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QM2 Transatlantic Observations

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Just got back about a week ago. Overall it’s still a GREAT trip compared with QE2 crossings. I’d give it a grade of 90%. Some observations:

At first on boarding, I had reservations, some significant. It just didn’t feel like the QE2, which I had grown accustomed to over the years. And aesthetically on the outside I think QM2 is a rather unattractive vessel. Bloated, floating-Hyatt elements. Onboard, some of it felt like Las Vegas (albeit the upper end of Las Vegas), some like a true ocean liner, and some like a Carnival cruise ship. The element I hated most was the food court on the promenade deck, which is total cruise ship blight in my opinion. I hated having it at the center of everything. I disliked intensely having to regularly weave around tray-toting people in a glorified cafeteria to get from one part of the ship to another. The fact that it is at the heart of an otherwise classical promenade deck made it doubly worse. Smoking was an issue onboard. I’m not a smoker, although smoke usually doesn’t bother me. For some reason on QM2 it did. I liked the old system on QE2 of having one side of the ship for smoking and the other side non-smoking. On this ship, the smoking sections are all over the place, meaning that there are a lot of smoky public zones with the exception of restaurants. Blankets for deck chairs are RIDICULOUSLY difficult to get, even when requested from staff. On a transatlantic crossing on the chilly North Atlantic, this makes no sense and it’s very annoying. Britannia Restaurant was a ZOO while I was onboard. The service is definitely several notches below the QE2. It was consistently impossible to get a sommelier’s attention before the main course had already been served, and by then it was too late for wine. The waiters were also very overworked, and I could see the worry in their faces (I knew two of them at my table from the Caronia restaurant on QE2). The chef’s parade was totally out of control and unacceptable. The staff made it an outright pep-rally. People cheering, screaming, singing. 80 chefs marching around the room. Music blaring on the PA systems. So much for an elegant transatlantic black tie dinner. On at least 3 occasions, I was specifically asked to provide a score of “10” on the feedback card I was going to receive at the end of the crossing. My car dealer asks me to do this after I’ve taken my car in for service. I don’t expect a request like this from the staff of an ocean liner. My sense is Carnival is watching closely, and the staff is scared, nervous, or something unpleasant like that.

On the plus, side, and there are MANY wonderful things about this ship. The accommodations are uniformly a step-up from QE2. This is a significant improvement. The public rooms are impressive and often beautifully-appointed (including the aforementioned zoo-ey Britannia Restaurant), although they’re scattered all over the ship, and it can be quite a haul from one to another. The food in Britannia Restaurant is a step UP from the Mauretania/Caronia Restaurants on QE2, so that is a plus. Todd English Restaurant is a great thing to have access to. Even if you’re booked in transatlantic class, for $30 extra per person per meal you can dine at least as well as they do in the Grills. It is worth every penny. Lots of outdoor deck space is great, and there are some striking ocean vistas to be had from various levels of the ship. I used the Canyon Ranch Spa once (not generally being a spa person) and I thought it was also beautiful. A small addition which wins for charm was the fully-stocked tea trolley making the rounds of the promenade deck during good weather. Tea was still enjoyable, although again service seemed skittish at times. The final night “ball” was a hoot. It was actually quite elegant and I enjoyed seeing that gala scene at sea. The champagne waterfall was silly, but it did get people’s attention.

I do not understand the new dress code. It used to be 4 nights black tie, and 2 nights informal, meaning jackets and tie. Now we’ve got 3 nights black tie, 1 night jacket and tie (called “informal”), and 2 nights slob-attire (called “casual”). Those two slob nights were very un-scenic, to say the least. Sweats, jeans, t-shirts in the restaurants. It’s almost culture shock, particularly given that one of these “casual” evenings follows the very dressy black tie gala evening. I’m not sure what Cunard (Carnival?) is trying to accomplish with 3 dress codes, since most people have gone to the trouble of bringing formal and semi-formal attire anyway.

Other observations: Staff in the hallways and around the ship don’t always say hello or even make eye contact. On the QE2, you were always greeted by staff. I miss that. There was little “bonding” that could take place between the staff and the passengers on QM2, as used to happen on QE2. I never once met my room stewardess, although she did a beautiful job and I tipped her accordingly. But in all my other crossings, I got to know the room steward(ess) well, along with the restaurant staff. That was almost impossible on QM2 given the sheer volume of people these crew members seem to be serving at any one time. The passenger crowd has changed, given the hype surrounding the new ship. There seemed to be many fewer long-term repeat passengers ("groupies”?) and much more diversity including families, younger and older passengers, many nationalities, quite upscale. This is probably a good thing in terms of creating a new customer base for transatlantic, but the old “club” sense is gone, at least for the time being.

In sum still love this trip and I give QM2 transatlantic a 90% for a whole host of reasons, which is a high score. I’m definitely spoiled from years of crossing on QE2, and comparisons with QM2 are inevitable. I love them both at the end of the day. The service standards have dropped on QM2. If QM2’s service standards ever rise to the level we got used to on QE2, QM2 will truly rule the seas. Until then, it’s still a wonderful trip.

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