The legendary Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 on the Hudson River in New York City, October 16, 2008, as she departs for the final time.

25 January, 2011

Queen Mary 2 - Caribbean Calypso

A little background is in order here. I had originally booked the QE Maiden Crossing, which was going to be historic since it was her first “technically” speaking as she would arrive to NYC and also in tandem with QV. She had crossed the Atlantic earlier on a round trip cruise to the Caribbean from Southampton. I booked this QE crossing around the day it was officially released. I had also hoped that eventually Captain McNaught would assume command of this new ship. Hopefully, the truly magical experience we had on our one and only crossing, QE2’s final winter crossing and tandem affair with the new QV, would be repeated. Chinks in my resolve to keep this booking soon appeared when firm details of the ship were revealed. She was going to be a near sistership to QV as had been rumored. Then Cunard released the details of the “toilet seat” above the bridge and the news that the ship would have the extra cabins at the stern like other new Vista ships, such as the Eurodam. She was not going to be pretty, at least from the outside. Then we get word McNaught will not command the new Queen, followed up with his later departure from Cunard. “So much for recreating the QE2 experience” I was thinking in my head, whether right or wrong.

Fast forward to the deadline to make final deposits and we had to make a family decision. With the state of the economy and my work situation, budget wise, we could not afford to take the entire family over to the UK, stay for Hogmanay, and then head back over on the new QE and do this trip properly. I contemplated going solo, paying the single supplement. There were other friends making this crossing so I would be in good company. This option, although I tried to sell it for its historic aspects, was not sitting well with the family. To broker a deal, I went searching for another cruise on Cunard and found the QM2 Caribbean Calypso 10 day affair that made a lot of sense. Same time frame and we would be arriving with the “kissing cousin” Queens in New York at the same time. No airfare and a round trip cruise from New York City to somewhere warm, all for less that the cost of the QE trip. This all sounded very compelling. Driving to Red Hook was not a problem. We had done this in July for our brief glimpse onboard QM2 and the “Mr. Oceanliner” movie premiere.

Unfortunately, we were going have to settle with an interior cabin since all four person oceanview cabins were sold out at this late time. No problem, we would not be in the room that much anyway, with all the ports of call we would be making. With some reluctance, the booking was switched. I was going to get my cruise on a red and black funneled ship and it was going to be on a “proper liner” as Ian McNaught would have quoted. In hindsight, it turns out this was the most brilliant decision, especially in light of all the flight problems in New York and London that occurred exactly at the time we would have been flying “over the pond.”  Here’s my impression of Queen Mary 2 and the cruise itself.


You are greeted to a stunning multi-story atrium upon arrival. The ship is generally easy to navigate throughout, with the four main stair/elevator banks color coded in décor. Gone is the requirement to use the “E” for every floor stairway and trying to memorize which stair goes to what levels, ala QE2. While the two story Britannia Restaurant is stunning, it prevents the easy flow into the Queens Room, which really is my only major criticism on the ships layout. The Queen’s Room is a destination at the rear of the ship, unlike QE’s where you are constantly walking by it and can see what activities are going on there. It’s a minor squabble that I can easily live with.

If I had to pick a favorite exterior place, it would be the “Bit Beneath the Bridge”, recalling the same space on QE2. This space is absolutely huge and offers far more protection from the elements than QE2’s to the point that it was open for the entire cruise except when we had gale force winds. Also, the exterior elevators make it quickly accessible and offer spectacular views. A little haven off this area is the Atlantic room with windows overlooking this deck. This area was little used on our trip and we found ourselves frequently the only ones there. This is also a great space to warm up in after standing outside on a cold departure.

The Commodore Club and Library both have seating for views of the bow and is where you can sit for hours and watch the seas, either with a book or a drink! In addition to the interior spaces with welcome views views of where you are going, there is the open foredeck area and propeller blade sculpture area that offers spectacular views in good weather. Deck 7 is equivalent to Boat Deck on QE2 and there is an enclosed wraparound area at the bow which lets you completely circle the ship on one deck. I wish they would have used some of the QE2’s deck naming nomenclature, but I can see why, since her deck naming convention is backwards to current ships.  We quickly familiarized ourselves with the basic layout of the ship and were quite pleased with our cabin location, convenient to the A Stairway and access to the bridge areas.

The observation platform is a nice addition. Having never been on the original one on QE2 or any other ship that had one, it offers a unique vantage point to view the ship and the sea; real handy at the noon time whistle test!

