01.05.2012 - 01.05.2012
One of the main events of any time at sea is the cuisine. Whether a container ship or a cruise ship, life almost inevitably ends up revolving around food. It is quite interesting. The QM2 was no exception. The number of options available means that your main daily decisions are often based around where you are going to eat. I have the program for Tuesday 1st to hand, and it lists 5 different locations which I could choose to go for breakfast, nine for lunch and seven for dinner, many of which had several options within them. Should none appeal, room service is a constant extra option, as are “between meal” snacks.
In general, I found Breakfast to be pretty good. Because a majority of people ate casually, the choice in the Kings Court was pretty good: everything from cereal and porridge through continental to full English. Having said that, on the one morning that I braved the 'proper' dinning room, though having some extra options and being fairly tasty, my choice of breakfast (smoked haddock and scrambled eggs – for which it took a long discussion to be allowed to have both together and not individually as on the menu) transpired to be so small – bear in mind that I was essentially ordering 2 breakfasts by this choice - and the fish full of bones, that on finishing I headed up to the buffet for a second breakfast to help me make it through to lunch. Lunch, similarly, had a number of options, from simple sandwiches through numerous cooked options – served or self service - to pub lunches (served, of course, in the pub). Afternoon snacks and late lunch were available, ditto traditional Afternoon tea (with or without champagne and service charge), although options were generally less than I had encountered elsewhere and the inevitable late night snack was rarely hugely appealing. In fact, although not small, in virtually every case I found the food or the available options (or both) to be inferior to other passenger ships I have travelled on, and in cases less appealing even than that which I have experienced on freight ships, which I found somewhat surprising.
It was at dinner that I really struggled. Upon booking, each guest is assigned to one of the three main restaurants: the suites split between two restaurants for (doubtless) fancy eating, and the rest of us in the Britannia; a large double level venue which was additionally spilt into an early and a late seating. The problem was that many of the guests were here for the “full experience”, and Cunard actively advertised that very experience. For many that included dressing up in full tuxedo et al, and I would guess a majority were also paying significantly more money than I was for their journey; this is at odds with how I normally travel, and although paying a not inconsiderable single supplement, I was very much travelling steerage.
Every night on-board, one of three dress codes applies and this is enforced in the Britannia restaurant. The problem is that I am not a hugely formal person, and thus was not up to the required standard and so denied access. In fact, even if I had brought all the clothes that I have ever owned along, I would only have barely qualified for the least formal of the three, the “casual” days (shirt, shoes and jacket) – the semi-formal and formal requirements being well out of my league. I knew this beforehand and thus it was not something I had worried about as I was assured that less formal options were always available. On HAL ships, I had pretty much lived off the less formal options, and still had superb food and choice throughout. But on the QM2, this becomes less friendly. With the main Britannia not open to me, I explored other options. The Todd English restaurant also enforced the dress code, and charged a supplement to dine there. Worse, the casual Kings Court area changed at night, so that 3 of the 4 sectors became reservation only, charged a supplement and though not as strict as elsewhere also enforced a dress code. With certain other options not serving dinner, it left me with room service (food ok, but when your room doesn't even have a window, not necessarily enticing) and the final Kings Court option. Here, at least, I could eat without having to be wearing fancy clothes, although even here t-shirts, jeans etc were banned. There was normally a decent turnover of people eating in this location, and at least a handful of regulars indicated that I was not the only person travelling without approved clothing. But sadly, on most evenings, I found the food here was remarkably poor and generally unappetising. It reminded me more of the bottom end of my days as a student in halls of residence than any type of restaurant, and certainly was below my expectations despite the fact that it was reasonably popular.
After a couple of days had proved to me that it wasn't a one off, I started eating more earlier in the day and not relying on large tasty dinners. But the fact that most other people on the ship were dressed up also made me feel unusually self-conscious and once I was actively removed from a communal area on the first night by exceptionally rude staff who obviously wanted to make a scene (my bag had not even arrived in my cabin by then, so even if I had had clothing to change into, it would have been impossible), in that instant I knew I was in for a long week and was not really welcome on board.
As I am still currently off alcohol, it was not a major issue but I was also disappointed to note that several bars open during the day were closed in evenings (including all outside venues), which meant options were limited to the deck 2 and 3 public areas, all within the dress-code areas. In effect, after dark, people not dressed up were limited to room service for their alcoholic needs. Thus by evenings I generally avoided large parts of the ships communal areas staying in the upper deck casual areas, in my cabin, wandering outside looking at stars (on the clear nights) or being buffeted by the wind and rain (more frequent), or occasionally watch the evening showing of the day's film. That way I could avoid the disapproving looks that some of the crew would give me for how I was dressed, and feel a bit more relaxed. I am sure for the majority of people everything was fine, but for me I just found that the experience was not as relaxing or as enjoyable as it really should be. And therein lies the crux.
It is an odd conundrum: For a non-flyer such as myself, probably the single most useful ship in the world is the QM2: A regular, scheduled passenger ship, which goes somewhere very tricky to get to by land. But it is also deliberately an extremely formal ship, and I am by nature, generally very un-formal. In addition, even though the QE2 it replaced was a third of the size in terms of tonnage, she had a number of single cabins designed for regular travellers, whereas the QM2 has none – hitting solo travellers instead with single supplement of 90%. Put together, it means that the QM2 is probably the least useful or “user-friendly” ship in the world for someone like me. I simply do not fit with it's desired demographic. It is quite odd, and I find it a bit frustrating and paradoxically, if I do end up based in North America for a while as currently envisioned, the presence of such a ship and a service may end up contributing more to me eventually flying than if no such passenger service existed at all.
In a perverse way, though, I was glad that at least one thing measured up to my past experiences on HAL ships. But consistency can be over rated at times, and sadly the coffee on the QM2 is as truly awful as I remember it being on the Westerdam.
I have never had a sweet-tooth, but even i found some of the cake selections tempting. Sadly, some of the rest of the food did not live up to the cakes