Year Started: 1840
Ships in Fleet: 3
Summary: The infamous line of British descent is now based in America but still has a large British clientele. Classic cruise style: ballrooms, tuxedos, gala events. Queen Mary 2 is last true Ocean Liner in service.
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Foodies.
Regions:Sydney, Cape Town,Southhampton
Regions:Southampton, Hamburg,, Palermo, Korcula, Venice, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Messina, Valencia
INTRODUCTION Due to an impending redundancy, my partner and I booked an A7 cabin, which, through an offer by our travel agent gave us an automatic 2-grade upgrade to A5. This was in April 2008 (we always book early). In July of that year we had our final cruise on QE2 for which we booked a Britannia Grill cabin, but were upgraded to a Q2 Queens Grill penthouse suite. Whether or not it was Cunard's intention to encourage us to book higher grade cabins in the future, we upgraded our Queen Victoria cabin to a P1 Princess Grill suite. More about that later.
EMBARKATION As usual, we drove the 150 miles from home to Southampton, to the new Ocean Terminal for the first time. In front of the terminal, there are three parallel lanes to allow luggage to be unloaded. We were directed into the outermost one. This unloading area is partly roofed over and the barrel roofing stops over the last lane and has no guttering, so that water pours on to the people below when it rains. Beware being directed into that lane on a wet day, at leastuntil the problem is rectified.
We arrived at the terminal at about 11.00am and although there were a lot of people wearing high visibility jackets saying "Supervisor", there appeared to be no porters. We therefore had to find trolleys and wheel our suitcases to the baggage gate. It was only when we started to put our cases on the conveyor belt did a porter appear and take over.
We were directed to the first floor and were checked in immediately. Britannia passengers were given coloured cards and asked to remain seated until their colour was called, whilst we were directed to a seating area near the boarding gates. We were there perhaps 45 minutes before being boarded, and went directly to our suite, 7066 Deck 7 port side in the off-chance that our luggage might already have arrived. No such luck. Our steward introduced himself and said that we could get lunch in the Lido. However, after exploring the Grills upper terrace and the courtyard, we stumbled in to the Princess Grill to be told that it was serving lunch, so that is where we lunched. We never did use the Lido.
CABIN As mentioned, we were in 7066 Deck 7 on the port side, just forward of the B staircase and hence approximately midships. Entering the suite down a short "corridor", there was a walk-in wardrobe on the left with several feet of hanging space with a large shelf above. The wardrobe also contained a shelved cupboard with safe. The bathroom was entered off this walk-in area and had a full bath with shower, washbasin with marble surround the length of the bathroom, large shelf below and six glass shelves above. Comment has been made about lack of storage on Queen Victoria, but there was more than enough for this 14-night cruise.
Past the wardrobe area was the sleeping area with the very comfortable bed made up as a king-size. Under the bed were two large drawers, but still leaving space for suitcase. The bedside tables had two drawers each and the desk to the left of the bed also had drawers. The desk was halfway down the cabin at a 45 degree angle to the bed and on the opposite wall, there was a semi-circular unit containing the fridge and bookshelves below and two televisions above, one angled towards the bed and the other into the seating area.
The positioning of these two units effectively separated the lounge area from the sleeping area. The lounge area consisted of an armchair and a very long and comfortable sofa which could be made into another bed. There was a small and low coffee table, which was, unfortunately, a little too low and too small to be able to comfortable eat from if you ordered room service. The same could be said for the table on the balcony, which also sported two very comfortable chairs with adjustable backs.
DINING & FOOD One of the reasons we decided to book a Princess Grill cabin was to be able to have the same table and table companions for all meals. As it was, we had a table for two, but close enough to adjacent tables to be able to talk to them or not. The Princess Grill on Queen Victoria is on Deck 11 starboard side (the Queens Grill is a mirror image on the port side) and with floor to ceiling windows in a curve from end to end. The 180º views from all tables are spectacular. The Grills restaurants on Queen Victoria must be among the finest locations at sea, especially with the courtyard between. The Orchid Restaurant on Arcadia runs very close, although I admit I don't what the situation is on other Vista class ships in the Carnival fleets.
The food in Princess Grill was excellent, with a wide range of choices and if they don't appeal for any reason, there is an accompanying à la carte dinner menu. Service was impeccable. Our waiter, Warren (who was our waiter on QE2 last year) provided prompt and efficient service, ably assisted by Pamela. Another advantage of having the same table for all meals is the staff soon learn your likes and dislikes and you don't have to repeatedly say what you want and don't want.
The same applies to our sommelier, Philip. Firstly, he was knowledgeable, soon discovered our tastes, explained about the wines we chose and offered suggestions without extending our budget too far.
SERVICE Already mentioned above, the service in the Princess Grill was impeccable. Our cabin steward, Romilo, kept our cabin immaculate, although sometimes he was a little quick off the mark. We would return after our usually short breakfast to find him making up the bed or cleaning the bathroom. However, much rather that than the opposite. Service in the only two bars we use, the Grills Lounge and the Commodore Club was fast and efficient. We could enter half an hour before lunch or dinner and have a drink on our table within a couple of minutes. Not so on a sister line we have cruised on recently. It could take fully 25 minutes to get a drink.
ACTIVITIES & ENTERTAINMENT We normally don't take part in on board activities unless there is perhaps a well-known speaker. Unfortunately, there were none on this voyage. However, we were more than happy in the Commodore Club or on the Grills Upper Terrace with a good book.
We attended two shows in the Royal Court Theatre and both were excellent – Victoriana, a selection of Victorian song and dance, and Celtic Heartbeat with Irish song and dance. For both of these, we booked a box. The $50 surcharge may seem expensive, but with the champagne and chocolates before the performance, a half bottle of champagne during the performance and a souvenir photograph at the end, the cost is not as high as it seems.
The boxes made the shows a more comfortable experience – obviously the champagne, but more room to move about and comfortable chairs. The sight lines are not so good if you are towards the front. However, well worth doing for the experience.
The only other entertainment we experienced was the excellent pianist in the Commodore Club in the evenings – Martin Orbidans.
PORTS OF CALL Our choice of cruises is dictated by school holidays in the UK. Our choice of this cruise, however, was because we wanted to sail on Queen Victoria, although it wasn't our first time on the ship – we were lucky enough to have a preview visit when the ship first arrived in Southampton in December 2007. Most of the ports of call we had visited before, in 2002 on Caronia, but fortunately with so many shore excursions available, it was possible to do something completely different. In the past, we have taken all day excursions, but found these quite tiring, so for this cruise, we opted for short excursions of 3 to 4 hours. This enabled us to have a guided tour, go ashore on our own, stay on board or do all three. We made great use of the Grills Upper Terrace as the weather was excellent most of the way.
Our itinerary was Southampton, Zeebrugge, Bremerhaven, Kristiansand, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg (overnight), Tallinn, Gothenburg and back to Southampton. We took excursions at all of these ports except Bremerhaven where we met up with friends. Ten excursions for two people worked out to be very expensive, but we though they were all good value, especially an evening of Russian Folklore at the Menshikov Palace in St. Petersburg. We were welcomed with a substantial shot of vodka, very welcome, as most of us had got drenched getting from the coach to the palace entrance in a downpour that had started earlier in the evening. During the interval, we had caviar canapés and champagne. The performances were absolutely superb and put on solely for Cunard passengers. We had originally booked an evening concert at the Yusopov Palace, but this was cancelled at the last moment.
GRATUITIES As Grill passengers, there was $13 per person per day automatically added to the stateroom account and for drinks ordered around the ship, an automatic 15% added to the bill for gratuities. We chose, however, to give our waiters, sommelier and room steward extra for the exemplary levels of service they gave us.
DISEMBARKATION We were asked to vacate our suite by 8.30am and assemble in the Grills Lounge or the Commodore Club. Disembarkation was by coloured baggage tags issued the evening before and according to the schedule, we were due to disembark at 8.40, immediately after the Queens grill passengers. They were called just after 8.00 and then followed by people going on Cunard arranged coaches to various airports, city centres, etc. However, we were called on time at 8.40 and in the car and driving away at 9.00. That was despite having to walk down from Deck 11 to Deck 1 (we thought waiting for the two lifts that served the Grills area would take too long), and finding one suitcase that had gone astray.
CONCLUSION The timing of the cruise was dictated by school holidays and the itinerary by the choice of ship. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time, helped by the excellent weather most of the way and the interesting and not so interesting places we visited. The ship was comfortable and quiet and this has been the most relaxing and enjoyable cruise to date. Certainly, being in Grill class helped.
Cunard's QM2 is one of the last bastions of civilized travel. Elegant and then some. Big? You bet! The corridor on our deck 10 went on forever, a golf cart would be helpful for us seniors. Be prepared for extensive walking to enjoy all the ship has to offer.
We booked Princess Grill. The Jr. Suite was extremely comfortable and had tons of storage space, a walk-in closet and a very adequate bath -- no jacuzzi though. A convertible sofa, chair, desk and bar with a selection of glasses and refrigerator. A large balcony with two comfortable lounge chairs. The Princess Grill class allows you access to the Queens Lounge and private deck area and, of course, the Princess Grill restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We did not have to carry a tray the whole trip, again a plus for seniors.
Expedited embarkation and debarkation is also included in Princess Grill class.
Princess Grill service is superb. Ladies are escorted to their table and seated by the Maitre'd. Food for the most part is very good. A nice touch on the Princess Grill menu is an ala carte section for those who wishsomething other than what is offered on the regular menu. The beef filet was awesome! Food presentation was exceptional. The sommelier is very sharp with an extensive list of excellent wines.
The public areas and various lounges offer something for everyone and are elegantly extravagant.
We did not attend any of the shows. At our age we were content to repair to our suite after dinner and relax, but we did hear from others that the shows were quite good. The Planetarium is a must see, and also the glass elevators in the Grand Lobby.
The weather was good and at no time was there noticable ship movement even at higher speeds, and this ship can move! Tender service at the anchoring ports was efficient but the tenders are hot. Typical of Cunard ships are several decks that do not allow through traffic fore to aft without going up or down a deck. A compact deck guide is in each cabin and is a must for traversing the ship.
Dress codes dictate a jacket each evening for gentlemen, some with tie, some without, and we appreciate this requirement.
Anyone looking for an elegant way to cruise will be truly impressed and satisfied with Cunard's QM2.
This cruise was the 1st year anniversary for the Queen Victoria and the last sailing in her inaugural season.
Ship's Log Passenger Capacity -- 2,014 Crew -- 900
We heard conflicting information as to if the voyage was sold out or not. Some crew said it wasn't and some said it was. The ship did not feel overcrowded and there was plenty of space for everyone.
Ports of Call Azores; Antigua; St Kitts; St Lucia; Grenada; Barbados; Madeira; Vigo.
Pre-Cruise Stay at Chewton Glen We were very fortunate to start our holidays with a one night pre-cruise stay at the Chewton Glen Hotel and Spa in Hampshire, England (wish it had been longer). The service, accommodation, facilities and ambience at Chewton was absolutely faultless, fantastic and utterly indulgent. The ambience was further enhanced by a large number of traditionally decorated real fir trees scattered about the grounds and the interior and gave the whole place a Christmassy feel. The trees were complimented by tasteful Christmas decorations in the grand entrance hall and lounges. The overall effect is of a grand mansion with a contemporary country feel about it.
As we drove up the sweeping driveto the entrance/reception a gentleman and a lady came out to greet us at the car; the gentleman took care of parking the car and seeing to our luggage whilst the lady escorted us inside.
As our room was not quite ready we were escorted to the gentleman's bar where there was a real flame fire in a grand open fireplace. Cruising the Caribbean couldn't have been further from our minds. Just to sit and allow oneself to be enveloped with the warmth of the fire and the coolness of a glass of Gossett Champagne was utterly heavenly. My husband said it was the quickest route to complete relaxation he has ever had after a hectic year at work!!
As we had been travelling for many hours we were quite ravenous so we partook in Afternoon Tea (well, we thought we would get some practice in for the White Star Service on board ship). This was absolutely delicious; freshly brewed tea, dainty sandwiches, fondant fancies, mince pies, Christmas cake and chocolates.
Further surprises were in store when we arrived in our room. It was absolutely huge, with a king size bed (heavenly), state of the art Bang & Olufson CD Player and a TV. The bathroom had a bath, double shower, large fluffy towels and a selection of Molton Brown toiletries (very nice). The facilities were further enhanced by a large dressing room.
In the late afternoon we enjoyed a couple of hours in the spa, which was definitely an enjoyable and relaxing experience -- so much so that my husband declared that once on board the Queen Victoria he wished to purcahase a spa pass (and he did, times two!!). I also visited the beauty salon and had a wonderful manicure by an attentive nail technician named Claire (Claire also gave me a bottle of polish to take away with me for touch ups, which was thoughtful).
We had a pre-booked dinner reservation for 8.30pm and yet again we found the unobtrusive service, fine food and beverages of the highest standard and quality and we would say the restaurant is well worth a visit for couples as well as groups.
We awoke on embarkation day to a bright, sunny and frosty morning. The grounds looked so neat, clean and crisp in the morning frost and we enjoyed a leisurely walk after breakfast. Chewton even provides racing green wellington boots for the guests to use if their own footwear doesn't fit the bill!
Also included in the price was parking for our car for the duration of the cruise and transfers to and from the port. The transfer was provided by a chauffeur driven Mercedes (John was our driver, who again provided a service that was unobtrusive yet attentive) along a scenic route through the New Forest (saw many wild horses and deer). All in all, a fantastic start to our holiday and we utterly recommend it.
Embarkation Thanks to good planning by the hotel representatives, we arrived at the port at 11.50am. When we first set eyes on the Queen Victoria she looked so majestic and beautiful. John told us to go straight through to the check-in desk as he would see to our bags (we have not touched our main luggage since we left home yesterday). After a speedy check-in we went through to a very calm departure lounge. We were given a card with a number on it. At intervals a number was announced and people were asked to proceed and board the ship.
I must add that there was a feeling of festive excitement provided by The Salvation Army brass band playing Christmas carols. It was beginning to feel like the start of magical experience.
By 12.30pm we were embarking the Queen Victoria for the first time via the majestic Grand Lobby. Words fail me in trying to describe the understated opulence of the 3 tier Grand Lobby. An absolutely awe-inspiring architectural wonder! We were both 'punch drunk' with the pure excitement of embarking such a beautiful ship and we could not wait to explore further.
Stateroom We next went to see our stateroom -- 5148 on deck five. On the occasional table there were 2 champagne flutes and a full sized bottle of Pol Acker sparkling wine in an ice bucket waiting for us. There was also a fridge filled with soft drinks and water (we drank these over the length of the cruise and we were not charged).
We had our bed made up in the Queen configuration (can be twin) and it was very comfortable. The only disappointment was that we were unable to obtain a feather duvet (this is preferable when you are a woman of a certain age who has a tendency to have 'tropical' moments). Thankfully the 6 pillows were feather and they were also very comfortable. Under the bed were 2 large drawers (again I understand that previously there was near anarchy due to the Queen having no drawers!). These were very useful for underwear, swimwear, hats, handbags and belts etc.
There was more than enough hanging space in the wardrobes for formal wear, etc. The wardrobe also contained a key coded safe (very easy to use).
As this was a Christmas cruise, we decorated our stateroom with battery operated fairy lights and Christmas cards we had been sent by family and friends. Even our room steward commented how nice it looked.
We had a stateroom that had a 'corner' balcony. The balcony was larger than what we previously have had on the Queen Mary 2 on deck eight (although that had been big enough). The cabin itself was also larger than the cabins either side, another unexpected bonus (the extra space being a bonus and not the fact that it was roomier than the others). The stateroom was tastefully decorated in muted beiges, with a red carpet and drapes. The red theme was the norm for the port side and corresponded to the port side passenger deck corridors. The starboard side is carpeted in blue (colour coded carpets is useful when exiting a lift as you know immediately which side your cabin is on). I will mention here that the stairways are also different colours so you can identify if you are forward (A -- Red), midships (B -- Green) or aft (C -- Blue).
The bathroom and shower cubicle was of an adequate size and much larger than I was expecting (I had previously read on cruising forums that they were 'tiny and too small'). My husband is 6 foot tall and weighs approximately 210 lbs and he said the shower space was large enough. There was plenty of fluffy towels and a plethora of Gilchrist and Soames toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion) in the bathroom which were replenished daily.
There is a small glass shelf either side of the sink (for toiletries) and a larger shelf the width of the bathroom under the sink (also containing a waste bin).
The only down side to our stateroom was the climate control and the toilet. Even with the setting on the coolest, the room was 'airless, stuffy and warm' during the night. We were unable to have the cabin door open at night as this caused 'whistling' down the corridor and we did not wish to disturb our fellow passengers.
We had to call maintenance 5 times during the first 8 days as the toilet would not empty after flushing. Other than these couple of issues, the room met all our needs and it always felt welcoming returning to it each day. Artem, our room steward was attentive, unobtrusive and friendly when we did see him, although that was not often. He kept our toiletries and towels freshly replenished on a daily basis and turned down our bed each evening (complete with pillow chocolate).
Sailaway Party There wasn't an embarkation sail-away party as such, not that we could find anyway. Nonetheless, that did not dampen our excitement or enthusiasm. We wrapped up warm and went up on deck; fuelled with mulled wine (provided by Martin, a very personable young man who was the lido pool deck bar person) and we listened to The Salvation Army playing Christmas carols as we set sail. Santa Claus even waved us off!
