Christmas comes early on Queen Mary 2 - what a festive Cunard cruise is really like
Cunard is well known for offering the true Christmas cruise experience, and a three-day mini-cruise on the iconic Queen Mary 2 helped World of Cruising get into the Christmas spirit.
Life’s not been easy this year so when a surprise invite to get on board Queen Mary 2 on a three-night mini cruise from Southampton to Cherbourg came my way, I jumped at the chance to enjoy a festive float-out and review the ship.
This iconic ship had been out of service for over 18 months, so along with my fellow passengers, I felt very privileged to get on board and celebrate her return to sea.
As is obligatory for any ship leaving the UK, guests are tested for Covid before they get on board and you need proof of your vaccines too. The whole process is easy and well organised and within half an hour of arriving at the dock, I was charging up the walkway, raring to see what was on board.
As welcomes go, being clapped on board by a team of bell boys in striking scarlet uniforms, is pretty special. Their brass epaulettes sparkled as did the ship too in her polished wood splendour.
To top it all off, Christmas was evident everywhere I looked from the tasteful wall decorations to the huge magnificent beautifully decorated tree in the atrium. No tatty tinsel here…
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I’d heard a lot about QM2 but nothing quite prepares you for the beauty of this art deco inspired Cunard liner. With classic curved lines, sunburst carpets and a magnificently decorated atrium, she’s a stunning ship that manages to delight with her traditional furnishings whilst keeping up-to-date with a very impressive timetable of talks and entertainment.
But before I explored the ship, I needed to find my home for the next three days – a Queen’s Grill suite on deck 10. Decorated in soothing taupe and cream tones, the suite is roomy and plush with a plump bed, elegant couch and chaise lounge, marble bathroom complete with tub, walk-in wardrobe and a large and welcoming balcony.
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As I sank down onto the couch with a welcoming glass of champagne in hand, I started to think - three days here locked in with a pile of books and room service would be my idea of cruise holiday heaven.
Then there was a knock at the door and things got even better. My butler for the trip was enquiring if there was anything I needed and that he and his team would be on hand 24 hours a day on the journey. Suddenly I felt a long way from my home in Clapham Junction….
And it’s not just butlers and champagne that come as standard in the Grill suites – guests also get exclusive access to the Queens Grill restaurant and Grills lounge throughout their trip, making the cruise feel even more luxurious.
Lunch beckoned and I headed to the Queens Grill for my first meal on board. This elegant dining space, complete with white table cloths, polished cutlery and a huge choice of dishes, is one of the best-loved spaces on the ship and deservedly so.
It has a feeling of a private members’ club and the choice of dishes – from light healthy lunches to full-blown three-course dinners – are delicious. Not wanting to overindulge on day one, I went for the soup and salad combo – an Asian-inspired salad and tomato soup – both were exemplary.
Grill suite guests can obviously dine in their own exclusive restaurant, but you can also eat at the buzzy Britannia Restaurant, the Kings Court or Boardwalk Cafe or Speciality Restaurant The Verandah on deck 8. For tea and coffees and light snacks, the Carinthia Lounge is the perfect place to meet.
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During my trip, I tried them all but special mention must go to The Verandah with its stunning selection of steaks (my Kobe beef steak was the best I had eaten in years), super cool bar and sexy interiors. Blink and you could be in New York.
Guests are also offered the chance to enjoy a splendid Champagne Afternoon Tea in the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Bar on deck 3. Joining a few of my fellow travellers, we were treated to warm savoury brioches, mini quiches and a pile of fresh scones, sweet eclairs and bright macaroons.
Washed down with a glass of two of ice-cold champagne and a selection of the finest Twinings teas with entertainment courtesy of an excellent harpist, this was one of the highlights of my trip and shouldn’t be missed. At $34.50 per person it’s a snip too.
One of a kind
What really fascinates me about Queen Mary 2 is how different she is from many of the other ships I have sailed on. Because she was built primarily as a transatlantic liner, there is a great emphasis on keeping passengers on board entertained at all times. So the daily menu of things to do is really impressive with everything from talks to walks.
While I was on board I really enjoyed an hour-long chat in the impressive Royal Court Theatre with actor Celia Imrie and author Fidelis Morgan, who entertained the audience with tales of Celia’s new book Orphans of the Storm, the true story of two young brothers who survived the Titanic disaster.
Elsewhere daily shows at the art deco Planetarium or a quiet hour in the lovely library where you’ve got over 20,000 books to choose from (including those with large print) are a real draw and if you want to treat yourself, head to the Mareel spa. Here you can choose from a big menu of treatments and I can honestly say here’s where I had one of the best massages I’ve ever had on a ship.
Music lovers will delight at the impromptu shows from classical musicians in the common areas too and you’ll find the onboard mixologists in the ship’s bars are just as good as any you’d find in a five-star hotel.
In a corridor next to the Planeterium there are some fantastic vintage shots of stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable. They all sailed on the much-missed QE2 and I’m sure they would have loved QM2 just as much.
As I glided around the ship, enjoying her stunning décor, delicious cuisine and great entertainment, I could see how easy it must be to get on board in Southampton, stash your case away in your cabin then spend seven days being treated like royalty on the high seas before alighting calm and refreshed in New York.
The delights of Normandy
But this wasn’t a transatlantic trip and an afternoon off the ship beckoned. Docking in the port of Cherbourg in Normandy, I enjoyed a great afternoon at a local farm where they made traditional cider before heading to the tiny hamlet of Sortosville-en-Beaumont. Here, an enterprising business owner has renovated a row of traditional houses, turning them into a gift and coffee shop emporium.
If you love French food and interiors as much as me, you will be in Gallic heaven. The shop was piled high with stylish Christmas gifts from bon-bons in tins to lavender bags and soaps and French advent calendars. Even the soap on a rope was tres chic. Finishing off our shopping trip with a complimentary café au lait and macaroons, all my fellow tourists agreed the trip had been well worth the effort, though we weren’t sure how we were going to be able to pack all the presents we’d bought.
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At the moment of course, none of us can travel to France, which has made my short trip there feel even more special.
Back on board, I enjoyed a last meal at the Queens Grill with knockout dishes including Grilled Loch Duart Salmon and a Bitter Chocolate Souffle before heading to the Commodore Club with my new cruise chums to make a toast to this, the most marvellous of ships and an early taste of Christmas.
I really have fallen in love with Queen Mary 2, her wonderful ambience and heritage and the marvellous staff on board. If like me, you’ve never travelled on a Cunard ship, you’ll be amazed at what is on board.
Back on land and back to reality, as Omicron does its worst, I’m already looking back with fond memories of my whistle-stop Christmas cruise on this very special ship.
And if you’re self-gifting, may I suggest a ticket to sail on Queen Mary 2 in 2022 – you’ll love every moment of your trip.
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