Cunard transatlantic cruise review
By Julie Peasgood | 31 Jan 2020
Sailing on Queen Mary 2 is one of the most iconic voyages you can take. In this Cunard transatlantic cruise review, Julie Peasgood reveals how she crossed the Atlantic in style.
I am beside myself with excitement. A long-held dream of mine has been to sail on Queen Mary 2, and now here we are, surrounded by regal splendour, making the legendary transatlantic voyage from New York to Southampton.
We are an incredible 61 different nations and 18 dogs on board, though canine companions are housed up in kennels on Deck 12; they have their own visiting and exercise area and no access to the ship’s public spaces of the ship (unless they are guide dogs). But the fact that passengers can sail on this magnificent vessel with their pooches in tow somehow makes it even more special, and I’m already coveting a border terrier named Muffin.
With seven solid days at sea this is not a cruise as such, it’s an event, and if you’re going to take this historic journey from the US to Europe (or vice-versa) then Cunard’s flagship and the last ocean liner in the world, is the one to choose.
Admittedly we are sailing in December and the Atlantic is grown up sea; the waves are serious, substantial and gunmetal grey. But QM2 was specifically designed to withstand the most ferocious of North Atlantic storms. And as it happens, Captain Christopher Wells manages to avoid the worst of the weather and navigate us back to Southampton so safely and skilfully that there’s not so much as a ripple on our G&Ts.
Wintertime doesn’t have the monopoly on adverse weather either; you can experience Gale Force 10 winds in June but on QM2 it doesn’t even touch the sides. Its massive hull is two metres deeper than on conventional ships, it sports a pointy front (technical term) to cut through the waves, a bulbous bow which increases speed and fuel efficiency while reducing drag and, with 40 per cent more steel and 30 per cent more power than competitors, she slices smoothly through the sea.
Now I don’t usually get excited by a ship’s vital statistics, but in this case I really am. Queen Mary 2 is not just an ocean liner, she is an ocean liner with wings. Well, sort of. The correct term is stabilisers but think of them like aircraft wings, and the good news is she is equipped with not just one pair (like most cruise ships) but two sets of these complex pieces of engineering which reduce movement by up to 80 per cent.
I find this information very reassuring, especially when the captain announces we are just a few nautical miles away from a notorious ‘ship graveyard’ (home to 365 shipwrecks) and shortly afterwards we pass close to where the Titanic came to rest. Call me a wimp but I really appreciate those stabilisers.
For the record, I am informed in the Commodore Club, our favourite (and surprisingly secret) bar, that a Stabiliser is also a cocktail; usually served in a shot glass and comprising brandy and port in equal measures. I appreciate a couple of these too: not only are they apparently a great medication for delicate tummies, but they also have an unerring ability to induce a good 10 hours sleep without interruption.
Not that any help is needed for sweet dreams. The beds are adorned with crisp, cool sheets that swaddle us like babes in arms. They’re so huge we can’t even find each other.
We do seem to have a homing instinct however for the Kings Court Buffet. Spanning most of the middle of Deck 7 it has a generous number of tables for two and never really seems to close, with breakfast morphing seamlessly into lunch.
We enjoy room service on a couple of evenings, or take dinner in the wonderfully ornate Britannia Restaurant, all stained glass, grand staircases and sparkles. But for breakfast and lunch Kings Court works well, offering an awe-inspiring variety of dishes, including an outstanding sushi section and some of the finest guacamole I’ve ever tasted (which strangely finds its way onto my plate no matter what else is on there).
It’s worth trying the Steakhouse at The Verandah restaurant too; we treat ourselves on our last night as it’s so highly recommended. There is a supplement of around $39 per person (and oddly the wines are more expensive here too) but the steaks, seafood and service all prove first-rate.
Also at the top of their game are the onboard speakers. We’re riveted by a series of talks given by theatre director and producer Giles Ramsay, spanning everything from Shakespeare to pantomime, and the celebrity lecturer, former frontline soldier Brian Wood, draws both tears and a standing ovation at midday from a packed Royal Court theatre.
I can’t share with you all the wonderful destinations we visit on this cruise because there aren’t any but as single sailaways go it is superb. And if you’re going to have just one, you couldn’t choose a better departure port than New York City’s Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, especially at night. It’s pure fairy tale, all the classic features of the Manhattan skyline twinkle and glow, on their best form for photographs. The Statue of Liberty is captured from every possible angle and then suddenly we are underneath the colossal Verrazano suspension bridge and out into the ocean.
This voyage is in high demand and opinions vary as to whether an eastbound crossing (which we are doing) or a westbound crossing is best. The latter boasts an unforgettable early morning arrival into New York, plus 25-hour days – clocks are put back an hour every day in this direction, giving an extra hour’s sleep at night.
The reverse is true on an eastbound crossing, but the clocks are put forward at midday, so we didn’t feel we were missing out on any sleep. It also means if you fly to New York and want to give your credit card a workout, then you can carry back as much as you like without weight restrictions.
Whichever direction you’re travelling in, bracing walks around the deck are invigorating and remarkably popular; I can’t quite believe how many guests gravitate towards the promenade deck – more than any other ship I have ever been on – but the unexpected winter sunshine is hugely tempting.
And when we retreat inside for a hot chocolate or mulled wine, a stroll along any corridor on QM2 is an education in itself; the walls are peppered with photographs, paintings and factual panels, charting Cunard’s history and the countless celebrities and royals who have made this celebrated voyage.
There are many words to describe Queen Mary 2: elegant, charismatic, luxurious, majestic, distinguished, awe-inspiring. I would add ‘gleaming’ to the list. Everything on board glitters and gleams, from the breathtaking lift doors with their etched mirror glass to Illuminations; a lecture theatre, cinema and (thanks to an ingenious domed ceiling) the world’s only ocean-going planetarium all rolled into one.
Apparently Stephen Payne, the naval architect responsible for its design, won a Gold Blue Peter badge for his vision. In an age when many ships look like the boxes they’ve come in, QM2 is a stunning creation: stately and beautiful to behold. Without doubt this is the most glamorous and thrilling way to traverse the Atlantic. And thanks to its unique build, the liner remains calm and collected at any time of the year.
I think Mr Payne deserves a diamond Blue Peter badge. With added glitter.
A seven-night Transatlantic Crossing from New York to Southampton on Queen Mary 2 departing on 25 April costs from £1,239pp, based on two people sharing a Britannia Balcony stateroom, including flights and transfers. For more details visit cunard.com.
To read more reviews on Cunard voyages, read Jennie Bond’s Seychelles cruise review.