If you were to tell me six years ago I would be taking the Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic Oceanliner from Europe to America, I would have said, ” Yea, right!” A voyage like this was not even on my radar. I believe in this life, you just never know. When we had the opportunity to research our PCS (Permanent Change of Station) move from Germany back to the States traveling this way, we hopped on it.
My friends Kathy and Kymberlee had already done this voyage in-bound to the EU so they knew all the major deets (details.) Of course, while they were on one of my day trips, I picked their brains constantly. As it turned out, Kathy was taking the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) back to the States too with us on the same voyage in June.
It was an amazing journey of a lifetime and I have so much to share ~ so here I go! Bon Voyage – please like, share and comment below to help me continue sharing travel tips.
TIP #1 ~ Know before you go
Making your reservation ~
- BOOK EARLY ~ as soon as you know your dates (book them)
- I know this is particularly difficult if you do not have orders or don’t know your PCS date (booking later just means less of a choice in a cabin or it would be sold out.
- We booked in January for the June voyage and the rooms were limited to reserve
- We booked our PCS travel through the leisure travel office on-post to verify coverage and reimbursement
Specifically, if this a PCS move to or from Germany – use your government credit card for easier reimbursement
Find out exactly what is included with your ticket
- You can add amenities, we didn’t know that ahead of time if you are interested in doing this – I would recommend contacting Cunard directly after you receive your BOOKING number.
2. IF you have the opportunity to book directly through Cunard I would definitely do this over booking your reservation through a travel agency/company. I was able to interview Sangeeta, Communications Director on-board and she shared that if you book directly through Cunard, you will have much better options of rooms to choose from AS well as other amenities that are not included in a travel agent package.
Also – if you book directly through Cunard for your cruise, they will immediately send you a packet of information filled with goodies, schedules, and opportunities on-board. We eventually received a packet – but it was not until about two weeks before we departed and were in the middle of a move without time to read all the fine details. They really end up being super important tips.
Read all the fine details, they really are super important tips!
If you have traveled with Cunard in the past, check with them to see if you have any perks coming your way.
Also, there are two ports of entry for the June voyage stateside, you can board at Southampton, England or in Hamburg, Germany. Since we had a few days to kill before the trip, we headed to Copenhagen, Denmark for a few days before catching a train to Hamburg. More on Copenhagen in an upcoming blog.
Getting to Hamburg!
So if you are heading to Hamburg as part of a move, you will want to pack accordingly. Not your typical stateside flight or PCS with TONS of luggage on the airplane. We had one very large luggage, carry-on and then a back-pack. This was plenty of room to pack everything we would need for the 10-day voyage including our fancy clothes. Stay tuned for more on that too ~ Having been to Hamburg, we were ahead of the game.
To get to Hamburg, you can take the train, rent-a-car, or fly. It really depends on the time you have and the type of transportation you prefer. The Cunard Terminal is not located near the other Cruise terminals in Hamburg, so you will also want to book a hotel, we choose the Marriott because we are members and rack up the points, the COURTYARD by Marriott was inexpensive and about 15 minutes away from the terminal.
So the taxi was about €30 one way to get to the terminal. You may also choose the train but it doesn’t go directly there, you would have to take a bus, so we decided a cab it is ~
Ready to Board!
ARRIVE ON TIME! Another HUGE TIP! ARRIVE at the TERMINAL AT your designated time. This was a huge misstep for us. We thought by arriving a little early we would be great. However, buses filled with hundreds of people arrived directly in front of us and the computers were down for the boat, so we waited almost two hours to check-in. Had we arrived at our designated time, we probably would have waited 30 minutes, max. There aren’t a lot of places to sit at the Hamburg terminal, it was kind of a bummer.
PRINT OUT YOUR LUGGAGE TAGS and attach them to your luggage – they will be picked up curbside – luxury service already.
We had requested a balcony room for our voyage, but since only an outer-room cabin was available that was what we got. Unfortunately, when we checked-in we were unable to upgrade, also. If you can swing a balcony room, I would recommend it, if you like to have some fresh air. However, Jon and I decided we really preferred our extra-large – outer room with a big window for less cost than I think the balcony would have been.
WHAT TO PACK?