I am happy to report there is absolutely no effort being made to erase the memory of QE2 onboard this ship; quite the opposite actually in both the spirit of the crew and various aspects of the ship that are decorated with paintings of her. A chat with the Librarian had both of us welling up at the talk of QE2 and her most favorite captains. Captain Wright referred to her in his World Club speech as well. I did see a few crew from my last time onboard QE2 and our waiter was on QE2 for years.

The ship is a liner in every sense and does not turn its back to the sea. There are windows everywhere, large ones, where you constantly get glimpses of the sea going by, often dramatically in the lower decks. I could have easily spent the day sitting in one of the window recesses, watching and listening to the sea go by. Sitting by the window, playing a game of chess was a bit distracting, in a good way, with the sea rolling along at 25 knots. She handled our day and a half of confused seas with ease. After eight days of calm, she finally began to feel like a liner with a nice rhythm. I did sense some distant pounding and vibration in the bow as the bulbous bow would come crashing down in the highest of seas, but completely unlike the tin can feeling we have felt on other cruises ship when the seas were stirred up. QM2 feels solid; shall I say built like she would have been on the Clyde?

One comparison I constantly was making was the ease at which QM2 would come in and out of the various ports. It truly was a sight to see the ship spinning around so effortlessly in tight quarters, without a tug. We had a tug standing by in Barbados, but the only time I think a tug touched the hull was back in Brooklyn when the Gramma Lee Moran offered her assistance as the ship did a 180 in front of the pier. What would take QE2 an hour to do with all sorts of tugs and commotion, QM2 accomplishes in minutes. I am not sure if I like this or not since I enjoyed watching the docking of QE2 in every port and seeing the Captain at work on the exposed bridge wings.

The ship is big; there are areas we really never really discovered on our 10 day jaunt. For instance, I did not find the Boardwalk Café for burgers until the second to last day. At times, since there is so much space, the ship seems eerily deserted, even though we sailed at full capacity. This could also be due to a lot of the senior passengers being snuggly tucked away by 10PM. I fully expected to see a more senior group onboard and the passenger mix was just as expected.

The Golden Lion is smoke free!!!!! Sorry QE2, but I really did not enjoy a smoke filled lunch. Service was a little long at times, but the pub fare excellent as always. Once, I did have a somewhat overcooked Cottage Pie that was promptly replaced with a delicious Fish n’ Chip platter. The Banger’s and Mash with Yorkshire Pudding was tasty as well.

The entertainment, from the dancers and singers to the enrichment lecturers, was outstanding to our astonishment, unlike what we had experienced on QE2 in the past for at least the evening entertainment. We were pleasantly surprised with the performances in the Royal Court Theater. The magician show was a little slow getting started, but finished off brilliantly and had the kids mesmerized.


The Kings Court or Kings “Chaos” could use some improvement, but I have to preface that this area was little different than the buffet areas that we have experienced on other ships. They had made an attempt to prevent crossing over in certain areas with the movable ropes, but these prove ineffective. Lots of people crossing and bumping into each other and lots of ‘so sorry” heard from the wonderfully polite Brits onboard. The Germans….well they were just flat out rude. QE2’s layout worked better! We also found the food to be hit or miss here. At times it was stellar and others, such as breakfast, the pancakes, waffles, and the toast were dismal; hard and tasteless. It is what is it is, but I think some of the food is left out too long on display. There was a good selection most of the time as well, though. As in QE2, it does seem that the staff are least experienced in this area. I will have to say that my impression of this area vastly improved when the fruit crumble and warm vanilla custard FINALLY appeared (thoughts of Myles here). We missed the QE2 custard we had grown accustomed to being always available. So in the end, go into this space realizing it will not be any better than the Lido. A side note; I caught myself calling it the Lido more than once!

Our service in the Britannia Restaurant was not up to par on the first two nights. Gone are the “plated” meals that we had grown to love on QE2. I gave the wait staff a pass on the first night, with them getting to know us, but on the second night, it was very disappointing and definitely not White Star grade service. Having never done this before, I mentioned this to the Maître’d Jamie Firth and it was promptly fixed. Unfortunately, with the new QE in the fleet, Cunard has taken some crew from both ships and having to fill the void with new crew. Our issues were with long delays between courses/drinks as well as not getting all the meals at one time, leaving others to wait politely for the rest of the meals to arrive. Sometimes this was a long time and the food was getting cold. Don’t forget we had two children to entertain as well during these delays who fail to understand the concept of relaxed dining. We had a senior waiter, Daryl, who worked on QE2 for years and his helper clearly was not performing up to par. Perhaps he was overworked too since we really did not see much of him.  In the end, Daryl essentially took care of our table by himself and really earned back our goodwill. Hats off to Jamie Firth for his diligence and also to our head waiter, Rafal, who went completely out of his way to entertain our kids and even provided my daughter with plates of broccoli when he noticed she was getting tired of the kid's chicken nuggets.

