I travelled on the Queen Mary 2 a little over a year ago in early November 2019, from Hamburg to New York. This was my very first time experiencing a ship adventure.
I booked the journey more than one year and four months before sailing, and in that time I researched the heck out of it. And, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of that research time. I read tons of blogs and watched countless videos. I read numerous articles and almost too many reviews. I perused through many wonderful online picture collections of the ship. I love it when you can enjoy the research nearly as much as the adventure itself. And, I jumped on this very CruiseCritic board and learned as much as I could from all of you. I thank you. Very much. Very very much.
Based on all of this research, my expectations were extremely high, and my hopes were even higher. I’m thrilled to report those extremely high expectations were met. Better yet, the even higher hopes were exceeded. It was truly a journey of a lifetime. And throughout the journey, it felt like a true occasion. Truly.
Much of the information I gathered helped to determine what I wanted to book. I knew that I wanted a Westbound crossing, as I wanted the five 25-hour days. Personally, I felt that a 14-day roundtrip would be too long, and that a 7-day crossing would be too short. I decided on a 9-day crossing originating in Hamburg, as I was learning just how much folks from Hamburg love the Queen Mary 2. They seem to feel a lovely sense of pride and ownership of her. They just simply adore her. And I adore Hamburg. That was an easy decision.
I knew that I wanted to travel at a time when I was more likely to experience rough seas, and I wanted to really feel it, so I wanted one of the most forward cabins on one of the highest decks. I also wanted to be as far as possible from most of the public spaces because I wanted to walk as much as possible, and I wanted to take the scenic lifts as often as possible. I also figured it wouldn’t hurt to be closer to the Commodore Club for easier walking (i.e., light stumbling) after a nightcap. Or two. Or three. [insert cheeky smile emoji]
I knew that I had to have a balcony cabin. I’m a little claustrophobic and needed to know I could open an outside door at any time. Admittedly, a quirk. Because I was so specific about the location of the cabin, I knew that I didn’t want an upgrade to what to most would have been a nicer cabin, but to me would probably have been less desirable.
I was traveling solo, and I wanted to increase my chances of meeting and mingling with folks whom I would hopefully find fun and interesting. And I wanted a set dining time. A table for 10 seemed like it might be too large, and a table for 6 seemed like it might be too small. This Goldilocks (no bald jokes, please) gravitated towards a table for 8 at late seating. And it was…juuuust right.
So many of these decisions were based a lot on what I learned right here on this forum. There’s a lot of great information packed in here. Granted, I’m sure I’m not the only person who rolls her or his eyes over various posts. There are some discussions I just try my best to simply steer clear of and not even read. But there’s a lot of incredibly helpful tidbits of information, even among what I’ll call the chaff. There were so many times when I would follow a thread thinking it was going pretty much nowhere, to suddenly find a diamond of smart advice in the rough, so to speak.
So gradually the information was collected and decisions were made. Some decisions needed to be made early. Some could wait.
Wardrobe was something I needed to really think about. I’m not a fancy guy. I don’t like to dress up. But I knew that I’d be saving money for this trip for a while, and I knew that I wanted to totally dive into the experience. I didn’t want to sip it. I didn’t even want to drink it in. I wanted to totally dive in and guzzle it. And I certainly did.
I live approximately a 1.25 hour drive east of New York City. Within a few days of booking the trip, I made the first of a number of what I’ll call early morning pilgrimages to Brooklyn to witness the QM2 beautifully and oh so majestically glide her way under the Verrazano Bridge into New York Harbor. There’s a tiny parking lot just off the Belt Parkway that’s just north of the bridge where you can sit and watch her arrival. Sometimes I’d get out of the truck and walk along the shore path while I was waiting for her to make her way towards the bridge, but sometimes it seemed best to stay in the truck. The rats in that little park are huge. Seriously.
But it’s magical, the way she squeezes under the bridge in the dark. Sometimes you can see her approach from way out and really savor the experience as she makes her way in. And sometimes she suddenly reveals herself through a heavy fog just before she glides under the Verrazano. Either way, it’s truly a thrill. You can’t help but wonder if a ship approaching from a distance is her, only to soon realize it’s just another tanker or cargo ship. You keep hoping she’ll appear. You keep hoping that is her. But then when she finally does appear, you can’t imagine how you could have even possibly mistaken any of those other ships for her. She’s so unmistakable, even from a great distance. She’s always lit up like a grand wedding cake of beautiful lovely brilliant lights.
