Altogether, the Grills experience is a smashing success and the Queen Victoria a fitting successor to the QE2 (insofar as the latter served partly as a cruise ship) and sister to the Queen Mary 2 (which best serves as the purpose-built liner she is).
Upon arrival at the port of Civitavecchia, the QV reveals herself as quite a lot better-looking than her Holland America Vista class hull-mates, particularly up top: the single sculpted funnel, the Grill restaurants cantilevered over the lower decks, unmistakable Cunard livery, and the overall symmetry of the composition, are quite appealing. Her greater length is also in her favor. The less said about her rear end the better.
The pier lounge was comfortable and pre-boarding for Grill guests and Platinum and Diamond World Club members was polite and speedy.
The interior is absolutely stunning: lush, inviting, well-scaled, well-executed, sunny, warm and dignified. It is fruitless to compare her directly with the QM2 as the as the latter is an ocean liner and the QV is a cruise ship. They each serve their purposes magnificently. The level of detail on the QV is exacting and the execution very beautiful. Passenger flow is excellent, particularly surprising considering that the QV lacks the grand central axial promenades of the QM2. In fact, though smaller than the QM2's Queen's Room, that on the QV is, I feel, a more welcoming space: better situated in its integration with the other public rooms and more finely-detailed in its decor. The QV ballroom plays more the part in shipboard life that the Grand Lounge did on the QE2 rather than being a rather independent venue as is the QM2 Queen's Room.
The elements of Victoriana in the decoration are kept in check. The designers make appealing reference to the style of the namesake Queen's Osborne House on the Isle of Wight but, fortunately by contemporary standards of taste, refrain from dripping the place with ornament. Truly, the extreme, even ponderous and excessive stylings of Osborne House would be a bit too much to take over the length of a cruise - the eyes would tire.
Stairwells are decorated with original or reproduction paintings of Cunard vessels through the centuries: marvelous. This treatment is more consistent and appealing than the artworks in the QM2 stairwells which are, in places, peculiar and inappropriate.
The public spaces were always uncrowded, particularly impressive for the Queen's Room as it is often impossible to get a seat there on the QM2. The lighting was also more pleasing in the QV's ballroom than that in the QM2's.
The QV, with great and much-appreciated success, segregates the commercial (revenue-generating) enterprises onboard from the rest of shipboard life. To wit: to proceed to an evening of dancing on the QM2: one passes through the grand lobby marred by commercial activity (the shops and usually some dreadful folding tables overflowing with trinkets and other rubbish outside of the shop doors), runs the gauntlet of numerous make-shift photo-shoot set-ups by the ship photographers in the otherwise grand corridors, then on to the equally distasteful options of suffering (depending on the choice of port or starboard route) either the haphazard presentation of "art" auction items or the overpriced shipboard souvenir photo displays. Far, far from ideal. The QV has addressed all these failings. On QV, one proceeds happily and peacefully from dinner or a lounge (wonderful rendition of the Commodore Club aboard) to the ballroom or other entertainment without any crass assaults on one's sensibilities. The commercial activities are cordoned-off in the "Royal Arcade" instead - a great success all around.
Passenger cabin alleyways are oddly bereft of any decoration whatsoever - looking, by any measure, as if the budget ran out.
Q3 Penthouse Suite:
We absolutely loved our suite. Coming from New York City, it was truly a grand size for us (perhaps 700 square fee): two very large writing tables, living room, enormous granite wet bar, bedroom which could be cordoned-off from the living room by heavy drapery, dressing area, walk-in closet, enormous chest of drawers, marble bathroom in two parts separated by a door: the first part with glass stall shower and separate whirlpool tub, the second part with sink and toilet. In addition to the floor-to-ceiling glass surrounding the glass door to the large terrace, the suite enjoys a picture window bedside. Colors are muted and tasteful, artwork on the walls is pleasant, and furnishing quality is high. The terrace offers two large recliners and foot rests and a very large table. Space is ample.
