Well, its a bit hard to concentrate on this right now – I have just tested positive for Covid and the Prime Minister has just resigned… But we are back from our four-day mini cruise to Hamburg with friends Jan and Tom, and Battleaxe needs to write about it. In the previous post I told you why I wanted to go on that particular ship – the world’s last ocean-going liner – so I won’t repeat that. Suffice it to say that Cunard would have had to work very hard to turn me and Philosopher into committed cruise-lovers. Did they succeed? Read on and find out.
First of all, the wardrobe traumas! It took days of shilly-shallying to decide which items from my vast wardrobe to take – took masses of clothes in the end including six pairs of shoes and we were only going for four days. Heaven knows how people manage who go for 15 days… they must think of nothing else for months before they go.
One slight criticism of Cunard before we even set off – their pre-cruise communications were not great. I wanted something that is special to QM2, a sheltered balcony, which is a hole cut in the ships side, and apparently is ideal for trans-Atlantic travellers who can still go outside in raging tempests. Also, you can see straight down to the sea. However, we ended up with our cabin changed twice. Their first attempt housed us on a very low deck, almost below the water-line, so I complained and had us moved up to Deck 6. Next, they contacted us and said our cabin was wanted for possible Covid patients, and rehoused again us in a different, higher-status place on the same deck, but still with the sheltered balcony. BTW they are not called cabins, but ‘staterooms’. Then we had to call them up again because they advertised two ‘Gala’ evenings and we needed better guidance on dress codes… and yet again because we wanted us two couples to be ‘associated’ i.e have the same table at meals… and each phone call meant ages of tinkly music hanging on for an answer. Why is customer service so bad, everywhere?
Anyway, we drove down to Southampton (much grim traffic) and at the cruise terminal, signed our car over to parking people who then drive it away and stash it until you get back. Not in some muddy field – we could see the carpark from the ship. It was easy and convenient, but would work out expensive if you were away for a long time. We were a bit surprised that in the terminal we still had to go through exactly the same security rigmarole as you do in airports – stripping all your bits off and putting them in trays to go through the scanner etc. We had thought we would be free of that.
Jan and Tom had been upgraded to a higher deck without Cunard telling them, and only found out at the last minute. They were right up on Deck 12… nice balcony cabin, but a bit tucked away right at the front of the ship. Turned out that despite our efforts they had a different meal table number to us… we sorted it though.
I had imagined one would board the Queen Mary via an open gangway, while waving graciously to the cheering crowds on the quay below. We’d be followed by a line of barefoot Lascar porters carrying our steamer trunks, with piles of hat boxes on their heads. On board, us passengers would throng the rails and Philosopher would wave his panama hat. The ship would hoot loudly and thrillingly as we pulled away from the dock, with festoons of streamers floating in the air…
In reality, you board the ship along various walkways, up an escalator and then over an air-bridge thing – you can hardly tell when you get on board. No gangway, no Lascars, no excited crowds, no streamers, but plenty of staff around saying hello – there are 2,600 passengers and 1,300 staff on board – a one to two ratio. They all looked Philippino or maybe Indonesian… On the whole the staff were very good, but later we did encounter a slightly snooty wine waiter and another snooty one in the Commodore Club. However, passengers did gather on the deck, mostly clutching the free bottles of Cunard bubbly that we all found in our cabin fridges, and indeed the ship did hoot loudly and thrillingly. But it edged away from the dock with infinite slowness, churning up oily whirlpools, and by the time we had got as far as the end of Southampton Water it was dark and time to change for dinner.
Our cabin/stateroom/whatever was excellent and very comfortable – the balcony just as I expected with chairs etc out on it, a big comfy bed with decent pillows, a sofa, plenty of cupboards and an entirely adequate bathroom. It was down the aft end of the ship, with the promenade deck above us – so it was very quiet at night.
We had scarcely got into our room before we were ordered out again and up to the deck above to register at our ‘muster station’. We found it really hard to find our way about the ship or sort out what was going on at first – they did issue us with a map – in very small print, and a daily programme of events, but it is a lot to take in for newbies. The ship is very large, and the public room are scattered all over it. There were areas we still hadn’t explored by the end. We tried as much as possible to use stairs instead of lifts, but there are an awful lot of decks to navigate. There are about 10 bars, ranging from the swish Commodore Club with its cream leather sofas and cigar humidor lounge down to the Golden Lion pub with pub quizzes, darts and footie on the telly. There’s the Champagne Bar and the Godiva Chocolate tea place. There’s the biggest library at sea – and a very good library too – the biggest ballroom at sea and the biggest theatre at sea. Even though the QM2 is smaller than some of the huge cruise liners afloat, they think of themselves as a cut above…
We did go outside and walk earnestly round the promenade deck – 3 laps equals 1.1 miles…in fact I walked miles round that ship – 12,000 steps one day, when at home I struggle to do 8k. The corridors are amazingly long as well – we were down the aft end – things we wanted to visit were up at the prow…
Food-wise, we didn’t eat anywhere that wasn’t included in our cruise price. Most of the time we ate in the huge Britannia Restaurant. As compensation for messing up our arrangement to sit with Jan and Tom, they gave us a nice table for 4, tucked neatly away in a corner.
