On my first Cunard Transatlantic crossing, an English couple on the restaurant table next to me were desperate to get off the ship. They hadn’t understood what they had signed up for and had to endure another five sea days before New York.
On another, I met an Australian couple that hadn’t appreciated what was required of them on a crossing and were unhappy as it was not for them.
I’ve done five Cunard Transatlantic Crossings to date, and discovered 10 smart things to do based mistakes people like that English and Australian couple and also I made to help you get it right.
The first smart thing to do is ask if a Crossing and not a standard repositioning cruise is right for you. Something the English couple had not done.
A repositioning cruise is when cruise lines move their ships between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean at the beginning and end of each season.
They tend to be up to 10 days or so long, have a few ports of call along the way, and you can choose your favourite line to do it on. For example, if you need a modern ship, ice rinks, rock climbing, lots of speciality dining and big production shows to have a good time, like the English couple did, you would have more fun on a Royal Caribbean ship.
A Queen Mary 2 Crossing is different. It is the only ship running a scheduled Transatlantic service, running 20 to 25 times a year between Southampton to New York, lasts 7 days and has no stops.
It is the only cruise liner in service today, designed to cope with constant crossings, and is unlike any other cruise ship. It has an art deco inspired décor referencing the old liners that used to ply this same route before airplane travel.
But if like me a Queen Mary 2 Crossing is better than a repositioning cruise if you want to sail on a one-of-a-kind ship and be able to say you are one of the select crowd to have experienced the route and romance of the old Transatlantic liners.
But before you do book yourself on, the next smart thing to do is understand exactly what you’re getting yourself in for.
Are you sure you that you will not get bored with seven days at sea?
Most people I meet on a Crossing tell me they are frustrated. But because they ran out of time to do everything.
The program is, with between 4 and 7 activities per hour, busy but it may not be for you.
It is a classic cruising program and focused on enrichment.
The showcase event is the Cunard Insight Lectures. Each Crossing has four speakers with three to four talks lasting 45-minutes each a day.
On my Crossings it has included ex Concorde pilots, Maritime Historians, New York skyscrapers experts, Crime Detectives, TV and film actresses, Authors, Astronomers, Retired Army Generals, Broadway Producers, and Politicians.
The Queens Room is a major focus too, with Zumba, line and ballroom dance classes in the morning, the huge Afternoon Tea attended by many hundreds in the afternoon, and packed Balls and Dance Nights with a live orchestra in the evening.
Other daily activities include shows in the Illuminations Planetarium, the only one at sea, live music around the ship, multiple trivia games, Bridge classes and tournaments, hobby classes like Watercolour painting, deck games, bingo, cooking demonstrations and fruit carving, meet-ups for groups like solo, LGBT, Christian Fellowship, Friends of Bill W and many more.
But even if that doesn’t sound like you, another smart choice could be to use the seven days to completely switch off from the world, helped by less than perfect Wi-Fi and the library of 10,000 books. Something my partner does while I hurry about enjoying the talks, afternoon tea and quizzes.
If this sounds good, then there is another big consideration. This is where the Australians did not make a smart choice.
What is your view on dressing up on a ship?
Cunard is associated with ball gowns, glamorous dresses, and dinner suits and tuxedos. However, the dress code is not as strict as it used to be.
Five nights of the seven nights are now “smart attire”. Us men are expected to wear a collared shirt, it can be a short sleeve shirt, although probably 60% or more wore a jacket and a long-sleeved shirt.
On the two “Gala Nights”, no longer called “formal nights”, probably about 90% dressed up. Most men in black tie tuxedo and women in glamorous dresses.
To eat in the main restaurants, you must follow the dress code. It also meant they were not supposed to go to the shows or any of the balls and parties. The Australians hated that.
While they could not get dressed up and eat in the buffet restaurant, it meant missing out on much that the evenings had to offer.
If you really do not want to dress up, then it’s smart to reconsider doing the Crossing.
By the way, one smart thing to do is wear whatever you would on any other cruise during the day, (so don’t make my mistake and think we had to bring smart clothes for the day too) but bring layers as it can be windy and chilly in deck.
And make sure you don’t pack more than the airline allowance for the flight to or from the Crossing home.
There are some smart choices to be made about who you go with and why.
Most passengers on the Crossing are mature couples, from their 50s and upwards.
There is a smattering of multi-generational families, 40-somethings friends, and just a few families.
Many people ask me if the smart thing to do is to take kids on a crossing? In my view, not.
Even in the peak summer season, there’s not many families with kids. The program, experience and dress code are not designed for kids. It’s not an adult only cruise, but it ends up being largely an adult only experience.
There are kids and teen clubs up to the age of 17, but they’re nowhere near of the scale found on family orientated lines.
Crossings are popular with solo travellers, with twice daily meetups and some solo cabins, and with LGBT couples.
As you start to plan, here’s a few things to do.
I think the smart way to go is the westbound route from Southampton to New York.
First you have longer days as on five of the day you have 25-hour days, due to time changes, and second you end the trip sailing into New York with a sight of the Statue of Liberty.
On the eastbound route, you have 5 short 23-hour days, but you do get to sail past the Statue of Liberty without having to get up at four thirty am to see it.
I feel that there’s more bang for the buck Westbound as the fares are the same. But when’s the smart time to go?