We had asked that one of the 32" flat panel televisions be removed because it is unsightly and unnecessary as an additional panel is installed on the wall somewhat opposite the bed. In place of the second panel our excellent travel agent had placed a Bon Voyage bouquet. Cunard provided lovely orchids in the bathroom and writing desks as well as another arrangement on the bar. Champagne and fresh fruit were additional welcomes.
Our butler soon after introduced himself. Cheerful, impeccably turned-out, intelligent, and well-trained, he proved a great asset to us. Ever, it seemed, on-call and immediately-responsive, he took extremely good care of us. He has an assistant to clean and perform other tasks. I asked for Campari to be stocked in our bar along with fresh limes. He attended to this request right away although Campari is not on the list of in-room bar items.
We were thrilled never to smell smoke save for one brief moment outside the casino. This is an important improvement over the QM2 where the Chart Room is effectively off-limits to non-smokers because of the stench as is Sir Samuel's. The G32 nightclub on QM2 is also marred by the smoking which is allowed on the upper story.
On QV we could breath freely and enjoy all the public rooms.
As other reviewers have noted, the open decks suffer from pervasive, pernicious, painful, perfidious background "music." As we were Grill passengers, we could escape this in the blessed peace of the Upper Grills Terrace. Why would Cunard subject non-Grill passengers to this noise? Is it to punish them for failing to book in the Grills?
Thankfully, there are no loudspeaker announcements in the stateroom. I would never set foot on a ship which had them.
The Queen's Room orchestra was in good form playing strict tempo dance music (thank goodness), even "calling out" the dance for those in need (e.g., "and now, a cha-cha"). This is especially helpful in the smooth dances as it improves flow on the dance floor. Guests were generally polite on the dance floor (allowing a couple their "spot" in the spot dances and following the line of dance in the traveling dances). Unfortunately, this atmosphere was ruined on a number of occasions by a group of eight extremely-amateur but aggressively-trained persons who dominated the floor, running down anyone "in the way" during their hideously-executed competition dance routines. After being nearly knocked down three times within minutes (intentionally, it seemed), we were pleased to note that one of the gentlemen hosts took control of the situation by tapping one of the offenders on the shoulder and causing him and his partner to leave the floor.
The Hemispheres disco is a much more welcoming space than is the G32 on QM2. Hemispheres is semi-circular with floor to ceiling windows and a dance floor not interrupted by a supporting column as is G32's. Unfortunately, the large chrome inlays in the floor are not entirely flush with the wood which poses a tripping hazard to the ladies in heels. This must be addressed in the first refit.
Indeed, this is the most beautiful of its kind at sea, I am sure; would that there were a production and talent worthy of it. Instead, the ghastly choreography we glimpsed on the video of a performance and the, shall we say, "sounds" which emanated therefrom were enough to keep us away.
Queens Grill Lounge:
This amenity is the QV's greatest achievement: meeting friends for cocktails and appetizers there before dinner, watching the sunset, settling into one of the lovely couches or club chairs, is one of the pinnacle pleasures of refined society. This is true not only by virtue of the beauty of the room, its lovely stained glass illuminated dome ceiling, the orchids, the comfortable arrangement of tables, the wall decorations. Rather, it is that the space, opening as it does in a semi-circle, welcomes passengers, facilitates socializing, leaves no-one out. It is one of those special places which foster the social grace of which the passengers, as is our past experience on Cunard, have a surfeit: Gentlemen rise when ladies arrive, conversation is polite and at appropriate volume. Simply, we enjoy each other's company with conviviality and treat our shipmates, crew and officers with mutual and happy respect.
Queen's Grill Restaurant:
Making one's way at one's leisure from the lounge to the winged grill dining rooms one is pressed not to feel giddy with pleasure as these are easily the most beautiful dining rooms afloat. Quite in contrast to the rather unfortunate narrow rectilinear spaces on the QM2 which are partially-enshrouded by the outside promenade deck, the Grills on the QV are, like the Grills lounge, welcoming semi-circles giving onto floor-to-ceiling windows cantilevered over the superstructure and therefore providing an expanse of sea and sky views. The severity of so much glass is softened by delicate semi-transparent balloon shades along the tops of the windows. More fine illuminated stained glass and "peacock alley" artwork lend a sense of tasteful celebration to the room.
