I thought I would write this, as a first time Cunard Cruiser, but with experience of other brands to hopefully provide some useful information to people cruising in the future.
Firstly the positives.
This was our first cruise from Southampton, and the check in service and whole embarkation/disembarkation process was superb. We managed door to cabin in 90 mins from London. We used Parking 4 Cruises who provide a service where they meet you at the dock, and deliver the car back to the dock, so no buses. It was slightly cheaper than Cunard's recommended service and was very slick so is highly recommended.
The ship is still fairly new, so is very well presented and our balcony cabin 5050 was well located, quiet, and had slightly more cupboards/hanging space than Royal Caribbean and Princess. It also felt slightly bigger overall than most balcony cabins, but the balcony was slightly smaller, so probably a balance overall. The shower was not very well designed for a 6'1" person, due to a very low shower head which is not moveable, but apart from that the cabin was very good and included products for washing/showers etc.
The layout of the ship is very similar to the same type that Holland America run, but have been finished to a very high standard, with an art deco theme throughout Queen Elizabeth.
The food quality was excellent throughout, definitely slightly higher quality than the American Brands. We went in the Verandah restaurant twice, which is stunning and had excellent service. However this was more because the service elsewhere was so poor. More about that later.
The second night was a wine tasting/tasting menu consisting of 7 courses with matched wine. The food was excellent and the head Sommelier was on hand to take us through each wine pared with the food. At $150 per head it was expensive and was not as good value as chef's table on RC or Princess. They also could have been a bit more generous with the wine!!
Other highlights include the scenery on the cruise which is stunning, and the nightclub service which was quick, efficient and had a really good atmosphere.
We did love the fact that formal night was strictly enforced, but to have men wearing jackets on informal nights was a bit of a bore.
I can highly recommend the train ride in Flam, and the funicular railway in Bergen.
Flam Railway This is 2 hour round trip up the mountain. Although they make it very difficult you can book tickets independently through the main NSB Norwegian Railway site and downloading their app. You cannot book direct unless you book 10 or more tickets, and unless you are one of the first off the ships in port, you will miss the opportunity to book tickets on the day.
Therefore the NSB route is the only way to save any money and is slightly more expensive than direct but still 1/3 cheaper than the cruise ship tour. The station is just by the harbour so is 2 mins walk.
The funicular in Bergen is also excellent, it was approx 15 mins walk from the ship, and we went straight there from the ship and only had about 5 mins wait. By the time we came back down there was approx 1 hours wait, so best to head there straight away.
Firstly it is important to bear in mind we got an excellent deal on this cruise, but if we had paid a higher price that some people did, we would have been really disappointed with the service on board.
If you have been on Royal Caribbean or Princess the lack of good personal service on board Cunard will come as a shock.
We never once met our stateroom attendant!! He did the cleaning efficiently but added nothing to our cruise apart from always leaving his vacuum cleaner outside our cabin everyday. No communication or trying to make our cruise personal at all.
This served very good quality food, but for anyone expecting Princess or RC levels of friendly/waiter service will again be very disappointed.
They are looking after way too many tables, and have no time to be anything apart from vaguely efficient. The Sommelier looking after our table was frankly appalling. He was looking after approx 30 tables, so unless you pre-booked your wine, or had the same thing every night, it took way past starters before the wine even arrived!!
There was no discussion or presentation of the choices, we only saw the list on day one unless we asked and they probably missed out on $200-$300 worth of wine sales just on our table alone by being so bad.
We did breakfast in the Lido restaurant which was fine including freshly cooked eggs/omelettes, but people who took breakfast in the main Britannia restaurant complained of very poor service. One chap on day four was still waiting for some brown toast rather than white, and one couple waited 30 mins between their two breakfasts being served.
Throughout the rest of the ship, very few staff made any impression. We normally come back from a cruise having made good friends with a number of staff, but not on Cunard. I am still unsure if this is just their way of trying to do stiff, reserved service, but they are failing very badly.
We normally enjoy a glass or two of bubbles before our dinner, but the service there was so poor we had to try elsewhere. We are still facebook friends with some bar people from previous cruises!!!
We did not see much in the theatre due to the weird timings. We were on a late sitting for dinner (20.30), but instead of doing a performance before diner for late dining guests we had to wait until 22.30 for a late show, not what we wanted after a decent meal.
There were two excellent speakers on board talking about the Royal Family and Concord both of whom were very good, but the timing of their lectures were quite early on sea days, do many people who wanted some R&R missed them.
In general the other entertainment was fairly lacking. If you like ballroom dancing, you will love Cunard, but apart from that there was very little to entertain on board. There is a croquet, short tennis and bowls area which is fun, but only 8 people can use these areas at once, so they take up a big area, but often had lots of people disappointed. The putting courses on RC are much more inclusive for more people.
So to summarise I would say the following.
Cunard offered us a lovely ship, fantastic itinerary, great check in and very nice food.
However the service we felt was very poor in general and almost all the staff we came into contact with made no positive impact on our cruise.
Unfortunately for Cunard, the service we have received elsewhere has been stunning and helps make our cruise, so I would much rather be on Royal Caribbean or Princess.
In a competitive market, we were expecting Cunard to live up to its reputation for stunning "white star" service and apart from the Sommelier in the Verandah who was superb, we came away feeling very grey about the colour of the service on board.
I am sorry Cunard, but this was way below what we expected.