By Gareth Roberts
I have always wanted to sail on Queen Mary 2 (QM2), the flagship of the Cunard line and was fortunate enough to sail on her in August 2014. On this voyage we left Southampton on a back to back crossing from Southampton to New York, Halifax and Canada. Queen Mary 2 was launched in 2004 by HRH Queen Elizabeth II and is therefore this year celebrating her 10th anniversary. For those of you unaware of the ship here are just a few facts about the ship; The ship was designed by a team of British naval architects led by Stephen Payne, and was constructed in France. At the time of her construction, Queen Mary 2 was the longest passenger ship ever built, and with her gross tonnage of 148,528 also the largest. Queen Mary 2 was intended to routinely cross the Atlantic Ocean, and was therefore designed differently from many other passenger ships. The ship’s final cost was approximately £200,000 per berth. Expenses were increased by the high quality of materials, and having been designed as an ocean liner, she required 40% more steel than a standard cruise ship. Queen Mary 2 has a maximum speed of just over 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) and a cruising speed of 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph), much faster than a contemporary cruise ship.
Queen Mary 2‘s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the first planeterium at sea. There are also kennels and a nursery on board.
This blog will act as a review of our crossing on the QM2 and a tour of her facilities.
The QM2 was constructed as an Ocean liner and as such her layout is somewhat more complex than that of many cruise ships. For example the Baby Queens, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria are far easier to navigate, with much more logical layouts. This complexity does however add to the excitement of discovering new areas of the ship and the shear scale of this ship is staggering. I’m sure many people only experience a small percentage of what this ship has to offer on a single voyage. The deck space is huge and you can always find a quiet area to relax. When you think that the ship when full (as it was on this voyage) has 2,600 passengers and 1,300 crew, it still seems quite incredible. All those people seem to disappear amongst the 17 decks (13 of these being passenger decks)
Departure from Southampton – Sail away party with the Carribean house band Vibes
Outside Deck Space
There are a number of pools and hot tubs spread out over the beautiful rear tiers of the ship. These decks are well sheltered from the wind and are a lovely place to gaze out at the seemingly endless ocean. Bar service is always on hand and passengers are free to bring food and drinks from the Kings Court (Lido/buffet restaurant) to enjoy on deck.
The Grill’s Terrace – Deck 11
The Grill’s for those who are not familiar with Cunard is the premium class on board. Grill’s customers benefit from their luxury suites, Butler service and the grill’s restaurants, were customers are encouraged to order off menu! They also benefit from the Grill’s terrace. To be honest, compared with the very private and large terraces on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth this terrace doesn’t feel anywhere near as exclusive but does provide stunning views.
The house band Vibes performing their afternoon set in the Atlantic Sun
A beautiful day at Sea – Deck 12
Pronenade Deck – Deck 7
The promenade deck is extremely popular with passengers walking, running and driving around the ship. This is much more impressive than the promenade deck on Victoria and Elizabeth. The railings give an open feeling and the wide decks allow those exercising and relaxing to exist side by side. There are many steamer chairs, which are extremely comfy and provide an excellent place to listen to music or read a book. This deck also provided a great view of the numerous Whales and Dolphins that we were lucky enough to witness on this voyage.
Observation Deck – Deck 11
Positioned just below the bridge and open only in fine weather, being so open to the elements. The Observation deck provides a great vista from the front of the ship and is generally very quiet.
The Lookout – Deck 14
On the very highest deck, right at the front of the ship. The lookout provides a good view but the protective screening takes away from the experience a little. The observation deck being a more impressive view point.
Regatta Bar and Pool – Deck 13
Very under used, a shallow pool along with two hot tubs, the Regatta bar is only open in fine weather.