Grand Lobby As already mentioned this is a 3 tier awe inspiring architectural wonder! It never ceased to bring a feeling of 'wow' whenever we walked through it! The 'sculptured' carpets are absolutely beautiful and are complimented by marble floors. You have to see it to appreciate it as photographs just don't do it justice.
I awoke early one morning early in the voyage and went for a stroll around the ship. I arrived at the Grand Lobby to find that the 'Christmas Elves' had put up the Christmas decorations. These were absolutely wonderful and gave a magical atmosphere. They had cleverly strung Santa in his sleigh and the reindeer across the lobby atrium so that it appeared to be flying across the ship. Fabulous! Over the next couple of days they added a life size fairytale scene with Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs set in a 'village' on deck one of the lobby.
I must add that throughout the ship there were many tastefully decorated Christmas Trees and decorations. In addition all the bars and public spaces had hand made Ginger Bread Houses filled with cookies, chocolates and candies. It all helped to create a Christmassy ambience and was a joy to see.
Britannia Restaurant As we were in an A4 stateroom our allocated restaurant was the Britannia. This is two tiered in layout and located at the stern of the ship. At the time of booking 20 months previously we had asked for a table for 2 on second sitting. These requests were honoured (Thank you Cunard). The restaurant has art deco and nouveau inspired design features and is wonderfully pleasing to the eye. The main focal point of the room is a fantastic illuminated globe (signifying Cunard's ongoing ocean travel) and is at the head of the Captain's table.
Talking about the Captain's table, we had the very good fortune to dine there twice during this voyage. The first time was on Christmas day when we were invited to dine with the entertainment and cruise sale staff (Edmund, Gaynor and Rebecca) and some of the many friends we made on board (Mandy, Brian and James). A wonderful time was had by all and there was much fun and laughter. PS: Very stylish shoes Edmund!
Captain Christopher Rynd and his wife Julianne requested our company on the 28th December and we gladly RSVP'd (I also booked a facial as I wanted to look my best and feel extra groomed). My husband and I felt so privileged to have been invited as we consider ourselves unassuming northern folk, who, like a lot of people, have worked hard to achieve this lifestyle (and continue to do so) and are grateful to have been 'noticed' enough to warrant an invite.
Three other couples were also invited and everyone was very pleasant and had interesting stories to share. I was very fortunate to have been seated to the captain's immediate right. Before the meal commenced a group photograph was taken and a couple of days later a complimentary photograph was delivered to our stateroom.
Half way through dinner, Captain Rynd and Julianne swapped places, which gave me the chance to share a 'good natter' with Julianne and gain some insight into the life of a captain's wife. Again this was another fabulous evening with interesting company. A night we will never forget and as a bonus we have a fabulous photo as a memento.
The menu choice and food that was available in the restaurant throughout the cruise was of a high standard and always arrived hot. The service on occasion could be slow, although we did not mind as we often shared other tables with the friends we made on board and we were too busy chatting and having fun to notice the time. It became noticeable when we often missed events that started at 10.00pm because we were still dining. In the main, the waiters and sommeliers in the restaurant were personable and friendly.
Public Rooms Midships Lounge: This was an unexpected but nonetheless pleasant find on deck 3! Pre-cruise I had read many reviews but do not recall reading anything about the Midships Bar. It is not a very big bar, is semi-circle in design, and seemed to have a warm ambience. It was a great place to have a pre-dinner drink and to people watch as they passed by.
Chart Room: This was ideally situated to have a pre-dinner drink as it was outside the Britannia Restaurant on deck 2. As with all the public rooms on board, this is a tastefully appointed room with nautical artefacts and echoes the general Art Deco/Victoriana theme of the ship. There are some fabulous nautical paintings on display in this room. Nibbles such as nuts, and Bombay mix are offered along with your drinks.
Champagne Bar: The Champagne bar is located on deck 2 of the Grand Lobby. It echoes the one that is on the Queen Mary 2 and is tastefully decorated in the Art Deco theme that is favoured on board. You can get a selection of champagnes here including Veuve Clicquot. You are offered fresh strawberries with your drinks in this bar (I think caviar is also available). This was where we toasted in the New Year 2009 with a couple of bottles of Veuve with some of the friends we had made on board.
Café Carinthia: Again this was another tastefully decorated public space where the Art Deco theme continued. The chairs and settees are of the large soft upholstered type and are very comfortable. There are a large number of tables seating four by the large picture windows that afford wonderful views of the waves. This was a favourite place to sit on the more 'choppy' sea days. We often sat in this room enjoying a hot beverage whilst watching the turbulent waves.
You have to buy your hot beverages in this bar/café although there are a variety of free light snacks available throughout the day. The prices were reasonable, with coffee and tea from a $1.00 upwards.
Todd English: Todd English is a paid supplement restaurant -- $30.00 Dinner; $20.00 Lunch. We enjoyed two dinners here; the food was exquisite and the service was exemplary. In our opinion we felt it was worth the extra, especially on a longer voyage.
Golden Lion Pub: This was a firm favourite for many passengers who like to enjoy karaoke and pub quizzes. The deco differs from the rest of the ship as it is of the traditional British Pub style. There is hot food available at lunch time and consists of traditional fish & chips (very nice), ploughman's lunch, pies etc.
Very authentic and we occasionally visited for the quiz in the afternoon or to have lunch.
Empire Casino & Bar: The casino was one of the few public spaces where passengers were allowed to smoke, so it was quite smoky. There is a seating area at the entrance to the casino and a large bar. These spaces always appeared full when we passed. We only visited a couple of times to have a go on the slots and the poker table.
Hemispheres Nightclub: This is situated on deck 10 near stairway A. It has a circular dance floor and a very ornate chandelier. It is a very attractive room, although often when we went in it was empty. Although the themed nights proved to be very popular, especially the ABBA night they had.
Commodore Club: This is one of our favourite spaces on the ship (as is the case on the QM2) and did not disappoint; we frequented it regularly. It is located at the bow of the ship on deck 10 and affords fabulous views of the waves during the day and sunsets in the evening.
We used it for coffee in the morning (after 10.00am), pre dinner cocktails and refreshments when returning 'home' on port days. Karen was one of the waiting staff and she provided a very efficient and friendly service and often greeted us by name (as other staff did during the voyage). You are given 'nibbles' with your beverages in this bar during the day and canapés with pre-dinner cocktails. A firm favourite!
Queens Room: This was a favourite for all those passengers that enjoyed dancing; we rarely were able to secure a seat in this area. I feel that being on second sitting does put you at a disadvantage for securing seats, as by the time you come out of dinner the passengers from the first sitting have already got seated. For us we still prefer to eat later, as it is less of a rush on port days. The Grill passengers would not have this problem as they have 'open' seating and eat when they choose between 6.30 -- 9.00pm. But then again they have paid a hefty premium for this privilege.
Royal Court Theatre: The theatre is the most opulent and authentically styled (traditional west end) we have seen at sea. It really is a fabulous theatre with unrestricted views from wherever you sit. There are 8 private boxes (curved perspex front) at each side of the theatre, which for the most part of the shows remained empty. We did have the opportunity to sit in one the first night as they were 'free', at other times there was a $50.00 surcharge. This included a small bottle of champagne and chocolates.
Winter Garden: This is a light and airy pleasant space on board and was popular with most of the guests. It is located between the Lido restaurant and the Pavilion pool on deck 9. My husband and I enjoyed a very nice bottle of Rose Veuve Clicquot Champagne on Christmas day in here and thoroughly enjoyed it (very civilised). I have saved the cork and cage for my memory box of the voyage.
Lido Restaurant: I must say all the food we ate from the Lido was tasty, hot and satisfying. The wait staff often asked us if we would like drinks fetched and they would assist any passenger who appeared to have their hands full.
You could also experience pre-bookable 'Alternative Dining' if you so wished. We booked the 'Asian Cuisine' and the service and food was absolutely faultless. There is no charge for this.
I was surprised to hear how some passengers spoke to the staff and to each other. They totally allowed what appeared to be 'trivialities' to spoil their experience and cause them to take their frustrations out on others (although I did not know what other frustrations they may have had). For example, two couples I saw were arguing over a table (when there were plenty of empty ones available). In another instance I witnessed a passenger really shouting at a Lido Food Manager about the fact that his coffee was cold. I was embarrassed and quite cross at the same time whilst witnessing this 'bullying' incident.
Lido Pool, Deck & Bar: We generally favoured this deck to sun bathe or enjoy an afternoon cocktail (weather permitting). From the second time the deck attendant Warren and the bar man Martin saw us they would greet us by name and ensure that we had everything we needed. They both really went the extra mile to provide an efficient and attentive service. 'Thank you' warren and Martin!
Library: The focal point of this 2 tiered library is the magnificent mahogany spiral staircase. The library is reported to have 6000+ books and contains something for everyone from autobiographies, true crime, history, fiction and non-fiction. There is also a selection of daily papers and magazines for passengers to read whilst visiting the library.
You can also pick up a daily quiz and crossword sheet.
Cunarder Museum: This was something we passed everyday as we walked around the ship but we did not find the time to really study what was in the display cases. Yes really, on a 3 week voyage we found there were things we still had not managed to fit in. The museum carries memorabilia from previous Cunard ships. We intend to peruse more thoroughly when we revisit the ship in August 2009.
Royal Arcade: The main focal point of the Royal Arcade is the 'Pillar' clock, which has been made by Dent & Co (who is credited with making Big Ben in London). The clock casing is black with gold leaf and the clock face is white with black roman numerals. It stands in the centre of an illuminated double staircase and looks very grand. This was a favourite spot for the ship photographers to take pictures of the passengers on formal nights. On the starboard side of the staircase is the Golden Lion and the Casino is on the port side.
The shops on board are of the upmarket variety where you can buy Faberge Eggs, Fine Art and branded watches and jewellery. The shops were supplemented by $10.00 stalls that sold toiletry sets, belts, bags, ties, jewellery, watches etc. These were ideal as affordable gifts for either people back home or the cruise staff.
There is also a shop that carries a range of everyday toiletries, over the counter medications and plasters etc.
Spa: We purchased '5 day' spa passes ($85.00 each) and thoroughly enjoyed visiting the spa after a day's sight seeing. The passes do not need to be used on consecutive days, which was a pleasant surprise as previously I had read on forums that they had to be.
The spa is a wonderful tranquil space and the hydra-therapy pool is excellent. It is furnished with wooden steamer chairs & fresh towels. There is a water cooler and fresh fruit platters for the passengers' replenishment. However, I did feel the water in the pool looked a little murky towards the end of the voyage.
Grills: We were not able to frequent any of the Grill areas and on this ship they are cleverly segregated from the rest of the ship and the public areas. The Grill facilities are located at the top of the ship on the upper decks 11 & 12. I think the way they have been located is very appropriate and diplomatic of Cunard as the Grill Passengers do pay a hefty premium for the privilege of having the extra attention, space and open sitting dining.
Ports of Call Azores; Antigua; St Kitts; St Lucia; Grenada; Barbados; Madeira; Vigo.
I will only mention Barbados as it is a favourite of ours; we married there in year 2000. We visited where we got married in the morning (which brought back very fond memories) and then we went on an excursion in the afternoon.
Excursions As we have been fortunate enough to have visited the Caribbean several times before, we only did a couple of the excursions.
We did the 'Caribbean Sailaway' in Antigua (full day) and can truly recommend it. We had a fabulous day that included snorkelling, swimming, sunbathing, dancing and generally having a good time (assisted by the provision of a rather tasty rum punch).
We also partook in the 'Swimming with Turtles' in Barbados (half day). This trip coincided with other ships' excursions. This resulted in the waters where the turtles were being over crowded and quite chaotic. My husband went in the water and I chose to sit on board the catamaran and view the turtles from above. They were a lot larger than I realised and were up to a meter across.
There was also time to spend at the beach at the Sandy Lane resort. This was quite bizarre as we were instructed that we were unable to use any of the sun lounges but we could lay on the sand. The resort had even posted a 'security guard' to watch over us. Nonetheless, a pleasant hour was spent here swimming, beach combing and sun bathing. The crew from the catamaran also provided drinks on the beach.
In other ports we did it 'free style' and either commissioned a taxi or went for a stroll. We always allowed plenty of time to return to the ship as we did not want to run the risk of it leaving without us!
Summary A truly enjoyable cruise that exceeded all our expectations; from dining with the Captain and his wife, to re-visiting Barbados, to the friends we made and the warm welcome afforded to us by the cruise staff, it was in the main faultless.
All in all we had a fabulous cruise onboard a truly elegant yet contemporary ship, which had a wonderful 'cosy' feel about it; that has given us many pleasant lasting memories and we have made friendships that I feel could last a lifetime.
CRUISE REVIEW -- CUNARD QUEEN VICTORIA -- SOUTHAMPTON TO VENICE, AUGUST 1 -- 13, 2008, Stateroom 5054 Cat A5
This was a much-anticipated cruise for me and my two children age 20 (son) and 15 (daughter). It was our 8th cruise, with previous voyages having been onboard Holland America (old Westerdam, new Westerdam, Zuiderdam), Royal Caribbean (Enchantment, Adventure), Carnival (Destiny), and Celebrity (Galaxy).
My daughter was attending a 4 week program in the UK to obtain a high school credit. Our selection of Queen Victoria depended heavily upon the following criteria: embarkation in England, timing coincided with the end of my daughter's course, and the itinerary included Florence, Rome, and Venice among other ports.
In other words, we weren't specifically looking at Queen Victoria or Cunard cruises. But I will admit we were far from disappointed when we realized the ship and itinerary that best suited our criteria was the newly commissioned Queen Victoria. I still remember the tone of reverence in my son's voice when he realized I was giving serious consideration to this ship -- just the way he said, "ooooh, Cunard!" told me he hoped I would pony up the fundsand get us onboard.
Our enjoyment of this cruise proved to be predominantly a function of the quality and variety of the ports we visited. Sadly, I cannot say that Cunard or Queen Victoria met our expectations. These expectations, courtesy of Cunard's own intense, frequent (and, based on our experience, excessive) marketing of its "legendary White Star Service" were set quite high before we even boarded the ship.
A few days following our return home at the end of the cruise, I read an extremely well-written, painfully accurate, and somewhat humourous member review of a Queen Victoria voyage. I recall the writer, a gentleman, referring to Queen Victoria as "Carnivalized".
I beg to differ; Cunard would have benefited from that process had it occurred.
We sailed with Carnival onboard Destiny several years ago. Our expectations of that cruise were actually rather low in terms of food and service quality but we booked it because a premium cabin was available, the itinerary was perfect, the timing was right, and the price was reasonable. Our expectations were handily exceeded by Carnival in virtually every respect. There is no question we got at least what we paid for, and considerably more than we expected in many areas.
We do not feel that way about our experience onboard Queen Victoria. Every element of their marketing, before and after you board, focuses on the concept that their service is a cut above. They never forego an opportunity to point this out. This focus on their superb service is merely wishful thinking on their part.
Cunard has many inherent weaknesses in their systems and procedures (or lack thereof) that prevent them from delivering on their promise of legendary White Star service. Our experience and my observations of other passengers suggest they need significant improvement and better coordination in the delivery of their product.
Embarkation Embarkation went fairly smoothly. We took the Cunard transfer from the Victoria coach station and it was a fairly lengthy drive (almost 3 hours) to the cruise terminal owing to heavy traffic and lane closures. There was virtually no line-up for check-in. Once invited to the check-in counter, I was asked (among other things) for the credit card I would use to pay my on-board account.
I had already set up a prepaid onboard credit in a significant amount prior to my departure from home. I had received confirmation from Cunard that this amount was received and credited to our stateroom onboard account. I knew it was unlikely we would exceed the amount of this credit so I declined at check-in to provide a credit card.
"But I cannot see ANY credit set up under your stateroom account", the check-in agent said. Little did she know how accurately she was defining one of Cunard's greatest administrative weaknesses. Quite simply, the left hand rarely knows what the right hand is doing.
Repeatedly during our 13 day voyage it became clear that information in the Cunard database was seldom available to the departments that could benefit from access to it.
In any event, I provided details to the check-in agent regarding the timing and the magnitude of the onboard credit I had set up. Eventually she sought the advice of a manager who indicated I should proceed to the Purser's Desk once onboard the ship in order to determine whether the credit was properly allocated to my stateroom. We were issued our ship's ID cards and carried on.
Our Stateroom Our stateroom was ready when we embarked and in fact our suitcases arrived very promptly. Our stateroom attendant, Helen, introduced herself to us very soon after we crossed our threshold.
Other reviewers have already commented about the lack of drawer space in the staterooms. We had a balcony stateroom and in fact ours was the largest square footage offered in this category (472 sq. ft). Throughout the stateroom it was easy to see the missed opportunities for more efficient storage. Each night table had one very small shallow drawer -- they could each have had 2 or 3 larger drawers and that would have been very useful.
The flatscreen television on the writing desk could easily have been wall-mounted. Inexplicably, a few feet of its electrical cord sat on the desk tangled up with our laptop cord throughout the cruise. Neither the TV nor its cord should have been allowed to take up space on this already miniscule surface.
There was one each of US, British, and European electrical outlets. Since we had a supply of electrical adapters with us, we were able to take advantage of all three styles for digital camera and cell phone and laptop charging.
