MINI CRUISE FROM SOUTHAMPTON > BRUGES > SOUTHAMPTON
Accommodation: Suite 10043, Queens Grill Q5, Queen Mary 2
Ennios Boutique Hotel and Restaurant (Southampton, Pre Cruise)
Ennios Boutique Hotel is right near the Southampton quayside, perfect for getting a cruise, and this was our first stay at this hotel. The room we had was sizeable and attractive, but it was situated at the front of the building, on the street and right above a doorway with a bell below which went off continually (far from ideal for a light sleeper like me…). The evening of our stay, we decided to dine at Ennio’s Restaurant, situated below the hotel rooms. The decor was suitably Christmassy and the restaurant was buzzing with Christmas parties. I tried the pappardelle pasta with chicken, watercress and cashew nut pesto, and Hus had aged fillet steak with a peppercorn sauce. To end the meal I had chocolate profiteroles which were huge – it was a struggle to finish it (but I just had to persevere 😉 !). Hus had affogato, which from the description we thought would be vanilla ice cream with an espresso and liquor to the side – however, it is actually all mixed together in one glass- novices! We would definitely dine at Ennio’s again and will do so the next time we get a cruise to or from Southampton. We would probably stay at the hotel again too, if we had a different room or I packed earplugs…
The Queen Mary 2
After checking out of Ennios, we boarded the Queen Mary 2 at Southampton just before midday. The Queen Mary 2, part of the Cunard line, holds fond memories for Hus and I; he proposed on this ship in 2012. Hus has a preoccupation (as most men do when it comes to size) that the size of this ship gives it greater gravitas than its sister ships, the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. I, however, find it much more difficult to navigate internally, and find that the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria are much more manageable in terms of learning quickly where everything is (which I think is especially important on a mini cruise).
The Queen Mary 2
The Queen Mary 2’s decor is traditional, timeless and classic and on this Christmas Markets voyage it looked sublimely seasonal – it would be impossible to walk an inch and forget that Christmas was fast approaching. There was an imposingly grand christmas tree centred in the six-deck-high atrium lobby, christmas garlands draped around the sweeping staircases and gingerbread house displays littered around the shopping and bar hub of the ship. We also had a poinsettia delivered to our room during our very short stay as a present which was a lovely touch.
After boarding the ship, we were almost instantly treated to a seasonal ‘welcome aboard’ performance by the Boy Choristers of Salisbury Cathedral in the atrium lobby, followed by a programmed performance in the Royal Court Theatre (a three-deck-high theatre designed in the style of a classic opera house). The choristers sang a number of well-known hymns and some more obscure ones, with the audience encouraged to join in on a couple!
After the performance we settled into our room and enjoyed our complimentary boarding champagne (Delamotte) and chocolate dipped strawberries, before wrapping up to enjoy a pre-dinner firework display from on deck. The firework display was really lovely, but it was difficult to capture on my phone camera (apologies)!
Dining on board
The three Cunard ships (known at the three Queens) have different dining venues depending on the category of cabin that guests are assigned to; the main dining room is the ‘Britannia Restaurant’ (plus the ‘Britannia Club’ restaurant on Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2 which has single seating, not fixed meal times) for guests staying in staterooms, the ‘Princess Grill’ for princess suite guests, and the ‘Queens Grill’ for queens suite guests.
As the majority of guests travel in staterooms, the main fixed seating Britannia restaurant is the largest on the ship and is fittingly grand. The Britannia Club, Princess Grill and Queens Grill restaurants are all much smaller by comparison. We booked a princess suite for this voyage about a year in advance, and were upgraded to a queens suite just a month before it set sail.
I much prefer the layout of the Princess/ Queens Grill Restaurants and deck areas on the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria to the Queen Mary 2. On the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria if you book a Princess or Queens suite your cruise card (which you use to “log in and out” of the ship and put your many drinks orders on), allows you access to a certain deck of the ship (accessible by insertion in a card slot in the lift), which is reserved for Grills guests. This does draw criticism from some as creating a “class system” on Cunard, but I think the segregation of the Grills away from the bustling main area of the ship means that the Grills are not flaunted in the faces of those who may feel it is dividing. The Grills deck is primarily dominated by the Princess and Queens Grill restaurants, which are essentially mirror images of one another (although the Queens is decorated with gold tones and Princess with silver).
On the Queen Mary 2 the Grills restaurants are just along from the Kings Court buffet restaurant- they are not separated on a different floor. Indeed, the restaurants almost pop up out of no-where, and to get there you either have to take a convoluted walk throughout the internal decks, or walk through the Kings Court (a humongous buffet restaurant, a place I tend to avoid unless forced, it reminds me of a hospital canteen in terms of decor and an African watering hole in terms of diners…, although Hus’ more affectionate term for it is smash and grab and he is keen on it!). The Queens Grills restaurant on the Queen Mary 2 once you are inside, is really lovely and spacious; I think the shape of this restaurant adds to the atmosphere, and it was a pleasure to dine in here, as we did for every meal of this voyage. Other alternatives for dining on the Queen Mary 2 include the Kings Court, which does cuisine “themed” evenings, and the speciality a la carte restaurant, ‘Todd English’.
