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This is a shortened version of my review originally posted in October 2006. It was suggested to me that, with the start of the Transatlantic season in a few weeks, some new members might find parts of this interesting and useful.
I am deeply indebted to Penny (Patwell) for her help in preparing this.
My plans to sail across started while I searched web sites for articles and photographs about the construction of the Queen Mary 2. I devoured any information and facts about her during this period. Very early on I had decided on a westbound crossing, 25 hour days and the entry into New York being the deciding factors. Eventually I selected and booked cabin 5032 for a westbound crossing departing 24th September 2006.
My reasons for choosing this cabin were several. To be on the port side, i.e. the “sunny” side on a westbound crossing. To have cabins both above me (so early morning deck cleaners and joggers would not disturb a “lie in”) and beneath (therefore a deck away from late night noise in the public rooms below). I made sure the cabin didn’t have a connecting door, wasn’t near a laundrette, stair tower or lifts (again, all because of potential noise issues). Others had said that she was very stable even in a heavy sea, so I was concerned that, if the crossing was smooth, I wouldn’t be aware I was at sea at all. So by booking a “sheltered” balcony cabin almost as far forward as possible, I would feel any motion going. I know some dread rough seas but I’ve never had problems with seasickness. I was accompanied by a friend who, before the voyage, was not as passionate about QM2 as I was. The voyage soon changed that!
I booked Cunard transfers and took advantage of the “Windsor Combination” that gave me 2 nights at the Sheraton New York and Towers Hotel on Seventh Avenue and a British Airways “World Traveller” (economy/coach) flight back to London Heathrow from JFK.
I began “chatting” to CC members on the roll call set up for this voyage, they all seemed very nice but when we met up on board, they really were the greatest people you could wish to meet and travel with. My thanks go to them for helping to make the crossing truly memorable.
In the summer I discovered that QM2 would not be going to Brooklyn, her usual destination after a westbound transatlantic, or to the west side piers in Manhattan, but would dock at Bayonne, New Jersey.
Six weeks or so before departure, I received the tickets etc. in a smart leather wallet. My voyage was really going to happen!
I won’t bore you with all the packing details but suffice to say that I took too much, didn’t need half of it! It’s easier for a man, three evenings are formal so all I needed was a dinner suit and dress shirts for these nights and some smart casual outfits for other evenings and the days at sea. I knew that the fourth night (in this case the Wednesday) would be an “informal” night (i.e. a jacket and tie for men). This would involve taking a jacket that I wouldn’t wear at any other time whilst on board or in New York. So I decided that this night I would dine in the “Kings Court” (where there is no dress code). I also decided to book a table at the “Todd English” restaurant for the last “formal” evening (Thursday on this trip).
Not wishing to be travelling to Southampton on the day of sailing (only away from it!) I also booked a hotel for the night before sailing. I found a room at Jury’s Hotel at the north end of the town centre (my first two choices were fully booked as this was also the weekend of the Southampton Boat Show).
Early Sunday, 24th September, after breakfast, I walked down to the piers at the south end of town, just to check that she had, indeed, arrived that morning. I had planned to try and board around 1pm and then have lunch. The cab turned up ten minutes early and so I found myself getting out of the taxi in the departures hall at exactly 11.30. I took the cases over to the conveyor belt and next saw them in the cabin. There was a very short wait for the usual processing of ticket, passport and on board identity card. After security I entered a waiting area (with small coffee shop) where I was given a boarding card with a number on it. I was prepared for a long wait (as I was so early) but within minutes they were calling out my number. Passing into a glass walled corridor (alongside the enormous grey bulk of this huge ship) a photograph was taken by the on-board photographers next to a ceremonial “welcome to Queen Mary 2” lifebuoy. Days later I declined to buy this picture as, dressed casually, with an overnight bag over one shoulder, coat in my hand, against a very forgettable background of airport style lounge seating, I looked surprised and uncomfortable. The fact that they charged $27.50 for this very unflattering photograph also helped decide against purchasing it.
I crossed into the ship and had my pass scanned. It was now 12.15pm, only 45 minutes after arriving at the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal. As we were at Southampton I entered at Deck 3 straight into the “Grand Lobby”. Those boarding at Bayonne for the next voyage, entered via one of the four “tender embarkation” areas on deck 1. These rooms, with bare walls and plain carpets, with much clutter in them, would be a very poor entry to this great ship. Thankfully the atrium, sorry, “Grand Lobby” leaves an altogether better first impression. It really is a superb space that works well. I looked down into the well with two curved staircases to deck 2 below and up through Decks 4, 5 and 6. Originally there was a glass deck-head above giving glimpses into Deck 7. This was removed to give more seating areas in the “Kings Court” on Deck 7 (but is still shown “Glass Floor“ in the very latest brochures). There are 2 glass walled “scenic” lifts/elevators in this lobby that go from Deck 2 to this “food court“ above. These lifts are designed to connect the three decks with the majority of the public rooms on them (Decks 2, 3 and 7) so be aware that they do not stop at decks 4, 5 or 6 (which are cabin decks).
Whilst there were many staff lined up in the lobby to “meet and greet” me, to say “welcome” and smile, none came forward to take me to my cabin. A crew member did ask me for my cabin number and I was then directed to the correct bank of lifts. Was this a problem? For me, not really. I had done my homework and knew where my cabin was and the quickest way to get there. But I would like to think that, if I looked as if I couldn’t carry my bag far, would find the layout confusing or needed assistance, that someone would be on hand to escort me.
There was a queue/line at the bank of six lifts that would take me up to deck 5. So, as it was only two decks, I walked up (I would recommend using the stairs whenever possible as it helps work off some calories!).
