We are Celebrity Elite with 14 cruises, early 60's and have also sailed P&O, Princess and RCI (and now Cunard). Our comparison is based on the Queen Elizabeth (a liner) vs the Eclipse (a cruise ship) which we have sailed 4 times with another cruise booked on her for August 2012. We did this short 5 nights 'taster' cruise with Cunard on 18th May to Amsterdam, Zeebruge (Bruges) and Le Havre. We did not have the best of the weather until the last day of the cruise when the sun shone gloriously.
Amsterdam was overnight, we had all been before so just walked around soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the 'views'. As the Pursers Desk did not keep its promise of showing the Champions League Final we found a pub alongside one of the canals ashore that was showing it and returned there in the evening. Zeebruge, we took the free shuttle bus (Celebrity would have charged!) to Blankenberge and then caught the train (Euro 5.80 return) to Bruges. This was a beautiful city and we thoroughly enjoyed our day out. Le Havre, we had a ship's tour booked to the Normandy beaches and war cemetery which was cancelled, unbeknown to us -- a very upsetting state of affairs (more below) and one which has obviously affected how we feel about cruising with Cunard in the future.
The following is just our opinion and our experiences, others will have their own opinions and will have had a totally different experience, we all see the world through our own eyes, even on the same cruise ship.
This cruise was booked as a Xmas present to ourselves and we paid ~Â£100 per night. Needless to say, which is becoming the norm with the current climate, a few weeks before the cruise the price dropped significantly for a guarantee cabin and you could get a suite (grill room on Cunard) for less than we paid.
The parking was excellent but we missed the 'baggage drop-off' signs which were not very well displayed and as we were early the baggage had not built up enough for us to notice the drop-off points. We eventually found them after actually going into the building and then realising that we had to back-track. Bags were dropped off, will say here that Celebrity's luggage tags are much better than the paper ones given out by Cunard, we laminated ours and put them on the cases with plastic ties, we didn't trust the paper tags Cunard gave out.
Then we were given a colour/letter and a health check form and told to sit. No checking you in first, you had to wait. Suites (Grills on Cunard) were booking in but we 'plebs' had to wait our turn. Over an hour and a half later we were beginning to get edgy and comparisons were being made !!!! Then our colour and number were called. We then went over to check-in and had our photos taken there, not on the ship as Celebrity, and our cards were issued.
We then formed an orderly queue for security. Let me at this point say that Cunard allow you to take wine and alcohol on board as long you don't go OTT. We got straight through with our bottles of wine and champagne and started to board the ship. No sparkling wine or mimosa but a welcome from a couple of crew dressed in their finery. We were led to the lifts and told that we could go straight to our cabins -- it was only 12.40 p.m. and when we got to our cabin, there they were, the two suitcases!!!!! We couldn't believe it, never have our cases ever been outside our room on arrival with Celebrity, in fact they seem to go deliberately out of their way to hide our cases somewhere as on more than one occasion housekeeping have had to go find them so that we can get changed for 6.00 p.m. dinner. If keeping you waiting in the check-in area gets you your case outside your cabin door on arrival, I don't mind waiting at all!!!!
The cabins (we had 6050) -- OK, no wow factor, very plain decor with 'magnolia' as the theme, with dashes of red, others had blue. There was a bottle of sparkling wine, nice robes and slippers in the cabin, a very nice touch. Cabin was not as long as the Eclipse and the bathroom is the smallest we have ever been in - why on earth in the 20th century do ships still have shower curtains!!! However, the saving grace of the cabin is the storage space which is tremendous compared with Eclipse where we have to keep clothing in the suitcases under the bed. There were 3 wardrobes, One for long items, One had 1 top and 1 middle rail for shirts tops etc and one contained the safe and some shelving (life jackets on the top shelf). There were 3 drawers each side of the bed and then two further large drawers at the end/under the bed. There were also two drawers at the vanity unit and a minifridge.
The TV, although a flat screen, was VERY small and with very bad reception. Another point about the TV, you could not view your account, nor could you order room service through the TV. Talking of room service, what a joke!! When, after two attempts to get a pot of tea and on both occasions we got just hot water and no teabags and once with no sugar either, we gave up requesting drinks!! Why can't there be tea/coffee making facilities in the cabin so that one could actually get a cup of tea onboard? Room Service didn't even understand us when we asked for tonic water!! So we ended up going down to the 'pub' onboard and fetching this ourselves. Room Service also don't ring just before they bring your coffee/breakfast in the morning which is standard on Celebrity, in our opinion room service needs a massive improvement! With the QE being younger than the Eclipse we did wonder why Cunard is still in the dark ages with regard to technology and shower curtains!!!!!
