Overall, a great cruise from Nov 21 to Dec 3 with no major issues. The ship is beautiful, very bright and decorated in an art deco style, as commented by others on these boards, when compared with the QV and its predominantly dark woods and colors.
This was our first time on the QE. It was our 6th Cunard cruise, having now sailed on all three Queens currently in service, as well as the QE2. This was our 27th cruise overall, previously sailing mostly as a family with Holland America (9), Disney (4), Princess (4), Celebrity (2) and Royal Caribbean (2).
We flew from Toronto to Rome, via London Heathrow on British Airways (BA). BA is using their new Boeing 787 Dreamliner service on the Toronto-London and Newark-London routes. Nice new quiet aircraft with improved air circulation. We managed to use our Avios frequent flyer points and cash to upgrade our cash booking in Premium Economy to Club World Business Class with lie-flat beds. This was a great experience to start the holiday.
We arrived a day early to adjust to the new time zone. We stayed at the Hilton Rome Airport. A bit more than we wanted to spend at 170 euros a night, especially for an airport hotel, but worth it for its proximity to the main terminal building and a short 10 minute walk through five covered moving sidewalks.
We used www.romelimousines.com for their shared shuttle service, instead of a private transfer. No difference in service except for the reduced price of 79 euros for two people from the airport to the port. The more people there are in your group, the lower the cost per person. We were picked up promptly at 11 am and arrived at the Civitavecchia port by noon. By 1215, we were on board as many of the passengers were on flight charters from the UK, most arriving later in the day and due to delays in transporting baggage, the ship’s departure was delayed to after 2100, instead of the planned 1700 timing.
The last time we travelled to this area as a family, it was during an August and it was hot, hot, hot! This time, it was fairly cool and comfortable, with temperatures averaging 16C/61F, so don’t expect to use any of the beaches in Greece. The next time, I would prefer to come a month earlier, so temperatures would be a bit warmer. It is also rainy season in the region, as it was mostly cloudy or rainy throughout, except nice and sunny in Athens, Rhodes and Heraklion. As a result, we didn’t get to use our balcony very much. One of the three sea days (30 Nov) was very rough, even for us seasoned cruisers.
We were in a standard balcony category BC, 7138, two decks below the Lido towards the aft. The only issue we had with the stateroom was that throughout the cruise, there were strong cooking smells that would make its way into our room at least once a day, at different times of the day. The ship’s staff explained that, depending on the strength and direction of the winds, and whether we were at sea or in port, the cooking smells could not be fully exhausted outdoors and thus make its way into common areas (e.g. corridors) and staterooms. We accepted that logic and moved on.
We were on the Britannia first sitting with a table for two. We enjoyed the meals, the variety, the quality and taste. We dined at the alternative Verandah Restaurant (a la carte pricing for each dish or $35 for the 5 course tasting menu, actually six courses with the trio of mini desserts). Nice service, good food, except for the pigeon breast covered in bitter chocolate, which did not suit our tastes. We did not try any of the Alternative Restaurants in the Lido Buffet during the evenings. These were the Asado for grilled meats like those found in a Brazilian churrascaria, Coriander for Indian, Prime for steaks or Jasmine 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 steak and mushroom pie and also korma 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 (La Danza, Sing, Vanity Fair and Palladium Nights), three musical acts (singer Stuart Gillies, violinist Nicola Loud, vocalist Jacqui Scott) comedian David Copperfield (no, not the magician) and the acrobalance and aerial act team of Donovan and Rebecca. All were good to excellent but we think that David Copperfield should not sing.
If cost is not an issue, I recommend the ship’s tours. Independent tours are not always better nor more cost efficient. If you have any onboard credit and want to use these towards the excursions, you must wait until you are on board to use the OBC or you will have to pay by credit card if excursions are booked prior to embarkation. There is a 10% service fee for cancelling any booked excursions but this must be done 48 hours prior to arriving in a port, otherwise the cancellation penalty is 100%. As it was the end of the cruising season in the area, there were some reductions in pricing, compared to what was provided in the Pre-Voyage Documentation and Shore Excursions booklet sent to you. More details follow.
In Katakalon, we had been here before but decided to revisit Olympia. We arranged the coach transportation through katakolon-express.com (as found in Rick Steves cruise guide) and we planned to buy our own ticket to the Olympia site. After embarkation, we received an email stating that the coach had been cancelled due to a lack of interest and insufficient passengers. This was quite disappointing as we had read good reviews about this service on tripadvisor.com. The Simply Olympia tour with the ship was reduced from $59 to $40 and so we took this option. It rained for most of the excursion, including a torrential downpour as we headed back to the ship.
In Athens, we had planned to make our own way into Athens using local bus #40 from the stop just in front of the terminal to Syntagma (Constitution) Square where the Parliament Building and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located. There is also the option of taking the Metro from Pireaus port to the Acropolis area but you either have to take a bus or walk 20 minutes to get to the Metro station. The Athens on your Own excursion with the ship was reduced from $45 to $20 and so we took this tour. After an orientation tour of the port of Pireaus and central Athens, we were dropped off by the Arch of Hadrian. Everything including the Plaka, Monastariki Square and Acropolis is no more than a 15 minute walk. Tickets for the Acropolis were 12 euros, which includes admission to six other sites including the Ancient Agora and Roman Forum. A bit of shopping and lunch in the Plaka made the day go by really quickly. It was sunny and the highlight of the trip for us as it was our first time here.
