19-Dec-09 SAT Southampton, England 20-Dec-09 SUN At Sea 21-Dec-09 MON La Coruna, Spain 22-Dec-09 TUES Lisbon, Portugal 23-Dec-09 WED At Sea- Skipping Cadiz & Gibraltar 24-Dec-09 THUR Malaga- unscheduled 25-Dec-09 FRI At Sea 26-Dec-09 SAT Lanzarote, Canary Islands 27-Dec-09 SUN Gran Canaria (LasPalmas) 28-Dec-09 MON Santa Cruz, Tenerife, 29-Dec-09 TUES Santa Cruz, La Palma, 30-Dec-09 WED At Sea- unscheduled 31-Dec-09 THUR Funchal, Madeira 01-Jan-10 FRI At Sea 02-Jan-10 SAT At Sea 03-Jan-10 SUN At Sea 04-Jan-10 MON Southampton, England
The weather was cold and snowy on the way from Cheshire to Southampton but we managed to drive there without a hitch. Staying at the Holiday in overnight was good and the short taxi journey in the morning easy. The temperature was a sunny minus 4 degrees. Due to nearly two thousand people boarding at once the embarkation took some time but was handled efficiently. We went to our stateroom 4153 and then for lunch in the Lido Restaurant while the luggage found it’s way to our room.
As we had been on the Queen Victoria in November 2007 we could find our way around this beautiful ship with ease and after unpacking went to the Golden Lion Pub for a swift drink before dressing for dinner. In the Britannia Restaurant our fellow table guests were Mary and Roy Payne and Norman and Eileen Woolley. We got to know each other and chatted a lot through a good meal. The luxurious Commodore Club piano bar was a relaxing end to the evening.
Crossing the Bay of Biscay for a day was smooth and Dinner was a formal affair which I joined alone as Mary had a digestive problem.
La Coruna’s lovely marina greeted us as we opened the curtains, with its intricately fenestrated buildings hugging the shore. The cloudy sky seemed threatening but with brollies at the ready we explored this very civilised prosperous town, with lots of cafés and speciality shops, which have sadly become extinct in most cities today. Mary joined us all at the formal dinner, which was at a new table as ours was in a cold zone. Our waiters here were Eric and Nell from the Philippines, who turned out to be very efficient, genuinely friendly and unobtrusive. The sea became angry as we sailed out and became worse later, so we retired for the night. During the night we were thrown around.
Although the Captain reported that most ports on the Spanish Peninsular were refusing to accept ships due to very rough conditions, we were very relieved to dock in Lisbon only one hour late. Walking to a nearby station We bought return tickets to Cascais along the beautiful coast for only 3.75 euros return. There it was a sunny calm day and walking around this small port was very enjoyable. Returning to Lisbon after a few hours we visited the Chiado a classy shopping district and moseyed down into the Praçado Rossio with all it’s characters and then Praçado Comercio before returning to the Victoria. I strongly recommend this journey of discovery rather than the expensive, shepherded ship’s tours.
As the ship pulled out at 5.30pm the captain announced that the sea was going to be very rough again and he wasn’t certain that Gibraltar could accept us but would determine that in the morning. The port was currently not accepting vessels due to the weather problems and most of the ports on the Atlantic coast of the Peninsular were closed due to excessively heavy seas. Another ship in Lisbon, the P&O Aurora, had decided to stay in port! Woe for us! As we left the estuary and hit the sea the problem became very clear.
Another great dinner and a visit to the Golden Lion finished the night off as the ship ploughed through the high swells. During a night of increasing turbulence, we awoke at 3.00am to a big clattering of flying objects and the ship suddenly shook. I got out of bed to find the ship listing to port about 10 degrees and holding that odd angle. Fearing that it had become unstable we dressed and waited for news. After 20 minutes the list decreased slowly to normal and became steady. We slept in our clothes.
Although we should have visited Cadiz and Gibraltar, we stayed at sea for two nights of rocking and rolling. After breakfast at 10.30am, the captain reported that during the night he had changed course to the South West to veer away from the worst weather but that we had been in a severe wind of up to 115 miles per hour in swells between 10 and 12 metres. Gibraltar was closed to all shipping so he had decided to go through the Straits to Malaga and we should arrive at 6.00pm and stay for 24 hours.
Malagar is a buzzing city with excellent old architecture and shops and we strolled around for hours. Back on board we went for a late steak and mushroom pie lunch at the Golden Lion and up to the Winter Garden room for a relaxing read. We hit the Med and the ship recommenced it’s allotted bounce and lurch routine. The banter around the table at yet another formal dinner on Christmas Eve was very enjoyable. A slightly mad Italian tenor and John Martin, an hilarious Scouce comedian entertained us royally in the theatre, then we retired to bed for a night of pitching and rolling.
