My wife and I boarded the Queen Mary II at Fremantle, Western Australia for the Sydney to Capetown leg of her Inaugural Around the World Voyage. We sailed out of Fremantle at 5:30pm on a beautiful evening and were followed out of the harbour by some 1000 small craft and a crowd of more than a 100,000 that jam-packed Fremantle just to catch a glimpse of the biggest liner in the world. The QM2’s Australian visit was the largest ship ever to enter an Australian port and officers and crew on board commented that the sail away from Fremantle was the best that the QM2 had encountered since being launched 6 years previously. The weather to Capetown was mostly excellent, except for the first three days out of Fremantle we had to endure 20ft swells. Don’t think that just because the QM2 is 152,000 tonnes that it will not feel the movement of the ocean. The ship goes up and down gently with swells and one can feel that movement to the extent that you have to watch your footing. The QM2 was originally built for the Transatlantic crossing between Southampton and New York and much of the ship is enclosed to protect passengers from the rough weather that is associated with the North Atlantic Ocean. As a result we didn’t think the ship was entirely suitable for tropical cruising, as one associates fun ships with tables and cocktail umbrellas out on deck. There are of course swimming pools on various decks but the surrounding deck space of each pool seemed to lack atmosphere.
Cruise Line & Ship:
Queen Mary II, Cunard.
The interior of the ship was certainly it’s best quality, with décor resembling the Victorian age. When one enters the ship and is directed to the foyer where the Pursers office is located, one immediately gets the impression of a five- six-star hotel. The Brittania Restaurant so named after the first Cunard mail ship in the early 1800’s is lavishly fitted out. The Royal Court Theatre is fitted out to replicate a theatre of the late 1800 to early 1900’s with several large round support pillars placed among the seats. However although quite decorative, these pillars proved very annoying for viewers watching the stage. As a result one had to be in the Theatre at least an hour before the show started to obtain a seat where without the obstruction of a pillar in their view. It is a major problem and I would urge Cunard to do something about it. The seating also is not very comfortable with hard seats and no arm rests. The Queens Room – the major ballroom – is without doubt the most majestic of all the rooms on the ship and has superb atmosphere during a ball. The room spreads the entire width of the ship and is so elegantly Victorian designed it gives one the impression that they really are mixing with royalty. The Planetarium, also known as Illuminations, doubles as the movie theatre and is pleasantly fitted out. One can view the sky and all the stars when you sit under a section of the ceiling.
The service provided in all restaurants, particularly in Brittania Restaurant, is of the highest order with friendly staff from different parts of the world. Cabins are quickly cleaned and tidied each day by friendly and efficient cabin stewards. However a major criticism is that the ship is desperately short of laundries. There are only four or five laundries (with four or five machines in each) over eight decks and more than 2000 passengers. As a result the laundries are always in use and there is a constant wait to use a machine. Perhaps this has come about because the ship is designed to sail for a maximum of 7 days on the Transatlantic where people would not worry about laundering clothes. But when the ship is travelling on round-the-world voyages then laundry facilities are an essential requirement because it becomes too expensive to continually use the ships laundering service at US$2.00 to $3.00 per item. Cunard need to install at least another six laundry’s on QM2 if they intend to continue on World Voyages with her.
We had two ports of call – Mauritius and Durban. Passengers should book well in advance if they wish to do shore tours as we had to organise our own tours with local operators and taxis, resulting in some disorganization and language barriers. On disembarking in Capetown there was a major organisational problem that eventually meant that hundreds of passengers were trying to disembark at the same time as new passengers were trying to embark. When we finally got ashore we found that the makeshift wharf allocated to QM2 had no hard bitumen, but was made of dirt that had been covered over with blue drop sheets. As the average age of the passengers was around 70 years, many had walking aids and wheel chairs and found it difficult to walk on or got stuck in the sand. I saw at least two elderly people fall over. Luggage porters also had difficulty pushing their luggage trolleys in the dirt. A large marquee or tent arrangement had been erected to cover the baggage in case of wet weather (fortunately it was dry at the time). As a result, 1400 passengers getting off and trying to find their baggage in such shocking conditions made the whole procedure of disembarking a complete shambles. To be fair to Cunard, apparently the Capetown Port authorities had not allowed the ship to berth at the normal passenger terminal because the ship was too large and the captain and officers were not told until we arrived. But if there were not proper facilities at Capetown to disembark passengers in an efficient and comfortable manner then passengers should have been disembarked at Durban where there was a proper and solid passenger terminal.
Unfortunately we were very critical of the entertainment that was provided on the QM2, during the 11 days that we were on the ship between Fremantle and Capetown and hopefully not her entire World Voyage. The stage shows in the Royal Court Theatre were very disappointing, as was the various bar entertainment – uncharacteristic of Cunard, who one would think would provide first class professional entertainment. There were two singers who were professional and did have beautiful voices, but we could not say that of the others that presented each night, including the Cunard dancers who were amateurish. Contributing to this was the lack of atmosphere and applauds at the end of each performance. Compared with other cruises on the Diamond Princess and ships around Hawaii, the QM2 entertainment was very poor and plenty of others also commented on this.
Food & drink:
The food and drink throughout the ship could not be matched anywhere in the world. The menus in Brittania Restaurant were absolutely superb and beautifully cooked. If one wanted something different that was not on the menu the waiter would go out of his way to bring you what you wanted. My favourite part of the day was to go to the Queens Room for afternoon tea where the tables are laid with white tablecloths and silver service with a little china teapot and tea set to match. Waiters served in a white jacket, black tie and black trousers with white gloves. You are served sandwiches first, then cakes and finally the most beautiful scones with jam and cream. On the ballroom floor there is a stringed quartet playing classical music just as they used to pre-1930s. Without doubt this was our highlight of the day. My only criticism of the food venues would be of the Kings Court Food Hall where it was always difficult to find a table and there was always a queue at self-service counters. But the food itself was always piping hot and there was always a terrific choice of many different dishes.
We were very fortunate to be upgraded from Deck 6 with a covered balcony to Deck 8 in a cabin with a superb ocean view and open balcony. The cabin was spacious and comfortable with all the requirements one needs. Cunard should install electric vents in the en suite, to come on when one attends the toilet as smells from toilet waste fill the entire cabin and take quite some time to clear. This is quite embarrassing and I would think could constitute a health hazard.
(optional) Extras: eg, spas, gym, pool:
We found that the gym, spas and swimming pools were all available and that there were some superb shops including the famous Harrods. Some of the shops put on little markets in the foyer at discount prices from time to time.
The Verdict (a sentence to summarise):
The QM2 is a very elegant in decor and the service and dining on board is a great feature of this ship, however, on a whole she did not live up to her great reputation. Unfortunately I would never travel on this ship again and do not think it is suited to tropical conditions.
- Your favourite Cruise Ship/s: Diamond Princess and Independence. Would like to travel on Oriana and MS Avalon.
- Favourite destination/s: Alaska, New Zealand, Hawaii, Capetown, Mediterranean.
- Number of cruises taken: 3
Words: David Ahern