Kymberlee and Kathy had briefed me on packing some dress-up clothes for balls and dances, so I had scoped out some from friends to borrow for this special occasion. Jon retired in ’07, I haven’t been to a formal in awhile. There was a “Ball” almost every night we were on-board or you could dress up real nice.
The language on the ship was ~
Smart Dress ~ for women – nice dresses, skirts, dress pants, business-like attire
- for men – dress pants, tie (no jacket)
Formal/Gala Evening ~ for women – Evening or cocktail dresses, smart trouser suits
- for men – tuxedo, or suit with tie and dinner jacket after 6:00 p.m.
Now, there aren’t clothes “monitors” walking around shaming you into dressing up, but there is a “dress code” and you will feel awkward walking around in jeans on the gala nights.
No jeans ~ not really. We did see a few people wearing jeans but they were teenagers or children. Most women wore nice summer dresses or shorts while walking around and men wore khakis. Definitely a bit more upscale than my last ®Carnival cruise.
For our 10 day cruise – I packed…
- 8 sundresses
- 2 Formal gowns (1 for the masquerade ball and one for the Gala)
- Leggings and dress pants
- Pumps, (2) wedge sandals, flip-flops for the pool
- Bathing suit, cover-up
- 2 workout outfits, sneaks
- Toiletries and cosmetics
I wore a summer sundress pretty much every day. They were easy to pack and acceptable travel wear.
Let’s set SAIL!
After you have registered and checked in – you will receive a “card” this is your pass card for the whole duration of the cruise. Once you have memorized your room number, you will want to carry this with you at all times.
Safety FIRST! One of the first things you will do when everyone is on-board and checked in is a safety brief. Depending on your cabin location you will be called up to attend in a dining room or common area. it was about 45 minutes and you have to bring your life jacket. This is in accordance with Maritime law and I saw Titanic, so I was grateful to know how to put a life jacket on. I would have shared the bedframe too. HA!
Jon and I got comfortable in our cabin then set off to investigate the ship.
It is BIGGER than the Titanic was and the size of almost three football fields. Deck 7 is the promenade deck, we found this to be one of our favorites because you could walk the deck from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (and 3 laps = 1.1 miles.) Every day you would see power walkers, runners and strollers just taking in the beautiful views of the ocean and fresh air.
There are maps all around the ship to familiarize yourself with where you are and where everything is located. I would have read this through before hopping on deck but I am married to an explorer too, so off we went.
ACTIVITIES on BOARD
Honestly, there are so many activities on-board if you get bored, it is your own fault. Seriously, there was something to do every single hour. Every evening you will receive a “Daily Program” for the following day. READ THIS CAREFULLY. This “old schools” newspaper is filled with activities of what to do, where they are being held, and what attire is required. Your steward will leave these in your mailbox outside the room.
Canyon Ranch Spa Club
This was our favorite! This cruise was for Jon and I was for relaxation and de-stressing after our very stressful move from Germany. So we visited the Canyon Ranch Spa Club first. I was so glad we decided to join the spa for the week. This was an additional $150/person but included unlimited access (while open) to the whirlpool baths, saunas, aroma saunas, and relaxation room.
The relaxation room became our respite. After we worked out in the gym or walked around Deck 7 we would enjoy a chill in the spa and rest in the relaxation room with window views of the ocean. Also, you could book additional spa services for massages, chiropractic and acupuncture and a lot more. My massage was fantastic!
There were four swimming pools we really enjoyed, but the spa pool was our favorite and very quiet. The Pavilion Pool was located under sunglass and had a musical band playing sporadically throughout the cruise giving it a nice party feel. The other pools were outside and it was warm enough to lay-out and enjoy the fresh air. Several of the outdoor pools had hot tub jacuzzis as well.
If you have a legitimate fear of gaining some “cruise” weight, there are plenty of opportunities to work it off too. The gym is huge and has several elliptical, treadmills, and stationary bikes as well as ®Nautilus equipment and weights. There are also fitness instructors that offer fitness seminars, classes and different clinics for help. *Some classes are for an extra cost.
Bars & Pubs
There are a total of 13 pubs and bars on the ship. Our favorite was the Golden Lion Pub. There was a pianist who came from time to time and entertained us with different genres of music. Super cool. We became friends with the servers and really enjoyed the Fish & Chips.
Time to EAT!
