I've sailed with Cunard before, but always on Queen Mary 2, so this cruise was an opportunity to experience one of the other two Cunard ships. The cruise was 42 nights long including transiting the Panama Canal and stops in Fort Lauderdale, Aruba, Limón, Puntarenas, San Francisco, Hawaii, American Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand. Embarkation was in New York and disembarkation was in Sydney.
Embarkation: In a word… shambolic. I've experience Cunard embarkations in Southampton, Singapore and Sydney and each one of those ports managed to process passengers through security and onto the ship without the terminal staff displaying an almost hilarious inability to communicate with personnel on the ship and each other. Announcements that should have been made on a loud speaker weren't. Terminal staff weren't aware (or didn't care) about priority embarkation for Grills passengers as passengers in wheelchairs were boarded ahead of priority guests.
The whole thing took much longer than it needed to, with terminal staff unable to make up their mind when to start the embarkation process. At one point they let about 15 people through security then decided to halt the process leaving the 15 people standing in a no-mans land between the security scanners and the check-in counters. The remainder of the guests waiting to board were kept back behind the security scanners. This lasted for about 15 minutes. Nobody knew why, least of all the terminal staff... I'm guessing. This shameful exercise in ineptitude was capped off by the check-in staff member incorrectly swiping my credit card details. I know this because each sector I had to go down to the Purser's office and have them swipe the card again.
I don't lay the blame for the ridiculously inept boarding process at Cunard's door. The terminal staff seemed confused with all aspects of the embarkation procedure and I'm not sure that anyone from Cunard could have done anything to improve the situation. I say I am "not sure" because I really don't know - perhaps they could have done something? It seems to me that if the Cunard brochures say that Grills guests receive priority embarkation than they should get priority embarkation. If Cunard can't be bothered ensuring that this happens than they should remove it as a selling point from their brochures.
Stateroom: I was in suite 5198 and I could not have been happier. The suite is large with extremely generous wardrobe space and plenty of amenities. The view from the stern is simply awe-inspiring and I particularly enjoyed hearing the gentle roar of ocean and watching the wake from the stern.
The bathroom is large with a full sized spa bath and separate shower with glass door. The shower is generously proportioned with room for two people to shower together (if so inclined to do so). The shower and bath area are separate to the toilet and vanity area (there is however a connecting door) which is handy as it enables two people to use the facilities at the same time.
The bed was very comfortable and the sheets are very soft. I particularly liked the large three seater sofa with two accompanying single chairs. You can have quite a number of fellow guests for drinks and not feel crowded at all.
This suite is practically perfect, if you're looking at one of the stern suites than look no further than this one. Be warned though, the suites at either side of the ship (with the wraparound balconies) are much smaller on the inside than the three middle suites as the space for the side balcony is at the expense of inside space. This only applies to decks, four, five and eight as decks six and seven are the Q1 suites. You should also be aware that the interior of the middle stern suite is slightly different to the suites on either side, they have a long bench under the window which the middle suite doesn't have. Any of the three middle Q6 suites on deck 5 would be fine, do not let them upgrade you to a Q5 with the wraparound balconies, you will be disappointed with the lack of space inside those suites. You've been warned.
Food: Let's just say that the food in the Queens Grill is excellent, there's really no other way to describe it. The choices for breakfast and dinner are extensive and in the evening the à la carte menu provides more than enough dishes for even the fussiest of eaters to choose from. With the exception of about 7 nights, I ate all my evening meals in the Queens Grill and didn't experience one dish that was poorly presented or incorrectly cooked.
I will say though that the scrambled eggs on the breakfast menu are the powdered variety, which should not be the case in the Queens Grill. There's no point being in the Queens Grill and eating powdered eggs, so follow my lead and request scrambled eggs made from real eggs; the staff don't care, they're more than happy to oblige. And really, Cunard should be embarrassed at dishing out powered scrambled eggs in the Queens Grill. McDonald's uses real eggs for their breakfast menu, why can't Cunard use them in the Queens Grill restaurant for scrambled eggs?
Off-menu requests were happily acquiesced to including dishes where I provided a list of ingredients and explained how I wanted the dish prepared. I was impressed with all aspects of the off-menu process including the requesting of and the dishes themselves. This is one of the selling points of the Queens Grill and it's something Cunard (well the head waiters really) does very well.
One Queens Grill perk is that you can choose from the restaurant menu when dining in your room. I did this a couple of times for lunch and for about three days when I was sick. It's nice to have more choices than just the room service menu and I appreciate this particular convenience.
Other dining venues I experience include the Verandah restaurant and the Lido (including the alternative dining venue on the Jasmine night). The food in the Verandah restaurant is wonderful, with the exception of the Bresse Chicken (boring), the Pork Rillette and the Duck Foie Gras with Pears (both disgusting). The scallops and langoustines, sautéed in a lime butter, with herb printed pasta was incredible, as was the Milk Fed Rack of Lamb. The deserts were very nice including the Delicate Custard and Hot Vanilla Soufflé.