Inside the cabin, as promised, was a small plan of the Britannia Restaurant with the location of my reserved table marked. I had requested “early” seating at a table for two. My reason for not wanting late dining was because I feel happier dining early, taking in a show, retiring to one of the bars and then going to the night club. If I was cruising with a port to explore during the day (and therefore returning from a shore excursion), it would be better to have more to time to shower and change before dinner. Some like more time to attend to their hair and makeup (I have neither!). I knew before boarding that I was to get the requested time but this was the first chance to see if I was to share a table or get one for just me and my travelling companion. I was disappointed to see that my allotted table (299) was a table for four on the upper level of the Britannia Restaurant. I decided to ask if I could change tables. I also found a kind invitation to attend the CC “get together” the following day.
I had asked for the cabin to be laid out as two single beds. It was set up as a double. Obviously I requested this to be changed and, by time I returned later, it had been (although the correct size bed covers didn’t arrive for another 2 days). On the balcony the previous passengers had left the green cushions on the two resin deck chairs. They were soaking wet. After briefly inspecting the cabin (details later) I set off to explore.
"It's not the only way to cross, but it's the only way to cross"
This is a MUST READ for anyone who is planning a TA on QM2 for the first time...and a wonderful refresher for those who have done it and plan to go again. Pepper's review will take you on a day by day trip around the QM2 and point out all the wonderful places and things to do that are easy to overlook on a ship of this size.
His detailed descriptions are excellent, especially for the first timer, and when I took my first trip last December, I took a copy of this review with me so I wouldn't forget a thing he had pointed out. I referred to it often and highly recommend printing it out and doing the same. It's so easy to miss things.
And like the rest of us who have fallen in love with this ship, Pepper's passion for her shines through and I for one can't wait to read it again and look forward to November when I'll no doubt tuck it in the carry-on again!
Thanks, Pepper for taking the time to revise and post this again for all our new members to enjoy and learn from. This is one of the most helpful reviews you'll find folks.
Pepper is a tad delusional though... I do not deserve any credit for ANY assistance with this at all, beyond a spelling correction or occasional comma!! This is ALL Pepper's work, and well written work it is! I hope those who haven't seen it before will enjoy his trip on our favorite ship.
I took my travelling companion on a guided tour (I’m such a nerd, FAR too much homework). I went first to the Todd English Restaurant on Deck 8 aft to make the reservation for Thursday night. Then, on to the Britannia Restaurant, where, upon entering on Deck 3, I gave my name to a waiter, and asked to see table 299 (the table for four shown on the plan that I mentioned before). Imagine my surprise when I was shown to a table for two that on my plan was marked 276 but had the number 299 on it! It was on the upper level (port side) but overlooking the central well down into Deck 2 below. I was very happy with the table and its position. I still can’t explain this mix-up. My reason for wishing to have a table for two was because of a very bad previous experience when sharing a table with the “family from hell” (no, not my own).
I went into Illuminations (cinema/planetarium/lecture room), Royal Court Theatre and the Queens Room (the huge ballroom), all on Decks 2 or 3. Then up to the King’s Court (Deck 7) for lunch. From all I had read previous to the voyage I was expecting chaos here. There are three self service (during the daytime) “stations” “The Carvery“, “La Piazza“ and “Lotus” (plus an extra small dinning area (the “Chef’s Galley) that seemed rarely to open during the day). I’d heard tales of huge queues and confusing layout, of being unable to find a table, of fights (almost) over tables near the windows. I have to say that, because of the physical interruptions to this area caused by elevators and stair towers, the aforementioned scenic lifts, kitchens, engine room (funnel) uptakes etc. the layout is, at first, confusing, esp. at night when, without a view of the sea beyond the windows to refer to, some could be unsure which way is forward and which aft. However, if this was one huge room, it really would feel like an industrial cafeteria!
I had breakfast almost every day in the King’s Court, lunch on several occasions, dinner once. I never had trouble finding a “good” table (and many times, one by a window with a view onto the promenade deck). It became easier to find my way around the layout after a couple of visits. Whilst I am talking about the Kings Court I will mention the food and service here.
I used The Carvery or La Piazza for breakfast or lunch. Therefore I have no experience of Lotus or Chef‘s Galley. The food quality was variable. I enjoy a cooked breakfast. On some days the sausages and bacon were poor, with a very odd taste. The bacon was grey in colour once or twice. The mushrooms were also below standard. The overall impression was of low quality ingredients that had been over-cooked (or kept warm for far too long). On other occasions I had something healthy (fruit etc.). This was better, and by the end of the voyage, I had given up on a cooked meal at the start of the day. Lunchtime food showed an improvement. No meal really stood out but the overall standard was better. Sweets/puddings and pastries were universally good, sandwiches excellent. However, frequently, coffee machines were out of order. It would help if the preset amount of coffee that is dispensed by these machines bore some relationship to the size of the cups alongside them. They filled to just over half way. If you take your coffee white, you would still have a quarter empty cup. As I take my coffee black, this meant pressing the button twice and then removing the cup when nearly full leaving the rest of the still flowing coffee to fill up the drip tray, poor attention to detail. Several times the tongs to help with self selection of food were missing.
But my worst complaint about the ’Court was the over-attentive staff. No sooner had I put a knife or fork down (sometimes, still with food left to eat) than the plate was whipped from under my nose. Glasses (sometimes a quarter full) were also removed from in front of me. I couldn’t go to get another coffee and expect my napkin to still be there when I returned (even when my companion guarded it). Several times I had my table cleaned whilst I sat at it with my drink, finishing the meal. I felt rushed and a bit ”in the way”.
As I said, I planned to eat in the ’Court one night. I used the telephone in the cabin the day before to book a table at The Carvery (several people were turned away because they hadn’t got a reservation). Each evening, most of the ‘Court is divided up by screens and converted to waiter service, with only one of the four remaining as a buffet/self service area. The food was far better, quite good really. The service, however, was just as poor. A waiter introduced himself to people at the next table “I will be your server tonight”. He then disappeared. Another waiter took their order and mine. The first returned and proceeded to give my order to the other couple. They complained. My food disappeared. A few minutes later my order reappeared and came to me. The couple (who had ordered first) waited a further 10 minutes before their meal arrived.