We mostly ate our breakfasts and our evening meals in the big restaurant. Big? I should say so. Have never seen so many tables in one place. The menu choice was good, the portion size just right, and the food excellent quality. I was very impressed with how they produced a range of meals for so many people which were freshly and well cooked, very well-presented and arrived on the table in good time. However, on some occasions we did go to the self-service/choose what you like Kings Court eatery, which took up nearly the whole of one deck. The range of yummy grub was absolutely enormous, and for a Battleaxe with no will-power, sadly irresistable. One evening Jan and I had 3 puddings – and we both regretted it later. The QM2 is famous for its afternoon tea.. we tried to do it once, but somehow lost our friends in the enormous crowds… Philosopher and I were faced with eating a tea we didn’t want at all in the company of strangers we didn’t know at all, so we left and had informal tea and cakes elsewhere.
I guess if we had been on board longer we could have got stuck into activities like watercolour painting and dance lessons, but as it was we just dipped in and out. I was expecting them to have more healthy things like Pilates, yoga, fitness classes, but couldn’t find any. There is a big gym but I didn’t go, and didn’t bring any swimming togs. There were shops to browse but they were really naff – full of tacky designer stuff at vastly over-inflated prices. Ditto the Art Gallery – uber tacky and expensive.
We went to three shows in the theatre – a Shakespeare thing done by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which was OK but not great, and two shows from the resident company – a Strictly type dance show which was very good, and a much less good Broadway musicals show. As ever, we were impressed with the energy and commitment of the hoofers/singers. We also went to a Big Band show in the Queen’s ballroom. Not sufficiently big bandy for us.
The best event was a talk from the designer of the Queen Mary 2 – Dr Stephen Payne. He must have been a bright lad – designed it when he was only 37. He explained to us how an ocean liner differs from a cruise ship in its design and construction (the liner is thinner, with a deeper draught, more stable, much more strongly built, more powerful, more pointy etc). He was obviously very proud of his creation, but made the cruise ships sound somewhat unstable and flimsy! The big public rooms on the QM2 like the theatre and the ballroom are down near the waterline to help repay the vast cost of the ship by having the maximum number of balcony cabins on the higher decks. The main Britannia restaurant is on two floors right in the middle of the ship to ensure maximum stability, and the Kings Court eatery practically covers the whole of the interior of the Promenade deck 7 for a reason – in case of emergency in the Atlantic in bad weather, all passengers can muster on that deck under cover, and easily access the lifeboats. Battleaxe loves knowing how things work. I really wanted to visit the ship’s bridge, but they had discontinued visits becasue of Covid. However, there was a good bridge viewing gallery,
The ship indeed felt very stable – most of the time it was easy to forget one was at sea at all, let alone forging up the North Sea in a stiffish breeze. So, we got to Hamburg – the night before we arrived was a bit engine noisy, because the thing obviously had a bit of difficulty edging along the Elbe and into the centre of the port of Hamburg. We had a nice outing – except it was Sunday and practically everything was shut. Here’s a post all about our earlier visit to Hamburg. Crikey, 2016…, so I won’t say much about it. We went to the Art Gallery, the Kunsthalle again – very good. The ship left Hamburg early evening – I got some good photos of the docks. It was a bit sad that most of the interesting bits of the voyage, the Elbe, the trip along the English south coast – we could have seen Hastings – were in the dark/night.
The morning we arrived back in Southampton Water it was very foggy, and the ship was delayed for nearly an hour. Again, not great communications – about where should we wait etc etc. Also, they didn’t tell us in advance that you had to put your big case outside your door the night before, meaning you had to have an overnight bag for your necessities. Fortunately, I had one cos had decided to bring lots of extra shoes – but many people didn’t. They had an app called My Voyage which you accessed via the ships internet – to my annoyance I soon discovered that it was actually an intranet, not an internet… to get internet coverage you had to pay £15 per day. Too much. My Voyage often didn’t work anyway… Philosopher thought they should have screens around the ship telling you what was going on where, and any important messages. Good idea. Of course we had a big telly in our cabin so we often tuned in to Sky News to watch the latest horrors of UK politics.
We felt that the Gala nights were a bit pointless – just about getting all dressed up – but for what? Don’t get me wrong, Battleaxe loves dressing up, getting all my shoes and evening bags out, sorting the jewels and the rings that rarely see the light of day. But us four do not go to the sort of do that requires tuxedos and evening gowns… Things like Rotarian dinners, I suppose. Philosopher does have a tuxedo dating from University dinner days, but the trousers were far too tight. He had to wear another pair with the jacket.
So, overall, how was it? The ship felt a bit like a huge, high-class holiday camp. It never felt particularly crowded, and you could always find a corner of a bar or a lounge to sit and read quietly, but I was aware of people round me all the time – passengers or staff, usually both… I think after a bit, I would have found it a bit claustrophobic, and I would probably have got bored with the activities. Far too much food, provided 24 hours a day. I have put on 3lb in 4 days…
They did have some basic Covid measures in place, and all the crew wore masks, but most of us passengers didn’t. So I have now caught the damn thing. I wonder how many others are in the same state as me.
Overall, I think we all four enjoyed it, and I think the short cruises are good value for the money. Would I go on a longer cruise? No, I still don’t think so. Sorry, Cunard!