Sailing the Refurbished Queen Mary 2

Life on Board
Fresh from its $132 million renovation in mid-2016, the refurbished Queen Mary 2 is enjoying its first full season of 22 regular transatlantic crossings per year between Southampton and New York. Luxury Travel Advisor just sailed on an annual “Fashion Week”-themed cruise to sample the new look and feel of Cunard’s “remastered” flagship as it plies the Atlantic. 

The first impression felt by passengers newly arrived on Queen Mary 2 for their maiden transatlantic crossing is the ship’s lavish spaciousness, not unlike entering a grand hotel. A sign at the purser’s desk in the mid-ship lobby said our cruise was sailing “full” from Southampton to New York. The ship’s guest capacity of 2,592, however, felt surprising based on its broad, uncrowded public spaces. The attentive 1,292-member international crew created an almost exact ratio of one staff per two guest members. 

Our cruise attracted a pas­senger mix ranging from young, attractive singles to middle­aged couples celebrating special occasions, a few families with young children, and world­traveled seniors, many of them experienced Cunarders. British, American and German passen­gers blended seamlessly. Most dressed casually for a nonstop schedule of sport and cultural activities by day, and dressed to kill for fancy social occasions almost every night. 

Two afternoon fashion shows in the Queens Room art deco ballroom, presented by famed Welsh-born fashion designer Julien Macdonald, who designs for Queen Elizabeth, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, among others, created the flashbulb-popping excitement of a New York or Paris runway show. Another show by top students from New York’s Parsons School of Design drew an equally enthusiastic crowd. 

Britannia Restaurant

“Between 45 and 55 percent of our guests are past passengers,” said Hinano Yao, Queen Mary 2’s voyage sales and loyalty manager with 25 years of service with Cunard. “We have a different clientele who behave differently at sea,” she added. “These people are not port-oriented. They are here to relax, to enjoy a traditional transatlantic crossing...The U.S. is our best and biggest market.”

Queen Mary 2 guests dine at assigned tables and times according to their level of accommodations. As Britannia Balcony room guests, we had the 8:30 p.m. seating (a first seating is 6 p.m.) in the 1,200-seat Britannia dining room. Passengers in 76 Princess suites enjoy exclusive open dining in the Princess Grill, while guests in 96 larger Queens suites and penthouses enjoy luxurious Queens Grill dining, where delicacies like caviar and lobster are constants.

Men must wear tuxedos or dark business suits on the three formal nights and jackets on others. Women wear gowns or cocktail dresses on formal nights; we noticed much bling on display. A Black & White Ball, a Big Band Dance Party and a Roaring 20s Party are major post-dinner events. No jeans or shorts are welcome in public rooms after 6 p.m., but guests can dine in the King’s Court buffet on deck seven to skip dressing up.

Dinners include a range of beef, seafood and chicken dishes presented in three well-designed courses by Queen Mary 2 Executive Chef Klaus Kremer and his team of 168 onboard assistants. Canyon Ranch, the famed onboard spa operator, offers three courses of spa cuisine on each dinner menu. 

Tip: A five-course gourmet dinner in Verandah, the highly successful redesign of the former Todd English restaurant, is $49. A recommended option is the $20 three-course lunch from a similar menu. Meals are sumptuous with three courses just enough to have the afternoon to work off the calories. Request a table opposite the bar on the starboard side for the best ocean views.

Breakfast and lunch menus are served in the main dining rooms, but most guests head to the redesigned King’s Court buffet restaurant running half the length of deck seven, where popular international and American food choices are abundant.

Insider Secret
Head for the newly designed Carinthia Lounge, located forward of the King’s Court buffet, during breakfast and lunch hours. This quiet, less crowded space has couches, large and small tables, a separate light buffet station, live music at noon, and its own coffee and cocktail bar.

Dining is overseen by Executive Chef Klaus Kremer and his team of 168 assistants.

A do-not-miss experience is the hydrotherapy pool in the ship’s Canyon Ranch Spa, forward of the Carinthia Lounge. Changing rooms and lockers with robes, slippers and towels are all provided. The indoor pool, full of water jets and a rain wall, attracted only a handful of guests during our multiple visits. A luxurious relaxation room with glass walls faces the sea and provides the best napping space on board.

Insider Tip: Instead of the $40 daily spa fee, buy a three-day pass for $75 or a six-day pass for $105 to reduce the daily cost. Visits need not be on consecutive days, but they are habit-forming.

Unique Amenities
Have a spouse who would rather golf than cruise? The Fairways Golf Simulator at mid-ship on Deck 12 is a virtual golf club. It features 40 of the world’s best courses, including St. Andrews, Scotland; Pebble Beach, CA and Pinehurst, NC, on realistic video projection screens. Playing a full round takes two hours at $40 per hour, with two partners often sharing the cost.

