A couple days after leaving the Star Princess in Civitavecchia, we returned to the port and boarded Cunard's Queen Victoria on September 25, 2010. As we approached the ship I was impressed with the beautiful exterior of navy, red and white and remember thinking it was the most stunning ship I had ever seen.
Embarkation was smooth, though I was not excited about having to leave my passport with the staff in exchange for a ship card that I was told would serve as my passport for the next 12 days. As we entered the ship and approached the main elevator a perfecty dressed young man stuck out his white gloved finger and pushed the UP button. That was the last time in the next 12 days that I was of the impression that we were on a luxury cruise ship. Somehow the term luxury was transformed simply and completely to uninviting.
It began with the note on our bed as we checked into our room. Not really welcoming as much as warning us of the need to follow the dress code. The room steward was great. Similar to every other steward serving us on every other cruise. They have all been wonderful.
There were four us of traveling together and we had a lot of fun comparing Princess to Cunard. "One up for Princess" became a common response as we made a game of comparing the ships and continued to be genuinely surprised that Cunard is considered luxury.
Here are a few examples:
The buffet was very small and had a limited selection. This is fine for the multitudes of elderly folks on board who don't eat much I guess. I'm guessing they save a lot of money on food compared to the ships that attract guests under 70 years old.
We packed formal attire on our 35 day vacation specifically because of the "strict" dress code which said you are not welcome in any public area without a jacket after 6pm. I was quite surprised the first evening as I was the only one in the buffet with a jacket. We watched an elderly guy walk by with a speedo and a tee shirt. What is it that makes Europeans think speedos look good? When I asked this question to a very nice Englishman, he explained that it is not the Europeans, its the Germans. lol.
We wanted to make use of the formals we had been hauling around for a month so we dressed up and went to the dining room on day 3. The service was as perfect as any other cruise and the food was fine. Unfortunately we only ate in the dining room twice because we couldn't find any food offerings on the menu that weren't overly gourmet. I determined that fancy names of the uppity food must be necessary to maintain the illusion of luxury.
The ceilings generally felt way too low. We often felt enclosed and dark wood paneling throughout the ship didn't help. There is actually a "tunnel" leading to the lower level of the theater which I would not recommend to anyone suffering from claustrophobia.
For some reason many of the ceilings were dripping water. Buckets remained sitting on the carpet catching drips for 5 days at a time before being moved to catch drips further down the hall. Very strange and I have to assume this was not the normal experience for Cunard.
Our state room had less closet and storage space than Princess, but it was adequate. Barely.
Finally, score one for Cunard. They had an ice cream machine and served juice in the buffet all day. Self served that is. They don't serve drinks like most cruise lines do. You go get them yourself. In the buffet area of the Princess ship there was an abundance of help just waiting to take your plate and to assist you in finding a table. When you arrive at the table it is set with the cloth napkin and dinnerware so you don't have to pick it up yourself. Then, they serve juice, water and coffee so you don't have to go get that while your food is getting cold. Now that's white star service, and we didn't find it on Cunard! And what is with the serving trays? Old beat up fiberglass trays that filled our hands with figerglass slivers if we weren't careful. Strange.
The music on the QV was a mixed bag. On one hand their band, Changez, was fantastic. Great talent. On the other hand, I kind of felt sorry for them because they seemed bored playing for a crowd that didn't appreciate upbeat music. Generally the ship music was classical and appropriate to the age of the guests.
Speaking of the age of guests, anyone booking a Cunard cruise needs to be aware of the fact that everything caters to an older clientelle. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does change the feel and experience on the ship. For instance, it's hard to miss nap time in the Winter Garden. It seemed that everyday when we returned from a tour and walked through the Winter Garden we felt the need to tiptoe lightly as 90% of the room was filled with sleeping cruisers. We did find some entertainment in people watching. I've never before seen women cruise passengers dressed in business-type suits wandering around the ship decks with purses slung over their elbows. These were aplenty. And then there was the sweet little elderly woman who was walking on the treadmill clutching her shoulder bag....and the portly gentleman wearing a belt to hold up his swim trunks....and let's not forget the swimmer we ran into in the lobby in her Cunard bathrobe and Esther Williams swim cap. And I think I already mentioned "Mr. Speedo" at the ice cream machine in the buffet area. I figured if he didn't get escorted out I was safe without the mandatory jacket after 6 pm.
One of our shore excursions was a trip to the Asian continent from the port of Istanbul. Our tour guide didn't speak English well enough for us to understand much of what he said, so he said very little. Mostly he just said something was "very important" but didn't even try to tell us why. He also used the word "normally" liberally and completely out of context. We had no idea of the significance of either of the stops on that tour. We decided to see if perhaps Cunard's luxury was hidden in its customer service so we brought up the matter with the shore excursion staff. Eventually they gave us a token discount rather than a well deserved refund. At least they were friendly.
Unlike the woman at the purser's desk. In Croatia we boarded a shuttle bus to the port gate where a Croatian policeman boarded the bus and asked for picture ID. If you didn't have it, he kicked you off the bus and you walked a quarter mile back to the ship. Such was our luck. By the time we got there we were a little upset that they didn't bother telling us to have ID ready before getting on the bus. Lots of people were walking back and none were smiling. We went to the pursers desk to ask for our passports and I suppose we weren't being too friendly ourselves as we described our walk. The woman got defensive and said to my wife, "Lady its not my fault" Yeah, that went over well and fixed everything. She definitely shouldn't be working at a desk that requires Customer Service!
One final observation before wrapping this up and getting myself on the "banned" list for Cunard, not that I would ever cruise with them again... We noticed that with the exception of the room stewards and the dining room attendants, most of the staff did not seem very happy. Not unhappy, but certainly not happy, like you would see on other cruises. I've found that attitudes/cultures in any organization generally originate from the top. I don't know if it comes from the cruise director, a woman that reminded us of Margaret Thatcher, or if it comes from higher up and extends to other ships as well. They could definitely learn something from this other cruise lines!
Bottom line? If you are young or "young at heart" Cunard may not be the cruise line for you.