When we did eat in Britannia for breakfast and lunch, we found the food and the service excellent. I do miss the little QE2 touches such as those nifty toast holders though. I guess I need to pay attention to eBay more and find one for myself. Also, the after dinner chocolate tray was a disappointment for lack of selection, but after dinner and dessert, we really didn’t need to pile on any more calories. We did have a great assortment of rolls to choose from, contrary to what others posted as complaints on other boards. In the end, these final issues are nitpicky items to an otherwise excellent experience.


QM2 is in every sense a worthy successor to QE2. The spirit of QE2 does indeed live on in this ship and her staff. She is the Flagship of Cunard and the pride of crew is evident. For the first two days, I personally had a very rocky start onboard, exacerbated by our less than stellar service in Britannia. Seeing Robert Marshall’s gut wrenching lecture with video of the Three Queens in NYC left me with tears running down my cheeks by the end of the lecture. Damn, he got me with that distinctive QE2 horn and the comment about her fate being unknown. He finished me off with mentioning the Alang rumors. All this did not help at all, reminding me all too easily of what once was.

I stepped onboard, probably with a bit of skepticism, looking for that special feeling I got while on QE2; that feeling that is hard for me to explain except that I immediately felt at home whenever I returned to her. Perhaps it is like seeing an old friend you haven’t seen for years and picking up right where you left off years ago. QE2 felt comfortable and enveloping, from the moment you stepped onboard in the Midship’s Lobby. I did not get that feeling on QM2 at first. Perhaps it was because you enter into a large atrium space or that familiar QE2 smell, or "perfume"was missing.

Weirdly, I developed a sense of guilt or sadness on or about day three when I stopped comparing and started enjoying the ship. Was I neglecting my true love off in the desert of Dubai? Was I cheating on her by starting to like another ship? By the time we got to St. Lucia, though, everything had completely changed; guilt erased and substituted with the sense that I was onboard the second greatest ship in the world. So what caused this change? Perhaps getting up early every morning to see the sunrise over the bow and to walk the near deserted ship, taking it all in, had something to do with it. Most likely, though, it was seeing the ship majestically at anchor from the tender and then later from the distant hills while on a shore excursion. There it became clear. I could almost see QE2 off in the distance if I squinted, anchored proudly in the blue sea, as I remembered her on my first cruise on QE2 to the Caribbean.

How ironic it was to also experience QE2’s successor in the same environment. I did not plan this, but it all now made sense. Her DNA has truly been passed on brilliantly by her Naval Architect Stephen Payne in QM2. I will always see QE2 whenever I see QM2’s bow profile and will smile.

Returning to the ship that afternoon, I ventured into the photo gallery. There, I was treated to a replay of the video of the building and naming of QM2 by the Queen. Standing at the video monitor, I became overwhelmed with the sense that this ship is truly unique, special in her own way, and worthy of all the fanfare she generated at her launch. I had completely forgotten about all this. It seemed so long ago that I saw her for the first time in NYC as she headed off with QE2 for their first tandem crossing. I had watched in anticipation via the internet as she was constructed in France and now I was finally sailing onboard her. It was then realized that I never felt that excitement during the build up of QE nor have that burning desire to see her like I did with QM2. I knew then that I had made the right decision to switch from the maiden QE crossing to this cruise.

Over two years have past since QE2's retirement to Dubai;  years spent agonizing watching from afar on , worrying about her fate, cheering when seeing her drydocked in preparation for a role in Capetown, and then sinking into dispair when it all fell through.  I wondered what it would be like to sail on a new Cunarder or any other ship for that matter.  Right from the start of this cruise, the inevitable comparisons came, but thankfully I realised you just cannot compare QE2 and QM2 on the same level.  They are simply different ships for different times. QM2 is taking the spirit of the previous Queens to the oceans for hopefully as long and distinguished a career as QE2's.  QE2 will continue to command my attention, but my love of the sea and cruising continues on.  I have now found my new ship, Queen Mary 2, to sail on for years to come and in the spirit of the Greatest Ship in the World, Queen Elizabeth 2.

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