Now you’re asking, why not eat in the Britannia at breakfast and lunch? Well I tried the breakfast in this main restaurant. It was very good, great food, well cooked. However, because I was seated as the waiters decided (not at my usual table) I found myself at a table (for 8) in a corner of the lower level. The service was excellent (as always here) but seemed slow for a meal such as breakfast (my perception, not the fault of the staff who were just great). There is so much to do on this ship that, unlike an evening meal, I didn’t wish to spin the breakfast out. Further, had I been sharing a table with the same people each day (as I nearly did for dinner) then I would have had a chance to build a relationship with them. The thought of eating with yet another set of complete strangers at every meal, answering the same questions, making the same small talk, ensured I didn’t go back. I’ve since learnt that I could have requested a table for two, even at breakfast.
There is a “pub” on board called the “Golden Lion” (Deck 2). I found myself having several lunches there. The room is comfortable (if noisy at night). The menu is limited (3 or 4 choices) but the food is very, very good. Again, I’d read of problems getting a table in this popular bar, but I didn’t have any difficulty. The “fish ‘n chips” was outstanding. The food service quick and very efficient. I can see that some might feel that it was a “theme park” view of a typical English pub but, English pubs these days are theme parks. I returned several times during the crossing for lunch and a pint or three (Stella). I stayed away at night however; there were other places I preferred for evening atmosphere.
Now, re-reading what I’ve written, I seem to be a little negative, finding fault. So now to redress the balance.
The Britannia Restaurant is outstanding in all respects. This room has the “WOW” factor. There are two main levels with three smaller tiers on the upper one. This gives most diners a view of the central area where there is an illuminated dome over a well between decks. The height under this dome is almost the equivalent of four decks. There is plenty of space between tables. A quartet plays most evenings. There are tall candles on some tables which add to the ambiance. On the “formal” evenings it has an atmosphere that I’ve never seen or experienced anywhere on land. The food was first rate, both in the choices available and the quality. Each course always arrived fast, hot (where it should be!) and perfectly cooked, prepared and presented, even to the extent of ensuring that the Cunard crests were always facing me at the “top” of the plate. There were always ample amounts without me either wanting more or leaving food on the plate.
My waiters, Viorel and Noel were superb. Helpful, always there when I wanted them, polite, and seemed very disappointed when I failed to appear for two evenings (as outlined previously). My Sommelier was equally attentive and very informed. Although I finished a bottle of wine the first night, he was more than happy to keep my half empty bottle from the second evening and it was awaiting me on the table the night following. I asked if I could have copies of the menus from my crossing on the last night and within minutes, I had them all. Each night the menu changed and every one was a delight with many choices. I was also informed (without asking) that I could order certain items “off menu” if I found nothing to my liking or simply desired steak that night, for example. Viorel and Noel simply couldn’t have been more professional.
"It's not the only way to cross, but it's the only way to cross"
Pepper: What a wonderful review! Thank you so much for assisting us "virgins". I am sailing on the QM2 three weeks from today (!!) and anxiously looking forward to it. I am definitely not a virgin to cruising -- I have been on over 30 cruises but this will be my first on Cunard.
Penny: Ditto to above. I just received a copy of your book and look forward with delight to reading it.
To return to my diary of the voyage. After lunch I returned to unpack. A few notes about the cabin. This was similar to many hotel rooms we’ve all stayed in on land, maybe slightly smaller but certainly big enough for two adults to share. There is a small ’fridge in the room (part of the desk area) with a few cans of soft drinks inside (you will be charged if you drink them). There are lots of hangers provided on the rails in the wardrobe, which also contains the safe. A design flaw is that one rail slides forward, right next to the cabin door, into the short passageway into the room proper. This would stop you or your partner opening the cabin door and coming in when it is in the “out” position. Several drawers were available around the cabin. Suitcases (just) fit under the beds. There was no smell of cigarette smoke in the room but there was a large burn hole on one of the bolsters on the bed. There is a hairdryer in the desk. There are magazines of the sort that you find in airline seat backs, also a book about Cunard. Postcards (showing the QM2 at sea), writing paper and envelopes are provided.
There are two “English” sockets and two “American” ones. These are, however, placed so low, close to the desk, that the plug on my battery charger (camera) would not fit flush. There is a large heavy folder full of useful information about the ship and its services. I was told by the cabin steward (Olivia) to put the “do not disturb” sign out whenever I was “in“. The TV is a marvellous piece of work, besides acting as a TV with many channels, it also enabled me to send/receive e-mails (there is a small fee), order room service (for which there is no extra charge, but I‘d tip the steward in cash), check the balance on my on-board account and much more. A free basic newspaper is delivered each day, mine concentrated on UK news, do American passengers get US news based ones? I also could have ordered copies of my usual newspaper to be delivered, for a fee. There was a time when you were cut off from the world while at sea, not anymore.
The Shower room (no bath at this cabin level, no great loss) is small but more than adequate. There are “Canyon Ranch” (the on-board spa complex, Deck 7) lotions supplied. Loads of towels and two smart bathrobes with “Cunard” embroidered in gold coloured thread. I never saw the complimentary slippers. There is a small amount of storage in here. However, once the curtain is closed, the shower itself is very dark (there is no light in there) and with little room to stand back out of the water flow. A fellow passenger said that the shower was, however, bigger than on Princess Ships where you “soaped the walls and spun around”.
The bed was very comfortable. The first night I was kept awake however, the door to the balcony would not stay closed and “whistled” all night. Only in daylight could I see that it required brute force to lock it (and then it rattled). Lighting in the room was very good and added to the feeling of luxury. The balcony was a good size. However, I barely used it. The wet cushions never did dry out even after being brought “indoors“. Being a “sheltered” balcony there was little wind, unless I leaned out. I had the chance to go onto the balcony (near the stern) of a Deck 8 cabin later in the voyage and the wind was much stronger here.
