Background About us: We are experienced cruisers. This was my 15th cruise and the 34th for my wife Susan. I have cruised with Royal Caribbean (RCCL), Princess, and Celebrity. Sue has been on many more cruises and cruise lines, including a transatlantic on Cunard's QE2 many years ago. We celebrated my 40th birthday on this cruise. I love reading every cruise review available, so I hope you enjoy mine. I may be a little picky, but these are my honest observations and opinions, and I hope they help someone.
It sure is big! I like how the theater and restaurant are not placed all the way at the ends of the ship. This provides a shorter walk, and less motion in rough water. I found it frustrating to have to go up and down half-flights of stairs here and there, as I have a bit of a knee problem. On the way home, we had some rough waters. It was fun to watch the waves from public rooms on deck 2. The ship moved around a bit in 12-foot seas, but was much better than other ships we have been on. We've gone up and down the east coast on the Golden Princess and Empress of the Seas, neither of which can handle rough seas very well.
Our cabin, an obstructed balcony on deck 8, was a little smaller than I expected. On Mariner of the Seas, we had an inside cabin, and I'd swear it was bigger. If you pick your obstructed cabin carefully, it can be better than a hull balcony. We had cabin 8043, which was between boats, providing a decent view. We spent some time the second morning outside with coffee and newspapers, watching the Atlantic go by, and that was one of my favorite moments of the cruise. If we had been in a hull balcony, we would have only watched the sky go by.
Other notes: Sue loved the mattress. The shower temperature varied way too much to allow for a comfortable shower. Some public rooms were too hot. There was very little noise from the neighbors. I allowed the balcony door to slam a couple times when I wasn't being extra careful... sorry neighbors.
It was very nice to see the ship's orchestra backing the singers and dancers, rather than a tape. Singers and dancers struck me as true professionals whereas on other lines they seem like very good amateurs. Similar to other cruise lines, though, they string a bunch of songs together and call it a show. I'd prefer to see an abbreviated show with a beginning, an actual story line, and an ending. Apparently that does happen at times on Cunard with their dramatic productions, but not on this voyage.
We had already seen the two headline guest entertainers recently on Princess. It's bad enough that there's no variety within a cruise line. I'm a little bummed that I can't get variety by changing cruise lines if corporate consolidation continues in the industry.
The planetarium was interesting, but they should be ashamed how many chairs are broken, and how much force it takes to operate the non-broken ones. I couldn't believe how big the room was!
Princess always seems to have two shows in the evening, timed so you can attend both. On Cunard, after the headline show, there is only a choice of the ball or lounge acts. The music in the ballroom was excellent. The lounge acts all seemed to be very good to excellent. Sometimes on Princess, they lounge acts seem to be bored to death or lacking any real talent.
I didn't see much of the cruise director staff. Seems like I see the staff more on other lines, and sometimes get to know them quite well.
This is where Cunard really dropped the ball, in my opinion. It was most evident in the Britannia dining room, where we ate one breakfast, one lunch, and every dinner. The waiters are trying to do their best, but are covering too many tables. They can't remember anything and are not available when you need them. When they do come to the table, you can sense they are rushed. Same with the assistants. The bartender/sommelier/soda fetcher was spread even thinner. It could take 40 minutes to get a tiny glass of soda. A second soda with dinner was out of the question. Sue asked him on the first night to bring a soda every night. No such luck. Every night we had to ask, sometimes twice. Sue also asked for margarine to be on the table every night, but that never happened. Every night, they seemed surprised by the request.
The assistant waiter scraped crumbs onto the floor. Quite often, water was spilled on me and no apology (or any acknowledgement) was offered.
One night the wait staff brought me a birthday cake and sang for me. Then our waiter said, "so, birthday cake for everyone?" He walked away before we could answer and then came back with cake slices. It happened to be a night where everyone wanted something from the dessert menu (me included - you can't skip a soufflE). We had to search him out and let him know we wanted dessert.
