4.5

Cunard Line

Review Summary

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Pros

  • Handsome Art Deco cabin aesthetic recalls a historic past
  • Sophisticated range of cabins from singles to palatial duplexes
  • High-end flourishes abound, including butler service
  • Wide range of casual and fine-dining restaurant options and bars
  • Exquisite free daily afternoon tea time in the Queens Room
  • Canyon Ranch SpaClub thermal suite is inviting enclave of relaxation
  • Several pools and whirlpools; some are covered for inclement weather
  • Illuminations planetarium presents outstanding entertainment offering
  • RADA acting troupe brilliantly performs the works of William Shakespeare
  • Exceptional live music and ballroom dance atmosphere
  • Godiva chocolate bar at Sir Samuel’s is a reasonably priced treat
  • One-of-a-kind full service dog- and cat-friendly kennels

Cons

  • Hit-or-miss culinary quality in main and specialty restaurants
  • Some spotty cabin maintenance; a few grungy surfaces
  • Inconsistent service can sometimes be perceived as pretentious
  • Formal dress code required at most restaurants (a pro for some)
  • Small showers in entry-level cabins 

Bottom Line

The Cunard cruise line is a throwback to a gilded and golden era of cruise travel -- a time when ocean liners were the way to travel in style. The upscale Queen Mary 2 is the only such vessel operating to this day. Built for stability and strength to frequently cross the Atlantic Ocean, the 2,695-guest ship is as mighty as they come but also extremely elegant with Art Deco details thanks to a dramatic revitalization in 2016. Its cabins range from premium to luxurious, and its public spaces display grandeur at every turn. There are several fine-dining and casual restaurants onboard, though food quality varies. Entertainment focuses on sophistication with Shakespeare performances and afternoon high tea. The QM2 is a traditional ship for lovers of formal attire (with one of the strictest dress codes at sea), not for those looking for a rambunctious fun-in-the-sun sailing.

What's Included (and What's Not)

As with most mainstream cruises, cabin accommodations are included in the base rate of a Queen Mary 2 sailing as are most activities, some dining options, and entertainment, but select amenities beyond that do follow a different structure. While the ship is not nearly as restricted to class as it was in the past, some features are limited to certain levels. Britannia Club, Princess Grill, and Queens Grill Staterooms and Suites do come with some exclusive privileges such as ship-within-a-ship amenities.

Only Britannia Club, Princess Grill, and Queens Grill passengers can dine at the Britannia Club Restaurant, Princess Grill, and Queens Grill, respectively. Also, just Princess Grill and Queens Grill guests have access to The Grills Terrace and Grills Lounge. Princess Grill Suites are also serviced by a concierge, while Queens Grill Suites are attended to by a concierge and a personal butler.

The Verandah can be reserved by any guest for a specialty dining surcharge as can various alternative dinner options in the Kings Court. Godiva chocolate specialties, as well as alcoholic drinks and speciality teas and coffees are extra, too. Also priced on top of the base cruise rate are the likes of shore excursions, retail purchases, casino expenditures, and spa services.

All guests have free access to the main dining room, the buffet, 24-hour room service, and an afternoon tea with sandwiches, cakes, and pastries. Self-serve tea, coffee, water, and fruit juice are also available.

Included activities and entertainment encompass the sports court, swimming pools, whirlpools, gymnasium, kids' facility, nightclub, ballroom dancing, live music, stage shows, film screenings, and enrichment program lectures.

Internet packages are available starting at 120 minutes of access with additional options available onboard pending infrastructure upgrades.

A hotel and dining service charge is automatically applied to guest accounts to tip waiters, stateroom stewards, and other behind-the-scenes personnel. Britannia Stateroom guests pay a small per-person/per-day fee, and Queens and Princess Grill Suite guests pay a few more dollars, per-person/per-day. All bar, wine, and salon services add a 15-percent charge that is divided among crew members in those departments.

Service charges cannot be prepaid prior to boarding but can be adjusted onboard at guests’ discretion at the Purser’s Desk before the sailing is complete.

Read the Full Review for Queen Mary 2 (QM2)

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Oyster Ship Review

Scene

4.5

A modern ocean liner catering to traditionalists and newcomers alike

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The beautiful 2,695-guest Queen Mary 2 was originally launched in 2004 and dramatically revitalized in 2016. British designer Stephen Payne insured that every last detail of the ship held true to Cunard’s famed maritime traditions. Overall, the ship is a time capsule, featuring a grand ballroom and lounges, as well as unquestionably proper (read: British) software. Still, the atmosphere is increasingly international as the ship sails to all parts of the world (apart from its annual transatlantic season), and the line itself is more globally focused than ever before.