The food in the Verandah restaurant was, overall, very very good and if I had been travelling in Britannia I would have dined here more often.
During this cruise I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food in the Lido. I had lunch here a couple of times and thought the variety and quality of the food was very good. A particular favourite with (seemingly) everyone on board was the self service ice-cream machine, I highly recommend treating yourself after a day sun baking out on the deck. The cooked to order pasta and pizza station is also a recommendation if you're looking for a quick and easy lunch. The pizza I had was quite good, the pasta was just okay. In my opinion the pasta dishes in the restaurant are better.
One night a group of us ate in the alternative dining space in the Lido on the Jasmine night. The asian food was very good, there was a lot of it and everyone at the table was very complimentary about the food.
Afternoon tea was probably the only culinary disappointment on this cruise. Queen Elizabeth does not have the little fruit tarts that Queen Mary 2 has, the QE has similar pastries that are not as good and are more pastry than filling or fruit. Very disappointing. I was so looking forward to these and was quite disappointed to find out they only have an inferior substitution on board QE. Apart from that one item the afternoon tea offerings (scones etc) are the same as on board Queen Mary. Although, having said that, I do think the scones on Queen Mary taste better.
Service: When you're on board for 42 nights you end up having a lot of interaction with a lot of crew members on a daily basis. Overwhelmingly, the crew are professional, polite and good at what they do.
The staff in the Queens Grill restaurant were excellent with the waiter and junior waiter providing possibly the best service I have ever had on board a Cunard ship. The maitre d and the head waiters in the Queens Grill were also excellent, very friendly and overall very good at what they do. They never failed to greet us with genuine smiles and made sure to visit the table every night to say hello.
The staff in the Queens Grill lounge were also very good, they quickly remembered names and drink preferences and were efficient and friendly. This was also the case in Cafe Carinthia where, incidentally, they make the best strawberry daiquiris.
Afternoon tea service in the Grills Lounge was generally good, although on some occasions the staff covering the afternoon tea service were very substandard. One one occasion two Indian staff members conversed in a language other than English whilst setting up the lounge for afternoon tea, this is in direct contradiction to what they're supposed to do (speak English in the guest areas). Following on from this one of the same Indian staff members tried to resist getting me a cucumber sandwich. "No more left" he said whilst indicating to the nearly empty tray of sandwiches he was holding. This being the start of the afternoon tea service I knew they would have more trays of sandwiches available so I persisted. Amazingly, so did he with his explanation that there was no more and that I should just pick from what he had left on his tray. Eventually I looked him in the eye and said "get some". He shrugged his shoulders and returned with a fresh tray of sandwiches, including the cucumber variety. He really was appalling, but happily he's an anomaly amongst the crew.
The Verandah Restaurant is supposed to be the place to go for a special event like an anniversary. Surprisingly then I found that the service in the Verandah was not as good as the Queens Grill restaurant, no where near as good. Now either I got very lucky in the Queens Grill or the staff in the Verandah restaurant are not as good as they think they are. I think it's the latter. The decor in the Verandah restaurant is lovely, the food (barring the three dishes I mentioned) is wonderful, it's the service that needs to improve. I'm not saying the service is bad, I'm just saying that it could (and probably should) be better.
I had two butlers and two stewards (one lot for each sector). They were all very good and really added to my enjoyment of the voyage. I like having a butler, they're more concerned with fulfilling any requests you have rather than cleaning the room, it's more preferable to just having a steward. I also like that the butler lays out the tablecloth and sets the table as though you were eating in a restaurant when you dine in your room.
In summary, 98% of the crew are excellent at their jobs and provide great service. The rest don't and that's not entirely unexpected when you're dealing with human beings. Only one unfortunate incident prompted me to put in a complaint, but it was handled to my satisfaction, which pretty much just involved them (Cunard) listening to what I had to say and apologising, which was all I really wanted.
Overall, Cunard's service is excellent.
Food, service and accommodation are generally the things that impact on a cruise the most so I wanted to cover those in quite a bit of detail. The following are some general observations.
The ship itself: A lovely cruise ship, does the job with no unexpected issues. The amenities are all quite lovely and the decor is generally very pleasing to the eye. The grills amenities are excellent, the views from the restaurants and grills lounge are wonderful. There is a lot of open deck space for grill passengers on decks 11 & 12, but as there is no shade whatsoever the use of this space is limited.
A major disappointment is the promenade deck on deck three. Compared to the promenade deck on QM2 the QE version is claustrophobic and unattractive. There are no sweeping vistas like there are on QM2. QM2's promenade deck makes you want to walk around the ship, QE's doesn't as it's all a bit sad and depressing - especially after experiencing QM2's.
