Photo by Jason Leppert
EDITOR’S NOTE: Now as my wife, Heidi Leppert, comes with yours truly, Jason Leppert, on more and more cruises, you’ll see her column – Mrs. Popular Cruising – show up on the site more frequently too. Please enjoy!
Hello, Mrs. Popular Cruising here to talk about our recent crossing on the newly remastered Queen Mary 2 from Cunard Line. You can read our He Said/She Said review HERE and watch Jason’s video tour and review HERE, but for now I’m taking the floor to dig a little deeper into our trip.
Cunard is the last holdout for a truly formal dress code at sea, and as a compulsive rule follower, I was mostly happy to comply. Mr. Popular Cruising, however, has an unofficial daily uniform of Hawaiian shirts and jorts, and will maybe throw on khakis for a nice dinner, but a tuxedo was out of the question. (Exhibit A: I didn’t make him wear a tie to our wedding.) For men asking the question “To Tuxedo or Not To Tuxedo?” do not fear. It is perfectly acceptable to wear a dark suit and tie on formal nights. You’ll probably see an even mix of dark suits and tuxedos, with no one feeling out of place. We women have it so much easier, as we are able to dress up more simply in frocks with costume jewelry and colorful pashminas. I wore formal gowns and shorter cocktail dresses on formal nights, and I fit right in. On informal nights, you will see men in sport coats sans tie, and women in cocktail dresses and separates. I packed a different outfit for every night, but in reality I should have trimmed it down and planned to re-wear several outfits.
After 6:00 every night, the evening’s dress code is implemented. Guests not wishing to put on their Sunday best can still enjoy the King’s Court buffet and the Carinthia Lounge. We actually cheated a bit. One night, we were dying for an ice cream sundae, so we snuck down to Sir Samuel’s in our daytime clothes just after 6:00. On another (formal) night, after enjoying a room service dinner, Mr. Popular Cruising needed to go film one of the shows, and he slipped in wearing a jacket but no tie, and slipped back to our room afterwards. And you know what happened? Nothing. No glares from other passengers. No Tuxedo Police arrests. If you truly hate dressing up, then maybe Cunard isn’t for you. I enjoyed dressing up most nights because it’s something I don’t really do in my normal life. I would never show up in the main dining room in jeans and a tank top on a formal night, out of respect for the rules and my fellow guests. But I’d sneak down for another Godiva sundae in a heartbeat. I’m sure others will have different opinions, and that’s ok with me.
One other quick note is that since you have no ports of call on a transatlantic voyage, dressing up at night is a bit less painful. It’s hard to want to don sequins after an 8 hour tour in a dusty city, but it’s much more palatable after brunch, a few hours in the spa, and a cat nap.
8 STRAIGHT SEA DAYS
I wasn’t really worried about getting bored on board because I am an Olympic napper, and I love sitting for hours reading a book or doing a logic puzzle. If you need constant activity, then maybe a transatlantic trip isn’t for you. But if you enjoy relaxation mixed with onboard activities, then it’s AWESOME. It was such a treat to not have to worry about being up in time for an early excursion, or any of the logistics that go along with being off the ship. Here is a (not comprehensive) list of things to keep you busy:
Put a few pieces in the puzzle in the game table corridor in the forward mezzanine
Grab a coffee (Irish if you so desire) and listen to some of the great live music throughout the day, such as classical guitar, harp, and Dixieland jazz
Pick up the daily crossword from outside the library
Watch a show at the planetarium
Spend a few hours in the thermal suite at the spa
Participate in trivia in the Golden Lion Pub, offered (I believe) at least 3 times per day
Enjoy a cocktail in the Commodore Club, many of which are made tableside by talented bartenders
Ruin your supper by eating too many goodies at afternoon tea
Get a pizza in the Chef’s Galley (far end of the King’s Court) and take it back to your room to eat while watching a movie
Take in the spectacular dancing at the Rhythm of the Night show
I’m sure there are plenty of things to do outside as well, but the majority of our crossing was quite windy so we stayed inside.
Even though we packed enough for our entire trip, I opted to get up early one morning to do laundry so we wouldn’t come home with 3 suitcases full of dirty clothes. The washers and dryers are free, and Cunard provides laundry soap as well. Unfortunately there are no chairs in the laundry room, and it also gets quite hot when all the machines are going. I opted to stay in the laundry room so that I could be considerate and remove our laundry as soon as the cycles were over, because I have an aversion to inconveniencing other people. If Cunard would remove one of the two ironing boards, there would be room for 2 or 3 chairs, and then maybe other people would follow my lead and just camp out with a good book. If you must leave and come back, just be a good person and set a timer on your phone. The universe will thank you…and your clothes won’t get dumped on the floor.
