This was MudGuide’s fifth voyage on the Queen Mary 2 (QM2), and it proved to be, very surprisingly, the best of the bunch. We first voyaged on the QM2 in 2006, two and a half years after her maiden voyage. The next three Atlantic crossings were a classic case of familiarity breeding contempt (see Queen Mary 2). So our July 2016 crossing was timed to take advantage of the ship’s month-long refit at the Blohm and Voss Shipyard in Germany in late May and June of that year. We also doubled down by embracing Cundard’s business model, which views their flagship as the world’s biggest and slowest moving airplane—replete with multiple, price-stratified levels of service and an infinite number of add-on costs for all but the basics. So TeamMago essentially upgraded to business class, which Cunard calls “the Princess Grill Suites.” The combination of recent renovation and classic price discrimination made the voyage far more enjoyable than its four predecessors.
Our 381-square-foot cabin (if you looked at it with squinted eyes for a half hour you could convince yourself that it was a suite) was much nicer than the Britannia Balcony digs of our previous crossings. The key difference was size, with the Princess “suite” sporting over 100 more square feet than even the largest balcony state room. Most of the re-fit changes have to be classified as superficial, but they were very pleasant none the less.
The gray and cream wall treatments as well as upgraded furnishings, to include an arm chair/sofa combo, decent sized desk, and padded rattan arm chairs on the balcony, were all nice touches for living spaces that were starting to look rather tatty after a decade plus of cruises. The TV was large(ish) and positioned so that it could be watched from bed (unlike the set up in the Britannia Balcony cabins). But the real godsends were the transparent balcony railing and the moveable variable height coffee table (all of which facilitated morning stretching routines as well as day drinking).
However, on the down side, the walk-in closet was way too big for our needs (as usual) and the tub/shower combination down right stingy for the price your correspondents were paying. Why not allocate a little less space to couture so as to build out a bathroom worthy of a princess with a walk-in shower and separate tub. If Cunard’s marketing hacks are wondering why the QM2 never gets the respect of 6 star ships, this might be one of the big pieces of the puzzle.
Each Princess Grill Suite comes with concierge service, which means that there are more stewards per capita on the Princess Grill decks. Our concierge, Ronuel, was excellent. He was knowledgeable, attentive, and discrete. In fact, he was the only crew member who never attempted to upsell TeamMago. That alone is reason enough for awarding him the George Cross (bestowed since 1940 for valor other than in combat). Other crew shout outs: Princess Grill restaurant maître d Stanley and our waiter Bernard.
Additional Princess perks were hit or miss: sparkling wine and chocolates in the cabin upon arrival (hit), daily fresh fruit (miss–rock hard upon arrival and stayed that way until it rotted), personalized stationary (meh! well my mother would have liked it as well as the hardcopy atlas), “upgraded” soft velour robes and slippers (nice enough, but the previous stuff must have been sack cloth and ashes if this was really a serious upgrade).
The Princess Grill perk that all drinks for $12 or less were inclusive in the fare turned out to be mixed blessing. It was indeed a windfall , since you could drink all the wines by the glass, beer, and many cocktails at this price. For wine you had to game the system by drinking only the small (150 ml) glasses of wine to stay under the $12 limit, but the staff cheerfully and rapidly kept those babies coming. However, TeamMago had to fight to get this discount on the bill via multiple trips to the Grills Concierge Lounge. The perk description said that the charges would be made to our account and then removed each night. This was not reflected in either our interim or final bills. And the accounting system is basically unintelligible, making it impossible to dispute a charge once you debark.
MagoTip: Get to know the Grills Concierge Lounge staff early and often. These individuals can be very helpful in removing disputed charges from your bill, getting reservations at various venues, booking excursions, and in general dispensing personalized service that otherwise requires multiple stops at crowded and far less helpful venues that are the only recourse aboard for the hoi polloi.
Outside our cabin the refit can be credited with at least two major improvements. First, the aging strip mall decor of the former Winter Garden has been completely redone as the Carinthia Lounge. The new Art Deco themed space was fun to hang out or work in, but the true upgrade was the provision of real coffee onboard. Until the Carinthia Lounge’s classic Illy machines were installed, the QM2 was in the despicable yet highly profitable business of repurposing its used dish water as coffee and getting away with it as only a sea-based monopoly could. The Carinthia Lounge’s coffee might be spendy, but it is indisputably coffee.
In addition to java, the Carinthia’s bar offers a nice selection of Iberian red, white, cava, sherry, and port wines. The port display is a bit over the top, although it makes for an interesting browse with a glass of cava in hand. Does anyone ever buy a $4,000 plus bottle of 19th century port? The case is stocked as if folks were ordering six packs of the stuff to go. Upselling uber alles indeed.
Food in the Carinthia Lounge is kinda weird. There are only pastries for breakfast, (very) light lunches, and then cakes and other desserts until 5:30 PM. There are (only) free but minimal nibbles to accompany drinkies in the evening, which is weird since the lounge is at least as congenial as any of the other bars on the ship (in general, the QM2 bars were not improved by the refit–see below).
A second astonishingly positive development on this crossing was the revolt of the sisterhood of the cruising pants. It turns out that the draconian dress code foisted on denizens of the Britannia Dining Room is honored more in the breach at the Princess Grill. Many women showed up for meals in nice pant suits and separates, even (actually especially) on formal nights, of which there are four on a typical transatlantic voyage. This superbly feminine resistance to Cunard’s biggest bug masquerading as a feature allowed their knuckle dragging male companions to dress down from tuxes or suits to jacket and pants with a tie (I managed to ruin both of mine by the time we docked in Southampton).
