Overall Review: Our Transatlantic Crossing On Cunard’s Queen Mary 2

After 2+ years we finally embarked on an overseas vacation! My wife and I are fans of Cunard. In my opinion, the transatlantic crossing is Cunard’s signature voyage. This was our 17th trip with Cunard. We paid our own fares, but Cunard gave me perks like a cabin upgrade within Britannia class, unlimited internet, dinner in the specialty restaurant and a spa treatment for each of us. Full disclosure is important.

Overall Score out of 100: 97 points

Covid has changed a lot. We had three Covid tests in seven days! When you enter the Britannia dining doom for breakfast and ask for a table for three (us and a guest) they ask for cabin numbers before seating you. It’s contact tracing. They can’t do the large Captain’s Welcome cocktail party. You are wearing masks indoors except when eating, drinking or relaxing in your cabin. It’s tempting to throw in 10 bonus points for coping with Covid, but evaluations need to be in uniform categories.

  1. Boarding and disembarking. Boarding involved a Covid test at the pier. It was the nasal swab variety and you waited about 20 minutes to get a text with your results. Check in itself is speeded up because you entered your credit card information and other details online days in advance. Disembarkation was perfection. The ship docked in New York at 6:30 AM. Our group was off at 8:10 AM. We had a guest with a lower tiered disembarkation category. I simply visited the Purser’s Office, explained the situation and they handed me extra tags for our group. Score: 10/10.
  2. Health. They did an excellent job with Covid protocols. We were tested three times. Sunday at the pier, Wednesday enroute and Saturday before arrival. As an FYI, this is a lottery you don’t want to win. About an hour after your deck is tested, an announcement is made “Will Mr. John Smith and Mrs. Janet Smith on Deck 11 please return to your cabin and call the Purser’s office immediately.” The staff wore masks 100% of the time. In a different category, the lifeboat drill is now a video in your cabin followed by you showing up at your muster station and getting your cabin keycard scanned. Score: 10/10.
  3. Ship design. The Queen Mary 2 scores high because it’s an ocean liner, designed for long sea voyages. We encountered a Strong Gale (Force 9 on the 12-point Beaufort Scale). We don’t feel any movement up to Force 7. We felt a mild rocking in bed during Force 9. A few ago, the Winter Garden on Deck 7 was transformed into the Carinthia Lounge. It’s a big version of the Chart Room bar that’s near the Britannia Restaurant. I’ve seen about 100+ people seated in many comfortable sofa groupings, socially distanced. Score: 10/10.
  4. Stateroom. Passenger cabins on cruise ships are like Lego blocks. They are very standardized. The obstructed view balcony cabin on deck 6 we booked was identical in size to the balcony cabin on Deck 11 we were given as an upgrade. Suites on Cunard are the larger cabins in the Princess Grill and Queens Grill categories. I visited one in each category and took pictures. That will be addressed in another article. I think about 87% of the ship is Britannia grade cabins. They have Penhaligon toiletries, Twinings tea and Godiva pillow chocolates. I don’t think we have ever been disappointed with our stateroom. Some inside cabins might be located near a crew elevator, but a good travel agent can help you choose a good location. Score: 10/10.
  5. Shopping. There are plenty of shops and boutiques. I saw Roberto Coil and Michael Kors. There’s a Barbour outwear boutique. It’s an iconic British brand. You can buy formal wear. The duty-free liquor shop has some bargains. Tanqueray gin was $30 for two liters! In the US, liters cost $32+ before taxes. Not everything in the duty-free liquor or other shops is a good deal. Although there is a form of price guarantee, I think prices can still be high. A logoed polo shirt runs about $50. Score: 8/10.
  6. Food. We dined in the Britannia restaurant. Friends who took two back to back earlier trips on the Queen Elizabeth felt the food has even improved since the pandemic lockdown. I was quite happy with the selections in the dining room. When I wanted more roast beef, it was brought over, no questions asked. I wanted two souffles, I got two souffles. We also had two lunches and one dinner in the Verandah Restaurant. You pay a surcharge, but it’s a step closer to what the Grill level dining rooms must be delivering. Score: 10/10.
  7. Drinks. Expect to pay $10-12 for a glass of wine or a cocktail. Others are higher. There is a service charge added automatically. The wine list has some great deals. (I’m a wine fan.) We often ordered the Muscadet, a French wine from the Loire Valley. It was $33.00/bottle. I always order a bottle of Domaine Leflaive Macon-Verze, a white Burgundy. It was $69.00/bottle on the wine list. It retails in US stores at about $70.00. I also order a bottle of Chateau Musar, priced about $63.00. It’s about $68.00 in US stores. Score: 10/10.
  8. Food. This is a broad category. I consider the wine and food pairing lunch I booked for $80.00 in the Verandah restaurant as entertainment. These five course lunches with eight wines are a great value. No whisky tasting this voyage, but that’s entertainment too. There were shows in the Royal Court Theater. Generally speaking, I feel the shows on stage fall short on most cruise ships. The galas on formal nights are spectacular. The lecture series always has a variety of speakers. This included a former Concorde pilot, a former NASA head and a landscape designer who exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show. Score: 9/10.
  9. Ports. We start off in Southampton. There is a spectacular mall, the Westquay Shopping Centre. They have many stores including Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Waitrose. Plenty of restaurants too. Southampton has lots more to offer. New York City speaks for itself. Some consider it the center of the universe. Score: 10/10.
  10. Staff attitude. We are Diamond level World Club members. We tip with white envelopes in addition to the automatic tipping. We try to treat everyone as equals. Staff remember us. We are treated very well, yet I think anyone who smiles and is polite will get the same treatment. I think every staff member is happy the ship is sailing again. However, I also think over the decades cabin stewards are now less visible and in more of a housekeeping role. Score: 10/10.

