Travelling from Australia we organized our own flights with Japan Airlines which included a one night stopover in Narita, Tokyo and a single night in a hotel at Heathrow before the transfer to Southhampton via Cunard Motorcoach. We did not take up the option of Cunard organizing our shore accommodation as the hotels offered were at the highest end of the market and would be wasted on travellers who just wanted to sleep off jet lag. Having talked later to other passengers they wished they had just organized their own accommodation. Perhaps Cunard needs to organize more middle level shore accommodation. Finding the representative at the arrivals gate was tricky as the instructions given by the Cunard Sydney office were vague and inaccurate - we were told to look for representatives wearing maroon jackets! When I found the representative (in a grey jacket) she did not have our names on her list but her manager did know we were meeting the coach there and our transfer went without a hitch.
Arrival in Southhampton
Leaving our bags to be put on board by staff, we joined the long embarkation queue that moved at a reasonable pace because of the number of staff processing passengers. We then found our way to the gangway and onto the ship. We were met by staff at the gangway, who while friendly, did not look particularly pleased to have drawn that duty!
Having studied the floor plans before leaving Australia we found our cabin with no difficulty.
We had chosen a cabin on Deck 8. While we had a restricted view (we were fully aware of this before the cruise) we felt that these cabins, at the same price as the cabins on lower decks, offered more premium features such as the large glass veranda. While the life boat did restrict the view it did have the advantage of blocking the high winds while at sea! Our friendly cabin steward, Vitalito, was waiting to greet us on embarkation and showed us all the features of our cabin. Vitalito's friendliness and helpfulness did not waiver throughout the voyage and I was amazed by how willing he was to keep our cabin in a perfect condition, changing our towels and cleaning the cabin twice a day!Food
Early in the voyage we enjoyed the buffet dining in the Kings Court. We quickly realized that if we continued to enjoy the food so much we would leave the ship a lot bigger than when we started! After two days of breakfasts and lunches in the all you can eat buffets of the Kings Court on Deck 7 we decided to take all of our meals in the Britannia Restaurant. The service in the restaurant was excellent and the portions more controlled! At breakfast and lunch you could indicate if you wanted to sit as a couple or join others - a great way to meet other passengers.
At dinner we had chosen to sit at a table of 8, we were placed on a table of 10. The first night we sat down and asked the other couple where they were from - Australia, the next couple came and you guessed it they were from Australia! In the end 8 of the diners were Australians and the last couple were English (they eventually became honorary Australians by the end of the voyage) Our table companions were friendly and outgoing and made all diners memorable - our 3 table waiters added to the pleasant experience getting to know all of us as individuals. The food and service in the restaurant was superb at all meals.
High tea in the Queens Court was a highlight of our day and we met many interesting fellow passengers here and it reinforced our decision to have a late sitting for dinner.
We used room service for some breakfasts and for extra cups of coffee! All delivered in a timely fashion and with a smile.
The beauty and ambiance of the inside of the ship surpassed all of our expectations. While there were over 2600 passengers on our voyage there were few times it felt crowded. We enjoyed exploring the ship and getting lost was part of the fun we had. We continued to 'discover' new areas up until the last day on board and on disembarking there were places we just never got to.
The pools were lovely though at times it was hard to find a shady place. Many passengers had not been educated in the Australian sun safe messages and quickly became burnt. I was shocked that crew were not wearing sun hats for protection when on duty outside. The lack of shade at times forced us to take up a place on the deck 7 side deckchairs as this was the only fully covered area apart from our own cabin veranda. The pools were heated to the right temperature and were rarely crowded. At times, however the no children rule in adult pools was not enforced.
Alcoholic drinks were expensive but varied. We found that buying both alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks in port and placing them in our mini fridge we could avoid an outrageous bar bill. You are restricted on how much alcohol you can bring back on board and all bags are scanned on return. We had no problem with this as we kept within the restrictions. We also bought bottled water in port rather than on the ship for shore excursions.
Sales in the shopping area in the evening could bring out the worst in people and some pushing happened at these times. Perhaps the staff should reconsider the venue for setting up sales of some items such as souvenirs as using trestle tables in walkways did not work, especially when you add the presence of photographers taking formal portraits - a recipe for disaster. Most of the shops on board were very over priced compared to other shopping on shore and I only purchased a few souvenirs. Souvenirs choices were limited especially for passengers who needed smaller items to take home on flights - perhaps a look at the range offered in the Royal Palaces in London could enhance the Cunard collection.Shore excursions
We chose shore excursions for 5 of the 7 ports we visited. Each of the excursions was a different experience and provided us with a quick glimpse of the country and culture of the port we were visiting. Having taken tours on other holidays we felt the tours offered by Cunard were fairly priced and very well organized - getting you to venues and places you just could not visit in an unknown city in one day. Cunard staff had the organization off the ship to the shore working like a well oiled machine.
Travelling to shore via tender at Cannes and Gibraltar was a highlight and like an added harbor cruise.
To say keep your sense of humor and just relax on the tours is an understatement - passengers who complained about the accent of the hostess, the sound level of the microphone or the temperature of the air conditioner needed to relax more and remember the tour is a group experience and is not just for them. We enjoyed all of our tours and took the time to get to know our guide - each guide and driver was more than willing to answer our questions and give us there personal insights into the culture of the country we were visiting.
We enjoyed all of the shows, lectures, celebrity guest presentation, exercise classes and dances we attended. Some shows revealed a lack of practice - perhaps the diversions of port visits but mostly the shows were of a high standard. The printed daily program was comprehensive and easy to follow - there was so much to choose from!!! We enjoyed the morning wake up program provided by Ray the cruise director. The shopping advisor was only interested in helping those wanting to purchase expensive items and the tour guides were the best people to ask for shopping advice - local knowledge.
Would we go again?
YES the voyage surpassed all our expectations.
There were moments that didn't go to plan but all travel involves new experiences and we found much to laugh about and enjoy. My advice to lady travellers - you need lots of formal outfits - three just wasn't enough! On reflection I should have sent one bag home with the Cunard bag delivery service as at the end of the voyage we stayed on in Europe for another two weeks and carting the luggage around was hard at times.