One interesting aspect of QE's promenade deck is that you can look into the Britannia Restaurant as you walk around the stern. On Cruise Critic, a lot is made of the fact that you can do the same with the Grills restaurants on QM2 (with the inference being that this makes the location substandard) however no one seems to make the same inference regarding the Britannia restaurant on QE?
The smaller size of the QE (when compared to QM2 and other larger ships) makes it attractive to older passengers who apparently don't like the distances required to walk on QM2 and other larger ships. I was surprised by the much, much older age demographic on these two sectors of the world cruise, much older than the transatlantic I experienced and the other two previous world cruise sectors on QM2.
If you are looking for a much older demographic to cruise with, then the smaller Vista cruise ships (QE & QV) are a better bet than the larger QM2 - generally speaking. Excluding children, there was probably less than twenty passengers under 50 on both sectors.
The gym is of a reasonable size however the five treadmills in the centre near the glass windows are the only ones that tall people can use (for running) as the remainder are under the low ceiling. Low ceilings are ever present throughout this ship by the way.
The spa is not as well laid out or as inviting as the spa on Queen Mary 2. The change rooms are down the hall and big glass windows make it easy for people to see into the spa pool area where guests are relaxing on loungers and/or swimming. It's not relaxing laying on a lounger in the spa watching the hustle and bustle of the pool area outside as people wander around eating hot dogs and ice creams etc.
I also don't find the spa value for money. On QM2 you get access to the spa amenities all day if you book a treatment. On QE you get access to the spa amenities for one hour only - before or after your treatment. Needless to say I think the spa situation on QM2 is better.
Of course you can buy a spa package which allows you daily access, something I've done on QM2 as I think it's a worthwhile thing to do, but not on QE.
Entertainment: The Royal Cunard singers and dancers between New York and Sydney were the best I've seen on a Cunard ship. I enjoyed all their shows with the exception of 'Royal Hotel' which was not to my taste. The singers in particular were very good. The guest stars were okay, I enjoyed the ones I saw. The lectures I attended were all well formatted and well presented, Cunard performs highly in this area and generally has interesting lecturers aboard.
As is expected, the entertainment on board is geared towards people in their 70's and 80's. The ship dies after about 10:30 and there are only small pockets of life left, generally the Yacht Club and Commodore Club. Cunard continues its bizarre practice of having a live Caribbean band play in a nightclub and the DJs continue to play music that is (on the whole) 30 to 50 years old. It's rare to hear modern music in the ship's nightclub and it's almost always at the request of a passenger.
Generally speaking the evenings in the Yacht Club are frustrating as on the rare occasions the DJ plays a couple of modern songs he always abruptly changes gear and plays something from the 50's or 60's. All the younger people then sit down and the older generation gets up to slow dance. This frustrated me for the first couple of weeks but then I realised that Cunard are not interested in reaching out to a younger demographic. If people under 50 happen to book on a Cunard ship then Cunard will happily take their money but there's no chance Cunard is going to bother attempting to provide an entertainment venue or age-appropriate music for anyone under the age of 50.
Anyway, one of the entertainment options I enjoyed the most was the availability of DVDs from the Grills concierge to watch in the suite. There's a really good range of movies available and I enjoyed kicking back and watching a few movies every now and then. I also got a lot of reading done. Bring your own books or load up your IPAD as I'm convinced I caught a cold as a result of borrowing a book from the library.
Tours: The shore tours I booked with Cunard were all reasonably interesting and and well organised. The tour in American Samoa was probably the least interesting but that's hardly Cunard's fault as there is not much to see in American Samoa. On two occasions I booked island tours which involved nothing more than swimming and lying on the beach, these were at Aruba and Tonga. I enjoyed these very much. The Hobbit tour in Tauranga in New Zealand was also very interesting.
The two occasions that tendering was required I thought that everything was as well organised as it could be and there was certainly no excessive queues or wait times to board a tender.
Fellow passengers: I've always found that the vast majority of people I meet on a Cunard ship are interesting, intelligent and friendly. Generally speaking this voyage was no different. Having said that, due to the older demographic, you do run across people for whom the sight of homosexuals is as horrifying and fascinating as a car crash - they just can't look away. Happily, these people are in the minority and I imagine you'd get them on any and all cruise lines.
Overall: Cunard has a very good product and most people will be happy enough cruising on a Cunard ship. If you're under 50 you should ideally look to QM2 as your first option as this is (in my experience) the ship with the younger passenger demographic. Regarding the Queen Elizabeth, the food & service on board is (rare exceptions aside) of a very high standard as is the maintenance of the ship and the decor and layout. I enjoyed this cruise and had a really good time.