Our second cruise on Queen Victoria and once more a pleasure.
Excellent food and only very minor complaints.
Going up Norway to Northcape from Southampton is 4034 miles and requires some difficult packing decisions. Jacket, Tuxedo, cold weather gear, wet weather gear, hot weather gear, walking boots, gym kit, two weeks clothes. All in 20kgs plus hand luggage. Probably as tricky as it gets.
This was a wonderful voyage through the most lovely scenery.
Cunard arranged the air transport and the transfer went smoothly. Unfortunately we were too early to the Mayflower terminal and had to queue, which was OK, until they opened the desks and all the superior categories of guests had to go first. It would have been nice if Cunard had had a couple of desks processing the "ordinaries" slowly instead of holding us up entirely. New grills passengers kept arriving while we stood there like lemons wondering how long this was going to go on for. Having been held up, there were long queues for security and then we were dumped in a holding lounge. No information was given about how long we might be there for. After and hour or so, we noticed some passengers making their way out, and there was a mass movement, at which the Cunard personnel finally made an announcement that they were boarding high class passengers only. I don't mind people who have paid more going first, but Cunard need to tell everyone when approximately they will be processed or boarding, so they are not constantly wondering what's happening.
Although they allow smoking on balconies, there was only ever a trace stink on the wind. Never a significant problem.
After Celebrity it seemed strange that the cabin steward does not introduce himself. But the service was fine.
Got the requested table for two and never had a problem at lunch or breakfast asking for and getting a "two". Tried a mixed table a couple of times, but you either get awkward silences or some blowhard going on and on.
As always the bottle of sparkling wine in the cabin was very welcome and guaranteed a swift relaxation after the petty vexations of travelling. We took two bottles of red wine on board in our hand luggage. For which the cabin steward consistently supplied champagne glasses?
The cabin and balcony were very roomy and we had no trouble with the small shower as long as no bending down to retrieve the soap was required.
This ship rolls slightly from side to side in heavy waves, but has little forward/aft movement. So its always pretty stable, you just lurch a bit sideways as you make your way along.
There were a dozen wheelchairs and a far more elderly crowd on this Southampton based cruise. Last time we went by air to Europe to join the ship and the passengers seemed 10 years younger.
There was a lot of noisy vibration at the rear of the MDR when underway, and I was very glad to be placed near the front.
Water suddenly started dripping from the ceiling above the hot drinks station in the Lido. It splattered on my hand and cup, which I laughed at at first, and then reflected that since I really did not know where the water was coming from, I better go wash. The toilet doors were all jammed open, I presume so you could avoid touching the handle after washing your hands. Which prompted us to wash our hands a lot, as well as all the gell dispensers, so I recommend taking a moisturising hand lotion ( which is not something I ever imagined myself saying)!
There was a total power failure in Honningsvag. The master said this sort of thing happens on ships, but the waiter thought it a novelty. It was a bit concerning since the propulsion is electric. We left the ship to have a walk around while they fixed it, and although emergency lights were operating, the entry and exit scanners were knocked out. From a distance we could see a plume of black smoke coming out of the funnel as they tried to restart.
I have been on Celebrity and Cunard because they both have a good name for food and Cunard is the clear winner. Celebrities fish was always poor, but Cunard can do fish as well as meat, with excellent sauces. Even in the LIDO, the fish was being fresh cooked just behind the station on a large stainless steel cooking surface. I was told Cunard get their meat from the US these days which may explain the excellent quality.
Tuxedo's were 90% on formal nights in the MDR. I could do without the "semi-formal" category that requires you to strangle yourself in a tie though. Who wears a tie nowadays? Went on the Kitchen tour and the space in which they prepare the meals is remarkably small.
The waiters were very happy to produce two small starters rather than following the script through the salad course.
The main dining room food was entirely satisfactory. I felt no need to go to Todd English ( which never seemed to have more than a few present ) or the LIDO. Perhaps the ice cream was a little unadventurous to the Ben& Jerry generation, but otherwise a triumph.
