After a number of years of being spoiled on Celebrity Cruises, we thought we would give Cunard a try after a long absence. In April we did an 11 day Southern Caribbean itinerary with Celebrity, and we have just disembarked from the Queen Mary 2 on a two week westbound itinerary that included Liverpool, Reykjavík, Corner Brook and Halifax. This was our fourth cruise on the QM2, although its been a number of years since we last sailed with her.
I know that comparing the two is much like comparing apples and oranges, but there are things that one does better than the other.
Embarkation: From Southampton, Cunard, and specifically the QM2 was the absolute worst in over two dozen cruises in the past fifteen years. Celebrity – 40 minutes from taxi drop off to walking on board. QM2 – July 14th… two and a half hours from taxi to boarding. Cunard staff do not know how to handle volumes of people. There was no place for people to sit, you just got in a line and stood and waited. Occasionally, Cunard staff would move the line away from the wall, then away from the fence and then back to the wall. Given the demographic of the typical Cunard passenger, a lot of elderly people had to stand for hours.
One woman keeled over into some rocks and gravel. I tried to get a staff members attention, however he repeatedly ignored my calls in order to assist a premium loyalty passenger. The woman was mostly assisted by those others standing in line. And speaking of premium passengers…I understand that loyalty should be rewarded, however…just bringing them to the front of the queue and having them butt in front of everyone else who have been in line for over two hours is not the answer. A separate check in desk for gold, platinum, etc. is required, otherwise you’re making already unhappy people, unhappier.
The check in process was undoubtably the most unorganized, inefficient and chaotic one ever experienced in almost two decades of cruising.
I was prepared to check this off as simply Cunard having a bad day. Until embarkation at Reykjavik. Returning to the ship, we encountered a 45 minute wait to board. They had two gangways open, but one was for the exclusive use of mobility impaired passengers, forcing the hundreds of guests to use a single gangway. The captain, in an announcement, did acknowledge the extremely long wait, attributing it to the fact that they didn’t realize that the tide was going to change, and therefore the ship was either higher (or lower) in the water than they had expected. Again, poor people management from Cunard.
Buffet: Celebrity and QM2 both equal here. Oceanview café vs. kings Court. A little more variety would be nice from day to day, but otherwise good. Lots of seating available on both ships. I must say though that QM2 does excel at the quality of the vending machine orange juice. Celebrity dispenses orange flavoured water, but QM2 seems to dispense actual orange juice and lemonade. Far superior to Celebrity.
Main dining: I know it’s the luck of the draw but our servers on the Queen Mary 2 were polite, professional and courteous, but not overly friendly. They were good but it seemed like they were all business. The head waiter, a woman from Poland who’s name I forget, was very pleasant and checked in on us each evening. Cunard, please take a lesson from Celebrity. Just leave the bread basket. The whole thing. Just put the basket on the table and walk away. I’m grateful for the single piece you offer as you rush past the table, but please, just leave the basket. Otherwise I need to bug the waiter for another piece after they’ve already moved on from bread mode to appetizer mode. It’s a hassle for them and us both. Just leave the whole basket.
Re: dining room at breakfast. I enjoy going to the restaurant for breakfast to avoid the chaos and mayhem of the buffet, however my food was always cold. Well, cold food was cold as expected, but so was the hot food. Not once, in two weeks, did I every manage to get a single piece of hot toast at breakfast. The butter wouldn’t even melt. Pancakes? Cold. QM2…you can do better.
Otherwise main dining was good in Britannia. Always lots of options for fussy eaters, although we did tend to feel rushed as we were at the early seating. But we understand that we need to be out in time for the late sitting.
Laundry: QM2 is the winner. I heard people in the laundry room complaining about the lack of self-service laundry facilities. If they only knew! Celebrity has none. Need a shirt ironed? You have to send it out. If you’re lucky you might even get it back the same day. I am so grateful on the QM2 that I can just go down the hall and do a laundry. It means that I only need to pack half as many clothes if I’m able to do a laundry halfway through the cruise.
Internet: QM2, if you’re listening, your internet sucks! It was non-existent in our cabin unless you literally stood with your back to the cabin door. Celebrity…free unlimited internet. Ok, maybe not free but it was included in our package. I’m not sure of the cost but the perk probably added a couple hundred dollars to the cost of the cruise. But it was awesome. Fast and unlimited. QM2 I had to purchase my minutes. I think it was about $90 for two hours if I recall. This for expensive and slow to no internet. There were days that it didn’t work at all, even at the internet stations. And of course you need to log on and off. I forgot to log off once, so I lost two hours of internet time. And the only thing you can do at the computer kiosks, is browse the internet. There are no applications to draft emails and then connect to send them, which means you are paying for internet time, even though you’re not using it, while you are writing emails.
