We left Cadiz in sunshine, but within an hour or so, as we approached Portugal, the seas began to rise and the temperature plummeted. As we woke on the 8th, our penultimate day at sea, it was very grey and very cold. The sea, already lively, seemed to promise an interesting journey across The Bay Of Biscay. In the event we crossed the Bay on gentle seas and, on our last day, in pleasant, if watery, sunshine.
This has been a remarkable experience. We have cruised some 44,000 miles over 120 days. We can’t conceive that we would ever do it again – by contrast, lots of people on the ship have bookings for additional world cruises in both 2019 and 2020 – but it has been a privilege to do this. It has been everything we hoped for.
The greatest challenge for Cunard – we feel – has been to ensure passenger satisfaction with the unnatural experience of eating for almost all of 120 consecutive nights in the same restaurant. In that, it has succeeded remarkably well. That’s not to say that some greater variation in food or location would not have been welcome, but eating in the Britannia – essentially Cunard’s 4th tier restaurant after the Queen’s Grill, The Princess Grill and the Britannia Club – has always been a pleasant experience. The food has very occasionally been mediocre. Much more frequently it has been good. And sometimes, it has been outstanding. Staples like roast lamb, steak, salmon and lobster have always been very good. When one measures the quality of the Britannia Restaurant against, say, a corporate meal for two or three hundred people at a good London hotel, the Britannia excels. And the challenge facing the chefs on QM2, every day, is much greater than that facing any hotel. As we learned on our visit to the Galley, 16,000 meals are consumed every day, 50 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables are consumed every week, along with eight tons of meat, two tons of dairy produce and 20,000 litres of milk.
The dining experience has been helped by having good company at our table. One couple became somewhat semi-detached toward the end of the cruise, attending irregularly, sometimes seeming determined not to enjoy the food, and having become disenchanted with the cruise generally. That was a pity, because they’d provided pleasant company for the first 10 weeks or so. But the remaining five of us often sat after dinner, drinking coffee, until almost everyone else had left the restaurant.
Breakfast in Britannia
This was our favourite experience (not just dining experience) on QM2. The service and the standard of food, particularly the fresh bakery products, was consistently outstanding. We breakfasted there on most of our sea days, generally arriving at 8am to get a precious table by one of the windows (although in the final weeks of the cruise, having intervened with the Maître D’ when we witnessed some unconscionable rudeness toward one of the waiters at dinner, we were given a window seat for breakfast, no matter what time we turned up)
We had a very different view of Kings Court. There’s nothing wrong with the quality of the food there: indeed it’s always good and often better, particularly at breakfast and lunch. Kings Court was, apparently, much improved during the recent QM2 refit. It must have been worse than mediocre then because now, as a place to sit and enjoy a meal, it fails rather badly. There are too few tables in sight of a window and the blandness of the decor reminds one of a cafe in a John Lewis Store: clean, dependable, but rather boring:
We didn’t eat there after the fourth week of the cruise, preferring to pick up the (often excellent) food and take it to our room or to one of the steamer chairs on deck 7.
We used room service much less than anticipated, largely because we so enjoyed breakfast in the Britannia Restaurant. But whenever we used it we were not disappointed, although the quality of breakfast food – delivered in huge volumes – is poorer than the quality of meals served later in the day. Things like the Sirloin Steak and the Pasta Bolognese were always good.
The regular coffee served in Kings Court and in Britannia is poor. Half decent coffee can be obtained from the rather better machine outside Connexions on deck two (the decaff is better than the regular) but for a coffee remotely of the standard of, say, a Starbucks or Cafe Nero drink, will require you to pay. A coffee card, which covers the cost of ten coffees, and including the 15% service charge costs about $39 (about £27). We bought our coffee at Sir Samuels, whether to drink there or as a takeaway, and it was always excellent.
Putting on Weight
Jan never puts on weight. I do, and at home, I seem to spend half my life on the 5/2 diet trying, mostly successfully, to ensure I don’t exceed 14 stones. I love food.
After an encouraging first couple of weeks onboard, when I didn’t appear to put on very much at all, my weight leaped. I cut out the biscuits and cakes which are offered at every minute of the day and we generally had just two meals a day: a full English breakfast and dinner. We drank every day, which we don’t at home, but I offset that by speedy walking around the decks. I set myself the target of walking 300 miles in our four months away and managed just under 290. That amounted to about 65 hours of intense walking or about an hour a day on sea days only. But as a result, my weight is a couple of pounds less than when we set off.