The design honors the original Queen Mary architecturally but utilizes the latest technology to supersede its engineering. Most remarkable is how sturdy the ship is. As a genuine ocean liner, its draft is deeper in the water, making the QM2 significantly more stable than other cruise ships of comparable size.

Inside, the QM2 is graceful and refined with voluminous venues and wide corridors. There is plenty of space to go around and few bottlenecks, especially since the addition of elevator banks and the opening up of the Kings Court buffet area, the only previous major points of congestion.

Guests skew older with retired couples comprising the bulk of passengers, but there are many solo passengers as well, catered to with a handful of single cabins. Still, children and families are welcome with a kids' facility, as are dogs and cats with a full-service kennel. Nonetheless, the QM2 remains a quiet ship since such venues are isolated from high-traffic areas.

The Cunard cruise line really provides the last opportunity to experience formal ocean travel of old with the rigid dress code to match, and QM2 is no exception. Jackets are always required of men in the evenings, and those onboard (usually) appreciate the decorum.

Cabins

4.5

A range of staterooms and suites from standard cruise ship varieties to palatial duplexes

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Accommodations on the Queen Mary 2 are broken down into four main categories: Britannia, Britannia Club, Princess Grill, and Queens Grill. A handsome Art Deco aesthetic displays blond natural woods accented by dark outlines and pops of red, gold, and blue hues. Shared amenities across all units include Egyptian cotton bed linens, safes, hairdryers, mini-fridges, telephones, and satellite TVs. Nightly turndown service is an upscale touch. Overall, the fresh interior decor is wonderfully rich and creamy, but the new square cabinet pulls are difficult to grip. Surface maintenance can also be spotty with occasional instances of ceiling rust and grungy shower floors most notable. Thankfully, though, storage is still plentiful, and flat-screen TVs help rooms look modern and smart. 

Entry-level Britannia Staterooms are available in single, inside, ocean-view, and balcony configurations. The first are sized and priced specifically for solo travelers without additional single supplements, and the remainder are best described as premium offerings with a standard cruise ship bedroom and bathroom layout. Beds are comfortable, but showers run small. Individual bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion are provided from the prestigious Penhaligon's brand. 

Our Britannia Balcony Stateroom, specifically, featured a sheltered veranda lower down in the ship, which helped cut down on winds during the crossing. Mostly the same in size but adding dining in an exclusive restaurant are Britannia Club Balcony Staterooms. For truly more palatial accommodations, guests need to upgrade to Princess Grill and Queens Grill Suites, both of which feature their own respective dining rooms as well as larger private amenities and exclusive public lounge and terrace access.

Princess Grill Suites also add concierge service while Queens Grill suites get a concierge and a personal butler. What’s more, the Queens category extends to the ship’s coveted double-decker duplex suites. Tubs also join the showers in suite bathrooms.

Ideal for families, the QM2 additionally features connecting cabins and staterooms that can accommodate third and fourth beds. There are also wheelchair accessible accommodations of varying size.

Altogether, staterooms are well insulated without any unpleasant odors nor excessive noise. The high-build quality of the ship also reduces any disturbing creaks and moans, making it easier to sleep.

Food

4.0

Comfort food is a culinary highlight, while elegant fare can be hit or miss.

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The Queen Mary 2’s main dining room is the Britannia Restaurant, open to all guests for full-service breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. A subsection of the venue is reserved as the Britannia Club Restaurant for passengers in corresponding cabins. Fare is hit or miss with great appetizers but inconsistent entrees matched with lackluster service. When asked to combine plates for surf and turf, the answer was surprisingly, “no.” Perhaps that can only be accommodated at the exclusive Princess Grill or Queens Grill. Specialty dining cover charges may be pre-purchased by contacting Cunard’s Customer Contact Centre for sailings that last eight days or longer. Reservations are also recommended for such restaurants once onboard.

Improved flavors are now found at the Kings Court buffet. Other free culinary highlights are the tapas-style selections at the Carinthia Lounge, custom pizzas at the grill, hamburgers via 24-hour room service, and pub fare at the Golden Lion. The fish and chips are a highlight, especially when paired with a genuine pint of Guinness on tap. There’s also a Boardwalk Cafe on the upper deck, but it is usually closed on crossings.

