We selected the Christmas Cruise to the Canaries on the basis of a similar cruise on Caronia in 2002. That cruise was excellent and Caronia certainly lived up to the then Cunard image.
Move on ten years, and throw in Carnival management - Oh boy, what a change.
Boarding at Southampton was easier than for most as my wife is disabled so had priority access. Otherwise the queues were long and slow moving.
Cunard had upgraded us from a Deck 4 balcony to a Deck 8 balcony, just behind the bridge. A very good location.
First impressions were:
Never seen so many walking sticks and mobility scooters!
BIG ship, but looks like a multi-storey car park.
Excellent cabin with what proved to be a very comfortable bed.
Good layout and easy access - but see later comment.
Ballroom looks a bit gloomy, especially when compared with the lovely light airy rooms of Caronia.
First move was to go to the pursers desk and fill out the form to stop the 12 dollar/day gratuity addition to the bill - I'LL decide who, what and when to tip thank you. Then a drink at the bar; 15% to hand 2 glasses over the bar! Welcome to America my friend! Then to second sitting in Britannia Restaurant - Oh dear, I hope this is first night nerves or else we are going to be very disappointed. Finally a night cap in the Commodore lounge - What a lovely room, with an excellent pianist.
Up in reasonable time for breakfast, so off to the Britannia, to find an enormous queue outside the door!
So, what were our final impressions at the end of the cruise?
FOOD - Should be one of the highlights of a cruise.
Britannia continued to disappoint - in the end we only dined there twice more, once for a very lack-lustre 'last night'. What's happened to Silver Service, Salads, choice of ice creams, help your self cheese counter? Portions we found to be small and bland. Service was very rushed, with coffee being served before desserts had arrived.
By contrast the food in the Lido was more appetising, interesting and often freshly cooked to order, and we ate there most evenings, and funnily enough so did the officers including Captain Wells and his family! One does however feel uncomfortable carrying trays about on Black tie nights - not quite the idea of a luxury cruise.
Breakfast and lunch in the Lido were always very good with plenty of choice, but one does tend to get a bit tired up making tea with a teabag dunked in a mug.
We also tried one of the speciality dinners in the Lido Cafe which was very pleasant.
The Lido chefs - principally Filipino or Asian were a delight, always happy and welcoming.
We spent New Years Eve in the Verandah Restaurant which has pretensions to being a high class French inspired restaurant. While the food was good, it was spoiled by waiters who hadn't got a clue! My starter of Pigeon breast with chocolate sauce turned out to be more sauce than anything as the waiter merely emptied the whole jug onto my plate without once looking at me. Similarly the wine was corked and the sommelier could offer no substitute [other than a $400 Burgundy].
Afternoon tea was always enjoyable, but the waiters seemed to have no idea of the correct order of things - for example one would be offered cake before sandwiches and scones.
A lovely theatre - What a shame about the entertainers. The ship's troupe were not a patch on the Caronia entertainers.
However, some very good lecturers.
DRINKS & BARS:
Odd- Some drinks available in one bar but not another.
If 2 litres of Gordons Export Gin cost $25 in the duty free, why is a G&T at the bar $7 plus the dreaded 15%?
Good computer room - but of course one has to pay!
If you are the front of the ship and use the nearest lift to get to the Lido and Garden room you have to cross an open deck- OK when it's not windy or raining.
PORTS AND EXCURSIONS
Shuttle buses don't come to the gangways, so in places there are long walks. and the surfaces were not always good.
We didn't take any excursions but used the local Big Red Bus which are in nearly every port and are an excellent cheap way of sight-seeing.
A carol concert on Christmas Eve. The Lido laid on a suberb supper for New Years Eve after the fireworks in Madeira [There you are Cunard - it CAN be done if you want to!]
Other than that, you wouldn't really have known it was Christmas.
Cruise director useless!
The Filipinos are lovely - as usual. BUT, lot's of east Europeans who tend to often be a bit 'Russian' - surly and moody and don't appear to enjoy their work doing only as much as needed with nothing extra. And don't you just love leaving a half eaten meal to get another cup of tea, only to find it has been cleared away in your absence?
We had occasion to use the medical facilities which are very well staffed and organised.
Too many 'Extras'
A box at the empty theatre Ah, you have to pay sir
Photographs - Good aren't they sir? That'll cost you an arm and a leg.
Spa madam - I know you have JUST arrived after a long journey, but let me pressure you into buying some expensive treatments
A bottle of Chateau Mediocre with your dinner sir? Now that WILL cost you. Oh and by the way, while you are 'enjoying' your dinner I'm going to come round and sell you a wine tasting. Oh you live in France sir, and they don't charge you for tasting - Well of course they will only give you the rubbish wines.
Tipping - I've made my position clear, and all of my fellow passengers that raised the subject in conversation agreed with me. It's up to Carnival to pay their staff adequately in the first place.
THE GOOD BITS
No Noro-virus due to conscientiousness efforts to ensure that EVERYBODY used hand gel before eating.
Would I go with Cunard again? Not a cat's chance in hell. The luxury tag is undeserved, so we are off to Azamara.