Loc: Tucson, Arizona
I promised a review of the QEII, and, good to my word, have finally found a "window of opportunity" to post my observations.
We were on the five day, Caribbean Sampler, departing Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday, October 22 with port calls in St. Thomas and St. Croix. We attend an annual national meeting with our business and this year it was held on board the QEII. Having 48 hours turnaround , following 15 days on the Statendam, and cashing in an IRA to pick up the overnight dry cleaning/laundry, we were off again. It was a rare opportunity to personally experience the "grand dame" of ships.
This was a regularly scheduled cruise itinerary. However, there were 500 to 600 of us on board together with the regular compliment of passengers. I was reminded of an earlier cruise on the Star Princess where there was a group of more than 200 and how it impacted our cruise. A large group on a vessel, while good for both the cruise line and booking agent, is not so good for the fellow passengers on board. It means that public areas are taken over for meetings or social events and closed to the remainder of the passengers. It can impact almost every aspect of the cruise. Though I was on the "group" side this time, I did not forget how I felt many years ago as that passenger on the Star Princess and tried to "behave" accordingly.
We were in cabin 5190 on Deck Five, port side. This cabin is the least expensive class the QEII has to offer, The Mauretania Class. However, my purpose for going, notwithstanding our meeting, was to see and experience first hand the QEII and on the heels of a longer voyage, booked this one conservatively. However, that, in and of itself, provided a lot of insight.
Boarding the ship was a bit chaotic. This was the first voyage in some time out of FLL for her. Many banners at the pier welcoming back the QEII. They called passengers on board by number groupings. A slip of paper with a boarding number was available from "wandering" Cunard staff. However, no announcement was made instructing those waiting to obtain a boarding number. Following that, we finally got to the check-in counter. This was a long process, (makes me appreciate Princess obtaining all the immigration info, etc., in advance of the cruise, makes check-in a whole lot easier.) as Cunard also has cameras set up at the counter for photos for your boarding card. A good idea for security measures, however it does lengthen an already long process.
Following the "boarding photo", there was a line of white gloved Cunard wait staff, each taking the next passenger's carry on luggage and escorting you to your cabin. Nice touch!
The cabin! The cabin was an oceanview cabin. My best estimate would be it was approximately 60 or so "useable" square footage, not including the bath. The unuseable portion was probably another 15 or so square feet behind the door. Two single beds, non-convertable, a small dresser between them with three medium drawers and a pull out table (much like kitchen cabinet cutting boards), a small dressing table also with three medium sized drawers. Two long closets where squared footage was also wasted. They were each approximately two to three feet wide but were also about four feet deep with only one rod. I could almost call them small walk-in closets. Each closet had a wooden drawer at the bottom that contained the life preservers. The bath was approximately 15 square feet. You could not use the sink unless you closed the door. The shower was so small that even with a clear glass (bi-fold)door being clostrphobic would be bothersome. Actually, we chuckled thinking that during rough seas, if you fell, there would be no way to remove you from the shower! The bi-fold shower door folded in! Oceanview meant one very small porthole.
I did have the good forture to meet a gentleman and his wife from New York. We met one balmy, full mooned evening on deck following dinner and chatted extensively. They were booked in Queens Grill accommodations and invited me to see their cabin. They were in cabin 8017, starboard on the Signal Deck. We passed the Royal Promenade and through the very private Queens Grill Lounge to a small, two person elevator. Up three decks to the Signal Deck. Walking down the passageway reminded me of an elegant hotel corridor, lush carpeting and magnificent light sconces on the walls. We entered the cabin and I found it to be succulent. Deep, dark and rich wood tones. A large bath to my immediate left and full walk in wardrobe on my right. Entering the cabin which I would estimate to be approximately twenty by twenty or larger, there was a large king bed with lovely inlaid wood on the wall. On my other side was a large dressing table, again in inlaid wood with a bar area and refrigerator at the end. There was a seating area furnished with a large wingback chair another lovely inlaid wood table and lamp just before the door to the balcony. I didn't think I was on the same ship. A peek in the Queen's Grill dining room revealed a small, intimate dining room. I was told that one could order just about anything they chose.
