Last week saw the world’s only ocean liner, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, leave Hamburg following a 25-day dry dock refurbishment — and we’re onboard its first post-refit voyage.
The most significant refurbishment in its 12-year history, the ship’s “remastering” runs far deeper than a lick of paint and new carpets (though 55,200 square metres of them have been laid). Vast chunks of the 2,600-passenger ship’s framework were stripped out as contractors worked day and night at the Blohm + Voss shipyard, transforming QM2’s interior and repainting the exterior.
Among the ship’s updates, single cabins have been introduced, 30 Britannia Club Balcony cabins added, the Grill restaurants have been transformed, Kings Court Buffet has been completely redesigned; the Todd English restaurant has been replaced with The Verandah and the Winter Garden with the Carinthia Lounge.
Despite the ship amassing a loyal following since debuting in 2004, the general feeling before its refit was that sections of QM2 never quite worked, notably Kings Court Buffet and the Grand Lobby.
The £90m Cunard spent on the ship’s refit has seen the line finely balance the heritage of Cunard with a contemporary new look. Gone are the areas that didn’t work, replaced with a more user-friendly design and ultra-modern style, while the hallmarks of the Art Deco-era have been retained.
Here are our first impressions of the new-look Queen Mary 2.
The ship’s new French speciality restaurant — replacing Todd English — is a throwback to the original Verandah restaurant onboard Queen Mary. The restaurant’s decor is elegant with fun circus-themed artwork complemented by a muted colour palette and subtle bursts of black in the carpet — just like the original.
The decor might be stylish, but the real star is the food. The overall experience felt like dining in a Michelin star restaurant, with each dish demonstrating serious culinary flair.
An amuse bouche consisting of a mackerel creme brulee kicked off a steady flow of dishes; frog legs in a delicate tempura batter, garnished with shallots; a salt-crusted rack of lamb sliced at the table and a lime palate cleanser served before a poached pear and Valrhona chocolate dessert. To round off the experience a trolley of confectionary – macaroons, jellies, chocolate mints — is wheeled to the table and served on a silver-plated miniature cake stand.
The focus of the ship’s renovation has been the much-maligned Kings Court Buffet, which has been radically remastered. The two central elevators were removed in the refit to create a large open-plan space and a more user-friendly dining experience.
With fashionable Art Deco-style tiles — a total of 300,000 new tiles were laid — and gold lamps hanging above food stations, the stylish decor has the feel of a modern urban canteen of the type you’d find in a fashionable neighbourhood of London.
The loss of the central bank of elevators has transformed the vast space, although you’re still hard pushed to find a table at peak times.
Making an Entrance
Two elevators were also stripped from the Grand Lobby, making the space more functional for passengers. One concern was that the remaining elevators would become congested, but this hasn’t happened and this space works far better than before; no longer just a through route, it’s as much a lounge as it is a lobby.
With a scattering of high-back chairs and a Baby Grand piano, the imposing Grand Lobby is illuminated by the ship’s new starburst Art Deco-style carpet, with passengers really taking to the updated space.
Adjacent to Kings Court Buffet and replacing the Winter Garden, Carinthia Lounge tends to stay busy during the daytime, but also manages to retain a calming ambiance.
The lounge has the feel of a five-star city hotel, with elegant fixtures and fittings and luxurious plush upholstery in neutral shades and splashes of peacock-blue. With plenty of large comfortable sofas and low-back armchairs, the space has offered a spot to curl up and watch the action of the ship pass by, complemented by a string of musical entertainment from noon onwards.
The food in the Carinthia Lounge is another success for the updated ship. There’s no menu, but chefs place a selection of small gourmet dishes on the counter from morning until afternoon for passengers to dip in and out of.
Perhaps Cunard have taken inspiration from all-day dining institutions, such as The Wolseley in London, with delicious dishes such as the haggis ball and fried egg over spicy tomato and mushrooms or the traditional egg Florentine or club sandwich. The Carinthia Lounge is also a pleasant alternative to the Kings Court Buffet at breakfast and lunchtime.
One of the more eccentric features of the ship is its Kennel Suite, which is devoted to serving the ship’s four-legged passengers. The suite has also received an update, with added kennels and more facilities to ensure passengers’ pets feel at home — including a new lamppost! Testament to the ship’s loyal following, both pre- and post-refit, Coco, one of the four-legged passengers on our journey is embarking on his 23rd voyage onboard the QM2.
The ship feels like it’s finally found itself — cleverly balancing old-time glamour, which is what its passengers crave from their Cunard experience, with the contemporary style of a modern five-star liner.
Take a look at photos of the remastered QM2 and stay tuned for the full updated ship review coming soon.