Mr. Popular Cruising and I bought a 3 day spa pass, which we found to be perfect for our 8 day crossing. We could have purchased the week long pass for not much more than the 3 day, but we were afraid that we’d feel obligated to use it every day to get our money’s worth. We paid $75 each for a 3 day pass, and it was well worth it. We loved the temperature of the thalassotherapy pool. It was warm enough to stay in comfortably for easily an hour or more, but not so hot that you find yourself overheating after 15 minutes, like in some hot tubs. There’s a fantastic section in the center of the pool that is all bubbles, and it’s both invigorating and relaxing. There are lots of comfy loungers around the pool. We only had trouble on one day finding two together, but we were able to swoop in and grab some after maybe 10 minutes of waiting. One thing to note – the spa showers in the locker room aren’t anything to write home about. I love using large showers on a cruise to escape my teeny cabin shower now and then, but that wasn’t the case on Queen Mary 2. There is one larger shower, but it is handicap accessible and I didn’t feel right using it as an able-bodied 30-something.
Queen Mary 2 had the most pitiful hairdryers I have ever seen. It was the same one in both our Britannia stateroom and in the spa. You literally had to keep your finger on the button for it to stay on. When your finger slipped off, the dryer turned off. Maybe this is a safety feature, but it made it really difficult to manage. My recommendation? Skip packing one formal dress and pack a hair dryer instead.
We weren’t planning on dining in the Britannia Restaurant every night, but after our first dinner there we contemplated not going back at all. I didn’t want to miss surf and turf on formal night, so we decided to see what we could do about our table situation. You see, we were seated at a table for two, and it was quite close to another table for two. Not ideal, but fairly normal at sea. The real issue was a large column that was behind my husband’s chair. He was seated comfortably, but whenever the wait staff would serve him, they had to try to wedge around the column, and the gentleman seated at the adjacent table ended up politely stretching to move out of the way and give the waiter more room. The gentleman was very gracious about it, but I didn’t feel right about disrupting their dinner because of our awkward table placement. The next day at breakfast we spoke to the maître d to see what could be done. All of the tables for two for early seating were full, but he gave us several options for better tables for the late seating. What stood out to me was his transparency. He recognized that we were at an undesirable table, and he even asked us to come behind the desk to look at his computer screen to see the open tables. He then walked us to the tables to let us choose our preference. To me, that is excellent service. It didn’t leave me wondering if there were indeed other tables that were being held back. He involved us in finding a resolution, and I left feeling understood and respected. I wish I had gotten his name. We enjoyed a lovely formal night at a much more private table, and I’m still thinking about the delicious ham and cheese beignets with a delightfully tangy and sweet mustard sauce we chose for our appetizer.
One of the completely redesigned spaces of the ship is the Carinthia Lounge. It’s a great all-day venue, from coffees and breakfast paninis in the morning, to jazz in the afternoon, to a nightcap during an evening dramatic or musical performance. We once brought lunch in from the adjacent King’s Court because we really like the ambiance. Its décor is a classy throwback to the 60s, and we easily imagined Don Draper sipping a Manhattan at the bar. Definitely check out the small plates available during breakfast and lunch. Some of the tastiest things we ate on the ship, as a matter of fact. (Hint: get the pulled pork flatbread.)
People sometimes talk about Cunard’s class system on board. I think every ship has their own version of a class system, so it’s unfair to single out Cunard in this regard. Many ships have dedicated lounges, pools, etc, for those guests willing to pay for certain cabins. Cunard has four “classes,” but not once did I ever feel this. The lowest class is the Britannia class (we had a Britannia balcony room.) One step up is Britannia Club, with the main difference being these guests have their own section of the main dining room and do not have to stick with set dining times. Moving up again, you have the Princess Grill and finally the Queens Grill. Grill guests have their own dining rooms and lounges, no set mealtime, have the ability to order off menu, have tableside flambé desserts, etc. But what I noticed was the Grill venues are not prominently placed on the ship. You probably wouldn’t walk by them unless you specifically tried to. So it’s not as if you are on your way to your restaurant to get your crust of bread and glass of water, and as you trudge on you get a glimpse of the most fabulous people in the most fabulous room drinking fabulous champagne and find yourself feeling less than. On the contrary. You will feel like royalty no matter if you are Britannia or Queens Grill, and you will never know who has what type of cabin when mixing in the public venues. I’d love to try traveling in the Grills someday, but for now I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.
I loved our transatlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2. From relaxing in our incredibly plush bed, to meeting interesting people, to taking time to escape everyday life and just enjoy each other, Mr. Popular Cruising and I can truly say we enjoyed every minute. If you’ve been on the fence about sailing Cunard, we hope our reviews have showed you what a great trip it can be!