In Mykonos, most of the shops were closed as the tourist and busy season was over. It was cloudy with some drizzle throughout the morning. The ship docks in the new port north of town but there is a free shuttle bus to the old port bus station. From there, it is no more than a 10 minute walk to the central Dimitriuo Square. Everything is close by and you can do your own walking tour to the Church of Panagia Paraportiani, the five windmills, Little Venice (no canals though) and a few shops or restaurants still open at this time. Delos, birthplace of Apollo, is a $73 excursion with the ship but we had planned to do this on our own by paying 15 euros for the boat ride (leaves from the main harbour and pier) and a 5 euro entrance fee. There was only one trip leaving at 10 am and you would have been on the ferry with those taking the ship’s excursion. As it was raining, we decided to take a pass on Delos as the boat ride could have been rocky.
In Kusadasi, we had been here before and taken the Ephesus and Virgin Mary house tour. We decided to take the ship’s tour that would allow us to revisit Ephesus, but also go to Miletus and Didyma. These are located an hour north of Kusadasi and it was a great choice. The full day tour included lunch at a restaurant on a hill overlooking Kusadasi port. Lunch was a delicious grilled fish (sea bream). There is an optional carpet factory tour near the port at the end of the tour but we avoided it and walked directly back to the ship. Based on the last time we took the carpet factory tour, refreshments are offered and then the sales pitch starts. For those who are from the States, think of this experience as the timeshare presentation you typically find in the Orlando area. Carpets sell for hundreds, even thousands, and we know so little about the product and also have no need for it. Hard to extricate yourself and walk out.
In Rhodes, this is an excellent walking town with lots of history. The ship docks right in front of the city and Old Town so you can tour the Palace of the Grand Masters, Street of the Knights, past the town walls and various gates. Stop for a Greek coffee at a café, with lots of shops along the way. There is an Acropolis at Lindos but after all the archaeological sites already visited at Kusadasi and Athens, we decide to pass on Lindos. Nice weather experienced here.
In Heraklion, this is the home of the writer Nikos Kazantzakis, who wrote the novel Zorba the Greek, as played by Anthony Quinn in the 1964 movie. There is a free shuttle bus that will take you from the ship to the main port Terminal Building. You have a choice of a Hop On Hop Off Bus which takes you out to Knossos, ancient capital of the Minoan Empire and around the city. We chose to walk the 10 minutes to town. Enroute, you walk past the bus station where you can take to the bus out to Knossos for 1.20 euro. After walking through the main pedestrian street called Odos 25 Avgoustou and to the various squares, we visited the Archeological Museum where there were many findings and exhibits from Knossos. We spent more time here than we thought we would. Before leaving on this trip, I had read about the questionable archaeological restoration work done by Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos, so we decided not to go out to Knossos but we also ran out of time. Should we revisit Crete in the future, we will have to head to Knossos first
In Messina, the cost for the Taormina Transfer with the ship was reduced from $51 to $35. A quick check of the weather a few days before we arrived here indicated rain, and so we cancelled this excursion as we have been here before. Taormina, with its views of Mt Etna, is a beautiful town and it would have been very nice to revisit it. We walked around in the rain in Messina during the morning and the rain held off long enough for us to view the campanile in the cathedral (duomo) which has one of the largest clocks in the world, along with a series of figures including a roaring lion, Jesus and the Apostles, a model of the church of Ave Maria, all accompanied by a soundtrack of Ave Maria. This occurs at noon everyday.
In Naples, it rained all day, very heavy at times. We had planned to take the SITA regional bus #5001 from the port bus station (150 yards north of ship terminal) to Pompeii and tour it on our own. We kept waiting for the rain to ease and after getting off the ship at 10 am, in less than 10 minutes we were drenched, despite having umbrellas. We headed back to the ship and then left again around noon for a quick walk in Naples. We had a margherita pizza, some drinks and cannoli, a quick walk through the Galleria Umberto and then back on the ship as the heavy rains started again.
Back in Civitavecchia, we chose the self-help disembarkation by walking off at anytime during main disembarkation with all our luggage. Those in this group can start to leave the ship at 0715, according to the information we were given. Also, according to the abstract of the log given to all passengers, the ship actually arrived at 0500. I am sure you can disembark earlier but you have to ask. There are no announcements advising when the ship has cleared all arrival formalities so just head to the gangway if you are self-help disembarking. We met a couple on cruisecritic.com and the total for 4 people to Fiumicino Airport was 105 euros, compared to the $98 per person cost with the ship. We arranged a pick up timing of 0800 and were at the airport by 0900 for our 1215 flight. Overall, this was one of our better trips. Only thing we would have changed was to go a month earlier to get better weather.
Final comment on the Cunard World Club passenger on this sailing with the most seadays. It was Dr. and Mrs. Roy Richardson with 1985 sea days, which includes 15 world cruises. That’s over 5 years on a Cunard ship!
Now on to planning for our next trip. Hope this was helpful.