Ten years ago, I took a transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York on board Queen Mary 2 and loved every moment of it. Even though my stateroom choice was modest, the whole experience was glamorous. So it was with great excitement that I headed on board Queen Mary 2 again, this time in a Queen’s Grill Suite, for a 5-night voyage from Sydney to Tasmania and back.
Just over a year ago, the ship emerged from a major re-mastering with new interiors and upgrades. The result of the recent remastering was to give the ship an updated, splendid and stylish look without losing any of the beautiful design elements. And they’ve achieved just that: the perfect balance of contemporary elegance.
But whilst the ‘hardware’ lives up to all things Cunard, the ‘software’, including the service, food and the overall cruise experience, falls short of what the company’s marketing claims. The pinnacle of dining on board here is the Queens Grill, where I found the food to be unimaginative and nothing special. The service was perfunctory and at times delivered with just a little attitude. On the flip side, the Queens Grill Suites are an absolute delight however, again, the service let them down as the butler and steward were less than impressive.
As one of world’s great ocean liners, I would be surprised if you did not enjoy yourself on board the QM2. But when it comes to the Queens Grill experience offered at top dollar, beware of being lulled too deeply into the company’s marketing promises. The saying goes that you get what you pay for; the problem was, I disembarked feeling I was short-changed.
- Detailed Review +
- Facts & Amenities +
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Check-in experience and boarding
Unusually for a sector of World Cruise, there were a large number of passengers joining this short 5-day voyage from Sydney. The baggage drop-off point was clearly marked and after completing Australian bio security, I proceeded to the large check-in area. Surprisingly though, there were no special facilities for Grill Suite passengers. Even though staff were busy, there was only a short wait and check-in was fast and efficient. I was through security and on-board the ship in no time.
However, once on board, passengers were left wondering where to go as staff were not forthcoming in greeting passengers and directing them to their staterooms. I was obliged to approach a staff member and ask directions—not the warmest of welcomes.
Staterooms and suites
As I approached my Queens Grill Suite, my butler appeared as if by magic and welcomed me on board. This category Q5 suite is actually the lowest in the Queen’s Grill category but I wouldn’t have known that; this elegant, spacious accommodation was sublime. Like the rest of the ship, there’s lots of space in this suite of 50m² (540ft²).
The decor is highlighted by the extensive use of light and dark woods, gold edgings and pops of colour in the form of cushions and fresh flowers. With two large sets of floor-to-ceiling windows (one providing access to the large balcony), the suite is flooded with daylight and great views.
The bedroom area is separated from the living area by a good-sized couch. There is also a writing desk, a coffee table and an armchair with an ottoman. The entrance area of the suite is large and open with two sets of additional closet spaces and a large unit holding all glassware, minibar items and an espresso machine. A bookcase features a large array of hardback books.
Beds can be made up as queen size or twin. Mine was a twin bed configuration and there was a good amount of space between the bedside tables and the beds themselves. Through a further doorway there is a makeup area and a large, full walk-in closet with easily enough hanging and drawer space to accommodate as many clothes as one could possibly pack, even for a world voyage.
In-room technology is excellent. Light switches and room controls are all easy to operate and are well located, although the fact that there were not separate lighting controls for the bedroom and living area was odd. A 48” HDTV with a large selection of satellite channels ensured I was never bored. WiFi signals were strong throughout the ship, however actual internet access and speeds always depend on the location of the ship. A variety of internet packages are available and like any cruise company, could not be considered as value for money.
In what were otherwise almost perfect accommodations, there were one or two unexpected surprises. Whilst almost anything is available to Queens Grill guests, one often has to ask to have certain things replenished, such as hand soap. Worse, was that on this five night voyage the bed linen was not changed once. In the end, I insisted it be done.
Again, space reins supreme. Bathrooms, by ship standards, are incredibly spacious and open plan. At one end is the WC that is partly divided by a small wall to give some level of privacy. The vanity, with one basin, is large with more than enough space for two guests to spread out. A large spa bath and over bath shower provided ample space and excellent water pressure.
Something to note is that it’s important to reserve the right category of Queens Grill Suite. Q5 suites have the shower over a deep spa bath that can be an effort even for sprightly guests. All other Queens Grill Suite categories have separate walk-in showers (as well as separate bathtubs) that are better suited to older or less mobile guests.
Toiletries are the quintessentially British brand, Penhaligon’s. These were constantly replaced, unlike the hand soap.
The Queens Grill
One aspect of Cunard’s 175-year history is the well-established ‘class’ system. Your category of stateroom or suite defines where you eat and where you relax. The ultimate dining location is the much-lauded Queens Grill restaurant, where I dined. Cunard’s marketing does not hold back in its claims that this is seagoing culinary excellence at its finest. Guests can dine whenever they wish and should the menu not tempt, you can (apparently) have whatever you like, providing it’s available. Marketing claims are bold, however the reality is something quite different.
My experience of the service at the Queens Grill was that it is perfunctory and lacked any real warmth. In fact, there was a certain degree of attitude. More than once I heard the line, “This is the Queens Grill, sir/madam…” which I came to learn was generally the response when a guest raised a service issue that staff felt the need to gloss over. My server was disinterested at best and borderline rude at worst. Dining here was very much a case of ‘get’em in and get’em out’ with as little fuss as possible. Disappointing to say the least.
