When my husband moved over to Scotland, he flew. I, however, opted for a more…leisurely form of transportation when I followed a month later: the Queen Mary 2.
I did not do this because I wanted a week-long vacation on a luxury cruise ship or because my history-loving self was dying to travel the way some of my favorite characters did (though those were nice bonuses). I boarded a ship because we have two dogs with heart murmurs who can’t fly (one of them has anxiety issues too). The QM2 is the only ship plying the transatlantic trade that has a kennel on board. In fact, I think it’s the only cruise ship at all that has a kennel on board, which makes it popular with pet owners–the kennels book up mighty fast, so reserve your spot early.
Now, for a review.
Since the dogs were the primary reason I was on board, I may as well start with the kennels: they’re excellent. There’s room for 6 small dogs and, I believe, 4 large (the large cages can be split in two to accommodate more small dogs, or two small dogs can share a large crate, as mine did). Cunard will harass the hell out of you for your pets’ paperwork in the lead-up to the voyage, but they treat you and your dog(s) very well once you’re on board. Feel free to request special food–they’ll provide it (my dogs got freshly steamed veggies in their meals, and another dog got chicken and rice every day), and there’s a full-time kennel master to look after the pooches (or kitties, though there were only dogs during my trip). There’s a length of deck outside for exercise that’s blocked off so people can’t go tromping through. It’s fine for smaller or older dogs, but a bit short for those with dogs who need space to run, so keep that in mind. Inside, there’s a sitting room for pet owners with chairs and tea. You can visit your pets four times a day: from 8-10 a.m., 11-12 p.m., 3-6 p.m. and from 8-8:30 to say goodnight. My dogs were seriously happy little campers and everyone, human and animal, got along beautifully.
Cunard has moved past the days when they focused on speed and now it’s all about the customer service. They really want you to have a nice cruise, and everyone who works on board is friendly and eager to please. As soon as you get to your stateroom and take a sip of the complimentary champagne they provide on sailing day, you know you’re in good hands.
The ship itself is quite lovely–they really focused on bringing in some art deco elements to call back to the original Queen Mary (which sailed in 1936). Staircases curve, the walls are wood-paneled and you really get a sense that this ship wasn’t churned out of some factory or made out of plastic just to get enormous numbers of people from one place to another.
Amenities on board are plentiful: there’s an excellent gym (which I visited daily), a well-stocked library, a planetarium/cinema, theatre, and, of course, shops for those who really need to buy some Hermes at sea.
Your dining room is determined by your cabin. Most passengers eat in the two-story Brittania dining room while those who pay quite a bit extra get smaller dining rooms elsewhere. I was in Brittania, and I was fine with that. The food was quite good (though duck and lobster tended to be a bit tough and overdone) and served by smiling, attentive waitstaff. Portion sizes were incredibly reasonable, so don’t panic about piling on the pounds unless you’re hitting the buffet as well. You can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the dining room and I’d recommend eating there as often as possible; the food’s better here than at the buffets.
There are two buffets: the King’s Court and La Piazza. I tended to hit them up for breakfast in the morning before I went to the gym but was a bit disappointed with the lunch I had at the King’s Court. Just average, really. La Piazza serves up rather nice pastas, so I’d recommend that one for lunch. There’s also the Golden Lion, which serves up pub grub, and Todd English, where you can eat for a bit extra. At night, King’s Court turns into four different dining venues, where you can also eat for a price. I didn’t try any of these, so I can’t really speak to the quality of the food, but they looked nice.
Afternoon tea is served in the Queen’s Room–a pretty spot liberally decorated with stern-looking pictures of Queen Mary. It’s a very nice tea with all the usual trappings, but I was only able to enjoy it once–it came too close to dinner for me (I was in the first seating) and was just too much food for me to handle. I believe there’s a buffet afternoon tea in the King’s Court, but I didn’t try it out.
Things to Do
You might be worried you’ll get bored on a cruise with no stops. Don’t be. There are plenty of things to do on board. Over the course of the week, I hung out in the library, hit the gym, saw a movie, went to two lectures, saw The Merchant of Venice performed by RADA students, and attended two excellent singing/dancing shows (I also tried the comedian’s show, but walked out. Not my kind of humor). And believe me, I didn’t even do everything there was to do. I sadly missed the Julliard Jazz show, and I never did get to the planetarium for the show (though I did sit in the planetarium for the lectures, which were provided by visiting university professors and were excellent). There are all sorts of activities going on throughout the day and evening, sure to suit everyone.
It was windy and chilly for most of the trip, which I gathered was not unusual for the North Atlantic this time of year. It’s possible to just remain inside all the time and wear whatever you want, but for deck strolls, you’ll want to bring a jacket.
I’ll be honest–this isn’t a cruise a lot of younger people tend to take. If you’re under 35 and have dreams of being swept off your feet by a Carey Grant type a la Love Affair, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s really nice (except for one embarrassing jerk at my dinner table), but everyone I ate with was more than twice my age, which occasionally made for dull conversations about the Beatles’ haircuts that I just couldn’t engage in.
Imagine arriving bright and early in Southampton with zero jet lag after a nice, hot breakfast cooked by an actual chef, ready to brag about what you learned in your lectures or about the Shakespeare shows you took in while at sea. Can you really beat that? I think not. Not even first class travel on a plane will deliver you to your destination feeling this good, and for the cost of a first-class airplane seat, you could probably reserve one of the ridiculous suites on the ship. Even my ticket was little more than a seat in coach would have been, and the dogs actually traveled cheaper than they would have if they’d flown. Try and figure that one out.
Bottom line: if you can swing it, do it. Take the ship. You can actually relax, take more than one suitcase, and get a glimpse of what it was like back in the day when travel was actually something to be enjoyed rather than endured.