The Observation lifts provide a good view of the outside. They are located at the front of the ship and visit Deck 7, The Library and the Commodore club, as well as some of the exclusive suites (key card acces required to visit the suites level)
Terrace Pool and Bar – Deck 8
A very relaxing place to chill, there are plenty of tables next to the largest of the ships pools
Boardwalk Cafe – Deck 12
Open 12-3pm on sea days but only in fine weather conditions. A real gem of a place to relax at lunchtime or enjoy an afternoon coffee and cake. The cafe serves hot food, salads and snacks, along with hot drinks and juices at no additional cost.
The Sun Deck – Deck 13
A large open deck space, includes the fairways golf simulator and sports nets. The quietest deck space onboard.
Deck 12 – Pavillion Pool
Always popular, this pool is an all weather facility with a retractable roof. I found it a little crowded compared with the other pools on board. Was sometimes a little overtaken by children.
Arrival in New York City
A beautiful morning view of Lower Manhatton, taken from the ship as we dock in Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. There can be few better places to arrive in a morning!
Views from Rockefeller Builiding on an extremely warm summers day!
One World Trade centre and 9/11 memorial
A beautiful memorial, it has real class and is a very befitting tribute to those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy.
A glorious day for a stroll round Central Park, New York at it’s best in my opinion
A well deserved pint in the summer sun!
Departing New York – Sail away party
Grand Lobby – Deck 2/3
The Grand Lobby is the first place that welcomes you as you board the ship. The lobby houses the Pursers and Tour offices, the Mayfair Shops along with the Atrium, grand staircase and glass lifts. While impressive, in my opinion the Grand lobby’s onboard Queen Victoria and Elizabeth are slightly superior and provide better vantages.
Britannia Restaurant – Deck 2/3
The main dining room (MDR) for most passengers on board. This is a hugely impressive space, seating 1,347 people, much grander than the offerings on Elizabeth and Victoria. We sat in a number of locations as we often used it for Breakfast and Lunch as well as for dinner. I personally preffered the balcony level where we were located for dinner, as it gave an excellent view over the whole dining room. I must say that food quality was generally excellent. I particularly enjoyed the lunch menu, which was a little more varied than the dinner menu, offering some wonderful pastas, hot sandwiches and even a good New York style Burger. The evening menu provided an excellent standard of food but focussed more on beautiful Steaks, Venison, Duck, Chicken and Fish, accompanied by vegetable sides. Starters were generally very good, complimented by an excellent choice of hot bread rolls; Desserts were also of a high standard. Service was efficient and friendly, with each table having a senior and junior server along with a Sommelier. It should be noted that an alternative menu always exists, should you not fancy anything off the menu that evening, this menu includes Steak, Chicken and Salmon alternatives. In case any one was wondering, all of the food in Britannia, the Kings Court (Lido/Buffet), Golden Lion pub and Boardwalk cafe are totally complimentary, with the exception of the specialIty nights which take over a small section of the Kings Court. We did not use any of the alternatives, as a result all the food we enjoyed on the voyage was totally complimentary of the booking price.
My parents enjoying a small glass of wine or two
The harpist was most excellent
The Captain at his table
Breakfast was beautifully cooked and prepared exactly as I had requested, the quality of the ingredients was first class.
A couple of examples of the Evening main courses we enjoyed, the Chateaubriand was delicious, as was the Asian inspired duck dish. As you may have guessed from the picture, the staff were extremely accommodating in providing double portions, as and when requested. These were by no means the most impressive of my meals, the Beef Wellington was perhaps my favourite but I was just too keen to enjoy my food and so I didn’t have the opportunity to take many photographs.
I love Italian food and eat in lots of really good Italian restaurants but this Lasagne was the best I’ve tasted in a number of years. It was so good I had to order a second helping.
A couple of beautiful desserts, both very rich and intense.
On the final night there was a parade of the Chefs, it enabled everyone to thank them for the beautiful food we had enjoyed over the course of the voyage.