Indeed, the sociological phenomenon concerning rigid enforcement of formal night dress code in the proletarian sections of the ship, juxtaposed with the relaxed attitude that reigned in the Princess Grill, was a perfect illustration of inverted class rigidity (and a really, really dumb business model)—you go gals! Modesty forbids me more than a passing acknowledgement that the sisterhood, while leaderless like all bottom-up resistance movements, was warmly promoted from the very first night by MudGuide’s own sweet Patti Ann.
There were some things that the refit did not fix, however. For one thing all the bars really, really sucked. There must have been a Cunard HR decision to put every grumpy, bored, and anti-social crew member who could be spared behind the bar at every venue but one. Example: the Commodore Lounge used to be TeamMago’s fave, but we were dissed by the grouchy woman behind the bar, who sent out drink after drink to other tables while we sat at the bar giving her some world class MudGuide stink eye. Also, the buffet of free and decent nibbles had been removed (probably to help pay for the refit).
Then there was the well executed conspiracy to make everyone drink bad beer. First the real ale taps in the Golden Lion Pub went dry about an hour after we sank the land out of Halifax. Then mid-way through the voyage the ship ran out of San Miguel. The only suds left were the gleanings of AB InBev-SABMiller–sad bro, very sad.
Price discrimination, however, almost saved the day with the Grill Lounge, the exclusive preserve of Grills passengers.
The bar was the best on the ship, with knowledgable mixologists, amusing and happy servers, and very decent free nibbles.
Unfortunately Cunard’s omnipresent and relentless upselling even crept into this oasis. The bartender, one Jocarl, pushed way too hard for a big tip. Noting unhappily that we had tipped him the evening prior, he informed us that he had to split any recorded tips with twenty other bar tenders. He told us that the only way to really show our appreciation was with cash at the end of the trip–he helpfully suggested a c-note for his exemplary service–which he did not get, but we took his advice and passed out generous gratuities to our steward (sorry, concierge) and the Princess Grill staff who never asked for a damn thing, thank you very much.
The QM 2’s internet service still sucks in that you simply cannot get on due to usage saturation between the hours of 7 AM and 2 AM. This is inexplicable given the recent refit and what the competition provides.
Cunard’s enrichment lectures continued their decline into absurdity on this crossing as well. Bruce Chadwick’s lecture entitled “CSI Ancient Rome: The Assassination of Julius Caesar” was a sad case in point. Dr. Chadwick is a former New York Daily News journalist with a Ph.d in American History, who teaches English and American history at New Jersey City University. Unfortunately, Dr. Chadwick is definitely not an expert in Roman antiquity in general or Julius Caesar in particular. He gave the worst lecture I have ever attended anywhere on the planet. His remarks on Caesar, the dictator’s Roman contemporaries, and the Roman Republic contained more falsehoods and stupid claims than a Donald Trump rally—a veritable banquet of “fake news.” Really bad show Cunard!!
Although unrelated to the refit, MudGuide wants to commend Dr. Sarah Culligan, the chiropractor in residence at the QM 2’s Canyon Ranch Spa. She turned out to be just what I needed for a job-related injury. I managed to really bugger my neck taking a nap on the Canadian (there may have been alcohol involved, see The Canadian: Luxury with a Purpose) to the point that I had shooting pains and numbness from my upper vertebrae down my left arm to my elbow. When a massage did not do the trick, I decided to try Dr. Culligan.
The fact that she is a twenty something Scottish/South African hottie had absolutely nothing to do with it–that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it dude. However, let me assure wives and sweethearts that you are perfectly safe in letting your significant other seek treatment from Dr. Culligan. She may have him strapped bare-assed onto a multi-pivot gurney at the start of treatment, but let me assure you than when she begins manipulating his vertebrae by pneumatically jackhammering his lower spine and then shoving four inch needles into his shoulders and fundament, all lascivious thoughts will go the way of the dinosaurs (and if all that pain turns you on, then you are way too sick for MudGuide). She doesn’t call her examination room “the torture chamber” for nothin’ dude, and she assured me that cursing her in any language was fine with her.
In any event, over the course of two sessions, followed by copious use of kinesiology tape, Dr. Culligan set me on the road to recovery. MudGuide heartily recommends Dr. Culligan for all of your cruise chiropractic requirements. She is unrelentingly professional and gets results no matter how much pain she has to put you through.
Rankings and Bottom Line
In 2013 we published MudGuide’s cruise ship and freighter ratings. At that time Cunard landed at the bottom of the list, tied for third with freighter crossings (see Queen Mary 2). On our newly revised rankings, Cunard has moved up into a third place tie with Oceania, while freighters have fallen to last place. While Oceania cruise ships are smaller, better appointed, and serve better food on the whole, an Oceania crossing takes way too long, has far too many stops, and their shore excursion marketing and upselling are even worse than Cunard. See our forthcoming review of MudGuide’s late fall crossing on Oceania’s Riviera from Barcelona to Miami.
The made over Princess Grill Suites beat the hell out of any Britannia state room (aka steerage) and any birth on the QM2 always beats flying.
And there is more to come on the QM2. Soon we’ll be posting details about our meals at the Princess Grill Restaurant and the Veranda
Life on Board
Dolphins and Whales
We saw an abundance of sea life on this this QM2 trip to include dolphins playing in the wake and even whales.
The Kitchen Tour
The kitchen tour is always fun.