Queen Mary 2
Queen Mary 2: Brilliantly remastered, classic elegance
The ocean liner Queen Mary 2, flagship of the 175-year-old Cunard Line, embodies the grace and classic heritage of ships from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. She is the only ship in operation that retains a scheduled transatlantic service, from New York to England and back.
Although she has been in service since 2004, her striking design, reputation, scale and the elegance associated with her makes Queen Mary 2 the main attraction of any port she calls on. A top-to-bottom $132 million refurbishment in May-June 2016 gave her staterooms a fresh, contemporary feel, in addition to changes to public rooms, such as a new wine cellar with a collection of 450 rare (and pricey) wines.
Two things set Queen Mary 2 apart from any other cruise ship: QM2 has a distinctive shaped bow and reinforced hull to withstand the rigors of the frequently aggressive North Atlantic ocean, making for a generally smooth passage.
Another basic difference is Cunard's adherence to a two-class system: Guests in the Princess and Queens Grill suites earn upper crust status while Britannia passengers take the lower rung. We sailed in the latter and let me tell you it was still pretty fabulous.
Who will like sailing on Queen Mary 2
Travelers seeking a more traditional cruise experience that harks back to the golden age of travel will like sailing on Queen Mary 2. Many of the passengers are Britons who enjoy an old-time cruise rather than flying to the States and who may like the idea of turning back the clock to a glamorous era of sea travel.
The crowd on our cruise were mostly mature travelers with a few millennials and even a few children. Guests need to like getting dressed up and being at sea for days on end. The entertainment is refined and more educational than on many other ships — you won't find any rowdy party games and activities on deck. While during the holiday seasons there will be children on board and they are catered for, it is a more adult experience.
Where Queen Mary 2 sails
Queen Mary 2 makes transatlantic ocean crossings from Brooklyn, NY, to Southampton, England, and back. Southampton is about a 90-minute drive away from London airports. The ship also does a three-month world voyage, which many of the passengers we met on board were already booked on, as well as 7-night to 22-night sailings to Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and New England.
Coming to terms with the ship's dual classes
Americans might balk at what seems like an outdated vestige from an earlier era, but really the two-class system is not much different from what we're now seeing on ships from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, where guests who pony up big bucks get their own private retreat, dining venue and lots of extras.
On QM2, passengers who book Queens and Princess Grill suites get perks such as their own serene dining rooms, bar lounges and other privileges that are off-limits to the hoi polloi. The Queens Grill guests also receive butler service. Britannia guests, who make up the large majority of guests, can dine in the Britannia Restaurant as well as the Kings Court buffet (usually a madhouse at breakfast and lunch), order room service (efficient and good) or eat in one of the alternative restaurants, which cost an additional $17.50 to $49.50 per person.
A new passel of Club Balcony staterooms — small but with a spacious feel, including sitting area, balcony, desk, mini-fridge, ample storage but cramped bathroom with shower — come with the opportunity to dine when you want in a private area of the large main restaurant. Which we did and enjoyed.
Where we went & what I liked
My husband, Richard, and I made the seven-night voyage from Southampton to New York that ended Nov. 1, 2016. We were eager to see the ship's expensive facelift, and since we've been on more than 300 cruises, we didn't need the typical cruise ship attractions of lots of port stops and shore excursions. On its transatlantic voyages, QM2 is all about the onboard experience.
This summer's renovations saw the addition of balcony staterooms on the 13th deck, redone dining rooms and new furnishings and appointments. To some passengers' chagrin, the remastering also reduced the size of the casino by half. “We just weren’t getting enough gambling action,” explained Capt. Chris Wells during an interview on the bridge. The space saved went to additional cabins.
Highlights for us were the entertainment — including the planetarium and movie theater — as well as our stateroom and the cuisine. There are four pools on board, and the indoor one was the only one used during our chilly crossing. There's also a fitness facility that’s part of the Canyon Ranch at Sea Spa, which is free for all, but only guests booking expensive spa treatments can use the sauna, steam or spa facilities (though we were tempted!).
