First Transatlantic since the pause
This was our first transatlantic crossing after the pause. We had 3 previous bookings cancelled due to the Pandemic. I have tried to include as much detail as possible as this would have been helpful to us when deciding whether to go ahead.
Everything in this review is my opinion. It may not be your view and I accept that but please just read this as my views.
We originally booked this back in December 2020 expecting that there would be no restrictions in place for this crossing. We booked an obstructed view balcony 8039.
The lead up to the holiday was very stressful. The terms and conditions along with the government guidance for this country and USA also changed regularly meaning we continually had to make a decision if we were going ahead or cancelling.
Changes included the need to be vaccinated, USA allowing UK residents in, masks required, and various testing requirements. The US opened up in November allowing this crossing to go ahead. We therefore were in principle allowed to enter the US. Various cruises on the Queen Mary 2 had been cancelled and replaced meaning this transatlantic crossing was to be the first since the pause in March 2020.
We were due to leave the UK on 15/12 but this was changed to 13/12 to allow for various regulatory procedures/inspections to be completed, as it was the first time the ship entered North American waters following the pause in operations. This was the first change. Although there was no extra cost for us we did require 2 extra days annual leave for this. Despite numerous emails, letters, Tweets and telephone calls to Cunard we were unable to ascertain what procedures these 2 days would involve. We had no idea if we would be tested again or any other requirements. We were also unaware if we would definitely be allowed off the ship and into New York whilst docked. We knew we could not disembark until 15/12 even though the ship would arrive on 13/12.
The 3 weeks leading up to the cruise the UK government changed our guidance meaning that the Lateral Flow Tests we had booked for our return were no longer valid and PCR’s were needed instead. Then the following week the fit to fly test was introduced so again this was another test to arrange and take with us. We booked all of our tests with Nationwide Pathology. https://nationwidepathology.co.uk/ they were excellent. Tests arrived promptly and results were equally as efficient. Would recommend them to anyone.
The final change was the one that nearly made us cancel. Even though we had been advised on every call to Cunard even as late as 8/12, they had no information that there would be any further testing on board before arrival into New York. The only testing was to be the pre departure lateral flow test at Southampton. On the evening of 9/12 I was browsing the Cunard website and under the section for embarkation at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal it stated that tests were now required to disembark. This was what we feared the most as we didn’t want to risk being tested on the ship and if positive, taken off in New York and quarantined in a hotel over Christmas.
I called Cunard the following morning as soon as they opened. This was the Friday, 3 days before we embarked the following Monday. The lady confirmed that we would all be tested on board. She said they would not have the facility for observed tests as I was worried about queues on board. She also confirmed that this amendment was only announced the day before. If I hadn’t looked at the website I would have been none the wiser as Cunard never informed us of this very significant change. Due to this change we would have been able to cancel at that point and request a refund. A day of incredible stress and anxiety followed as we pondered if we wanted to accept this risk. I just want to point out I was not worried about going on a cruise and catching Covid, I was worried about being put in a hotel room and quarantined for 10 nights over Christmas.
We finally both made the decision to take the chance. Our plans were from New York we were flying to Orlando for 5 nights for Christmas. We had booked the hotels, flights and park tickets and had put so much effort into the research that we didn’t want to cancel at this stage. Had we not booked the cruise we would never have booked it knowing the terms attached to it. There was too much jeopardy.
Anyway now for the actual cruise. We live in the Midlands and hired a car one way to Southampton. The car hire company (Enterprise) took us to the docks, which was very kind of them. We arrived at approximately 12 noon. On arrival at the port we joined the testing queue. This was outside the terminal building. We had no idea how long this queue was. It actually snaked all around the building, through a marquee then into a big hangar type building. On entering this there were 5 rows of people snaking in a long queue. It was like the queues for a theme park ride. Lines were right next to each other with no social distancing. After we completed 3 lines of the queue our vaccine passports were checked. We then proceeded to the queue of 2 long lines to be tested. There were only 12 testing stations for everyone.
When it was our turn I wish we had someone different. He used a hard cotton bud and shoved it so far up my nose that is was extremely painful. He then kept this pressure on for several seconds before repeating this on my other nostril. My nose continued to throb for about an hour afterwards. Talking to other passengers this wasn’t the case for them. We were obviously unlucky! After the test you then proceeded into the terminal building to await the results.
