In beauty terms, there can be no question that the ship is as sumptuously decorated as it is luxurious. Many of the public rooms (the Art Deco Britannia Restaurant, the Royal Court Theatre) breathtakingly recall the 1930s heyday of the Normandie, Rex and other famed superliners. Staterooms and suites occupied by those booking passage, as I did, in the ship’s top level Queens or Princess Grill accommodations (the equivalent of “first class,” although no one calls it that), range from 381 to 2,249 square feet and boast every plush amenity imaginable: private verandahs, butler service, Frette linens, and the like.
As for one’s shipmates, let me point out that those expecting to rub elbows with movie stars, financial titans or glamorous contessas in the grand salon will be disappointed. (News flash: these folks travel by private jet.) QM2’s passengers are overwhelmingly British or American and run the gamut from golden Beverly Hills families in the penthouses and honeymooners in the hot tubs to elderly couples who have saved for a lifetime to take passage in the lowest-price cabin. It is a mostly low-key, conservative crowd. If you like wet-T-shirt contests and wild, all-night carousing, Queen Mary 2 is not for you.
Think of her as a top notch resort at sea, get spa treatments, dine superbly, enjoy numerous onboard activities, see a show, gamble in the casino, and maybe even connect in a meaningful way with family members and friends. You’ll have plenty of time for all of the above, and it sure beats dealing with airports, airlines and jet lag. “Getting there,” as the Cunard Line’s ad once put it, can still be “half the fun.”
Here are a few very personal recommendations to help you enjoy the voyage:
PACKING TIPS: Formal wear is de rigueur for three of the six nights of the crossing, so take an extra suitcase for dinner jackets, evening gowns and cocktail frocks (only a few ladies wear long dresses or major jewels). One night is informal, i.e., jacket and tie for men and dress or suit for women. Attire on the two “elegant casual” nights (especially in the Grills), tends toward skirt or slacks with sweater or blouse for women, and jacket sans tie for men. If you like jogging or promenading on deck in cold or rainy weather (generally the caseven in summer), you’ll want a waterproof jacket, cap and sturdy sneakers or deck shoes.
FAVORITE PUBLIC ROOM: No need to pack heavy books when 8 Deck’s extraordinary library, the largest and most beautiful at sea, boasts more than 8,000 volumes ranging from Tolstoy to Jackie Collins. Make sure to visit the adjacent bookshop, especially if you’re a nautical freak.
BEST SPOT ON DECK: Avoid the crowds clustering near the retractable dome pool on 13 Deck where the teak deck chairs get claimed early and are rarely relinquished. For quiet reading or dozing with an incomparable view of the ship’s massive wake, stretch out with pillows and a steamer rug on the Queen’s Grill Terrace, restricted to Grill passengers, at the stern end of 9 Deck.
AFTERNOON (definitely not “high”) TEA: Take it once in the grand Queens Room while the ship’s orchestra plays Elgar and show tunes; then repair to the (also restricted) Queen’s Grill Lounge where white-gloved attendants provide quicker, quieter, more sumptuous servings.
BEST BAR: For pre-dinner cocktails, definitely the Queen’s Grill Lounge. The Commodore Club, overlooking the sleek bow on 9 Deck, is a great spot for postprandial champagne and chatting up fellow passenger while listening to the smooth sounds of a jazz pianist. (Make
sure to notice the detailed scale model of QM2 behind the bar.) Cognac and Cohiba aficionados won’t want to miss the Churchill Cigar Lounge right next door.
DINING: Both grills offer single-seating dining in more intimate settings than the lavishly appointed two-story Britannia Restaurant (which recalls first class dining salons on the 1930s liners Normandie and Queen Mary). Although the unlimited rations of caviar are no more, Grill passengers still enjoy classic haute cuisine (vichyssoise, escargot, châteaubriand, canard à l’orange, lobster thermidor), plus diet conscious fare (salads, grilled fish, vegetable medleys) and dishes appealing to more progressive palates (lamb chops with pomegranate molasses and red snapper in kumquat vinaigrette come to mind). Another grill class plus is the ability to order “off menu” as much as one likes (which I did at almost every meal).The chefs strive to prepare whatever one’s heart desires and all of my challenges were met, including a Madeiraand- foie-gras-drenched Chicken Souveroff, Clare Boothe Luce’s beloved Cumberland House orange pancakes and a flaming bombe Vesuvius that was the envy of every surrounding table in the Princess Grill. Room service is also commendable, with an extensive menu, much of it available 24 hours. Even so, I never missed the huge grill breakfasts where I was miraculously served exquisitely fresh raspberries even on the fifth day out! The acclaimed extra-tariff Todd English Restaurant is worth a visit although I wasn’t overly impressed with the food or service.
DAYTIME DIVERSIONS: Skip the scarf-tying lessons, bingo and bridge for the financial seminars, computer and digital photography classes or art and history lectures from Oxford dons. Actors from The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) did a great job with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and two Alan Ayckbourn one-acts on my voyage. Highly recommended: all three films about the universe in the massive Illuminations planetarium (Note: tickets go quickly).
SPA … AAAH: The top-rated Canyon Ranch at Sea offers state-of-the art massage, body and skin care treatments (aromatherapy, ayurvedic, acupressure, mud, seaweed, etc.), an aquatherapy pool, deluge waterfall, steam rooms and saunas, plus a full gymnasium and weight room. Chill out in the private rest area and have fun watching passengers promenading past on the other side of the shaded windows. (Note: spa services book up quickly. Reserve prior to sailing or do so immediately upon boarding.)
EVENING ACTIVITIES: Usually the first to shun live shipboard extravaganzas, I must admit that the attractive troupe of chorus girls and boys from many lands sang and strutted their stuff with great panache in the Royal Court Theatre’s somewhat over-amped extravaganzas. Older Cole Porter lovers will love the fully orchestrated cheek-to-cheek action in the Queen’s Room. The younger (i.e., anyone under 50) set is known to stomp until the wee hours to rather tame disco action in the G32 nightclub.