We are headed off on our first cruise or I should say voyage on Cunard Lines and the Queen Mary 2 which will be a Westbound “Crossing” from Hamburg, Germany, to New York City. Having cruised extensively on Holland America and Princess (with a few cruises on NCL, X, RCI and Viking) we are looking forward to our sailing on this classic line and ship on what is probably one of its most famous voyages – “The Crossing”.
Cunard is probably the most formal of the cruise lines and we are looking forward to experiencing formal nights on a ship where tuxedos for men is de rigueur. There are many other special features on this iconic voyage and we are excited about experiencing the Queen Mary 2 and the Cunard Line for the first time. I will be reporting on my experiences daily as well as providing a contrast to Holland America as that is the line where I have most of my days at sea.
We were in Norway and Sweden for a 1 week pre-voyage and trip before our voyage. We started our adventure in San Diego a week ago to spend some time in Norway and Sweden before flying on to Hamburg to meet the Queen Mary 2 on August 30th.
We started our vacation in Bergen, Norway, flying there on the Norwegian Air Shuttle. This low cost airline offers nonstop service to Stockholm, Oslo and London from Oakland, Los Angeles and New York. Service is limited and they usually only have one flight a day 3 or 4 times a week from most cities. Fares can be half the price of a legacy carrier so it is worth taking a look if their schedule will fit with yours. We took the flight from Oakland to Stockholm, connecting to a flight to Bergen. We had to get to Oakland on our own, but the Norwegian Air Shuttle price was way cheaper than anything else. I was pleased to discover that for $800 per person I could get a ticket in Premium Economy which was better than domestic first class on any legacy carrier. While the Premium Economy seats were not “lie flat”, they were WAY better than a coach seat.
Another plus was the opportunity to fly on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This plan has bigger windows, better interior lighting control and best of all the cabin is maintained at a lower altitude (6000 feet instead of 8000 feet) and with more humidity so we didn’t feel as dried out at the end of the 10 hour flight. If you have a chance to fly on a Dreamliner, I would take advantage of the opportunity.
Norwegian Air Shuttle is a low cost airline so having to pay for many things you may be used to getting for free (for example a bottle of water is $4) was worth it to me. The other issue is that since Norwegian Air has very few long haul airplanes (around 13) and they are not a member of any alliance, they have very few flights. This means flights can be delayed for hours fairly quickly and the airline’s ability to recover is limited. If taking Norwegian to meet a cruise, I would give an extra day above what I would normally use when flying a legacy. Norwegian Air is worth considering, but be sure to factor in all the extra costs and the potential hassle factor that may pop up.
We arrived in Hamburg the day before our voyage. Since we arrived in Hamburg from Stockholm, we didn’t have to clear immigration or passport control, but went straight to baggage claim. Our bags were delivered quickly and we easily found a taxi to take us to the Renaissance Hamburg Hotel downtown. The fare was 27 euros. Even though we arrived at the hotel early, around 10:30 am, we were able check in right away.
After settling in our room, we headed off to the Miniatur Wunderland, which was listed as the Number 1 thing to do in Hamburg on Trip Advisor and is less than 1 mile from the Renaissance Hamburg. The Miniatur Wunderland is probably the world’s largest miniature railroad surrounded by exhibits that recreate a variety of cities and landscapes from around the world. These locations include: Switzerland, Scandinavia, Knuffingen Airport, Austria, Hamburg, Las Vegas and more and are spread out over 3 floors and about 14,000 square feet. In addition to the miniature railroad, are miniature roads, cars, people, airports and even a cruise ship. The exhibits cycle thru simulated day and nighttime scenes and are in constant motion with the trains, as well as cars, trucks, airplanes and even the cruise ship moving thru the exhibits. They limit the number of people in the exhibit at any one time, we waited about 1 hour in the café before we were able to get inside. If you can plan ahead, you can avoid any lines by reserving a ticket in advance. The price is 13 euros with 2 euro discount for seniors.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by St Michaelis church. There is a huge pipe organ in the main sanctuary and we were lucky to be there in the afternoon when they were playing the big pipe organ – it is played once in the morning & once in the afternoon. There is an elevator that will take you to the top of the 300 foot steeple for 4 euros, 7 euros if you want to combine the tower visit with a trip to the crypt underneath the church. The view from the top was spectacular and this is one of the highest spots in Hamburg.
After a short walk back to our hotel, we relaxed for the rest of the evening to get ready for our embarkation in the Queen Mary 2 the next day.
There are 3 cruise terminals in Hamburg so it is important to check which one is for your ship as they can change from time to time. The QM2 would be at the Cruise Center Steinwerder which is about 7 miles from our hotel or about a 25 euro cab ride. Our boarding pass said we should arrive after 2:30pm but after reviewing some posts on Cruise Critic it appeared that you could arrive pretty much whenever you would like as long as you were willing to accept longer check in times if you arrived during the peak hours.
We arrived at the cruise terminal about 1 pm and there weren’t any lines or delays at the curb. We were met by a porter who quickly took our bags and we were soon inside the terminal. The line looked fairly long and they had 9 stations for normal check in and 3 for priority check in. There wasn’t any line at all for the priority check in people, so whenever there was a gap in the priority line they would take people from the main line. The line moved pretty quickly and it took us about 50 minutes to get to the front of the line and check in. Check in took about 3 minutes and much of that time was waiting for a runner to get our cruise card from the central bin.
