The positive first: Service remains superb. It's Cunard's strongest selling point. Room stewards, bar and Britannia staff, purser's office personnel -- all were cheerful and competent. From a p.r. point of view, the captain was a definite improvement over the captain we sailed with in May 2012. Although perhaps not up to the commodore of 2011 (who was straight out of Central Casting), he carried himself with some dignity and presence. Our stateroom was comfortable and spacious; the bars and lounges (especially the Commodore) were pleasant; the Britannia dining room, the Queen's Room, and the theatres were grand.
Now the criticism: The standard of food in the Britannia had noticeably declined from 2011. There were more stews and braised meat, more steamed vegetables, more "schoolboy food." Even that was not always well prepared: We had pudding and souffles overcooked to the point of toughness and an undercooked "Monte Cristo" sandwich (with no cheese). Moreover, several items were not as listed on the menu: a curry "with mango chutney and poppadums" came with no chutney and one-half of a poppadum, and a "sticky toffee pudding with ice cream" had no ice cream. (Both the curry and the pudding were very tasty, though.)
We noticed an increase from previous voyages in a sort of Home Shopping Network or QVC atmosphere (the word "exclusive" should be banned in Cunard's promotional literature). There seemed incessant hectoring to buy things, and it is annoying to have to run a gauntlet of photographers to get to supper.
The lectures on our voyage were a decidedly mixed bag. David Frost was disgraceful: over the hill and unprepared. The lectures on astronomy and art history were interesting, but we enjoyed them more on our stateroom television than in the theatre. (They could easily have been replaced with canned material.) The series on Broadway was quite good; lectures on musical theatre with no music are somewhat strange, but possibly it was a question of rights. RADA was reliably good, but they need to expand their repertoire.
The musical reviews were, as usual, absurd -- Vegas ca. 1962 (I kept expecting to see the Rat Pack). The dancers are excellent, but the costumes and choreography can only be described as tacky. The dance band, on the other hand, was excellent, also as usual (although personally I'd like more swing and less Latin). We wish Cunard would play at least one of the balls absolutely straight. Butlins-style contests and parades seriously lower the tone.
Finally, we would like to see the dress code enforced more rigorously. Perhaps it is too much to insist that "formal" means black-tie, but "semi-formal" should mean a lounge suit, not a sport coat. And tie-less men are by definition out of place at black-tie dinners. Cunard should consider setting aside an area or two -- a bar or lounge -- where jeans, shorts, tee-shirts, baseball caps, and athletic attire are banned at all times, and I would like to see them banned at afternoon tea in the Queen's Room. If I wanted to look at slobs I could fly Delta Airlines.