The great indulgence of the holiday has been reading. First the E version of The Times every day, but secondly, and mostly books. I’ve read 56 and our most contented moments have been on the balcony or promenade deck with a book and a gin and tonic.
We did very few of these and most of those we did take were the On Your Own variety (essentially a longer distance shuttle trip). Feedback from many passengers about the more traditional excursions was mixed with frequent reports of hours wasted at various gem factories, embroidery exhibitions, and potteries, where the main purpose was to induce passengers to pay over the top for souvenirs.
This sounds to be an unexceptional issue but we found the shuttle service – in every single port – to be excellent. In four months we never waited more than a few minutes to board a bus, whether leaving or returning to the ship. The shuttles allowed us to avoid the cost of excursions in the vast majority of ports while giving us the security of knowing we could, with ease, return to the ship. On every occasion the shuttles were free.
Tour and Port Information
This was sometimes poor, with basic information about opening times and, alarmingly, expected temperatures, often being inaccurate. Sometimes the challenge of doing one’s own thing in a particular port was exaggerated and we had a sense of a Port Lecturer re-peddling research completed some years ago. That said, he was clearly a kind and considerate man and we heard a great deal of his kindness to individual travellers.
We have missed the lack of Americans and Canadians on this cruise. In previous cruises – one on Cunard and two on Holland America – they have outnumbered all other nationalities and we have enjoyed their company, particularly at dinner. There were very few of them on this ship. Between Cape Town and Sydney (the second of our two visits to Sydney) the largest nationality was Australian. They were good company and for a while, we were frequent spectators at the Pub Karaoke, so entertaining and self-deprecating were the Aussie performers. A handful, who joined for one of the mini cruises – a four-day Melbourne to Melbourne for example – had been wrongly advised to travel on the QM2. They were too young and looking for a bit of a party which they failed to find on this rather sedate – and fast asleep by midnight ship. But overall, it was great having so many Australians onboard. David Gower’s lectures would have been much less fun without them in the audience.
The Japanese dominated the ship between Sydney and Singapore. They were very quiet, hardly ever went in the sun (so the pool decks were never busy while they were onboard) and unfailingly polite. They sometimes weren’t too good at queuing, particularly at the Kings Court buffets. They clearly enjoyed their food. When I would wake early and sometimes walk the deck before 6am they were the only people using Kings Court and later, at the midnight buffet, they dominated. And yet, in stark contrast to the Americans and the British, virtually none of them were overweight.
The British on the full world cruise were individually fine. We dined with five of them and enjoyed their company. But in a larger group, some of the others had a dreadful capacity for whingeing and after just a couple of weeks we avoided the Atlantic Room (dedicated for World Cruisers only) because we tired of the ceaseless complaining about minor blemishes in the cruise experience. And there was a frequent and barely hidden schadenfreude as World Cruisers speculated about the deaths or serious illnesses of various real or imaginary passengers. Their resentment of those not fortunate enough to be doing the whole trip was as petty as it was ridiculous.
Some of them, particularly those for whom world cruising is an annual event, need to get a sense of balance into their lives. Terry Darlington, the author of one of the last books I read on this cruise: Narrow Boat To Indian River, writes about a different sort of boating and is coruscating about those of us who choose the Cruising route. He talks of cruise ships being “full of the recently dead and those soon to cross the river…” That’s a little unfair – although funny – but an earlier reference to “rich desperate, sick people, running away from their families and the world” captured our perception of some of those addicted in the Atlantic Room and who ceaselessly complained about minutiae before booking up again, for next year and sometimes for the year after too.
A minority of other British onboard – and they dominated the ship from Dubai onward – did not always distinguish themselves. One of the nice things about QM2 has been the courtesy in individual interactions with other passengers. For most of the cruise there has been virtually no reserving of sun beds and lots of examples of people giving way to others, making space on deck or swapping beds. After Dubai, particularly on the promenade deck where many of us try and walk a few miles every day, beds were routinely rearranged often to allow virtually no room for promenading. And the incidence of beds being reserved – often for some hours – and from early morning, has hugely increased and there have been more than one or two loud disagreements. The fond belief that the reserving of sun beds is a German trait is clearly inaccurate. It’s a British thing.
