ONBOARD THE QUEEN MARY 2 — Even royalty needs a facelift from time to time.
The venerable QM2 (if an ocean liner can be considered venerable at the age of 12) went under the surgeon’s knife earlier this year for a $132 million refurbishment that Cunard Line calls the ship’s “remastering.” It even has its own hashtag, #qm2remastered.
Cabins were added, a lounge was completely redone, the buffet restaurant was retooled and the ship was updated throughout.
The biggest change on the QM2 is undoubtedly the Carinthia Lounge, which takes the place of the Winter Garden just forward of the Kings Court buffet restaurant. Hotel director David Shepard called it “one of the most successful venues” of the remastering. “It’s become an extremely popular venue, day and night.”
I was a guest on the ship during its Aug. 9 eastbound transatlantic crossing, and I found that Shepard wasn’t exaggerating. At any time of the day, the Carinthia was busy.
People carried their lunch plates from the Kings Court or from a food station in the lounge itself; listened to live piano or jazz music; read or napped; knitted as part of a knitting circle overseen by one of the social staff; or admired the display of vintage ports going back more than 170 years. A bottle of 1840 Ferreira can be purchased for $4,445.
Shepard pointed out that unlike the Winter Garden, which had walkways straight through the room, the path through the Carinthia meanders just enough to cut down on the speed of walking passengers. And the color scheme of the room is a pleasing cream and blue, just right for slowing down and relaxing.
The Kings Court buffet also looks brand new. A new flow for passengers around the buffet makes things less crowded. Certainly it was bustling during peak breakfast and lunch periods, but I didn’t notice long lines at food stations or waits for tables.
Cunard created a bank of 15 cabins for single passengers on its second and third decks by reducing the footprint of the casino and photo gallery, respectively. I was a little surprised that Cunard shrunk the casino, but a smaller photo gallery makes sense, as almost every photo of every passenger could easily be found in an easy-to-navigate menu on about a dozen large touch-screen computers.
The Queen also has a new Deck 13 with the addition of 30 Britannia Club cabins.
In other instances, the remastering was subtle. For example, a pair of elevators was removed from the QM2’s Grand Lobby. My guide pointed out their absence; I’d totally forgotten about them. The room seemed just the same, if not more spacious and elegant, without the elevators.
For passengers dining in the exclusive Queens Grill, the restaurant was updated with comfortable new chairs and window treatments. Grillwork partitions edge out from the exterior wall at intervals, breaking up the room just so slightly. In the Queens Grill and Princess Grill, waiter stations were moved from the center of the room to adjacent to the galley entrances.
The cabins are in the process of being updated to slightly more modern lines. A fountain was removed at the entrance to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub.
The remastering video in our cabin showed a time lapse of the hull being scrubbed and repainted. My balcony on deck 4, which was cut from the hull, was clean and showed no signs of paint buildup. Technical and structural changes were also made.
But past passengers expecting a serious overhaul of the Queen won’t be in for a shock. Cunard Red will always be Cunard Red. The color schemes and formal touches remain the same, especially on decks 2 and 3, where the Britannia restaurant, Royal Court Theater and Queens Room are still the focal points of the evening. Guests still walk past the giant art deco panels on the wall on their way to the restaurant or Chart Room.
The formality and tradition of the transatlantic crossing remain intact. “It’s the sense of occasion for me,” Shepard said. “It’s all about a formal, memorable impression.”
During the cocktail party on formal night for Britannia-level passengers, the ship’s captain, Christopher Wells, quipped: “Cunard has spent 100 million … changing the carpets, ladies and gentlemen.”
That wisecrack got a lot of laughs, but there was plenty of new carpeting around the ship, including sunbursts on the elevator landings that were inspired by designs from the original Queen Mary.
A short documentary and time-lapse video of the remastering showed how much of the inspiration for the QM2 was taken from the Cunard archives.
For example, the Todd English specialty restaurant was replaced by the Verandah, a French restaurant that takes its name from the original Queen Mary. The concept has been updated, however. The original Verandah was available only to First Class passengers, while on the QM2 anybody can book a table.