My good impressions of Olivia after she had sorted out the bed problem were slightly let down by the lack of “turndown” service on two nights. It also took two ’phone calls and a visit to the Pursers Desk (Deck 2) to get the bathrobe delivered that I had decided to purchase. On the plus side she did keep the whole cabin and bathroom completely clean and spotless. And I mean really clean. She also seemed to replace all the towels almost hourly! During the whole voyage I never once heard a sound from any of the cabins surrounding mine or from the passageway.
My family had come to Southampton to “wave me off”. One of the disadvantages of early seating for dinner (of course this only applies to dining in Britannia, the Grills have “open seating” for dinner) is the problem of the “sailaway” party around the two pools and terraces at the stern. Only you can make the choice as to either attend this or be on time for dinner. It would be difficult to do both. Several times I’ve seen the ship leave at 6.15 or later. As you are supposed to be seated between 6 and 6.30 this poses a dilemma. If you wait on deck until after departure you run the risk of running into queues at the entrance to the dining room or, worse still, arriving too late to order. It is a long walk from the stern to the lifts and then down several decks. However, later in the voyage I saw a couple arrive over an hour late (after 7pm) and still their order was taken. We departed at 6.03pm to the sound of “New York, New York” being played at the stern.
I decided to “sail away” in my cabin. I had pre-ordered champagne months previously for this. It was waiting for me in an ice bucket on the small table in the lounge area (this table can be raised for “in cabin” dining). I had chilled the glasses in the ’fridge during the afternoon and asked for fresh ice in the bucket. By booking a cabin as far forward as possible on the port side I ensured that I could see my family on the quay below my balcony (the public are only allowed to get to an area right by the bow). I’m very glad I did this as by the time the stern was passing my parents position, the ship was too far from the quay for them to have been able to pick out my face in the crowd. The photographs they took of me and the ones I took of them were so good that I didn’t miss the party on the stern. An alternative (done by some on my trip) was to stay at the “sailaway” party and then dine in the ’Court or Todd English the first night, where they had made a booking to dine later on, well after sailing time.
The meal in the Britannia was excellent. Across to starboard I could see the Isle of Wight through the windows of this vast room. I think the ship is 135 feet wide, so those windows are a long way off! By the time the meal was finished it was dark on deck.
A quick “once around the promenade” (Deck 7) in a feeble effort to work off dinner. Three times around is just over a mile. Not tonight. Then to one of the two outside scenic lifts that run from here to Deck 11. These lifts seemed, strangely, to be a “hidden” part of the ship. On each deck I would seek out where they were located as, unless I did that, I’d easily miss them. On entering I noticed that, although they go from Deck 7 to 11, there is no button for deck 10. There is however an “electronic key” slot (similar to the one on my cabin door) on the wall of the lift. This enables those passengers in the two outer “royal suites” on this deck to access their cabins directly from these lifts.
Besides the 4 stair towers there are also 22 public lifts (plus others to assist those who can’t manage short stairs at changes of levels in some of the passageways).
"It's not the only way to cross, but it's the only way to cross"
I am reading your review as if I had never read your first one and as if I had never been on the ship. You have the ability to captivate the reader and make him/her feel as if they are on the voyage with you. Thank you so much for posting this. It will be so helpful to anyone going on a transatlantic voyage or any voyage on the QM2.
I hope you are doing well and that you will soon be booking another voyage.
I took the lift to deck 9 where it opened directly into the “Commodore Club”, a superb observation lounge-bar three decks below the Bridge and overlooking the bow. From this room I could see a full 180 degree view ahead. The forward wall gently curves across the whole width of the ship and, towards the centre, is quite steeply raked. This gives this lounge a unique feel. There are raised platforms towards the rear of the room so even those seated there can see the ocean. The bar is in the centre and has a huge illuminated model of the QM2 behind it. On most evenings the piano here was played and this enhanced the sophisticated atmosphere created by the lighting and decor. There is a plaque dedicated to Commodore Warwick on the port side forward wall. The waiters and bar staff were the very best that I encountered whilst on board. One remembered my drink from the first night and I never had to ask for it by name again for the rest of the crossing. At the rear of this fantastic room are two smaller lounges (port side “The Board Room” which, with its faux fireplace, reminded me of a drawing room on an old liner, the other, starboard side “Churchill’s Cigar Lounge” was a small remnant of the old “smoking rooms” on the great liners of the past).
After soaking up all this atmosphere over one or three drinks it was time to take the lifts (centrally placed behind this room) down to Deck 3 and then the long, long walk to the “G32” nightclub (at the stern). I walked along the whole length of the public part of the ship from forward of the Illuminations cinema. After passing alongside this and then the Royal Court Theatre, I crossed through the Grand Lobby, then along the broad corridor that runs between the engine room uptakes to either side behind the huge bass-relief panels (be sure to look out for Homer Simpson on the panel depicting North America. No clues as to his location, but it helps if your eyesight is better than mine and, unlike me, you search when sober).
Beyond this my path seemed blocked by the Britannia Restaurant. Not so. By turning to starboard (or indeed, port) I was able to go through the art gallery (or the photo gallery) to the entrance of the Queens Room. After the low deck-head in the two galleries that allowed me to by-pass the restaurant, the height, breadth and sheer size of this ballroom came as a surprise. Above me hung two huge chandeliers, in a dome over the dance floor, the largest at sea. Like the restaurant, this room takes up the entire width of the ship, and is the equivalent of over 2 decks high. In order to get to the nightclub, I passed through this vast room. On several evenings I paused for some time here to take in the sight of many passengers enjoying the band whilst showing off some very fancy footwork.
