As the grandest ocean liner ever built prepares to celebrate her fifth birthday this year, Gary Buchanan takes a detailed look at exactly what she has to offer.
Five years ago a ship appeared on the horizon like no other. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 was a show-stopper, and as flagship of Britain’s merchant marine she grabbed the headlines fro the outset. Since her christening in January 2004 by Her Majesty The Queen, this leviathan has cruised three quarters of a million miles, completed 104 Atlantic crossings, and called at 115 ports in 45 countries. Apart from being the largest, longest, tallest, widest, and most expensive passenger liner ever built, QM2 opened a new chapter in the annals of cruising.
So what can her passengers expect?
Having sailed regularly since her maiden voyage, I’m always impressed at the all-pervading atmosphere of a gentler time, couple with an aura of decadence. Cunard’s venerable history is reflected in the décor and ambience, with omnipresent fin-de-siècle plush as well as generous soupcon of Art Deco. From the moment you embark into the Grand Lobby you appreciate the definable difference between this thoroughbred and other cruise ships.
Whilst there were detractors in the early days, guest satisfaction levels are today unsurpassed, and for many first-time or repeat passengers, it’s the attentive White Star service – including white-gloved afternoon tea – combined with an opulent environment that sets QM2 apart.
Staterooms and suites
There are no fewer than 25 different cabin grades ranging from surprisingly spacious 59-square metres minimum-grade inside cabins to some of the largest staterooms afloat. From the highest to the lowest grade, the quality of the fittings, furnishings, and appointments is exceptional. Some travellers are quite content with an inside cabin that tends to come with a ridiculously cheap price tag. Others are prepared to splash out more than 20 times as much for a split-level Queens Grill penthouse complete with butler service, whirlpool tubs and private exercise equipment. My personal favourites, however, are the Princess Grill Junior Suites on Deck 10. They’re cheaper than the Queens Grill suites and although not as large, they are every bit as comfortable. Whether travelling in Britannia Class (less expensive and therefore smaller cabins) or Grill Class (larger cabins and single-seating cabins) or Grill Class (larger cabins and single-seating dining in the Grills), all passengers enjoy the run of the ship’s many facilities.
Wine and dine
Most passengers dine in the two deck-high Britannia Restaurant, boasting a glass cupola ceiling and the biggest tapestry at sea, depicting the ship’s maiden arrival in New York. But for those that prefer to dine at a time of their choice there’s the single-seating option of the Club Balcony, and for special occasions the intimate Todd English signature restaurant (there’s a supplement for lunch and dinner), has become a firm favourite. There’s also the Kings Court for buffet-style breakfasts and lunches; while at night this divides into four separate rooms offering Asian and Italian food, as well as a Chef’s Galley and Carvery.
The soignée Queens Grill and Princess Grill, only for passengers occupying the tope suites, are as attractive as any a restaurant in London or New York. Here the menus feature more chefs’ specialities, while the personal attention from white-gloved stewards goes up a notch or three.
There are several formal nights each cruise, with an enforced dress code to maintain the tradition of elegant seagoing life. For those who don’t want to adhere to this, the only dining option on formal nights is the Kings Court.
Bars and lounges
There are 10 bars and lounges on this paragon of the seas ranging from the distinguished Chart Room with live jazz, to the recreation of a London pub that is the Golden Lion and where traditional pub lunches are served; and from the sophisticated Commodore Club – an intimate lounge with piano music, to the tranquil Winter Garden.
Entertainment options abound with the Royal Court Theatre boasting West End and Broadway calibre shows; concerts and recitals; performances by RADA graduates; as well as engaging guest speakers as part of the Cunard ‘Insights’ programme. The only planetarium at sea brings the night sky to life; here movies are an option when the weather prevents taking the sea air, while The Queens Room boasts the largest ballroom at sea and is perfect for afternoon tea and Captain’s cocktail parties, or there’s the G32 nightclub, featuring a DJ and live dance band.
There’s a litany of other diversions too, including art classes, bridge sessions, and an all-too-inviting casino. The Library, complete with walnut shelves and 8,000 books, is a favourite haunt; while the Internet Centre is popular thanks to the Cunard ConneXions programme that offers computer classes. There’s also a golf simulator and a plethora of deck sports, plus an array of shops. Found around the Grand Lobby on Deck 3, Mayfair Shops includes brands such as Harrods, H Stern’s, Chopard and Hermes.
Spa and outdoor activities
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub is a temple to well being and offers a gamut of therapies plus a Thalassotherapy pool, whirlpools, saunas, reflexology suites, and aromatherapy steam rooms. There’s also a gym and three outdoor pools (the Terrace Pool on Deck 8 is adults only, while the Minnows Pool on Deck 6 is for children), and kids and teens are well catered for at The Zone and The Play Zone, which offer extensive programmes and British-trained nannies.
An added extra
The QM2 has a kennel programme on all crossings between New York and Southampton, in both directions. Overseen by a full-time Kennel Master, there are 12 spacious kennels on Deck 12 for travelling cats and dogs.
Click here to visit our Queen Mary 2 cruise ship profile.