The bed was extremely comfy and we slept very well, although one night the cabin seemed to vibrate somewhat, it may have been a combination of a certain speed/direction through the waves but it did not bother us too much.
The balcony was the same size as Eclipse and the dividers can be opened between. Cunard also allow smoking on all balconies, I am certainly not a fan of this activity on any ship and I think on a longer cruise this would have affected me more than on this short 5 day journey.
Now to the main differences which were blatantly apparent and could be seen and felt in the public areas. Queen Elizabeth's tonnage at ~91,000 with only ~2,100 passengers compares extremely well with the Solstice class ships at ~122,000 tonnes but with 2,800 passengers. All areas of the QE were in one word, Elegant, everywhere seemed light and airy, with lots of wood and stained glass very much in evidence. There were lots of rooms, alcoves and places to just sit and relax. There were 3 banks of lifts, one more than on Eclipse, passengers hardly had to wait to be transported to any deck and 9 times out of 10 no one else was in the lift when it arrived. The stairs were also very easily negotiated and not at all as steep or as wide as the Eclipse. It was a pure delight to be able to find a seat in any of public rooms no matter at what time of day or night!!! The only one exception being lunchtime in the Lido which is the same on any ship and is all a matter of 'timing'. There was also the great promenade deck where you could actually walk alll the way around outside of the ship - I really liked that aspect.
We thought that the food was excellent both breakfast -- proper bacon!! -- and dinner (we didn't do lunch), however, the choices in the Lido were very limited compared to the Oceanview Cafe on Celebrity. Queues built very quickly and we could only find paninis/sandwiches at night not lunchtime!! The dining room compared very favourably with the Moonlight Sonata and there is not a badly positioned table in the dining room, unlike the Eclipse where tables for two are uncomfortably close!! We were very lucky to have Joel, one of the best waiters we have ever encountered, exceptional service and hot food every night. However, Celebrity definitely has the edge with the basket of bread which is left with the dips in the middle of the table. On QE the bread is given out one roll at a time, although we did ask for 2 each time. There are more choices on a Celebrity dinner menu but you could have steak every night on QE, however, you had to be in the know as it was not stated on the menu, QE's desserts were much better than Celebrity's -- sticky toffee pudding -- Wow.
Another plus for Celebrity are the drink measures, Cunard actually measure the amount of alcohol being poured into each drink -- imagine our surprise to be charged more for less!!!! The Red Lion Pub was great though, Guinness on draught and proper pub lunches, steak & ale pie and fish and chips, we liked this place. However, our favourite spot was the Commodore Club, very like the Sky Lounge but more of an old fashioned, very elegant 5 star lounge with amazing views. The pianist/singer Tony Grisillo was fantastic -- sort of Billy Joel/Jamie Cullum - not the loud music that Celebrity have in the Sky Lounge where you can't even have a conversation sometimes. Talking of music, there was none of the (often complained about) Celebrity piped music around the ship, it was blissfully quiet as was the dining room, on Celebrity it can get very loud in the dining room and on larger tables it is difficult to hear others sometimes. We only saw one of the shows, the first night was enough thanks, and I really would like that hour of my life back!!
The inside of the QE has fared much better than the outside which really is a disgrace with the rusting seen in many places, including dividers between the balconies and around the windows of the ship. Considering that the QE is 6 months younger than the Celebrity Eclipse it is nowhere near as well kept on the outside. There did not seem to be much maintenance going on in this regard which is a big contrast to our previous Celebrity cruises. The varnish on the handrail of one of our cabins was practically non-existent!
Talking of non-existent, the other very big contrast was the contact with the officers and senior crew of the ship. The captain was absent even at the Captain's welcome party, we only ever saw his photograph and heard him over the announcement system. No other officers or senior staff including the entertainment director was visible around the ship on any day/evening. This is in very marked contrast to Celebrity where the Captain and Senior Staff are even outside to meet you when returning from a tour and certainly walk around the ship stopping to interact with all passengers. We have never before attended a Captain's welcome on any ship where the Captain himself was not there!!!
With regard to the majority of the crew we met, they didn't all seem to be the happy crew we are used to on Celebrity. Hardly any crew member said hello/good morning/afternoon, very few really smiled. They were OK but we didn't get that 'welcome' feel, we felt that the warmth was missing. Couldn't really put my finger on it but we didn't get a good 'vibe' from them. There was the occasional crew member who stood out and our room steward Arthur was very good but very few left a lasting impression. Normally, I have a list full of names to thank after a cruise, maybe the shortness of the cruise might have a bearing on it.
However, there was one member of the crew who I will remember for a long time and not in a good way, as she ruined the last day of the cruise. Miss Alison Moore the Tour Manager made a complete mess up of informing us that our tour was cancelled that we didn't have any time to arrange anything else.
