When we heard that Cunard used US currency, we expected most passengers to be American. We had seen movies of blue-rinsed widows spending their dead husband`s life insurance. We concluded that this would still be preferable to an English football crowd. So with some apprehension we took 7 days to the Norwegian fjords, having discovered that the QE was actually less costly than taking a flight to Bergen and the Norwegian coastal ferry. Norway must be the most expensive place in Europe and to get to the fjords by road is an endless journey down twisting narrow roads, with passing places, and ultra costly hotels.
The QE with its very high decks is certainly the best and probably least expensive way to see these magnificent southern fjords: especuially if you take a late booking. We took only one Cunard excursion, to the Briksdal glacier, because it did not seem possible to get there any other way. It is a long and steepish trek after you leave the ludicrously expensive souvenir shop, which was crowded with Japanese. It is well worth the effort and a lot of fun You can go both up and down by diesel tractor, but this quickly gets booked out.
The weather was cool and overcast with temperatures mostly just over 10C. At the glacier, we paddled rubber dinghies over gratingy ice and wrapped our parkas and hats around us. This was novel. Autumnn starts in early August on the Norwegian tundra. Bergen is attractive with much of the old German town well preserved. The accommodation for Hanseatic traders, was comparable to an English boarding school, and the guide was very well informed with perfect English.. You can walk or take a hop-on bus in Bergen. Service failed in the afternoon and we had to walk back to the ship. Both Bergen and Stavanger have unusual museums dedicated to oil extraction and fish canning. Much more interestin than you may think.
Unless you pay huge prices for a hamburger or a weak coffee there is not much to tempt one into cafes or restaurants. We took the cog railway up to the heights above Bergen and ate some of our breakfast cheese and rolls in a rare moment of sunshine in the woods. Norway is very beautiful and these towns are small and quiet. Olden, the stop for a waterfall, which we did not visit as we had seen so many from the ship, is even quieter with the air of a tiny holiday village, out of season. Nothing opened until two hours after we had landed in the QE lifeboat and then the coffee was costly and tasteless. QE`s own Olde English tea service was far better, with its cucumber sandwiches and waiter service. But Cunard should discover the teapot.
Norwegians are pleasant and not grasping - actually most of those working in part-year tourist jobs are from Eastern Europe, as are most of the waitresses on QE. The waiters are Phillipinnos. .Service generally was good except in the Brittannia restaurant where too many courses had to be served by too few staff and plates tended to be slapped down, without listening to requests.
Few of the passengers were American - we shared a table with one married to a Briton and two other British, who were ideal companions. We also met pleasant and educated Welsh, English and Americans. The top cabins were all taken by Japanese who kept to themselves, but were up before dawn because of jetlag and tended to hog the early ferries ashore. They kept to themselves in QE`s concealed first class which can only be accessed by the right card.
We took the precaution of bringing US dollars and Norwegian krone aboard, which we had to pay into the cashier in exchange for a card, used for all purchases. We also brought scotch, vodka and wine on some of which we paid corkage in the excellent Verandah restaurant.,It was still cheaper than Cunard`s. It had outstanding and friendly service and a willingness to change dishes that conflicted with allergies. Food generally was very good, especially the seafood, sourced from all over the world. Drink prices are extortionate especially as your card is used to add 15% to the cost of everything consumed on board, and your cabin fee. This helps to make up the pay for the crew who are confined to the ship for nine months at a time. One asked about gaining asylum in Britain.
As we passed down Southampton Water on the first afternoon, the bar staff with mobile trolleys were doing a fine trade in champagne miniatures. I guess that as it was supposed to be the Captain`s Departure party, most passengers thought this was free. They would have had a shock. Even a small glass of wine cost $12 and bottles were all over $36. Excursions were also very costly, but could be avoided without loss of interest except to Briksdal.
Off Norfolk we were suprised to hear a single blast for the ship`s siren at around midday. This is the signal for a turn to starboard. The ship turned immediately and sharply. On rushing to port we saw a very solid gas rig, not much more than a ship`s lengtt ahead. We enquired politely of the captain later that evening, but he just looked away.
Apart from people asleep on the Bridge, the ship functioned well with boarding and even disembarking reasonably efficient compared to much smaller ferries. Photographers were a pest and dancing classes were hugely over-subscribed. But we met only one football lout, and two very rude Israelis - far fewer than we had anticipated. The self-service Lido restarant was chaotic, especially at the coffee and tea counter, but there was far less barging than on ferries.
This is the best way to see the Norwegian fjords. But take some of your own drink and tea kettle, arrange your own shore visits and change your dollars before you board. Overall it was much better than we expected.