The water closet (and I use this term quite literally in terms of the size of the facility) could have had a mirrored medicine cabinet configuration with sliding doors or glass shelving as we've seen on other ships to accommodate personal care items, toothpaste, lotions and potions, etc. Instead there was literally no room for these items except a shelf below the counter about 6" above the floor. A far from convenient location. Regardless of the class of stateroom we've booked, we have never had a smaller bathroom onboard a cruise ship.
Our cabin had the advantage of an unusually large balcony which we enjoyed many times during our cruise. It was a triple cabin, and occupied by 3 people, so a third chair would have been appreciated. The balcony was more than large enough to accommodate 3 (and indeed even 4) chairs. Bear in mind that most balcony staterooms had substantially smaller balconies than ours.
We found the beds to be very comfortable, with premium mattresses, linens, and pillows. Temperature control of the stateroom was easily accomplished.
The Ship We all felt that Queen Victoria was quite elegant, understated, and comfortable. We had previous Vista Class experience and so found our way around quite easily from the start. Even during the sea days, of which we experienced 3, the ship never seemed crowded. We were always able to find a table at the Lido Deck and there were always places to sit in lounges to enjoy music or a drink.
I didn't go into the Library as it was almost claustrophobically small despite the spiral staircase to a second floor. The internet lounge was generously sized and well laid out but the satellite signal was among the slowest I've experienced and for at least 2 days there was no service at all. Strangely, Queen Victoria separated the charges for access within the internet lounge vs. wireless service available on the ship if one brought a wireless device. I purchased a substantial package of minutes for our cruise knowing that I would need to keep up with email. Those minutes could only be used by me personally and only in the lounge. We have never before seen this requirement on a cruise ship. Ordinarily we can purchase a package as a family and share the minutes and use them in the internet lounge OR on our own wireless laptop.
During the 2 days when the internet lounge was closed (literally, locked, due to lack of signal), the wireless system performed very well. I was charged 50 cents per minute to check my email on my own laptop using the Queen Victoria wireless system. Meanwhile, I disembarked at the end of our cruise having about 100 unused minutes left in my "internet package". This makes no sense.
The Cunardia displays were interesting and I spent some time reading about the role of the Queens in carrying troops during wartime.
The theatre was truly beautiful, the largest and the nicest we've seen on any ship. The seating was very comfortable. The theatre was truly designed to be a theatre, not a lounge, and so there were no tables for drinks and no drinks offered prior to the performance. Not an issue for me. The private boxes were well utilized during the gala nights but otherwise were easily accessed on a first-come basis. However, the clear acrylic in front of each box somewhat distorted the view of the performance.
The shops on board were not especially interesting. Their window displays were attractive but the merchandise was just not that enticing. They had their daily sidewalk sales of a variety of kitsch (inexpensive watches, the usual assortment of sparkly costume jewelry, colognes) which I really hadn't expected to see onboard Cunard.
The absence of constant announcements was welcome; Celebrity does the same thing, with only a brief morning announcement and everything else to be seen on the "Cunard channel" or in the daily printed program. The lack of constant calls to Bingo and other activities means I can pretend I have nothing to do and hunker down with a book instead.
The sleeping decks of the ship each feature a Laundrette which is free to use. We used it on our first sea day as we arrived onboard Queen Victoria after a week spent exploring Glasgow and London and so our laundry needed attention. It was the only opportunity we had, and we were only a half dozen doors away from the launderette.
After the 2nd day, the laundry room became the protected territory of a group of laundry vigilantes (I kid you not, everyone was talking about it) and they were pretty much camping in there full time. Who does that? Why pay for a cruise and live in the laundrette? The same people were in there all day every day, and fighting would break out over use of the washers, the dryers, the ironing board, just ridiculous! I don't know how these folks even managed to get their clothing dirty enough to launder in the short intervals between visits.
Occasionally we'd see them going in and out of the laundry room in their Cunard robe, as presumably they'd exhausted their supply of dirty clothes and could only clean what they were already wearing. It was the weirdest thing! I kept an eye on the laundry room thinking we could do a quick load at some point but after about 4 days of keeping an eye on it, I realized the laundry vigilantes were never going to leave until the doors were locked at night. When we needed additional laundry services, we simply filled out the laundry slip in the room and let Cunard handle it. I gather the laundry vigilante situation is a common experience onboard as other reviewers have mentioned it. We never have seen this onboard other ships.
Service Overall, we were disappointed in this area partially because our expectations were elevated based on Cunard's constant references to their renowned White Star Service. My comment to that would be if you are going to keep drawing everyone's attention to your service, you had better deliver it in an exemplary manner.
They fall short of their own marketing and consequently fell short of our expectations. They also fall short of the service experience we've enjoyed when cruising with Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, and Celebrity. I would have expected service to be on par with Celebrity but it wasn't on par with any of our past experiences.
I spent more time at the front desk (purser's desk and excursions desk) on this cruise than on our preceding 7 cruises combined. (See, "our adventure" later in this review for details.)
Our cabin steward frankly did not seem to enjoy her job at all nor was she particularly friendly. She rarely greeted us if we passed her in the hallways, kept her eyes down and never smiled. We've had great cabin stewards and poor ones and a couple in between; she was probably the worst of the bunch.
She also didn't take advantage of opportunities to show us she was paying attention to our habits. Usually after one or two days at sea, a capable cabin steward will have noted the preferences of a stateroom's occupants and will organize the room accordingly. In our case, my daughter slept with an extra blanket on her bed every night of the cruise. Not once was that blanket placed on or near her bed when beds were prepared for the night. It wasn't lack of time, clearly, as our cabin steward attempted to do something artistic in arranging my pajamas each night. (This, quite frankly, I found rather weird as it's not exactly a "towel animal" -- it's my personal nightwear!)
We fared somewhat better in the dining room as our waiter (Zaldy) and his assistant were friendly and reasonably capable; however, our waiter's command of English was limited which sometimes hampered the process of ordering our meals. He did always manage to get it right in the end and on the one occasion when my daughter's meal arrived undercooked (gnocchi, almost raw in the centre) he quickly had the meal replaced and the head waiter for our section checked soon after to make sure she was happy with the replacement.
Interestingly, neither of my children were ever offered a beverage other than water in the dining room. This is unique in our experience!
Usually my son would have a daiquiri (virgin daiquiri when he was younger, regular now that he's 20) and my daughter might do likewise. At the very least, my son would probably consume a diet soft drink with his meal. None was offered at any time. I have no idea why this would be the case. With the automatic gratuity applied to every order from the bar, be it soft drink, mixed drink, or wine, the bar steward could have earned some revenue from two kids who routinely order at least a daiquiri each at dinner.
Front desk staff were for the most part professional and courteous and attempted to be helpful but it seemed they often were in the dark about policies and procedures. I spent a lot of time at the purser's desk on this cruise and had the opportunity to observe literally dozens and dozens of passengers raising a variety of what seemed reasonable and common issues without deriving much satisfaction from the experience. If not for my determination and persistence in resolving our issue with Cunard, I would have ended the cruise feeling equally frustrated.
Dining On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being excellent and 1 being inedible, I would rate the food onboard Queen Victoria somewhere in the vicinity of 3.
I would give approximately the same ranking to food onboard Carnival and Royal Caribbean. I would give a ranking of 4 to Holland America and 4.5 to Celebrity.
That said, our voyage on Cunard was more expensive than any of the afore-mentioned cruise lines. I would have expected more quality, variety and capability from the kitchens and particularly in a dining room that requires gentlemen to wear a jacket every single night of their cruise.
We dined in the Britannia restaurant every night with only one exception, which was an evening spent in the reservations-only (surcharged) restaurant "Todd English". The food in the Brittannia ranged from "OK to good" according to my son. Fair comment. Sometimes we engaged in serious contemplation of the possible presentation of a particular food. That resulted from an early dessert in which a "parfait" arrived as a pyramid-shaped jelly-like mousse. Desserts were generally not terrific; my kids took to ordering the ice cream with every dessert as a no-fail backup plan.
Unlike other cruise lines we've experienced, Cunard did not mention "alternative" options in the event that no menu items appealed. Celebrity, for example, offers Caesar salad, grilled salmon or steak in addition to the menu items and this is noted on the menu on a nightly basis. If Cunard offers something similar, it was not mentioned at any time by our waiter nor was there any indication printed on the dining room menu.
One evening my daughter ordered pasta from the menu, asking that mushrooms be omitted. It arrived without any discernible sauce whatsoever. As it was the only item that appealed to her at all on the evening's menu, she soldiered through about ¼ of it. If alternatives to the printed menu had been offered it would have been helpful.
After the 3rd or 4th dinner in the Britannia dining room, we came to think of the meal as more of a refueling stop than "fine dining" because the food quite simply wasn't of that calibre. This was the first voyage of 8 cruises that my son was required to wear a jacket each and every night. (Cunard's "elegant casual" dress code requires jackets for the men.) My son commented that this restaurant was simply "not good enough" to require men to wear a jacket every night. He's right.
We made reservations for dinner one evening at the Todd English restaurant onboard. We had visited Olives at Bellagio in Las Vegas and had a thoroughly enjoyable meal, and prior to embarkation onboard Queen Victoria had enjoyed Zuma and Gordon Ramsay in London, so we were hopeful of another taste treat.
Todd English onboard Queen Victoria is decidedly a step up from the Britannia experience, but in no way a match for its land-based sister, Olives. The food was much better than anything the Britannia was serving but the service seemed impersonal, almost mechanical.
We felt that the Lido restaurant did a very capable job at breakfast and in fact was probably the best organized breakfast buffet we've seen on any cruise ship. Some ships scatter the necessities for breakfast across so large an area that the pancakes are long chilled before syrup can be found. If you started at the beginning and proceeded to the end (which not every passenger did), you would systematically have assembled on your tray absolutely everything needed for breakfast including the appropriate condiments. I have never seen a more logically put together buffet. The food was generally good and the "cooked to order" omelettes, pancakes, and waffles were very tasty.
Lunch was much less predictable. The sandwich station had the same boring sandwiches day in and day out. On most cruise ships I am easily satisfied with a good sandwich but these were just plain uninspired. They could have prepared them in advance; there was no advantage to having the sandwiches made to order as they lacked interesting fillings and variety and basically just kept making the same things again and again for days on end.
The pasta and pizza stations were a better bet, with some customization possible. The pasta chef had fun one day with my daughter and I making a "pink sauce" out of his alfredo and arrabiata sauces and adding an array of chopped vegetables. The resulting creation, which we shared, was absolutely delicious. Generally I restricted my lunch time visit to the Lido to a salad and soup as these were fairly no-fail options. Sometimes it was tricky to find a table at lunch time but perseverance always paid off.
The room service menu was probably the most limited and boring we've seen on a cruise. It went virtually unused by us.
The Golden Lion Pub provided a welcome change at lunch from time to time. Generally it wasn't busy if one arrived fairly promptly at noon and the meals, although limited in variety, were delivered piping hot and were reasonably tasty. I'm a serious fish and chip lover and the Golden Lion Pub didn't disappoint in this area! It was nice to sit down and have a simple meal with my kids a couple of times during our cruise and not have to face the lines and the trays in the Lido.
Entertainment My son plans a career in live theatre production so he of course had a very high level of interest in seeing the shows and seeing the production values of these shows in such a beautiful venue as Queen Victoria's theatre.
They have apparently invested considerably in absolutely first-rate equipment for sound and lighting and a great deal of it! He was very impressed by the investment made to ensure that every show could be lit to perfection.
However, the cast of the production shows seems uninspired much of the time. There was no strong female singer and no strong male voice. They had 4 "decent" vocalists but no one who could really put out a powerful vocal. Usually we find that there is one particularly powerful voice for each of the male and female performers and there are usually ways to showcase those voices within the production shows.
As I said to my son after the first production show, "I am having a lot of trouble connecting with the show, the performers, with any of it". I felt the shows had no real story (beginning/middle/end), lacked energy, seemed more than a little disorganized, and the lighting was sometimes all over the place. In one instance the lights were aimed straight at the audience, forcing many people to cover their eyes. Not a smart idea.
We later learned that this was a changeover cruise for the cast which had been onboard since the maiden voyage. Their contracts were finally coming to an end and their replacements embarked when we did and were frantically in rehearsal every hour of the day. That probably explains the lack of energy of the departing cast! The final production did seem more put together and the cast must have felt inspired to go out with a bang because it was a far higher energy performance than any of the preceding shows. They should have begun the cruise with an equally strong show and put the less organized, weaker shows in the middle with the powerhouse at the end.
The walk-on entertainers were all musicians or vocalists. One gentleman played a wide range of instruments, had a very pleasant singing voice, and the audience responded very enthusiastically to him. His show was my favourite of the cruise. There was a female vocalist who almost managed to put the audience to sleep; many people got up and left mid-song (which I personally think is offensively rude) and she performed two shows (one too many). There wasn't enough variety in the walk-on performances; they were all vocalists and musicians, with no illusionist, comedy, magician, etc.
On non-production show nights the late show was poorly attended, in fact I don't think more than 20% of the seats were occupied for most of the shows. I don't think I've been on a ship previously where the late seating of dinner had an after-dinner show. Usually the late diners see an early show, the early diners get the later show but both shows are usually finished by about 10 p.m. Our show didn't start until 10:45 p.m., and generally wrapped up about an hour later. With port arrivals at 7 and excursions at 8 a.m., that's just plain too late!! I missed at least 4 or 5 shows as a result.
Walking around the ship, I heard and enjoyed some very competent pianists and a harpist who was very good.
Spa The spa was truly "state of the art" and absolutely lovely. I had several excellent treatments in the spa, particularly on the sea days. My favourite treatments were the stones massage and two sessions of reflexology.
I always talk with staff members about life on board the ship because both of my kids are studying for careers that will likely take them onto a cruise ship after they graduate (technical theatre production, and hotel management).
By chatting with the spa staff, I learned a few things onboard Queen Victoria that were of interest. First, the staff on this ship lacks deck privileges. They are not permitted on passenger decks when they are off duty, not even to sit and have a coffee in a lounge and interact with passengers.
Other ships we have sailed (Holland America, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean) definitely had staff members circulating. They are required not to drink on passenger decks, to comply with the dress code, and to act professionally as the representatives of the cruise line, but they are up there on passenger levels. I gather the restriction of deck privileges was recent and there were staff members who had come onboard when deck privileges were extended. Many were not planning to renew their contracts now that these privileges were revoked.
In fact, none of the staff members with whom I spoke expected to renew their contracts on the same ship again.
Ports Southampton: We spent 3 days prior to embarkation enjoying London, our second visit in 3 years. We had a wonderful dinner at Gordon Ramsay's at Claridges, an even more amazing meal at Zuma (Japanese), and saw Les Miserables which is probably my all-time favourite show. My daughter and I enjoyed browsing at Camden Market; my son opted for relaxation that afternoon instead. We had beautiful weather (much nicer than folks at home were having) and our hotel, Flemings Mayfair, was terrific and beautifully located 5 minutes' walk from Buckingham Palace.
Gibraltar: We took the ship's excursion "Walking Tour of the Rock" and were carefully briefed by our guide about the Barbary Apes. They are very precocious and especially the teenagers will try and snatch anything they can, particularly food! There is a 500 pound sterling fine for feeding the apes but the apes are not fined for stealing YOUR food! However, it can get a little tricky so it's best not to rustle wrappers, reach into bags, etc. because they associate those movements/sounds with food.
One young boy came out of a souvenir/snack shop with a newly-purchased ice cream bar on a stick. The wrapper was no sooner removed than an ape grabbed the ice cream bar out of the boy's hand, climbed onto a roof, and demonstrated a good working knowledge of how to thoroughly savour an ice cream bar. He licked the stick on both sides, then climbed down. Very cute, we took photos!
Many of the mini-vans used for the tours had apes climbing onto and into them. The apes seemed to be particularly fond of the horn and would reach in and press and hold it for minutes at a time. It sounded like rush hour at a gridlocked intersection but it really was just the apes having fun with their own version of an orchestra.
The same excursion includes a visit to the caves and this was worthwhile also. From one vantage point we were able to see the Gibraltar airport which is of interest because there is a major road running right across the runway!!! There are only a handful of take-offs and landings each day and automated arms (like at a railway crossing) have been installed to prevent movement of vehicles and pedestrians across the runway for a few minutes before, during, and after it is in use. We were fortunate to see the road closed at one point for an inbound aircraft, watched the landing, and then a few minutes later the road re-opened and traffic was transiting the runway once again. A very unusual setup, but it seems to work.
Cannes: We were fortunate to be able to book the services of a fantastic and highly recommended private guide. I had read of this gentleman in numerous cruise reviews and bulletin boards, Michel of Revelation Tours, and we were not disappointed. He really hit the ground running, with wonderful commentary that brought to life the history of the area, and helped us understand and appreciate everything we were seeing. He had a very comfortable Mercedes van, soft drinks and bottled water on board, and did everything to make our day enjoyable, educational, and we really crammed a lot in! We visited Monte Carlo/Monaco, Eze (charming!), St. Paul de Vence (have to go back there some day!!), and lunch in Nice. The three of us agreed that he is our all-time best private tour guide providing superbly paced and interesting commentary. If I find myself in the south of France again, I will be in touch with Michel.
Florence/Pisa: We booked a private tour with Rome in Limo and had requested Carlo for both Florence and Rome tours. However, their local driver Gianmarie met us at the ship at the port of Livorno. He quickly got us away from what must be the ugliest port area I've ever seen. I'm sure the town is pretty but Livorno's economy is all about shipping so anything within a mile of the pier is strictly related to that and very unattractive as Gianmarie pointed out!