The Chef’s Galley was “included” in our cruise package. This is where most people would eat if they were looking for something faster since it was a buffet style and opened almost all the time during the day. It was closed between 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. but pubs were open then too. We ate here for most breakfasts, some lunches, and even some dinners, the fresh menu was AMAZING. They also had an EXHIBIT and a show called “Chocolate and Ice!”
Since I was doing a full article and I am a foodie, we also tried the other venues. We enjoyed the alternative dining choices immensely ~ Here they are, check it out!
The Verandah Steak House
The alternative restaurants included an up-charge but were worth EVERY penny. YOLO! This is our friend Desmond, who became “our” waiter.
King’s Court ~ Alternative Dining
We tried all three!
These alternative dining restaurants were in the Kings Court dining area and changed every few days. The most amazing STAFF!! These venues were more like “Tapas” restaurants and I love, love, love TAPAS. This gives you just a little taste of so many options and in the end, you are stuffed. So I get to try lots of different things without overdoing it on one item. YAY!
Coriander was an alternative restaurant option with an Indian~Asian Fusion menu. Super delicious and fresh.
Aztec was the Tex-Mex Fusion Menu – I loved the combinations the Chef tried with this menu. The flavors were incredible and missing Tex-Mex for the last five years in I was so grateful for it! So was my growing waistline. HA!
The Britannia Room was included with the cruise package but I found it to be lacking. I am not a big banquet dining fan either, flashbacks from college. The cruise also seats you in a group seating fashion (of their choosing) and we found the food options to be just meh ~ but others really loved it. So, to each his own. We did eat here twice to be fair. We just preferred the Galley Buffet and the alternative dining choices.
I truly enjoyed meeting the staff and making some great friends, our sweet server Blessing was quite a blessing to us and super fun. Every one of these servers was incredibly professional.
As with all the cruise ships, there are “EXTRA’s” you will have to prepare yourself for on your trip. I knew we would pay a little extra for services. With this particular Cunard trip, it was much, much more. Here were the areas I was gobsmacked. We ended up spending an additional $2,000 when all was said and done. Phew… ouch!
Internet – while at sea – for 30 minutes – $15 (or .50/minute) and it just went up from there to $330/1,920 minutes.
Fitness Classes – our yoga class was $12/person and it was more like a stretch class, not yoga there were only 4 people in the class
Wine Tasting & Wine – glasses of wine ranged between $12/glass to $33/glass. Wine seminar with the Sommelier was $120/person, Champagne tasting – $34.50/person in the champagne bar
Photo services – were an extra fee, but I felt there fees were reasonable and really professional pics
Afternoon Tea ~ Godiva – $15.50/person and it was just a few bits of chocolate, tea or coffee
Art Flower Arranging Class ~ $50/2 days
Most cruises offer extra services as this is where the revenue is generated. We were just not prepared for the level. But it is the QM2.
Some of these EXTRAs are cheaper the closer you get to port! For example, if you are interested in a spa service/laundry wait until Wednesday/Thursday they are discounted!
What’s in your package?
Now, don’t let me discourage you, there are plenty, plenty of included events and activities on-board that do not cost extra. There is a really cool Planetarium you can attend, (just be sure to sign up the day before.) Also, a game area on both sides of the boat with incredible views.
All musical shows are included ~ which are GREAT! We saw some amazing performances with a full BAND!
The GALAs were a lot of fun – and they even have dance classes if you would like to learn some cool moves. Kathy and Chris really enjoyed these quite a bit.
Purple Haze was the cool rock band that performed nightly at one of the bars or at the pool. They played all kinds of R&B, 70’s, 80’s and themed events. Super fun!
Once in a LIFETIME!
We had the most incredible time and I did not even share everything. We also stopped into port at Southampton, England on one of our stops. I’ll share that in another blog. We had fun, made friends, and were pampered like a King and Queen while making memories of a lifetime.
Coming into Brooklyn harbor at sunrise was like a dream. I am still somewhat speechless as to the feelings I felt coming into that harbor while the sun was rising over the city. My relatives were immigrants from Scotland and Ireland and I get tearful just writing this today thinking of their journey. It was certainly nothing like mine was and yet they made it possible for me to have this incredible experience and come home to America.
I would absolutely recommend a voyage on the Queen Mary 2, especially if you are trying to travel this way for a PCS move. I hope the blog has been able to help you put together a trip of your own. Bon Voyage ~ let me know if you have any questions or comment below.