There wasn’t any line at passport control or security and we were quickly up an escalator to the level where we would enter the QM2 thru a folding jet bridge that spanned the distance from the terminal to the ship. After security scanned our cruise card, we had an opportunity to take our embarkation photo with 2 crew members in the upper Grand Lobby. For those not interested in taking a picture it was easy to bypass and there wasn’t any “chute” guiding you toward the photographers. We always enjoy the embarkation photo so we posed for a couple a pictures and then headed off to find our room.
Our first impression of the QM2 was – this is a big, and beautiful ship. The ship was recently “remastered” and everything we saw seemed new and the ship has a fresh, clean look that made a wonderful first impression. After having spent so much time on the Amsterdam, a much smaller ship, we noticed right away how much bigger everything is on the QM2. The hallways seem a little wider, the overheads a little higher and to our surprise our cabin was much bigger.
After what seemed like a long walk down the port side hallway, we found our cabin – number 6036, which is all the way forward on the port side. Our bags were waiting for us outside our door which was pretty speedy delivery based on our normal experience over the years.
Our room is extra big since we don’t have a verandah, but our room makes use of the space that is used by Verandah cabins close by. You will see this feature on other ships so it is always useful to closely examine deck plans and try and spot any cabins that may be larger than the standard in that category.
A small, 375 ml bottle of Champagne was waiting for us on ice, courtesy of the Captain. Our friends sailing with us inquired if they could exchange this bottle for some soft drinks or water and were told no – champagne or nothing. I thought that was a little odd since on the HAL ships, you can exchange any champagne gift with something of equal value.
Our room has a 32” flat screen TV and for those interested it has HDMI inputs on the back that are connected and work. However, one of the other rooms we were in has the TV bolted to the wall and on that TV the HDMI adapters may be more difficult to reach unless you had an angle adapter or something similar. The TV has 2 USB ports on the side and can play movies off a portable hard drive or USB stick.
Even though the room is larger, it has slightly less storage space than we had on the Amsterdam in a similar category and the closet uses hangers with a single metal stud coming from the top that connects to a plastic slider to prevent people from stealing the hangars. Not sure if they had a problem with people stealing hangars, but these types of hangars take up more space than other options. Our cabin steward brought us some wire hangers that we could use on the second, smaller closet that didn’t have any hangars originally.
Under the desk is a small refrigerator that came stocked with a couple of beers, some sodas and a bottle of water. There is also an order form in you want to have it replenished. Room service is complimentary and available 24/7 and the same menu is always available. There is a hang tag provided to order breakfast room service which includes eggs to order and a normal selection of cereals, fruit, juices, pastries, yogurts etc.
We had some laundry to do from our first week and thought if we went to a laundry room early – this is now around 2pm on embarkation day, we may find some empty washers, but everyone else had the same idea and the machines were all in use. The laundry machines are free and detergent is provided, but not fabric softeners, so bring your own. The laundry room is open from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm.
The mandatory lifeboat drill was at 4:30 and the muster locations are inside the ship in the various lounges. At least that is where our drill was held so I assume that all the muster locations are inside the ship. They announced the drill over the public address system and we waited for them to finish all the instructions, which were repeated in German since this voyage has a significant number of German passengers. We left our cabin about 4:35 and by the time we got to our muster station in the Carinthia Lounge it was already completely full and the briefing was in progress. Apparently everyone else was already in place long before 4:30. I was surprised that they never took attendance and the entire drill took about 30 minutes. It was probably longer than normal since everything was repeated in German. They had us put on our life jackets and once we were finished we were excused.
Our dinner was at 8:30 in the Britannia Restaurant, table 57, which is on the lower level of the two story restaurant. Table 57 is an oval table for eight which is our preference and there were 2 other couples already seated, one from the UK and the other from North Dakota. We learned that there was another couple assigned to the table, but they were not present this evening.
The Queen Mary 2 is a very formal ship. Tonight’s dress code was informal, but the QM2 informal code requires more formal attire than Holland Americas Gala night. On the QM2, informal means men are required to wear a jacket (tie optional) anywhere on the ship after 6pm except for the Kings Court and a single lounge next to the Kings Court. On HAL, all that is required on a Gala night is a shirt with a collar and no shorts. I would guess that about ½ the men wore ties and I didn’t see any of the men not wearing a jacket.
Dinner service was excellent and on par with other cruise lines. The menu offered six starters and six entrees along with a single choice of salad. There were also six choices for dessert. There were low calorie or healthier options also on the menu that included 3 courses, but you could order these individually if you desired. Judy ordered the lamb chops and I had the pork medallions in addition to some chicken noodle soup and a salad. All the food was very good and we enjoyed our first dinner on the QM2 very much.
Tonight’s entertainment was a Beatles tribute band called The Beatles Experience. They put on a good show and the time flew by. The show started at 10:30 sharp and the theatre was probably ½ full, pretty good for a late show. We had stopped by the theatre before our dinner at 8:30 to see how many people were already in place for the show. There were maybe 50 people already waiting and we learned by talking with others that there were always seats available for either show even up to the last minute. We’ll see if this holds true when the passenger mix changes to what is more common on a Crossing instead of the Norwegian voyage we were catching the tail end of.
After the show we took a quick spin thru the many lounges – more on those later – but what was striking was how busy they all were even after midnight. It will be interesting to see if this holds up once we leave Southampton.
Tomorrow is a sea day and we are looking forward to getting to explore the ship in more depth.
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