Cunard Queen Mary 2 review: What it's like cruising on the world's only ocean liner

Cunard cruise line has become synonymous with the romance and tradition of classic cruising - so what it's like to sail on Queen Mary 2 in the modern age?

Cunard was founded way back in 1840 - with cruising for pleasure only taking off many decades later - but the world's only ocean liner, Queen Mary 2, possesses charm and magic enough to wow a 21st-century passenger. We review the ship...

There’s a first time for everything, and tonight will be mine at the famous Black and White Gala Night aboard Queen Mary 2.

A sense of anticipation crackles round the ship as everyone puts on their finest monochrome eveningwear, and I soon start to see why Cunard attracts such a loyal body of fans.

OK, this may be just a three-night mini-cruise from Southampton to Cherbourg, but everyone has taken the chance to look their very best, and as couples and groups of friends glide around the decks – champagne in hand, sequins and shirt-fronts gleaming – we’re transported back to the golden age of travel.

I’m joining the ship for her first journey in more than 18 months, and it’s a privilege

to be celebrating this great ship’s return to the sea. There was a dockside Covid test first, of course, but this was well organised, and within half an hour of arriving at Southampton I was charging up the walkway, eager to see what’s onboard.

Entering service in 2004, the 2,691-guest QM2 is no mere cruise ship. Instead, she is the world’s only ocean liner – the last example of that great breed built to sail with speed and comfort across thousands of miles of open ocean.

With no direct rival, she is known and loved around the world. But is she as fantastic as they say?

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Well, first impressions count, and the welcome I receive as I embark is pretty special. I am clapped on board by a team of bellboys in striking scarlet uniforms, whose brass epaulettes sparkle like the polished wood that lines each deck.

I’ve heard a lot about QM2 but nothing has prepared me for the beauty of her art deco-inspired interiors. With classic curved lines, sunburst carpets and a magnificently decorated atrium, she’s a stunning ship that manages to delight with her traditional furnishings while keeping the passenger experience bang up-to-date.

But before I explore, I need to find my home for the next three days – a Queens Grill suite on deck 10.

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Decorated in soothing taupe and cream tones, my accommodation proves to be roomy and plush, with a plump bed, elegant couch and chaise longue, a marble bathroom (complete with proper tub), a walk-in wardrobe and a generously sized balcony.

As I sink into the couch, with a welcoming glass of fizz in hand, a thought crosses my mind: three days locked in here, with room service and a heap of books, might just be my idea of cruise-holiday heaven.

Then there’s a knock at the door and life gets even better. My butler for the trip is enquiring whether there is anything I need, and informing me that he and his team are at my beck and call 24 hours a day. Suddenly I feel a long way from my home in Clapham Junction.

But it’s not just butlers and champagne that come as standard in Grill suites – guests also get exclusive access to the Queens Grill restaurant and Grills Lounge throughout their trip, making the whole experience feel even more select and luxurious.

Queen Mary 2: I’ve heard a lot about QM2 but nothing has prepared me for the beauty of her art deco-inspired interiors. Credit: Cunard

Lunch beckons, and I head to the Queens Grill for my first onboard meal. This elegant dining space, complete with white tablecloths, polished cutlery and a huge choice of dishes, is one of the most celebrated venues on the ship, and it’s easy to see why.

With the atmosphere of a private members’ club, it offers a fabulous choice of dishes – from light healthy lunches to full-on three-course dinners – all of them absolutely delicious. Not wanting to overindulge on day one, I go for tomato soup with an Asian-inspired salad – and both, needless to say, are exemplary.

Grill suite guests can dine here, at their own exclusive restaurant, but there is also the option of the buzzy Britannia Restaurant, the Kings Court, Boardwalk Cafe or speciality steak restaurant The Verandah on deck 8.

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For teas, coffees and light snacks, the Carinthia Lounge is the perfect place to meet – unless you fancy Champagne Afternoon Tea in the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Bar on deck 3. Well, who wouldn’t?

So that afternoon I join a few of my fellow travellers as we are treated to a tower of warm savoury brioches, mini-quiches and a pile of fresh scones, sweet eclairs and bright macarons, washed down with a glass or two of ice-cold champagne (or the finest Twinings tea, for those who prefer it).

With live musical accompaniment from an excellent harpist, it’s an amazing experience that shouldn’t be missed – and a snip at $34.50 per person.

Queen Mary 2: there is the option of eating at the buzzy Britannia Restaurant. Credit: Cunard

What fascinates me about Queen Mary 2 is how different she is from other ships I’ve sailed on. A transatlantic liner is built for sea days, so there is a great emphasis on keeping guests entertained at all times with an impressive daily menu of talks and activities.

In the imposing Royal Court Theatre, I spend a delightful hour in the company of actor Celia Imrie and author Fidelis Morgan, who entertain the audience with tales from Celia’s new book Orphans of the Storm – the true story of two young brothers who survived the Titanic disaster.

Elsewhere, you can enjoy a quiet hour or two in the delightful library, with more than 10,000 books to choose from (including large-print editions). Alternatively, you can head to the Mareel Wellness & Beauty spa and take your pick from a long menu of treatments, or simply sit back and relax in the hydrotherapy pool.

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Music lovers are well catered for, too, with impromptu shows from classical musicians in the ship’s public areas. And if you prefer to hear the tinkling of ice in a glass, there are mixologists in the ship’s bars to equal any you’d find at a five-star hotel.

Yet another amazing space is the Planetarium on deck 3. With its curvy lines and rich red seats, it’s catnip for art deco fans and a great place to see a star-spangled show.

You’ll find stars of a different kind in the corridor outside, which is lined with classic shots of Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and other Hollywood greats who sailed on QM2’s famous predecessors.

No doubt they’d have loved this ship, too – and as I make my way around, enjoying her stunning decor, delicious cuisine and great entertainment, I can see what a delight it must be to embark in Southampton, stash your case in your cabin and spend seven days living like royalty before alighting, calm and refreshed, in New York.

Queen Mary 2: Head to the Mareel Wellness & Beauty spa and take your pick from a long menu of treatments. Credit: Cunard

It would be so easy to spend the whole cruise onboard but I’m determined to step onto French soil, even if it’s only for a couple of hours.

Docking at the port of Cherbourg in Normandy, I join a group of passengers who are determined to ignore the rainy weather and take a 20-minute trip inland to visit a traditional cider farm, followed by the tiny hamlet of Sortosville-en-Beaumont.

Here, an enterprising local has renovated a row of traditional houses, turning them into a coffee shop and gift emporium, piled high with stylish presents, from bonbons in tins to chic lavender bags and soaps. If you love French food and interiors as much as I do, you’ll be in Gallic heaven.

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It’s a great little trip, and in a world where foreign travel is still difficult to manage, we all feel pleased as punch that we’ve made the effort to prise ourselves away from QM2 and do our bit for Anglo-French relations.

My verdict

Back on board, I enjoy a last meal at The Verandah, with its mouth-watering selection of steaks (my kobe beef is one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in years). And full marks to its interior designer – with a super-cool bar and sexy interiors, you could easily think you were already in Manhattan.

There are no two ways about it – I have fallen in love with Queen Mary 2, her wonderful ambience and heritage and the marvellous staff. If you’ve never sailed on Cunard before, you’ll be amazed at what is on board – so beg, borrow or steal a ticket for this extraordinary ship. You won’t be disappointed.

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.