QE2: December Crossing

QE2 @ Southampton, 2001

QE2 @ Southampton, 2001

Introduction

By the time that you read this, the QE2 will have retired. The plan is for her to become a hotel in Dubai, although I am always very sceptical about ‘Hotel Ship’ plans.  I have reproduced this review as a tribute in memory of her passenger service.

So much has been written before about the most famous ship in the world, that I am in danger of repeating it all. But in short so many people loved her, yet others are not so impressed. Was her reputation bigger than the reality?  Read on: 

Public Rooms
The interiors of the QE2 are in very good shape, considering that was 33 years old, at the time of my crossing (Dec 2002). This is of course due to a number of multi-million pound refits over the years. However, there are some small areas of wear and tear visible, but this is to be expected.

Her interiors are a strange mixture of décors including contemporary décor, 1960’s and modern retro such as Georgian and Art Deco.

I must say that I am not a fan of the QE2’s original “Austin Powers” style interiors, although much of these have now been replaced. Those 1960’s features that are left still look ugly to me.

On a positive note the range of public rooms is good and there is lots of atmospheric lighting. However, the British Pub (a Pub is a separate building, so it really should be called a Bar) was always too smoky for me to use. The Chart Room bar is much better, but it is a pity that Cunard have not bothered to fix the chart behind the bar (Queen Mary style) which once had a moving ship following the ships coarse! After all is that not the focus of the décor?

The Grand Lounge (Show lounge) is rather outdated and lacks sufficient seating. It also does not have tier seating, so an unobstructed view can be a problem. It is also too easy for people to pass through this area of the ship, causing disruption to the shows.

The large Theatre, used for lectures and movies, was very charming, very retro, and very practical with tiered seating.

The Yacht Club which is a bar/nightclub/disco has contemporary nautical décor and is a nice space to finish your evening in.

It is a pity that she no longer has a forward observation lounge. This is a big omission. This would be the prime spot to watch her bow plough through the waves on a rough transatlantic crossing, as we had (Storm Force 10).

The shop, selling very relevant nautical books etc. and the Library were much better than on most ships.

Footnote: My wife felt sick during much of the two day storm that we experienced mid-Atlantic. Therefore I decided to take her to the medical centre.

Imagine the scene, I assisted her with great difficulty down the long corridors as the ship pitched and rolled. The entire ship had become incredibly hot and stuffy. My wife was already a bright shade of green.

The medical Centre was unfortunately in the bowels of the ship, at the bottom of a long and tight winding staircase. Even worse the staircase stank of diesel fumes. Imagine the difficultly of negotiating a person who is on the verge of vomiting down a hot staircase, that seems to go around and around forever, while breathing diesel fumes.

It was clear from the stains on the carpet that many patients never made it in time. When we reached the bottom, the medical centre door had a sign on it “Please keep closed at all times”. I suppose this was their attempt to try and shut the stench out? Much to our alarm the little waiting room was full of crew who felt sick, too!

Food & Service
Although we were upgraded to a Caronia Cabin, we were allocated to remain in the Mauritania restaurant for dining.

Although the Mauritania was not an unpleasant room, the Caronia dining room was by far the most attractive, in my opinion. I even preferred the Caronia’s décor to the more intimate grill dining rooms.

The evening meal and service in the Mauritania was very inconstant. The service was very slow at times, and the food ranged from poor to adequate, but it was never great. In fact overall it is the worst food I’ve had on a cruise ship. In fact I had better meals on a DFDS ferry! (Our table mates were very experience cruiser and agreed ).

One the first night I had a steak which was both tasteless and tough. The soups, salads and deserts were also unmemorable.

In fact my local supermarkets sells better tinned soups and frozen deserts! The food was certainly not as good as RCI’s or NCL’s. In fact the food and service on the ‘Brilliance of the Seas’ shakedown cruise was better than on our QE2 crossing. Maybe Cunard were just having an ‘off’ week, as I can’t believe that ‘M’ grade food and service was always that bad. Only our charming table mates made evening dinning an event worth looking forward to.

However, I must say that Breakfast and lunch in the Mauritania were better in terms of service and quality of food than the evening meal. There also seemed to be a greater choice on the menu during the day than in the evening.

I personally think that the different grades of dining and price structure on-board the QE2, gives Cunard the perfect excuse to use inferior ingredients and poorly trained Chef’s and wait staff in the Mauritania restaurant, without feeling guilty. On a one class-dining ship, there is of course every incentive to keep the standard of food and service high for all guests. Cunard should be ashamed of themselves.

However, I would not want to pay for a higher grade of food or cabin, because I already feel that I had paid more than enough.

The self-service food in the lido was very good; however it is difficult to get a buffet wrong. We often used it both for breakfast and lunch. Although I must say that lining up with a plastic tray hardly represents luxury. Unfortunately bad weather during the crossing closed the lido for two days.

Accommodation
Having a proper tapered ‘ocean going’ hull means the QE2 has a whole range of cabins of different shapes and sizes, ranging from microscopic inside cabins with bunk beds to luxurious suites with double beds and veranda’s. The cabins come in there grades, Mauritania, Caronia and Grill class.

