Overall, a pleasant cruise but needs improvement in some areas.
This was our 5th Cunard cruise and 26th cruise overall, previously sailing mostly as a family with Holland America (9), Disney (4), Princess (4), Celebrity (2) and Royal Carribean (2). Our previous Cunard cruises were two QE2 transatlantic crossings and two on the QM2, once to the Carribean and the other to Canada and New England.
We were on the last cruise to the Baltics region for 2013 and hope this information is helpful to those planning a trip for 2014 or later, either on Cunard or another line. I will start with the three areas on the QV which we see needing improvement.
1. There were unusual noise issues with category BA balcony cabin 8113. This is located midship just under the Lido buffet but there were no noise issues with the buffet seating area above us. Upon embarkation, we asked our stateroom attendant why there was a unique tapping and clicking noise which we later found out was a problem with the dishwasher plumbing in the Lido, so we were told. As experienced cruisers, we know to expect engine humming and vibration noises, especially depending on where the stateroom is located; however, this noise was very unique and became very annoying during the night. The noise was analogous to someone coming to your room every 15 minutes, then knocking on your door for 5 minutes, with this cycle repeated throughout the day and night. Very annoying and prevented us from getting any decent sleep. After a few nights, we met our neighbours in stateroom 8111 who had reported the same issue, as the problem seemed to affect only these two rooms. Although the technical department tried different remedies, after we spent four nights in this room and two nights in a “sleeping room” (used for short term stays by entertainers and passengers who have major stateroom problems such as broken toilet or plumbing), we reluctantly agreed to move to an inside room as the ship was sailing 99% full and there was nothing else available. At the last minute, an oceanview stateroom became available for some reason and we spent the remaining eight nights in 1066. We received a refund of the difference in price of the balcony and inside room, and as additional compensation, we also received a future cruise credit which we thought should have been higher, but accepted anyway and then tried to make the most out of the remaining time on board. The balcony furniture is made of very cheap looking plastic and steel, very Walmart, more at home on Carnival than Cunard.
2. The itinerary could have been improved. Firstly, the time in Warnemunde was 08:30 am to 6 pm. Most other cruise lines such as Princess or Holland America remain in port later, usually until 11 pm, to allow excursions into Berlin. I understand that it is a long day with the travel to Berlin but if you are travelling a great distance and you are interested in seeing only the essentials, then Cunard’s decision to leave by 6 pm is disappointing as there are 5 days at sea during the voyage to gain the extra five hours. Secondly, instead of Kristiansand, Norway, perhaps more effort could have been made to go to Oslo instead.
3. With the demographics of the majority of passengers, this comment will not affect many people but we were disappointed that the Pavilion Pool midship on deck 9 did not have a retractable glass roof to allow the pool to be used in inclement weather or cold temperatures.
On to the review of the remainder of our voyage and the ship.
We started with our flight from Toronto on Air Canada’s Dayliner flight, leaving at 9 am and arriving at Heathrow at 9 pm. Without the overnight flight, you lose a full day for travelling and incur an additional cost for a hotel stay upon arrival but we find it really helps to reduce the jet lag. We have always been pleased with our stay at either of the Sheratons at Heathrow. The next day, we took the National Express coach direct from Heathrow Coach Station to Southampton Coach Station. Cost was GBP 18 per person. We stayed at the Novotel Southampton which is a 5 minute walk from the coach station. The next morning, the cost of the taxi ride to the port was GBP 7. We arrived at the port at Ocean Terminal at 10:30 am and were onboard by noon. Staterooms were ready.
Overall Impressions of the ship
The QV is a very beautiful ship which is based in Southampton, mainly for the British market. Everyone of the crew we encountered were very friendly. A very thoroughly British ship and it was a nice change from our normal cruising routine.
