The world's largest ocean liner becomes a formal affair after dark with magnificent dining venues and ballroom dancing.
At night, Queen Mary 2 is transformed from a ship bursting with intellectual diversions to an ocean liner with dining and gala balls worthy of it royal name. This is a very dressy ship, with three formal nights on a six-night cruise. Yet, the atmosphere is classy, but not stuffy. I have never had so much fun in a tuxedo.
Dining Options: All Cunard ships are unique in that they continue to offer exclusive dining options to certain guests who book a higher cabin category. There are basically three "classes" of dining options, though Cunard prefers not to use that word. They are not classes in the old sense of first-class and steerage, as in the movie Titanic. Everyone on the ship has the same access to its facilities, except for certain suite passengers who dine in separate dining rooms.
The top tier is the Queens Grill restaurant (seats 205), open to those who book Queen's Grill Suites. The second tier is the Princess Grill Suites (seats 180). The two restaurants are nearly identical in décor and located next to each other. The menus are the same, but Queens Grill guests have the option of ordering whatever they want on any given night and the chef will prepare it for them, under reasonable conditions.
Princess Grill: Click for Close-up
|Reclining in Princess Grill||cherries jubilee||Duck receives flambé|
The rest of the ship dines in the much larger (two decks) Britannia Restaurant. Our accommodations were for the Princess Grill, but we dined in the Britannia two times and found it to be just as enjoyable. In the Princess Grill, however, we were treated to table-side flambé dishes and the best service.
The 156-seat Todd English Restaurant is an alternative dining venue by reservation, with a per person service charge of $30 for dinner and $20 for lunch. The portions are immense and each course is scrumptious.
Todd English Restaurant: Click for Close-up
|fennel salad in pastry cup||bite-sized cheese tortelini|
|lobster and corn base for bisque||covered in broth at the table|
|chocolate molten cake||cake revealed - gooey goodness|
The buffet area is called the King's Court, and it is open to everyone. Within the King's Court are sub-stations with special foods such as "The Carvery" for hot sandwiches and "Lotus" for Asian cuisine. Of all the facets of QM2, I found this to be one of the few disappointments -- I found the buffet area difficult to navigate, and it took most of the cruise before I figured out which food was available at what times, and where. Most ships have obvious stations for pizza and hamburgers open most of the day, but we had trouble finding these items. Once we found the pizza, we tried it. It was under-sauced and over-cooked, made worse by the fact that no one seemed to want it, so it just baked harder under the heat lamps.
The Golden Lion Pub serves what sounds like a delightful menu of traditional English food including fish & chips, ploughmans, steak and kidney pie and shepherds pie. We never got to try it, unfortunately. There is no additional service charge to eat here.
|Golden Lion Pub Menu|
Sir Samuel's is a special coffee and tea bar, plus a wine bar. One can get espresso or cappuccino here all day, or order wine by the glass to help you select a vintage for your dinner at night. It is named after the Cunard founder, Samuel Cunard.
After Dinner Entertainment: Believe it or not, three of our six nights onboard were formal -- the second, third and fifth nights. The first formal night was the "Black and White Ball." For this affair a tuxedo was mandatory. Oh, it didn't say that in the pre-cruise literature, but everyone seemed to know it. Several gentlemen hosts were on hand to dance with the single ladies; the hosts were easy to spot because they wore white tuxedo jackets.
Black and White Ball: Click for Close-up
|QM2s dance orchestra||posing for formal nights - Kilts are accepted||dancing at Black n White Ball|
The ball itself went on for a few hours of active ballroom dancing. Needless to say, this is one of the most formal ships I have been on in a long time. The lights were low and actual dancing skills were not a prerequisite to getting on the immense dance floor. Almost everyone joined in to the music of the talented Queen Mary 2 orchestra, a full ensemble of rhythm section, brass and a young Sinatra-style crooner.
The next formal night was the Captain's Reception, and the final formal night was the "Ascot Ball," where the ladies were encouraged to get creative about making hats. The ladies in the know about this (previous Cunard cruisers) brought things from home to make the most elaborate hats possible. For the rest, bangles and ribbons were available before dinner.
