mary 2 would never have been built if Carnival Corporation had not acquired Cunard Line from the Norwegian Kvaerner group in 1998. In the years prior to Carnival's acquisition, Cunard had been steered with a lack of clear course and imagination -- resulting in a fleet of rather mismatched vessels -- while still trying to hang on to its hallowed reputation.
What interested Carnival Corporation wasn't Cunard's past as much as its future. While the concept of a splashy (and is it ever!) new ship to be called Queen Mary 2 was well beyond drawing-board stages at Cunard prior to the acquisition, it was Carnival's interest and -- finally -- support, that made the $780 million investment a reality. The construction of Queen Mary 2 took place in the French shipyard Chantiers de l'Atlantique, the same yard that built other famous liners like Normandie and France -- not to mention more contemporary vessels like Coral Princess and Celebrity Millennium. QM2 was built in almost record time and was delivered to Carnival Corp. just prior to Christmas of 2003. She was christened with ultimate hype and fanfare on January 8, 2004, by Queen Elizabeth II, and four days later the brand-new Queen Mary 2 embarked on her maiden voyage.
What about the ship itself? While there are nods to classic Cunard -- the high ceilings, fabulous art collection and daily tea service create an elegant ambience -- this is a modern cruise ship through and through. Passengers will find the requisite large number of private balconies, a handful of alternative restaurants (including the much-ballyhooed, for-fee Todd English), Champagne art auctions and a massive (and pricey) spa run by Canyon Ranch. The ship also features cruising's only planetarium, Illuminations, which is used for lectures, movies and of course planetarium films. Still, size can be something of a limitation. With 2,620 passengers, it's impossible to provide the level of service afforded in days done by. That said, staff are almost always upbeat and helpful.
With more than half a decade since its last refurb, QM2 isn't the stunning lady she was in 2004. The ship is certainly showing signs of wear in its carpets, upholstery and floors. But there's good news: A two-week refit took place from November 24 to December 8, 2011. The aim was to restore some of her early good looks. The Golden Lion Pub underwent significant renovations, which gave the venue more of an American country club feel (warm colors, plush seating, new TV's). Additionally, cabins received new carpeting, bedding and furniture. New carpet designs and furnishings were added to most public areas, including Queens Grill, Princess Grill, Commodore Club and Sir Samuel's.
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