We woke early on Christmas morning to a lightning display and heavy rain. The sea had decided to deny us a peaceful day. Gale force 8 at Mid-day. At breakfast we were joined by an elderly German lady and her, not quite as elderly, very domineering ‘NAZI’ carer who embarked on a serious Christmas day breakfast argument. Entertaining though it was, we left before the slaughter began- to avoid the bloodshed. The ship seemed short of Christmas spirit as we went to the Winter Gardens for a read. Having sat there in the centre for a few minutes amongst poor paintings propped up around the furnishings, warehouse style, some staff started to move chairs into a lined configuration for an Art Auction. We stayed-put amongst this and continued our drinks and snack. As the auction began it became obvious that the smooth “evangelistic” American sales pitch seemed to be out of order here. High prices being quoted for questionable items. It is so amazing that so many passengers seemed totally engrossed and would probable be taken in. The use of this attractive public area for sales purposes is disgusting. We left. About 5.0pm the sun came out and the sea calmed down. Dined on Turkey, bits and bobs, pulled crackers and to our surprise Mary and Roy handed round mementos of Scotland Christmas gifts. I got into conversation with a Belgian lady in the theatre, who told me that she and her husband had joined the ship in Lisbon because the Channel Tunnel had been closed before they could go to Southampton and they had a complicated communication and flight arrangement to undertake.
The Ship’s dancers and singers put on a Christmas spectacular, Comedian John Martin and Cruise Director contributed well to give us Christmas Day entertainment. Throughout the evening the ship rocked and rolled again, making walking around entertaining, particularly as there is a preponderance of the passengers were far from young, rather delicate or supported by metal contraptions or in wheelchairs. This rough sea continued through the night.
Prior to arrival in Arrecife the sea and wind calmed and we pulled into the Muelle de Los Mármoles near Castillo San José about a mile to the North of the town. Shuttle buses took us to the attractive small harbour called Charco de san Ginés and we walked through to town centre and the main street called León y Castillo. We strolled along the promenade towards Playa del Reducto as the weather improved to show us that there really is blue sky and sunshine, and we called in a café and using a wi-fi connection (as the one on ship is slow and horrendously expensive) to email our family. We sailed away to a very colourful sunset and a calm sea. Dinner was good as usual.
The show, Celtic Heartbeat, was high quality and everything was well produced. It struck us that the shows on this ship have not changed for over two years and are American in concept. This shows that the Cunard entertainment management have very little imagination, particularly as passengers return regularly to these ships. A ship of this quality, purporting to be 5star, and having an essence of Britishness should change the shows far more often and introduce a more British content.
Puerto de la Luz in Las Palmas, Cran Canaria was awash with large ships and many commercial ships standing off. Our choice of a Hop-on hop-off bus to get our barings for the day was good. After one circuit we went to the central shopping area on Calvo Sotelo to get some essential things from Corte Inglais and M&S and continued to explore the Pueblo Canario district and for a mandatory coffee at Hotel Catalina before returning to the ship for 3.00pm. The weather was superb, with a maximum temperature of 26º During the departure the band played in the Swimming Pool area as we glided out of the harbour during a lovely balmy evening sunset. The Dinner was a disappointment as I ordered hot Filet Minón for my main course through Atilla Verdo, as the menu was unattractive. I received Sirloin steak overcooked and hardly warm. I gave up. The Show this evening was a singer from Blackpool who performed old numbers in other artiste’s styles. He was mediocre so we left after 5 songs. The ship stayed very steady during the night, as it took a circuitous route to Tenerife to pass the time at sea.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife Canary Islands Spain. When we woke the ship was docked in Muelle Principal in front of Plaza España At 10.0am we caught a modern tram to the bus station and bought return tickets to Puerto de la Cruz to the North. The entire return fare cost £6 each. The journey took an hour. Tenerife had great public transport systems. The sun came out and the temperature reach 27º at mid-day. After about 3 hours of very pleasant casual strolling around this beautiful sub-tropical town, we returned on a direct bus, which only took half an hour. Back on board we went for an elegant afternoon tea, in the Queen’s Room. The Commodore Club was our choice for pre dinner drinks. This is a very comfortable, elegant place. Dinner was the best yet. Mary, Lemon Sole and I had real Filet Minon, cooked to perfection. Frank Marc, the chef did a great job here. The whole meal for all six of us was excellent. The show in the theatre was another poor affair. Adrian Walsh, a weak comedian ‘died’ and he knew it. Cunard really ought to get their hands in their wallets for better class acts. As the ship hung about, wasting time at sea during the night we started to be buffeted around again.
Santa Cruz de La Palma Canary Isles The weather cleared and the day became very warm. We walked into town, found a café and I went on the Internet to receive lovely messages from the family. The stroll back was slow due to Mary having a very painful foot. Back at the Victoria we read on deck for a couple of hours, soaking up the good weather and had a snack in the Lido Restaurant. Then Siesta. The weather forecast seemed bad for the next few days with a huge ‘low’ in the region of Madeira. I asked the receptionist if we would be able to land there but he said that the venue was still on the cards. I doubt the captain’s wisdom here. When we were due to set sail, at 6.0pm the Captain announced that the sea around Madeira was going to be too rough and he had decided to stay here until first light tomorrow, when there would be a better chance that the ‘low’ will have moved East. This would possibly mean that we would miss a day in Funchal. The Commodore Club for excellent pre dinner sips. After dinner we saw another old worn out routine beautifully executed by the ships show dancers.