Ascot Ball: Click for Close-up
Each night featured a show in the Royal Court Theater. Actually there were two shows each night, one for each dinner seating. The theater holds only 1,105 guests and is surprisingly small for a ship this size. Theaters on other mega-ships dwarf it, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in intimacy.
The Golden Lion Pub featured a jazz trio playing into the wee hours. The "disco" nightclub is called G32 for the berth where the ship was built. It has a hot six-piece Rhythm 'n Blues band doing hits from the '50's through today. Illuminations continues to show movies on the big screen each evening.
Staterooms The staterooms on Queen Mary 2 are generous in size; 78 percent are outside, 783 of those having verandahs. There are 12 interior staterooms with an atrium view. The ship has 81 Queens Grill suites and 76 Princess Grill Suites. I only saw the suite we stayed in, but at 381 square feet it was one of the most spacious I have ever occupied. It had a full bar area with an assortment of wine, champagne and drinking glasses. A bottle of chilled white wine was waiting for us upon arrival, plus bathrobes and slippers.
Princess Grill Suite: Click for Close-up
There was plenty of storage space, so this would be a grand ship for a world cruise. Our verandah had two full teak recliners and a table. All the staterooms have eight-feet-deep balconies and interactive TVs showing the daily menus for each restaurant and room service, your online account, pay-per-view movies, etc.
The Queen's Grill Suites are 506 square feet, with flat-screen TVs. There are also five duplex apartments onboard from 1,566 to 2,249 square feet, and four forward suites ranging from 796 to 1,194 square feet.
The Finale - New York City Our trans-Atlantic journey culminated in the greatest city in the world, New York. If anything can induce a patriotic flush in a U.S. citizen, it is seeing New York City in the same way so many immigrants experienced it for the first time.
The ship docks at a specially built pier in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Unfortunately, this means our approach would not take us up the Hudson River alongside Manhattan with the indredible views down each thoroughfare from Wall Street to 42nd street. Unfortunately, Queen Mary 2 is too long for the Manhattan Piers, but the upside to docking in Brooklyn is far easier access to the city's major airports.
Ted Scull's lecture on Cunard told us the Verrazano Bridge, gateway to New York harbor, was purposely built just high enough to clear the original Queen Mary smokestacks. Unfortunately, this became a limiting factor for the designer of Queen Mary 2, Stephen Payne, who wanted a smokestack proportionate to a ship two and a half times larger than the original.
He had no choice but to cut the one stack on Queen Mary 2 down by almost 20 feet from what would have been esthetically appropriate, but the important thing is that the ship clears the Verrazano Bridge, just barely. To get as close to the stack as possible for this event, we set our alarms for 4:30 knowing that the ship would dock at 6:00 a.m. before dawn we were positioned with hundreds of other people to witness our New York arrival.
The bridge is an arc connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island. Clearly outlined in glowing red lights we realized that if the ship does not sail dead center there would be a disaster. It actually appeared impossible to clear the satelite globes until we squeezed under, the smokestack following just a few seconds later.
Next on the horizon was the Statue of Liberty, fully lit and her torch aglow. As we sailed past her an NYPD helicopter circled the ship to say hello. We turned right, putting downtown Manhattan on our left just beginning to glow in the morning sun. What a beautiful sight.
Entering New York Harbor: Click for Close-up
|Approaching the Verrazano Bridge||The antennae go under||The smokestack barely clears|
|Looking Up the Hudson River||Downtown Manhattan||Statue of Liberty Aglow|
Summing Up The Queen Mary 2 saved the true ocean liner from extinction. The last liners built during the golden era have all retired in the last few years, or are about to in the next year. That is why it is so important Queen Mary 2 has kept the true liner tradition alive, not just in itineraries, but also in design. Queen Mary 2 especially shines on the oceanic crossings for which she was built.
The onboard activities are the most complete and well executed I have ever seen. The line is sometimes criticized because it is now owned by Carnival Corp., and some people think the new ships do not have the same cachet as the older liners like the Queen Elizabeth 2, which is set to retire next year. However, Carnival is well known for keeping out of the daily operations of the cruise lines it owns, and much of the Cunard staff has been with the company for decades. The company still exists solely because Carnival invested the time and money to make it so. Cunard has a right to be very proud of what it has accomplished.
To read the first part of this story on the Queen Mary 2, go to Part 1 of this article.