But it was the food itself that was truly underwhelming and unimaginative. It was obvious that skills were lacking in the galley and the quality of the produce was controlled by accountants rather than chefs. Meat dishes tended to be overcooked and fish dishes were under-seasoned and tasteless. I could not help thinking that if this was the case in the Queens Grill, the mind boggles as to what was being served in the ship’s more basic Britannia Restaurant.
Surprised by this situation, I made it a mission to speak with a wide cross section of other passengers about the food on board. The overwhelming consensus was that the culinary offerings were very disappointing throughout the ship. Food quality, variety and presentation weigh heavily on many peoples’ choice of cruise line so one can only imagine how much business Cunard potentially loses to its competitors.
Speciality restaurant 1 (The Veranda)
The Veranda Restaurant is one bright spot on an otherwise grim culinary wasteland. This spacious restaurant with its contemporary décor features a variety of choices that really are a delight. I went with lobster ravioli as a starter, followed by the duck, and both courses were delicious, perfectly presented and served by gracious and well-informed staff. A Rum Baba was my dessert choice which I polished off happily.
Speciality restaurant 2 (The King's Court)
The King’s Court was perhaps the big winner of Queen Mary 2’s upgrade. This very large, self-service restaurant area now features bright, contemporary décor and is very popular throughout the day. In the evening, part of this becomes the speciality Aztec (Mexican) restaurant and whilst I did not dine there, word on the street was that it is quite good.
Otherwise, the usual buffet offerings seemed to keep everyone happy with a large choice on offer. As large as the King’s Court is, there were certain times of the day when it was always very crowded.
In room dining
I decided on one morning to have breakfast in my suite. Served by my butler, it was very pleasant: hot, tasty and well presented.
The reason for choosing a larger ship over a smaller one is often for a more extensive array of entertainment and nightlife options. There are a number of bars on board Queen Mary 2, however the most popular were the Golden Lion Pub and the Chart Room, venues that were always buzzing with happy passengers. My personal favourite was the Commodore Club at the front of the ship with its chic décor and wonderful views. Also very pleasant is the Veuve Clicquot champagne bar. Service in the all the bars was friendly and fast.
Evening entertainment was rather a surprise, especially given that I was actually on a short sector of the ship’s World Cruise. There was the usual offering of moderately talented singers and musicians, a comedian and of course the ‘show’, which for some reason only seemed to be staged once during my five nights on board. There’s also a planetarium for those keen on discovering the cosmos whilst at sea. All in all, the entertainment wasn’t that different from most other cruise lines, and passengers I consulted seemed to have been expecting better.
The pool deck
The Queen Mary 2 has two swimming pools, both recently renovated, and many jacuzzis; pools are comfortably heated and large and one pool is restricted to adults only. There is extensive deck space to relax in the sun and private deck areas are allocated for passengers in Queen and Princess Grills.
Whilst there is a large bar on one level, the only poolside dining option is two levels up at the Boardwalk Café which serves the usual fare of burgers and salads at lunch time, but requires negotiating two sets of steep stairs if you choose to take your snack back to your sun lounger.
Spa and wellness
The spa facilities are extensive on board Queen Mary 2, with the esteemed Canyon Ranch Spa being the operator of all services. Being somewhat of a spa junkie, I opted for an 80-minute Thai massage which was excellent, in fact one of the best I have had on board any cruise ship. It’s not surprising to learn that the Canyon Ranch Spa on QM2 is ranked as one of the best spas at sea.
Staff and service
Cunard’s legacy of ‘white star service’ is the thing legends are made of and is something that the company heavily promotes, especially when it comes to the Grill Suites accommodation. Guests come on board any Cunard ship with high expectations and rightly so.
The butler and steward taking care of my suite were friendly and professional and took care to make sure my suite was exactly as I liked it, although they often had to be reminded to bring things or service a particular request. I got the impression they were doing just what they had to, in order to hopefully ensure a generous additional gratuity. Throughout the rest of the ship, the service was pleasant without being overbearing.
Service in the Queens Grill restaurant which should have been almost faultless, was not. What I experienced was perfunctory service delivered by less than happy (and somewhat bored) staff. The approach was very much to get every meal over quickly with as little fuss as possible. Other than the obvious pleasantries, there was little else offered and staff rarely asked if guests would care for more of something. I was disappointed.
On this particular World Cruise sector, there were 34 nationalities represented by the passengers on board. Impressive, yet the vast majority were from Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
By the end of the cruise, I had learned to expect the unexpected. A minor charge to my account was muddled up with another guest’s and it seemed very hard for the staff to fix this error.
Even more worrying was the fact that it had been billed to my account two days prior to the voyage’s end. How strange…
- Year Built 2003
- Last Refurbished 2015
- Tonnage 151,400 tons
- Registry Southamptton
- Length 1,132 feet
- Beam 135 feet
- Passenger Capacity 3,090
- Crew Size 1,253
- Total Inside Cabins 293
- Total Outside Cabins 1,017
- Cabins & Suites with verandas 955
- Suites 82
- Dinner Seatings 6pm or 8pm
- Seating Assignments in Main Dining Room Assigned
- Dining Hours 6pm & 9pm
- Onboard Currency US Dollar
7 Dining venues
6 Bars & Lounges