Service exceeded our expectations (which were extremely-high). The headwaiter, Ismael, could not do enough for each table. No request was denied. We asked for an Indian feast for one night and he presented a series of wonderful dishes: lamb, fish, and chicken curries, sauteed cauliflower, naan, raita, papadams, daals, etc. He actually solicited suggestions regarding what the chef might prepare for us. I developed quite a taste for pheasant, quail, and duck. Filleting of the Dover sole tableside he accomplished with special speed and finesse.
Very good (probably United States origin) sturgeon caviar was available nightly for the asking. Ismael was tableside nearly every night completing the preparation of a rack of lamb (perfectly rose in the center with a nice crust and served at the perfect temperature), fillet mignon, or one of many flambe desserts - all truly excellent. Trout Almondine? of course. Okra? (for the Indian dinner) naturally. Our waiter and assistant waiter were also superb. Shirred eggs with caviar for breakfast: What a way to begin the day.
Upper Grills Terrace:
This area is a resounding success. Here, at the top of the ship, one can enjoy the pleasures of the fresh air, (our preferred choice of comfortably-shaded) sun, panoramic views, much more comfortable and well-padded loungers than those on the lower decks, and blissful quiet. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the silence. There is no musak piped onto the Upper Grills Terrace. Bravo, Cunard.
Also, where, on the QM2, the Queen's Grill terrace is a narrow, rather small space aft of the stacks and therefore is often subject to the foul odor of partially-combusted diesel fuel and some soot, the QV Upper Grill terrace is forward of the stack and so the air is fresh. Further, the QV terrace is enormous (more like deck 13 on the QM2 than like the grills terrace on the QM2) with a great distinction: where deck 13 on the QM2 is a wasteland with regard to service, on QV, the deck attendants are much in evidence and provide wonderful pampering: they set you up exactly where you want, etc. Further, once, after I had dozed off and awakened just nearly having formed the thought that I was slightly hot, a kind attendant appeared at that moment offering, with tongs, a hand towel which had been soaked in ice water and which bore a delicate scent of lavender and lemon. An aesthete defines his life by such moments.
Our butler proved exemplary: as is our custom, we left polite notes for him in the beginning in which we stated our preferences and named our pleasures. Service staff are not mind-readers, after all. I believe many of the situations which give rise to complaints posted on these boards could easily have been avoided if the passenger had articulated his or her expectations to the steward or waitstaff at the time. He fulfilled every request promptly and properly, from posting our mail to watering the cut flowers to delivering the unnecessary (but appreciated) canapes before dinner (which preceded the further canapes in the lounge before dinner), scattering rose petals in an artful pattern on the bed after he turned it down on our anniversary evening, leaving a freshly-baked tuille cookie-basket filled with chocolate truffles as a goodnight treat, the list goes on. . .His shining performance was in the service of food: we availed ourselves of breakfasts, some lunches, and a dinner in the room (our excuse: a long hot day of sightseeing). Each meal he plated by the course and offered either on the terrace or in the living room The dinner, especially, was a showstopper: He presented the appetizers and then asked at what interval we would like the main course to be presented. At the appointed time, he arrived to clear the appetizer plates and served the main courses. Mine was a lobster tail Thermador: the best lobster I have ever eaten: a large and flavorful specimen from Maine, according to the headwaiter, served perfectly cooked and at perfect temperature. I simply cannot imagine how the staff accomplished this.