Sometimes I would travel to Brooklyn to see her docked at the Cruise Terminal, and I would take the ferry around her. Such a great vantage point. You can take the ferry south, and then get off at the next stop, and hop back on the next ferry going north. And sometimes you’ll time it so that she’s slowly pulling away from the dock just as the ferry is going around her. From the area around the ship itself, it’s amazing how close you can get to her as you walk along the dock and take in the view of her. Her lines are truly amazing. And no one seems to mind. I’ve never been approached our questioned. Plus, there’s so much to do right in that neighborhood at large, in terms of restaurants and wine tastings and shops. Great fun.
One day I travelled into the city to see her at dock, and I took the ferry around her to the next stop south. And then on the return, I got to see her from the ferry as she started to drop her lines and slowly pull away from the dock. Rather thrilling. I watched her departure from the terminal area, and then I got in my truck, wondering if I might get to see her again as I was driving and south along the highway and she made her way south through the harbor towards the Verrazano Bridge. After I finally got on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, sure enough, I caught up with her. I couldn’t see her very well through the buildings along the expressway, and I certainly didn’t want to get into a wreck. But, every so often if I quickly twisted my head to the right and back again just as there was a space between buildings, I caught sight of her in the distance as she glided south through the harbor on her way towards the Verrazano to depart NY. We seemed to be keeping pace together. It was pretty exciting, and I kept catching sight of her over and over again, being careful to keep the sighting to just a second. It seemed that the traffic continued to slow down to nearly perfectly match our speeds. Thrilling.
It wasn’t too long before I got way too far ahead of her, and wouldn’t be able to see her anymore unless I stopped at the little parking lot along the Belt Parkway that I mentioned earlier. I’d not seen her go under the bridge on her way out of the harbor before. I had plenty of time, so I parked and walked pretty far north along the path. The rats seemed to be taking a break from the daylight, but there were lots of people about. As she came into sight, it was wonderful to see her again from this vantage point. And it was kind of fun to see the reactions of everyone along the paths as she glided past. She does make quite the impression. After she squeezed under the bridge, I got back in the truck and continued to follow her for a while as I continued south along the Belt Parkway. It was all great fun.
All of these outings helped to inspire and further drive my goals for the adventure. I was determined to use the excitement of the trip, no matter how far away it was, to help motivate a number of changes I wanted to make in my life. I won’t go into too many personal details, but one of those goals was to lose weight. I didn’t own a suit. I’d never actually owned a suit. I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned that I don’t like to dress up. But I was going to lose as much weight as I could before I bought one. That was for sure.
Suffice to say, those goals were met. A month before the trip I was sized for my suit, and I used the measurements to order a tux. Next came dress shirts, tuxedo shirts, and all the accoutrements that come with suits and tuxedos. I knew that I could get away with a simple dark suit and not bother with a tux, but I didn’t want to just get away with anything. I was committed to going all out. It was actually all incredibly exciting.
Finally the trip arrived. And every step of the way felt like a new excitement, including my first time flying on an A380 (JFK to Frankfurt), and my very first time flying in a class other than economy from Frankfurt into Hamburg. The Lufthansa business lounge in the Frankfurt airport was an absolute dream. Who knew?! Certainly not I.
I spent a full week in Hamburg before embarkation, and it was so incredibly fantastic. I could go on and on about just that part of the trip, but don’t worry. I won’t. But I will mention a few QM2-related things about Hamburg. As mentioned earlier, people from Hamburg just love the Queen Mary 2. They just can’t seem to get enough of her. If you’re embarking in Hamburg, and you arrive a few days beforehand, you might be able to see her arrival from various spots along the riverfront. It’s very exciting. People actually cheer. Such fun.
Boat tours are ubiquitous to Hamburg, and there is one in English every day at 12:00noon. It’s a one-hour tour run by Rainer Abicht. It’s an excellent boat tour. When the Queen Mary 2 is in town, the tour boats get so incredibly close to the Queen. It’s kind of shocking. You feel as though you can just reach out and touch her. Fantastic. If you’re in Hamburg when the Queen Mary 2 is departing, there is often at least one boat tour company (usually Maritime-Circle Line/Gregors) which runs a QM2 Departure Escort Tour. It includes a tour of the harbor, and often a tour through the city canals, and then back to the Queen. Again, you get so incredibly close to the her. It’s thrilling, especially at night. Once she drops her lines and gets away, you kind of ‘follow along’ for a little while as she leaves Hamburg. The Hamburg folks really do love her.