Queen Mary 2 offers three main classes of staterooms: Queens Grill guests enjoy the largest suites on board, commanding spectacular views. It grants you access to the exclusive Grills Lounge, private deck and restaurant, giving you the opportunity to relax in luxury.
Princess Grill guests enjoy exclusive suites and access to the private Grills Lounge and Terrace. A private balcony and separate seating area offers space to relax, and you have exclusive access to the Grills Lounge and renowned Princess Grill restaurant. It comes with exclusive lounge access for enjoying Afternoon Tea or cocktails, and concierge service.
The vast majority of the 1,363 staterooms on board are in the Britannia Club class, which affords guests access to the Britannia Club dining room. We stayed in one of the 30 new Britannia Club Balcony staterooms that were generously described as “suites.” The renovated Club staterooms are the same size as ordinary Britannia staterooms, but reside on the upper two decks (12 and 13) and have upgraded features such as complimentary mineral water and a dedicated space in the Britannia Club dining room that shares the same menu but has more individualized service.
Although a “pillow menu” is promised, none ever showed up. The balcony allowed us to let fresh air in from time to time and to quickly monitor outside conditions, but wind, cold and salt spray rendered it otherwise useless. Inside, quarters are cozy but not cramped, and there was a big flat-screen TV mounted on the wall where it could be seen easily from bed — not always the case with many cruise ships.
Our Filipino steward Zaldy was a cheerful chap, efficient and always capable of figuring out the right time to make up our cabin. We gave high marks to the excellent full-breakfast room service; room service is complimentary and available 24 hours a day.
Dress codes strictly enforced
Clinging to its somewhat antiquated British philosophy, QM2 requires guests to get dressed up in the evening, as you may find as many as three or four formal nights during a weeklong sailing. Dress codes are enforced for access to the dining rooms, where gentlemen must wear tuxedos or dark suits and ties, and ladies must wear formal gowns and cocktail dresses. White-gloved waiters serve afternoon tea, and ballroom dancing to a live band recall an earlier era in the largest ballroom at sea.
The 2,500 passengers on board — mostly Brits, with Americans a close second — was enthralled and enthusiastic during evening shows. When was the last time you saw an audience rise to its feet to cheer shipboard entertainment?
Actors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art gave several varied performances, including a remarkable dramatization of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Another rapturous full house.
Making great shows even better were the performance spaces themselves. Part of the upgrade, the Royal Court Theatre and Illuminations are some of the best designed, elegant and comfortable entertainment venues at sea. The two showrooms are used for multiple purposes, including amazing Planetarium presentations in Illuminations: A dome is lowered over the audience for a half hour and projected on it are a series of siix programs (a new one every three days — it's like nothing else found afloat. The same showroom also serves as a wonderful movie theater showing recent films with digital projection and Dolby 7.1 sound. It is hands-down the best cruise ship movie theater.
During our voyage, we were treated to a Blue Note Jazz at Sea concert with Grammy winners Gregory Porter and Dee Dee Bridgewater who, with her talented quintet, gave one of the best performances we've ever seen on a ship. There are also eminent guest lecturers, classical music presentations in addition to the West End-style production shows.
Top dining options
Queens Grill experience
Guests in Queen Mary 2's most luxurious suites dine in the elegant, anytime dining Queens Grill restaurant. When it comes to exclusive luxury touches, the Queens Grill experience is in a league of its own as Wedgwood china and jewel-like Waterford crystal gleam in the intimate lighting. In addition to the dishes on the menu, guests can also order from an a la carte menu in the evening. You can also request off-menu dishes by providing a few hours' notice.
Princess Grill experience
Guests in the luxurious Princess Suites dine in the Princess Grill Restaurant. This is also an anytime dining restaurant serving sumptuous dishes from an a la carte menu.
Make a grand descent down the sweeping staircase of the two-deck-high Britannia Restaurant and Queen Mary 2's main dining room, which recalls the grand dining salons of ocean travel's golden age. The menu is created by Cunard's talented chefs reflecting regional flavors and international dishes. There are two set dining times in this restaurant.
