Between 19 December 2012 & 7 April 2013 (109 nights), my wife and I were on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth on two cruises (back-to-back) to the Mediterranean and Exotic Discoveries.
1. Queen Elizabeth was exquisite. There were excellent public areas such as the Garden Room, Cafe Corinthia, Commodore Club, library, fabulous decor in the Reception Atrium, Britannia & Verandah Restaurants. Also, lots of lovely quiet corners. Our cabin was well appointed and there was plenty of storage space. We had problems, which were unavoidable, e.g. Customs & Immigration in the USA, which we all suffered for 3 hours, with stiff upper lips!
2. In general, the Entertainment on board was disappointing for a ship of this quality. Some professional acts were very good, others extremely poor. One artist, performed the same routine, seen in 2007 on Aurora. Word for word! How disappointing. The ship's Singers and Dancers repeated the same shows 4 or more times. In the past on long duration (14+ week) cruises we saw 14 new shows.
3. Generally, on this type of holiday we have found that between 30-50% of passengers complete the entire voyage, with one Captain & a majority of staff for the full duration. This voyage was based on two/three week passenger changeovers, three Captains & numerous Officer/crew changes. There was no continuity and we were regularly asked (even after 12 weeks on board) if we had just joined the ship!
4. Our cabin steward and waitress/busboy at dinner were extremely professional. We told them so and also gave our comments in writing.
However, patchy service was always evident at breakfast and lunch. A continental breakfast (porridge, fruit salad & toast with tea) could take 25 or ninety minutes! In addition, many orders were incorrectly processed.
We treated ourselves to five visits at the Verandah, a la carte restaurant. On Valentines night the wine waiter was 'out-of-stock' of three different wines. This even included the Cunard House Red! All he wanted to serve us were the $20+ wines (150cl glass) of his choice. His 15% added gratuity was at stake! We were very disappointed, as this spoilt our Valentines evening. We subsequently complained to the Head Sommelier & found future visits were met with frosty welcomes! Please note that the food and general service were outstanding.
We found staff throughout the ship, from the Philippines and India, were charming and had welcoming smiles for passengers. The majority of Mid European staff were in a clique and very surly. They were referred to by some passengers as the "Mid European Mafia"!
To recall a personal incident. On a day when the sea was quite rough, at lunch, a Mid European waiter asked: "You haven't come to my table to 'puke' all over me, have you?" Cunard Five star/White Star service?. . . . .
5. We had several (150+ at times) cases of Norovirus and there were plenty of measures taken to keep the virus under control. Yet, large plates used for 'plating' soup, starters & pastas, were regularly wiped with a used napkin at the service stations & reused. This was despite used cutlery & splashed food, being on the large plates. We were told this process was not Company policy, but it didn't stop the practise.
6. Cunard sells itself as a British product. Yet, the best deals are available from America, e.g. one couple got a 36 night sector (LA to NZ return) for $1,660pp. This equates to c. Â£31/day. Of course, the real give-away is the pricing & billing on board, which are in U S Dollars. It shows who the real clients are in Cunard's books & why there is little interest in long duration passengers from the UK.
In conclusion, it was such a pity we were let down by the 'human factor', staff & entertainment. When you have long periods at sea, what you need are good entertainment and pleasant staff. The ship is fabulous in design and decor. However, you cannot avoid staff who are unhappy and badly managed. Comments from the staff like, 'vote with your feet if you are disappointed', does not support the demand for Excellent scores on the questionnaire, or the chorus of "We are Cunard" at the end of the chefs' parade.