Whilst waiting everyone sat together, which seemed ridiculous as any number of us could have been positive without knowing. The results took about 30 minutes to come through. All this time you could have been sat next to someone who was positive! Finally we had our negative test result and were allowed to check in. This was a very easy process and then after security we were on board. This whole process took just over 2 hours. Something that hopefully will be streamlined for future cruises. The building where you queued was very cold and you have to stand the whole time.
Once on board we headed to the pub for our lunch. We thought we may have missed this but they only started serving at 2pm. I am not sure if this is usual on embarkation days. Unfortunately to order a drink we needed our room card so had to go to the stateroom to collect this.
Food in the pub was excellent as usual pre pandemic. We ate in the pub most days for lunch and it was extremely popular. Fish and chips are very good along with the chicken tikka masala.
We then went to our stateroom and our luggage had arrived so we then unpacked. There was plenty of space for all our clothes and my shoes! I don’t travel light so you should have sufficient space for all your personal belongings. There is room under the bed for your suitcases (we had 3). We then went to find our muster station and scan our room cards as required.
We left Southampton late as there was a medical emergency. Upon reading the daily programme in our room there was a big red box on the back to confirm we would all be tested again prior to arrival in New York. This was regardless of whether you wanted to get off in New York or not. It was also confirmed that you would be tested by staff and it would cost $25 each. There was a brief moment when we hadn’t sailed we wondered what we had let ourselves in for and considered getting off the ship! Instead we stayed but all the time until we were tested 7 days later we had the worry of quarantine hanging over us. We had no idea if we would come down with anything between now and when we were tested.
The tests were carried out on the Sunday the day before we arrived in New York. There were huge queues from the Queens room, through the Britannia restaurant, past the lifts and then down the corridor. There were 6 testing stations. On arrival at the front we enquired when we would get the results. Anticipating 30 minutes maybe? “Oh no you may get them tonight or maybe tomorrow morning!” we were told. The results will be sent to your stateroom…. So you would potentially test positive and be free to walk round for the rest of the day oblivious to this. (I assume if you were they would find you!) Thankfully later that evening we received our negative test. Phew. Some weren’t so lucky. There were about 6 that were positive. Decks 5 and 6 were closed off and used as quarantine cabins.
Now for general information.
Dining was first sitting in the Britannia. We had a table for 2. There are numerous tables for 2 but they are about an inch from the next table so you are actually able to talk to the tables either side. This didn’t bother us but if you don’t want to be near someone else you may struggle.
Food was good in Britannia. Although I am a little fussy and will only eat meat that is well done I did have to send 2 meals back and one of those went back twice. This was due to it being rare or medium. I am sure this issue will get resolved as the ship sails more.
We ate breakfast in the Britannia each day which was lovely. We had read in reviews that you cannot share tables but this is not the case. If you wanted to you can request to share and tables are allocated as previously. Again we had read that the table you are assigned in the evening is your table for the duration of the cruise but this is not the case, only for evening dinner.
We ate in Kings Court for lunch twice. The first time was the buffet. I was not very impressed as the food was luke warm at best. The second time I ordered a Gluten Free Pizza. This was cooked to order. It was OK but I have had better. Although I do not need a full gluten free diet I have to limit the amount I eat. The Kings Court offering was OK but not as comprehensive as I have seen before. The desserts were just mousses. With the expertise the chefs have they should be able to provide delicious cakes and desserts, gluten free as well. In the evening I requested a special order of gluten free sponge and this was provided each evening and was delicious.
We ate one night in the Verandah. We booked this online through the voyage personaliser. It was $80 for 2. As I am Diamond World Club I get an allowance towards a meal. So a tip for anyone with this, booking online doesn’t allow for this to be used. You have to book on board to use your Diamond World Club allowance. They could have cancelled our booking and refunded, then charged again but it seemed a long winded procedure so we just left it as it was. We did have to change our booking to a different day as there was a storm forecast for the day we were due to eat there. This was no problem. Food was good. I had lamb and my partner had a steak. He wasn’t that impressed with this and would choose the braised short rib next time. Service is attentive if a little too attentive.
Kings Court buffet was self service right up to the day we arrived in New York when this changed to the staff serving you. I overheard someone saying that this is due to being in New York and it would change once they left New York back to self serve.
Masks. I hate these and it was a big thing for me to decide to go on a ship where this was a requirement. I found this very hard to do and even more strange when you only needed to wear them when you walked around the ship. You don’t need them in restaurants, bars or when sat round the ship. You also don’t need them when the ships photographers are taking your picture. Presumably Covid knows not to infect you when you are having a photo taken! Anyway it wasn’t a pleasant experience but I did manage it. I had to wear the FFP2 masks that sit away from your face to be able to bear them. If this is putting you off then try out these and practice at home. It does however make it very hard to see the facial expressions of the staff. I hope all cruise lines make these personal choice for future cruises.
