After two weeks aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2's maiden voyage, I wanted to set down some final thoughts and observations.. In reading these reports, you should know that I paid full fare, shared a cabin and received no upgrade.
The Queen Mary 2 is unmistakably the largest ocean liner and cruise ship ever built. But the fact that it has a lower passenger capacity than mass-market ships of the same dimensions allows for some spectacular spaces that give it the heady atmosphere of historic ocean "greyhounds." Two that I traveled aboard come to mind - the French liner Liberte and Cunard's first Queen Elizabeth.
Equally impressive is the Queen's Room, an elegant, columned, two-deck-high space reminiscent of an Art Deco liner -- or a magnificent hotel lounge, but with large windows looking out to sea. A white-glove afternoon tea takes place in the company of a harpist, pianist or trio, and later in the day it becomes a party room, ballroom for serious dancing, or a venue for cabaret acts.
Next door, the Veuve Cliquot Bar, intimate and open to the atrium, proved popular before dinner for a glass of champagne and caviar, pate and smoked salmon. The understated atrium rises five decks, off of which are the purser's and tour desks, shops for H. Stern, Hermes, and Dunhill, and three decks of atrium-view cabins.
A magnificent central corridor, akin to an indoor boulevard, links various public rooms and affords a long range view through the atrium to an ingenious portrait of Sir Samuel Cunard made up of 7,000 tiny depictions of the historic company's vast fleet. Dramatic bas reliefs lining the passage feature the four seasons and four elements. The elevator foyers are equally grand spaces, and the lifts efficiently connect the dozen decks.
The two side promenade decks, with the lifeboats stored above, offer the longest double row of wooden steamer chairs on the high seas, making a delightful setting for reading and dozing in warm weather where life could blissfully go on forever.
Terrific views over the bow can be had forward of the superstructure on promenade deck level, from the large library and bookstore, the delightful, dark-paneled piano bar Commodore Club, the Atlantic Room for cards, an open observation deck below the bridge and from the glass-enclosed Lookout on the highest deck.
For informal dining, the multi-sectioned King's Court offers several serving stations, with minimal queuing, for breakfast and lunch. It even provides breakfast items catering to American tastes in one area, to British tastes (with English bacon and black pudding) in another, and also to continental Europeans with marinated herring and cheese. At lunch, the buffets had a typical range of good food, and fresh sandwiches can be ordered at a deli counter. The many bay window tables facing the side promenades provide the best seating and are well out of the main traffic flow.
At night the King's Court gets transformed (using subdued lighting and panels to wall off the buffet tables) into four dining sections, by reservation only with no extra charge for three of them. I sampled the Carvery twice, dining on succulent American cut roast beef as requested; Lotus, for a highly successful Asian sampler menu; and La Piazza, with a typical Italian menu but without the same atmosphere because the brightly lit buffet section was used for the self-service antipasto. The fourth section, the 26-seat Chef's Galley, is set up as a food demonstration kitchen at $35 a head, but I could never get a reservation. The Golden Lion Pub, popular with British passengers, served good pub grub such as fish (cod) and chips, cottage pie (my choice) and steak and mushroom pie.
The big name restaurant, Todd English - which is supervised by the popular Boston restaurateur -- features his creative take on Mediterranean cooking. I dined there twice, with a group of 10 and then four. The meals, with different selections each time, were terrific but the service was far better the first evening. Reservations are hard to come by, so head there straight away upon boarding. At present there is no extra charge but one is forthcoming.
Daytime activities featured a successful lecture and classroom-style seminar program put together by Oxford University on subjects such as history, politics, fashion and watercolor painting. The theater Illuminations, attractively recalling a smallish Radio City Music Hall, became a planetarium for three hours a day offering three different shows, two of which I saw and enjoyed if mostly as a novelty. The plush, red two-level Royal Court Theater hosted students from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, some big name entertainment, cabaret acts and dance teams.
Deck space is far more generous than aboard the QE2, making the QM2 a much better warm weather cruise ship. There are five pools, one for kids and one under a Magrodome. Children's facilities are excellent, and baby sitting received high marks for professionalism.
Standard outside cabins are considerably larger than the interior portion of the cabins with balconies enclosed in the hull. Some found these rooms to be dark, and the outer solid bulkhead prevents views of the sea when seated. Above the lifeboats, the balcony cabins (B1-B7, 248 sq. ft.) are more typical, with Plexiglas instead of steel on the outer side, and larger interior sitting areas. Cabins sizes then increase to junior suites (P1-P2, 381 sq. ft.) with the largest (Q1-Q6, 506 to 2,249sq.ft.) including aft-facing duplexes. Those on Deck 8 have access to a concierge lounge.
Service in the restaurants, bars, and cabins was an issue as might be expected on a maiden voyage, and with the hiring of new crewmembers beyond what the QE2, Caronia and Seabourn trio could supply, there were lapses, more serious at the start than later in the voyage. Teamwork will take several months to come together, but I also feel that many crewmembers were under-trained. Some had never worked at sea before and it showed, in attention to detail rather than in attitude, which happily most raw recruits had. Major blocks occurred in the food assembly line in the Britannia Restaurant, and I experienced very slow bar service, especially in the Commodore Club.
While it is easy to find fault, the vast majority of the passengers wanted to be on this maiden voyage, as evidenced by the fact that 65 per cent were Cunard repeaters. Miraculously, this biggest ever, one-of-a-kind ship was delivered by the French yard on time, departed on its maiden voyage on the date originally set and carried off the two-week crossing with very few glitches. On the maiden voyage, the ship took a Force 8 storm like a greyhound with no reduction in service speed, and on the last leg from St. Thomas to Fort Lauderdale, we routinely steamed at 27 knots, hitting 28 for a short spell, with very little perceptible vibration, even in my low-down aft cabin.
I am booked again for the second westbound Atlantic crossing, and I cannot wait to see how the ship handles the traditional route from Southampton to New York. The Queen Mary 2 is itself a destination, and she will operate best on crossings and long cruises, and because of her size and draft will fare less well when she has to tender in multiple Caribbean ports.