One night, half my meal was done before I could get sour cream for my baked potato. Normally you don't have to specially request it.
These issues did not ruin our meals, but I point them out to show that my experience was not any better than what you get on any mass market cruise line.
Most food at dinner in Britannia tasted better than most other cruises I've been on. The lobster tail was definitely the best I've had on a ship (a better variety, and bigger and tastier), though melted butter was not offered. The next night, the waiter recommended the "jumbo" shrimp appetizer. Nearly everyone at the table ordered it, and we all laughed when it showed up. Those shrimp don't even count as large. I can't imagine how anyone could think that was an accurate description.
At lunch one day, a tablemate (a first-time cruiser) found a thumbtack in his hamburger! He wasn't going to tell the staff, but we suggested he should. The headwaiter, after getting over his disbelief, was horrified and offered a sincere apology. I really don't know what they should have done but I felt they left it unresolved. Our tablemate didn't make a big deal of it and finished the burger (slowly and carefully). New Yorkers aren't all whiners and complainers!
I was surprised that the Britannia lunch and dinner menu don't list any "always available" options in case the daily specials aren't appealing. Sure, they probably would accommodate a simple special request, but at least other lines explicitly offer it. On the plus side, the breakfast menu in Britannia had a decent selection.
I didn't care for the buffet. The lines were always long when we went, and the selection somewhat limited, especially at breakfast. I always have a bagel with lox on Princess; I didn't see either here. When there's a line, you find yourself standing in a fairly narrow hallway. It was just the opposite of elegant. I understand there was probably a deliberate effort to create small seating areas, but I prefer the large rooms on RCCL and Princess, where it's easier to find your traveling companion, in case you didn't follow each other through the buffet.
There was never anybody to help carry trays in the buffet. Nor was there anyone offering drinks. On other lines, there's someone coming around with coffee, at least at breakfast. And Cunard has decided to leave a tray of garbage in front of the coffee dispenser, so you have to find someplace else to leave your tray (not easy in a crowd), then reach over an hour's worth of tea bags and other rubbish to get a cup of (mediocre) coffee. Similarly, they leave a cafeteria tray under the ice dispenser to make up for some design flaw where it shoots out too much ice.
We enjoyed the pub lunch in the Golden Lion Pub, especially the steak and mushroom pie.
There are nice things that some would say make this a premium cruise.
• No announcements! None! Compare to Celebrity who keeps announcing that they don't make announcements. Also, the cruise director doesn't introduce every show by telling you where to spend your money after the show.
• Welcome aboard champagne in room. Even if it's a $3 half-bottle that we didn't drink, other lines don't offer it in equivalent cabins.
• Little individual bottles of jam, jelly, etc. This does nothing for me but I'm sure excites someone.
• Little individual bottles of shampoo, conditioner, etc. The paper packets on Princess are fine, but the multi purpose goo dispenser in RCCL showers is excessively cheap.
• No tired, recycled jokes from the cruise director. We all know by now about the lady in the buffet who asked if the crew sleeps on board. Similarly, I was pleased that there was no "newlywed game."
• No parades in the dining room.
• Speedy luggage delivery.
Boo hiss! How is this elegant?
• Sidewalk sales. Ugh.
• Inches of gold. Blech!
• Photo sets fill the hallways nearly every night.
• Art auctions (at least the display of "art" was contained to the winter garden)
• Nobody to lead us to our cabin at embarkation (am I too old-fashioned?)
Cunard seems to consider itself a step above other cruise lines, but I see it on par with the others. I believe that RCCL, Princess, Celebrity, and Cunard are much more alike than they are different. Cunard believes they deserve a 50% price premium over the others. I got this cruise at an unusually deep discount, and still paid much more per day than I normally pay on the other lines. While I'm glad I did, and I had a good time, I won't do that again. The value just isn't there for me. If I see a Cunard cruise available in my normal price range, I will consider it.