He was a terrific tour guide, young, personable, interesting, with lots of good information to share with us, a good sense of humour, and he kept the commentary moving so we were never bored. Gianmarie was an excellent choice of guide for the dynamics of our family.
We started with a visit to Pisa and really you only need about an hour for this. It's mainly a photo opportunity and as we drove through Pisa, Gianmarie pointed out that it wasn't exactly the only "leaning tower". Pisa just doesn't have the substrate needed to keep a tower standing straight!
Gianmarie had made a reservation for us at the Accademia so I finally met the famous "David" who is every bit as good-looking a man now as he was when Michaelangelo discovered him!
Best of all, he took us to a fantastic restaurant in Florence for lunch -- "La Posta" -- we had the most wonderful pasta, the owner looked after us personally and told us all kinds of cute stories of comical customers. My son says he would go back to Florence specifically to dine at that restaurant again. Me too.
Rome: We spent 3 days exploring Rome before our last Mediterranean cruise onboard Celebrity Galaxy in August 2006. This time we elected to have a private driver and we had a specific list of places we wanted to go. Again our booking was with Rome in Limo and this time we had Marco as our driver. Marco was driving a Mercedes minivan with half of the rear seats facing backward. These were not useful for our purpose so we sat in the back row of seats which were facing forward; unfortunately that made it difficult for us to hear his commentary, which I'm sure he noticed since I needed him to repeat almost everything he said. I later learned he could easily have turned the rear-facing seats to a forward-facing position and I'm not sure why that wasn't done, considering how far back we ended up sitting in a half-full minivan.
Marco did not offer a great deal of commentary; that may have been because we told him it wasn't our first visit to Rome. Having said that, he was interesting and with good English skills, and he paid attention to our comment that we would like the opportunity for a really nice lunch, and to take some interesting and different photos. Unfortunately, that second statement of preference ended up costing us $2,000 before we were even halfway into the tour.
He took us first to the Colosseum as this was our number one request (we only saw the exterior on our last visit to Rome). Then he embarked on a mission to "surprise us" with hidden gems and panoramic views.
Unfortunately at one such stop, a panoramic view of a large part of the city taken from the Aventine Hill area, we were out of the vehicle for about 10 minutes and returned to find items we had left inside the car, gone. The vehicle was locked, parked on the street outside a church in a quiet residential area, but the vehicle's security had been defeated, probably by a screwdriver inserted under the covering of the driver's door handle to short the electronic locking system.
My camera bag (with an SLR lens, spare battery, charger, and assorted camera accessories), my daughter's bag (with a digital camera and a digital video) and our driver's jacket (with his wallet, all ID, driver's license, and credit cards) were all gone! About a $2,000 loss for our family which I have since learned is not substantial enough to merit an insurance claim so we have to write this off to experience.
We spent about an hour at the police station to file a report before declaring a lunch break. Marco was very upset to have such an event occur on his shift, but we did all recover somewhat after a nice glass of wine and wonderful lunch, consumed at a restaurant he indicated was his favourite in the city.
Our afternoon stop was at Vatican City, primarily to see the Sistine Chapel. Earlier I had been asked by Rome in Limo if I wanted a private guide to take us into Vatican City and I had declined because the cost was 150 euro and I didn't think my kids would be sufficiently interested in the Vatican Museum's art to warrant a detailed explanation of it. In fact, given their "druthers" they would probably elect to get through the Vatican Museum as quickly as they decently could!
However, the owner of Rome in Limo was waiting for us at the entrance to Vatican City to express his condolences on the loss of our items earlier in the day, and to offer us the complementary services of one of his private guides, Catherine. She was terrific! Young, knowledgeable, interesting, funny, quick paced, kept things moving, and we benefited hugely by having her accompany us.
We especially appreciated the time she spent familiarizing us with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel so that when we stepped inside (where silence is required and photography is banned) we knew what we were looking at and had a better ability to appreciate and understand the nuances. Catherine's tour and commentary was definitely a highlight of our day in Rome.
We enjoyed our day in Rome and we realize that a theft can and does occur in any place in the world. We travel frequently and we bring some expensive toys (cameras) with us, and electronics are always tempting targets. We arrived in Rome already in love with the city and nothing has changed that.
However, we do offer this caution: Do not assume a locked vehicle is safe even for 5 minutes. Apparently Rome in Limo requires their drivers to remain with their vehicle but in our case this requirement was ignored and really in only a very few minutes in a quiet residential area, the vehicle was emptied.
I did notice in Florence/Pisa that no matter where we went or how long we were gone, anytime we glanced back at the Mercedes minivan we could see Gianmarie standing right beside the driver's door. We thought it a bit comical, actually, but we now understand exactly why he was doing this. Our driver in the South of France, Michel, did exactly the same thing at all times. Clearly they know there is a risk of a Mercedes minivan being spotted as a "private tour vehicle" with perhaps some personal effects or cameras inside.
Messina: Our home has been under renovation for about 10 years, one room after another, and the imaginative, talented contractor with whom I've worked on all of this is originally from Sicily. I showed him our options for our day in port and he said "Go to Taormina". It was terrific advice. Taormina is beautiful!
We had about a 45 minute ride in a very nice coach with a wonderful tour guide whose name I've forgotten but I could pick her out in a crowd by her voice. She had a very distinctive manner of speech, a bit slow paced and very theatrical. This served her well as it seemed to keep everyone quite engaged and listening to her commentary. We had ample time to wander around Taormina that day; sadly, it was extremely hot but she had great advice for refreshment: granita, a kind of lemon slush that is eaten with a spoon.
We found a sidewalk restaurant that offered granita, enjoyed it thoroughly, and searched for it every hour of every day for the balance of the cruise, with no success. I guess we will be going back to Sicily if we get desperate enough for granita.
I bought a painting from an artist in Taormina, very reasonably priced at 300 euro. The painting is very detailed and whenever I look at it, it reminds me of the beautiful views that were literally around every corner in this town. Our guide referred to Taormina as "magical" and I think that's a fair comment.
Corfu: We took the ship's excursion to Acheillion Palace, a Monastery, and Corfu town. The Palace is a complete waste of time. There are a few sculptures and paintings but after FLORENCE???? No comparison. Much of the Palace appeared to be closed to the public and what was open was just not that beautiful. I found it small, sparsely furnished and with a few interesting pieces but having just come from Italy and its treasures there was little here to impress the observer. Visiting the palace necessitated a lot of driving on very narrow congested streets for no good reason. For this tour we had such a pedantic, boring tour guide that many of the passengers actually fell asleep in the bus on the way to the palace!
The Monastery was situated in a beautiful area on the coast with stunning beaches and beautiful scenery. Although it wasn't all that interesting in itself, the drive to and from the Monastery was beautiful and we took some lovely photos of the ocean and beach.
When we got back to Corfu town, many people (including my son) opted to go straight back to the ship, but my daughter and I stayed in town, feeling thirsty and in the mood for a snack and people-watching. We sat on the sidewalk at a restaurant for refreshment, and had delicious greek salad and moussaka and wine served very promptly and at a reasonable cost. We did a little souvenir shopping and then it was time to get back to the ship.
Dubrovnik: We did a ship's excursion primarily of the Croatian Riviera. This is a port I had under-estimated and frankly wasn't all that terribly interested in when I made the booking. However, the Croatian Riviera is stunning. Beautiful, peaceful, no big crowds, we went to Cavtat with its population of 2,000 and as soon as we were one block from the waterfront, we were enveloped in peace and serenity. I could definitely enjoy a vacation here!
The excursion continued inland to a restaurant where we were served a glass of wine (choice of red or white, the white was delicious) and a small snack of local home-made bread, cheese, sliced cured meat, and freshly sliced tomato. It was an extremely pretty location and well worth walking around to enjoy the scenery.
From there we stopped in Dubrovnik, the old town, where we wandered around for a couple of hours, had some very tasty pizza (and a very un-tasty glass of rose wine that I couldn't drink), and then were taken back to the ship. Others who came into town without an excursion had to queue for the ship's shuttle and it was clearly pandemonium as the shuttle arrived and was set upon by many more Cunard guests than could possibly fit on the coach. We were glad to be able to take the excursion coach back to the ship and not have to contend with the line-up for the shuttle as Dubrovnik was very hot the day we were in port.
Venice: Venice was the #1 reason we booked this cruise. I'd been warned a few times about a funky smell but didn't notice it. What I did notice was the beauty, the romance, the history, the water.. water .. water everywhere! It takes a few minutes to assimilate that really there are no roads. All the usual types of transportation -- limos, taxis, buses -- are available, but all of it involves water!
We did the ship's excursion of the Doges Palace and St. Mark's, both of which were interesting although I suspect my kids would have happily done without both. From there we proceeded to the gondola and were seated with a family of 3 and off we went!
There was much jockeying for position as initially the gondola embarkation area was very congested; the canals were almost equally busy with the gondolas proceeding in a "nose to tail trailride" formation for the entire length of the trip. Meanwhile, the gondoliers shouted and laughed back and forth between themselves in Italian (probably commenting on their hapless guests who were taking pictures of every brick along the way) but it was nonetheless interesting and I wouldn't have wanted to forego the experience. (Possibly the attractiveness of the gondoliers is at least partly responsible for this.)
Later we set off on our own to buy some tourist tat (sorry, couldn't help it!) including a beautiful Venetian mask for 25 euro (seemed very reasonable). We sat down at a sidewalk restaurant for wine and snacks and people-watching. However, we couldn't stay in town too late because it was "packing night" (that very dreaded event) and we had a great deal of luggage to sort.
The following morning we again stepped off the ship to spend some time sight-seeing in Venice. I had it in mind that we would go to Murano and perhaps buy a piece of glass. Finding ourselves again in St. Marks Square, we were almost immediately approached by a gentleman who indicated that we could have a free water taxi ride to Murano if we would visit a specific glass factory. I didn't have any problem with this, asked how long it would take, and we hopped into the taxi.
This gave us an interesting ride and it was about 20 minutes to Murano as I recall. We were greeted as we stepped off the boat by one of the representatives of the factory, welcomed, told we could feel free to take pictures of the demonstration we would see, and in we went.
The demonstration was a glass master first blowing a glass vase and then sculpting a glass horse by pulling on a ball of molten glass to create a head, body, legs, and tail. It was amazing, just a few pulls with something that looked like pliers and there was a horse! "Master" is definitely the word!
The tour of the showroom (where photos were not allowed) was equally amazing; we had lots of questions and our factory representative explained the various processes used to create such intricate, amazing glass pieces of art. Some were absolutely huge, others very small, some of the chandeliers were indescribable, and it was definitely a very worthwhile morning.
There was no chance I'd leave without purchasing something, the only problem was narrowing down the choice, but in the end we arranged a piece that will be shipped. It's a crystal branch with 3 birds on it (we are a family of 3) and we each chose a colour for "our" bird. It will be a beautiful and a wonderful memory of our time in Venice when it arrives in about six weeks' time.
Overall There were some things we really enjoyed about this cruise and I would be remiss if I didn't highlight them. First, it was the dressiest cruise we've experienced. The dress code was respected by 99% of the passengers each and every night. Even on the 'elegant casual' nights some of the ladies really were dressed, leading my daughter to question whether they might turn up in wedding gowns on the formal nights.
We saw gentlemen being turned away from the Britannia restaurant because of the lack of a jacket or tie. I've always disliked seeing people in the dining room on a formal night who refuse to even try to conform to the evening dress code. This didn't happen on Queen Victoria.
We requested a "small table" but were seated at a table for 6 with a delightful couple (Pam & Nick) from the south of England. We never asked them but it's possible they had requested a table for two. There weren't very many such tables in the Britannia and I know that many passengers who requested a table for two did not have that request accommodated. We have a lovely photograph taken of the 5 of us at dinner to remind us how much we enjoyed their company.
Our past experiences with large tables were not always favourable, with table companions who dined at the Lido on all the formal nights, leaving us in the awkward position of being only 3 at a large table half of the time. This time our dining companions attended dinner every evening as we did. (excepting our one meal at Todd English). They were delightful and we had some great conversations, sometimes lingering at the table well after coffee was finished.
I enjoyed the music broadcast over the ship each time we sailed from a port but I wish it had been themed a little more closely for some of the ports (sometimes I really couldn't understand the choice of songs) and it was a little too loud. Anyone out on deck or on their balcony to enjoy the departure would be hard-pressed to have a conversation.
At one port there was a bit of a whistle competition between our ship and Ocean Village. Each ship blasted away numerous times with Queen Victoria the clear and impressive winner.
The half bottle of sparkling wine in our cabin for sail-away was much enjoyed but I think a small basket of fruit would also have been welcomed; it is something we've grown accustomed to in our cruises with Holland America, it costs the ship very little, and it's a nice welcoming touch.
I believe Queen Victoria was in most of the ports of this itinerary for the first time. Our tour guides in each port commented on how beautiful the ship is, and this is true. The Queen Victoria looks stately and handsome in port, very much the ocean liner, and the red stripe at the water line and dark livery of the ship's hull really set her apart from all those white (almost plastic-looking) cruise ships that shared the port facilities with us during our itinerary.
Our Adventure Encoded into my DNA is a requirement for dotting I's and crossing t's. I am a born organizer as anyone who knows me will attest. This means that as soon as we book a trip, I open a "trip file" and the amassing of information begins. I surf the internet, clip articles, read reviews, look at travel forums, and the process of trip planning begins. What do we need to see and do, where should we eat, what private drivers do we want to book and where should they take us, what excursions are the best ones to take -- all of this becomes part of a fine, FAT file that expands steadily for months before departure!
By the time we leave home to embark on our trip, the bookings made as a result of all of this research are synthesized into a spreadsheet format which provides "at a glance" information about the commitments, reservations and plans we've made. All this planning actually makes the trips more relaxing as it is easy to keep track of the day's plan by consulting this chart.
This cruise had a port-intensive itinerary and that is why we chose it. There were a lot of ports, and they were wonderful ports, most of which we had not previously seen. Thus, we wanted to ensure we saw everything we could. I never quite understand the people for whom a cruise is "just a boat ride" and they either don't get off the ship when it's in port, or they are back on again by lunch time. I'm usually among the first off and last to return! My son jokes that they can throw a rope over the side so I can swing back on -- it has never come to that but I am certainly going to eat in Rome when I'm in Rome!! In my view, there is no ship so wonderful that it can eclipse the treasures and culture of the ports it visits.
5 months before we sailed I had booked all of our shore plans with the exception of Venice. For 3 ports I booked private drivers. For 4 ports I booked a ship's excursion because I couldn't justify the cost of hiring a driver everywhere and yet I don't just want to walk off the ship and poke about a few shops before re-boarding.
The most important factor in our decision to book Queen Victoria was the opportunity to spend the last 2 days of the cruise in Venice. It was therefore important to us to have a good plan for exploring this fantastic city, both on our day of arrival and the following day after sleeping onboard the ship in port.
Queen Victoria was arriving in Venice at noon on Aug 12 and we would not disembark until Aug 13 so that would give us about 6 hours in the city both days. I had to keep some time available the evening of Aug 12 for packing as luggage would be picked up by midnight, as always happens on cruises.
I booked a shore excursion for the afternoon of August 12, which was "walking tour of St. Mark's and Doges Palace and gondola ride", leaving several hours free afterwards for wandering and exploring. For August 13, what we needed was a "tour/transfer" commonly offered by ships on the disembarkation day. What that accomplishes is safe storage and transportation of your luggage to the airport while the day can be spent touring and then reuniting with the luggage at the end of the day in order to fly home.
Cunard was offering 3 tour/transfers for Venice on their website. One was a visit to the islands of Murano and Burano, one was the Villas of Brenta, and the other one was of no interest and consequently I cannot recall the description.
None of Cunard's shore excursions could be booked online. I haven't encountered this with any previous cruise; normally they can be booked online and paid with a credit card and confirmed many months prior to departure.
Cunard does not offer an on-line booking facility, so the shore excursions were booked directly with Cunard by my travel agent, Sheila.
For reasons that were not explained, when we booked the other 4 shore excursions, Cunard had not yet priced the Venice tour/transfers. Sheila was told to call back in two months' time at which time Cunard would be able to finalize the arrangements. She did so in March and was told to call back in May. When she called in May, she was told that the tour/transfers for disembarkation day in Venice could only be booked at the excursions desk after I came onboard. I'll admit I felt this was a loose end and wasn't entirely comfortable with it, given that on the strength of Cunard's tour/transfer offerings I had booked an evening flight out of Venice on August 13.
Sheila sent me copies of the tour/transfer options, which I put in my cruise trip file and brought with me. My first day onboard the ship, I went to the excursions desk and picked up the leaflet of tours because the line was absolutely enormous. The leaflet made no mention of August 13. The following day, a sea day, I went back and took my place in line. When it was my turn to be served, I explained that I wanted to book a tour/transfer for August 13. I was told that these tours had not yet been uploaded to the computer and they were therefore unable to make a booking. They expected to see the tours within 48 hours and suggested I come back in 2 days' time.
I went back two days later, after we sailed from Gibraltar. Then I was told that the tours were in the computer still BUT that all staterooms would be receiving printed information about August 13 within the next day or two and I could make my selection when that occurred.