Over 90% were from the UK and we think that over 95% of these had an average age in the 70s. Many in wheelchairs had to take regular staterooms (as we saw on one deck) as the demand exceeded the supply of rooms for the disabled. We were met at four different ports by ambulances and we heard two Code Alphas (for medical emergencies) over the public address system although I am sure there were more. Cunard ships probably have the best equipped medical facilities on the oceans. Other passengers were mostly Canadians, Americans or Australians. Out of the 2000+ passengers, there were perhaps no more than 50 passengers under the age of 50 (including us), along with a handful of children.
We were on the Britannia first sitting with a table for two. We enjoyed the meals, the variety, the quality and taste. Meals were always very hot which we appreciated very much. We did not dine at the alternative Verandah Restaurant ($15 for lunch and $24 for dinner) nor did we try any of the Alternative Restaurants in the Lido Buffet during the evenings. These were the Coriander for Indian, Prime for steaks or Bamboo for Asian. A service charge of $10 per person applies for each of these locations. We ate the occasional breakfast or lunch in the Dining Room, but mostly ate these meals in the buffet so we could get a large variety and quick service. We had fish and chips and also curry in the Golden Lion Pub one day. As always, we loved the Afternoon Tea in the Queen’s Room whenever we could get to it.
The entertainment, along with the ports and dining, are the highlights of our cruises. There was a welcome aboard and a farewell show, four major productions (A Stroke of Genius, Celtic Heartbeat, Victoriana, Dance Passion), five musical acts (vocalist Eve Sherratt, soprano Gordana Kostic, Tenors Unlimited, Royal Cunard singers, flautist Tara Whittaker), comedian Jeff Stevenson and magician James More. All were excellent although some of the vocals (Tenors Unlimited) were stronger than the Royal Cunard Singers. The Cunard dancers had incredible energy, especially during Dance Passion. Lots of other activities such as Cunard Insight Lectures, ballroom dancing, etc. We enjoyed everything, but did not always understand the UK jokes but after talking to some of our fellow passengers from the UK, we now know who Yorkies are.
If cost is not an issue, I recommend the ship’s tours. Otherwise, unless you have mobility problems, we think that you can see all ports on your own without the ship’s tours, with the exception of St. Petersburg. Get yourself a guidebook on the cities to be visited and prepare yourself for what you would like to see. Cunard’s destination guides provide a lot of detail including a basic map, much better than what we have seen from other lines, so you can get by on seeing just the major sights on your own. Stop for a bite to eat, have a coffee or beer, or just shop. There are also Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) buses in Helsinki and Stockholm but the HOHO buses are not useful in Talinn because of the layout of the town.
In Stockholm, there was a free shuttle bus to the City Centre for Cunard passengers. Once there, we saw the Gamla Stan (Old Town), Nobel Museum, the Storget which is Stockholm’s oldest square, the Parliament buildings and the Royal Palace.
In Talinn, there was also a free shuttle bus into town for Cunard passengers. It can take you most of the day to explore Upper Town, Lower Town, the various towers such as Tall Hermann, Alexander Nevsky Castle, Town Hall Square and Pikk Street. Really beautiful here. Interesting to hear about the tensions with the Russians who make up about 40% of the population.
In St. Petersburg, we arranged for and received an excellent private tour for the full two days with SPB Tours. Key highlights include the Church of Spilled Blood, early entry to Hermitage, canal and Neva river boat ride, various squares, Yusupov palace, Peterhof, subway station to view mosaics, Peter and Paul’s Fortress, sit-down lunches on both days, all admission fees and personal audio sets to hear everything clearly. We only had 12 people in our group but each tour is guaranteed to be limited to a maximum of 16. Here is my review of our two day excursion at tripadvisor.com. Compared to the ship’s tour of $415 (not sure if this included gratuities), we paid $345 (300 + 45 gratuities) to SPB.