Kings Court – Deck 7
This is the Lido/buffet area on board. It’s split into four zones, Lotus, La Piazza, the Carvery and Chef’s Galley. This is perhaps the most criticised aspect of QM2. It is a little confusing and during the day, with the exception of the Chef’s Galley the offerings at each are fairly similar, apart from a wok area in Lotus. They offer a few main meal choices, traditional carvery, salad bars and desserts. For breakfast a fairly varied selection of continental and traditional offerings is available. At lunch time the Chef’s galley offers a Subway style sandwich service, together with fast food such as burgers and hot dogs. Every evening one of the Kings Court areas becomes a speciality restaurant, rotating through the voyage. Corriander – Indian, Lotus – Pan Asian, La Piazza – Italian (Not pizza). The Chefs Galley becomes a Pizza and Pasta bar every evening (no additional charge). The remaining areas of the Kings Court serve a range of main courses, which vary from night to night alongside a salad bar. A Carvery is always on offer, the meat on offer varying from one night to the next. The food selection in the Lido on Victoria and Elizabeth appeared be wider. It also possesses a superior layout that has more natural light. I missed not having a pizza and pasta bar at lunchtime and the choices of main dishes definitely seemed more limited, even taking into account what was on offer across the four zones.
Kings Court Evening Buffet
Chef’s Galley – Evening Pizza and Pasta Bar
This is an excellent facility that allows you to select from the daily special pasta or select from one of 3 classic Italian sauces and combine it with a pasta of your choice. There are a number of different pasta varieties available, including some filled pastas. There is also a daily pizza special or you can create your own from a selection of toppings. These pizzas are reminiscent of those on Victoria and are far superior to those served on the buffet at lunchtime. The pastas and pizza are prepared and cooked by a Chef in front of you and are delivered to your table, complete with offerings of black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Sommeliers are on hand to take drinks order and it’s all very good for a free alternative.
Specialist Dining Area
One area is screened off every night to provide a specialist dining area and is made to look very attractive. The picture below shows the Lotus pan-Asian night, the decorative screens hiding the buffet stations. From what I heard the food on offer was supposed to be very good. Lotus offer Thai, Chinese and Japanese inspired offerings and only costs around an additional £6-7 per person. The cost is the same for both Corriander and La Piazza.
Todd English – Deck 8
Open for Lunch and dinner, this restaurant occurs an additional charge. Named after the American celebrity chef behind the venture, Todd English (think a Cheesy Gordon Ransey) it receives mixed reviews. The standard of food does seem to be slightly superior to the main dining room. Interestingly this restaurant was replaced by the excellent Verandah restaurant on Victoria fairly recently. We didn’t get round to dining at the restaurant, as the menu didn’t excite me as much as that of Verandah. Expect to pay about £20-30 per person for the experience at dinner and around £15-20 for lunch. Everyone we spoke to on board who had dined there however felt it was worthwhile experience.
Princess Grill – Deck 7
One of the Grill restaurants, exclusively for the use of Princess grill passengers on board. It seats 178 passengers, I believe that the food is outstanding in both of the Grill restaurants. Food is often flambed at your tables and guests are actively encouraged to order off menu. If my budget allowed I would love to sample the Grill’s. The restaurants themselves are a little less impressive and grand than the Britannia restaurant, being significantly smaller in scale. I would encourage Grill’s passengers to make sure they try out the Britannia restaurant on at least a couple of occasions, as it’s a wonderful setting. I’m sure your buttlers would be happy to bring down your caviar and lobsters! It’s a shame that the Grill’s lack the attractive al fresco dining terrace found on Victoria and Elizabeth.
Queens Grill – Deck 7
The most premium dining venue on board, seating 200 people, it is reserved solely for those passengers in the suites and highest grade staterooms.
Grills Lounge – Deck 7
For exclusive use of Princess and Queens Grill passengers.
The Library – Deck 8
The largest library at sea, it contains over 8000 volumes of books. This is an attractive and very well used space and provides a beautiful setting looking out to the Ocean. I must say I find the Victoria and Elizabeth libraries to be more attractively designed but the size of the book collection and the views are far superior onboard QM2.