At Sea Unscheduled, we were force to spend a day at sea, as my doubts of yesterday were confirmed at lunchtime. The Captain announced that the sea was too rough around Madeira for the ship to dock. However he thought that we would be able to go in on New Years Eve. We read our good books and met a very interesting lady in Café Corinthia before going to lunch at the Golden Lion pub. The sea began to get rougher again and we were not keen attending the Opera Singer’s performance in the theatre so we went to bed.
We actually made it to Funchal on the island of Madeira. This is a very pretty town and we took the free shuttle bus into the city centre. During our mandatory coffee stop at a pavement café near the main square, I connected to the free wi-fi hotspot provided by Madeira.com and sent email updates. As the morning progressed the town began to buzz with locals strolling around amongst the excellent street decorations, wishing their friends a Happy New Year. This is a beautiful, friendly, happy place. Unfortunately we had to leave the festivities before noon as they were just getting enjoyable, as the Cunard had messed up the docking arrangements and had to move out of port to make space for the P&O Oriana, which had made better plans, to hang around for a tantalising twelve hours off shore for the firework display There was very limited and difficult tendering provided, so we decided to stay put. Tonight was another formal dress one for dinner and Roy turned up in full Scottish regalia. Everyone looked very smart and entered into the spirit be putting on daft hats and blowing their horns. Balloons all over the place in the restaurant gave us a marvellous atmosphere. The scene through the window of the whole of the bay of Funchal, with the festive lighting and occasional fireworks was idyllic. The Commodore Club for drinks afterwards until midnight then, up on deck to see the New Year in. Spot on 12 o’clock we got an amazingly spectacular firework display all over town and in the huge bay. The perfectly co-ordinated colours and bangs shook the ship and all the colourful fireworks brought the New Year in with amazing gusto while the waiters handed out glasses of bubbly. £50,000,000 spent by Madeira on these pyrotechnics in 12 minutes!
The ship then sailed away from Madeira en-route home. The sea stayed calm all night. I felt that the weather had been blamed for Cunard’s lack of planning skills and that our day at sea was the result. What a disappointment it was to have missed a full day and a half here.
Now we were to begin another three full days across the angry Atlantic. Fortunately the Queen Victoria is a very elegant cruise ship with the equivalent of 5 star hotel standards so we were able to enjoy the facilities to the full. The meals were OK and the company fine and we red a lot. As we began to reach the level of the top of Spain the captain said that we had a passenger who needed hospital treatment and we were to divert to Vigo to get him off. Several hours later he had recovered (probably as he didn’t like the thought of being dumped in Spain, with all the costs that would generate helped a lot) and the ship was not now going to Vigo.
Arriving at Southampton. We disembarked at about 10.30am defrosted the car at the Holiday Inn and drove the 240 miles home through picturesque England with blue skies and white frosted trees. We arrived home to find snow about 75mm deep. During the night the snow thickened to about 300mm. We had been extremely lucky to have a clear drive. Comment We found the Cabin to be very well endowed with storage space, even to drawers below the bedside tables and storage beneath the beds. There is a good-sized dressing Table with laptop space and a variety of electrical sockets. Although the bathroom is small it has plenty of shelf space and is very practical and adequate. The balcony is large: about eleven feet (3.3metres) by seven feet by (2.1 metres) with two comfortable chairs and a small table. Generally we had good food (for mass catering) in the main Britannia Restaurant and the Lido food choice was good. The ship’s public areas are beautifully designed to luxury hotel standards with plenty of space and an air of calmness. All the staff members are friendly and exceptionally well trained in the main. Everything possible is done for the guests with quiet efficiency. This is a demonstration of fine management. All in all, the ambience is of an exceptionally high standard. Eric and Nell, our friendly Filipino waiters were perfect, with non-intrusive efficiency but had too many tables to serve. Stalin, our Asian Sommelier seemed curt and inattentive but maybe this was because he was shy and overstretched. Attila Verdo our Hungarian waiter supervisor was very helpful and attentive but exceedingly obsequious. The Maître’d was very good. The entire bar staff and waiters throughout this ship are friendly and well trained.
Minor Criticisms Most individual Acts in the Royal Court Theatre were mediocre. Although the showgirls and boys were good but the shows had worn-out concepts. The Cunard entertainment management is unacceptably poor as there had been no significant change in the shows since we cruised two years ago. Some creative flair is needed here. Mostly the food in the Lido restaurant was tepid and the crockery was ‘works canteen’ type certainly not 5 star. Bogs usually indicate the standards. The hand drying paper in the Gents toilets give an air of ‘cheapness’, I would expect hand towels for this class of establishment. I believe the Ladies toilet does have these. Only half ship tenders were used in Funchal due to a 2metre swell making the remaining 50% unable to be launched in a choppy sea. These are ship’s lifeboats! The Funchal docking arrangements should have been the same as when we booked. We only had about three hours ashore instead of two days. We also entirely missed two port visits and went to one we didn’t want to see.