Guests in the Britannia Club Balcony category dine in an anytime dining area of the restaurant. This intimate dining room offers special a la carte selections in addition to the succulent Britannia Restaurant menu.
Other dining options
Kings Court: Enjoy a casual breakfast, lunch or late-night buffet. Evenings transform into four intimate venues: Lotus for Asian cuisine, the Carvery for British-style carved roasts, La Piazza for Italian cuisine and the Chef's Galley.
Golden Lion Pub: Drop in for lunch and enjoy traditional pub favorites such as fish and chips or a ploughman's or shepherd's pie.
Bamboo: This Asian restaurant costs $17.50 a person plus service charge and is well worth it. The meal begins with a bento box filled with appetizers and continues onto entrees of your choice. We tried them all and the beef and fish dishes were the best.
Boardwalk Cafe: The Boardwalk Cafe is near the sun deck and provides the opportunity to enjoy a snack in the sunshine and open air. Only a short distance from the shuffleboard area, the cafe provides a refreshing break from your sporting and sunbathing endeavors.
Sir Samuel's: In the morning, enjoy a breakfast selection of Danish pastries and muffins. Lunchtime selections include a range of freshly baked quiches and sandwiches. The mid-afternoon menu offers cakes such as deep-dish cheesecake and Alsace Apple Tart, while the evening brings an opportunity to enjoy wine and cheese.
Chart Room: Order your favorite cocktail from the Chart Room's fabulous drinks menu while gentle classical music or jazz provides the background to your pre-dinner conversations, with maritime displays and nautically themed decor.
Bars & lounges
Commodore Club: Overlooking the bow, the Commodore Club provides glorious panoramic views as you sail toward the horizon. An extensive selection of martinis are available and you may even be tempted to try the ship's Martini Mixology or Whisky Tasting classes.
Golden Lion Pub: Darts, karaoke, live sports and ale are all here in this authentic English pub. There's even a traditional Pub Lunch served every day, with fish and chips and cottage pie. This pub is always a hive of activity and hosts many of the quizzes and games.
Queens Room: Here is your opportunity to foxtrot in the largest ballroom at sea. Hone your dancing skills under the dramatic high ceiling with its beautiful crystal chandeliers. You can also sample afternoon tea featuring traditional scones with clotted cream, cakes and delicate sandwiches served by white-gloved waiters. The ship also provides gentleman dance hosts every evening to partner solo female travelers or women whose partners have two left feet.
G32: Dance the night away to the sounds of the resident party band and DJ in this dual-level nightclub.
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar: Share conversations and sip champagne from beautiful Waterford crystal flutes. Guests may choose from among seven different Veuve Clicquot champagnes, served by the bottle or the glass.
Winter Garden: London's famous Kew Gardens is the inspiration for this quiet lounge, designed to look like an English country garden. Sip a mimosa while you enjoy the early afternoon art auction, or meet up with friends for an evening of drinks and piano music.
Churchill's: The only smoking bar on the ship features an extensive selection of fine cigars and a wonderful selection of rare Cognacs, single malt Scotch whiskies, Plantation rums and vintage Calvados.
Terrace Bar: Home to the popular Sailaway parties, you can enjoy a glass of champagne and get in the mood for your first night on board.
The Pavilion: On sunny days, the retractable roof may be open at the Pavilion Pool and bar, enabling guests to enjoy the weather and fresh sea air.
Grills Lounge: The intimate Grills lounge is for the exclusive enjoyment of Grill Suite guests. Discover new teas with the tea sommelier, enjoy traditional afternoon tea served by white-gloved waiters, or later in the day, a pre-dinner drink with friends and fellow guests.
Activities on board
The list of activities is head spinning and they're very well-attended, especially during a cruise with seven sea days. Here is an example from one night:
- The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts presentation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen –the standing-room-only audience was rapt.
- A command performance of British singing star Gregory Porter at 10:30 pm.
- Big Band night in the Queens Room with a 14 piece orchestra.