The number, range and quality of speakers has been first class and added a great deal to the holiday. Michael Howard, Martin Bell, David Gower, Sally Gunnell, Anthony Horowitz and other celebrities have been very good value. And other lesser-known speakers have been excellent, most recently, Allen Morrison who has given a remarkable four lecture series on the history of Jazz.
There are no shortage of complainants about the ship’s Wi Fi and a profound failure to understand the nonsense of comparing download speeds with that obtained on land, often through a hard-wired connection. On sea days, and during the mid morning and mid afternoon the Internet speed can indeed be slothful. But early morning, during dinner, and particularly after dinner, the speed is perfectly acceptable. Each morning it took me no more than a minute or two to download my copy of the Times. And by downloading emails each morning, and then answering them offline before sending them during the evening, meant I used relatively few minutes. The complimentary minutes provided by Cunard on each sector have always been sufficient.
Forget all the apocryphal stories about the self-service laundries and the impossibly of getting a machine or the fights which apparently are a regular feature. The laundries were fine. Sometimes we had to wait for a machine, but never if we took the trouble to attend a few minutes before laundry rooms were unlocked at 7.30 or during the early dinner sitting. That said, there would be no queues at all if Cunard imposed a modest charge for the use of the machines since that would discourage those passengers who use the machines, particularly the driers, for just a couple of items.
The professional laundry service provided by Cunard which involves collection, 24 hour turnaround and delivery of beautifully cleaned and pressed clothes, hung in your wardrobe, was outstanding, At least once on each sector, we World Cruisers were allowed to send 20 items for just $32 (after loyalty discount. $40 dollars without that discount). Nothing was ever damaged. Nothing was ever lost.
Beauty Around The Ship
This is a beautiful ship with elegant public rooms, restaurants and bars. But this was my favourite view as I walked around the ship each day:
And I was always struck by the unconscious beauty of these spare propeller blades, which are stored, displayed, at the front of the promenade deck.
And a lot of the maritime art around the ship is excellent (in contrast to the over-priced stuff in the Clarendon Gallery)
And we loved some of the black and white photography in the Champagne Bar, all from movies in which the Queen Mary featured. This was our favourite:
Against all the elegance and beauty on the ship it’s surprising that Cunard have not sought to make more of the Grand Lobby, which is rather dull and unduly dominated by the ugly Casino:
Length of the Cruise?
Jan and I are excited about going home. And we feel almost guilty about that, as if we are failing to appreciate this unique experience. In truth our enthusiasm for the port stops has not diminished. We approached our stay at Seville with every bit as much enthusiasm as our first stop, in Madeira, almost four months ago. But four months has certainly been enough and we’re ready to get back to normal life, and see grandchildren, children and friends and, in our case, return to beautiful Whitby in North Yorkshire just in time for summer and long days and early mornings at our Beach Hut. But there was never a day where we regretted doing this and without a number of days of this magnitude (120) we could not have enjoyed that wonderful month long meander around Australasia.
Value for Money
This has been, of course, the most expensive holiday we’ve ever had or will ever have. And yet, by some considerable distance it has provided the best value for money. Our balcony cabin on deck 11, and after deducting the value of the onboard credit, but including the pre-paid daily service charges of $22 a day, cost us £39,500. We spent about $1800 (£1276) on excursions and total additional spending for things bought onboard over the four months, mainly beer and wine was $6,300 (£4,468). Our spending ashore came to very little. With one exception – our wonderful Chinese meal at the two Michelin Star Shangri La in Hong Kong, lunches eaten ashore were inexpensive. We bought lots of presents for our children and grandchildren but much of that expenditure would have taken place had we remained in the UK.
So, ignoring day to day spending off the boat, but including all spending on it, including shore excursions, drinks, meals at the specialty restaurants, and one or two QM2 souvenirs, totalled about £45,000, about $63,500. That amounts to about £375 ($528) a day. That’s not a sum we could contemplate ever spending again on a holiday. But at the same time, that’s great value for money and amounts to about £1.02 ($1.43) a mile.
It has been a privilege and something we will remember forever and with great affection. Cunard have added to our feeling of goodwill by holding a particularly pleasant cocktail party on our penultimate night, serving caviar and vodka before an excellent meal of lobster and beef wellington. Then, when we returned to our rooms we saw our final gift, this very attractive Wedgewood commemorative plate:
It will remind us of a fantastic time on a great ship staffed by consistently outstanding staff. We’d recommend the experience most warmly.