However, just to confuse the issue, some lower grade cabins can be slightly larger than the next grade, depending on deck position. Only a very knowledgeable travel agent or an accurate deck-plan (not the one in the brochure) can fully enlighten you. However, as a guide the more you pay, the stronger the likely hood of a bigger better cabin.

It is worth noting that the smallest inside cabin on modern cruise ships are considerably larger the smallest on the QE2. In addition, the smallest cabin on a modern ship will probably have twin beds compared to the smallest on offer on the QE2 which will almost certainly have bunk beds (or upper and lower berths) as they politely put it. In short, you get more cabin for your money on a modern cruise ship, when compared to the QE2.

Although we paid for an outside Mauritania grade, we were upgraded to an outside Caronia. This was a very nice cabin, and we were pretty pleased with it. Although, the beds were rather narrow and short. If you are tall and/or well built, you could be in trouble?

The in-cabin safe was a revelation. It was operated by your credit card, but with no charge. The unique number encoded in the cards magnetic strip allowed it to act as your personal key to lock and unlock the safe. This all sounds fantastic, but how exactly do you then lock your credit card into the safe? Why would you want to carry around a credit card all day on a cashless ship?

Entertainment
The shows and entertainers were generally rather mediocre.

The highlight for me was three lectures given by guest speaker, Bill Miller. If you have never hear ‘Mr. Ocean Liner’ speak in public, he is quite brilliant. He really makes his subject come alive.

It was good to see that the in-cabin TV showed ‘snowbow’ maritime history videos, as well as the normal cable stuff.

Activities
I took a Westbounf transatlantic crossing to NY, on 15th December 2002. This was a Transatlantic crossing form Southampton to NY, so the itinerary was ‘Sea’.

A young guy at our table described the experience as ‘a mixture of relaxation and boredom’!

Passenger Mix
It was not a party cruise or a family cruise. Although, there was a fair cross section of society, of various ages onboard, including many Americans.

All passengers were united by the fact that they had managed to raise the expensive fare. Of course some passengers had raised more than others. Some wore mink coats, (including men) much to my disgust! In general the passengers were well manner. The American’s were much more outgoing than the Brits, but we were of course hampered by our British reserve.

Conclusions

Without doubt, a transatlantic crossing on the QE2 was a great experience for those interested in maritime history. She is very much a ‘ship nuts’ ship.  I felt that the SS Norway, for example, had more charm, being a  ‘real’ ex- ‘ship of state’/Ocean Liner, where as the QE2 was always designed for the dual role of cruising and crossing.

For those primarily interested in good accommodation, good entertainment and good food, at a reasonable price, there are many new ships with better facilities, better accommodation and certainly offering better value. You only get  ‘real’ quality on-baord the QE2 if you are prepared to pay top-dollar. However I accept that the QE2 has  has many die-hard fans who are unlikely to agree with  a word that I’ve written.

One last note: The QE2 Terminal at Southampton is too small and outdated. They should have refit it as often as the QE2. The embarkation process was a little slow with long lines – what happens when the bigger ships arrive? In terms of style, they should have kept the fantastic original Art Deco ‘Ocean Terminal’.

Malcolm Oliver

See my Queen Mary 2 Review: http://wp.me/PfRKD-4

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2 Responses to “QE2: December Crossing”

  1. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Thanks for the message Phil. The QE2 is obviously muched loved but at times the ‘M’ grade product has been inconsistent. However, I suppose that is the case with all ships.

    If you read my other ship reviews, I am a big fan of the QM2, but was not quite so impressed with the Queen Vic. Mind you some QE2 fans may find the QV’s more intimate atmosphere more to their liking.

  2. Phil Says:

    I read your comments with interest. My girlfriend and I have just completed the final westbound crossing to New York on the QE2 and loved every minute of the journey. Our fellow passengers were warm, engaging and at times sad at the imminent demise of what many said was the friendliest liner/cruise ship they had been on. Many were repeat passengers. It was not unsual to find people with 40-50 crossings or cruises under their belt.

    We were in the smallest cabin in Mauretania class. The food was excellent and the service some of the best I have ever experienced. The ship was in an excellent state of repair, with the crew still varnishing and painting as needed. Sharing a port with the Master, the delightful Captain McNaught, and being invited to the cocktails in his quarters absolutely made our crossing. A wonderful couple that we met on the crossing were to thank for that.

    All in all, the old girl acquitted herself marvellously. She felt like a warm, vibrant club at sea. Our greatest regret was that we had discovered her too late. Something that we learned is that it is not the size of your cabin, the amenities on the cruise or the age of the ship. What makes for a wonderful ship is the how upbeat one’s fellow passengers are, their devotion to a vessel, to the history she contains and the great times they have had aboard ship. Not something that comes with a new ship, admittedly, but perhaps cruise companies need to do some more research into that elusive concept of “character” and encourage loyalty to an individual ship rather than simply a brand. Ever-increasing displays of mock grandeur and entertainment do not, in my brief experience, appeal to quite a sizeable and well-heeled group. Very often the topic of conversation came up: “what next”? I suppose the only answer is “the Queen Mary 2”, our magnificent travelling companion of our historic voyage.

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