Exotic Voyage to Far East
It had been a few years since my last trip on the QM2, and there had been a number of changes on board including creation of new single cabins on two lower decks. One set of cabins had reduced the size of the casino but the other had taken away one of the critical routes to the Queens Room (and the G32 nightclub). The other changes I noticed were a re-designed Kings Court buffet - much improved but a lot of the seating is still too far from the serveries, and the re-named and designed Carinthia Lounge (formerly the Winter Garden) - much more popular and a useful overflow from the Kings Court. The layout on decks 2 and 3, however, still remains very confusing - particularly if you want to get to the Queens Room or nightclub. I was on a two week cruise which was part of the QM2s 2019 Exotic Voyage as far as Japan via the Suez Canal and back again. I joined the ship in Hong Kong, and my itinerary was two days in Shanghai, two days in Tianjin (for Beijing), a day in Kitakyushu (Japan) and a day in Seogwipo (South Korea) before returning to Hong Kong. Boarding was at the smart new cruise terminal in Hong Kong, but was slow and the staff seemed to struggle to process check in quickly. Once on board, however, I found my cabin clean and well presented. The room steward, Ting, looked after it very well throughout. I was in an obscured view balcony (8050) but the lifeboat positions meant that my view was almost clear. My only criticism was that it was right by the lift lobby and there was a loud bing bong sound whenever a lift arrived, even through the night. I ate most breakfasts and lunches in the Kings Court and found there to be a good choice. Reflecting the large number of passengers from that part of the world there were plenty of good stir fries and local dishes. Most dinners were in the Britannia restaurant and, helped by a great bunch of table companions, very enjoyable. There was a good choice of food although I thought the portions slightly smaller than I remembered. I did try the Speciality dining venue on two nights - for the American smokehouse and pan-Asian menus. Service and food quality was a little above that in the Britannia but at an additional cost. Drinks prices were very high, especially when a service charge was automatically added. Cunard should consider how many people are put off wine etc by the excessive prices. Entertainment was the usual mixed bag and you cant please everyone all of the time. The Insights lecturers were very good, including Henry Blofeld, but some of the performers in the evening shows were disappointing. Of the various stops on the itinerary I found Shanghai most interesting. I did one tour to get my bearings and on the second day took the free and convenient shuttle bus to The Bund to continue my exploration unguided. Disappointingly, there was low cloud/smog on both days and you struggled to see the top of the tallest buildings. It certainly wasnt worth going up them. Beijing was a 3 hour drive from the port of Tianjin and this made a tour there a very long day. It was worth seeing the famous sights but the day was tiring. On the second day I went on a tour to Tianjin city - surprisingly also a substantial drive from the port and not a lot to see in what is said to be Chinas third largest, and very modern, city. Smog was an issue in both Beijing and Tianjin. The ship was prevented from leaving Tianjin port for several hours by the Chinese immigration authorities, who were unhappy with some passengers paperwork. We made maiden calls at Kitakyushu and Seogwipo, and there were big welcomes at both ports. However, neither offered a lot to see - particularly Seogwipo. I did a tour to the Mojiko Retro town in Kitakyushu but the Kokura castle was unfortunately closed, and there were few other old buildings to see in what was essentially an industrial area that has suffered decline. The original itinerary had included a stop at a port near Seoul and I am sure that that city would have been more interesting than either of the one day port calls. (The itinerary was changed some time ago because of concerns about the political situation with North Korea.) Hong Kong, in comparison, was a fascinating mix of Chinese and western culture. I spent several days there after the cruise and loved it. Disembarkation was very quick and efficient. Overall, a very good cruise but 4 star rather than 5 star because of the changed itinerary, noisy lifts, expensive drinks and confusing ship layout.
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