Scores of cruisers are fans of the leisurely and fun journey that a crossing on Queen Mary 2 offers. The ship is noted for its transatlantic routes between New York and Southampton, England. I joined for my first crossing on Queen Mary 2 (actually, my first transatlantic on any ship) to learn why it’s so popular.
It’s a must-try voyage for avid cruisers.
Why take just seven hours to cross the Atlantic when you can take seven days instead?
I learned a lot about this iconic way to travel between America and England.
Here are 10 things to know before you make your first crossing on Queen Mary 2.
It’s an Ocean Liner, Not a Cruise Ship
Queen Mary 2 is the world’s only ocean liner. It had its first voyage in early 2004, and any other liners that were on the oceans at the time have since been retired.
Ocean liners differ from cruise ships in how they are built and their purpose.
Queen Mary 2 has specially shaped bow that is longer and designed to be able to swiftly slice through rougher sea conditions while giving passengers a smoother experience. The hull is also about twice as thick (up to 1.5 inches) as those on today’s cruise ships. This makes the vessel safer and stronger.
Queen Mary 2, like ocean liners of years past, offers pleasure cruises, of course, but the ship is known for its principle purpose to transport passengers between points, in this case NYC and Southampton. That is, back and forth along the same “line” — thus ocean liner.
You Won’t Be Bored, Unless You Want to Be
With no port stops for seven days in a row, Cunard has built a program that features tons of stuff to do. There is something for everyone from the list of daily activities. The ship carries up to 2,700 cruisers, and we sailed with about 1,900. The ship was bustling but never too crowded on our voyage that started under beautiful blue and sunny skies as we left the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in late afternoon and sailed past the Statue of Liberty and under the Verrazano Bridge. Passengers gathered on the promenade on Deck 7 to grab up the loungers there and bid the city farewell during a stunning sailaway experience.
During the week, Colleen and I enjoyed spa and gym time; she had two massages, and we both hit the fitness center daily and tried out the thermal spa on Queen Mary 2.
We also took part in a specialty cocktail class in the beautiful Commodore Lounge. The class showed us seven different creative signature concoctions that pay homage to notable past commodores of the Cunard fleet.
The program includes dance classes (waltz, tango and more), bridge lessons, water color painting, flower arranging, trivia contests, card-playing groups, movies in the Illumination theater and theme nights.
We had a Black & White gala and a Roaring 20s night during our sailing, and cruisers really got into the spirit with fancy outfits.
The enrichment talks in the theaters and other venues featured guest lecturers who gave interesting chats on topics such as the history and growth of London, astronomy, and the original Queen Mary ocean liner (in service from 1936 to 1967), which had a fascinating life on the seas before being retired as a tourist attraction in Long Beach, California.
My favorite part of the program for our cruise, though, was the daily talks put on by The Greatest Generations Foundation, an organization that works with Cunard to bring onboard veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. During our voyage, we sailed with 18 vets from WWII and Vietnam who shared fascinating tales of their time serving during these frightful wars.
Each morning, a moderated session allowed us to hear stories from war heroes describing certain missions.
These were highly emotional chats that brought both the vets and audience members to tears at times. Some of these guys are real characters, such as 102-year-old Steven Melnikoff, who discussed his role in storming the beaches at Normandy on D-Day in the morning, then was seen on the dance floor until late at night in the ship’s G32 night club.
Barry Beck and James T. Lawrence told us about their experiences in Vietnam, and Tuskegee Airman James Harvey, 98, told us about his experiences battling the enemy and racism.
The Ship Is a Floating Museum
Art, photos and sculptures are featured in nearly every area of Queen Mary 2. These pieces can be found in common areas, stairwells, and lounges and bars. They give the ship an elegant ambiance and also show off pieces that highlight the ship and Cunard Line’s combined heritage tied to the monarchy and maritime accomplishments.
