My partner and I recently returned from a 12-day Mediterranean cruise onboard Cunard's QUEEN ELIZABETH. This ranks as one of those trips that was just about as near perfect as one could wish for. For those only interested in the pictures, and there are over 600, here is the link:
We flew to Rome nonstop from Miami on Alitalia. The agent took a liking to us and blocked four seats just for us in the center section. Off to a great start! The flight was very comfortable with good service, and it's the first time I've experienced live cameras providing a forward and ground view on the in-seat monitors. I thought that was pretty cool. Upon arrival in Rome we were met by Cunard's airport staff who really went out of their way to make us feel welcome and comfortable. They took our luggage and the next time we saw it was in our cabin. We only had to wait about 15 minutes before we were on the bus headed to the ship ... or were we? Actually since we were so early Cunard provided a motor coach mini-tour of Rome before heading to Civitavecchia where the ship was docked. This was certainly an unexpected surprise, and what a difference from our Costa experience in April where we basically had to loiter around the airport for almost four hours before they took us to the ship. Embarking QUEEN ELIZABETH was a breeze, with no lines, no waits, and a very simple check-in process. Disembarkation in Venice 12 days later was just as painless.
I was anxious to see QUEEN ELIZABETH having already sailed on her sister QUEEN VICTORIA and the Cunard flagship QM2. The QE is the same basic design as QV but with some minor changes to the layout and a more art deco interior design. I quite liked it and immediately felt very comfortable in my new surroundings. The ship was spotless and essentially looked brand new. QE is a Vista Class, but with a custom layout for Cunard that includes far more multi-level spaces and public areas that are more airy and bright compared to her counterparts sailing for Holland America. In fact you would be hard pressed to realize QE was even related to her HAL cousins unless you knew in advance. The overall ambiance of QE is Cunard through and through. For those not familiar with Cunard, it's truly the last seagoing experience that beckons to a bygone era of tradition, formality, and civility. The atmosphere onboard is sophisticated, spacious, elegant, and yes very British! Our passenger compliment was probably around 60% British, 30% American, and 10% a mixture of Japanese and Europeans. Daytime activities include enrichment lectures, an afternoon message, lounging by the pool, and of course afternoon tea. Since this cruise was so port intensive, most days were spent ashore. In the evening a jacket is required after 6pm as the minimum dress code. Everyone honored the dress code which was a breath of fresh air. Not a single T-shirt or flip flops spotted in the dining room! Cunard cherishes its history, and is probably the only cruise line with an authentic bookshop onboard selling Cunard memorabilia as well as ocean liner books, cards, and puzzles. My partner who has little interest in ocean liner history really loved the Cunard experience, and surprisingly wanted to stop by the bookshop almost every night. It was something unique that he had not experienced on any other ship. To accompany the book shop is a fully stocked two level library complete with librarian. Proudly displayed all over the ship is artwork and artifacts from Cunard's illustrious past. If you require even more reminding that you are sailing with a company steeped in tradition and history, then a channel on your TV is dedicated to programs about Cunard history and its past vessels. Needless to say this was my favorite channel! Evenings on Cunard are quite elegant and formal, with music throughout the ship, costume balls in the Queens Room, ballroom dancing complete with gentleman hosts, big band, production shows of a fairly decent quality, and yes even disco dancing! The fine art of paying attention to the details is not lost on Cunard. There are nice touches like sparkling wine upon arrival, turndown service with chocolates on your pillow, Gilchrist & Soames bath products, robes & slippers, and even a daily newspaper delivered nightly with news from your home country. Many cruise lines have done away with these amenities, but Cunard continues to uphold the tradition. What you won't find on Cunard are endless revenue producing announcements, obnoxious art auctions, constant nickel & diming, bellyflop contests by the pool, rock climbing walls, shorts in the dining room, or buckets of beer. If these are things you will miss then Cunard is clearly not for you.
We opted for a standard outside cabin thinking it would be too cold to make use of a balcony. Were we ever wrong on that one. The weather was amazing the entire two weeks with warm air and cloudless sunny skies. It might be the best weather I've ever experienced on a cruise. The seas were as equally calm as the skies, and never once did we feel the ship move. I was actually a little disappointed in that fact, but it was perfect for my partner who is prone to motion sickness. I really enjoyed our cabin and its location on Deck 1. Our midship Deck 1 location was perfect for a port intensive itinerary. The gangway was never too far away and the main lounges were a short jaunt down the hall or up a deck. The window and its opening was large enough to sit in and read a book. Bedding was very comfortable and decor was soothing. Our cabin stewardess Rosalina was one of the best we ever encountered. Three things lacking were drawer space, a proper shelf in the small shower, and an interactive TV. We did order room service on occasion and it was always delivered right on schedule and delicious.
