I must have been on a famine ship heading to the US in a previous life – why else would I want to spend seven days crossing the Atlantic on an ocean liner?!
Unlike what my predecessors faced in the 1800s, transatlantic crossings have upped their game and present all that is luxurious for the week’s crossing from Southampton to New York.
Sailing on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 has always been a bucket list trip for me. A combination of a ‘roundy’ birthday and not being able to travel for two years led me to bite the bullet and book myself a stateroom on this beautiful Queen of the seas.
I chose the westbound crossing from Southampton to New York for a number of reasons – you gain an hour most days (25-hour days are great!) and my goal was to sail into New York harbour like so many Irish before me did over the past 200 years.
At the outset, it is important to point out that regular Cunarders would bristle if you described the trip as a ‘cruise’ – to them it is a ‘crossing’. And that is true – the Queen Mary 2 is not a cruise ship in the traditional ‘bells and whistles’ style such as MSC and Royal Caribbean. It is an Ocean Liner – built specifically for crossing the Atlantic with 40% more steel than traditional cruise ships.
Like many of the classic ocean liners that preceded her, there are different levels of accommodation classes – the basic is Brittania class (which I opted for), Princess Grill and Queen’s Grill. I booked an interior stateroom and it was more than big enough for myself and my travelling companion for the duration of the crossing.
We deliberately opted not to go for a balcony cabin – I mean, crossing the Atlantic, what views can you expect?!
Your fare on the Queen Mary 2 covers practically everything (except drinks, which I will come to later).
Breakfast was a choice between the amazing Brittania restaurant, the Kings Court buffet or room service (yes, 24-hour room service was included in the fare). Lunch presented many opportunities to eat. The Golden Lion pub is a very typical English-style pub and here you can enjoy a curry, a Shepherd’s Pie or a Ploughman’s lunch washed down by one of the many Cunard speciality beers on tap.
The Kings Court is a large buffet that takes up almost one entire deck of the ship. Everything is available here. I am not a huge fan of buffets but in the interests of research, I did force myself to visit for one of Cunard’s famous donuts!
The Brittania restaurant serves up a great three-course lunch – thankfully the portion sizes were small because you could literally spend your day eating on the ship.
Dinner is always a big occasion on the Queen Mary 2. On two nights out of the trip, there were speciality nights – a black and white night and a gala night. Dress code on the ship is relatively strict – no jeans and t-shirts after 6pm if you want to use any of the bars or restaurants – so everybody made an effort to glam up in the evening.
Dinner is a five-course feast with plenty of choice on the menu in the massive restaurant. Service was very swift considering the size of the area and the food was always piping hot and fresh when served.
After dinner entertainment is in every nook and cranny on the ship. You can enjoy a string quartet while eating dinner, chill out with a jazz trio in the Chart Room bar, have a singalong with an Irish father and son in the Golden Lion pub or be entertained by the ‘big band’ and ballroom dancing in the ornate Queen’s Room.
If you still have energy left after this, the G32 nightclub is open until the wee small hours with a live band and DJ to keep everyone hopping on the dancefloor.
All this food has to be worked off – so out to the deck for a few laps every morning. Three laps of the Queen Mary 2 is the equivalent of 1.1 miles and this daily trot in the middle of the Atlantic was enough to rid everyone of the cobwebs of the night before!
When it comes to drinks, Cunard offers a drinks package. It is not the cheapest drinks package I have seen at sea but it certainly saved us a lot of money as it covers bottles of water, speciality teas and coffees as well as all alcoholic and soft drinks.
It is amazing how many waters and coffees you can get through on a day relaxing at sea!
The full passenger capacity of the Queen Mary 2 is 2,695 passengers but on our crossing in May, there were just 1,600 passengers, making it very comfortable for all involved. Covid protocols were winding down at that stage, though most people wore facemasks while walking in public areas of the ship.
The age profile on the Queen Mary 2 is older than your bells and whistles cruise ships – but not by too much. There were no children on our crossing (bonus!) and my guess is that the average age was about 55 – 65.
People have asked me if I got bored being stuck on a ship for seven days with no ports to visit – the answer is a big, fat NO! There is so much to do on any given day. The daily events guide was four pages long!
There are guest lectures (enlightenment talks!) on board. On our crossing, we had Sir Michael Howard, the former leader of the Conservative Party in the UK and his wife who is a former supermodel. We also had a Concorde pilot whose daily talks about the Concorde era were fascinating.
There is even a purpose-built planetarium on board and the ship boasts the largest library at sea!
The week at sea passed far too quickly for my liking. We met some great passengers including a newly-minted (they had just inherited $20m!!) 82-year-old couple who got married on board!
The only downside of the trip was the final morning. I had set my alarm clock for 4am to be on deck when the ship sailed under the Verrezzano Narrows Bridge approaching New York.
It was the one view I was longing to see. It wasn’t to be, unfortunately, as heavy fog meant we couldn’t even see the bow of the ship a mere few metres away.
But there is always the next time!
To console ourselves, we had four days in New York to enjoy before heading back to Ireland.
Would I recommend it as a holiday? Absolutely yes. The ship oozes calmness and luxury and it really gives you the opportunity to switch off. The staff are great and you can do as much or as little as you like.
I liked it so much that I am planning a return on the Queen Mary 2 for a Norwegian Fjords voyage next year.