Background Information - we are a married couple in our late 60's and are experienced cruisers having sailed with various lines including Cunard over the past 15 years. We were attracted to this final sector of the World Cruise, as we love sea days and the itinerary interested us.
Our package included flights from London to Dubai and two nights’ accommodation in Dubai.
To put this review in perspective, I want to say right from the start that I really enjoyed this cruise despite a few disappointments. However, the whole point of writing a review is to outline both the good and the not so good.
So to start: The Positives
Embarkation was easy and within half an hour of arriving at Dubai’s Port Radhid we were boarding the stunning Queen Elizabeth. The ship has a capacity of just over 2000 passengers and was nearly full. Apparently 1000 disembarked in Dubai and another 1000 boarded. About 500 hundred were doing the full round-the-world voyage. For this sector there were 31 nationalities represented among all passengers, about half were British and the other larger contingents were Japanese, German & American. This passenger mix would have been quite different for other sectors of the voyage.
Stately Ambience: On first impression the decor of the ship looks slightly under stated. There is lots of dark wood paneling, but once you get used to the fact that it does not have the glitz that some of the other lines offer, you realise that this ship is really more Ritz than glitz and is very stylish in a sophisticated way. Cunard puts a lot of emphasis on its heritage and all around the ship are mementos of its proud past. The stairwells are adorned with interesting artwork. The carpets have a luxurious feel to them and all the public rooms are comfortable and beautifully furnished, with a remarkable sense of uncrowded space. Although the ship was almost full it never felt crowded, you could always find somewhere to sit down. The only time you realised there were a lot of people on board was at show times.
Our stateroom was booked as a Guaranteed Balcony cabin on Deck 6. We received our cabin allocation about 2 weeks prior to departure. The room was quite near the front of the ship and not a cabin that I would have picked out of choice. We rocked and rolled a little during swells in the Mediterranean. However, the room had everything you would expect and a generous storage facility included two useful drawers under the bed. The queen bed was extremely comfortable and the bed linen was lovely. The bathroom was small, but perfectly adequate for our needs. The towels, although perfectly clean and changed daily, were not as soft and fluffy as I would have liked. Bathrobes were supplied as standard.
Shipboard organisation is something that Cunard generally seems to excel at: embarkation, disembarkation, etc. Excursion musters and debarking at ports of call were well planned and there were never any long queues or hold ups.
Entertainment was excellent, production shows, singers, dancers and comedians as well as an acrobat and a mind reader. There was also nightly dancing in the Queens Room including numerous themed evenings; as well as more informally at various bars where you could have a quiet drink or listen to music. It is worth noting here that if you want to see the professional dancers or join in any of the fancy dress parades, you really need to be on early dinner sitting. Because of this, Cunard’s various theme nights are difficult for late diners.
Day time enrichment and entertainment was also first class; there was indeed something for everyone. There were some very accomplished and interesting speakers for Cunard’s Insights Lectures. There were also excellent port talks and cookery demonstrations, as well as various deck games, trivia, line dancing, ballroom dance lessons, needlework, a choir, classical music concerts. There is a well equipped gym and a fabulous library and a feature film shown most afternoons.
I am placing food under my positives as on the whole the quality and presentation of meals were of a good standard, but not excellent, leaving plenty of scope for improvement. Compared to our experience on QM2 five years ago, there seems to have been a parring back. However, as on all cruise ships there is an abundance of food available around the clock. Room service on Queen Elizabeth is worth a mention - this is the first cruise ship I have been on where a full English cooked breakfast is offered on the room service menu at no charge. We opted for this on a number of occasions - it was lovely to have breakfast on our balcony and also very convenient to have room service when going on or returning from a full day excursion.
Most of our meals were taken in the Britannia Restaurant. Breakfast and lunch is on an open sitting arrangement and dinner is at a set table. We also enjoyed a couple of pub lunches, and two meals using the alternative dining options. The Indian Bistro was most enjoyable with excellent food and good service, whilst the premium Verandah Restaurant, whilst delivering excellent cuisine, was marred by pretentious service, which rather spoiled the ambience.
