Ship Reviews

SHIP REVIEW: Queen Mary 2 ‘remastered’ before and after tour

 The 2016 refit and renovation of Cunard Line’s 13-year-old flagship Queen Mary 2 was one of the most eagerly anticipated cruise ship dry dockings in recent memory. The ship is the modern flag-bearer of a historic ocean going heritage.

Although most cruise passengers won’t realise it, most of their romantic notions of travel by sea are in some way connected with the Cunard Line brand and the trans-Atlantic cruise experience that it pioneered and made iconic.

The original Queen Mary, launched in 1934, cemented a reputation for romance, excellence and technological innovation. She set the bar for the design of passengers ships and cost a staggering US $700-million (in today’s money) just to fit out. Her Starlight Club shimmered with Lalique glasswork, public areas were rich with inlaid marquetry, and staterooms featured hand-painted reliefs by iconic Thirties artist Doris Zinkeisen and her sister Anna.

The Cunard brand is synonymous with the romantic ideal of the cruise holiday.Cunard Line have spent a comparatively small US $120-million on the refit of Queen Mary 2, but the results are impressive none-the-less, for the Ulster carpets alone more than thirty 40-foot shipping containers were needed, enough to cover a full-size football pitch ten times over. During her turnaround port call in Dubai in April, Cruise Arabia & Africa was invited aboard the see the results of Cunard’s most ambitious ‘re-mastering’ in its history.


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Cunard have emphasised from the start that this dry-dock would be a total overhaul of the ship, a ‘back-to-the-drawing-board makeover’ that would essentially make her a new ship for loyal guests of the line. The result is a ship that feels modern and new, while still immersed in the rich history of the cruise line that owns her. QM2 Remastered project manager Alison Clixby has succeeded in evoking the pedigree of the Cunard brand, with many design features reminiscent of the original RMS Queen Mary and more art-deco RMS Queen Elizabeth of the 1940s.


Cunard’s art-deco past is brought back in the new Queen’s Grill

The results can be seen in the stylishly elegant Queen’s Grill with its claret-red art-deco tub chairs (lots more tables for two); in the fabulously retro “starburst” carpeting, in the whimsical art in the new Verandah restaurant and in the re-upholstered cabins where geometric graphics are paired with gold and navy bedspreads, rounded sofas and chaise longue seating.

QM2’s Grand Lobby before the refit (left), QM2’s Grand Lobby after the refit (right).

The Grand Lobby is no longer dominated by the two glass lifts and instead has extra seating and three additional elegant colonnades that wrap around the forward part of the grand staircase.

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It is here in the Grand Lobby, which is also most passengers first entry to the ship, that the new starburst carpet motif is introduced, dominating the open space in the revamped lobby. It’s a design that works from most angles, but the casino can now be easily seen from the lobby, undermining the Cunard elegance that the room evokes. Throughout most of the ship, Cunard has gone for this ‘emptying out’ approach, removing design features that it deems unnecessary or two cumbersome for the interiors of the ship.


The new Princess Grill aboard Queen Mary 2 after her refit

Several waiters stations and pillars have been removed from the Princess Grill and Queens Grill, for instance, opening up the dining floors, while attractive privacy screens have been installed to prevent one feeling as though they’re dining on a stage. During our tour of the ship in Dubai, most passengers were ashore, but it was easy to see how the new design of these dining areas will prevent the rooms feeling cluttered and congested during peak meal times.

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The all-day buffet, the grand and aptly named ‘King’s Court’ has been entirely redesigned so that it is almost unrecognisable. A buffet restaurant on any cruise ship is essentially a glorified canteen and it is always difficult for a cruise line to eliminate the pedestrian nature of the dining experience in these venues. The old King’s Court had a strong canteen atmosphere that is now nowhere to be found following the re-design.

QM2’s King’s Court before the refit (left) and QM2’s King’s Court after the refit (right).

Gone are the cold, dated floor tiles, flow-inhibiting service areas and tall, bar-style tables. With its vastly enhanced lighting and self-serving stations, and fresh, clean decor it is far more conducive to relaxed, informal day-and-night dining, with cream and pale blue chairs at dark wood tables that give this informal dining area a sense of occasion. Everything aboard a Cunard ocean liner must always have a sense of occasion!

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Rivalling the King’s Court for points in the total-overhaul awards is the new Carinthia Lounge, named after the 1956-built Saxon-class ocean liner that Cunard Line operated on the trans-Atlantic service toward the end of the golden age of the ocean liner. The Carinthia Lounge replaces the Winter Garden, which may be controversial for some passnegers, as the Cunard Winter Gardens tend to be viewed with mixed emotions, like Marmite. Some love them, others don’t. The problem with a Winter Garden is that it must be done well, and Queen Mary 2’s Winter Garden had a dated 90s feel to it that did the brand no favours.


QM2’s Winter Garden before the refit


QM2’s Winter Garden is now the Carinthia Lounge after the refit

The new Carinthia Lounge is a cosy, lounge-cum-dining area with a sit-up bar and self-service cafe offering salad bowls and charcuterie boards, Illy coffee and vintage Iberian wines. This new public room seems to be in response to demand from Cunard passengers for more smart but informal spaces in which to eat as well as relax.


New Britannia Club aboard renovated Queen Mary 2


Renovated Britannia dining room aboard Queen Mary 2

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When it comes to accommodations aboard Queen Mary 2 most staterooms remain largely the same, but with new soft furnishing, everything from the carpets, cushions and curtains to the sofas, chairs and duvets have been renewed. Every staterooms aboard now has a kettle as well. It’s remarkable that it’s taken Cunard Line, an assuredly British cruise line, this long to give its passengers easy access to a cup of tea.


New Princess Grill suites aboard renovated Queen Mary 2

On the hotel side, 50 new cabins have been added, as well as 15 single cabins for those travelling alone, so widowers and widows, who make up a sizeable portion of Cunard’s guest list, no longer have to pay a 50% additional for their own cabin. The average floor area of the new single cabins is 178-183 sq ft. There are 30 new Britannia Club staterooms, all with flat-screen TVs, and a new stateroom structure has also been installed on Deck 13.


New multi-level Queen’s Grill Balmoral Suites aboard renovated Queen Mary 2

Dogs (and cats) cruising with Cunard have always been a little bit spoilt. The line employs a kennelmaster to tend to their needs. So popular is the service that 10 more kennels have been added (22 in total) and owners and pets can be reunited in a new kennel lounge. And on the poop deck, where the dogs and cats take their morning constitutional, a lamppost (taken from outside the Cunard building in Liverpool) and a US fire hydrant, have been added.

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