In Helsinki, you had to pay for the shuttle bus into town. It was advertised as a day return ticket (which we interpreted as one outward and one inward journey) but we were allowed to use it to go back and forth to the ship all day. Cost was GBP or euro 8 or USD 10. We walked everywhere and saw all the major sights such as the Senate Square, Uspenski Cathedral, Lutheran Cathedral, Market Square and the harbourfront market, then spending a couple of hours in the Stockmann department store which is the largest department store in town, with a great gourmet supermarket in the basement.
In Warnemunde, we took the local train to Rostock for the morning, with the intention to spend the afternoon closer to the ship in Warnemunde. It was just cloudy when we left the ship in the morning but by lunchtime, there were heavy winds and rains. We just went back to the ship and stayed there. Public transport is easy to Rostock. It’s the end of the line so all trains go back to Rostock (local trains S-Bahn 1, 2 or 3). Get off at the Hauptbanhof which is the main train station in Rostock, about a 20 minute ride later, and transfer to the trams number 5 or 6. You can walk another 20 minutes instead of taking the tram to get to the town centre. There are a couple of stops close to the city centre but we exited the train at the Neuer Markt stop which is adjacent to the town square and town hall. Walk down the Kropeliner Strasse which is the pedestrianised street and shopping area. A one way ticket at the railway station in Warnemunde is 1.80 euro and includes the ride on the tram, so no additional ticket is required. Don’t forget to validate your ticket in the yellow (or was it orange?) box on the platform before you get on the train. You can buy tickets at Neuer Markt to get back to the ship for another 1.80 or you can also buy a 4 euro all day pass in Warnemunde. There is also the boat option to get from Warnemunde to Rostock but it was too cold and windy for us. An option you can consider if it’s a nice day.
In Copenhagen, the QV docked at the Langelinie Pier, which is a 10 minute walk and north of the Little Mermaid statue. You may dock somewhere else so do check. We chose to take the public transport bus # 26 which is at the end of the pier and the shops. Cost was about 4 euros which we took all the way to the west part of the central city core, disembarking at the Radhauspladsen (Town Hall Square), adjacent to Tivoli Gardens and the Hans Christian Anderson statue. Everyone speaks English here. From there, we took our time and walked through the shops and the various side streets, along the Stroget which is the grand pedestrian boulevard, then seeing the major sights such as Christianborg Palace (Parliament), Amalienborg Palace (residence of Royal Family), Nyhavn (New Harbour), Gammeltorv (old Square), Nytorv (New Square), Kongens Nytorv (King’s New Square). There are two canal boat companies at Nyhavn and they both offer the same tour. However, one company does not advertise their price and is much higher. We read about a company called Netto which is half way down the Nyhavn canal on the city side and is much cheaper at 40 DKK or 6 euros for a one hour tour. It goes all around the harbour, past the Little Mermaid statue, the Opera House, and also through Christianshavn. Then there was lots of shopping on Amagertorv. A walk back from Nyhavn to the ship at Langelinie Pier took about 30 minutes at a slow and leisurely pace on the harbour route, past the Little Mermaid.
Final port was Kristiansand, Norway. Nice size city of 70,000, which is fifth largest in Norway. Nice 10 minute walk from the ship to centre of town. There is the Christiansholm Fortress, a cathedral, Baneheia Forest to the north of the city and within walking distance at about 15 minutes north of the city. Nice main street with lots of shops but every expensive, this being Norway. We would preferred to have gone to Oslo.
Arrival in Southampton. We chose the self-disembarkation option by carrying all our luggage off by ourselves. No customs to go through unless you had something to declare beyond allowable limits. We took a private transfer for GBP 67 from www.smithsforairports.com and left at 9 am, and 90 minutes later with not much traffic enroute, we were at Heathrow in plenty of time to catch our flight home.
In summary, despite the problem with having to reluctantly downgrade our category of stateroom, we made the best out of a bad situation and tried to enjoy ourselves after moving out of our balcony room. We are on the Queen Elizabeth to the Mediterranean in November (to use up the future cruise credit as you must book a cruise within a year or you lose it!). Let’s hope this is a better experience.