We booked this cruise late, and were pleased to find it under-occupied, with 300 souls less than the full complement.
We travelled to Southampton by train from Cardiff, and were met by the usual problems on First Great Western, ridiculous overcrowding, and a train one hour late due to a points failure, this time. There's always something on every journey How do the bosses of this company have the brass-necked nerve to accept an annual bonus?!
This was compensated for by a rapid embarkation to the ship, the best ever at about 15 minutes.
Art deco with loads of dark wood. Stunning and elegant - we loved it. More like a country house hotel. Huge theatre over 3 floors. Lovely public areas.
Nice size with sofa. Plenty of storage space and hangars. Personally, we would like a kettle in our room but no other complaints. The ½ bottle of champagne was a nice touch. Our Cabin Steward was one of the nicest we have ever had. Efficient but unobtrusive.
We opted for first sitting, but found 6pm way too early and relied on the Lido self-service, which turned out to be excellent. Quality food, good range, wonderfully attentive and helpful staff, with none of the snappiness we've encountered with some other cruise lines. One night we ate in the allocated restaurant, and were very disappointed. Over-fussy dishes and token servings. My wife has little appetite, but even she came away hungry.
The likeable cruise director (what a relief from the would-be comediennes on other lines) had a dance background, and these types of shows predominated. The dancers were very professional, but more variety was needed. At least there was adequate room for once. Outside of the theatre there was very little, although a superb female string quartet played almost nightly by the atrium.
Could the Captain do a comedy turn one night? Some of his announcements were hilarious! He certainly had a knack for entertaining us.
One highlight was 3 talks given by criminologist Diane Simpson on serial killers, music and humour. Some overran, but no one left early.
As we were so close to Christmas the Carol Concert with the Officers was great fun and the delightful short performance by the Lucia Singers was another bonus.
My wife had hoped for some more recent films as we had seen most on offer.
Spirits were rather pricey, but the gins were accompanied by Pepsi tonic included, which turned out to be excellent. Wine, we felt, was almost laughably over priced, but the draught Stella Artois was excellent and reasonable compared to the bottle prices of beers and lagers. A lovely touch was the nibbles and hors d'oeuvres served with drinks, especially in the wondrous Commodore Club on deck 12, our new favourite in any ship.
Was formal on three nights of the ten, arguably one too much. The semi-formal nights required a jacket for men (hooray for standards) but sadly was not enforced.
It was unfortunate that there were infections on board on the last two days of the voyage but we were impressed by the way it wasn’t hidden, an announcement was made by the excellent Captain, and suitable procedures put in place immediately.
This was our first cruise with Cunard, but will definitely not be our last. It showed that standards still exist, and I will be happy to pay for that in future.
Ports of Call
Bruges was lovely and the best weather of the cruise. Having seen most of the sights on a previous holiday there and being fans of “In Bruges”, a film with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, we went to the Tourist Office and picked up the Locations Walking Map. It was quite fun when at the locations we could assure fellow film buffs that “Yes, this was the hotel they stayed in, etc.”.
It was too rough to get into Amsterdam so we docked at Rotterdam. In retrospect we wished we had stayed there. However, as it was raining and we had no knowledge of the city, we caught the train (at a cost of £65!) to Amsterdam. It was worth the money to know we wouldn’t want to go there again as we felt it had deteroriated since our last visit, albeit 30 years ago. Litter everywhere and they even wanted to charge us for a cheap tourist map as well as 1 Euro to use the loo in a shopping centre!
As we had also spent a holiday in Copenhagen and being fans of the television series “Borgen” we decided to visit their Parliament and were delighted when we were allowed in to view a session with no more hassle than airport style security check.
The second day we decided to catch the train over the amazing Oresund Bridge to Malmo which was another enjoyable experience.
Although the weather was atrocious in Gothenburg we thoroughly enjoyed it. The Central Market, as in most Scandinavian countries, was amazing. The Cathedral betrayed its stark outside and had the most beautiful altar. The Fish “Church” and the Haga Nygata area were delightful, even in the rain. A bonus was that we were berthed right beside the Volvo museum and spent a very pleasant couple of hours a wandering around before boarding the ship.
We had been to Oslo many times before but this time found the time to go into the striking Opera House, the Nobel Peace Prize Centre and the Town Hall. All very impressive.