Once embarkation day finally arrived, I got to experience what I’m sure all of us have experienced…that wonderful feeling of driving to the terminal and along the way, here and there getting those incredible views of the ship as you get closer and closer. Your heart seems to race a little more and more with each peek of her. And she seems to grow larger and larger. So exciting. And then finally, you’ve arrived at the terminal. And there she is. All grand and majestic, and just waiting for you to board.
I had intended on arriving earlier, as many here have suggested. My challenge in travelling is that I don’t do it very often, but when I do…I really like buying lots and lots of gifts for friends/family. I’m not usually a shopper, but before the trip I saved and saved and saved, and then I had a lot of fun shopping and shopping and shopping. Knowing there was essentially no limit to how much luggage I could take back with me on the ship was a little bit dangerous.
I was staying in Hamburg aboard the Cap San Diego, which is a beautiful old freighter ship and museum and so much more, including a kind of hotel. It’s owned by the city and painstakingly restored and maintained by mostly volunteers, and it’s docked in a fantastic location right on the riverfront. But departing the Cap San Diego required me to move my luggage three flights down stairs, then down a three-story gangway, then along and up a really long dock/ramp, and then down a three-story ramp. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was quite the challenge. Especially considering that my original more modest luggage haul had grown since my arrival in Hamburg to three very heavy over-packed bags and an overstuffed garment bag. I tackled it in stages, and eventually got a hand from a very kind dockworker. But all that explains my later than intended arrival to the Steinwerder Cruise Terminal. I arrived at noon, and made it through security by 1:30. The line was a bit of a drag, but overall I was too excited to mind too much. And I had really dressed up for the occasion, which made it all feel even more grand.
It’s pretty wonderful to make your way onto and along the gangway. All of that glass allowed for wonderful sweeping views of the ship, and although there were still so many people on line back in the terminal, along the gangway there was barely anyone around. Seemed so quiet. It felt almost private. Which was great, because I was able to soak it all in and come to grips with the fact that it was really truly finally happening. All that time, all that planning, all that saving, all that work. And here it was. I kept having to remind myself to breathe. And I seriously mean breathe, because I wanted to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the moment, but I also didn’t want to enter the Grand Lobby with tears streaming down my face. It was pretty emotional. Breathe.
I’m sure many of you have experienced this. That incredibly wonderful invigorating feeling when you enter the Grand Lobby for the very first time. It’s so beautiful in pictures and videos. Seeing it in person is a whole other thing. Just fantastic.
From there I knew exactly where I was going, both from studying the deck plans, and from Pepper’s great pics. Shout out to ‘pepperrn’! I made my way forward to the A Lift, up to Deck 7, then transferred to the Observation Lift, and up to Deck 11. And don’t think I didn’t stay in that Observation Lift and ride it down and up at least one more time. I’m not saying I did it more than that, and I’m not saying I didn’t. Such a view. So thrilling.
I was so happy with my cabin 11004. Exactly what I was expecting. Most of my luggage was already there, with the exception of a particularly heavy overstuffed bag; the largest of the group. I jumped into action. I called the reservation line to secure a table for Alternative Dining the next night, called the drinks line to inquire of mixology or cocktail or martini classes (nothing scheduled yet), and filled out the Florist order form, and handed that in. I was so keen on making the most of this. The guy that doesn’t like to dress up was going to wear a fresh boutonnière every night. No kidding.
I made my way down to the Golden Lion Pub, ordered a Guinness pint, and enjoyed a great lunch of fish and chips. Delicious. And it was then that it truly started. That experience of truly great service. It wasn’t rushed. It was relaxed and friendly, with a smile. And efficient. After lunch, I headed across the way to Sir Samuels for a cappuccino. Delicious cappuccino. But again, great service. Just lovely.
And then I started exploring the ship. It was just incredibly exciting to experience in person so much of what I had been experiencing remotely/electronically. I stopped into the Britannia and asked if they wouldn’t mind showing me my table. I was expecting a table for 8, but table 66 was a table for 10 (not a problem) on the main floor, starboard and a little aft of the main staircase, with a view to that beautiful big mural. We all know the mural. The waiter mentioned that this particular table has a reputation for usually being the “party table”: loudest in the entire dining room, and last to leave. Sounds fine with me. We’ll see.