For most people the concern on when to go is linked to weather and risk of seasickness.
To be honest, on every crossing I’ve been on, I’ve met people who have been seasick. But that’s usually because they did not make smart choices up front.
For example, going on a Winter crossing as the prices are very attractive. They are great if you want guaranteed big waves and lots of motion, but not if you are prone to motion sickness.
The calmest times are during mid summer periods. But the North Atlantic is unpredictable, storms can brew up and you will get movement. Thought Queen Mary 2 handles it better than regular cruise ships.
On every crossing, even in summer, I have had some days with noticeable movement, some flat seas and sun, and some foggy days.
So be smart and prepared. Come with motion sickness remedies that work for you and know that if you do suffer, there is a paid-for jab from the Medical Centre that will knock you out for a couple of hours but will do the trick.
My partner gets very seasick when the seas are very rough. On two winter Crossings he’s had the jab and felt fantastic.
There is though, one important and smart thing to do if you’re worried about this. Something people slip up on.
If you’re worried about seasickness, get a cabin in the middle of the ship as you get the least amount of movement there. I always go midship. Always.
If you are really concerned, then also go as low down as possible.
On Queen Mary 2 there are many cabins on decks four, five, and six, which are right down in the hull. You can even have a balcony as they have sheltered balconies cut into the hull.
But to get a midship cabin, you need to be smart and book the Cunard fare that allows you to choose your own cabin, and not their guaranteed grade where they allocate the cabin.
Many are tempted by the slightly lower price but regret it when they find their cabin is at the front or rear and moves a lot.
However, don’t let this concern about movement stop you from choosing the right type and grade of cabin to get most of the Crossing. As you can get midship in most grades, that’s what I do.
Cunard, like many cruise lines today, do have a sort of class-based system on board based on your cabin grade.
If you sail in the biggest suites, you’re in what’s called Queens Grill, and dine in in the Queen’s Grill restaurant.
If you have slightly smaller suites, you’re in Princess Grill and dine in the Princess Grill suite.
If you’re in a balcony, Oceanview, or Inside cabin, you eat in the Britannia Restaurant.
So, if you are travelling with friends and family, make sure you are all booking in the same grade (Queens, Princess, or Britannia) so you can dine together.
Queens and Princess Grill have open seated dining, so no fixed time to eat, and you can have a table of any size you want
In Britannia, there is a wider range of tables ranging from 2, 4, 6, and 8, and you will have to choose a table size when you book. It’s harder to guarantee you will get a table for 2 if that’s what you want.
Britannia has two sittings. An early sitting and then, at the time of recording, a later anytime dining where you line up or join a virtual queue on the App.
If you don’t want to go to the cost of a suite, but you want open seated dining and guaranteed table size, a smart alterative could be Britannia Club, which are more premium balcony cabins, with their own area in Britannia restaurant with open seated dining.
We like to splash out on a Crossing as like having a bigger cabin as we spend more time in it than on regular cruises, and go Queens Grill, but book the fare to choose our cabin and make it is midship.
By the way, don’t worry that you will be locked out of large parts of the ship by not going in a Grills cabin. They do have a small bar, a Concierge lounge with someone to handle queries and complaints and a small deck on Deck 11 at the rear of the ship.
But that’s it. The rest of the ship is open and used by all. But no matter the grade there is something you do need to do.
You do need to be smart about budgeting.
Cunard have many add-ons once in board.
Gratuities are auto added to your bill, at time of recording that will add between $80.50 per person for Britannia guests and $94.50 per person for Grills guests for the Crossing.
You can have them removed or increased. We do tip cash also to our waiters and cabin steward on top of these if they have been especially good.
Drinks is one area that adds a lot to budgets. I always see passengers checking their bills and gob smacked at how much they racked up with all the sea days and evenings.
Cunard have various soft and alcohol drinks packages. The beer, wine by the glass, and spirits (including most cocktails) one will add $483 per person to your bill for the week.
If one guest in the cabin buys the drinks package all adults in the same cabin must too, so that would add $966 to a couple’s bill.
Of course, shopping, bingo, casino, speciality coffees in the Sir Samuels, and any speciality dining in The Verandah Steakhouse or Kings Court Speciality Evenings will be extra costs
With on-board budget sorted, there is one smart thing to do when you board.
The Queen Mary 2 is an unusual and often confusing ship to find your way around.
I’ve spent at least 11 weeks on her over the years, but when I get back on board, it takes time to orientate and find my way around.
Once on board go on one of the ship tours, if they are offering them, or grab the little deck plan you will find in your cabin and walk your way around.
Because of the way the ship has been designed, pushing many of the big venues low down on the ship, some venues are hard to find, like the Queen’s Room tucked behind the Britannia Restaurant, reached by hard-to-find corridor through the Clarendon Art Shop.
If you want to know more about Queen Mary 2 including how the ship stacks up today and some of the hidden features and secret things that many never find when they’re on board, watch this video where I show you how to get the most of Queen Mary 2. See you over there.
ABOUT TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Gary Bembridge’s Tips For Travellers aims to help you make more of your precious travel time and money on land and when cruising the oceans or rivers of the world. To help you, in every video I draw on my first-hand tips and advice from travelling every month for over 20 years and average of 10 cruises a year.
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