Only after booking for the January 13 embarkation did we realize that it was also the date for the meeting of all three Cunard ships.
And so we left home on January 12 to fly into JFK. We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express near JFK (excellent for the price) and took a car service to Brooklyn the next morning. The driver had no difficulty finding the terminal and cost was $45 for 3 adults and all our luggage.
Suggested check-in times are ignored by most in the excitement to get on the ship and after 30 minutes or so in line, we got our ship cards and headed up the gangway.
Once on-board, after being greeted by members of the crew, we were pointed in the direction of the elevators to find our cabins. My MIL had a cabin on deck 4 (sheltered balcony) and my wife and I on deck 11. Both cabins were nicely appointed and included the requisite bottle of Pol Acker (ours remained unopened through to the end of the cruise). Closet space was ample for a 10 day cruise. Shower stall was larger than on other ships we've been on; yes women can actually shave their legs in them. Our room attendant introduced herself to us and we were happy with her service throughout the trip (we are not particularly demanding, however and we didn't experience any problems with the cabin). Luggage arrived by late afternoon, in plenty of time to change for dinner. Our cabin on Deck 11 was directly across from a bank of elevators; we were initially concerned that they might be noisy: they were as smooth and as quiet as any we've been on. Throughout the cruise, we found the staff very cordial, always greeting us wherever we passed them.
A warning for people booking on Deck 4: my MIL had the last cabin on the aft side (4212, a sheltered balcony and not a room she would have chosen herself); this is right over the nightclub and she could not sleep for the first 2 nights because of the noise which went on well after 2am. She requested a room change at the purser's desk and was accommodated with a room on the same deck further up, which Cunard told her was an "emergency" room; the ship was otherwise sold out (see this link for the booking problem she had with Cunard initially: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=675671). Not sure why they wouldn't have given her this cabin to start with as it's hard to imagine anyone tolerating 4212 for long.
We had late seating in Britannia and had requested a table of 6-8 on the upper level but were given a table to ourselves (3) on the main floor near the waiter station. This caused some concerns initially as the servers had to squeeze by us with heavy trays. However we were sufficiently pleased with our waiters that we decided to keep this table: they were very pleasant and efficient. While we had read of slow service and delays our meals took on average 1.5 hours (partly due to the few people at our table). The few errors that occurred were rectified immediately. Food was overall very good to excellent (the beef tenderloin was superb) with a few exceptions. Desserts were beautifully presented but tended to be a lot of the same type eg. Several creamy items on the same night. Had a sommelier who basically ignored us when he realized we preferred to order wine by the glass rather than the bottle. The other down side: the atrocious manners of the people seated behind us (loud, drunken etc). We referred to them as the shop girls and soccer hooligans.
The ship and public rooms
The ship is huge and takes time to explore. The library is very nice both with its collection and location. The casino was a disappointment as the machines seemed eager to accept our money but were reluctant to return it. More nonsmoking nights would have been appreciated (2 of 10 is not adequate). The planetarium is a fine place for a nap (this seems to be an unplanned tradition and the comment is not meant to be derogatory).
We are neither big drinkers nor nighthawks so can't comment extensively on the bars or lounges. During the day and early evening, the Chart Room and the Golden Lion were very pleasant venues in which to relax (from the rest of the stressful ship activities) and watch the ocean. We enjoyed 2 excellent lunches in the pub (fish and chips, and Cornish pasties).
The shows overall were enjoyable. The dance troupe was especially good, with great production numbers and costume changes. We skipped the Judy Garland tribute and found the comedian to be average. Of course we had the usual problem of the latecomers who thought nothing of walking up to the front of the theatre to find a seat, and blocking one's view while they decided on a seat (inevitably in the middle of a row so everyone has to stand up). One lady even came late into the row behind me, then tried to climb over the seats to get closer, tripping as she did so on the elderly man behind us.
Other enjoyable shows: The Queen's Room had a Big Band dance one night that was packed with both dancers and nondancers alike. The string quartet and the harpist provided pleasant background music several times at various venues.
We arranged our own tours, renting cars in some of them, so cannot comment on the ship's excursions. The tendering process in Tortola and St. Lucia was smooth and problem free. Had an excellent tour in St. Lucia with Cosol who has been mentioned in the St. Lucia thread.
Overall, the things we liked:
Overall quality of service of crew Condition and look of the ship Britannia restaurant for dinner Dance production numbers Wide variety and quality of live music Spaciousness of the decks The many spaces to explore on the ship Our unobstructed balcony on Deck 11 Breakfast in the King's Court Tea in the Queen's Room; a treat!
The things we didn't like:
The layout of the King's Court The frequently empty coffee and cream pots in the King's Court The eggs benedict in the Britannia Hot tubs aren't deep enough for good soaking The smoking in the casino and Chart room which wafts out into the main hall on Deck 2 and into the Britannia at dinner Lack of hand sanitizer in the casino (when the captain made a point of stressing the importance of handwashing)
Was it worth it? For my wife and I, easily, as we got a very good price and an upgraded cabin. For my MIL, maybe not, due to the booking and cabin problems and the high premium she paid as a single.
The positives vastly outweighed the minor nuisances and inconveniences experienced.
When can we go again?