Tip: Join the free Fairways driving contest most afternoons to test the program and find golf partners. More than 15 golfers were competing on our first sea day.

The Queen Mary 2 also has the only Planetarium theater at sea, called Illuminations. An engaging 30-minute presentation on constellations over the Atlantic, and first-run 3-D films are presented here. Free tickets must be picked up on the morning of each performance.

There are now 24 dog kennels on Deck 12 at the rear starboard side of the ship. Owners visit their pets in two indoor playrooms or on an enclosed deck. 

Good to know: Cats are also welcome in the kennel. One owner has made the crossing with her mellow cat three times despite it being surrounded by canines.

Multiple outlets for charging devices with American or British plugs and voltage are above the desk vanity in the Britannia Balcony staterooms. Wi-Fi is available around the ship for either $0.75 per minute or in packages ranging from $47.95 for 135 minutes to $167.95 for 530 minutes. Computer workstations for e-mail and web browsing were readily available in the ship’s library on deck eight forward, or the internet center on deck two forward.

Queens Grill Grand Duplexes have a bedroom and two master bathrooms upstairs and a guest bathroom, a living and dining area and a balcony downstairs.

The stateroom’s 40-inch flat-screen TV includes news channels such as MSNBC, CNN and BBC-1 from the UK. Multiple channels play classic and contemporary films 24/7. American fans of British TV on PBS in the U.S. will find their favorite shows like “Queen Victoria” and “Poldark” on the ship’s ITV channel.

More Fun Stuff
Enjoy music? Social host Tommi Baxter-Hill said that 35 musicians were onboard Queen Mary 2, which included two dance bands, four pianists, a string quartet, a jazz quartet, a harpist and a rock band. We counted 40 live music sessions in one daily program. Royal Court Theatre performers included London musical star Zoe Tyler and classical pianist Simon Callaghan. The ship’s six dance hosts dance with single partners at the Queens Room events and other venues.

Hint: Arrive early for 3:30 p.m. daily Afternoon Tea, served in the Queens Room. Table seats fill quickly for tea, finger sandwiches, scones and pastries served by white-gloved waiters and accompanied by a string quartet or a dance band.

Cocktails, anyone?

Two spots for signature cocktails are the Chart Room on deck two and the Commodore Club, an observation lounge, on deck nine forward. The Chart Room has a unique two-ounce “Age of Discovery” cocktail made from a 300-liter barrel of Jack Daniel’s bourbon aged on Queen Mary 2’s upper deck during its 41,000-mile world voyage in 2016. A martini glass of this bourbon-and-liqueur cocktail costs $120, or take a 700 milliliter bottle home for $450. 

The Commodore Club’s seven signature cocktails are each linked to one of seven commodores of the Cunard fleet knighted by an English king or queen. 

Canines are welcome on the ship, which has 24 dog kennels on deck 12.

Examples include the festive “Over the Top,” named for Sir James Charles and made with G Vine gin, sloe gin, cherry brandy and tonic, or a refreshingly fruity “All Consuming Passion,” named for Sir Ivan Thompson and mixed with gin, vanilla vodka, passion fruit puree and pineapple juice. The seven drinks, priced at $16 to $20 each, are colorful, elaborately garnished conversation pieces that entice both friends and strangers to analyze tasting experiences.

Our Britannia Balcony stateroom, located on deck six, had generous storage space with his-and-her closets on either side of a third half-closet with shelves and a combination safe with four dresser drawers below. The room décor comprises blonde wood paneling, beige walls and navy blue and gold accents. A love seat, coffee table and end tables are on either side of the plush queen bed. A fridge and minibar with limited selections are under the desk vanity. 

The roomy bathroom has a step-in shower but no tub. A black marble sink top covers a beige vanity below the mirrored wall. Multi-level metal storage shelves hang near the sink. Quercus toiletries are provided from Penhaligon’s of London with bottled items on the sink and shampoo and body soap dispensers on the shower wall.

Queen Mary 2, which homeports in Southampton, does about 22 crossings per year between Southampton and New York. Many of the most popular summer crossing itineraries include calls at eastern Canadian ports such as Quebec and Halifax either after departing or before disembarking in New York. Crossings in colder months toward year end are combined with calls in smaller southern Caribbean islands such as Tortola, St. Lucia and St. Kitts.

The Queens Room ballroom has high ceiling and  crystal chandeliers.

Voyage sales and loyalty manager Yao said the ship’s 2018 Grand Voyage is a 134-day world cruise in seven segments, departing from New York in January. The January 2019 Grand Voyage departure will be for a shorter itinerary, with five segments in 108 days.

Planning Ahead: Need your cruise sleep? Westbound sailings from Southampton to New York include five overnight time changes turning the clock back for one hour of extra sleep each time. Clocks on eastbound crossings move forward five times with guests losing hours of sleep.  

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