Now, for the lifeboat drill! Deck five presents a great challenge. During drills, all the sea doors on this deck are sealed. This meant that in order to get to your station (or back to your cabin), the route was very indirect and very, very, very confusing. Finally, after being on board five days, I felt somewhat comfortable finding our cabin, not to mention public areas. This ship is very challenging to navigate. Breadcrumbs would have helped. I could only think of older cruise guests who, in some cases, have mobility challenges, difficultly interpreting signs, etc., and thinking the layout of the vessel could really be an issue.
The cuisine was some of the worst I have experienced on a cruise. Recognize that the Mauretania class has its own restaurant with traditional cruise seating at assigned tables. The Caronia, Princess and Queens dining rooms are all open seating.
Having flown in on an early morning flight, we were looking forward to sampling the buffet after boarding. Upon reaching (finding is a better term ), we were greatly disappointed to find hotdogs and sandwiches available only. During the course of the trip, we found the buffet area to be totally lacking in quality, imgination or presentation. Service was good. Once seated, a waitperson took your drink order, was quick to assist with your tray and quickly removed soiled dishes from the table.
Evening dining was moderately better. However we found the service in the dining room to be greatly lacking. I could not determine whether there were too many tables, a lack of training or what, however it never seemed to change regardless of waitstaff. Our entire group ate at the late seating and our tables were all in one designated area allowing us to roam from table to table. All gratuities had been prepaid.
Probably the best meal on board was breakfast in the dining room. Egg dishes prepared exactly to taste. Food arrived hot and was good.
The public rooms on board are reminisent of bygone days of luxury ocean liners. Gorgeous rooms. Those who love ballroom dancing would thrive in the Queens Room accompanied by an orchestra. The Golden Lion Pub was like a pub right out of England. Evenings here were fun. The Crystal Bar, just outside of the Mauretania Dining Room was lovely and had a wonderful musician for after dinner appertifs and listening. The Yacht Club served as the ships disco and is where all the action was late evenings. I must say the overall entertainment was not that spectacular. No major shows. The casino is small. There is a huge theatre, however it was confiscated by our group for the entire voyage, I would suspect, upsetting some of the passengers.
The ports. What more can be said about St. Thomas. If you did not have the good fortune to visit twenty years ago, much like Hawaii, St. Thomas has vastly changed. Shopping, yes, and lots of it. However, one really must do their pricing homework prior to purchase in St. Thomas. We lunched again in the Hard Rock Cafe. It is is a lovely spot right on main street and overlooking the harbor. As always, alcoholic purchases continue to be a bargain. Customs differs for St. Thomas and allows one to take five liters per person home, if you can carry that much, there is quite a savings. Cigarettes are another really inexpensive purchase, $15 per carton with an allowance of five per person. This was my first visit to St. Croix. I found the market area where our tender docked to be the most interesting with many local handcraft products. It was an excrutiatingly hot and humid day and I am afraid we were quick to get back to air conditioning.
In summary, this vessel is a grand dame of transoceanic vessels. It certainly, like many other ships, has a passenger that is drawn to her charm repeadedly. I found her to ride rather poorly. One would think that being on such a low deck that we would experience very little motion. The ship is very fast but has quite a roll, even in calm seas. We rolled to an extent that we had waves cover our porthole. Our last evening at sea, our farwell dinner was held in the buffet. The roll was so pronounced that it was noticeably difficult walking even for those of us who are all "salts". I also believe that though our cabin was very small, uncomfortable, had mal functioning air conditioning and very uncomfortable beds, that those passengers who where in Princess or Queens class cabins experienced an entirely different voyage than I did. Then, however, they paid a great deal more than I. I can only say that my recommendation to anyone considering the QEII to not attempt to "pinch pennies". She is a one of a kind vessel and should be enjoyed in her greatest form. There is a vessel for every person and a person for every ship. Certainly the nice couple who showed me their cabin were enjoying the ship. They never disembarked. They both were very successful business people in New York leading very high paced lives and thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance of their accommodations and being completely pampered for five days. Their entire purpose for the trip.
Again, I've gone on far too long. Next cruise is the Celebration in February, then Alaska. If there are any specific questions, I would be happy to respond. I will have to better stagger my cruises to accommodate reports.
San Antonio, Texas
Master Cruise Counselor
CruiseOne Tucson Arizona