Clocks are changed on 5 nights back one hour each day. This is not every day so always check your daily programme. The staff do also remind you each night.
As this was a December crossing it was a little rough! We had storm force 11 on a couple of days and the outer deck was closed on 3-4 days as the wind was too strong. On one night I was getting ready for dinner and was in the shower when the ship leaned over to one side. Normally it rights itself but it didn’t and was quite uncomfortable. I was sliding down the shower all the time. Then it was like walking up a slope in the bedroom. The Captain made an announcement to say a cross wind was causing it and not to worry. They were shifting ballast to rectify it. They did and during dinner we were back on an even keel. The ship does handle the weather and rough seas magnificently. There is no other ship I would rather be on doing this crossing in rough seas. She is after all an Ocean Liner!
We had a card through during the voyage which stated that since Cunard’s first call in New York in December 1847, Cunard has operated a Transatlantic Crossing every year, in times of both peace and war. So there was a lot of history riding on this crossing being completed.
Most evenings we spent in the pub. There were sets from Pete Brew and the Folk Duo. All were excellent. They played 45 minute sets and were the main reasons for us spending so much time in the pub.
We didn’t go to the shows in the theatre. 2 reasons were we didn’t really fancy them and not enough to have to wear a mask for the entire performance. I did go to the theatre in the day to watch Sally Gunnell and she was brilliant.
Whilst docked in New York the gangway of the ship is open 24/7. This made decks 2 and 3 very cold as the temperature outside was close to freezing. We did complain to the purser’s office. The following day the doors to various areas that could be were closed meaning the ship was warmer.
During the voyage we were advised that we were actually able to disembark in New York on the day we docked if we wanted to. This was a change to what we had previously been advised. We were also allowed off to explore New York. We decided that we would clear immigration then get back on the ship the first day then go out later in the afternoon. Everyone has to get off for immigration even if you want to just stay on the ship with no intention of going into New York. The daily programme advised that if you wanted to get back on straight after immigration wait for the final call then get off. That way you would limit the time it would be before you were allowed back on. We did this and immigration was quick. Unfortunately when this was completed there was a huge hall full of people waiting to get back on. You were given numbers for boarding and we were last! It took about 2 hours before boarding started. So if this is what you intend to do please take warm clothes and something to read as it is not a quick process.
With regards to getting into New York from the Brooklyn Cruise terminal, we looked at the subway option. This is about a 20 minute walk. But the best option we found was the Brooklyn ferry. You can see where this goes from as soon as you walk off the ship. You purchase tickets from a machine at the ferry terminal. They were $2.75 per journey. So if there were 2 of you going there and back just purchase 4 tickets. Machine takes cash or card. You just put in how many tickets you require. https://www.ferry.nyc/
In 2 stops you are at the Wall Street Pier 11. Takes around 20 minutes but is very quick. You can then walk up Wall Street to the subway. You get great views of Manhattan and the ship from the ferry.
On reflection we had a very good time when we look back but it was very stressful. Things that we think should be changed for a more enjoyable cruise would be no compulsory mask policy for either staff or passengers. It should be a personal choice. No compulsory vaccinations. Again this should be personal choice. There have been reported outbreaks on nearly every ship. So this proves that it is impossible to sail without Covid on board. You cannot expect to control a virus. This is with all the abundance of caution used by the cruise lines. So we need to either get back to normality and deal with anyone who is ill on board and requires treatment rather than testing all the time and quarantining perfectly healthy individuals just in case. We have never before quarantined someone with a cold or flu so this should be the same. This is the only way we will be able to get back to the cruising that we love and enjoy. It’s either that, or make the decision to close the cruise industry down. No other industry is treated as badly as this. The cautious approach that has been adopted goes above and beyond any airline or hotel and still the minute there is a case the media jump on it and exaggerate the story. We saw Sky News reporting that the ship had been quarantined in New York. This was not the case. So I know this will be a bit controversial but we need to have the discussions. I want cruise lines to thrive as they did before and cannot see this happening until we, the customers, stop expecting that they will make them ‘safer’. Hospitals cannot stop Covid so why do we expect cruise lines to?
We would do it again but without the testing requirements so that we know there was no risk of being quarantined on arrival. We would love to do this holiday again, but without all the worry.
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