Other things to float your boat include the daily fencing, flower arrangement, lectures, Canyon Ranch seminars, darts competition, coffee get-together, line dancing, diamond seminar (designed to sell, of course), art class, bridge, needlework and knitting, golf and special events.
It is a chilly voyage in October so most passengers spend more time indoors than outside, save for the hardy fitness buffs who jog around deck 7 where three times equals a mile.
In warm weather, Deck 9 is the place to be with a choice of two swimming pools. They really tout the Canyon Ranch spa, but for some prices are a bit steep with a 50-minute massage going for more than $200. What's more, you can't use the facilities such as the steam, sauna or hydrotherapy pool unless you book a treatment. Since I didn't pop for a rub or facial, mani/pedi like I'm prone to do, I had to forgo my usual steams (which would have felt great during the chilly crossing).The Fitness Centre is well used and amply appointed with lots of treadmills and machinery and it's free.
In addition to traditional Afternoon Tea, there are also pricey boutiques, an art gallery with art auction, sports courts, swimming pools and traditional deck sports such as quoits and shuffleboard.
The crossing isn't recommended for kids although there were a few during our trip who had access to a Play Zone with toys, games and activities managed by certified Early Years staff. A range of activities is run by the youth staff including sports, arts and crafts and a disco, as well as themed days such as Pirate Day. The teen area, with its games consoles and relaxed layout, provides an ideal setting for older children to meet and make new friends.
Children must be a minimum of one year old to participate in the nursery without parental supervision. Infants under one year old are OK to bring if you accompany them.
A vast array of enrichment and lecture programs are available:
- Cunard Insights: With the Cunard Insights Program, you can explore a number of historical and contemporary issues presented by a wide range of speakers including explorers, academics, former ambassadors and politicians, historians and scientists, award-winning novelists, biographers and acclaimed actors and filmmakers.
- Royal Astronomical Society: Founded in 1820, the society encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. Speakers from the Royal Astronomical Society are on board select voyages, offering you the opportunity to learn about the constellations, meteorites, space travel and to participate in star gazing on deck, weather permitting.
When to go
The best time to travel on Queen Mary 2's transatlantic crossings is during the warmer days of summer, which is essentially QM2's high season.
- Cruisers with long memories may remember RMS Queen Mary, the Cunard ocean liner that sailed chiefly across the North Atlantic from 1936 to 1967. Now a hotel, museum and restaurant, she's permanently moored in Long Beach, Calif. The ship is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- The speed record for the classic North Atlantic crossing is four days, set by the S.S. United States (now being resurrected by Crystal Cruises) in 1952. “But with jet travel available to those in a hurry, speed is no longer what's most important,” Capt. Wells told us. “We like to travel the elegant way.”
Patti Pietschmann sailed on Queen Mary 2 on a media pass as a guest of Cunard Line. See Cruiseable's Ethics & Disclosure policy.
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Top highlights on this ship
- The planetarium shows
- Lectures by leading academics, scientists, politicians, entertainers and historians
- Canyon Ranch Spa and Thalassotherapy pool, if you can afford it
- The transatlantic crossings from New York to Southampton are really one of a kind.
- Cleanliness of the entire ship
- Abundance of onboard activities: fencing, poetry, lectures, line dancing, movies, games, wine tasting ($45 a person, spa seminars and more
- It's fun seeing the pets in the kennel on board. On this voyage there were 12 dogs and three cats.
Top dining options on board
Editor & community ratings
“Since January 2004, the majestic ocean liner has sailed more than 400 voyages, including more than 200 Transatlantic crossings, and has carried more than 1.3 million guests — and more than 2,000 dogs. The crew has served over 58 million meals, 21.9 million cups of tea, and 2.7 million scones.”
“Massive size, sleek hull design, a pronounced bow, and internal strengthening allow the QM2 to gracefully slice through all but the most tempestuous seas without undue slamming — and often without reducing speed. This gives her a huge advantage over any other passenger vessel — in rough sea conditions, this is the ship I want to be aboard.”