The next day we had a leaflet for "disembarkation" delivered to our stateroom. It offered 4 options. No transfer arrangements at all. Transfer to the airport. Transfer to the rail station. Transfer to a list of hotels. None of these were tour/transfers and I was horrified! I certainly didn't want to be transferred to the Venice airport at 9 in the morning and spend the day there waiting for an evening flight. Nor did I want to choose "no transfer arrangements" and be responsible for figuring out how to get our luggage from the ship to the airport. It certainly couldn't be pulled around with us for a day.
Back to the excursions desk I went, to wait in the line again. It was another long line. This time I brought with me the hard copies provided by Cunard of the tour/transfers they were offering in Venice. The excursions desk personnel took a look at this and said they had NO information about these tours and that I should speak with the purser's desk.
At the purser's desk I spoke with Nel. I showed her the hard copies of the two tours/transfers in which we had an interest. I told her that the Excursion Desk had no knowledge of these and that the options being offered for transfers on August 13 were not acceptable to us due to our booking of an evening flight based on the offerings I held in my hand. I explained that as recently as late May my agent was told by Cunard's office that we would be able to book a tour/transfer once we were onboard.
Nel noted that these were clearly produced by Cunard and said she would show them to the tour manager who was presently out of the office. She committed that she would get back to me later in the day to let me know what arrangements could be made.
She called our stateroom several hours later to advise that these tour/transfers would not be offered at all on this sailing.
That left me in a quandary! How were we to get off the ship with our 7 pieces of luggage, spend the day in Venice, and get ourselves and the luggage to the airport at the end of the day for our flight? Where would the luggage be stored? How would it get physically off the ship? Suddenly it seemed I was to handle a logistical issue with no assistance when Cunard's office had been assuring us for months that a tour/transfer would take care of everything!
I tried seeking information online but the ship's internet service was so slow that it literally took 5 minutes for the google search page to load. At that rate, I was never going to find a private arrangement.
I emailed my travel agent who was well aware of what Cunard had promised, asking her to contact Cunard and see if they could assist. She then forwarded to me the reply she received from Cunard, essentially that they were very sorry to hear of our situation but that they were not in a position to handle what had become an on-board matter and that we should pursue it onboard.
In a binder in our stateroom there was a supply of stationery including some little note cards (size of post cards) for comments and concerns regarding "White Star Service". There wasn't much space but the card did indicate it was for bringing to Cunard's attention anything that would make our cruise more enjoyable. With only a few lines to work with, it wasn't easy to outline our situation, but I did my best and deposited the card at the front desk. The pre-printed small text on the card indicated that these White Star Comment cards were delivered directly to the hotel manager.
Within hours, I received a response from the hotel manager which basically confirmed receipt of my White Star Comment Card, thanked me for bringing my concern to her attention, acknowledged the sharing of my comments with the relevant departments, confirmed that combined tour/transfers would not be offered in Venice, and wished me an enjoyable cruise. A 3 sentence response that offered absolutely nothing.
I spent a few hours thinking about this. If Cunard had never offered tour/transfers, I would have organized this privately as I did with 3 other ports. I would have done that with the luxury of time and high speed internet. Now I had no time to work with, the slowest internet in the world, and something we had verified again and again and again with Cunard was simply pulled off the table. Yet on the strength of their assurances, I made flight arrangements enabling us to enjoy Venice for as long as possible. Was I supposed to be happy at the prospect of enjoying the hospitality of the Venice Airport instead? NO!!!!
The same binder that contained the stationery held all manner of ship information, room service menu, the usual details of shipboard life. The front page was a 12 point statement of "White Star Service". I had read this upon embarkation and thought it a rather lofty goal but nice to see upfront what the ship expected from its personnel.
I re-read the points of White Star Service, took out a full sized sheet of Cunard stationery and wrote to the hotel manager. I began by saying "Point #12 of the White Star Service program, which is detailed in the binder in every stateroom onboard, states "We never say no -- we always offer alternatives". I am writing to you today to ask what alternatives you are prepared to offer my family".
I then outlined our situation more comprehensively and chronologically, starting with the phone calls between my travel agent and Cunard, the hard copies of the tour/transfers for August 13 that I had brought on board and surrendered to Nel at the purser's desk, and finally the booking of an evening flight out of Venice on the strength of Cunard's offer of tour/transfers which offer now appeared to be nothing more than smoke.
I clearly indicated that I understood the tour/transfer option was gone. So be it. What I was now asking from this premium cruise line with the vaunted and legendary White Star Service was standard fare for any 3* hotel to offer a departing guest.
Specifically, I requested the following: Safe storage of our luggage, the ability to leave and explore the city, return and be reunited with our luggage, and a transfer to the airport at the end of the day.
Literally any hotel will do this. A cruise ship is just a floating hotel and what I was requesting was absolutely within their capability to do.
I hand-delivered my letter to the purser's desk and it was addressed by name to the hotel manager. I waited for a response.
For four days.
On the fourth day we were getting perilously close to Venice and we still had no disembarkation plan. Back again to the purser's desk I went, realizing that at this point I had probably invested something like 9 or 10 hours in lining up over this one issue, more hours spent in line in one cruise than in all of my previous 7 cruises combined.
Fortunately, the receptionist available when it was my turn was Nel, and she remembered me and my hard copies of the tour/transfer options. I updated her quickly with respect to my correspondence and indicated I was not satisfied with silence. When a customer has a valid concern -- and I had documented mine already -- a response is required. This is a simple Customer Service 101 protocol. The tone of my letter was polite and my request was reasonable. Any mid range hotel and certainly every cruise ship we've sailed would cheerfully accommodate the same request.
The failure by the hotel manager to respond (or even to delegate to someone else, for response) was rude and unreasonable. Frankly I was by this time quite fed up with the legendary White Star Service which is a lovely phrase that means absolutely nothing tangible on board Queen Victoria.
I asked Nel if she could assist me in obtaining an appointment with the Hotel Manager. I also indicated that I knew there were many passengers onboard the ship with an issue similar to ours, because I had overheard similar conversations at the purser's desk each time I lined up to address this and I also overheard conversations on the subject in the "relaxation room" of the Spa. The Cunard customers discussing the Venice disembarkation and lack of arrangements for passengers with late flights were certainly not "relaxing" but in fact were quite hot under the collars of their spa robes.
Nel returned after a few minutes to indicate that the Tour Manager would meet with me. He introduced himself and suggested we sit comfortably in the lobby area near the purser's desk. He was aware of my letter and asked me to recount the situation chronologically, which I proceeded to do. I made my request once again for safe storage of our luggage, the opportunity to explore Venice, and transfer at the end of the afternoon to the Venice airport.
In conclusion, I reminded him that even the most moderately priced hotel would cheerfully make such an arrangement for a departing guest and I expected nothing less from the premium cruise line that Cunard claims to be.
He thanked me for my time and indicated he would see what could be done and would respond to me by the end of the day.
By late afternoon, I had a message from Tanya who I believe is the purser, indicating that she would call back and provide disembarkation details. She did call our stateroom again about an hour later and set out for me the plan for August 13 for our family.
Essentially, they agreed to everything I had requested. We were given Gold #1 luggage tags and told to put our luggage in the hallway the night before disembarkation as is customary. It would be taken to the airport the following morning and held in a safe area for us to claim in the afternoon prior to checking-in for our flight home.
Our hand baggage could be brought on the morning of August 13 to the Connexions lounge where it would be safely stored and we would be given receipts for it. We were to be provided with visitor cards so that we could re-board the ship on August 13. (Ordinarily on disembarkation day the passenger cards are cancelled in the system, making it impossible to re-board at a later time.) We were told that we would be accommodated for our transfer to Venice Airport at 3:30 p.m. with the group of passengers who were taking the "Cunard Charter Flight to Gatwick".
I was also specifically asked not to mention these arrangements to any other passenger onboard the ship because an exception was being made for us and could not be offered to anyone else.
We complied with this request. However, I know for a fact that there were many other passengers in a situation similar to ours who should have been properly accommodated. When we arrived at the Venice Airport later in the day, we met people who had literally spent their entire day at the airport following an early morning transfer from Queen Victoria. They had not expected this and, like us, had booked a late flight hoping to enjoy Venice for as long as possible. They were not happy campers and I suspect gave their travel agent an earful to relay to Cunard upon their return home.
I suspect the biggest difference between our fate and theirs on August 13 in Venice was my persistence. Another contributing factor was the fact that I remained polite and reasonable in my request for "alternatives". It was also beneficial in supporting my contention that Cunard got us into this mess and Cunard should get us out of this mess, that I had brought with me hard copies of the offered tour/transfer excursions. This made it difficult indeed for Cunard to deny having offered such arrangements to us, and explained our willingness to rely on these plans when making our air arrangements to return home.
Would I cruise with Cunard again? Not likely. This cruise was enjoyed primarily because of the quality of the ports (which has nothing to do with Cunard).
Our cruise experience was also enhanced by those individuals (our dining room waiter, various spa personnel, Nel at the purser's desk, the tour manager, and the purser who provided a solution to our disembarkation issue) who, in an otherwise nondescript service environment, provided caring, quality service.
Many departments onboard a cruise ship report to the hotel manager. True leadership in service excellence can only come from the top down, and my personal experience in service with the hotel manager gave me no comfort in this regard.
Given the hotel manager's response to our initial expression of concern regarding disembarkation arrangements (essentially, "thanks for your note, no we can't help you, enjoy your trip") I am not surprised that service standards onboard Queen Victoria in virtually every area that can impact a guest's enjoyment of a cruise were the poorest we have experienced during our 8 cruises to date.
If Cunard can find a way to get the majority of their onboard crew, staff, and officers to a level of genuine willingness to satisfy the passenger, they will legitimize their use of the phrase "White Star Service". Until then? Not so much.
This was our second sailing on the QM2 from Brooklyn. The ports of call were Halifax, Nova Scotia and Boston, USA. Boarding was quick and painless. Lunch is readily available at Kings Court, serving a variety of dishes, Asian, Italian, etc. Assorted juices and many variety of teas are available at all times. This is the place you want to go to grab a late night snack, hot offerings and pizza is also available.
Our room was on deck 11, cat. A2 (a lovely upgrade from a B5). The room appeared just a little smaller than our previous one on deck 8 (B5) but the view from up there was gorgeous. We had early dining at the Britannia room, table for 6. Must say service was better than in '07.
We had met a few folk who were in the Queens Grill and they just loved the level of service and dining options. After hearing much about the 3 different classes of service onboard, in a nut-shell, you get what you pay for. I was a little disappointed that there was no lamb served at dinner. I later found out thatall Grill class passengers were able to get lamb, cooked tableside or however they liked.
The shows were all very good. The Planetarium is excellent, a must do while onboard. The Black and White ball is most fun, though a group of experienced ballroom dancers/teachers were taking over the floor. G32 is lots of fun, even for our age group 50+, the lively band does a terrific job of getting everyone on their feet. I do still love disco and got my fill.
The staff were friendlier and more approachable this time around, but I didn't see much of the cruise director. We were privileged to have seen the Brooklyn Bridge's 125th anniversary fireworks display, we were so close, and it was spectacular. The ship didn't leave Brooklyn until 9PM, good call by the Captain. Our sailing was smooth, but for cloudy skies in Halifax, the weather was lovely. Our stop in Boston was wonderful, couldn't ask for better weather and our duck tour excursion/sights was grand.
Overall, she's an incredible vessel, and you'll never feel crowded while onboard her.
We love the Christmas Markets of Northern Europe, so when we saw that Cunard's latest liner, The Queen Victoria, was visiting Rotterdam, Oslo, Copenhagen, Hamburg & Bruges for her Maiden Voyage, we jumped at the chance.
Embarkation - Southampton - December 11th 2007 Living just outside of Southampton, UK, makes cruising very easy for us - maybe too easy. Especially when chatting with our fellow guests and realising that they had travelled from all around the globe, some for several days. So we arrived at Southampton Cruise Terminal 101 nice & early, left our luggage at the drop point, and after a long check-in (despite having pre-filled the forms on line) we relaxed in the embarkation lounge, listening to a local school choir who were singing Christmas Carols.
After a short while, we were invited to board the ship, which despite only being a few feet away from the lounge required walking up & down an air bridge some 4 or 5 times to get to the Promenade Deck which is where they were embarking everyone. Fortunately despite being December, the weather was relatively warm & dry as we all stood in thequeue for the security photos.
Once officially on board, you were left to your own devices as far as getting to your stateroom. There were white gloved crew welcoming you, and pointing the way, but no-one to escort you or help with your hand luggage.
Our stateroom (inside) was perfectly adequate for a short voyage, despite there being no sets of drawers, there were 2 small ones in the bedside cabinets, and a further one in the vanity unit. This was an issue for some people on board, and we understand that Cunard were to address the problem in the New Year. The height of the beds did however allow easy storage of suitcases, so any additional clothing was easily stored there. One other comment was that some women may experience issues with the height of the wardrobes, the maximum drop length is only suitable for long dresses of ladies up to about 5ft.
In most grades of stateroom, there is only one power outlet per standard (i.e. US, EU, UK, Japan), so you may want to pack a multi-gang extension lead.
The room layout & lighting felt spacious, and thankfully all the staterooms have flat panel TV's, which allow much more shelf space, and look more in keeping with a quality brand.
There was also a couple of forms asking if we wanted Personalized Notepaper, and our names entered into the Passenger List for the voyage. But we are not sure if this is going to be the norm, or just a one-off.
Afternoon Tea This was held in the Queens Room, where white gloved waiters serve teas, coffees, and a selection of sandwiches & cakes. Unfortunately the number of tables are very limited, and queues soon formed where the number of passengers outweighed the capacity of the room.
Afternoon Tea was also served in the Queens Grill Lounge, and Lido Buffet, which provided a 24 hour eatery, with the selection & styles of food available changing throughout the day.
Britannia Restaurant - Breakfast All the standard Cunard options were available, from healthy fruit to cereals, to light options to the full English Breakfast. Service did seem to be a bit stretched at times, but being on the Maiden, this was only to be expected as the crew & management get the feel for the correct balance.
Britannia Restaurant - Lunch Again the speed of service needed to be addressed, with table waiters working away from their usual area not knowing where things were, but time will resolve this as they become more familiar with their surroundings. The food was well presented, full of taste, and most importantly for me, hot.
After the meal, when asked if you wanted tea or coffee, we always opted for the Cappuccino, which btw is free in the restaurants. These were always piping hot.
Britannia Restaurant - Evening We had opted for early dining so that we could catch the evening entertainment, and late sailaways. All of your meals are pre-plated & therefore well presented and show off the crew's artistic flair. But if you want extra vegetables, you have to make sure you ask when ordering. There was a very good selection of wines suitable for all tastes with a wide range of prices.
As with the lunchtime service, after dinner hot drinks included tea, coffee, or Cappuccino. Of course you can also get these around the various bars on the ship, but remember there is a charge in these locations.
Todd English - (cover chargeable restaurant) Although we didn't have the opportunity to try this (cover charge) restaurant as the menu wasn't to our liking, two of our table companions did & enjoyed the experience. But please be aware that it gets booked up very quickly, so if you have a special date in mind, try & book up as soon as you board.
On a later voyage we were entitled to a CWC lunch at Todd English, but were left very disappointed by the quality of the food served. We both had to send our meals back, whilst an elderly gentleman on a nearby table asked for another roll, as "it was, by far, the best part of the meal".
Lido Self Service The self service Lido was pretty well organised, although for a while the food did need to be kept warmer. There was a good selection & the quality of the food was very good. The Lido provides food, on a self service basis, throughout the day, from breakfasts, pastries, hot & cold lunches, afternoon tea, and late night snacks.
In the evening one side of the Lido was taken out to provide 'speciality' dining, the details of which are below. At various points around the Lido, there are tea/coffee/hot water stations, which meant that there were very few delays. There was also iced water and an ice-cream machine with warm cookies which kept us very happy.
Lido Pizzeria Every day from Lunchtime until afternoon tea, fresh pasta & pizzas are made to order. They rotate the selection of toppings each day, so there's plenty of choice. Try walking past with the aroma wafting & NOT stopping for a slice !
Lido Evening Specialities To eat in the speciality section in the evening, you will need to make reservations as thy were very popular. There is NO cover charge for this meal option.
Basically what happens is that when you arrive, you are shown to your table, which has been laid up in keeping with the theme, by equally theme-dressed waiters, the table is your for the evening, so there is no rush. They will bring you the menu and take any drinks orders. When they return with your drinks, they will take you through the menu making recommendations, which we found most useful. They then bring you each course of your meal, and return a couple of times to make certain that everything is to your liking. Once you have finished one course, they will clear away the plates & ask if you are ready for the next course - so you control the speed of the evening.
Once the chefs have finished all their work for the evening, they come out to meet the guests & chat with them, checking that everything was alright, and seeking suggestions & observations. There were 3 different themes during our cruise, each night had 2 of them in operations. They were Indian, an English Carvery, and Swiss Fondue - unfortunately we were too late in discovering these & missed out on the Fondue which looked very interesting, and booked up very quickly.
Golden Lion - Pub Lunch Again, in a mirror of the usual Cunard offerings, a 'pub-style' lunch is served in the Golden Lion, with such items as Fish & Chips, and Curries. All washed down with a range of draught or bottled beers, ales, and lagers.
Stateroom Service? Having introduced himself on the first day, we never saw our steward again, the room cleaning & organising itself as if by magic each morning & evening. With fresh fruit and refilled ice bucket also appearing from no-where.