The G32 nightclub is on two levels. Unlike the rest of the public rooms which have a strong “30’s” feel about them (in places, clearly inspired or copied from the original Queen Mary) this room seems, vaguely, to owe something to the 50’s. At times there is a live band otherwise a D.J. I entered on the lower level (the balcony is reached via either of two sets of stairs). I really liked this room which stays open till 5am (I was long gone before then!). It was occasionally busy but never full. I didn’t go there every night. OK, I didn’t go there one night.
"It's not the only way to cross, but it's the only way to cross"
Pepper, This is SUCH a good read that I have to own up to something.....
I've cheated and gone back to read your original posts!!
The time and effort which you have spent on them is monumental and truly appreciated. Just reading them transports me back on board as I mentally follow your journey around the ship. Your enthusiasm is contagious - not that I hadn't already caught the bug! Thank-you for sharing this with us - surely a job in travel writing awaits......
The first full day at sea was a day of wonderful weather, sunny, warm, with clear blue skies and very little movement of the ship (other than forward at over 25 knots). Many passengers were soaking up the sun around the two pools at the stern of the ship on Decks 6 and 8. A few were in the pools or hot tubs. Astern the wake from the propellers left their mark in the great North Atlantic. I wanted to say here that the sight was unique, the wake from four props churning away, unlike most cruise ships which only have two. But, given that, when I crossed, she was running on three, I can’t. By November she will be back to having four. As I watched the wake, I could tell which side had two props and which one.
After taking loads of photographs of these wonderful scenes at the stern, I made my way around the promenade. Here there are real “steamer” chairs with green cushions on them. There were many passengers here, enjoying the sun (on the port side) and the view. Some were reading, some sleeping. I easily found an empty chair and joined them in that age old tradition of just looking at the sea. It was wonderful, simply wonderful. That chair was one of the most comfortable I’ve ever sat in. I don’t think I “dropped off” but wouldn’t be surprised if I did. The weather was so good that I didn’t spend much of the day indoors. Every time I paused, during my exploration of the outside decks, there was a view begging a photograph to be taken. At the very rear of Deck 8, on either side, are small “docking bridge” extensions that stick out beyond the side of the ship. These allowed me to look forward, past the superstructure, almost the whole enormous length of the ship. Below me, the bow wake spread out across the water. Around us, the view was of nothing but blue ocean, sparkling in the sun.
Before lunch I made the first of many visits to the Library (forward on Deck 8). This visit enabled me to sign the CC book that is kept at the desk here and to have a quick look around both the library itself and the adjacent bookshop. I will return to the library later but I must say here that the bookshop is excellent. Many nautical books for sale of course but also others on various subjects. A wide range of cards (I bought a non-nautical birthday card later on for a fellow passenger’s 40th) and other items were available. A selection of small gifts at various price points tempted me. But I had days left to browse this properly.
That afternoon I met up with my fellow CC passengers. We gave a “bon voyage” toast and had a very pleasant time together. Despite a fear that, on this huge ship, we wouldn’t run into each other again, I was lucky enough to be able to see all again on a few occasions. I would count myself very lucky to travel once more with such lovely people.
After this I went out on deck to soak up the sun. There were many things I could (should?) have been doing indoors, but the sea was calling to me. Because of high winds, the outside observation area directly below the bridge and the open topmost deck (13) were closed off (and would remain so for a few days). Late that afternoon I made my first visit to the Bridge Viewing area (Deck 12, Port side). There are big picture windows here giving great views of the bridge, computer screens, navigation equipment and the sea beyond. Sometimes I had this small area to myself. On this visit however, there was a passenger loudly explaining everything to his companion (and me). He clearly felt that he should have been on the other side of the glass where his knowledge and expertise would be of great benefit to the Officers. I left.
Monday night was the first Formal evening. The dress code is enforced in the Britannia, Grills and Todd English dining rooms. There was the chance to go to the Captain’s reception in the Queens Room at 5.15. Because I spent so long on deck I was nowhere near ready in time for this and so headed straight for the restaurant (there is another reception for second seating guests at 7.45). So I missed the chance to have a photograph taken shaking hands with Captain Bernard Warner.
On the way to eat we came across the photographers set up in one of the broad central passageways leading to the entrance of the Britannia. As has been observed by others, when QM2 was being built, provision could have been made to conceal the lights, cables and backdrops needed, into the walls and floors. It looked really poor to see cables stuck down with gaffer tape and yellow plastic “wet floor” signs set up around the lighting rigs.
We gave into temptation and had photographs of us taken against a backdrop of the main staircase on Titanic (there were several other choices). As the photographs cost $27.50 each, I suggested we should buy one picture and a pair of scissors.
A few days later we went to the Photograph Gallery to inspect the four pictures that had been taken that evening (and the one from embarkation). I noticed that other passengers had the additional choice of pictures taken at the “sailaway” party and from the Captain’s reception. Of the four, we really liked only one. We ordered a copy each.
Just after 6pm the restaurant filled up with guests coming from the Captain’s party, all arriving together. The ladies looked fantastic, wonderful frocks and gowns. A few jewels on display. They had taken great care with their hair and looked really glamorous. The men were mostly in black dinner suits, with a few formal business suits and one or two ivory coloured tuxedo jackets (to my eyes they looked out of place on the north Atlantic in late September, but that’s just me). To look around the room at us all, dressed for dinner, was wonderful. The whole atmosphere was beyond words. That night, in the Queens Room, it was the night of the “Black and White” Ball. Everywhere around the ship, I saw ladies dressed for this. I wanted to complement all of them for their evening gowns and attire. They looked stunning. They had taken enormous trouble to look breathtaking and had more than succeeded.
After dinner I went out on deck for a short stroll. The wind had got up a bit and, for the first time, I could feel some slight movement of the ship. At no time on the voyage did I feel any rolling (i.e. side to side movement), the four stabilisers cured that. However I could feel some pitching (fore and aft) that night. It was never bad; I didn’t feel it when low down in the hull where the restaurants and public rooms are, only if high up and or far forward.
