I (Alex, one of Cruise Sale Finder's friendly team of consultants) was lucky enough to recently get onboard the beautiful, traditional cruise liner Queen Mary 2 as it sailed a World Cruise. I departed from Auckland and sailed to Wellington over three days with a stop at the beautiful Bay of Islands, and spent that time getting to know the ship and enjoying the famous Cunard cruise experience.
As a true ocean liner rather than a "floating resort" cruise ship, the Queen Mary 2 evokes the glamorous golden era of ocean travel, when ships rather than jets were the preferred way to cross the seven seas. Cunard's cruises are quite a bit different to the more mainstream lines, and it can be difficult to decide whether to take the plunge and try it out - that's why I took on the difficult job of living it up onboard to let you know what it's really like.
Accommodation and living spaces
My digs for the duration of my time onboard were cabin 6113 which is below the bars of Deck 7. It had an enclosed balcony, which is necessary for decks below a certain level on the ship due to the ocean liner design. Although not for everybody, this unique balcony situation can be ideal when the weather is not so good. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it - there was plenty of sun which I could enjoy in the two loungers. There was also a bucket of bubbles waiting when I arrived - a nice touch!
Despite being situated underneath a bar area, the cabin was peaceful and quiet. It was also neat and tidy, albeit a little dated, and there was plenty of wardrobe space for the short cruise although it might get a little tight on longer itineraries. A highlight was the little bottles of shampoo and conditioner, hotel-style, as opposed to the dispensers of soap and shampoo often found on other lines.
Overall, the public areas struck me as cosy despite the large size of the ship, with rooms and spaces which weren't overwhelming yet also uncrowded. My favourite spots to get a drink before dinner were the Commodore Club and the Winter Garden, both featuring classy live piano to set the mood. The night club "G32" was quite empty, as clubbing is not really the Cunard scene, but it is a big place and there were more people in there when a band played as opposed to a DJ.
Activities, entertainment and onboard life fit for a queen
Topping my list of "what to do on the QM2" was the planetarium, the only one to be found on a cruise ship anywhere in the world. This amazing facility, called "Illuminations" has daily astronomy shows and also serves as a movie theatre.
I also enjoyed a massage special at the Canyon Ranch spa, along with a dip in the hydrotherapy pools.
Sadly, the sailaway party on the top deck was a little anti-climactic as the ship did not end up leaving until midnight and most people had long gone! However that was understandable as for most passengers this was just another stop on a world cruise. Big cities like Sydney would likely have a better turnout. Later on in the cruise, I was impressed with the production of Jersey Boys on her last night onboard - it's definitely up there amongst my top cruise shows.
The dress code on the Queen Mary 2 is quite formal, particularly after 6pm. On a normal night, a jacket is required for men (tie optional), while women must wear cocktail dresses or stylish separates. Formal evenings are when passengers can go all out, and it's part of the fun of a Cunard cruise. On these evenings, cocktail dresses or trouser suits are required, and evening gowns welcome. Men must wear a tuxedo, dinner jacket or dark suit with appropriate neckwear, formal national dress or a military uniform. Our group certainly looked snazzy!
Food and more food
Now we're getting to the good part - what's on the menu aboard the Queen Mary 2. My main dining room was the Britannia Restaurant, a lovely place to eat with good food and a nice ambience - although I did find that one of the meals I had there was better than the other. The Kings Court buffet is also included in the cruise fare, and where I enjoyed breakfast everyday. The food is tasty and there are plenty of options.
Todd English is the specialty restaurant, with low prices charged per dish (around US$5-7 for an entree or dessert and $16-18 per main). I was very impressed with the contemporary cuisine, and went with the waiter's recommendations to try the "Love Letters" entree, the surf and turf and a Chocolate Fallen Cake to finish it all off - with a delicious French wine. However, this restaurant will soon be replaced by The Verandah serving premium French cuisine - I hope it is as good or better!
The Cunard experience
Overall, it was a very positive experience on this grand dame of a ship. It is a very traditional style of cruising which may not be everybody's cup of tea, but it certainly appeals to many - I noticed that a large proportion of those I met were repeat Cunard guests.
Cunard also offers some major cruising classiness. The small touches make the atmosphere quite elegant. Little things like being asked at the bar which brand of a particular spirit you prefer make all the difference!