Returning late one day from tour, we tried room service, which offered a very good selection of snacks & meals. The efficiency of the service was excellent, and & quality of the food we ordered was most enjoyable, one other bonus was that unlike many lines, the room service carries no extra charge. When we phoned the order through, we were warned that due to workload it would take about 20 minutes, and some 25 minutes later the waiter knocked on the door with about twice as much food as we'd been expecting.
If you wanted breakfast in your stateroom, you simply filled in a pre-selection form & hung it on your stateroom door in the evening. The food was delivered within the 15 minute band that you also selected.
The Crew & Staff ? Despite being new to the ship themselves, the crew were eager to ensure that you had everything you wanted to ensure your time on the ship was memorable for all the right reasons. Examples of this were on the first day we discovered the Lido Evenings, having not fancied the main restaurant menu, the Maitre D' advised us that they were fully booked, but if we were able to come back at a given time, he would ensure that a table was set up for us. On another occasion we were unable to make early dining due to a function, but the Restaurant Manager found us a table for 2 for the later sitting, which turned out to be very close to where the harpist (Chiara Capobianco) was playing - a most romantic experience.
The senior officers were very approachable and enjoyed chatting to the guests about the ship, the ports, their experiences, and your own thoughts.
Themed Evenings Cunard are known for their themed evening, and Queen Victoria maintained this tradition with Masquerade Ball, Victorian and Ascot Evening, which a great effort was made by quite a few passengers with all sorts of hats being worn. Some had been made on board, during the afternoon art classes, but plenty had obviously been carefully packed & brought aboard just for this night.
Royal Theatre Private Box Experience One of the highlights of the ship for us were the Theatre Boxes which accommodate with 2 or 4 persons with very comfortable chairs & a table for drinks - which could be ordered from the box & delivered to you prior to the shows.
An extension to this feature, and something that we weren't sure would be VFM was the Private Box Experience. For a charge, you were invited to the theatre side seating for champagne & hors d'oeuvres, then just before the show, you were escorted to your box by white gloved, fully suited Bell Boys, where you were served with another half bottle of Champagne, and chocolate truffles. After the show you were presented with a signed photograph of the troupe as a certificate of your experience. A truly unique experience, and worth the money for that special evening.
Café Carinthia This are overlooked the central atrium, and served speciality coffees, at a price, with cakes & pastries. A very nice are to sit & relax & watch the world go by, but we preferred to be one deck up in the Midships Lounge
Drink Prices ? With the ship currency being the US Dollar, prices to the Brits & Europeans were very good. There was a good selection of wines, beers and spirits available, including a feature called 'flights' where you can buy a selection of 'sample' glasses of wines.
The soft drink card that many people were use to on the QE2 has been revamped, and basically now only covers drinks available from the soda gun - most of which were flat due to lack of demand.
Library ? This wonderfully organised haven carries books from every walk of life, along with daily newspapers from the ports of call, and onboard quiz & crossword sheets.
And so to the cruise itself .....
Southampton Sailaway 11th December Having debarked all visitors to the ship, which included the Hampshire Constabulary Band who had entertained us by playing various classics by the Lido Pool during the afternoon, Queen Victoria slipped her lines at just after 17:15. There was a 20 minute firework spectacular from floating barges accompanied by stirring 'big band' music played over the ship's loudspeakers. Everyone should have had champagne in their staterooms for the sail away, but most of us were still waiting for it's delivery, and therefore enjoyed it later in the voyage.
The evening entertainment in the Royal Court Theatre followed the standard pattern of a short performance by the dance troupe, followed by a British comedian, who was entertaining, but really needs to find some new material.
A brief wander along the Prom Deck (which doesn't wrap all the way) proved it to be functional, but uninspiring, so we dropped back inside & took a rest in our favourite bar - The Midship Lobby, which overlooks the atrium, and was therefore a good place to watch the world go by.
Rotterdam 12th December The arrival in Rotterdam this morning was very noisy with the Ship sounding her whistles as we passed the QE2, her decks also being full of passengers/guests laden with their cameras. We were escorted to our berth by a fire/tug boat & several small vessels. We moored up quite some way away from the QE2, which was a pity, as many people missed her, and we had hoped to get some photo's of the two liners.
Most people took the organized tour into Amsterdam, but having been there too often, we decided to take the shuttle bus into Rotterdam, where we spent a couple of hours looking around this modern city, it's Town hall, shopping streets, canals, gardens & finally back along the waterfront to view the ship. Upon returning to the ship, we saw the obvious sadness of many of the crew, who had been visited by their colleagues from the QE2, and were now having to say goodbye to their 'family & friends from their old home'
Sailaway that evening was rather delayed, but we were kept entertained by the sound of a local band & it's lively singers, who appeared to be enjoying singing various “sea shanties”.
That evening the Royal Court Theatre held a performance by Welsh singer & entertainer Aled Jones - who was quite entertaining, not only with his singing, but stories of life on the road . Being on first sitting we attended the late show, and upon finding that the Royal Box was free we just had to go for it. We were advised that apart from the first sitting guests we were the only non-celebrities to have used the box. So apart from the Royal couple, Mickey Arison of Carnival and John Prescott (a British politician) we were the next people to use the box.
December 13th - A Day at Sea Today Cunard were able to show off their 'at sea' entertainment, which apart from the usual pub & team quizzes, board games, and card competitions, featured "try your hand at fencing" - those who took part were given first class tuition in the art of fencing, from stances, to how to hold the epees/foils, to various movements. This looked all the better for the fact it was being held in the Queens Room, which had been decorated with various 'coats of arms' hanging from the upper balcony. It all looked very regal on the flat sea, we're not sure how it would look in heavy seas though.
That evening, was a formal night with the first of the various welcome aboard parties being held in the Queens Room, and hosted by Captain Paul Wright. Dual entrances were being used, the first if you wanted to join the very long queue to meet the Captain & have your photograph taken, the other for those who just want to join the party, and catch a photograph later.
The show for the evening was a performance called 'A Dance Passion' (aka Appassionata). So we tried & were successful in booking the Theatre Box Experience. It only cost $25 per person, and for that you are invited to take champagne & canapés in a wing of the theatre before being shown to your box by a 'dressed' Cunard Bell Boy. In the box, a further half bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne was on ice, along with 4 Belgian style chocolates. Each box is fitted with a pull cord so that you can call for more service. We ended up with box 12, which we found to be perhaps the best box in the Theatre & returned there, or it's mirror opposite box, for a few 'non-formal' nights, when the boxes are open on a first come first served basis. After the show we were presented with a photograph of the dance troupe. It didn't happen on this voyage, but the plan is to work out how they can incorporate a back stage visit.
Returning to our stateroom that evening, we discovered a limited edition Wedgwood gift bone china dish, printed with the Cunard logo, and the wording - QUEEN VICTORIA - Maiden Voyage December 11th 2007.
Copenhagen 14th & 15th December Having visited Copenhagen several times, we are now into a well oiled routine. By leaving the ship mid-morning and walking along the waterfront towards Nyhavn, you take in a small yacht harbour, the famous statue of the Little Mermaid, various statues & formal buildings, and arrive at the entrance to Amalienborg Palace where they hold a midday 'changing of the guards' ceremony. On this occasion it turned out to be a public holiday for St Lucia's (or St Lucy's) Day - so the changing of the guards was a bigger affair, with marching bands escorting the troops. However we were somewhat bemused by their arrival to the theme tune to Monty Python's Flying Circus, and later departure to the song 'Let it Snow'.
Later on that day, in a continuation of the St Lucia Day celebrations, a local school (Zahles) choir visited the ship, to sing traditional national songs & carols. As if it wasn't hard enough to perform on the main stage in front of hundreds of people, they sang the last carol in English. They were then treated to be well earned afternoon tea on board.
As this was an overnighter in port, many people remained ashore, so we decided to book ourselves into the Lido Indian Buffet. The Indian 'Buffet' as mentioned is held in a sectioned off area of the Lido which had been transformed with table runners, elegant glass plates, and very unusual condiment set (if they had sold them we would have bought some). The waiters were dressed up in Indian robes, and presented the menus to you describing each of the options & helping you choose your dishes. Basically they filled each table with a good selection of dishes for you to try. At the end of the meal, the chefs came out to talk with everyone & answer any questions.
The comedian appeared in the Theatre again, but upon realising that his show wasn't getting much response in the near empty Theatre, he left the stage & started interacting with the audience. This forced him to ad-lib, or at least rework his show, and it was the best show of his that we had seen in a long time, if only he had to do that every show. He did seem to have a knack of finding the wrong victims, out of the 6 people he picked on with, 3 were teachers, 1 was from the UK tax office, and another was an undertaker. The evening was rounded off with an enjoyable 10 minute firework display off to the seaward side of the ship, followed by a hot drink to thaw out again. Café Carinthia serves lovely hot coffees and hot chocolate (chargeable) throughout the day, along with a selection of Danish pastries & Muffins.
The following day saw Sir Roger Moore visit the ship today to attend a 'Welcome to Copenhagen' Plaque Exchange ceremony. However, we missed all that as we had taken the shuttle bus into the city centre today & enjoyed the Christmas decorations (see photo album) & shop displays as we walked to the City Hall and Tivoli Gardens, then along another waterfront, before winding our way back to the outdoor ice rink which backed onto Nyhavn .
During the afternoon there was a parade along the dockside by the Tivoli Boys Guard band, who performed various marching tunes. Unfortunately one of our external warm air blowers started pouring our clouds of white smoke, so they disappeared into the 'fog' & reappeared on their return march a few minutes later.
We set sail that evening, to more Christmas carols, this time from the Women's Marine Orchestra, and a crowd gathered to cheer us on our way.
The evening saw us in another cocktail party at 19:15, but the timing of it meant that we had to forego our set dining. We tried to book into the Lido Fondue, but it was fully booked, and this was the night that the Britannia Maitre D' (Luca) managed to organize us romantic table for 2 on the late sitting.
This evening's entertainment in the Theatre was provided by The OperaBabes, who were good when singing, but dragged their performance out far too long by padding it out with in depth dialogue of how they got to where they are today.
Oslo 16th December Oslo reminded us in no uncertain terms that it was winter, the signs read -5C / 23F. Adjacent to the dock is an old fort, which took on a new aspect with all the plants & stonework white with frost. Walking through the town was very quiet, I think all the locals were staying inside in the warm. In the centre of town on the main road up to the Palace, was another large skating rink, where a family were teaching their young children how to keep their balance - well they did better than I could.
In the afternoon we went on a tour to the Viking, Fram & Kon-Tiki Museums. The coach driver took us around the city of Oslo first, and the courier was able to give us a wonderful insight into the life of the locals. On the drive out to the museums, we also passed various other 'living museum' areas, and one of Oslo's Pagoda style churches, which was a delight to see, but seemed really out of place.
The first museum we visited held a Viking burial ship, which still has some 90% of it's original wood. The ship itself had been buried on land as a funeral tomb, and uncovered early in the 20th Century, then transported through the town on specially laid rail tracks to a ship which transported it to it's new home on the other side of the port.
From here we were taken to the Fram museum (which was bitterly cold) to learn the story of, and walk around, the purpose built (ant)arctic ship the Fram. The reason I say (ant)arctic was that the ship was originally funded for a Norwegian Expedition to the North Pole, but by the time the ship was ready, this has already been achieved, so after setting sail Roald Amundsen advised his crew that they were going to take Scott on & try & beat him to the South Pole. The display included a copy of the telegram that Amundsen sent to Scott advising him of the challenge - it was felt that to take him on un-announced would not be sportsman-like We then simply walked across the car park, to get to the much warmer Kon-Tiki Museum, where replica's of the various boats/rafts are on display, along with the history of how & why Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove that such voyages were possible. All the links between the Incan & Egyptian cultures were laid out, leaving little doubt that there must have been trading between these two empires on opposite sides of the earth.
Upon returning to our stateroom, we found an invite to the Art Auction Cocktail Party which was scheduled for 19:45, so we were able to return to our set table - only the 2nd time that all the table companions had turned up, much to the waiter's amusement. The cocktail party was lovely, if somewhat overcrowded as it was held within the confines of the Art Gallery, but it gave everyone a good chance to mingle & chat.
The entertainment that evening was certainly something to behold. It was a true variety Show, starting with twin performers juggling whilst balancing on each other, or with bodies intertwined. They were followed by what was advertised as Vase Balancing, and turned out to be a Chinaman tossing various sized earthenware pots into the air - some VERY LARGE & heavy, and catching & spinning them on his head or arms, back, neck etc. incredible performance. These acts were supported by a couple performing Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics on ribbons from the rafters.
December 17th - 2nd Day at Sea The trouble with a short voyage is that there are so many functions to attend, and so little time to hold them. Today was the day that became a blur ;-)
The Cunard World Club cocktail party in the Queen's Room started at midday & lasted for well over an hour. It was hosted by the Future Sales team, and attended by the Captain, who made another one of his very amusing speeches, including his response to the enquiries as to why the Prom Deck didn't go all the way round, by offering to look out for any drift wood to finish the job off. At 15:00 there was a Wine Tasting seminar held in the Britannia Restaurant, and despite being very disorganised at the outset, once the numbers thinned down, and they got their process sorted, we all had a good chance to taste several wines & canapés, with very knowledgeable input from the impressive sommeliers.
As this is our 20th year of marriage, we had put our names down for the Renewal of Wedding Vows ceremony. Unfortunately one couple who had signed up had to return home early for a works emergency, but the Father on board was good enough to perform their ceremony before they left the ship. The rest of us enjoyed a shared service, with music on the harp from Chiara Capobianco, and optional champagne & photo shoot. We were all presented with certificates, which we later had signed by Captain Paul Wright in one of his book signing sessions.
Then in the evening was yet another Cocktail party, this one for Platinum and Diamond Tier Guests. Again it was attended by several Senior Officers who happily mingled & chatted with the guests. Being a late function, this messed up our dining sitting, so we opted to try the Lido Carvery, and again visited our table to excuse ourselves once more. As with the Indian night, the table was set especially for the whole night, and the food was served to you, with the head chef visiting each table to ensure that everyone was happy.
The entertainment for the evening was two fold. In the Queens Room, was the Royal Ascot Ball, which wasn't our sort of thing, so we went off to the Theatre once more.
In the Theatre that evening was an Elton John Tribute by an artist called Jonathan Kane. He was very convincing, and was obviously really enjoying his work - as did the very mixed age audience who had come along to 'party in the aisles'. Apparently Jonathan Kane is Elton John's only officially endorsed Tribute Act, and it was obvious why. If you like Elton John & ever see this guy advertised locally, go along for a great night.
Hamburg 18th December Hamburg, after our well supported all night transit from the North Sea into Hamburg, we moored up & all very quickly learned to wrap
up, another beautiful Winter's day.We had booked onto a morning tour, called Land and Sea, which started in the main square, where a traditional Christmas Market was set up, then walking through the Rathaus/Town Hall learning a little of the political running of the town & it's close links to the Hanseatic Cities & England. From here were strolled along the more exclusive shopping area to the Aussenalster lake, where we boarded our well heated barge style boat. This took us around the lake giving us wonderful views of the city, with some of it's more exclusive houses (and US embassy). The lake trip was remarkably relaxing, just soaking up the scenery, and we were eventually dropped at the other end of the lake to rejoin our coach, which then made it's way around the outskirts of the city to St. Michaels Church. Behind the church was a very short, narrow & busy alleyway with buildings from the middle ages, which were now used as shops selling mainly packaged teas & coffees, and olde worlde sweets, but if there were more than a couple of people in the shop, you couldn't move. Unbelievable that the shops still existed. From here it was back to the coach & continuing the city tour, taking in, of course, the Reeperbahn famed for it's nightlife & Beatles connections.
All day long, busy tour & private boats sailed up & down the Elbe to view the Queen Victoria, and streams of people came down to the port to take photos & see the ship for themselves. It's just a shame that they couldn't see how good she looks on the inside. We decided to give this evening's show (Mark O'Malley) a miss, and visited the Golden Lion instead where a party atmosphere was growing thanks to the pianist Danny Mills. At 21:45 we ventured out onto deck, armed with cameras for another firework sail away. We weren't disappointed, the display was very powerful & effective, and as we set sail horns & whistles filled the air, we were also escorted for a couple of hours by a paddle steamer and smaller private boats. For several hours every ship or river boat (even large lorries) that we passed, sounded off, and the members of the Bridge Team were more than happy to respond in kind. A night that not many will forget.
Day at Sea 19th December This morning John & Mary Maxtone-Graham put on a short show recalling crew & passenger experiences onboard ships over the years. From diamond smuggling, to non-tipping guests to ungrateful film stars etc. The biggest applause that John received was when he announced that any proceeds taken during the show would go towards furniture purchases, thus ensuring that no Stateroom would ever need to go without a chest of drawers again. We have heard that all Staterooms are supposed to have new drawers installed in the New Year - but they didn't say which year ;o)
During the afternoon, we finally succumbed & joined the book signing queue. I don't know how many times the Captain put his pen to paper, but he really should have had a collection box on his desk for contributions to Queen Victoria's chosen charity, he would have made a small fortune.
That evening we gave the theatre a miss, as we had already seen the show Victoriana, and found it not to be our thing. The show was a huge success with the elderly clientele, as they basked in the 'Good Old Bad Old Days' format, and enthusiastically waved their hankies & Union Flags when encouraged to do so. Judging by the numbers of flags still being waved as they walked around the ship, it produced a real feel good factor amongst the audience.
