On board the Queen Mary 2

As someone who has managed to get seasick on a canoe on the perfectly still waters of the Noetzie Lagoon in Knysna, I had pretty much written off the idea of ever setting a toe on board a cruise ship. But, at the same time, I’ve always harboured a deep fascination with the concept of long voyages aboard these gigantic vessels with their endless decks, grand theatres, ballrooms and swimming pools.

So needless to say, when I was invited for a tour and lunch aboard the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) when she docked at Cape Town’s Waterfront, I leapt at the opportunity. The 14-year-old liner has just undergone a £100-million remastering, with major upgrades to her main passenger areas, extending her cruising life by another 10 years.

Seeing the QM2 in all her glory against a cloudless azure Cape Town sky was truly breathtaking – from the local seals who had decided the stem under the sharp bow was the ideal spot for a bit of sunbathing, to the four-football field-long (345 metres), 17 deck-high navy and white exterior of Cunard’s flagship cruise liner.

After clearing security in Cape Town’s international cruise terminal, we were welcomed on board and headed straight up to the Commodore Club, an elegant observation area where guests are invited to sip on cocktails and lounge in plush leather armchairs. From there, we spent over an hour on a guided tour through the QM2’s main passenger areas.

The QM2 is a cruise liner – not a cruise ship – a distinction I wasn’t aware of. A cruise liner is distinguished by a much sharper bow, and four stabilisers compared to the two stabilisers found on cruise ships. Additionally, the entertainment areas are situated far lower down in the ship (deck 2 and 3) compared to cruise ships, where most of the operative decks are on deck 7 and 8.

What was immediately clear is that QM2, and by extension, Cunard’s philosophy, is all about maintaining tradition and embracing elegance. Artificial wave simulators and gaudy three-level waterslides have no place on board this dignified liner. Stepping on board the QM2 means stepping back in time the glory days of the epic transatlantic voyages, where afternoon tea is celebrated and three-course black-tie dinners are followed by ballroom dancing under crystal chandeliers (on the floor of Queen’s Room, the biggest ballroom at sea). Traditions include the Captain’s mass held every Sunday in the 1 000-seater Royal Court Theatre, where the pianist plays traditional hymns for those ‘in peril at sea’. Guests who have gone on a certain number of voyages are rewarded with lapel pins, with those at Platinum level (having spent thousands of days at sea) being instantly recognised by crew as loyal members to the Cunard brand.

This continuation of beloved tradition doesn’t mean she isn’t state-of-the-art – in fact, a big part of remastering involved the incorporation of screens throughout the ship. The Royal Court Theatre is fitted with giant LCD screens that came at a cost of just under £4 million. The QM2 is also home to the first planetarium and 3D cinema at sea in Illuminations – with reclining chairs and a retractable ceiling for guests to enjoy one of eight star shows narrated by celebrities like Tom Hanks and Sigourney Weaver. Then there is the two-storey G32 nightclub with its engine-room themed décor complete with imitation flames to look like boilers.

The average guest age definitely leans towards the senior category, particularly when it comes to transatlantic voyages. We were told that during the remastering, additional space was allocated to wheelchair users in the Royal Court Theatre, taking their predominantly older clientele into consideration. This was echoed in the line-up of activities, which includes bingo in the Queens Room, quiz nights and line dancing. The QM2 also has an extensive medical team, including a senior doctor (a qualified brain surgeon), a junior doctor, paediatrician and six nurses, along with x-ray sets and intensive care facilities.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to see any of the accommodation on board, but the QM2 has just completed a comprehensive restyling of its exclusive Grills Suites, as well a redesign of the two Grills restaurants.

We were able to take a look at the biggest library at sea though, as well as the sophisticated Champagne Bar, the Golden Lion traditional English pub and one of the expansive open decks complete with two sparkling swimming pools – set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain.

 Fun facts about the Queen Mary 2:

  • She covers an area of 3.5 acres.
  • She is 147 feet longer than the Eiffel Tower is high.
  • Her whistle is audible for 10 miles.
  • Her speed of 29.5 knots is double the speed of a Caribbean cruise ship.
  • She carriers 343 different wines on board (with annual wine sales estimated around 230 000 bottles).
  • In total, over one year, passengers will consume 38 000 pounds of smoked salmon, 346 000 gallons of fruit juice, 249 000 pounds of potatoes and 420 000 packets of breakfast cereal.
  • There are 1 310 staterooms with a maximum capacity of 3 090 passengers in total.
  • Her power plant produces sufficient electricity to light a city the size of Southampton (population 200 000).