First Look: Queen Mary 2

| January 12, 2004
    Queen Mary 2 Spotlight Page

Queen Mary 2

"I name this ship Queen Mary 2. May God bless her and all who sail aboard her," said Queen Elizabeth 2 before 2,000 invited guests in Southampton at the christening of the largest, longest, tallest and most expensive ship ever built.

The 45-minute christening ceremony of band, orchestra and choir performances combined with a speech by Cunard Line president Pamela Conover, a prayer by the Archbishop of Winchester, and the British monarch's official naming of the vessel was a moving experience befitting the newest Cunard liner, the first built since Queen Elizabeth 2 debuted in 1969. I doubt there was a dry eye in the crowd when a massive curtain parted and the ship's bow suddenly appeared in front of us, as a lone bagpiper played on her deck.

The press spent just one night aboard 151,400-ton QM2 and had about three hours to walk around her -- not even enough time to see every lounge. The added fact that there were no passengers made it difficult to gauge the success of the ship's public areas. Once aboard the ship, I was always kept aware of her enormous size as I encountered a seemingly endless series of public rooms and lounges, high ceilings, and growing fatigue at having to walk so much! Her enormous size permitted Cunard to build a planetarium, the largest ballroom at sea, and a plethora of enormous lounges and bars.

Grand Lobby
While Cunard Line is now an American company owned by Carnival Corporation, the ship is veddy veddy British in much of its decor, apparently to ensure Cunard's U.K. passengers feel right at home. Based on QE2's statistics, around 40% of QM2's passengers will be British, 50% American, and the remainder of various nationalities. Of course the 13 transatlantic crossings in 2004 between New York and Southampton will include many passengers from the United Kingdom.

There was so much pre-launch hype -- Queen Mary 2 is the most expensive ship ever built ($800 million) -– that I was expecting to find opulent décor. While this ship has enormous public rooms, the décor is unremarkable. Wood veneer is used in some areas, but most of the walls were laminate. Much of the ship's art consists of enormous black and white photos of celebrities who sailed on Cunard's liners from the 1930's to 1960's, although I could find none of the company's memorabilia.

By the way, although QM2 is the largest ship yet in her sheer physical size, she only carries 2,620 passengers – several hundred less than the biggest mega-ships out there today. And of course, that translates into more onboard space per person. By comparison, Royal Caribbean's Voyager class ships are 140,000 tons and carry 3,500 passengers.

On QM2, passengers enter the ship via a six-deck-high Grand Lobby adorned by original paintings of Queen Mary and Queen Mary 2. The widest corridors on any ship, with striking burnt orange carpets, connect the public rooms, mostly located on Decks 2 and 3. Décor throughout the ship is a muted-down art deco. Ceilings are very high and public rooms much larger than one finds aboard other ships.

Todd English Restaurant
Among the watering holes and lounges on these decks you'll find the Golden Lion Pub, Empire Casino, the Champagne Bar, Chart Room, Sir Samuel's Wine Bar, and Queen's Room. The 1,093-seat Royal Court Theater actually has an orchestra pit; but a number of pillars will obstruct some views. Illuminations is a show lounge that also holds the ship's planetarium, an innovative retractable dome that recedes into the ceiling when the room is used for other purposes.

One room truly came alive for me during my visit. Following the christening, a gala party was held aboard QM2, and we gathered in the Queen's Room for pre-dinner cocktails. Stretching the width of the ship, the room has the largest dance floor at sea. With a band playing and guests decked out in their finest clothes, the setting was drop-dead glamorous. I did feel I was transported back to another era.

As on QE2, the levels of food and service you'll get are determined by the category of stateroom you purchase. Those staying in the priciest accommodations dine in either the Princess or Queen's Grill, both with single open seating. The two restaurants are nearly identical and have a rather plain décor. The two-level Britannia Restaurant seats the rest of the passengers in two assigned seatings.

Queen's Room
Of course, on a ship of this size there are other dining options. The lovely Todd English restaurant featuring Mediterranean cuisine is reservations-only and should boast some fabulous cuisine; there is no surcharge. The King's Court, a very large space, is the ship's cafeteria during breakfast and lunch; at night it offers pizza, British and Asian cuisine, plus a "chef's carving" of prime meats.

My favorite area of the ship is Canyon Ranch At Sea, a sybaritic 20,000 sq. ft. oasis offering the best massage and beauty treatments of any vessel I've seen, plus the largest and most beautiful Thallasotherapy pool I have laid eyes on. While my time aboard ship was limited, I did manage to indulge in the spa's signature Canyon Ranch Massage, and it was pure bliss, far surpassing any massage I've had aboard ship. Rates are comparable to other ships: a 50-minute massage is $99 during port days, $119 when the ship is at sea. The quality is far superior. Cunard chose the top spa in the country, and I predict treatments will book up quickly. In fact, Princess and Queen's Grill passengers can pre-book spa appointments. There is also a huge area for fitness buffs, including 16 treadmills and all kinds of strength training equipment.

Cabins are large and beautifully decorated in warm, soft gold fabrics and wall colorings. Standard amenities include TV, refrigerator, hair dryer, queen/twin bed configurations and bathrobes. There are two good-size closets, but only four tiny drawers. Bathrooms have showers and small shelves for toiletries. Standard inside and outside cabins are a spacious 194 sq. ft., and quite comfortable due to the warm décor.

Canyon Ranch Spa Pool
While balcony cabins all measure 248 sq. ft., they are far from identical. Balconies in categories B7 through B4 (Premium Balconies) have verandas encased in steel, with a small window-sized viewing area. I suggest upgrading to a B1, B2 or B3 category balcony cabin, which affords a full view of the sea and sky.

When money is no object, a Queen's Grill stateroom is the ultimate in luxury. Choose the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth suites, duplex apartments connected by interior stairways. They measure 1,471 and 1,194 sq. ft. respectively. Suites include the Royal (796 sq. ft.), Penthouse (758 sq. ft) and regular Suites (506 sq. ft.).

I lacked the time to sample Queen Mary 2's extensive roster of entertainment and activities. Particularly noteworthy is the roster of on-board lecturers and the ship's unique "ConneXions," a dedicated college-at-sea offered in conjunction with Oxford University in a seven-room complex.

After my very brief visit, my first impression is that Queen Mary 2 will be a very comfortable ship, especially during transatlantic crossings. She is so big, however, that according to the ship's master, Commander Warwick, tenders will be used in roughly half of the ports visited, which could be a drawback on cruises. When a ship tenders, there's always the chance that inclement weather will force a cancellation of the port.

But give me any cabin and first shot at Canyon Ranch and I really won't care if Queen Mary 2 ever stops in port.

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