So that’s where I went, up and forward to the Commodore Club! Here I could feel the room move around and this was before I had a martini. I was joined by my fellow traveller and then we got chatting to a guy from Tampa who was travelling with his elderly mother. They were returning home after an extended tour of Europe. She was unwell for parts of the voyage and so he was, in effect, travelling alone in the evenings after dinner, whilst she had a good night’s sleep and got well again. Later I went down to deck 3 and the Royal Court Theatre. I wanted to see the show “Rock At The Opera”. The theatre was another room on board that, once I sat and looked around, made me say “this can’t be on a ship”. It’s as big (over 1,100 seats) as many “West End” or “Broadway” venues. Bigger than some. The stage has a “revolve”, lifting platforms and a deep orchestra pit that rises up to stage level when needed. The show itself was spectacular. Wonderful. As professional as any I’ve seen on land and a lot better than many. It lasts around an hour. And what an hour! If it had been on again during the crossing, I would have gone a second time.
After this I went back up to the ‘Club. A couple of drinks later, all three of us made our way aft, to G32.
"It's not the only way to cross, but it's the only way to cross"
The next morning’s weather was very different from the day before. Thick fog meant that I couldn’t see more than a few dozen feet down the deck. Almost all surfaces were soaking wet. The fog horn sounded every couple of minutes. We were running at a reduced speed (so it seemed, as I could hardly see the ocean, way below me, it was difficult to be sure). As the fog cleared slightly on occasions, I became aware of long slow swells (27 feet high I was told later) in the water. This caused the ship to noticeably pitch her bow and stern. Towards the bow, it was occasionally difficult to keep my footing as the ship rose and fell. I loved it. At last this 5 star hotel felt like a real ship.
I went up to the Deck 12 pool, “The Pavilion”. But, because of how the water was sloshing around in the pool tank, it was closed. I had noticed that the two pools at the stern were open (being lower down, there was less movement here) so that’s where I went. After changing in a small room to one side of the deck, I got into one of the hot tubs. I sat there, with the rising steam from the water being whipped away horizontally by the wind. The decks were almost deserted. A few brave souls, wrapped up against this wind, while passing, looked at me and thought, I’m certain, “he must be mad”.
I was sitting, outside, in a hot tub, in a thick fog, on the deck of a liner, speeding across the ocean at over 20 knots. I was in heaven.
And to think, some people fly across.
After lunch I decided to investigate more of deck 7 and then go the Grand Lobby and have a look at the shops.
The gym stretches across the front of the superstructure of the ship, forward on Deck 7, almost the entire width. I confess here that, whilst I had every intention of using it, I never did. I always seemed to be able to say “tomorrow”. Usually, there were many people in there, even very early in the morning. Moving aft, I passed the entrance to the Canyon Ranch Spa complex (another facility I didn’t use). Inside, there is a pool on this level with its attendant massage and therapy rooms and above on Deck 8, the hair and beauty salon. A passageway took me further aft until it passed the “Winter Garden” room. This large area was frequently either closed off for a private function or otherwise an “Art Auction” was going on. The only times I was there was once during lifeboat drill before we left Southampton and, on the last day, I sneaked in when staff were moving furniture around after such a function (an Art Auction, not a lifeboat drill).
It’s a most unusual room, poorly decorated and laid out. Opposite the bar, along the back wall, there are the rusting remains of a water feature (looked as if it hadn’t worked for years). I can see the need for a large room to hold these Art sales and the like, but feel (hope) that the décor of this room will be changed very soon (please?). Because of its width and the fact that, unlike the Queens Room, it is only one deck high, I really felt that the ceiling was low above my head. This, despite having a blue sky painted on it! I really didn’t like this space (like you hadn’t guessed).
Beyond is the previously mentioned “Kings Court”. Aft of that are the entrances to the Queens and Princess Grill Restaurants and the Queens Grill Bar. To one side of the Princess Grill is another of the “hidden” parts of QM2, a broad staircase that gives access to the Deck 8 pool, hot tubs and Terrace Bar. This stairway seems little used (as is the door at the aft end of Deck 6, which gives access to the Deck 6 pool).
I retraced my steps to the ‘Court and in the middle of this complex (!) I took a scenic lift down to deck 3 and the shops. Here, around the Grand Lobby, are branches of H Stern, Chopard, Hermes etc. (i.e. the sort of shops where I go in to be appalled at the prices). They must take money but I never saw anyone in them buying. However it is a nice area in which to window browse. On the port side is the large gift/souvenir shop, and, beyond that, the “duty free” area. The gift shop has a large selection of “QM2” or “Cunard” marked items for sale. There is an area devoted to Harrods and, further inside, lots of clothing (tee shirts etc.) all printed “I’ve cruised on the QM2” or such like. There are big selections of mugs, ‘fridge magnets, key rings, towels and tea pots. Some of the goods are quite tacky, much of it is better (obviously, all the items I selected were the very height of good taste).
I then passed into another shop where there are many things for sale that passengers might have forgotten to pack, such as men’s and ladies clothing, watches, ties, scarves, chocolates, toiletries and non-prescription medicines. There is also a (duty free) selection of spirits, wines and cigarettes. Duty free items purchased are delivered to your cabin on the last morning. If you smoke, you cannot buy cigarettes here for consumption on board but can purchase them at the bars around the ship. As I don’t, this wasn’t a problem.
Beyond this useful shop I entered “Sir Samuel’s Wine Bar”. This comfortable room, with its modern decoration and wood floor, was just what I needed after all the frantic retail therapy I had just “endured“. So I had a glass of wine. Purely for research purposes you understand. Verdict: All shopping centres should have a wine bar at the end of them. To one side is the “Photo Shop” where cameras and film (remember film?) can be purchased.