The dining experience on QE was quite good. We opted for late sitting and a table for two. We were in a nice section near the windows very close to three other tables for two. Two of the tables were next to us and another behind us. If you were looking for a private dining experience this arrangement would not have been ideal, as the tables were quite close to each other. As it turns out we got along great with our fellow two-tops and enjoyed some great conversations (thanks Dee & Michael!). Our serving team did a great job as did the wine steward who appeared every night almost as we sat down. I'm glad Cunard has kept the wine stewards and not placed the task on the already overworked wait staff as many cruise lines have done. One option missing from the experience was an "always available" selection on the menu. This is offered on most other lines and usually includes a steak, fish, salad, and chicken option. It's always nice to have such options in case nothing appeals to you on the main menu. Luckily we never had that problem but I'm surprised it wasn't offered in the Britannia Restaurant. We dined in the Britannia Restaurant every night except two. For my birthday we dined in the Verandah Restaurant, which is an a la carte speciality dining experience drawing its roots from the original QUEEN ELIZABETH and QUEEN MARY. I opted for the tasting menu which was very French and very unusual for my taste buds. I quite enjoyed it but it was a lot of food. The overall experience was quite nice but I still feel Celebrity Cruises has the best speciality restaurants at sea. Another night we dined up in the Lido Restaurant with the Spa Manager and the theme was a steakhouse. The upcharge was $10 per person. It was satisfactory but the steak was certainly no better than what was offered in the main dining room. Lunch was taken either ashore or in the Lido Restaurant & Grill. The quality was good as was the variety.
This cruise was very port intensive, with only two days at sea out of twelve. For those ports where we docked in a remote location, Cunard provided a complimentary shuttle service into the center of town. This was certainly not expected as most cruise lines charge for such a service, but it was certainly welcomed! In almost all the ports we enjoyed lunch or at minimum some coffee/tea/soda at a cafe in order to take advantage of free internet. It's so much faster than what is offered on the ship. I'm not going to detail much on the ports, but I will let you know how we enjoyed each one ...
Salerno. We booked a Cunard shore excursion to Pompeii. I was really fascinated with Pompeii and it was a great way to spend the day. Cunard did and excellent job with the organization of the entire tour. Highly recommended.
Messina. We booked a Cunard transfer shore excursion to Taormina. Basically it was a motor coach ride to and from the small cliffside town of Taormina with free time once you are dropped off. Again highly recommended. Taormina is charming and picturesque. We enjoyed shopping, people watching, and lunch at an outdoor cafe.
Santorini. One of my favorite Greek islands. We went into town on our own, taking the funicular up to the main town of Fira. We enjoyed some shopping, ship spotting, and an amazing lunch with a view to die for. Pretty much a prefect day in my book.
Rhodes. Since we have been to Rhodes several times, we opted to walk the walled city on our own, again enjoying the sights and a lunch at one of the main squares of the old city.
Kusadasi. We were here fairly recently and toured Ephesus. This is a must and we strongly considered going back for a 2nd look, but instead took it easy and strolled around the waterfront near where the ships dock.
Athens. In that past we have toured Athens quite extensively, so again it was a light day of strolling around the port area of Piraeus. This is a great area for ship spotting if you're into that sort of thing. There is a hop-on-hop-off bus that circles Piraeus and another that goes into Athens itself. These are great options if you prefer to save a little money and have a bit more freedom to plan out your day. Both leave from the port area just outside where the ship docks.
Corfu. We really loved Corfu. It's quite different from other Greek islands due to its location and the fact it's so green. It feels more like Italy to be honest. A free shuttle was offered into town but we felt like walking. We strolled around the waterfront and then into the city. Chris went to a "fish spa" where these little fish suck all the dead skin and calluses off your feet! It was an interesting experience for him and fun to watch.
Dubrovnik. This was probably my favorite port of the entire cruise next to Venice. We took the free shuttle from the ship into the walled city and just spent the day exploring all the amazing sights this beautiful city has to offer. This is someplace I would truly like to return to for a week or more. Some of the cliffside hotels outside the walled city looked quite inviting.
Ravenna. Probably the most disappointing of all the ports. The ship was supposed to overnight in Venice but due to port congestion the overnight was canceled and Ravenna was added in its place. The closest major city is Bologna and tours were offered there, but we were not interested enough to book one. The ship docks in a fairly industrial area and it's about a 30-40 minute ride into Ravenna itself. We were there on a Sunday and things were pretty quiet, but if you're into Mosaics then this is the place for you! Ravenna is quite famous for them and they are beautiful, but I would have preferred the overnight in Venice.
Venice. We took a water taxi from the port area directly to our hotel which was really cool. I quite enjoyed the experience but be forewarned that water taxis are very expensive. Roughly 80 Euros for a 15 minute ride. Our hotel was the Westin Europa & Regina located right on the Grand Canal. We had a superior room facing the Grand Canal and I can tell you it's not a view I would ever tire of. I highly recommend the hotel and a visit to Venice in general. It's one of those places that really lives up to every expectation and perception and even exceeds them!
From Venice we took a train to Milan and spent a night there before our flight home. I was disappointed in Milan as it lacks all the Italian character we came to enjoy in Venice, Salerno, Messina, and even Ravenna. We stayed at the Sheraton Malpensa which is actually connected to the airport. This is without question the most modern and luxurious Sheraton I have ever stayed in. Since the hotel is connected to the airport, it made catching our 9am flight to New York JFK quite simple. We flew home in Business Elite on Delta and it was a fantastic way to end a truly wonderful vacation.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, this trip was nearly perfect in every regard. We loved the ship (including the food, service, and entertainment), the new friends we made, all the ports, and were treated to picture perfect weather. The logistics of getting to and from the ship went without a hitch, and spending some time in Venice at a truly gorgeous hotel helped ease the disappointment of having to part ways with the lovely QUEEN ELIZABETH.
What I've found is the best way to get over a great vacation is to have another planned, and next up is ROYAL PRINCESS this coming Sunday! Please enjoy the pictures and let me know if you have any questions.