Some odd lapses: orders for scrambled eggs in the room bring a substance based on powder or squeezed from a plastic bag - something one would get in hospital. There is no excuse for that in Queen's Grill class. Indeed, scrambled eggs in the Queen's Grill restaurant itself were properly prepared. Similarly, the juices (grapefruit or orange) were from a tin, concentrate, or powder where fresh-squeezed should be the order of the day. This was true even in the Queen's Grill itself: for shame. Also, there was a dearth of fine dark chocolate aboard. The chocolate sauce on the profiteroles was excessively-sweet and, though darkly-colored (as was the "bitter" chocolate ice-cream) had barely a hint of chocolate flavor. I found this disappointing in light of the generous provisioning of caviar. Really, more gourmet-quality chocolate should be on offer - and I did ask. The bread also, though fresh, plentiful, and competently-prepared, was not artisan-quality and should be better.
The spa's defining feature is its floor-to-ceiling windows giving onto the sea. This was much more pleasant than the Canyon Ranch Spa on QM2 which is almost entirely interior. On QV, heated loungers (chaises clad in glass tiles and heated from within) are reclined at an extremely comfortable angle with great sea views. Thoughtfully, as one wants both to retain a neutral spine while on the loungers and also enjoy the sparkling of sunlight on the water, the ceiling features a semi-reflective surface so that one can enjoy both at the same time. Well done. The spa was never overcrowded, the result, I believe, of the charge of approximately $ 100/week per passenger to access it. I also enjoyed the "dry flotation ritual" spa treatment.
Our sole visit there was to have breakfast with friends. Aside from the pleasure of their company, the experience was unfortunate. The room, though pleasing upon entering it, reveals itself as much more of a clamorous food-hall than the Britannia on the QM2. Further, the food, though described in the same way as it is on the Grills menu, was carelessly prepared and plated and served with haste and indifference by beleaguered staff with limited command of English. True, we were engaged in delightful conversation and lost track of time after we finished eating but never before have I had the napkin wordlessly snatched from my lap and the tablecloth half-removed from the table to indicate, in no uncertain terms, that we, the passengers, were in the crew's way!
The outer decks are, with the exception of a few stairs and a "lookout" section atop the Upper Grills Terrace, clad in an awful linoleum-type surface which gives the decks the aspect of a freighter. The material is not up to the task as it is already worn in places where there is a high volume of foot traffic and there are also already chips, cracks and divots. How will these be properly repaired? Disgraceful. The only solution is to install proper teak decking (as even the QV's Holland America Vista Class hull sister ships enjoy). Also, the the outdoor "promenade" (deck three) is appalling: narrow, vacant, filled with sharp turns, not running around the entire ship, each aspect of the view blocked at least partially by equipment in the way. . .altogether a very sad space. What a contrast to the greatest promenade deck ever at sea: that on the QM2. Also missing from QV is the passengers' viewing area behind the bridge. There, on QM2, I have spent much time happily watching the officers' activity as they run the ship. I had hoped it could be one of the spaces that define the new, young, Cunard fleet. Alas, it is not to be.
The Queen Victoria is a smashing success for Grill passengers: make your wishes politely known and I cannot imagine you would be dissatisfied. She is beautifully turned-out (as are the friendly passengers) and well-staffed. I would not recommend traveling in the Britannia class on this ship. Mind you, I am far from a snob: in four of my five crossings on QE2 I traveled on Deck 5 (though long, long ago), on the France in Cabin Class and on my six sailings on the QM2 we have traveled Britannia (later designated "Britannia Club") Class. The QM2 does not offer Grills passengers an experience different in kind from that offered Britannia passengers. In fact, the Britannia Club dining room is much nicer than the Grills, in my opinion, on QM2 and the Grills Lounge is unprepossessing on QM2. The QV experience is different in kind and greatly-enhanced in the Grills.
Though Cunard insists on calling her a "liner," the Queen Victoria assuredly is not one. Instead of the primordial throb of the QM2 engines and the assured high-speed slicing of the bow through all seas, one might be tickled, if in a charitable mood, by the jiggle-wiggle of sympathetic vibrations from the QV's engines. Also, lolling along at 19 knots, nearly her maximum speed, she was subject to noticeable (though not disturbing) light, truncated rolling even on deck 2 midships in conditions of low swells. How different from the mighty QM2. They are each magnificently well-suited to their respective purposes. Enjoy!