Cunard's Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic Crossing: A Cruise Review
When you think of large, luxury cruise ships sailing across the Atlantic from England to New York, the Titanic and her tragic maiden voyage probably comes to mind. You might be surprised to know, though, that there are modern cruise ships, which regularly, safely, and successfully make that same transatlantic journey today. Cunard cruise line’s Queen Mary 2, also called the QM2, is one such ship. It is the cruise my family and I took in 2009, and it is the cruise I will review in this article.
Since personal history changes our perspective and makes a difference in how we interpret our experiences, I should mention that my husband and I, together with our 3 children, ages 11, 9, and 6, have spent 7 of that last 10 years living in developing countries within Asia and Africa. My husband’s job requires that we live overseas in areas that are considered by many to be hardship posts.
Each year, in June, when our kids get out of school, we traverse the globe in order to return to the United States for a few weeks of much-needed rest and relaxation, and to visit our extended families. We have flown home many times via different routes onboard various airlines and every single one of them has been expensive, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. We have experienced long layovers, swollen ankles, cranky children, and like a bad hangover, we wake up the morning after feeling tired and terrible: we hate jetlag.
Desperate for a better way to travel, we searched the Internet for alternatives. Ultimately, we chose Cunard’s QM2 because her extensive itineraries fit the dates we wanted to travel, she departed from a port we could get to relatively easily, and for not too much more than the price of plane tickets, we were able to enjoy 6 nights of a mostly all-inclusive holiday (minus the cost of sodas, alcohol, gambling, spa treatments, and gratuities, of course) onboard a glamorous cruise liner. This seemed like a no-brainer to us so we spoke to a Cunard customer service representative, and booked our voyage with one easy phone call.
Getting to the Port: We flew into London’s Heathrow Airport a day in advance of the cruise. Getting to London from where we live in Zambia takes about 15 hours and we had to transit through South Africa. Johannesburg is notorious for losing luggage, so we allowed 24 hours of wiggle room to increase the chances that our bags would make it in time. A cruise without a formal gown or a bathing suit would be no fun at all so this is something to consider when making plans.
On the morning of embarkation, we joined Cunard representatives in Heathrow’s international arrivals area. They checked our names off the list, gave us tags for our suitcases, and led the way to the big tour bus. We, along with about 50 or 60 other passengers, boarded the comfortable coach and snoozed all the way to the port in South Hampton: about a 2-hour drive from London.
Embarkation: This was only my second time cruising, and my husband’s third, so we didn’t have much embarkation experience with which to compare. The line to board the ship was long, but it moved quickly and the wait was not bad. Passing through security was a breeze compared to airline travel. Once onboard, we encountered a photographer who enthusiastically snapped our pictures. We were tired, but we posed and smiled politely. What we really wanted was to make a beeline for our staterooms and then the bar.
The Staterooms: Our children were thrilled with their interior room. With 2 sets of super cool bunk beds (or berths as they are called on ships) and a TV, what more could they want?
The room my husband and I shared directly across the hall was well appointed with the usual upscale hotel-type necessities, and the view of the ocean from our balcony was breathtaking. We really appreciated the bottle of champagne, which sat waiting for us, well chilled in a bucket of ice. To our surprise, our bags were already in our rooms, laid out nice and neatly on the beds. We were off to a really great start.
My 3 favorite things about the stateroom were the air conditioner, the bed linens, and the blackout draperies. Together with the gentle motion of the ship, they transformed our room into a cold, dark, cave-like cradle. It was the most excellent sleep I have ever experienced. I am still considering buying a set of QM2 linens for my own bed here at home.
The Ship: Once we were acquainted with our staterooms and hydrated with a little bubbly, we went on a self-guided tour of the ship. There are miles of decks and corridors. Thankfully, maps are posted everywhere and we could always find a helpful staff member to point us in the right direction.
With our kids in the lead, we found the 5 swimming pools, one of which is an indoor pool, the restaurants, the theater, and the most important part of the ship in our family’s opinion: The Play Zone. Our kids loved The Play Zone, and every minute they were not in The Play Zone, they were begging to go to the Play Zone. They couldn’t get enough of The Play Zone.
The QM2 really is a thing of beauty. When I consider her fine furnishings, art deco paintings, sparkling chandeliers, richly colored carpets and upholstery, dark wood finishes, and sweeping staircases, 4 words come to mind: sophisticated, classic, graceful, and elegant. My favorite decorative touches were the masses of live floral arrangements displayed in every nook and cranny of the ship, and the massive grand piano in the main lobby. They made great backdrops for the family photos I’ll treasure forever.