Zeebrugge 20th December This morning we were told that we were moored up in Zeebrugge, and had to take their word for it, as all we could see was dense fog, with a temperature of minus 7C / 19F. The most southerly port of the voyage, and the coldest - the World's gone mad.
We had another tour today - Bruges on your own - that is if we can find our coach, and if the driver can find Bruges ;o) The roads were very quiet, and the journey time was only about 30 minutes, which meant that we had over 5 hours to explore Bruges. We had never seen Bruges in the Winter before, and were very happy with what we found. The rivers were mostly frozen, and the stone bridges, trees, and even cobwebs were all white with frost - very atmospheric. Being on tour, we missed the auction for Ship's Nautical Chart, but understand that it went for several thousand pounds, with the proceeds going to charity.
We returned to the ship & set sail shortly afterwards for home. The entertainment for the evening was provided by the Irish Comedian Adrian Walsh, meanwhile in the Golden Lion, the pianist's performance once more turned into a very cheerful, if unofficial, karaoke, with all having a good time.
Southampton Disembark 21st December As we both had to get to work by 9am we used the self disembark, which started at around 7:30 and we were both in our offices working hard before 9am. If you use the self disembark you have to remember there are no stewards to assist you and you must carry off all your luggage in one go down the gangway.
And so to the important question Would we sail on Queen Victoria again? Most definitely, well done Cunard & Carnival, we think you've got it spot on. All the QE2 die-hards thought that she was an admirable replacement for her, whilst the QM2 loyalists seemed to accept that she was better than they had expected.
The photos mentioned in this report & several others can be found at CruiseMates Gallery.
We arrived at Southampton's City Terminal just before 5pm, and although she was partially hidden behind the terminal building, Cunard's newest liner, Queen Victoria, stood proudly above it, with her name lit up (photo 1).
So come 5:30pm, with all our paperwork filled & filed, we were finally allowed on board. First impressions were very good, the entrance took us straight into the main atrium, and everywhere you looked there was wood, wood, marble & wood. Very nice.
Our first stop was the main atrium, to look at the magnificent brass picture of the Queen Victoria ship (photos 8 to 10). Unfortunately, President & Managing Director of Cunard Line, Carol Marlow, was there recording an interview so we had to change route, but looking up & down the sweeping stairways -- we thought it very reminiscent of the main stairs on the Ex-Renaissance ships (photos 6 & 7), to our right was the upper floor of a lovely 2 storey wooden panelled library (photos 29 to 32), with spiral staircase & authors names woven into the carpet. Forward ofthat was a well sized card room (photo 16). In order to not get into the interview video, we retreated & walked the other side, past a lounge & bar, through the photo area and into the upper level of the Britannia Restaurant (photos 12 to 15). The ceiling was dual level with inset lighting, and seemed very convivial.
After a walk around the restaurant, we took the lift (as per the route planner) to the 9th deck.
This deck houses all the spa, gym, fitness, and therapy rooms (photos 22, 23 & 55 to 57). There seemed to be enough to ensure that you wouldn't have to wait too long for an appointment. The equipment in the gym appeared tightly packed, but still easily accessible & usable.
I made the mistake of wandering into one therapy room & came across two of the staff testing a 'dry float tank.' They explained that you are wrapped in a thick plastic blanket, then lowered into warm water to float for 40 minutes -- it is supposed to be equivalent to a good 6 hour sleep. I decided to have a go & have to say that it felt really good.
Above the spa area are the Commodore Club lounge (photos 17 to 20), with it's panoramic window, Admiral side Lounge & Churchill Cigar room. Behind these you enter Hemisphere's club (photos 24 to 25), which seemed a little small, but was fine most evenings.
Making our way aft, we found the children/teens play zones, with all the adults busy checking out the air hockey games. Above these you come to the Grill bars, courtyard & lounges (photos 94 to 96 & 21). They seemed quite pleasant, although for the extra money I would have expected something more noteworthy. The most noticeable feature was the use of settees at some of the tables instead of chairs. Not sure I like that idea, sinking below the table as you eat. Finally, above the Grills you get the grill passengers exclusive deck space -- right under the ship's whistle, I can see some complaints coming there.
Anyway, we next made our way past the Pavilion Pool & into the Winter Garden (photos 39 to 42). Having seen the name I had thought it was going to be a lounge as it is on QM2, but on Queen Victoria, it is a pavilion style area (photo 58), with heavy duty deck chairs & a retractable roof. We were surprised that the roof did not cover the pool as well, making it an all season pool, especially for if it is away from the Med, which will be her main haunt.
Aft of the Winter Garden was a very well lit self-service Lido (photos 33 to 66), and beyond that a smaller pool with whirl pools. There seemed to be plenty of sun bed space around the decks.
We continued to deck 7, to look at some of the staterooms, which ranged from the "more than adequate" to the "everything you could want and more" (photos 28 & 50 to 54).
After that we returned to deck 3 to work the other end of the ship. Returning through the Grand Lobby, we were now able to stand & take in the majesty of the main atrium stairway, with it's open space, sweeping stairways, and, wrought iron railings. Very nice work. You then reach the art gallery. The gallery idea seemed far classier than having peices strewn all over the ship. The gallery led into Queen Victoria's shopping arcade. Complete with another stairwell which houses an "old fashioned" style clock, which plays the 'Big Ben' chimes, but for some reason the hands were 2 minutes behind real time, so although the chimes were spot on, the clock read at 28 or 58 minutes past the hour ??? (photos 62 to 54).
Continuing forward from here you get to the entrances into the Theatre Boxes, which were a novelty, and I'm sure will be very busy for that reason. You can book these in advance if you are a Grill Passenger, or for us mere mortals, they can be booked on the day of any Theatre Production Show. There is a charge, but this covers the following: A bell boy, who will come to your table when you have finished your meal & escort you to the show, a glass or two of chilled Veuve Cliquot with hors d'oeuvres or canapés, with a further half bottle and chocolates in your private box, and the chance to visit with the cast of the show backstage. This last item didn't happen on our cruise as they were still trying to work out the logistics, but this in no way detracted from the value of the experience & we thoroughly reccomend it for something different (photos 67 to 70).
Coming down one deck from the boxes, we arrive at the middle level entry into the theatre. We sat at the back of this level for the show, but were surprised to find that the seats didn't appear to be offset, so many people had heads in their way. The step down isn't very great either, so if you have a normal to tall person sit in front of you, you cannot see over their heads (photos 65 to 66). There was a lot of bobbing & weaving from people trying to get a clear view of what looks like a very good stage, with excellent lighting & sound system. The dance troupe seemed tight & well organized as they performed a brand new show for their first time in front of an audience (photos 71 to 79).
As you leave the Theatre on this level, you come to the Casino and Gaming machines. These were quite busy, but the noise didn't carry too far. This bar, which was very busy, IS a smoking facility but the air conditioning seemed to handle the extraction of the smell of tobacco very well.
Off to the side of this, passing the chiming clock & stairway, you come to the non-smoking Golden Lion, which is sectioned off, although the doors were held open. The bar area was attractive, with bar stools, and comfortable chairs & settees around the room. The bar could be difficult to get to when busy, but there is also waiter service to tend the tables. When we were in there, there was a pianist playing all the usual popular "feel good" songs, which gave the bar a good ambience. Sure to be a popular haunt for many guests.
Aft of the Golden Lion & Casino, you come to the Queens Arcade & two tiered Queens Room (photos 59 to 61), which has a small stage, and large, very nicely inlaid dance floor, and chandeliers overhead. This is the area where themed Balls & dance events will be hosted, along with various reception parties and, of course, Afternoon and High Tea -- be warned this gets even busier than QE2 and seating can be hard to find. Like the QE2, the room is the full width of the ship, with walkways through it for the causal onlooker.
Continuing aft, we now come to one of the Museum areas of the liner, containing posters, memorabilia, pictures, letters, and a replica of the Blue Riband trophy (photos 26 & 27). The reason that only a replica is on board, "according to legend," is that when Cunard won the trophy, the then owner declared that liners were about elegance & not speed "Queens do not race," and that the trophy should never be taken on board -- well that's the story as we were told it.
You now enter the Grand Lobby once more, with it's sweeping stairways, and to your left you have the Veuve Clicquot champagne bar, which seemed larger than most of the champagne bars on other ships, a great place to watch the world go by with a glass or two of bubbly (that'll be the Tonic in my Gin that makes the bubbles). Directly across from this bar, you have the lower library area, and to the side of that the pay to dine Todd English restaurant (photos 89 to 93). As you enter this restaurant, you walk down an aisle of silken drapes, leading to the bar where you can relax and have a private pre-dinner drink. Most of the tables were made up as 4's, but we did see one table of 8 to the left as you enter. But they can be re-arranged for larger or more private seating.
Using the stairs as a shortcut to return to the starboard side of the ship, you come into what will be the specialty coffee bar. Then we come to the Chart Room & bar, which was the busiest bar for pre-dinner drinks, as it runs up to the lower level entry into the Britannia Restaurant.
Returning to the Grand Lobby, we drop down to the final passenger deck, where the Purser's Office, Tours Desk and Internet Centre are located. If you stand at the base of the stairs & look up you have that magnificent brass picture of the Queen Victoria ship once more. Note the lighting on this changed during the day, and gives it a new aspect each time.
Thank you for taking the time to read my report. I hope it has given you some feeling for the liner & her rooms.
We chose a transatlantic voyage because we had heard this is a beautiful ship with great entertainment.
It is a beautiful ship and our cabin was better than average. Room steward was very good.
Although beautiful, the ship has a strange design, with venues tucked away here and there. In 6 days, we did not really get comfortable with locations. This makes it difficult to "browse" in the evenings to find just the right spot for pre and post dinner fun. The dining room was "in the way" on two decks, preventing easy promenade on the two main public floors. The promenade deck offered great space for outdoor walks or jogging.
The entertainment was good and disappointing too! The dance bands were excellent, and this is what we came for. The only problem was even with more room than any other ship, everyone else came for this too, and we had trouble finding a table and space to dance. The theater productions were okay to poor. The Rock at the Opera was just a series of song and dance routines, with no apparent connection than opera, with no energy and poor singers (particularlyone male soloist).
The bridge teacher was excellent, and the bridge games were well run and attended. Lectures offered were interesting. However, the weather prevented much use of the Planetarium.
We liked the food and had reasonable, but not outstanding service in the dining room. Room service was prompt and good, with reasonable variety.
The buffet area is set up to be specialty non-buffet restaurants for dinner, with corresponding (Italian, Asian, etc.) food at lunch. This prevents the feeling of going to a cafeteria, which you usually have on the ships, but also makes it difficult to decide what to eat and then find a place to sit together with your companion if he has wandered off in search of a different cuisine.
All in all, we would recommend this ship and cruise, but I do think all the pre-cruise hype made us expect more than was delivered. It was better than many ships we have been on, but did not knock our socks off!
The Britannia is two seatings for dinner and open-seating for lunch and breakfast. I like the late dinner seating because there is no time pressure. Tables can and do stay there conversing until after eleven. During the open-seating meals, guests are placed at a table by one of the assistant restaurant managers. I like joining one of the larger tables because you get to meet more people and the people on QM2 tend to come from such interesting backgrounds that good conversation often ensues. I was not dissatisfied with the performance of the waiters at any of the tables I was at during this voyage.
There are several alternative venues for meals. The most popular of these is the King's Court, which is the ship's self service buffet. This area is very large but not very well designed. The different stations which specialize in different cuisines are too far apart to easily take something from one area and combine it with something from another. Also, there is not enough seating despite the size of the area. Finally, the views of the sea from some of the seats are obscured by the ship'swrap-around outdoor promenade deck. This is one area of the ship that needs to be re-thought.
The second and fourth day of the cruise was sea days. As such, they were a mini-taste of what it is like on a transatlantic crossing. One of the things that Cunard excels at is in the quality of the lecturers that are presented. They are not people who simply recite a few facts about the upcoming port but rather are accomplished scholars and/or public figures who are often thought provoking. This time, Dr. Dr. Eric Roorda spoke about the economic and strategic significance of Halifax and maritime historian Ted Skull discussed the history of the Cunard Queen-class ocean liners. These lectures were in the Illuminations theater, which not only serves as the ship's planetarium but is an art deco movie palace that shows recent films on a large screen, the way movies were meant to be seen.
Halifax has a number of interesting sights and areas of scenic beauty. The old British fortress on top of the hill in the center of town has people dressed in Victorian uniforms re-enacting parade drill and firing a large cannon everyday at noon. There is also an afternoon tea in the fort. The little town of Peggy's cove looks like it was created by a set designer who wanted to show a fishing village on a rocky shore with a lighthouse. In town, there is a board walk that leads from the cruise ship terminal to the navy base on the other side of town. Amongst the places of interest along the way are the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic with exhibits about Halifax's long connection with the sea and World War II corvette HMCS Sackville. One can also take a ride on Theodore the Tugboat.
The night of the first sea day and the night after leaving Halifax were formal nights. Unlike some cruise ships, most of the passengers do don formal wear on these evenings. It is all part of the ocean liner experience.
In sum, Queen Mary 2 is a great ship and this was an enjoyable short cruise. It also gave me the opportunity to photograph more parts of the ship which allowed me to finish building my virtual tour of the ship. http://www.beyondships.com/QM2tour1.html
LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!
As the mighty Queen Mary 2 passed her smaller predecessor, the graceful Queen Elizabeth 2 at Southampton, the two ships exchanged a volley of salutes. The deep blasts coming from the QM2 whistle initially startled me. Her deep-throated sound, a copy of the original Queen Mary, stirred something deep within my bones. Throughout the week, the sound of that horn, (although, on some foggy nights in the Commodore Lounge, I felt it as much as heard it ) linked me to the proud heritage of Cunarders plying the North Atlantic.
This was a day to say farewell to a dear old friend, our beloved QE2. Earlier that morning, we disembarked from our final cruise on her and shortly thereafter, Queen Elizabeth came aboard to bid farewell to the ship she had proudly christened over 40 years earlier.
I first glimpsed her unmistakable profile on a cruise to Hawaii in 1989. What a beauty. And her beautiful classic silhouette remains mostly unchanged -- if only my own had stayed so shipshape (ouch!) over the past 20 years. From the start, we were captured by her spirit. On our first trip, muchof the "jet age" formica and jarring 1967 colors still remained -- a far cry from the classic luxury liner heritage one might expect and over the years, she underwent many refits and remodels. Her dining rooms changed size, names, even briefly swapped locations and her engines and propulsion system was totally replaced, yet she still maintained that special allure and grace that we experienced on first encounter and was always, unmistakably "QE2." Truth be told, she has never really lived up to her hype, yet it doesn't matter -- she has been well-maintained, yet something always felt a bit "tatty" to me. Perhaps that's part of what made her so easy to love.
Seven days earlier, we boarded the QE2 in Civitavecchia, joining a Mediterranean cruise en-route which had departed Southampton a few days previous. This was to be our fourth and farewell voyage on her, and our first cruise on the Med. A bit about us: we're a gay couple in our 50s from San Francisco. These were our 19th and 20th cruises. We've been on a wide variety of ships and cruises, but generally prefer more traditional cruising. Before joining the QE2, we had spent 8 days in Spain (Madrid & Barcelona) and a too-short visit to Rome.
QE2 -- EMBARCATION AND CABIN We were READY for a return to familiar comforts on that day. We had originally planned on spending the morning at the Vatican Museum, but instead, I had spent hours sitting in a broken chair in a trailer at Ciampino Airport as I waited for Italian customs to inspect suitcases I had shipped in advance of the cruise. Lesson learned. Do NOT use zip strips when shipping to Italy. Authorities will not cut them without in-person permission of the owner. Our luggage shipping service had given me an address where my bags were held (Customs was characteristically circumspect on why they were holding them). However, when my cab tried to get there, we were stopped by Italian police with big guns, so he let me out. I think the Polizia were trying to be helpful, but they only spoke Italian. They kept on gesturing in one direction and indicating (I think) that I should walk back down that road and then turn right. Did I mention that they had very big guns? After turning right, and wandering near some locked fences and trailers, I found a woman named Paola who took pity on me. (She had come out of her company's trailer to feed some cats, and I became another stray.) She spoke little English, but was able to call the local folks at DHL (they were in an area inaccessible to me) -- and let me sit in the tipsy chair in her office as I waited and waited for customs to open my bags so they could check out my tuxedos and underwear. A couple of long cab rides later, we were on the dock ready to board.
While we waited for someone at the Purser's Office to come out to check us onboard, we had the pleasure of meeting Shannel, a lounge waitress who was manning the water and juice station on the dock. She was a true joy -- we visited her often in the Yacht Club bar. (Not that we drink a lot but) She had just transferred to the QE2 on this voyage from the QM2. To her delight, she found out a few days later that she was going back "home" to the QM2 on the same day we were due to board -- so we saw her on that ship as well (She also spread the word among the bar staff -- so from the start, we heard "Shannel told us about you!")
We were quickly checked-in, greeted our cabin stewardess (who had thought we missed the boat when we failed to board at Southampton) and proceeded to race around the ship, reacquainting ourselves with her quirks. Yes, the map in the Chart Room still says "Le Harve" the little Princess Lounge on 1 Deck is open before dinner, and you still use the funny curving staircase to get to Boat Deck from the Yacht Club.