I wove my way back to the cabin and started unpacking. The large bag still hadn’t arrived. I received a call from security. They asked me to please make my way back down to the terminal and meet with security there. No worries. I figured it was something in the bag that was scanning as suspect. I was down there in a jiffy.
I checked in with the Security Chief and his Second. I wasn’t the only person who had been called down. The poor guy ahead of me kept insisting there was nothing in his bag which met the criteria they were explaining to us as would be suspect. No plug-in heating devises of any kind. No heating elements. No irons. Nothing. Problem was, he hadn’t packed his luggage. His wife had. They started going through his bag. And sure enough, they pulled out a travel-size garment steamer. The security team was very professional. After searching the rest of his bag, they confirmed there was nothing else suspect, they’d have to discard the steamer, and they’d have the bag sent up to his cabin right away. Only that wasn’t quick enough for this guy. He had a bit of a cow. I think he was embarrassed about the steamer, and was acting out. Wow! What a tantrum. Steamer-gate ensued. What does one call this? A macho-tantrum? I think his wife must have also packed his adult pacifier (or dummy, or binky, or what have you) in one of the bags that had already made its way to their cabin. Boy, did he need it.
Finally he relented, and it was my turn. I voluntarily picked up my bag and placed it on the table, which was no small feat. Lift with the knees. This puppy was HEAVY! I opened the bag and explained that I was the only person who packed my luggage, and I definitely did not have anything suspect in the bag. But, I was pretty sure I knew what would probably have scanned as suspect. It was funny how they kept staring at my opened luggage. They said they don’t usually see a bag so neatly packed. I don’t know about that, but we had a good laugh, and I pulled out what I thought was the suspicious item. I had purchased an old antique nautical sailing block in Hamburg. The thing wasn’t all that big, but it was heavy as a donkey. Some of the round parts or sheaves are solid brass, and I had a feeling they were causing concerns when the bag was scanned. After I let them handle my block [gosh, that didn’t come out right], I offered to unpack the rest of the bag and go through any of the contents with them, but they were satisfied with my explanation. They sent me on my way. Super nice guys.
I was back up to my cabin in a pinch, and don’t you know…the bag arrived within 10 minutes. Steamer-gate guy. Geez. I continued unpacking, and I got a call from the Florist. He wanted to confirm my order. Apparently they hadn’t had an order for a daily boutonniere in years, but they’d have the first one delivered to my cabin before dinner the next night. He asked if I’d be in my cabin for the next few minutes. I said sure. Next thing I know, the Florist shows up with a big vase bouquet of flowers. He said the florists were so appreciative of my order, and they wanted to provide a little gift for my cabin. He even gave me a big hug! No joke. The flowers were absolutely beautiful, and very fragrant. The cabin smelled amazing. So totally unexpected, and so kind. What a way to start my QM2 adventure!
I continued unpacking, and was nearly done before the muster drill, which was uneventful. Time for sail-away. I had my eye on a very specific spot, which was literally only a few meters from my cabin: the forward port corner of the observation deck. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be an open spot for long, so after popping the bottle of Pol Acker (ok, it’s not great, but c’mon, it wasn’t that bad), I headed to my chosen spot with a glass of bubbly, and proceeded to freeze my tushie off. I was dressed very warmly, but nothing was going to stop that cold wet wind, except for an Antarctic Parka, which I had foolishly left home with my mink stole. We were delayed for quite a while, but I was glad I had secured my spot. It was perfect, and I got to eventually and thoroughly enjoy the actual sail-away. I so love Hamburg. And what a glorious way to see her: from the observation deck of the Queen Mary 2.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed sail-away, I was sooooo ready for it to be over. So frozen. I got back to my cabin to thaw out, and quickly dressed for dinner in my new suit: three-piece, cufflinks on the shirt to go with, but not match the tie, and a contrasting pocket square to boot! I can’t lie. It was absolutely thrilling walking into the Britannia on the first evening, all dressed up in my finest. The space is so elegant. Sumptuous. So beautiful.
