Overall, both my wife and I enjoyed a comfortable and fascinating tour of the Baltic on this elegant and well appointed liner.
We did however come to feel that Cunard is so preoccupied with turning a profit that the cruise experience was cheapened for its guests, most of whom have already paid a premium price for their holiday.
For example, on the final day of the voyage, my wife booked a 'relaxing head massage' at the Royal Spa that had been advertised at a price of $35. Throughout the massage, the masseuse politely but persistently tried to sell my wife beauty products that she neither wanted nor needed. The masseuse then presented my wife with a bill in excess of $50.
To cut a long story short, my wife spoke to the manager and found that she'd been lied to. The price difference of $15 or so was less significant than the masseuse's determination to make money out a guest even if that meant lying.
On a similar theme, I noticed bottled water being offered to guests at the assembly points for the shore excursions we took in St Petersburg during western Russia's heat wave. On closer inspection, it was clear that Cunard was in fact selling bottled water to guests at patently inflated prices. I neither needed nor expected water to be provided. Yet what I had taken as a thoughtful gesture towards guests who had paid about $200 per head for the day turned out to be yet another attempt to turn a quick profit.
Likewise, while the daily programmes were immensely helpful, the travel advice was heavily skewed towards helping Cunard profit from on-board currency exchange. It didn't mention that many Scandinavian vendors accept the Euro, while Russian vendors accept the Euro or the US Dollar. Nor did it mention that in most cases, it is cheaper and more practical by far to use one of the various credit cards that don't charge foreign transaction fees. Purchasing six local currencies at on-board rates could make for an unnecessarily expensive holiday. Once again, Cunard plainly didn't have its guests' best interests at heart.
We were also troubled by the fact that US Dollars were required for gambling in the on-board casino. We had assumed that 'cruise dollars' could be exchanged for chips or tokens as nothing in the pre-voyage documentation said otherwise. We gambled only rarely to avoid paying Cunard's inflated commission on US Dollars.
I do appreciate that Cunard is a profit-making business. However, it is difficult to square the culture of class and elegance to which Cunard aspires with its persistent and often blatant chiselling at the wallets of guests.
I have a number of other observations to make:
• The gym has been very badly designed - the combination of low ceiling and large cardio machines meant that no man much above 6' in height could use anything other than the exercise bikes;
• The free seminars offered by the gym staff began with some grains of good sense but quickly degenerated into boasting, scaremongering and pseudo-scientific sales pitches for individual consultations - because the gym staff were obliged to earn commissions, they seemed to have little time to look after gym-using guests, many of whom were overweight, frail or both, and using the gym inexpertly - as in the Royal Spa, gym staff were overwhelmingly focussed on their commission;
• The atmosphere on the sun decks and in the Lido was spoiled for me by the use of pre-recorded, background music - this is tacky and not at all classy - in any case, if I'm relaxing in the sun, I don't want to be force-fed someone else's idea of pleasant music;
• Our stateroom lacked the means for us to make tea or coffee, a major omission for what purports to be a classically British (albeit American-owned) liner - I appreciate that room service was available for a small fee, but I didn't want to have to ask someone else for something as basic as a cup of tea;
• The acts hired in by Cunard as evening entertainment were generally excellent, particularly John Evans and CrazeeHorse. However, the Cunard in-house productions were generally dire, with the impressive exception of the dance showcase. While the dancers and musicians were certainly expert and the singers proficient, the musicals were without exception leaden, poorly written and wholly dependent on lazy clichEs - we quickly learned that a Cunard night in the theatre would be amateur hour.
• We felt it unfortunate that the itinerary only allowed us about six hours in Oslo, a city boasting many unique attractions, compared to a full day in tiny Kristiansand and two full days in Copenhagen - whatever Cunard's reasons for this arrangement, P&O's Arcadia, which almost mirrored our itinerary, seemed to manage this issue better and find better berths.
Overall, penny-pinching seriously compromised the Cunard experience for us.