After that I made my way to “Illuminations” for a planetarium show. I obtained the (free) ticket early in the morning of the show from “Cunard connexions” on Deck 2 forward of the Royal Court Theatre. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, this 22 minute show was great. I got there early (no reserved seats) and was first in. I sat under the very centre of the dome that drops down from the ceiling of this theatre. There are 150 reclining seats (coloured red) in the middle of this room which are used for these planetarium shows (for films and lectures, Illuminations seats over 450). In very rough weather they cancel these presentations in case any slight flexing of the hull results in the dome getting stuck in the down position. Due to the slight disorientation caused by some fast movement on the huge screen that filled my field of vision, a glass of wine, and being this far forward (with the bow rising and falling), at times I felt I really was flying in space!
Dinner that evening was again formal. I was beginning to feel that from now on I will always dress for dinner! There were noticeably less people dining tonight, my waiter suggested that seasickness was the reason. Afterwards I made my way to the ‘Club for an after dinner drink, met up with my companion and American pal and then went down to the Royal Court Theatre.
We found seats in the front row of the lower level of the theatre. The entertainment here this evening was provided by Jon Courtenay. This guy is brilliant. Multi-talented. He has a great voice, can play the piano astoundingly well, and his joke delivery was so good there were tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. He had a way of looking at the audience that made you laugh when he’d almost said nothing at all! If you see his name on of any cruise or crossing, do yourself a favour, do not miss this guy.
Afterwards it was back up to the ‘Club for a few glasses of “falling over water” and then to G32. This night, a little less busy.
"It's not the only way to cross, but it's the only way to cross"
The next day started overcast but the swell had gone. The speed had picked up again (we would be doing 25 knots for the remainder of the crossing). I went up to the “Pavilion Pool” on Deck 12. This pool is under a retractable glass roof (although I never saw it open) and, once the sun had come out, the whole area became quite warm. I swam a lot and then sat in one of the hot tubs next to the pool. I got chatting to a lady who was travelling “Queens Grill” She said the service in her dining room was “astounding”. She hadn’t travelled with Cunard before or, indeed, crossed transatlantic but had taken many cruises. I told her that I was eating in the Britannia and she said how much she preferred the look of that room to her own restaurant.
Before sailing I had been concerned that the Cunard “Class” system (Queens Grill, Princess Grill and Britannia Restaurant) on QM2 would make itself obvious. How wrong I was. As a “Britannia” passenger there were only two small restaurants and a bar, a travel/tour booking office (the “Concierge Lounge“) and a tiny deck area that I couldn’t use. Other than that I had the complete run of this huge ship. At no time, as I walked about, could I tell in which grade (or “class”) of cabin my fellow passengers were travelling. OK, on deck 7, “D” staircase foyer, there were discrete signs “Queens/Princess Grill guests only” outside their restaurants and bar. And, as I descended outside from deck 12 to deck 8 (towards the stern), I passed through the tiny “Queens Grill Guests Only” area on Deck 11 and noticed the rolled towels on deck chairs emblazoned “CUNARD” (whereas the ones on the other decks were plain). But it would have been very easy for me to have missed these remnants of a bygone era. The days when huge parts of a liner were “off limits” are gone. Everywhere I went I was treated by all the staff as if I was the most important person on board. I don’t know if the bar staff could tell when they “swiped” my “sign and sail” card which cabin I was in, and therefore which “class”. But, if they could, it was never obvious. All the crew were supremely professional, courteous and polite.
Lunch was taken in the “Golden Lion” pub on Deck 2. It was busy but I found a table easily. Later I returned to the Library and borrowed a couple of books (2 at a time are allowed), both on Ocean Liners. There are 8,000 books here (the largest collection at sea) so I easily found something to interest me. There are several computer terminals in this room (as well as those down on deck 2 at the seven room “Cunard Connexions” computer centre). At the front of the library are highly prized seats placed in front of windows looking out over the bow. Anyone sat here seemed to be glued to their chair, unwilling to get up (unless nature called) and lose these coveted positions. I could have heard a pin drop in this room. It was always busy and clearly not enough seats had been provided. I loved it. Big sofas, magazines, great books and staff who couldn’t have been more helpful. Yet another reason (yes, there is another!) I booked my cabin where I did, was because I knew that I would spend a lot of my time on board in the Library and the Commodore Club. Both only a lift ride away from my cabin!
That evening, dinner was taken in the Carvery of the Kings Court. After eating I went straight to the Royal Court to see a one hour version of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde performed by students of RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. I thought that there would be so much taken out in order to condense it to sixty minutes that all my favourite lines would be cut, but not so, most were there. My only concern was that they rushed some of the wittiest lines. But as I can’t act to save my life, what do I know. I thought they put lots of energy into their performance, and having a man play Aunt Augusta was a master stroke. They tried very hard to connect with the audience and received great applause.
Afterwards, by way of a change from the Commodore Club, I made my way to the “Chart Room” bar on Deck 3. This bar is elegant and sophisticated. A jazz band plays next to a small circular dance floor most evenings. There are huge glass maps on the walls of this bar which, like several others, looked better at night when lit properly rather than in the full light of day. A lovely room in which to “people watch” over a glass of scotch. Forward of this is the “Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar”. I passed through this room on several occasions but never found the time to stop and enjoy a glass.
"It's not the only way to cross, but it's the only way to cross"
The following morning was so good that I took several photographs from my balcony and a few more from the promenade. The day was bright and clear. Again, I spent the morning on deck 12 in the Pavilion Pool. I love to swim. After many lengths of this pool I laid out on the lounge chairs, totally relaxed. Eventually, I dragged myself over to the bar and ordered a coke. I read one of my library books and then I dozed for a while. Upon waking, I got off the very comfortable chair and back in the water. Later, in the hot tub, I got chatting to a lovely couple who were also going to be staying at the Sheraton Hotel in New York. A band turned up and started to play. I only heard a little as by then I was hungry.
After lunch I returned to the Library and read for a while. I could get easily accustomed to this life of indulgence. Some days I live entirely for pleasure! As the weather was so good, I took many more photographs around the ship, inside and out. They had re-opened three outside areas that had been closed so far because of high winds. The observation area just below the Bridge, Deck 13, and an area at the foot of the “bridge screen” behind the cranes on the bow.
