Sculpture aboard the Queen Mary 2, 2013
When I first learned that the Queen Mary 2 was going into drydock for several weeks, for a "complete overhaul," a "retro-fitting of the entire ship," I felt sick at heart. It was as if every fear that cruise critics like me had felt when the Queen Mary's Cunard LIne was acquired by the slick and modern Carnival Cruises. If you had asked me at that time, I would have said it was only a short while before the grand, traditional, and somewhat stodgy Cunard LIne was dumbed down by Carnival into a group of theme parks at sea, with water tubes, bumper cars, and basketball courts.
By contrast with Carnival's "Fun Ships," the historic vessels of Cunard feature serious lectures, quiet lounges for conversations among serious people, libraries, and a mood of relaxation. One could hardly imagine a different attitude towards cruising.
The Queen Mary 2 is the flagship of the Cunard fleet (which also consists of the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria). When it was completed in 2004, it was the largest cruise ship ever built (150,000 tons, normally carrying 2,600 passengers but capable of accommodating 400 more), but it has now been eclipsed in size by numerous others, including the recently-launched Harmony of the Seas capable of carrying 6,000 passengers. As a "smaller" ship, it is still akin in atmosphere to traditional cruise vessels, and has—among other things—the largest library at sea, a planetarium, and kennels for pets of passengers. Its officers are all British, and the atmosphere aboard is decidedly Old World.
That atmosphere is best glimpsed at the afternoon tea served to passengers, on every day of their cruise or transatlantic crossing. Its lectures are heavily attended, and in contrast to the standard Carnival cruise, there are no wet-bikini contests and no rock-and-roll music transmitted aboard giant loudspeakers. In fact, loudspeakers are rarely heard. On one of my own "memorable" voyages on board one of the standard giant cruise ships, the Norwegian Epic, it was virtually impossible to leave the constant drum-beat of contemporary music, and in an effort to escape the cacophony, I retreated to a nigh-inaccessible "lounge." only to find an active bowling alley alongside the supposed retreat.
But let me now proceed to the good news. According to most reports (which we pray are accurate), the re-furbishing of the Queen Mary 2 is largely devoted to simply squeezing in fifty more passenger cabins into a large open deck, thus fulfilling Carnival's desire to enjoy additional income on every cruise. Apart from that modification (which itself is to be regretted), other embellishments to the classic ship are apparently limited to upgrading the appearance of passenger cabins, making them more colorful than before.
There are, hopefully, no bumper-car rinks about to be added to the Queen Mary 2, no basketball courts, no water slides, no wave-surfing simulations, no rock-climbing walls, and no other devices meant to replace simple conversations and relaxation. So unless we are being misled by the Carnival public relations office, the Queen Mary 2 will retain the traditional aspects of a Cunard-style ocean cruise or crossing.
The Queen Mary 2 thus remains a unique travel experience. Based on many ecstatic comments from friends who have crossed the Atlantic aboard it, it continues to provide a unique thrill. If your own savings are sufficient to pay its fairly-moderate charges, you might want to consider booking aboard—and you should do so before the culture-deprived officials of the Carnival line decide on a more comprehensive "re-furbishing" of this beautiful ship.