For a per-person surcharge, the Kings Court offers alternative dinner menus at Aztec (Mexican cuisine); Bamboo (Pan-Asian cuisine); Coriander (Indian cuisine); La Piazza (Italian cuisine); and Smokehouse (American cuisine) on rotation. 

Elsewhere, The Verandah serves up French food in a dedicated specialty restaurant for a per-person charge at lunch and a higher per-person charge at dinner. Both menus are three-course affairs, making delicious lunches the better value. Overall, the food is tastier here since its transformation from Todd English.

For dessert, the Godiva chocolate bar at Sir Samuel’s offers a la carte priced truffles, pastries, fondues, and ice cream sundaes. Costs are quite reasonable, and the temptations are ample. 

It’s worth keeping in mind that the dress code on the QM2 is easily the most formal of any cruise line at sea. During the day, casual shirts and shorts are acceptable. In the evening, the dress code is either formal or informal. Formal consists of an evening or cocktail dress or trouser suit for ladies and a tuxedo, dinner jacket, or dark suit and tie for men. Informal is defined by cocktail dresses or stylish separates for women and a jacket without a tie for men. Neither jeans nor shorts are permitted.

Drinks

4.0

Everything from soft drinks and draft beer to high tea and Champagne 

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There are many drink outlets and bars available throughout the ship ranging from those dedicated to Champagne to coffee. Afternoon tea time in the Queens Room is a highlight. The latter is fantastic for offering its signature beverage, sandwiches, cakes, and pastries for free. All other drinks are extra outside of coffee, water, and fruit juice. Several beer choices are available on draft, and Cunard also features Martini Mixology and Whisky Tasting courses.

Thankfully, there are drink packages to make otherwise individual prices easier to swallow. The all-inclusive soft drink package includes unlimited Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, lemonade, and soda water, as well as orange, apple, grapefruit, pineapple, tomato, and cranberry juices, excluding bottled and fresh-squeezed varieties. The bundle is priced per-person, per-day plus a 15-percent service charge for the entire duration of the voyage.

A coffee card is available for purchase and good toward 10 regular coffees. Speciality lattes, liqueur coffees, hot chocolate, extra flavors, toppings, and larger sizes are excluded from the card's price.

Wine lovers can select either the Captain’s Collection or Commodore’s Collection customized with four, six, nine, or 12 bottles each for up to a 20-percent savings. Fifteen-percent gratuity is already included in these prices. Wine tastings are also available for a per-person fee.

Bottles of wine or Champagne brought aboard to be consumed in restaurants, bars, or lounges are subject to a corkage fee. Passengers are permitted to bring on one bottle per-person for special occasions. Duty free alcohol purchased on the ship cannot be consumed, and will be saved and available to pick up on the last day of the cruise. Groups that wish to provide wine for tasting seminars or consumption in restaurants, bars, or lounges will be charged a corkage fee for each bottle. 

Big band music, Shakespearean plays, a planetarium, and ballroom dancing pass the time.

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As a ship that often spends more time at sea than in port, the QM2 must be on point when it comes to its entertainment game in order to keep passengers amused, and, thankfully, it’s mostly up to the challenge. To be sure, production shows are not going to be the most lavish Broadway-style performances, but they do gratify guests nonetheless. "Rhythm of the Night,” for example, is a fun revue that activates the Royal Court Theatre with good dancing and motion graphics. On the other end of the spectrum are dramatic performances of William Shakespeare’s work by an onboard RADA acting troupe. Provided you can follow The Bard’s poetic language, the shows from a talented cast are actually quite enjoyable. Set pieces are intentionally sparse, but the acting alone is captivating.

In many ways, live music is the crowning entertainment highlight. An ace house big band lights up various spaces with everything from classic ballroom tunes to jumping Dixieland jazz. With such a formal atmosphere at the ready, dance balls frequently occupy the evening hours. Besides the classic dances in the Queens Room, the G32 nightclub is also on hand for a more modern scene. Meanwhile, the likes of classical guitarists, string quartets, and harpists fill the rest of the ship with beautiful music.

The Illuminations planetarium is another exceptional diversion. It’s not only a perfect place to take in stunning projections on the domed ceiling, but it's also home to traditional film screenings and Cunard’s signature enrichment program lectures. The fascinating subjects covered here range from musicals to shipbuilding as told by equally interesting individuals.