Our first night on board
All guests in Queens Grill and Princess Grill suites are served afternoon canapés in their rooms before dinner (usually late in the afternoon, at around 5pm). The standard canapés delivered are cold toppings on blinis and this was the first time on a cruise in a suite that we asked for hot pre-dinner canapés. We had clearly expressed our excitement at the prospect convincingly as we were rewarded with an immense amount of hot food, enough to fill us both up all night!
We followed this ‘pre dinner nibble’ by steak in the restaurant – Hus had a sirloin, and I had the fillet au poivre which is an option available on the ‘a la carte’ menu, an additional menu to the daily menu which the Grill restaurants exclusively provide. For dessert I had one of the best lemon meringue slices I have ever had. Petit fours after the meal with tea/coffee are standard at dinner.
Day At Sea
We missed breakfast on the second day as I didn’t feel up to it, much to my Hus’ upset (but he sweetly only told me he was upset about it once I felt better). Even though it was very cold, we wandered around deck and joined in a dancing lesson with the on board dancers to warm us up and build up an appetite for lunch. This brief stint of activity was followed by – you can guess- more food. Both of us had a chicken tikka masala curry for lunch which came with all the trimmings; the mini naan bread was really good, but the curry was not anywhere near the standard of the one that can be ordered off the ‘a la carte’ menu with an afternoon’s notice. My fruity meringue dessert was gorgeous, light and chewy inside – something sweet enough to prevent me from stuffing myself with afternoon tea, but small enough to not make me feel too guilty. Hus had jelly, also light enough for lunchtime.
In the afternoon the sun came out and we enjoyed sitting on our balcony (our Cunard robes over our clothes providing some protection from the cold), playing cards and enjoying working through our minibar. The minibar was stocked with complimentary Peroni beers for Hus at our request (other beers are usually put in as standard), and I made a bucks fizz concoction out of orange juice (which I always request on the first day of a cruise to be put in the minibar) and the truly awful sparkling wine, Pol Acker, which Cunard continue to insist on giving to all passengers as a complimentary boarding drink (notwithstanding many blogs and reviews continually berating this drink!). However, the bucks fizz is really palatable and a great way to use the paint stripper, sorry, Pol Acker, if you are struggling to think of uses for it.
Getting ready for dinner is always fun on a Cunard cruise; the ceremony of getting dressed up makes dinner feel a special occasion. On this evening we pre-ordered our favourite dinner – (until a honeymoon discovery- to be blogged soon) – chateaubriand. The meat is fantastic quality and cooked to your liking in front of you at the side of your table by the Maître d’. All of the vegetables and accoutrements can be dictated by your own preferences if you do not like the suggested options, and the sauce brings it all together wonderfully. We must have had this dish on Cunard at least 10 times and we have never been disappointed by it!
To start I had ordered another a la carte special, Jumbo Shrimp Tempura. This is one of the best al la carte starters in my opinion. The chilli sauce is fiery and sweet and the tempura batter is always crispy.
We concluded our meal with another firm pre-order favourite, Crepe Suzette, which is like heaven on a plate; I could literally eat these Crepes all day for the rest of my life!
There is a variety of entertainment on the Queen Mary 2, my favourite being the planetarium but there is always a rush for tickets for showings. In the evening there are usually two shows in the Royal Court theatre in addition to various musical performers at bars located throughout the ship. The nightclub on the Queen Mary 2, which picks up later in the evening, is quite large and has two floors – the upper floor is a good place to spy on the dance floor if you don’t fancy getting involved in the action but is smokey as smoking is permitted. There is also open dancing or dancing performances in the ballroom in the evening, so people can practice the dances they have been learning on the ship. We went for an evening drink at the grills lounge, located outside the Queens Grills restaurant, and went to bed given our action packed day coming up of guzzling mulled wine and chocolates by the bucket load.
Breakfast is always a full on affair and we make pigs of ourselves (especially in light of the fact our normal breakfast at home consists of, at most, some breakfast biscuits). I had a fillet mignon to make up for the fact we had missed breakfast the previous day, which was lovely but definitely too much for me to be eating at 9am!
After overindulging at breakfast we hit Bruges. The ship did not offer a free shuttle to Bruges; there was an arranged coach at >50$pp to get to Bruges and back (with an enforced time of stay) or guests could brave a complimentary shuttle bus to the town of Blakenburg and make their own way from there by cab or train. The train is exceptionally cheap but it does not run very frequently which is my only bugbear with it. A cab would be more reasonable than the ship shuttle but much more than the train. We travelled by train and wandered into the town centre where the Christmas markets dominated the main centre of town, together with a large ice skating rink. We enjoyed mulled wine whilst wandering around the stalls (€2 to keep the glass which we thought was a bargain and great souvenir) before buying chocolates from a few local shops.
Would we do it again?
We find with our busy lives that a short cruise is a perfect way to have a relaxing long weekend away, and wouldn’t hesitate to book another short cruise with Cunard given the quality of the food. In fact, we have a short weekend in Hamburg coming up with Cunard this year – wait for this blog!