On the second night of the voyage I noticed there were wine package offers ( three of them ) and later, there was a reduction in house wine prices. We took the bin-end house wine offer which was 5/6 of good quality. It was strange to be handed a zero cost sales slip whenever I opened a new bottle from the offer - what's that about. Just a chance to tip I suppose, which I find rather confusing with the 15% already included.
The LIDO layout is a bit awkward and it can get crowded, and the selection thins at times when they are changing over. But since you don't really need to eat every 45 minutes, a little timing removes all difficulties. In general, we preferred the tranquility of the MDR and only used the LIDO for cups of tea and watching the view. Yes, the milk is not great and I don't really understand why its not normal milk early in the voyage. We gave up on it and drank tea without milk in the end.
The Queen Victoria library is a triumph. Two floors, lovely wood finish. They even have a magazine rack and lots of newly published books by British authors. ( I was so disappointed on Celebrity that the authors were unfamiliar - but I suppose this is a US/UK thing. ) The only criticism was one of the three librarians threatened me with a fine on my ships card if I failed to return my book by 4pm on the second last day! Customer service - British style.
We went on four ships excursions.
1/ Stavanger: Pulpit rock. Went well, including stop for waffles.
2/ Golden route. Lovely scenery. Incredibly crowded lunch stop. The guide seemed weary and not locally well informed. Unfortunately no feedback was requested.
3/ Geirangerfjord. Incredibly expensive. Something like Â£160 each. But a really excellent guide and a very good lunch. The scenery was incomparable. For the second time this trip we were the first day of tour busses to be allowed through the newly opened mountain passes.
4/ North cape. Nothing like it for that end of the world feeling!
In Alesund and Bergen we did our own thing and walked far in the hills behind each city - always a marvellous antidote to the confinement of a ship.
I don't really understand why shipboard internet prices are so expensive when you are in port, so we decamped to the nearest McDonalds for free wifi and a cheap coffee ( Â£2 in Norway ) in most ports. You could always see the crew sitting on the ground near some offices close to the ship and I assume free hotspots were arranged for them.
We were a little sad that all the big song and dance shows were familiar from a voyage 18 months ago, but I suppose that's the way it is. They were still pretty good. A couple of performances were cancelled at short notice. The classical guitarist had trouble taking up the slack. The MC was very good. Old school.
I can confirm that there is no escape from the birthday waiters choir - they must be alerted by the computer, because we said nothing. But the birthday cake presented was excellent and we enjoyed it for several days afterwards in the cabin. And there was a fruit plate, cards and a balloon!
I felt the dancing was a missed opportunity. The ship has a marvellous dance floor, but it is always either almost empty or full of expert dancers on ball nights. Most of the passengers were clearly in the inexpert category and held back. We went to the beginners classes, but these were too few, too late, MUCH too crowded and held by professionals who clearly had difficulty understanding how to focus on the basics. There are dance hosts for the ladies and perhaps they could have held dance tuition on a regular basis. A voyage like this should be good chance to learn a new skill like dancing.
Afternoon tea remains a great pleasure.
We discovered the gym. Previously I have not been clear if you could just wander in through the Spa. There was unfortunately only one rowing machine, but a good array of other equipment.
It is a little strange, having two superior classes of passenger with their own decks and dining rooms. I did wonder what food they were getting, but there is absolutely no visiting the upper class dining rooms. On the other hand, removing the irritatingly rich does ensure a fairly classless feel in the MDR.
We got up before 5am for the great Jubilee arrival at Southampton. My goodness it was cold on deck! The much vaunted "three bows" maneuver seemed to just be a sail-by, but it was fun to see the other ships.
I have no clear idea about tipping, so we gave the waiters $40 each and the room steward $30 rather than let anybody down. - as well as the amount included in the fare automatically. They were clearly from low wage economies, far from home and working long hours for many months at a time, so it felt right to make a gesture.
Something I had not realised before is that if you have a late connection, instead of letting you stay on board, Cunard take you to a nearby shopping mall.
There was the usual sitting around with no announcements until we were disembarked 35 minutes after the expected time.
In summary, as long as you don't mind a fairly old crowd, a fine ship, great food and wonderful scenery.