The Entertainment & Food: I mentioned how much our kids enjoyed The Play Zone. They loved everything about it including the kid-friendly toys and equipment, the fun young crew, and the oodles of planned games and activities. They made new friends, did crafts, visited the bridge, went on scavenger hunts, had pizza and pajama parties, and watched the chefs in the galley carve sculptures out of butter. There was no extra charge for this wonderful service and after-hours babysitting was available for a fee.
There was enough fun to go around for everybody, grown-ups included. During the day, my husband and I were always able to find a cozy lounge chair to curl up on to read a good book or just admire the horizon. We perused the shops, went for a swim, played board games together, admired art in the gallery, visited the planetarium, and ate and ate and ate. It seemed like there was a buffet going on somewhere at all times.
Late each afternoon, we would collect our children from The Play Zone and go back to our rooms to get all dressed up for dinner. I curled my girls’ hair and helped them into their pretty party dresses and patent leather shoes while my husband helped my son with his hair gel and bow tie. Dinner in the main dining room, the Britania Restaurant, was a big deal every night, with the dress code either being formal or semi-formal most nights.
We really liked our server, a young man from the Philippines. Since our family lived in Manila for 2 years, we instantly had lots to talk about. He was assigned to our table for the duration of the cruise and we found him to be very attentive and especially good with our children. He could fold cloth napkins into fun shapes and our kids thought that was the greatest. By the end of the week we were all good friends. The service was excellent and the food was plentiful, varied, and delicious. My husband still raves about the horseradish sauce that accompanied the prime rib. He enjoyed the sauce so much he ordered it on the side with everything.
The transition from dinner to the nightly shows was always very smooth and well organized. Our children preferred front row seating so they could see the performers up close, and we were never disappointed. We enjoyed everything from singers and dancers to concert pianists.
My husband and I could have danced the nights away. There were tons of opportunities to cut a rug, but we did not. I think my husband would rather have a root canal than go dancing. The Poker table and slot machines were more his thing so we spent a fair amount of time in the casino. We also played a game or two of Bingo. I wish I could say we won, but we had fun trying.
After all that fine wining and dining, it was time to walk some laps outside on the deck where there is an actual track. I visited the gym several times to lift hand weights, and although the workout space was small, it was adequate for my purposes. There were exercise classes I could have attended, but they started way too early for me.
The Canyon Ranch Spa was a slice of heaven. One of the first things I did onboard was book my manicure, pedicure, and haircut. I should have scheduled my appointments way ahead of time, though. You can do that in advance and online, apparently. By the time we set sail, the spa had very few appointments left and I barely got in. I also thought the prices were a bit high, but that wasn’t a surprise. In the end, I was a happy, pampered lady with a new hairdo and shiny nails.
We spent time in the library/book store, which had quite a lot of good and interesting reading material packed into a small space. Something I found both ironic and slightly twisted was the entire case of books dedicated to disasters at sea and sunken ships, the most prominent and notable disaster being the Titanic tragedy, of course. I tried to remember if I have ever seen a movie about airline crashes while watching in-flight entertainment. I’m pretty sure I haven’t.
Disembarkation: We docked in Brooklyn just as the sun was coming up. It was wonderful to see the New York skyline at dawn. What a view. I have to admit that as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty, I got goose bumps and my eyes welled up. It was good to be home.
Leaving the ship was a long, but orderly process. Our bags had been collected the night before so all we had to do was wait around until it was our turn to disembark. Once in the cruise terminal, we found our luggage without any problem and went through customs and immigration quickly. Taxis of all sizes were lined up and waiting outside. We had no problem finding an SUV big enough to carry all 5 of us as well as our 5 huge suitcases.
The Naysayers: Transatlantic cruising is not for everyone. From talking to friends, I’ve learned that some people go on cruises specifically for the shore excursions. They say the more ports of call, the better and they can’t imagine spending a long, boring week at sea. How dull. All I can say is that we were never bored. In fact, we didn’t have enough time to do all the activities offered on the QM2. We could’ve used a few more days. If island hopping is your thing, you won’t get any of that on the QM2 transatlantic crossing, so maybe it is not the cruise for you.
My Overall Impression: If I had to sum up our cruise experience onboard the QM2 with one word it would be, “special.” It just was, every moment of it. And the best part of all was not having jetlag. That’s right. Each night before going to bed we were instructed to set our clocks back one hour. So, not only did we get an hour of extra sleep every night and 25 hours in a day, we arrived in the United States well rested and fresh as daisies, ready for our next adventure.
You might be interested to know that the following summer we sailed across the Atlantic onboard a different ship with another cruise line. It was nice, but that is a whole other review. Let's just say that this summer, our family is booked on the QM2 once again and we can't wait. Hope to see you there.