QM2 bookshop – Deck 8
It sells a wide range of maritime and Cunard membrobilia.
Illuminations – Decks 2/3
This is an excellent multifunction venue that triples as the Cunard insights lecture venue, planetarium and cinema. I must say that the Cunard lectures are usually absolutely fantastic and a real distinguishing feature of the line. On transatlantic crossings they usually include an a astronomer or space expert who will often run a live planeterium show, along with a number of lectures. On this Voyage we also had two inspirational guest lecturers. One of these was Lord Mervyn King, who was able to communicate complex economic ideas so eloquently and shared his experiences of being in office, it was totally fascinating. We also had an American foreign diplomat who was an inspirational speaker and character, she built up a huge following on board for her forward thinking approach to dealing with the challenges the modern world is facing. On the return leg we had Mr Cruise liner himself, Bill Miller, who continues to be a highly engaging and authoritive speaker, always packing out the venue. The Planeterium is a wonderful piece of technology. We watched 3 of the prerecorded shows which were all very well produced. It was also good to see the technology used for a live Planeterium show. In this show the astronomer talked us through some of the highlights of the sky above our ship. There is also a daily film and a handful of 3D films on offer.
My mother and I with Jo, Entertainment director on QM2, formerly of the Victoria.
Royal Court Theatre – Decks 2/3
The Royal Court theatre seats over a 1000 people and is the main show venue on board. The Cunard Royal Singers and dancers are a talented group of performers and put on a number of good shows. I wasn’t however so sure about Viva Italia, a production complete with a Comedy drunk womanising Italian chef and scantily clad dancers. I’m certainly not Mr P.C. but the whole thing was just plain weird. We were also treated to a performance by a lead star of several West End Musicals, including Phantom. He was absolutely fantastic, having an incredible vocal to support an engaging performance. There were also a couple of very good instrumentalists, one from England, the other from the US, who both surprised me with their highly entertaing performances. RADA run acting classes and perform shows on board the ship. I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan but their production of Hamlet was actually really good. We were also extremely lucky to have 8 times Grammy winner James Taylor on board. What a true gentleman, it was such a privilege to meet him and he was so incredibly humble. His show was excellent and created a real buzz around the ship. The theatre itself is more modern in design compared with those on Victoria and Elizabeth and some of the viewing angles are a little compromised. I must say that I prefer the theatres on Victoria and Elizabeth. The stage though is significantly more sophisticated on QM2 and as ever the lighting and sound are excellent.
Billed as the largest ballroom at sea. The Queens Room is a large and attractive room. It hosts the dancing, the Captain’s cocktail parties and is also the venue for afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is totally complimentary and is a daily occurrence. You get spoilt with sandwiches, scones and cakes. It’s most delicious but ever so indulgent!
On a transatlantic crossing there is a mixed age group and so the club does get busy. The DJ played some good tunes till early morning and everyone was always in a party mood, especially after the Captain’s cocktail party!
Chart Room – Deck 3
The Chart room is a lovely bar and always has live music of an evening. It is perhaps the most popular of all the bars, being located next to the Britannia restaurant. I found this to be a much more impressive space than the equivalent bar on Victoria.
The Golden Lion Pub – Deck 2
The traditional British pub, serving excellent food at lunchtime. The Chicken tikka masala, Steak pie and Fish and Chips are all excellent. The bar hosts karaoke and live sports, including Premier league games and Formula one motor racing. The higher ceilings make it look grander than the equivalent bar on Elizabeth and Victoria.
The Commodore Club – Deck 9
The Commodore club feels like the most exclusive bar on board. Service standards are always excellent, with a fantastic choice of canapés including some excellent hot offerings. The bar is famous for its signature cocktails. Views from the bar are spectacular, we witnessed a green flash sunset on a couple of occasions. The model of QM2, perfect in every detail looks amazing behind the bar. My only criticism is that due to the Ocean liner design, the views are more restricted from some tables than they are on Victoria and the room is narrower and somewhat divided. This results in the Pianist being restricted to just one side of the room, which is a real shame.
