Samuel Cunard entered the big leagues of shipping in 1840 and became the oldest and most distinguished builder of ocean liners in history. He recognized a growing market for carrying passengers between England and North America. Many booked passage for business or pleasure, but the majority were immigrating to the New World for a new life. The country club liner with structured classes was originated and continues to this day.
Cunard’s original Queen Mary entered service in 1936 and became legendary for carrying celebrities and heads of state until it served as a troop ship in World War II. She was retired in 1967 and now rests in Long Beach Harbor as a hotel.
How do you top a legend? Christened by Queen Elizabeth, the QM2 is the longest, tallest, and widest ocean liner ever built and differs from ordinary cruise ships with a design created for transatlantic crossings. Commodore Ronald Warwick says she has all the splendid qualities of the original, updated for modern comfort and safety through advanced technology.
The traditional aesthetic recalls the elegance of a bygone era complemented by priceless art. Huge photos of celebrities who have cruised with Cunard adorn the corridors. The Grand Lobby’s two dramatic staircases and glass elevators add to the glamour.
QM2 carries 2,700 passengers, offering more space per passenger than other behemoths. She hosts celebrities and politicians, attracts crowds at every port, and has served as a hotel for the U.S. men’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams at the Athens Olympics. During our cruise, former President George Bush, piloting his sleek cigarette boat, arrived at the ship for a tour and lunch with the commodore. Barbara Bush arrived sedately by car. Even presidents like to hang out with royalty.
Our balcony stateroom was tastefully appointed. Standard cabins have Internet-wired television, enabling passengers to send and receive e-mail, watch movies, sign up for shore excursions, even order the next day’s breakfast. The rooms feature a vanity table/ desk, small sofa, adjustable-height coffee table, refrigerator, safe, and nightstands. Closet and drawer space is adequate. The bathroom is small with a shower and no tub. Cabin sizes range from 200-square-foot standard rooms to 2,250-square-foot grand duplex suites. The regal, two-story Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth suites have elevator access.
Queen and Princess suites have private lounges and a concierge. Queen suites access a reserved deck area with chaise longues covered with cozy blankets.
Eat Like a Royal
Most passengers dine at one of two seatings in the Brittania dining room and sit with the same tablemates for the duration of the cruise. However, guests can book alternative dining. The two-deck venue’s 30-foot pillars and gigantic tapestry create the most exquisite dining room afloat, seating about 1,000 diners. Servers strive to be attentive. The menu received mixed reviews from passengers on our cruise. The Canyon Ranch Spa offers healthy menu alternatives that please.
Guests in Queen and Princess suites enjoy flexible dining hours in the Queen’s and Princess Grills and sit where and with whom they wish. The Grills offer fine fare and impeccable service. The menu offers variety, with caviar and filet mignon enduring favorites.
The alternative dining restaurant, Todd English, charges $30 per person. It’s well worth the fee, as the specialties are delicious and creatively presented. Many paid $30 per person to observe the chef cooking in the Chef’s Galley.
King’s Court is a buffet serving Chinese, Italian, Carvery, and Grill. At night, it’s a popular venue with table service.
Executive Chef Jean Marie Zimmerman says a team created menus prior to the inaugural sailing and continue to refine the offerings to stay fresh and creative. The chef prepares special menus for passengers whose health requires a special diet.
Take in a Show
A plethora of nighttime activities includes the main show in The Royal Court Theater. We saw dazzling productions and a rock opera worthy of an MGM Technicolor musical. The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art stages plays to large audiences. Passengers can also star in a Karaoke performance, visit the Commodore Club for piano music, or enjoy a jazz trio in the Chart Room.
On our journey, legendary Kitty Carlisle Hart, 94, sang and told stories of her life with playwright/producer Moss Hart. They were residents of Palm Springs for many years. We were fortunate to dine with this fascinating lady at the commodore’s table.
Play, Relax, Enjoy!
No one can complain of a lack of interesting activities on Queen Mary 2, especially on sea days. The huge casino offers slot machines, roulette, blackjack, and craps tables. We met some happy winners.
An attendant checked that we knew how to use the equipment in the spacious, state-of-the-art gym, which was never crowded. We tried everything offered by the Canyon Ranch Spa. There is an entry fee, unless guests book a service, such as a massage or facial. After a massage, we dipped in the hydro pool and spa, and then tried the aromatherapy steam, herbal steam, Finnish sauna, and the foot reflexology spa, ending in a delightful relaxation room overlooking the sea.
The library stocks more than 8,000 new books, numerous magazines, newspapers, trivia quizzes, games, and puzzles.
Passengers wanting to improve skills need only seek one of the ship’s excellent teachers. The lure of the cha-cha class was amazing, attracting a large crowd. Hosts are available to dance with ladies without partners. The Queen Room is the largest ballroom at sea for passengers who love to dance.
Guests enjoy six swimming pools, one enclosed by a sliding glass roof, and play traditional deck games, such as shuffleboard or table tennis.
The golf simulator, golf lessons, and contests, such as the longest-drive contest, satisfy addicts of the game. Other passengers gravitate toward classes and lectures on digital cameras, scarf-tying, fine art, and bridge.
QM2’s most unique area is the spectacular planetarium, Illuminations. We reclined on the special seats and toured the heavens via computerized cameras angled toward the dome ceiling.
This ship’s boutiques include Hermes, Chopard, Dunhill, and H. Sterns. Many items carry the QM2 logo.
The Splendors of the Fall itinerary departs from New York and goes to Newport, R.I.; Sydney, Nova Scotia; Cornerbrook, Newfoundland; Quebec, Canada; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Portland, Maine, before returning to New York.
Quebec is a marvelous port with charming walking areas, a funicular providing panoramic views, and special dining experiences, such as the elegant Hotel de Frontenac.
Bagpipers welcomed us to Halifax’s port. We visited Pier 21, the equivalent of New York’s Ellis Island, and walked to the interesting Maritime Museum. A sunset ceremony at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada was especially appreciated.
In the spring, QM2 does what she was designed to do: She sails the North Atlantic between Southampton, England, and New York on six-day cruises that are quite formal — black tie every night.
In the winter, 16 sailings in the Caribbean embark from New York or Fort Lauderdale. During the summer, QM2 sails the Mediterranean or North Sea and then heads for the splendors of Canada and the fall leaves. Many of these cruises can be combined with a six-day crossing between New York and England.
The magnificent Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York is associated with some QM2 packages. It’s a wonderful place to start or end this luxury cruise. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicholas Cage, Billy Joel, and other celebrities are frequent guests.
A cruise should make every passenger feel like royalty and, when disembarking, be anxious to cruise again as soon as possible. Many on our cruise had already booked their next QM2 cruise.