My wife and I have sailed with Cunard on 3 previous occasions and barring the odd minor issue, which has always been dealt with the minimum of fuss, we have been massive fans of Cunard Line's standard of service , even if it is a bit on the stuffy side! Which it is.
No more though.
Despite booking on board our last cruise to the Canaries (13 months previously!) NO-ONE from Cunard or our travel agent , Barrhead Travel, bothered to tell us we needed a visa to travel independently in St Petersburg. Barrhead claim to be 'the cruise experts' and have spent the last couple of years buying up their competitors only to offer a much poorer service. They blamed eachother - BH say Cunard should have told us, Cunard say it was BH's responsibility. Whatever -- the fact is, the only losers were us, as either way, neither of them bothered, in the 13 months between booking and embarkation to tell us the ballet tickets we'd booked from home were worthless as we wouldn't get through customs unless we had booked them again, on a Cunard excursion at 3 times the cost.
Now, experienced cruisers amongst you will understand that it came as quite a shock that we needed a Visa, when most places in the world you don't even need a passport to go ashore from a cruise ship. The cynical among you might even suspect this is a deliberate ploy to sell out their own excursions. I'll leave that up to you to decide.
Cunard did manage to make it headline news on our welcome letter, which we received in our stateroom the minute we stepped on board, just too late for you to organise a Visa, as it happens! What a pity they didn't bother to tell us before we embarked.
The reality of Cunard is, they aim at the 'traditional' market who like good service and luxury travel. What is unfortunate for them is, QV is now showing signs of her age and is a lot less impressive than she was the last time we cruised on her just over 3 and a half years ago. She is also showing serious signs of the 20% cut in onboard staff, undertaken last year - according to their own staff. The service is slower and quite honestly staff just seem less happy to serve you than in the past. Even staff, who are generally very good are quite simply run off their feet covering too many jobs at the one time.
Frankly,whatever their internal issues, we expect better given Cunard's place in market and their expectation of 'White Star' service.
That's not their only problem though... One of the most offensive things we witnessed whilst on board the QV was the unabashed jingoism of a 'celebration of the British Empire' - a flag waving, God save the Queen style extravaganza of epic crassness - especially given most of the staff are from parts of the world formerly dominated and even destroyed by the FORMER Empire, Cunard appear to be stuck in. To us, it aptly illustrated exactly what Cunard are - stuffy and stuck in the last Century but one. From the days where all you had to be was 'posh' and not considerate of different views of those around you. It really was stomach-churning in its self agrandisement.
Other areas of concern included a large lump in the mattress in our cabin - we had to ask three times for its replacement, and even then it was simply spun around (not even flipped) and left at the bottom instead! Even worse when you consider it was a disabled cabin, as people with disabilities can often be more sensitive to issues like this.
We also had a nasty problem with the drains in our cabin - again, 3 requests before it was finally repaired properly. And then there was the mirror in the bathroom, which fell off on my wife's head, as it had been secured by one screw (no rawl plug) when it had previously been broken, clearly and the repair botched.
NONE of these things were dealt with at first time of asking and when you add the general service issues in Cafe Corinthia (we had to order two teas and two sandwiches FOUR times before the girl got the order right!? Amazingly, she found this funny.), the Spa and the Pursar's desk, it really amounts to a whole heap of poor service. Even when we had cause to complain about the Spa manager, the girl at the Purser's office just rolled her eyes and said 'typical'. Not even a pretence at caring.
We think we know why though... this cruise is clearly the 'maintenance' cruise with a programme of everything from balcony repainting and general maintenance carried out most port days, and even some sea days with large sections of the ship cordoned off without warning. One day, painters even stopped me mid- 10k run around the promenade deck, by putting up a barrier in my very tracks!
The dedicated dining staff in Britannia were, as always, brilliant! In fact, all the staff in the dining were great. At the end of our cruise, we had them remove our general service charge of $11 per day x 2 and gave it all to our Britannia waiters. They were the only ones who actually deserved it in our opinion.
The final straw, tho' and the main reason we will not be cruising with Cunard again, was the Spa and Beauty Salon, which, as it now turns out is actually a concession run by an American company called Steiner and NOT Cunard at all.
As a result, their staff aren't employed or even vetted by Cunard and this seems IMHO, to be deliberately kept from you as the implication with it being called 'The Royal Spa' is that it is part of the Queen Victoria.
However, they are not and their ignorant, ill-trained and incapable manicurist ruined my wife's nails by filing over the top of them leaving them thin and weak and then combining Shellac (to re-strengthen) with traditional nail polish for colour, which we now know should never be done as the chemicals react to each-other! He nails were destroyed. Breaking off below the quick, splitting and crumbling.
To be fair, they offered to remove the cost of the manicure! (Yes, really) And did 5 more appointments over the course of our cruise, for free. Actually, it became the focus of our entire holiday. But the salon manager couldn't have cared less about his staff being incapable of carrying out a basic manicure, and despite promising a refund, we were still chasing it on disembarkation 13 days later!
Back on land, even after 3 phone calls to Carnival UK's customer services, followed by numerous emails and letters and ABTA's involvement, all they did was pass it to Steiner (without telling us!) Quite simply, they were only concerned with covering their own backs, legally. Not caring at all about the pain and inconvenience my wife and I had suffered/was STILL suffering as her nails disintegrated before our eyes.
Finally, after 7 weeks and an escalated complaint to Steiner too, THEY agreed to compensate my wife by paying for 9 months worth of manicures at home, until her own nails grow back below the now complulsory Shellac, but despite Cunard's being legally responsible for this fiasco - not even an apology still - 10 weeks later.
My wife even wrote to Micky Arnison CEO of the Carnival Group and the two other executives at the head of Carnival worldwide. They too, ignored her, passing her email back to the UK and the very person who had already not dealt with it there at the first, second and third times of asking!
It is our opinion, that in any business relationship, it isn't what goes wrong that is the barometer by which you should judge a Company, but how they deal with things when something inevitably does go wrong. Well by this yardstick, Cunard and parent company Carnival let us down very, very badly indeed.
That's the reason why our next cruise is with Celebrity. Cunard don't deserve our future business, because they couldn't care less about the standards of customer service in these modern times. Somehow, they just miss the mark for the new generation of cruisers. And it's a lesson they need to learn before their business is plucked from under their noses by the modern approach of their competitors.