TravelPulse On Board: Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 Review
Photo courtesy of Cunard Line. All other photos by Jason Leppert
Queen Mary 2
At a Glance
By the Numbers
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
When the Queen Mary 2 launched in 2004, it marked a renewal for Cunard Line as an effective replacement for the aging Queen Elizabeth 2. Now, the beautiful one-of-a-kind ship has been remastered to the tune of $132 million. The Queen Mary 2 is a very special cruise ship that once again shines brightly. As an ocean liner, it has a much deeper draft below the water line and a beefier steel structure that can handle the rough sea conditions of the North Atlantic with greater stability during its frequent crossings.
Externally, the ship exhibits a spectacularly bold look reminiscent of the first Queen Mary, and now more than ever the interiors mirror the art deco original with redesigned venues like the expanded Grand Lobby (above) and Carinthia Lounge (below). By removing two central elevators, the atrium better soars, and the sparkling new lounge now pushes all the way out to the windows for added seating for enjoying cafe bites and gourmet coffees during the day.
The layout of the Queen Mary 2 is particularly distinct from other cruise ships as the promenade deck is situated much higher above the water line and cresting waves below. Venues ordinarily positioned at the very front (show lounge) or rear (main dining room) on other cruise ships are more centralized away from any seesawing action. To bypass these public rooms, mezzanine level corridors continue to the stern and bow, above which sits excellent observation decks and the Commodore Club observation lounge (complete with a great scale model of the ship below).
Part of the 2016 remastering included an overhaul of private accommodations, from adding new balcony and studio cabins to refreshing the rest, and mostly the result is perfect. Britannia balcony staterooms, for instance, now sport flat-panel televisions, freeing up extra desk space where a CRT one once sat, and the decor now features a handsome gold and blue palette, striking black-and-white photographs of historic Cunard buildings and updated fixtures. Storage is plentiful, but the new square cabinet pulls are difficult to grip.
Unfortunately, the old flaking cabinet hardware in the bathrooms remains, as do grungy shower pans in a space that is smaller than today's new average, and thermostats still display very worn buttons. Also, ceiling rust has been poorly painted over, and new balcony rust has already begun to emerge. These repairs should have been included in the remodeling budget and hopefully will be addressed soon to polish what is otherwise an excellent cabin makeover.
On a ship that is frequently deployed on transatlantic crossings, activities are necessary to keep guests entertained during consecutive sea days. Of course, the ship is perfect for those who love to lounge about with a good book and partake in a spa treatment or enjoy the exceptionally relaxing thermal suite at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub (below). Just don't expect the most elaborate attractions in the way of, say, water slides to pass the time.
The Queen Mary 2 is a return to cruising traditions like Cunard's expert enrichment series featuring high-profile special guests, lecturers and musicians like master jazz artist Herbie Hancock, who performed with gusto and sat in for an interesting Q&A session (below) on our cruise. Of course, the ship was the first to sport a planetarium at sea, and its dome screen films still pack the house to this day. Altogether, the ship offers a wide variety of activities from fencing to fondue as my wife and I discussed here.
Dining on the Queen Mary 2 is honestly a bit hit or miss. In the main Britannia Restaurant, we found meals to consist of excellent appetizers but inconsistently good entrees. The food at the vastly improved Kings Court buffet venue – now opened up for better station access with the removal of the aforementioned central elevators – is better than before but still lacking in flavor from time to time. Specialty Italian dinners here at La Piazza were the inverse of the main dining room with an underwhelming sliced veal rosettes appetizer and delicious prosciutto and basil crusted scallops and truffle garlic shrimp entree (below).
The adjacent made-to-order pizzas and complimentary cafe courses at the Carinthia Lounge were greater standouts as was room service's excellent burgers. Now that the line's partnership with Todd English has lapsed, the new specialty restaurant onboard is the improved La Verandah with French and Spanish inspired cuisine. Other than a less than tender fillet of beef entree at dinner, the courses here were more explosive in flavor profile and were even better at lunch. But the surprise hit of the cruise was the new Godiva chocolate bar at Sir Samuel's where reasonably priced truffles, pastries, fondues and sundaes delighted our sweet tooth.
While Cunard may not be a line specifically known for its entertainment, the Queen Mary 2 actually has a fine selection. Production shows like "Rhythm of the Night" mostly follow a revue-style formula seen elsewhere in the industry, but dancing is quite good as are creative motion graphics on the video wall backdrop to enhance the live performances. The only weak elements are perhaps thinner individual and ensemble vocals.
Unique to Cunard is the RADA acting troupe that performs theatrical dramas by the likes of William Shakespeare in a compilation of death scenes in "The Bard On Board" (below). Of course, live music elsewhere is an entertainment highlight including the talented house big band and other instrumentalists. We particularly enjoyed a Dixieland jazz lunch performance in the new Carinthia Lounge that was standing room only as well as classical guitar, string quartet and harp music during afternoon tea and concerts.
Like the food onboard, the service was also inconsistent. Our stateroom attendant was excellent as were a number of friendly bar servers who took the time to chat with us in the champagne bar and observation lounge. However, it was hard to get a drink order in at the Carinthia Lounge without actively flagging someone down, and special requests in the main dining room felt frowned upon. Nonetheless, the Queen Mary 2 remains a favorite ship of ours.
More by Jason Leppert
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