For our return we decided to take an ocean liner back to North America instead of flying. The Cunard Company now owned by Carnival Cruises has the Queen Mary 2 sailing from Southampton to NYC and back. The ship carries about 3000 passengers and for us it was the biggest ship we had ever taken. The other companies we cruised with where Crystal, Azamara and Holland American, on ships holding from 800 to 1100 passengers. We love Azamara and all the trips we made with them.
To go to Southampton from London you have several options, the distance is 128 km, the travel time is about 90 minutes depending on traffic on the highway if you go by bus or car. By train the train station in Southampton is not in the docks area so you need to take a taxi for the transfer. There is also no links between Heathrow airport and Southampton.
We compared prices and options and chose a private chauffeured car to go from our Hotel Bailey’s in London to Southampton. It took under 2 hours for our trip in a very comfortable Mercedes S class.
On arrival at Southampton embarkation was very well organized and took about 30 minutes.
If you travel with Cunard be ready to be bombarded non stop with publicity telling you how absolutely fantastic they are and no one compares to them, blah, blah, blah. This was a very big red flag and we should have known that if you need to repeat endlessly how fantastic you are, there is an obvious problem.
The majority of the passengers were British 1650 of them, then Americans 620, Canadians at 450 and then Germans, Italians, French and other nationalities. Notices on board were in German and English. Why?
The staff of the ship is mostly Philippino, gone are the days when they were all Brits or Irish, I will tell you why later, then some Eastern Europeans in management and the Ship Officers are British. This being a very big ship it took several days to get familiar with the various decks and where things were located, you could get lost easily.
The ship features many vignettes of the Cunard line and of the various ships and its personnel through the ages who help make the company name. That was when Cunard was owned by Cunard and not some foreign entity, it was also a time when Cunard still abided by British Labour Laws and rates of pay and before they decided to change the Flag on the ship to one of Convenience, which changes the pay scale and work hours.
Cunard today is no longer the company it once was, the world of the Ocean Liner is run on maximum profit business plan and so we felt we were being nickel and dime to death. Breakfast in the morning if you wanted a cappuccino you had to pay $4.50 and go get it at the bar some distance away. The service is also not what it once was, it is mostly serve yourself nowadays. We were rushed though meals, there was nothing leisurely. Order quickly and make sure you put in your wine order before you order your meals because you may get your wine by dessert time. The dining room Britannia had a very unsettling constant vibration. The Maitre d’ assured us on the first night that the speed of the ship was the reason for this unsettling vibration but once we attained the regular 21 knots it would cease, nope it continued to vibrate badly. The food was bland at best, not inspired at all despite the claim of exciting menu choices. The only time we experienced anything better was the evening we went to The Verandah, which is the premium restaurant of the QM2.
The entertainment on board is of OK quality, stuck in 1960 variety model, nothing to write home about and highly forgettable, certainly not world class as claimed by Cunard. Same with their so called World famous speakers, I expected Henry Kissinger, not so. The hype surrounding the shows is a little ridiculous. The various musical groups on board performing where either playing too loudly and/or not well, false notes, etc. with the exception of the Jazz group who played in the Carinthia lounge who were of superior quality. Helen Leek was also a great pianist and a woman of talent who gave recitals.
The QM2 was refurbished in Hamburg, Germany in June 2016, at least all the public rooms and restaurants where, am not sure about the cabins. The cabins are larger than the usual cruise ship cabin and the bathroom is nice, it was very quiet on our deck.
So when Cunard says they exceed your expectations, no they don’t, I expected a nice crossing of the North Atlantic in the style of bygone era, leisurely pace, superior food and no pressure or demands to conform to the expectations of Cunard, after all who is paying for the trip. Every announcement was always on the tone of the nanny scolding, for your safety and security blah, blah, blah, I finally remarked to someone that I was starting to feel there was something wrong or dangerous about this crossing or the boat. They were truly treating us like little kids, which is grating. Even telling people what was appropriate to wear on board. I can understand requirements for a jacket at dinner or on the special night a black tie, but beyond that I found it insulting. Given that the average age on board is 65+, it is inexplicable.
Upon embarkation our luggage was to be delivered to our Stateroom, I discovered one suitcase and one garment bag missing. After one hour of looking around I went to the service desk and found the missing bags just left there, so I had to carry it myself to my cabin, so much for their legendary White Star Service.
In the Port of Halifax, N.S., Canada, statue of a true Haligonian, Samuel Cunard.
I would not recommend Cunard which is now owned and a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation. The business plan is profits first and the rest later. That is not the way to enjoy a crossing or a cruise.
The nautical maps were also incorrect, geography is not Cunard’s strong point. Canada was shown somewhere in the North Pole region, Newfoundland was described as an Island, as if it was still a British colony. We passed Halifax on our way to NYC, it did not appear on the map, despite the fact that it is the birthplace of Samuel Cunard and he still has relatives living there. A large statue to Samuel Cunard graces the docks in Halifax where the cruise terminal is located. However it was pointed out to us where the Titanic went down.
Titanic is down there, thankfully no iceberg in sight.
Now this is not to say that all was bad, no, we did have time to read great books we brought along, saw some fun movies, Zootropolis, Hail Cesar with George Cluny and While we’re young, something we rarely do. We met great people, we had charming dinner companions and met lots of truly delightful people, we slept a lot, and walked the deck which was a great easy exercise. The ship also had a truly impressive wine list, some rare finds and great years. There was also a large collection of Ports some where 170 years old. The various bars on board had just about every alcohol you can think of and a great collection of single malt scotch.
Walking daily on Deck 7 was great fun watching the ever changing sea. The light on the water from grey to dark blue to royal blue all in a few minutes, then suddenly see rainbows and the Sun shimmering on the water making it silver white.
Because we had a large contingent of British people on board, I started to notice the accents, truly some of them I could not understand, it was thick. I was told that some of them come from the region at the border with Scotland. So we just smiled and nodded a lot.
An alumni of Trinity College Dublin, notice the colour.
At the front of the ship, no not modern sculptures but emergency spare propeller blades.
On deck 7 at Sea
At 5am in the port of New York, our arrival.
The early morning arrival in New York at docking across from Governor’s Island.
From New York we went to LaGuardia which is undergoing a massive rebuilding and the whole airport is in shambles. We flew to Toronto for our connecting flight to PEI.
On our approach to Lester B. Pearson International Airport, Toronto seen from above.