And Celebrity’s phone app is awesome! The daily programme, your restaurant and activity reservations, everything is right there on your phone. No need to carry a programme with you all day. QM2…four people in a room? You get a single printed program to share amongst you, with no smartphone app. Cunard is SO behind the times. And as an aside, the Cunard web site is the worst. Just to log in…first name, last name, booking reference, birthday…ugh! I think last name and booking reference should suffice!
Kids: Both Celebrity and Cunard have excellent kids programming within the kids clubs, however I was surprised at the QM2’s lack of family entertainment outside of the clubs. Given that it’s summer time and that there were more children on board, I don’t think there was a single daily movie, performance or lecture that would appeal to kids of any age. I know that the Cunard demographic skews towards the geriatric, but Celebrity is the clear winner here when it comes to families with kids.
Lectures and performances: Apples and oranges, but Cunard trends more cultural and less family friendly entertainment as one would probably expect.
Royal Court Theatre: Now in addition to Cunard, we have only sailed Princess, Celebrity and Disney, but I would arguably suggest that the RCT is quite possibly the worst theatre at sea. There are no chairs, only benches. Which means no armrests. Which means no place to put my drink. Yes, there are a smattering of small tables downstairs (and none upstairs) but they are few and far between and their sole purpose seems to only to impede the flow of traffic along the aisle. With no arm rests to support yourself in the rocking seas of the North Atlantic, and one hand committed to holding onto your drink, I can only imagine that this venue is a nightmare for anyone with balance issues.
Illuminations: Planetarium at sea. Cool! Plus, much better seats than the RCT, although they still don’t have drink holders in the arm rests. There is some sort of table contraption though built within the seat.
Shore excursions: I can’t compare Celebrity with QM2 as we did our own excursions on the Caribbean cruise. However, those on Cunard seemed to be very good, catering to those who wanted different activity levels. I am genuinely surprised though at the markup imposed by the cruise lines. For example, the hop on hop off bus tour in Halifax. Do it yourself for CAN$35 (US$25). Purchase the exact same thing on board from the tour desk and it’s US$66 ($CAN $80). There is no value added by Cunard at all. That being said we did a very good shore excursion in Iceland (the Golden Circle) that we purchased through Cunard and we felt it was a good value.
Cabins: Veranda/balcony cabins on both cruises. Similar size and amenities. TV’s had a similar choice of international channels to choose from. On QM2, the only US news channel was Fox news, disappointing many on board, although I think that MSNBC was also available. There were also a number of movie channels although again surprising that no movies catered to children given the summer holiday season. Although cabin bathrooms were similar inside, I think we preferred the glass shower doors in Celebrity vs. the shower curtain aboard QM2. It at least gave the illusion of a larger shower.
Upcharges: there was a time when everything was included on a cruise. Those days are long gone. Now, you can’t even get a coke without having a drink package or paying US$4 every time. It’s difficult to compare Celebrity vs. Cunard on this one, as the drink package was included with our fare on Celebrity and we didn’t buy one on Cunard. But of course, there are charges for everything else too, not just drinks. Photos, specialty dining, shore excursions, bingo, gratuities, etc.
Speaking of specialty dining, we tried it on both ships, and I think the winner goes to QM2. As much as I gripe about having to pay a surcharge for specialty dining, I don’t really mind as long as I feel I’m getting a good value. We did the Smokehouse once and thought it was excellent. We tried the Verandah and liked it so much that we went back a second time. The food was excellent and you never felt rushed.
Fitness Centres: Can’t compare. Never used them. Was too busy eating.
Inclusivity: If it’s inclusivity that you’re looking for, the QM2 is not for you. If traveling steerage class like the bulk of the passengers, you will be excluded from the Britannia Club dining room, the Queen’s Grill dining room, the Princess Grill dining room, the Grills lounge, the Grills sundeck, and probably a host of other secret locations that I’m not privy to.
Sommelier: We found our dining room sommelier on Celebrity to be very high pressure when it came to buying wine. QM2 – no pressure at all. Same as well when it came to servers in the bars. Cunard wins this one.
Trivia: I suck at ship board trivia. Enough said.
Dress Code: Cunard as expected is much more formal. I don’t mind getting dressed up for dinner, but after a couple of weeks on board it would be nice to just not have to wear a jacket for dinner. Formal I get it, but do I really need to wear a dinner jacket on casual night? I know some will disagree with me, but in my opinion, Celebrity strikes the proper balance when it comes to dinner attire on casual nights. Dress shirt and pants for gentlemen, but jacket is optional.
Library: QM2. Best library at sea. Period.
Summary: So, in conclusion, I know that it’s difficult to directly compare two different cruise lines and two different itineraries. However, based on similar category cabins and cruise durations and similar price, I’d have to give the winner to Celebrity. It just seemed to be a much better value. For the same price as a cruise on the QM2, our Celebrity cruise also included free gratuities, the drink package and free unlimited internet. That being said, we still enjoy sailing on the QM2 and will sail on her again in the future. Just look for me. I’ll be the one falling over on the benches in the Royal Court Theatre.