NEW YORK -- Kimberly Wilson Wetty returned from a whirlwind
overnight trip to check out the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton,
England, and found several employees camped out at her office door,
all eager for details.
"There's so much pent-up demand," said Wetty, the co-chief
operating officer at Valerie Wilson Travel in New York. "I can't
believe how many calls I've gotten from clients and agents dying to
know what it's like."
Wetty was one of a handful of U.S. retailers who attended the
naming of the QM2, but thousands more will get a chance this week
to witness what is easily the most widely anticipated cruise ship
-- or ocean liner, as Cunard's president Pamela Conover termed it
during a Q&A on the ship -- in years.
About 2,000 people attended the ship's christening by Queen
Elizabeth II. A writer covering the event for the Times of London
mused the ship must be "significant," given the fact that the Queen
interrupted her typically noninterruptible January holiday to
travel to Southampton to say two sentences for a Miami-based cruise
line -- although granted, a line with a British pedigree stretching
back to 1840.
But Cunard, and parent company Carnival Corp., know how to get
the word out, and having the Queen name the ship was certainly key.
At the Southampton ceremonies, more than 1,000 press credentials
were issued for newspaper, TV, radio and magazine reporters.
"All the stuff [the QM2] represents -- the biggest, the tallest,
the most extravagant -- is getting a tremendous amount of press.
... It's a benefit to the industry as a whole," said Bob Sharak,
the executive director of the Cruise Lines International
The QM2 may be a lot of things, but it's not a throwback to an
era of opulence and ostentatious glamour. There are no crystal
chandeliers, no massive mahogany tables, no brocade fabrics and
heavy draperies and no heavy nautical themes. The interiors are a
marriage of art-deco accents and modern furniture, upholstered in
light, neutral shades.
The simple interiors seemed to catch some of the initial QM2
viewers by surprise, but Wetty said she thought the look was
"It's understated but still grand. ... I enjoyed the fact that
some of its decor was a little more subtle," she said. "It wasn't
heavy on the gold and the red, like old-world grand. I love the
fact that it's so different from the [Queen Elizabeth 2] in feel
One visitor to the ship, milling about on the aft pool decks,
said he was impressed by the QM2's size alone.
The public rooms, for example, boast high ceilings, wide-open
doors and an airiness that's enhanced by the spare modernity of the
The ship's technology is 21st century, too. Cruisers with
wireless capabilities will be able to tote their laptops around the
ship to e-mail and surf the Web, as soon as they visit the
extensive ConneXions learning center and pick up a password.
The ship's tour
For touring purposes, it's best to start at the top and move
downward. Be sure to allow yourself (or your clients) enough time
to view the whole ship. On my prenaming visit, I did it in about
Must-sees for staterooms are the duplex suites, which overlook
the aft pool decks and range between 1,566 and 2,249 square feet,
and the forward suites that overlook the bow. If you book into the
Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary suites, your clients will have their
own private elevator up to the pool deck or down to the Commodore
The most nautically themed room of the ship is the Commodore
Club, all the way forward on Deck 9. It's cozy and warm, just the
place for sipping a scotch by the window and watching the Queen
slice through the Atlantic or for listening to live jazz.
The cigar bar, which commanded a fair amount of real estate on
ships just a few years ago, is noticeably tiny on the QM2.
Britannia est intimate
If you're looking for a grand staircase, you'll find it in the
Britannia Restaurant, where the majority of the ship's passengers
will dine underneath a fabulously bold tapestry of the QM2 in New
York. Although the two-deck high room is huge, the upstairs has
tiered seating and the downstairs lots of nooks, which gives the
room an intimate feeling.
The Queens and Princess grills don't have a lot of frills. Both are
subtly outfitted and nearly identically accented (gold for the
Queens Grill, silver for the Princess Grill). They each look like
an upscale New York restaurant, one where the food is more
important than the decor. But here, exclusivity is the major
factor. The Queens Grill seats only 206 passengers; the Princess
Grill only 180.
Wetty, who has plenty of experience with upscale and luxury
clients, said it's the intimate setting they crave. "A lot of
people who are spending that money don't want to sit with a lot of
people," she said.
The one room that Wetty said she found disappointing was the
Queens Lounge, an enclave for the ultra-wealthy who buy into the
QM2's top suites. The room is furnished almost like a waiting room,
with nondescript chairs in brown fabrics grouped around low
The red-and-gray upholstered Todd English restaurant, meanwhile,
springs to life. In pleasant weather, the outdoor tables will
probably be a hot item.
The ship's lido-like Kings Court turns into four separate
restaurants in the evenings, all with sit-down service and menus.
There's Italian, Asian, a steakhouse and the Chef's Galley, which
is a demonstration kitchen-dinner show, strictly limited by a
charge of $35 per person.
Each of the bars or lounges on the QM2 has a distinctive flavor,
but the openness to the ship means many of them flow into each
other, especially in the lounges between the atrium and the
Each has its quirks: The ice buckets in the Veuve Cliquot bar
have vibrant orange insides that match the champagne label. In the
Chart Room cocktail bar, light-blue glass panels on the wall are
etched with maps of the QM2's itineraries.
Pre-dinner, invited guests were drinking champagne in the Queens
Room, a classy, art-deco-themed ballroom with a vaulted ceiling and
a dance floor that (as you might have heard Cunard say) is the
biggest at sea.
By the end of our evening, the mainly British crowd filled the
Golden Lion pub. The G32 dance club, named after the QM2's keel
number at the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard, also was hopping,
with tuxedo-clad patrons lined up at the glowing blue bar.
You'll catch views of the Winter Garden, the theater and the dog
kennels, but three other places are standouts:
• The Planetarium. For those who hoped to stargaze onboard a
cruise ship and were confronted with floodlights on the top decks,
here's a less romantic -- but more informative -- way to see the
Be sure to sit in the appropriate seats in the middle of the
theater or else your neck will be sore after two minutes.
• The Library. Cunard can't be exaggerating when it boasts of
the biggest library at sea. This one actually has stacks, so you
can wander up and down the rows.
There's also a neat bookstore adjacent to the library that's
devoted to Cunard memorabilia (great for people who like historical
• The Canyon Ranch Spa. A pass to the thermal spa pool is
included in any treatment, or you can buy yourself (or clients) a
ticket to this relaxing grotto. A waterfall pounds down one end of
the pool, drowning out needless conversation.
• Top deck. If you're looking for an expanse of space and you
haven't yet found it inside, check out the ship's top deck, which
is enormous. I went walking topside after dinner, and it's easy to
lose yourself up there.
To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].