After steaming southwesterly through the Atlantic for almost 10 days and calling at four ports, the RMS Queen Mary 2 is presently heading north and slightly west through the Caribbean toward St. Thomas and finally Fort Lauderdale.
Most passengers I spoke to have settled in to the extent that they wish the crossing could go on a bit longer. We all feel that for a maiden voyage, there have been very few glitches. The erratic service in the main restaurant has evened out, and the hotel manager has responded to the demand for larger portions in the restaurant.
After a most satisfying meal in the Todd English restaurant, I returned for another, and especially memorable was the lobster and baby corn soup. In a somewhat unorthodox presentation, the bowl arrived with ingredients in a heap, then the liquid was poured over them, and the result was absolutely delicious.
The hotel manager said he realizes there will be a problem satisfying the demand for reservations at the Todd English restaurant, but he is adamant that it should be first come, first served, with no preference given to suite passengers and no pre-booking through travel agents. My suggestion is to make straight for the reservation desk that opens at 2 p.m. on embarkation day; it's located aft on Deck 8. A follow-up strategy is to show up at lunch and see if there are cancellations, or to wait at the bar and perhaps begin the meal there as many have done on this trip.
Additional restaurants I experienced include La Piazza, the Italian part of the Kings Court at night. The meal begins with an appetizing antipasto buffet, followed by a waiter-served main course and dessert. I ordered the Veal Involtini (rolled) with asparagus and spring onions, which I would give a C+, with a B+ for the Madeira Sponge Cake enveloped in a Hazelnut Candied Fruit Mousse. In my opinion, the Thai-style sampler menu at Lotus was far superior.
For lunch, the Golden Lion offers a pub menu, though the people who frequent the place seem to linger there for hours as they might at their local back home. After two failed attempts, we were seated during the Barbados port call, and I was more satisfied with the menu than with the ersatz Holiday Inn-style ambiance. The Cottage Pie with minced beef, peas and a mashed potato crust was as good as one would find in England, and friends thought the Fish (cod) and Chips passed muster too. Bangers (sausages) and Mash and Steak and Mushroom Pie are additional daily staples.
The professionally-staffed library and book shop make this ship, along with running mate Queen Elizabeth 2, unique on the high seas. On the QM2, the somewhat out of the way location forward on Deck 8 has not deterred use one bit. The hours extend from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. rather than being open in three separate sessions, as the librarians have 160 book cabinets containing 8,000 volumes to unlock and lock. Seating is limited, and most passengers take books out to the deck or back to their cabins. But the library's reading chairs offer terrific ocean views. The shop sells ocean liner books and memorabilia such as videos, postcards, posters, and souvenir items. Internet connections are available at six tables, in addition to the two cafes on a lower deck. Rates are 50 cents a minute, dropping to 25 cents when buying in bulk.
The maiden voyage commemorative clothing shop experienced a frenzied onslaught akin to a fire sale at Filene's Basement. Passengers literally cleaned the place out of maiden voyage-branded polo shirts, tee shirts, caps, and fine Wedgewood plates, cups and saucers. Some inventory had been left on the pier in Southampton and when it caught up with the ship, the shop manager had to limit items to two per person and allow just so many people in at one time. At 9 a.m. today, 150 people stood in line panting to get in.
The QE2 always had insufficient outdoor space for warm weather cruising, but on QM2, every effort was made to maximize the options, and the capacity is equal to the demand. The promenade decks offer more than 300 wooden deck chairs, with another couple of hundred on the suite balconies. The tiered afterdecks and the highest decks, portions of 12 and 13, have sectioned areas and wind protection, so passengers have many varied locations. Queen's Grill passengers have a private deck. There are five pools, accompanying whirlpools, deck tennis, a golf range, basketball practice hoops and two shuffleboard courts.
Probably the only failing in the outdoor department is the limited table seating for breakfast and lunch at the Boardwalk Cafe. Some passengers do take the King's Court buffet food to the promenade deck chairs.
Vantage points for outdoor viewing are numerous, with sufficient railing space for all to watch the port arrivals and departures. My favorite is the covered forward observation deck that spans the width of the ship just above the bridge. It can be easily reached by a glass-enclosed elevator from the promenade deck. Then two decks above is a glass-protected lookout -- ideal in cold, rainy weather or when one desires protection from the hot sun.
Canyon Ranch Spa, the largest at sea, is getting high marks from its patrons, and one California couple reported that the Thai message was the very best they had ever experienced. And they don't push the beauty products like they do on some ships.
After-dark entertainment featured John Martin, a British comedian everyone raved about; and G32, the disco, gets high praise when the former QE2 band Onyx is playing -- then dies when they leave. Ballroom dancing takes place in the Queen's Room, but the acoustics need adjusting to lower the noise level under the central dome. Movies are shown outdoors on Deck 12, and the all-important popcorn is now freshly popped.
The passenger complement on this two-week maiden voyage parallels a typical QE2 transatlantic crossing with 45% British, 43% American, 4% German, and 7% from Asia and Australia. No less than 1,657 or roughly 65% of the passengers are repeaters, the largest number Cunard has ever carried. For them the ship is an out-and-out winner, but the company is eager to attract first-time passengers, and a younger crowd at that, to fill the ship.
The Queen Mary 2 gives them the glamour, the array of dining choices, the elaborate Canyon Ranch Spa, the Veuve Clicquot Champagne and Caviar Bar, and does not overdo the formality, keeping just two formal nights on a transatlantic crossing instead of the present four aboard the QE2.
On this voyage, nearly every passenger is complying with the formal, informal and casual designations, setting the QM2 well apart from the way passengers treat the guidelines on most large ships today. On this voyage, smartly attired passengers match the elegant and spacious surroundings of what is unmistakably a true North Atlantic liner. It remains to be seen how regular passengers -- not on a crossing, but on a routine cruise -- respond to the setting and the ship, which after all will be competing head to head with the Caribbean mega-ships.
Carnival Corporation paid a 40% premium to build a true liner to take North Atlantic weather, and it is here that she needs to draw sufficient custom to make her pay. And in my opinion, all the bells and whistles and the grandeur of an ocean liner are in place, if this first crossing is any indication.