We had purposely come on this cruise to go on the 'British D-Day Landings' tour to see the Normandy beaches and war cemetery as our travelling companions had relatives who were buried there and we had been looking forward to showing our respects and had planned the day when we booked the cruise. We were going to hire a car but when we found that Cunard were running this tour we thought it would be great to have a guide and even though it was the most expensive tour at $130 each, we thought that it would be worth this as the travelling alone would take over 2 hours.
On the 2nd day of the cruise we received our tickets. On the night before the planned tour we checked the daily programme for the time to meet the next morning. Nothing was listed, so we went down to the Tour Desk which was shut, we then went over to the Guest Relations Desk One of the assistants stated that the tour must have been cancelled. You can imagine our confusion and annoyance at this point. Whilst at the desk at this time we also met some Americans who said that there were around 20 of their group also on the same tour but they themselves had not heard that this tour was in fact cancelled. We asked to speak with Ms Moore but were told she was off duty but she would be available to see us at 7.15 a.m. the morning of Tuesday 22nd when we should have been on our tour.
When we got down to the Queen's Room we were told she had gone ashore. We were told she would be back at 9,15 a.m. so we, once again, went to the Queens' Room, there was no one in sight! We were being given the 'run-around'. So we went again to Guest Relations and asked to see Ms Moore, surprise, surprise, she was in a meeting. We asked for her to contact us and gave a mobile telephone number. This is not how we expected to spend our time on our cruise, chasing staff and queuing at Guest Services because someone has not undertaken their job correctly
Ms Moore eventually contacted us and when we did meet she told us that 21 people were on the tour, but that this was not enough to run the trip and the tour had been cancelled on the Friday, the 1st day of the cruise. Ms Moore then proceeded to blame housekeeping for not giving us the letter on Friday -- Friday is housekeeping's busiest turn-around day, no way can they be blamed if a piece of paper was misplaced. Something as important as the cancellation of any part of a passengers plans need much more significance placing on it. However, it has still to be explained how we got the tickets on Saturday, the day after the alleged letter was supposed to have been delivered. Ms Moore could not explain why the tickets were issued when the tour was already cancelled.
The procedures within this particular office certainly need to be overhauled. In the event of our cancellation I would have expected the Tour Manager/their staff to spare the time to go around to, at most 12 cabins to give out the cancellation letters themselves to ensure that vital information was indeed given to passengers, surely it must have occurred to Ms Moore the impact it would have if such a vital message was lost!! Or even better Ms Moore's office could have left a message for each cabin on the telephone system. This would take one recording and all cabin numbers affected programmed in to receive the message -- ten minutes at most! It would seem that once again in this day and age of technology, when it can be of real assistance, Cunard are way behind.
This was also proved when the Pursers Desk announced that they would be showing the Champions League Final. However, on the day, it was announced that this was not now possible. Strange though that it was being shown in the Cruise Terminal as you got off the ship and even the Celebrity Silhouette on its Venice/Adriatic cruise managed to show this football match in Michaels Club!!
The casino machines were room-card only and did not take dollars!! When I go down to the casino I like to use my holiday money, that way only I know what I lose!! I don't want my gambling on my card, that comes from a different pot and no way am I telling the ship what I do or do not spend on the machines. I did not play the machines and I have to say not a lot of others did either. Lots like me played on the roulette many more on blackjack, texas-hold-em was good, we played limit, $1 and $2 blinds, very friendly table which was packed every night. The house took a small % each hand.
There are laundry facilities onboard QE, as we were only on a short 5 day cruise we did not partake of this facility but it would certainly be a plus on a two week cruise. Would you believe it, they actually had irons on a cruise ship, what would the cc boards make of that, why hasn't the QE burnt down already???????!!!!!!!!
The short-mat bowls and the croquet were nice areas, artificial grass (not what we are used to but at least flat!) and there was also a small tennis/badminton type area which we took advantage of on our unexpected stay on the ship when our tour had been cancelled.
Cunard charge you 50 cents per page for printing off boarding cards etc -- Celebrity was totally free last time we needed our boarding cards printed out on the ship.
What started out on a 'rather wobbly' note with the wait to check-in (which I did forgive) certainly ended with everything 'toppling over' and we did not feel that we had had a relaxing cruise surrounded by staff who, apart from the few who I have already mentioned, did not seem to give off any sign of welcome at all.
What a contrast to Celebrity and we now certainly appreciate the service and wonderful crew, senior staff and Captains that we have encountered on Celebrity and will be looking for our next year's cruises very soon. With regard to Cunard, I'll wait until they have caught up with a bit of technology and have improved some of their procedures, especially if room service actually start to give out tea-bags along with the pots of hot water!!!!!!!