Also available to pass the time are a stretch of stores and a casino. The need for retail therapy at sea can be satiated with the usual logo-covered items, jewelry, and fine art. The Empire Casino is not as large as it once was since being displaced by new single staterooms, but it does still offer several table games, slot machines, and video poker -- as well as free lessons.

Straightforward rest and relaxation are the focus here.

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Not counting the pools in the spa’s thermal suite, the Queen Mary 2 has three pools, one splash pool, and six whirlpools. Temperamental weather can make the two main outdoor pools difficult to use on occasion, but at least one pool remains under cover while another still is available to those who pay for the spa. When conditions permit, the sliding glass roof can open the third pool and two of the whirlpools to the outside as well. Certainly when they are all available, there are plenty of water features to go around for everyone and lots more deck space for a sufficient amount of chaise lounges. However, as a traditional ship, do not expect the QM2 to hold any waterslides or aqua parks like the kind found on mainstream, family-focused lines.

Altogether, the Queen Mary 2 is a vessel dedicated to the pursuits of rest and relaxation, and that includes other simple delights such as a fantastic observation lounge and library. Both the Commodore Club and onboard book nook have the best views on the ship on par with the forward-facing navigation bridge above. The library’s adjacent bookshop used to be stocked to the gills but is now a shadow of its former self in this day and age of e-readers.

Still magnificent for passing the time is the ship-wide Maritime Quest exhibit of Cunard history. Photographic and informative panels, plus interactive kiosks, fascinatingly outline everything from Samuel Cunard to the Queen Mary 2’s own remastering. Of course, simply taking a stroll along the ship’s full wraparound promenade deck, reclining in the Carinthia Lounge and Chart Room, or testing your knowledge at pub trivia at the Golden Lion are other worthy endeavors onboard.

High-end pampering available at the fantastic Canyon Ranch SpaClub

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Contrary to Carnival Corporation’s many other Steiner-operated facilities, the Queen Mary 2 showcases the great Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Treatments naturally encompass facials, massages (individual and couples), scrubs, wraps, acupuncture, and salon services. However, the best of the best is the thermal suite. The central aqua therapy pool reinvigorates with a waterfall sheet and massaging jets. There’s also a separate whirlpool, sensory showers, Finnish sauna, herbal sauna, aromatic steam room, reflexology basin, and ice fountain to be enjoyed before resting on the padded loungers. Giant conch and nautilus shells set the tranquil maritime scene.

In front of the double-decker spa and salon is the ship's gym, complete with treadmills, bikes, and step machines. Fitness classes are available for an additional fee. Rounding out the exercise offerings are the Sports Court, The Fairways, and shuffleboard courts up on deck.

Family

3.5

Parents and children will feel comfortable onboard with a number of thoughtful provisions.

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While Cunard cannot accommodate children less than 6 months of age on regular sailings nor kids 12 months or under on World Cruise, Exotic Cruises, or Transatlantic Crossings, families are otherwise welcome. The Queen Mary 2 features playful baby, kid, and teen facilities at the back of the ship on Deck 6 with separate indoor areas sectioned by age in addition to a small outside jungle gym and aforementioned splash pool. Kids can use the pools onboard provided they are potty trained. Swim or pull-up diapers are not allowed for health and safety.

The Play Zone is for children aged 6 months to 7 years, The Kids Zone is for 8 to 12 year olds, and The Teen Zone is reserved for those 13 to 17. The Play Zone and The Kids Zone are permanently supervised with the former offering arts and crafts, building blocks, puzzles, and board games. Children aged between 6 months and 2 years must also have parental supervision. The Kids Zone features activities like gaming consoles, sports competitions, arts and crafts, and karaoke. For older kids, The Teen Zone showcases table tennis tournaments, deck sports, discos, and quizzes.

The QM2 does not offer babysitting services, but there is a Night Nursery available for free from 6 to 11pm for kids 6 months to 23 months. Children must be signed in and out with the staff, and pagers are provided in case parents need to be contacted.

Connecting cabins and staterooms that can facilitate third and fourth occupants are available to families, and cots can be placed within private accommodations. Highchairs, baby baths, diaper disposal units, bottle warmers, and bottle sterilizers are available upon request.

As for food, HiPP Organic baby food jars can be provided for Stage 1 (4 months +) and Stage 2 (7 months +) for free, and adult offerings can additionally be pureed and mashed into baby food. Children’s Tea is scheduled in the Chefs Galley late afternoon daily, and kids menus are available in the main dining room. Alternative restaurants are also deemed appropriate for children.

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