Our cabin was one of a handful of Caronia class rooms squeezed in amongst the original first class cabins assigned to the Queens Grill. (We had been fortunate to be upgraded to one of these on our Panama Canal transit. They are HUGE with walk-in closets and bathrooms larger than entire cabins on 5 Deck.) Our cabin was a bit old fashioned, with portholes instead of windows and twin beds that can't be slid together, but it was immensely comfortable, with original wood paneling, ample closets and a large bathroom.
QE2 DINING We ate in the single-seating, Caronia Dining Room. We shared a table for six with two couples from the north of England who had not known each other previously, but who got along famously. Just as they had become used to being the only ones at the table set for six, we appeared. No problem (I presume) -- it was a pleasure dining with them and we had many wonderful conversations.
Food was uniformly excellent and service was flawless. We had dined in the Queens Grill on our two previous trips -- in fact, when we had last dined there, it had a different name (Columbia). I wondered if the food in the "regular" dining rooms could compare. It did. Although we could not order off-menu (the extra perk of dining in the grills) -- the items on the standard menu were all tasty and perfectly prepared. Each dinner listed choices for appetizer, soup (including my favorite vacation indulgence -- cold fruit soup), salad, entree and dessert. (On the two-seating Britannia Dining Room on the QM2, the first section combined the starters and soups, and was sadly lacking the delicious chilled fruit varieties.) The menus seemed to be somewhat more attuned to English passengers, since the ship has been primarily marketed in the UK and there were only a handful of Americans aboard. An additional advantage of having a single sitting is that breakfast and lunches were also at our usual table with our assigned waiters instead of open seating.
We enjoyed having a sommelier for our table. Not that we have exotic tastes in wine, (in fact we often had only a single glass from the "list at the back.") but we find a lot is lost when their trained advice is replaced by a corporate recommendation published on the menus (with associated kickbacks to the line)
QE2 ENTERTAINMENT, ACTIVITIES AND LECTURES On board activities and entertainment was of the level one would expect for a traditional line such as Cunard. There were numerous lectures and presentations. One of the special guest lecturers was a well-known (in the UK) author and police investigator. We did not attend his lectures but were told that they were fascinating. There was the usual bingo (reasonably priced) and napkin folding, but this is not the line for wacky pool games.
Of particular note are the port lectures. Unlike other lines, where these presentations only serve to direct you to stores on the recommended (kickback) list -- these lectures highlighted the history and attractions at the ports. We REALLY appreciated this -- and the maps with the recommended shops were still included in the Daily Programme, for those interested.
We noticed a definite upgrade in the production shows. To be frank, these were never the highlight of the QE2 experience. First off, until the mid-90s reconfiguration of the Grand Lounge there was no actual stage, and the troupe always seemed talented and eager but with limited resources. On this trip, not only did the (small) stage itself look improved, Cunard has upgraded the entertainment itself. The shows were interesting and the staging and talent was impressive (The Russian dancing during the "a Passionata" show was not to be missed!). The headliners were a mixed bag. We enjoyed a singer, Paul Emmanuel, but a guy who "rocked out" while playing a harp strapped to his belly was less impressive -- we left during his Riverdance number.
QE2 -- PORTS AND EXCURSIONS Before boarding, we arranged a private tour in Rome with Through Eternity Tours (www.througheternity.com). They matched us with an amazing woman named Gracelyn, who seemingly knew everything about the art and history of Rome, lived in San Francisco for a number of years and had been living in Rome since the mid-90s. We spent about 8 hours walking all over Rome, with a break at a wonderful spot for lunch. This was a highlight of the entire vacation and I cannot imagine a better way to see that beautiful city in a short time.
In short, she was astonishing. We hit it off immediately, the tour was magnificent and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The downside of this was that she set a standard that could not be matched for later tours during excursions later on this trip.
The next day we saw Florence. About half of the time was spent riding a bus back and forth to Florence from where we were docked in La Spezia (substituted at the last minute from Livorno). A long day, a hot day. A suggestion -- if you want to visit the Uffizi Gallery (HIGHLY recommended) you will probably need to get advance tickets via the internet. Admittance was not included in most ship excursions.
Next, we docked at Cannes. We took an excursion to Nice, Eze and Monte Carlo. We loved walking through the market at Nice, and the elegant beaux arts casino at Monte Carlo made us feel like James Bond (We DID have martinis, but we'd never be shaken or stirred enough to order them with vodka). The unexpected highlight of the excursion was the charming mountain town of Eze -- a village seemingly constructed of steps, untouched for centuries.
The ship still travels magnificently, cruising along at over 30 knots. In fact, the Commodore stressed that only she could travel from Barcelona to Gibraltar in a day -- something that standard cruise ships cannot. The downside of this was we had to leave Barcelona early and we had to be back on board by 1:30 PM. We spent four days there just a week before, so we had already seen the major sights further north (Gaudied ourselves silly by touring Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera, walked La Rambla, with diversions to the cathedral and the Picasso Museum). Instead, we set aside some time to visit Montjuic, the park on the hill near the port and ride the funicular to the Miro museum. I must admit that still don't "get" Miro, but still enjoy his work. Most delightful was seeing groups of young schoolchildren captivated by his colorful, simple art. Afterward, we stopped for a drink at a cafe under the trees back on La Rambla. While watching the passing scene, our tablemates happened by with the disturbing news that they had fallen victim to pickpockets. (Luckily, the losses were not too bad) Yes, those warnings are true. It does happen. Use caution.
In Gibraltar, we walked to the tram that runs to the top of the rock and enjoyed the monkey business of the barbary apes living there. Just as we arrived at the top, it started drizzling -- quickly turning to rain. No matter -- we were ready to get back to the ship and were looking forward to our first sea days. Good thing, because between the remainder of this cruise and the crossing, we had eight of them ahead of us.
I'm not going to dig out our Daily Programmes to figure out EXACTLY what we did those last two days at sea, but I know it involved: eating, having a drink, bingo, having a drink, shopping for souvenirs, eating, having a drink, lecture, napkin folding, having a drink, playing trivia, drinking tea, dressing for dinner, having a drink before dinner, actually eating dinner, having a drink after dinner, seeing the show and then having a nightcap. I actually claim that the motion of the ship makes me sleep well, but my bar tab may hold a different explanation…
QM2 TRANSFER AND CHECK-IN I had been a bit worried about what would happen on the day we were to check out of the QE2 and board the QM2 -- especially since they were at different wharves a couple of miles from each other. There was no information available in advance. Worldwide port logistics and details have always been one of Cunard's strengths and I remembered the "White Star Service" signs throughout the ship, so I hoped for the best. A few days before arrival, I got instructions from the excursions office. There were only three of us transferring between ships. They arranged cabs for us and helped us load up. As we were waiting, we saw a number of guests arriving for lunch with the Queen (big cars, nice suits and silly hats).
We arrived at the Mayflower Docks a bit before they were ready to accept boarding passengers and had to wait outside for about a half hour. We were among the first group processed and ultimately were on board within an hour. It was all basically painless.
My jaw dropped once we came aboard the QM2. She is a stunner. Gorgeous. We entered on Three Deck. Especially impressive is that this deck is so tall -- ceilings are almost twice as high as on a normal ship. In fact, the two main public decks occupy the space normally taken by three. Upon boarding, you are confronted with a grand atrium with lots of marble, white plasterwork and (SOLAS-approved) wood. On these two decks are the shops (from essentials to extravagances), most of the bars, an extensively appointed showroom, the amazing Britannia Restaurant, the Queens Room ballroom, the planetarium, the G32 nightclub, Pursers Desk, excursions and cruise sales, a computer center, multiple classrooms, and photo and "art" galleries -- and there are 10 other decks!
QM2 CABINS We had a standard B3 cabin midships on Deck 4. Like most modern ships, all the basic cabins are prefab and identical -- differing only in location. On this ship, there are two kinds of balconies -- the ones on the lower decks (4-6) are cut into the hull and the ones on decks 8-12 are attached to the sides. Especially on a crossing, their extra shelter was appreciated, and as a fellow passenger, Tom Kanitra from the rec.travel.cruises newsgroup, observed -- when we look down, we see the sea. When the upper deck balconies look down, they see lifeboats.
The cabin was nicely appointed with a great mattress and bedding, ample storage, and a decent bathroom with a good size shower. The beds combined to make a king and there was a little couch and desk with a 20 inch TV.
I have a major objection to their television programming. Not the "Good Morning with Ray" show in the morning (it was fine), nor to the wide variety of free movies shown on multiple channels (a welcome change from some other lines). No. I objected to their choice for the one, single source for broadcast news for most of the voyage. Fox News. In my opinion, such a highly-partisan channel is a poor choice for this ship. Even if one accepts the argument that it's a necessary counterbalance to a perceived liberal bias of other networks, it follows that "the other side" should also be represented in order to be fair and balanced. Fundamentally, I would argue that an operation that describes itself as "America's News Channel" has an inappropriate focus for an international ship. (This sailing had large numbers of Brits, Germans and French passengers.) I'm aware that as the ship makes its voyage, different satellites come in range, so the choices may be limited -- but I find it hard to believe that BBC Worldwide, CNN International (or even Murdoch's Sky News International) were not available.
QM2 DINING The main dining room, The Britannia Restaurant, is spectacular. It has tiered seating over two decks on three levels with a grand staircase at one end and a dramatic tapestry of the Queen Mary opposite. It is simply the most beautiful dining room at sea. (Sorry -- no argument. It's an irrefutable fact!) There are two seatings, aside from a small section called "Britannia Club" with a single seating. We had a table for two in a wonderful location on the main floor. When the ship was launched, there were a lot of problems getting dinner service up to expectations. (They feed over 2000 passengers in the limited time available for two seatings -- and unlike the cookie cutter operations on large lines with similar ships, this was all new), Based upon other passengers' comments, I'd say that they've basically got it down. However, given our experience, they aren't completely there yet.
Our service was merely okay -- on a par with what we've experienced on Princess or NCL -- but not what they proclaim as "White Star Service." Most meals had an unexplained pause at some point for twenty minutes or more. (On a couple of occasions, the waiter notified us of the problem which we appreciated). More often than not at some point, we missed being offered something (ground pepper, horseradish or other accompaniment, or the tray of chocolates and candied ginger at the end) and refills on water or coffee were often neglected. I believe the problem in our case was a new assistant waiter. However, if the operation has such little tolerance for a glitch like a rookie employee, I think they might need to revisit their staffing calculations. Not a real problem, but an area which might use further refinement.
The food was excellent. No problems for any of the dishes. All were tasty and prepared as ordered. As previously mentioned, I missed seeing more chilled fruit soups. I also enjoyed the fruit sorbets on the QE2 and would have liked seeing them appear more often as dessert options. Although I found something to enjoy at each dinner, I was surprised not to see an "always available" selection of items published on the menu. (Later I found out from another passenger that their waiter told them of an unpublished list, but such items took extra time. Why it's a secret and why our servers never shared it with us, I have no idea.)
We also ate at the premium restaurant, Todd English (reservations required, $30 surcharge). It was a wonderful experience. The food was truly special, the service was impeccable and the room was beautiful. I ordered the beef tenderloin -- it was delicious and the portion was more than ample -- as was I afterwards!
Cunard celebrates tradition. This includes things like traditional dining with assigned seating, which we appreciate. It allows waiters to learn your preferences, and avoids the repetitive "who are you, is this your first cruise, where are you from?" drill when seated with strangers during open seating. Their embrace of tradition also applies to dress code. If you object to dressing up, this is not the line for you. There are three dress codes, which are more stringent than most other lines. Most evenings at sea are formal, which means tuxedos (worn by the majority of men) or suit and tie. Next comes semi-formal, for which both jacket and tie are required. And, finally there is elegant casual which means jacket required, tie optional. Obviously, women's dress requirements are similar. Casual dress is allowed at dinner in the Kings Court dining areas.
The Kings Court buffet is an interesting experiment. Like on many recent ships, there are different areas for different types of items, which limits long, meandering lines and offers more variety. On the QM2, the buffet is broken up into four different sections which can be quite distant from one another, and can result in a nomadic buffet of passengers clutching their trays, searching for that last item they saw -- somewhere. During breakfast, there were multiple omelette stations with no waiting (a first!). At night, they partition the areas to provide separate rooms for Italian, Asian, and a demonstration kitchen, Chef's Galley. We didn't try them, but were told that the Chefs Galley experience is fun.
Another great dining experience is the Golden Lion Pub lunch. They serve traditional pub grub like a plowman's lunch, cottage pie and fish & chips. Perfect with a pint!
QM2 ACTIVITIES AND PUBLIC ROOMS How many ships have a planetarium? This one does! There are a wide variety of public areas and activities to fill them throughout the day and night. This is especially important on a crossing where every day is an "at sea" day. About that planetarium. It really is impressive. It's housed in a room with steeply raked seating which is also used for lectures and movies. (The planetarium dome drops down from the ceiling when used for that purpose.) The half hour shows are licensed from the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Let me tell you, the motion of the ship adds a virtual reality aspect to the experience when the show has you swooping around the universe! One caution, it's really, really easy to fall asleep. The shows are scheduled for that drowsy time an hour or two after lunch, and once you tilt your chair back and they turn the lights down -- well, it's almost inevitable.
Lectures were presented mainly in the Planetarium or the large, two-deck showroom. On this trip, we were lucky to have John Maxtone-Graham, naval historian, author of many books including "The Only Way to Cross." I have perhaps never seen more accomplished and entertaining presentations than his lectures. If you are lucky enough to cruise on ships featuring his lectures DO NOT MISS THEM. His lecture on the Titanic was spellbinding and even his final presentation which consisted of skits presented with his wife, which was by far his weakest, was worthwhile if only while he was giving a brief biography to hear him mention (in his sonorous upper-crusty accent) one of his son's endeavors, a show called "Beevis and Butthead."
On the other end of the ship is the beautiful Queens Room. If any one room exemplifies the QM2 it would be this large ballroom. It has a stage with a rounded bandshell proscenium which for some may recall the Radio City Music Hall. Ensconced therein is the twelve piece Queens Room Orchestra which plays dance music for the many couples who fill the immense dance floor. (Not me -- "Dancing with the Stars" would be more aptly named "Stumbling with a Klutz") The two chandeliers and beautiful furnishings make this a very elegant room. One evening we enjoyed hearing the large orchestra play a program of big band music and watching the older couples in formal wear do swing dancing like when it was new. Formal tea was served in this room each afternoon by white-gloved attendants. (Yum!)
Most evenings we stopped by the cozy and beautiful Commodore Club. Located forward of the suites on Deck 9, this forward-facing lookout bar is defined by the graceful curves of the front of the ship beneath the bridge. A classy room, it's just the place for a martini before dinner and a drink after.
Each afternoon, the ship hosted a meeting there for "Friends of Dorothy" (an old-school euphemism for "gay") About two dozen friends showed up each day -- and the get-together was a great preamble to trivia contests down in the pub. Our winning team's name was the "Dorothys."
Besides offering lunch, the pub was bustling day and night also featuring pub trivia contests and the like. The lovely Shannel handled the crowds there with warmth and style.
Across from the pub was the casino with a wide variety of tables and slot machines, I was pleased to see that the table limits for Blackjack were reasonable. My only problem was the so-called "Fun 21" table which offers a simplified version of 21 with decreased odds. Both on the QE2 and the QM2, this table was usually empty, as people crowded the others offering traditional rules. Perhaps Cunard should pay attention -- their passengers probably aren't the Fun 21 type. (Surprising to see this. Carnival has a subsidiary which concessions the casinos for all their lines and they aren't exactly known for "leaving money on the table.")
On a more uplifting note is the extensive library and bookshop located directly beneath the Commodore Club. Besides a large collection of books (maintained by a professional librarian) -- there are computer terminals and lots of comfy chairs where you can curl up and gaze at the sea from a spectacular vantage point.
THE TRANSATLANTIC EXPERIENCE Yes, the ship is beautiful, the food excellent, the activities diverse and the service exquisite -- but there's something special about a crossing. Most specifically, there's something extraordinary about the Queen Mary 2 as she's racing across the North Atlantic, doing exactly what she was designed to do. She is the latest, and soon to be the only representative of a proud tradition. That heritage sets her apart. I can't describe how or why I felt it from the moment I stepped aboard, but she's inescapably part of that long line of glorious liners and she quickly seduced me with the romance of those who had crossed before me.
She rides the North Atlantic like a champ. Her strengthened hull and distinctive bow cut through the most daunting waves, and her extra size really makes a difference as well. On our second day out, the seas were at least twenty feet, and I heard some guessing thirty. Yet, she handled them with ease. Yes there was a bit of motion -- but far less than a standard cruise ship might encounter in normal Caribbean seas. The dramatic wings at the front of the ship (with the rakish black stripes) and a similar barrier aft provide shelter for the upper balconies as she speeds along at thirty knots or more. Yes, her bow is beautiful and her look dramatic -- but most importantly, it's all there for a reason. The ship is an amalgam of the 21st century technology and experience going back to the 19th.
Yes, I was sad when I said goodbye to my beloved QE2, and indeed my eyes are getting moist as I write this, but thanks to Stephen Payne, her architect, Commodore Warwick, her first master, Mickey Arison the CEO of Carnival who championed her and countless others (some of whom tragically lost family at the shipyard in St. Nazare) -- there is a proud new ship to carry on the tradition and I have a new, special place in my heart for my "beloved QM2."