Well, I have to eat my words now that I’ve just re-read my review of Queen Elizabeth dated August 2011. Back then I had a good moan about pretty much everything and vowed never to choose Cunard again. Now, having thoroughly enjoyed a 12 day Eastern Mediterranean cruise on Queen Elizabeth in October 2013, I’m left wondering if this was the same ship! We decided to give Cunard another chance purely because of the itinerary and the price. Again we opted for a late-booking “Guarantee” balcony cabin and were not disappointed – deck 5, starboard, aft.
Having had to leave home at 4am for a 7am departure from Heathrow it was a great relief to find embarkation in Rome swift efficient and hassle-free. We had no difficulty locating our stateroom and again we were conveniently placed for stairs and elevators. As returning Cunard passengers – and now Gold Card holders – the complimentary chilled bottle of sparkling wine in our stateroom was very welcome. Luggage arrived quickly, our steward introduced himself, the sun was shining and we were happy. Balcony staterooms on QE are spacious with plenty of wardrobe and storage space and good lighting; the bed was one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in.
Preferring the Lido Buffet, we only used the Britannia Restaurant on one occasion – the first formal night – so I’m not in a position to make much comment on the restaurant food and service except to say the menu seemed rather limited but the waiter service was an improvement on last time. The evening buffet offers plenty of choices and some evenings were “themed” e.g. Italian, Scandinavian, Oriental. There is also an Alternative Dining option in the Lido with a US$10 cover charge per person and we used this on one occasion for an Indian menu. The food was good, cooked to order and served at the table – no complaints about that but by making an additional charge for certain types of dining and alternative venues on the ship is somehow an admission that the food served in the buffet and the Britannia Restaurant is of an inferior standard. Early on in the cruise there seemed to be a bit of a dishwasher malfunction – dirty cutlery and lip marks on cups and glasses – but rectified by the 2nd day. At breakfast there was always plenty to choose from and all diets/tastes catered for but I think the drinks stations really could do with a reorganisation – everything’s in the wrong order and people keep bumping into each other. Reassuring to see a greater presence and use of hand-sanitising gel this time.
Like some other reviewers, we too have an issue with the high price of wines and the automatic addition of a 15% service charge. We didn’t drink any spirits onboard but the prices of whisky, vodka, gin etc seemed to be far more realistic.
As I have already said, it was the itinerary that attracted us to this cruise even though we had visited Kusadasi and Piraeus relatively recently. For twelve days we were blessed with glorious sunshine and high temperatures so I guess this also had some bearing on our enjoyment level. Shore excursions are ridiculously expensive though. We had no complaints about the ports of call, apart from Ravenna where it was a 40 minute journey into the city by Cunard’s shuttle bus and there is absolutely nothing to do in the port area!
This time around, QE felt a much happier ship with an unfailingly polite and respectful crew. Nothing was ever too much trouble. Even the décor seemed brighter and less depressing.
Internet charges are still way too high but as Gold Card holders we each got 2 hours complimentary airtime – that was a good deal. Photographs? Also still priced too high and not the most professional shots you’ll ever see either. Evening entertainment? Not to my personal taste but seemed to appeal to some – the programme needs a rethink, I think.
Now, what is it about British Cunard passengers that they don’t want to talk to one another? On any American ship there’s chatter going on all around in the public areas and at mealtimes but we’ve always found it almost impossible to strike up a conversation with fellow Brits on Cunard ships. The only time the stiff upper lips wobbled was on the last day of the cruise – that was the day of storm force winds in the UK and there was a threat of flight cancellations – well, we all love talking about the weather and travel disruption don’t we?
Leaving a cruise is never a pleasure but I have to give the crew and staff full marks for the organisation and the seamless movement of thousands of passengers and their luggage. It all ran like clockwork with no delays and Cunard representatives with us all the way from cruise terminal to airport check-in desk.
So, I take back most of what I wrote in my review of QE in 2011 – this was the same ship but in warmer weather she was so much better. Cunard – you have regained a couple of fans.