The Boardroom – Deck 9
This room is used for Wedding ceremonies and as a private meeting space. A fairly attractive room just off the Commodore club.
Not as impressive as the equivalent on Victoria, it also seems to have fairly poor ventilation. It can only be used by people purchasing cigars from the cabinet.
The Veuve Cliquot Champagne Bar – Deck 3
A much better bar than it’s equivalent on Victoria. The Transatlantic audience seemed to have more of a taste for Champers. You don’t have to drink Champagne to sit here and the staff will happily get you drinks from the near by Chart Room if Champagne isn’t your cup of tea.
Sir Samuels Wine Bar – Deck 3
The on board wine bar, a fairly relaxed bar which doubles as a coffee bar during the day, serving complimentary light snacks in the afternoon.
A very pleasent room that provides a relaxing place to sit and read. Being located next to the Kings Court it’s very easy to carry drinks and food through and it provides a more civilised setting than the bustling Kings Court. It also hosts a number of get togethers and RADA performances.
The Atlantic Room
A rather out of character room which has a very nice location at the front of the ship. It seems rather under used. It’s very traditional and quite old fashioned design wise. I think it reflects a former room on the QE2.
A large Casino, it seems to contain everything you would expect of a Casino.
Canyon Ranch Spa Club
The Spa offers some excellent facilities and treatments, although like most Spa’s it doesn’t come cheap. The well equipped gym is free to use however. A beauty salon is also available on the ship.
We were also joined on board by a number of cats and dogs, who accompanied their owners on the trip. They are unable to join their owners in their staterooms so have to stay in the kennels on deck 12.
Accommodation on board varies from inside rooms to luxury suites. The picture above shows a standard balcony stateroom. All rooms have a fairly spacious shower, with good quality beds and sheets. Storage is adequate for a 2 week voyage. Flat screen televisions show live sport and news, along with a selection of films. Room service is complimentary 24 hours a day and includes various options. Some of the more tasty include, Thai green curry, Fajitas and Premium Burgers. Pastas and lighter snacks are also on offer. The room is serviced at least 2 to 3 times a day, with fresh towels always available. Chocolates are provided on your pillow in the evening. The room is kept immaculately clean and the bathroom is cleaned thoroughly twice a day. Ice is provided for drinks and unlike most cruise lines Cunard allows you to bring alcohol on board to consume in your own stateroom.
QM2 lived up to and exceeded my expectations. I met some amazing people from all over the world. It’s such a friendly place, you meet billionaires, millionaires and many people with very ordinary incomes who just want to experience this magnificent ship. Sailing in and out of New York is spectacular, you can’t beat it (well ok I’m sure Sydney runs it close). The QM2 is definitely the way to cross the Atlantic if you have the time! I have been fortunate enough to fly business class to LA once and enjoyed my lie-flat seat but honestly the plane can’t compete with QM2!
On a plane you don’t get to meet and live with such an eclectic mix of people; Eating beautiful food, watching the sun set over the Atlantic whilst sipping on your favourite drink, takes some beating! In the day you can just sit on a steamer chair, watching the Whales and Dolphins swim along side. Alternatively you can always sit in a hot tub, taking in the endless views of the Ocean, as the summer sun beats down on you. If that doesn’t float your boat then you can always attend the inspiring lectures or develop your acting skills with the help of RADA. After such a tough start to the day you may have to indulge in afternoon tea! In the evening you can watch top West End stars and Grammy award winners. Finally ending up drinking one too many and dancing till 4am in the nightclub! It’s an experience I won’t forget and would definitely recommend to anyone. My parents were fortunate enough to fly to New York on Concorde and return on QE2 and still reminisce about the experience 20 years on! I hope to be sharing my experiences onboard Cunard’s new flagship in 20 years time!