WHITE STAR SERVICE (Part 2)
We have just finished our second cruise on Cunard's Queen Victoria. We had tried this cruise line once before (please read White Star Service Part 1 August 2008). This will give you a very unbiased report of our first voyage out of Southampton. Quick synopsis is that we really thought the name CUNARD stood for what should be the best on the seas, especially in food and service. We were not overly happy with what we received, but, this year, thought "Why not try the "Queen's Grill"? We had heard that this was THE food and service of Cunard! So as we were contemplating travelling on the Queen Mary 2 later in the year, we decided to take a five day four night cruise out of Los Angeles to see what the mystique of the "Queen's Grill" was.
We arrived one half hour before the ship could be boarded in San Pedro. Sorry to say that the CUNARD personnel (rental personnel), were not in sync with mgt and really didn't have much of a clue as to how and where passengers should go. We asked about a separate line for "Queen's Grill" passengers and were just told to take a seat. After I walked around a bit, I found a line for Grill passengers. After starting to get into this line, we were told that we would have to sit down and wait. After we sat down, another person came by and said "Grill passengers get in line". Of course after we did, another woman came up and reprimanded the first one for telling us to get in line. The check in process was one of the poorest we have ever had with any of the many liners that we have been on.
As we had been on the ship before, we knew exactly where to find our "Queen's Grill" Suite and headed there. The Suite was nice with good amenities. We think the Holland America Deluxe Verandah Suites have a better feel, but that's our opinion. Plenty of closet space, nice bathroom (although lighting is terrible). Met our Butler (who is basically the same cabin steward you get with ANY cabin on the ship, but gets to wear a Tux!) Was pleasant and took care of the few things we asked for.
Went to the "Queen's Grill" for our first luncheon. Met by the Maitre D', Osman, and shown to our table. NOW the meat of this review really is about food and service so here goes. Let's put it this way....the truth needs to be heard...Soylent Green is PEOPLE, The is no Easter Bunny, Darth Vader is Luke's father and you get the same food in the "Queen's Grille" as you get in the main dining room! There, it has been said!
We actually thought that there would be a kitchen with a grill chef that would prepare "special foods" similar to the BLU dining Rooms on the Solstice class Celebrity ships. Guess there must be an elevator to the 2nd deck main kitchen to pick up your food (couldn't get a kitchen tour, imagine that ) .There ARE 10 Ala carte items that you can order from, but nothing special or out of the norm. Amazing that so many guests were eating the Caviar (which is actually so cheap that persons who know what good caviar is, would not eat this!). So first lunch, order apps and Entrees. Takes one and a half hours to get! Nobody in the dining room except A LOT of servers, Maitre D's and asst Maitre Ds'!
Everything is so portion controlled that you have to ask for everything. Each meal you are only allotted one butter pat per person. You MUST ASK to get more. Water is never poured from a pitcher, they take your glass and bring it back (but you have to ask for more water when you want it). Rolls have become so tiny that two equal one of what used to be served. AND, of course, you have to ASK to get another roll. In the main dining rooms, the servers would know automatically after the first day what your preferences were (i.e., always OJ for breakfast, decaf coffee or tea, etc.) Never happened each day, with a smile, was like we had never existed the day before (imagine that for servers who only have about ten persons to wait on.),
Same lunch was better in main dining room (oops, forgot, it IS the main dining room food...just has to come up 8-9 decks!) SO, plates cold, food slightly warm.
Dinners thru the week were okay, but again, nothing special, Plates cold and food luke warm. Only hot food all week was night before getting off and wife had Duck flambE! (they did heat the duck for thirty seconds before soaking in flaming Grand Marnier ).
Breakfasts again, had to ask for more butter, had to ask for coffee and refills, had to ask for croissants (is this REALLY service?) Do not try the desserts as they are truly the most pathetic of the food groups. Amazing when your "server" does not know what the breads of the evening are, just "would you like a white roll or a brown roll?"
Food is auctioned off instead of knowing that guest number one gets the chicken and guest number two gets the steak. I understand this with new servers in the main dining room, but in the "Queen's Grill"? Most foods were very bland, again guessing this is what the Cunard following is used to.
Tried the Buffet once for breakfast and once for lunch. Will say that this is perhaps the most terrible buffet at sea! I know the average age of a Cunardian is 70 or over (we are almost 60), but please, go benchmark some other lines and come up with better than this! Even the parent company, CARNIVAL, has better than this! Rarely was the buffet well stocked and the set up is just so incredibly poor that it is very difficult for the aged passengers even to get around.
Although I did not think the wine list was very good, I will note that "PETER", our wine steward, was very accommodating.
If you read my initial Part one review, you will note that we really enjoyed Todd English. Alas, we did not book this time as we thought "Queen's Grill" would be something special, possibly even better. NOT!!
BEST HOT FOOD, BEST SERVICE....Golden Lion's Pub..what a shame but this food is actually cooked to order and comes to your table hot and tasty.
We enjoyed Tea on our first cruise and looked forward to this event on this cruise. Instead of having tea in the magnificent Queens Room Ballroom (the best dancing ballroom at sea), we decided to have tea, where else, the QUEEN'S GRILL LOUNGE! This was handled by the Princess Grille crew, who again seemed like they just got on the ship! There was no rhythm or direction to the service. We got some of the items, but not others! I could have asked, but just waited to see what was going to happen. After about thirty minutes, someone finally offered us scones (just as we were about done!).
Another secret, but promise you won't tell...PRINCESS GRILL food is just like the QUEENS GRILL food...both the same food from the Britannia restaurant where you could pay thousands less to eat mediocrity!
Now, I DO realize that ships have to make money and I DO understand the food service business as I have proudly been part of it for forty years. I understand efficiencies in this day and age and I understand a good food cost. I manage thirty five restaurants and have to watch these things on a daily basis. When my Eggs Benedict Canadian Bacon is so thin that I can't imagine how they got it off the meat slicer, well, it's time to find another line.
Truly, buyer beware....Do not be duped into the mystique of the GRILL restaurants. You can get much better on the Crystal Ships, the Solstice class Celebrity ships, and yes, even the newer Holland America ships (owned again by Carnival).
Concierge in Queen's Grill Lounge did not seem to be very knowledgeable about the ship...maybe she was new. Upon debarkation, we were seated in "Queen's Grill Lounge". No pastries, coffee, tea, water etc. offered to departing guests like so many other lines that we have been on do.
I realize there is a vast majority of persons that are loyal to the Cunard "Legend" and we had hoped to be one of those. Unfortunately, it was not to be. We have cancelled our "Princess Grill" experience on the Queen Mary 2 and will stay with lines who continue to be contemporary both in food and service. IF you really need to save a few dollars, stop putting dollies and parsley on every plate.
The most amazing part of this voyage was that absolutely NO comment cards were given out on this voyage. Obviously, Cunard and Carnival, wanted to forget about this trip too!