The Negatives - Now I move on to a shorter list of areas where I was disappointed.
The big one for me was Service - this was sadly lacking in most areas on this ship. The staff either do not know or have forgotten how to smile and there was a 'no can do attitude' and certainly no service with a smile. One night I asked if I could have something that was not on the menu. As there were no starters that I liked I asked if I could have a prawn cocktail instead. I was told that was not possible unless I gave 24 hours notice - not the response I expected from Cunard. On all the other cruise lines I have sailed on there has always been an optional 'always available' menu. I was surprised to see that Cunard did not offer this as the choices offered are quite limited.
The service in the Britannia dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner was very slow. At breakfast and lunch we were generally happy to share with other diners as we like meeting people, but we found that if we did not have too much time to spare it was better to ask for a table for two. Again at dinner the service was so slow that we always arrived at the show late. However, we were by choice on a table for eight and we enjoyed the company of 6 delightful people, which no doubt lengthened proceedings!
Buffet Restaurant - We ate a couple of lunches in the Lido. As other reviewers have said the layout of the Lido makes it quite a difficult eating area with people coming and going in all directions and various counters with different options available, it is all a bit confusing and by the time you have worked it all out and found a table the food is cold. Bar service in the Lido is almost non existent.
Health & Hygiene: During our first few days on board, the ship was still on red alert at the tail end of a Norovirus outbreak. This meant that in the buffet restaurant staff had to serve all food to the plate - passengers were not allowed to handle any food. I felt that this situation was not operated well by the restaurant teams and could certainly have been done more efficiently and cheerfully. Interestingly, last year we were on a Princess ship with exactly the same scenario, but I felt that they handled it with more professionalism and the staff still smiled, even though they had more work to do.
Another area that disappointed me was cleanliness - considering that this ship had an outbreak of Norovirus and a number of people coughing and sneezing, I would have felt the cleanliness should have been a top priority. On arrival to our stateroom, we noticed that there were sticky marks on and in the drawers of the bedside cabinets and one of the glasses had a chip. I also came across some plates in the Lido that were dirty underneath, as well as cutlery that was not as clean as it should be.
Excursions: Port talks were given prior to arriving in a port. These talks were extremely informative giving information about the dock, shuttle busses, Public transport, Ho-Ho's, banks, shopping and of course the ship’s own excursions. All of this was presented with slides in a very professional and personable manner - generally insightful, except for Israel. Haifa had been substituted for Egyptian ports as a precaution, and clearly the presenter did not seem to have been there, simply reading a script and mispronouncing some of the place names and religious terms!
We booked the following excursions:
Petra from Aqaba - A long full day excursion, extremely interesting, a long walk in extreme temperatures, but well worth the effort.
Dead Sea & Masada from Haifa - Another long hot day with a 3 hour coach journey each way. A little disappointing for me, but still a reasonable day.
Galilee & Nazareth from Haifa - This was without doubt the worst excursion I have ever taken. The guide was appallingly bad; so bad in fact that we put in a complaint to Cunard.
3 sites on your own in Lisbon - This basically was a guided transfer to the three sites - 2 in Belem, plus Central Lisbon, where we were allowed a reasonable amount of free time in each place. The guide on this excursion was of a much higher quality and gave a lot of very interesting information whilst we were in the coach, making this an excellent trip with the advantage that we had a lot of free time in the various sites.
In both Naples and Palma we did our own thing, using the Ho-Ho and the complimentary shuttle bus respectively.
In Conclusion - you can see that it's a pretty mixed bag, some good, some not so good - I hope that I have given a balanced picture on my perception of this trip. I do feel that Cunard’s standards have slipped a little and unlike many, I did not find them a cut above the rest. The big question: would I use Cunard again? The answer is that I would not be prepared to pay top dollar, but if the ship was going to where I wanted to go and the price was acceptable then yes I probably would, but I do feel that Cunard need to pull their socks up, if they want to return to their reputed top of the game position. There is a lot of competition out there!