Cunard Connexions is a mini-museum space that wraps around the ship on Deck 2, and it has corridors filled with photos and plaques, as well as interactive screens and artifacts on display. Cruisers can spend a lot of time perusing the corridors trying to see all that is on display on QM2.
Queen Mary 2 even has the only true library and book store at sea, with stacks filled with all kinds of books to fulfill any traveler’s tastes or needs.
The Weather Can Change Quickly Along Your Route
We had a mix of sunny and overcast days during our crossing in early June. Make sure to pack plenty of layers. There were only a couple of days that were ideal for being out at the pool. However, the hearty Brits onboard took advantage whenever they could – and often in conditions that would have U.S. cruisers taking refuge in the casino or bars all day.
The very top decks on Queen Mary as well as the bow observation areas also were quite windy for much of the journey, so you definitely want a jacket in order to venture outside to those areas. The wind up top also means that you aren’t likely to be able to enjoy the paddle tennis courts during a crossing.
West to East vs. East to West
We went from west to east. I hadn’t considered how the time zone adjustment would take place while on the ship. We left from New York’s Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and remained on Eastern Standard Time for the first two days. However, on Day 3, we lost one hour each day — adjusting ship time at noon sharp to become 1 p.m. immediately – for five consecutive days until we reached England.
This makes afternoons shorter but allows mornings and your sleep schedule to feel fairly normal. If you think about it, sailing from east to west is a better deal because you gain five hours on your cruise. We ended up losing five hours of our time onboard.
A space within King’s Court is set aside each night for a specialty dining option (added charge). It was La Piazza (Italian) and Coriander (Indian) during our sailing. Both meals were outstanding, and the service was a couple notches above, as well.
Some Restaurants Are Better than Others
Queen Mary 2 offers a few specialty dining options to go alongside the King’s Court buffet and the main Britannia dining room. The specialty restaurants are a notably better experience, from the food quality to the service, which we found quite average in the buffet and main dining room.
The Princess Grill and Queens Grill are exclusive restaurants for cruisers staying in the associated suites.
Our favorite restaurants on QM2:
Chef’s Galley offers gourmet pizzas and pastas for dinner in an intimate environment. During the day, it serves tasty burgers and hot dogs.
The Verandah (extra charge) is a steakhouse that serves up flavorful cuts and the full assortment of sides like steak fries, asparagus, baked potato and fantastic desserts.
Try All the Cocktails!
The bars and lounges feature a stunning array of great creative cocktails. The Champagne Bar, Commodore Club, Chart Room and Golden Lion Pub have drink menus with pages of enticing concoctions.
You also can sign up for the Commodore Specialty Cocktail class and try all seven of the creations made in honor of famed Cunard fleet commodores. We joined and especially liked the Land of Hop and Glory beer cocktail, made with brandy, cognac, ginger ale and hop bitters and the All-Consuming Passion, created by combining gin, vanilla vodka, passionfruit, pineapple, lime juice and grenadine.
Afternoon Tea Is a Highlight
Endless small sandwiches, incredible scones with clotted cream and jam and an assortment of other sweets are downed daily at 3:30 p.m. along with hot tea in the gorgeous Queens Room. Get there early to snag a seat for this popular tradition on Queen Mary 2. You’ll love the atmosphere, which is enhanced by live music.
The Feel Is Distinctly British
With tea time and a ship filled with art and photography paying homage to the royals, as well as enrichment talks that focus on London and the history of England, you’ll find yourself immersed in a truly British community while sailing from New York. By the time, you reach Southampton, you’re ready to fit right in, mate!
You Can Bring Your Pet (Maybe)
Queen Mary 2 is the only cruise ship with a kennel. We enjoyed sailing with the dogs (and a couple cats) on our crossing and getting to see the owners take them out for exercise time on the top deck. This is an extremely tough reservation to secure in order to transport your pampered pet across the ocean in one of the 24 slots, however. The wait list can be two years, and the price per pet is north of $1,000.