We cruised for the first time two years ago and have caught the bug. Accuse us of lacking in imagination if you must, but based now on two experiences with Cunard, we’d need a good reason to go elsewhere. As last time, we sailed with the Queen Victoria (chosen for timings and itinerary, rather than the ship). The only poor aspect of the cruise was embarkation at Southampton. We had priority check-in, which worked perfectly, but then queued for what must have been almost an hour to get through the security x-rays and on board. Even Heathrow at holiday time does it better than this.
The Cunard experience is a gloriously willing suspension of normality. Diets were put on hold and the excellent cuisine embraced. The only time something wasn’t up to standard (Steak Diane), it was whisked away and replaced. My partner had two very good pub lunches during the cruise, but I was happy to stay in the Queen's Grill restaurant which served just about everything my greedy palate desired. Shirred eggs with caviar had disappeared from the breakfast menu, but were provided when I asked. Caviar was off the dinner menu, but one of our fellow diners requested it, and forth it came.
Last time we had an aft suite (4191) which was fabulously spacious with a huge balcony. This time we opted for 8163, aft starboard corner, which gave an even bigger wrap-around balcony, although less internal space. There are always pros and cons. This layout didn’t have the split bathroom of most QG suites, but it did have two basins. The wardrobe space seemed a bit smaller too, although we did pack rather heavily...
We hosted a sailaway party from Lanzarote; the aft balconies are perfect for leaving port. A word to our butler and volumes of hot canapés were provided, as were extra ice, tonic, glasses, ice buckets. All we had to do was be there to say hello. And when we drank our way through our included QG bottle of gin (we asked for Bombay Sapphire rather than the suggested brand), the butler whizzed in with a replacement. Of course, none of that cost us anything!
Apart from eating, this time we discovered the sauna in the gym area. What a design delight. I’ve never sat in a sauna before with sea views, but will again. Most evenings we went to the theatre and enjoyed the shows, but sometimes it was fun just to sit in a bar or two listening to the talented live musicians. We also enjoyed the lectures on astronomy, which were fascinating, well-paced and delivered with a relaxed warmth. The other thing we discovered, thanks to a more experienced fellow-diner, was the wine packages. Inevitably there are varying opinions on these, but we found that, for under $500 (including the gratuity) we chose from 12 great bottles of wine, some of which were genuinely stunning.
Many people comment on the formality of Cunard. For us, this is one of its selling points. We love the atmosphere when everyone is dressed up in the evenings and it certainly doesn’t hinder the overall friendliness of the ship.
Apart from a ship tour (Jeep safari) in Tenerife, we did our own thing. We have no enthusiasm for coach trips, so booked private tours in Madeira and La Palma, hired a car for the day in Lanzarote, and used Lisbon as a chance to see a friend. All of this worked very well and gave us a great mix of experiences and sights.
And the Cunard ethos. This is summed up by my experience at the Purser’s desk. I’d booked a private tour in La Palma, only to discover we were docking much later than I had expected, indeed when we should already have been down the coast to meet our tour guide. I presented my dilemma to the purser. It wasn’t Cunard’s problem since these were private arrangements, but he picked up his phone, rang my tour operator and handed the phone across to me. Problem solved. Goodwill escalated. Exemplary service demonstrated.