The observation area (forward on Deck 11) follows the curve of the Bridge above it. It is a great place to really enjoy the ocean. From here I was lucky enough to see many of the dolphins that swam alongside the ship on several occasions. And, there, yes, it’s a whale! As we sped past it seemed to play in the water off the starboard bow, just for us. I tried to get a picture but, by time it had surfaced and I’d pressed the shutter button…. it had gone, back below the waves. Time and again I tried. Marvellous. Immediately behind this open deck is the “Atlantic Room“, a small semi-circular space used almost daily for bridge and other card games.
I went up two more decks and came outside on Deck 13. Here, above the Bridge, is another forward observation area, this time protected from the wind by a thick glass screen. Moving aft I found a pair of sports courts. Beyond these is the “Regatta Bar”, an outside bar that didn’t open on this crossing. There are more hot tubs here and a very shallow “splash pool”. The pool was drained of water but the depth when full could only have been a couple of inches! The hot tubs were open and working however. Moving aft, there is a large open deck area that once had “hover only” marked on it (for helicopters). Next, I came to an observation platform reached by way of some steps. It was not large but is the highest public part of the ship (I liked to refer to it as “Deck 14” but that makes it sound larger and grander than it is). This is where I would be when we entered New York Harbor.
I then came to the glass roof over the Pavilion Pool and descended to Deck 12. After passing alongside this pool area (which also has golf simulator ranges, ping-pong tables and a comfortable bar), I could see the massive bulk of the huge black and red funnel towering over me. I then walked past one of the huge illuminated signs “Queen Mary 2”, again, the largest at sea. Aft of this, on the port side, is the “Boardwalk Café”, which also didn’t open while I was on board, and to starboard, the kennels.
As I’d now reached the rear of deck 12, I had below me the terraces of decks cascading all the way down to deck 6. What a sight.
I went down to deck 7 and then forward. The promenade on QM2 is on one level (no steps), and is an “open promenade” almost all the way. But at the bow it is enclosed as it curves around the front of the superstructure at the base of the bridge screen. This enables passengers to walk all the way around deck 7 in all but the very roughest of weather (when the whole promenade is closed). There are windows looking into it from the gym and windows looking out towards the bow. Two doors give access further forward. Here there are spare propellers (two missing on this trip). They are arranged like a modern art installation. There were two cranes and the cargo hatch ahead of me. It was a popular place once it was re-opened.
I went there at night once or twice for a breath of air. The rest of the ship was brightly lit but here (so that no light could be seen from the Bridge and spoil night vision) was pitch black. Above me the night sky was alive with more stars than I’ve seen for years.
That night was the last formal evening and I had booked the “Todd English Restaurant” for dinner (at 7.30). I had a pre-dinner drink in the Commodore Club and then made my way aft on deck 8, starboard side. The entrance hall is circular with a red, buttoned and stuffed, circular sofa in it. The décor is unlike any other room on the ship. Inside there is a large bar area. I approached the Maitre ‘d and gave my name. He looked disdainfully at me (I knew immediately that I was in for a gastronomic delight there and then. Any restaurant that employs head waiters who wouldn’t normally allow me in their dining room must be good). He waved a waiter over and, after deciding which corner of the room I would be the least offensive in, told the waiter the table number. He couldn’t have been less welcoming. I was in heaven.
After the huge Britannia Restaurant I got a taste of what it must be like dining in the smaller, more intimate atmosphere of the Grill rooms (although even they are larger than Todd English). The restaurant is wonderfully lit and decorated. Every little detail of the table setting had been well thought out.
The meal was beyond my expectations. I cannot put into words the flavours and tastes that I savoured that night. There is a $30 per head additional charge for dining here and it was worth every one of those dollars. The service was outstanding. I knew before boarding the ship that the last course was going to have to be “Chocolate Fallen Cake”. I’d heard so much about it. My god was it good. I didn’t want to leave. I’d eaten so much and so richly that I very nearly couldn’t. The restaurant was full when I did, eventually, make my way, reluctantly, out.
I’m probably not giving the game away here by answering a question I was going to leave till the very end (yes, I will stop eventually). “Will I have another voyage on the Queen Mary 2?” The answer, of course, is “YES”. And next time I would like to have someone with me that I can take to Todd English with romantic intentions. There would be no finer place in which to wine and dine that “special person”. And, after dinner here, out on deck, against a spectacular sunset, no better ship on which to propose. Don’t wake me up at this point.
I had missed the show (“apassionata”) in the theatre (I didn’t rush dinner). We three friends came together later, by accident, in the ’Club (Alright. OK. As you’ve gathered by now, if we couldn’t find each other, we would hang around the ‘Club. Sooner or later we would all turn up). My American friend, who had seen that night’s show, said it was largely a dance show and that he had really enjoyed it. In the Queens Room it was “Ascot Ball” night. Many ladies wore outrageous hats. I understand they had a great time. I saw them as I went (for the last time) to G32. I was so relaxed, well fed and mellow that I did something I said I’d never do. I undid my bow tie and took off my dinner jacket. I sat there with my drink, smiling, happy simply to be on this wonderful ship.
"It's not the only way to cross, but it's the only way to cross"
What a great review....I think we will print it off and bring it with us.
Sunnystone....you'll do yourself a huge favor if you do. I did and found it to be most helpful in not forgetting all the wonderful places that Pepper describes so eloquently. It takes little space and is truly a valuable reference. Enjoy your voyage...she is a fabulous experience and I can't wait for the next one.
Pepper, once again you have taken me on an amazing voyage on my favorite ship. Thanks so much for taking the time to repost your amazing review. I don't want it to end! I can't wait to read your review of your QE2 trip in October.
Sunnystone, you are so smart to print this review and take it with you on your November cruise.