My tablemates were delightful. I knew within a few minutes that it was going to work out great. I have to admit that I was a little bit anxious about this aspect of the crossing. I just wasn’t sure if I’d mix well with my tablemates. It’s always a chance you take, I suppose. But, it helped enormously to know that I could always take the advice that many of you shared on this forum: if you’re not happy with your table, don’t stress. Simply visit the Maitre d', and ask for a change. No worries. But so glad I didn’t have to implement that advice.
I also realized pretty quickly that we probably were not going to fulfill the “party table” reputation, but who cares. These folks were sweet and kind and funny and delightful. Happy me.
And the service was excellent. Both the waiter and sommelier were wonderful. Ryan was our most excellent and attentive waiter. Great attitude. Great suggestions. Once he knew I had an adventurous palate, and that I appreciated his opinion and input, we were on a roll. Same thing with Kinga, our sommelier. She was most excellent. She and Ryan took great care of me, and great care of all of us. They were truly superb. I sometimes ordered multiple appetizers, or one appetizer and two mains. Sometimes a dessert or cheese plate. Or sometimes both. I never found the selection to be lacking, but I knew from all of you what I could order off menu, if I chose to do so.
I didn’t find out until after Southampton that Kinga’s contract had ended there. But, our new sommelier, Bernadette was just as wonderful. After making my food choices, I often asked our sommelier to recommend a different glass of wine to pair with each of two courses. Sometimes I also had them recommend a port for a cheese course, or a dessert wine. Their recommendations were always spot on, and it was great fun to enjoy the pairings. As with Kinga, I always found Bernadette to have impeccable timing. If I wasn’t quite ready to order on her first pass, she always seemed to be back exactly when I was ready. She always timed her delivery of each glass of wine with each course perfectly. It was like clockwork. Perfect. And Ryan was very impressive. Excellent timing, as well.
I worked many years through high school and university in various restaurants, and various types of restaurants. I know good service, and these folks provided truly great service. They work exceptionally hard. I was so impressed. Granted, there were a few servers in various parts of the ship who were rather inattentive, or didn’t quite rise to the occasion when it came to attitude and/or service. But, I found them to be very few and far between. And most importantly, the majority of servers were on their game, and most of them were really quite excellent. And those who were exceptional were truly exceptional.
After a great dinner, everyone at our table was calling it a night. Given my cabin’s proximity to the Commodore Club, which was basically just 2 decks down and just a few meters forward, how could I not stop in for a drink? That would be wrong on so many levels, and I would use this argument nearly every night of the voyage. Venus was my most attentive and excellent cocktail server, and we decided on the Punch Romaine a la Carpathia. I have to admit: it had been on my list of drinks to try at the CC, and it did not disappoint. Not at all. If you like the idea of drinking a cocktail version of an exceptionally delicious lemon meringue pie with a bit of a kick and a very subtle citric-singe, then this cocktail is for you. I especially liked the idea that it was named in honor Sir Arthur Rostron, who captained the Carpathia which was the first ship on the scene to pick up survivors of the Titanic. Truly a hero.
As a kid, I was always intrigued by the Titanic, and subsequently intrigued by ocean liners. Some might say obsessed. I prefer to say intrigued or extremely interested. I had always dreamed of how wonderful it would be to have the chance of sailing on one of the ocean liners of old. Later in life I kind of dropped that dream, and never quite picked it up again. Got pulled in other directions. A distant relative mentioned her QM2 adventures a few years ago. It kind of piqued my interest, but I still wasn’t quite sold.
I had planned a European trip years ago with a theme that didn’t in any way include Hamburg, but I somehow felt compelled to visit Hamburg on that trip. I arrived, and immediately starting falling in love with the city. You know how you sometimes visit a place that just feels right? Slightly intoxicating, but in a good way. The first night in Hamburg I was walking along the Elbe River in the direction of the Fishmarkt. It was June 7, 2016. I looked across the river, and there she was. The Queen Mary 2 was sitting in dry dock 17 for her refit at Blohm + Voss. She took my breath away. The next day I sat in the sunshine at a great little dockside restaurant, Brücke 10, right across the river from the Queen Mary 2, and I just stared at her the whole time. What can I say? I’m a QM2 stalker. And I knew that someday I’d sail on her. Kismet, me thinks.
After that most excellent Punch Romaine a la Carpathia, I retired to my cabin with a huge smile on my face. This wonderful adventure was in full swing, and I was just so happy. Mentally pinching myself, over and over again.