Having booked this cruise last year, and then only after realising that the departure day would be part of the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, expectations of what Cunard would lay on were high and we weren't let down.
Unfortunately for Cunard what they could not plan for was the British Weather, and so the Red Arrows were reduced to a guest appearance in the atrium rather than a flying display, and the fireworks were lost in the low cloud. However all 3 Cunard ships in port at once was a wonderful sight to see.
Having sailed late embarkation day, we had a sea day before Hamburg. The Thermal Suite at the Spa and the gym were both relatively quiet so we took advantage of this and even signed up for the Body Sculpt Boot Camp (hoping to offset the effects of the food eaten during the cruise).
Being lucky enough to be in Queens Grill, both the food on offer, the service and the knowledge of the sommelier were outstanding. The Gala Dinner for the Diamond Jubilee and the special menu produced were another nice touch, even though it was on the sea day rather than on the sail away day.
Our Butler and cabin steward were excellent, and all the staff we met in the corridors and public areas had a smile on their face and always greeted you with a good day/afternoon/evening.
We didn't go to any of the entertainment, preferring to sit on the balcony (weather permitting) and read books or watching the land/sea go by. However, the guest lecturers were excellent, both informative and amusing with just the right mix of fact and antidote to keep the audience with them.
In Hamburg, our first port, there was quiet a change over of guests, the cruise having been sold as a 2 night cruise Southampton to Hamburg, a 10 night cruise Hamburg to Hamburg, and another 2 night cruise Hamburg to Southampton as well as a 14 night cruise Southampton to Southampton. Around 1000 new passengers embarked, a large proportion of whom were German. Whilst we felt there were some subtle changes to the menu to reflect this, and announcements were made by a German translator after the English one the feel of the ship did not change and the communal areas remained surprisingly empty.
Our ports of call were Hamburg,Tallinn, St Petersburg, Stockholm, Hamburg and we used a combination of Cunard shuttle buses and tours to explore. The Cunard organised tours were very well organised with very knowledgeable and enthusiastic local guides, but Cunard needs to educate the Staff who accompany what they are there for (to be at the back of the group looking out for stragglers). On on tour a member of staff from the photographic department was busy making sure they got the photos they wanted, even jumping off the bus taking a photo then getting back on so we could proceed with the tour. Later on it was left to the local guide to go off looking for stragglers whilst they sat on the bus looking at there photos. Having escorted groups myself I know that this is not what you do (and is I looked at other cruise lines groups not what they were doing)
One thing I still can not get my head around is the lack of a role call at the emergency drill. I know that cabins etc. are supposedly checked when we are at our muster stations to see if anybody hasn't gone, but if other cruise lines can do a roll call why can't Cunard? Something new since we last cruised with them is that your muster station is now printed on your room key
However, despite my slight niggles, an absolutely fantastic cruise (in spite of the weather) and a hard act to follow.