We recently took part in a Cunard cruise to the middle east (part of the QM2 World Cruise) from Southampton to Dubai including Barcelona, Crete, Suez Canal, Egypt and Dubai. Overall we found the itinerary interesting. The Ports were generally fine though we did not have any ports in Egypt near Cairo. The cruise was supposed to have a stop at Piraeus, Greece (port for Athens) but poor weather necessitated a change of port to the island of Crete. We were disappointed to miss Athens but Crete was a wonderful port and since we were the only ship there it did not have the issues of too many tourists for too small an island like ports in the Caribbean or Alaska.
We traveled from Canada to London and used a Cunard transfer to Southampton. This went smoothly and efficiently as did embarkation. We were in Stateroom 6160 which is a premium Balcony stateroom. Unfortunately the balconies on decks 5 and 6, while called premium, are not. The balconies are fully enclosed steel which gives them a sense of being a porthole rather than a balcony. You have to lean very far out to see anything and shorter persons would not be able to do this at all as the rail is very high. When you sit in the deck chairs or are in your stateroom you cannot see the ocean. Even when our stateroom was faced to the sun, the sun rarely caught enough of the balcony seating area for us to sit and catch some rays.
This was our first cruise with Cunard and we were led to believe this would be luxury cruising. We did not find it that way at all. The ship has lovely fittings, artworks and history but is very "chopped" up into small spaces with limited views of the ocean. All of the entertainment, dining and shopping spaces are low in the ship and we found we rarely "got out" and into the fresh air. Most of the exterior seating is on the promenade deck so it feels a bit crowded with people walking, jogging, swimming and sunning all on one area.
Menus were fine but nothing outstanding. We commented that the fish often tasted "fishy" which was a disappointment. Because we missed the port in Greece we were unable to take on fresh produce for the remainder of our cruise and meals suffered as a result. The service was also generally average, though having said that, I have severe food allergies and was treated wonderfully by our headwaiter and waiters in regard to this. They took extra care to ensure there would be no issues and there were not.
We took part in 3 shore excursions: one on Crete, and two in Egypt. On Crete we went to the MInoan Palace ruins. The tour was excellent and informative and we had lots of time to explore and see things. We then had time to spend in Heraklion before returning to the ship. The town was interesting and welcoming and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
In Egypt we stopped at Sohkna which was our portal to Cairo and the Pyramids. This tour was very long - we left the ship at 7am and returned about 12 hours later. The drive across the desert was approximately an hour and a half one way. We then toured the Step pyramid and related temple as well as the sites at Giza - the pyramids and the Sphinx. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and helpful throughout the day. Each coach was also accompanied by an armed guard. Ours turned out to be a disappointment as he later hit us up for baksheesh (tip money). The sites were wonderful but were ruined by the appalling behaviour of Egyptian tourist crap salesmen. There is no getting away from these individuals - they grab you and harass you the entire time you are trying to admire the pyramids or the Sphinx. We noted many people actually getting back on buses to get away from them and missing out on some of the sights as a result. Apparently since the revolution these people have been allowed closer to the pyramids than previously and it makes the trip an endurance rather than and enjoyment. The sights ARE worth it though. Everyone should see these sometime in their lifetime. You just will not want to ever go back. Cairo is fascinating but absolutely filthy and squalor filled. It is not a city for the faint of heart. We would definitely recommend you take an organized tour while in Cairo as the potential to be ripped off is huge otherwise. We had lunch at a 4-star hotel near the pyramids. Lunch was buffet style and beverages were included (including wine or beer). The meal was quite good. The tour ended with the requisite 'tour' through a 'recommended' shop where papyrus wares were made and sold. All told, we would recommend this tour.
The next day was our next port - Safraga. This port is very small and uninteresting other than it is the closest seaport to Luxor and Valley of the Kings. This is the excursion where we had the most issues of our trip. The ship arrived late in port due to delays in Egyptian bureaucracy. This delayed the tour. Cunard staff were badly organized and getting off of the ship and into the many waiting coaches was a nightmare of too many people, too little organization and too little information. We were told the trip to Luxor would take about 3 hours. It took 4 and a half hours and was awful as our guide talked non-stop. Everyone stopped listening and we missed what was probably some useful information because it was badly presented. We did not reach the Valley of the Kings (our first stop) until 12:30pm. By that point many people on the coach were commenting that they didn't really care to see the sights because they were so exhausted from the journey to get there. We were only allowed an hour and 20 minutes and only allowed into 3 tombs. The biggest disappointment was that we were not allowed to take cameras into the Valley at all. If you wanted photos, you had to buy a prepared CD. From the Valley of the Kings we went to the Temple of Karnak at Luxor. On the way we had a couple of 2 minute photo stops at the Colossi of Memnon and the Queen's temple in Luxor. At Karnak we had another 1 1/2 hours to view the sights. This temple is amazing and should be seen - just not on this tour.
Because the tours left port late, the decision was made to skip lunch. We were not fed until 6:30 that evening. The meal was held buffet style at a Luxor hotel. The food had obviously been kept over from noon (when we were SUPPOSED to have eaten it) and was a disappointment. We then had another nightmare of disorganization as people tried to find their buses on a dark street in Luxor that had no room for all the buses. We were delayed nearly an hour as this took place as the buses were required to travel in convoy through Egypt. We did not return to the ship until 11:30pm after another 4 1/2 hour drive through the desert. We would NOT recommend people take this excursion. 3 hours of viewing and 9 hours of driving was not worth the nearly $400 it cost the 2 of us to take the trip. Had we been informed by Cunard that we would not be allowed to take cameras into the Valley of the Kings and that the driving portions would be so long, we would not have signed up for the excursion. We made complaint the next day and 5 days later rec'd a letter from the Tours Manager telling us, rudely, that we had gotten what we had paid for and they would not be compensating us in any way. We have now lodged further complaint to Carnival (the parent company) and are awaiting a reply.
We left Egypt and sailed around the Arabian peninsula to Dubai. Dubai was fine as a port with no major issues. We self-disembarked and were taken by car to the airport. Disembarkation was uneventful and efficient.
Overall we would recommend this trip though if you have not sailed on Cunard be aware that it does not meet the hype. We noticed little if any difference from Cunard to Princess except that it cost more. We would rather travel on Princess than travel on Cunard again. In addition, Cunard cruises have a "class system" with areas of the ship off limits to the masses and held solely for the "Queen's Grill" class. Of note: because it is a British cruise line Cunard ships do have on board Harrod's shops which is a fun change from the everyday. Of course, Harrod's pricing applies.