Embarkation at Southampton was smooth, orderly and very quick, grill passengers being boarded first. We embarked just after midday, and were in our deck 8 penthouse suite within minutes. The suite was beautiful - very large, elegantly furnished with a separate sitting room area and bedroom area, a large walk-in dressing room area with more than adequate hanging space and drawer space, superb marble bathroom with jacuzzi bath, glass-fronted shower room, and separate toilet area and marble coutertop with washbasin. Superb large balcony the full width of the suite with french window and large picture window, furnished with 2 sunloungers and a table, and ample room to walk around.
Our butler Marshall and stewardess Dexie introduced themselves. Dexie kept the suite spotless throughout the cruise, and Marshall looked after us in a 5 Star way, regularly replenishing our bar with our choice of alcohol and our fridge with our requested soft drinks and twice daily ice bucket. Canapes were promptly delivered at 5pm.
We dined in the Queens Grill which was absolutely superb - intimate and elegant. We had requested a table for two which we got, but were pleased that we got on so well with the couple at the next table who were a delight and great fun. Most tablew were for two, with only perhaps 2 or 3 for six. Our main waiters Joe and Andrew were so attentive - nothing was too much trouble. Our wine waiter vellen was always on hand, smiling and keeping the wine flowing. Our head waiter Ali was always on hand to give recommendations and oversee the presentation and quality of the food. Both the table d'hote and a la carte menus were superb, and you could interchange between the two. The quality and presentation of the food was equal to top-class restaurants in both London and New York, and because the surroundings were so elegant and the standard so high there was no need to sample any other eating venues on the ship. The Grills Lounge was superb, and the Grills Concierge Thiago was most helpful.
Overall the ship is beautiful with an art deco theme running throughout which reflects the splendour of the old Cunard Queens. She is spotlessly clean and still looks brand new. Some public rooms don't seem to work too well yet - the Queens Room is a bit institutional(unlike the QE2 and QM2), was often fairly empty, as was the casino. The Commodore club was a lovely venue for meeting up with friends for drinks, and the Yacht Club was terrific fun as a nightclub playing 60's and 70's hits with a great mixture of passengers.
Wonderful ports of call - hadn't realised just how interesting the Baltic was. The star was of course St Petersburg - a mindblowing cultural experience. We had originally booked the Cunard 2-day tour, but on closer inspection we realised that there were certain main sites we would only "pass by" and not actually visit. So we cancelled this, and after doing a lot of internet research we booked the 2 day grand tour with Alla Tours - apart from being cheaper than Cunard, we got to actually visit all the sites we wanted to see with a wonderful English speking guide Angie and very importantly maximum 16 persons in comfortable minibuses. we had priority entrance to all sites, much to the annoyance of other queueing cruiseship tourists, including those on Cunard tours.
Stockholm is a beautiful city with a visit to the Vasa Museum and absolute must to see Sweden's 98$ preserved version of the Mary Rose. Tallinn is an Estonian jewel which is easily done on your own.
The sailaway from Warnemunde was an unforgettable experience.
The other ports were interesting in their own rights, but not as outstanding.
The onboard entertainment was OK, and we felt that the shows could have been a little slicker to appeal to a more sophisticated travelling audience. Apart from the New Zealand tenor who was excellent, the singers were middle of the road, and not helped by an overloud orchestra. The dancers were of a much better standard. Shows on the QM2 were slicker and much better executed.
Daytime activities, especially on at-sea days were OK to a certain extent but could have been more diverse. The watercolour classes we loved, and will carry on with. The "talks/lectures" were very mediocre and not very well presented.
Overall - a wonderful cruise on a beautiful ship, with the added advantage of fantastic weather throughout. Cunard has still maintained a high standard of cruising in classical surroundings which is fast becoming difficult to find in today's cruise market.
Well done, Cunard - please don't drop your standards.