High Points of the Voyage

Here’s what we liked best:

  1. Food and Italian wine pairing. It was leisurely and excellent. It took place in the Verandah Restaurant over 2+ hours. I made two new friends.
  2. Smooth sailing. It’s the design of the ship, the course chosen and the condition of the seas. It was a good crossing.
  3. Carinthia Lounge. The drawback to the Chart Room is its limited size. If you want a drink before dinner, it can be hard to find a seat. When they designed the Carinthia Lounge, they solved this problem.
  4. Covid protocols. We felt safe. We felt Cunard was taking things very seriously. You might not want to be tested three times, but I intend to frame the “You tested negative” letter we found under our door on Sunday morning before we disembarked.
  5. The Mareel Spa. I had an excellent massage. It was a Thai deep tissue massage as I requested, lasting 90 minutes. The spa is enormous! I took advantage of only one small part of their offerings.
  6. Wine prices. They have a list with many of the world famous wine names, yet there is also a large selection of reasonably priced wines.
  7. Pavilion pool area. We were sailing Transatlantic in March! You aren’t spending time on an outer deck unless you are bundled up. This is the pool covered with the retractable glass roof. It wasn’t ever packed with people.
  8. Disembarkation. We docked at 6:30 AM. We walked off at 8:10 AM, found our luggage, got a porter, learned customs and were ready to get in our car and head home. Very easy.

Areas For Improvement

Not everything was perfect.

  1. Internet problems. Cunard adopted a new pricing model. You buy access by the day or the whole voyage instead of a minute package. Friends told us they had great service on Queen Elizabeth. On the Queen Mary 2, there were big problems. You needed to make multiple attempts to connect. The connection often dropped, sometimes within a couple of minutes.
  2. Time changes. Yes, they are listed in the daily program, but it’s in small print and you need to read carefully to determine if the time “went back an hour” last night or “will be going back an hour” early tomorrow morning. We need to go back to the piece of paper on your bed saying, “remember to set your watch back an hour before retiring.” The Navigation channel needs to have a clock. I don’t think it did.
  3. Go back to three formal nights. This is part of Cunard’s signature. This voyage had two instead of three. It was a topic of discussion. People like them.
  4. On stage entertainment. I’m referring to the shows on stage. They could be better.

Overall, we had a great time. I can’t wait to book our next voyage. If you like dressing up, fine dining, relaxed cocktails, insightful lectures and making new friends, you should book a transatlantic crossing on Cunard.

Cover photo courtesy Cunard

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