The lure of witnessing the 3 Queens (Victoria, Mary2 and Elizabeth) together in New York was sufficient to convince us to leave the hot (albeit flooded) Australian summer for a New York winter. The snow gods were kind enough to open JFK just for one day (closed either side) to enable us to end our 25 hour flight from South Australia.
Sadly, boarding at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal was a disaster - Cunard's computers check-in systems went "down" while we were in line and for an hour or more the long lines of passengers did not move and simply got longer and longer as passengers arrived but none were being processed.. A brief ray of home when Cunard announced the system was "up" however minutes later it failed again. Limited chairs were available for those passengers physically unable to stand in a queue for 2 hours. While we waiting passengers with aching backs, knees and other bits discussed the need for Cunard to have a contingency for this situation - ultimately the system came alive. On finally reaching our allotted check in desk clerk we presented a dilemma in that we required separate accounts. She had to interrupt another clerk to ascertain how to do this and also how to deal with the fact we were Australian and didn't that mean we had to fill out something. The very helpful other clerk pointed her to the help sheet in front of her that clearly said Australians did not need that other something. Sighh....2 1/2 hours after entering the terminal we were welcomed on board. (note: notwithstanding the "now down now up" system, we were later requested by the purser to attend to re-present our documentation - as were many other passengers).
Uniformed staff at the entrance to the ship greeted us (no champagne as with NCL) and the major delay had one benefit in that our cabin was ready. 7002, balcony category A3 is the forward most cabin on that level, meaning quiet (no passers by and only one neighbour)and negligible movement. It has an overhang from the Bridge making it generally the last booked, but we valued this "extended roof line" as it provided shade and the plexiglass overhang enabled us to see "white shoes" folk periodically above. The cabin offered excellent hanging space (17 hangers each)and the bathroom, while small, was efficiently laid out. Mattresses and pillows-heavenly!
Sail away was once in a lifetime event. What a delight to sail with a female Captain, Inger Olsen. We departed Manhattan cruise terminal with Queen Elizabeth behind us and met up with Queen Mary 2 leaving her Brooklyn berth. As the 3 magnificent Queens stopped to pay homage to the Statue of Liberty, a 20 minute firework display convinced us that being outside on the top deck in minus 7 degree (Celsius) was worth it. No doubt the display was a marketing exercise for Cunard, but it was nonetheless a magnificent sight. We Aussies simply do not have the winter woollies necessary for this weather, but discovered that backing oneself onto the air vent provided some warmth. Even the Empire State Building was lit with Cunard colours.
Staff in Britannia restaurant greeted us by name - and quickly learned our individual needs. The iced water was always that - icy and readily topped up. The sommelier was not quite as efficient and there were 2 nights on the cruise when our wine did not eventuate until after the appetisers had been eaten. The table conviviality was soon achieved although we will never understand why table mates on the first night felt it was acceptable to freely express their bigoted and uninformed statements about Australian indigenous people. This was followed by an equally appalling statement that the White Australia policy should not have been repealed. Never a good opening line to travelling companions you met 2 minutes earlier, however we were able to subtly refute the bigotry, overlook our initial distaste and revel in hearing from our table companions who represented Australia, USA, UK and South Africa - well matched Cunard. Indeed the table next to us informed us on the penultimate night of our cruise that out table had been voted the "happiest".
Food - wonderful choice, artfully presented - so much so that it was difficult to tell from the food exactly what it represented. While the portions initially seemed small, the richness of the cuisine and the range of courses available ensured we were well sated. The petit-four (a different one every night) with coffee was a delightful finishing touch. We equated the food and service in Britannia as deserving its 5 stars.
Activities - being new to Cunard we tried everything on the ship. As a repositioning cruise with a majority of sea days, we valued Cunard's enrichment program. Without re-listing these, simply put there was a wide choice of activities from morning to afternoon. Not all were quite as expected - the putting competition where passengers presented in their best golfing garb, used table tennis balls! Quiz competitions were well attended although entertainment staff (who compile the quizzes) need to re-google their answers for accuracy. On submitting that there have been a total of 12 men who have walked on the moon, we was informed the correct answer was 21! No, indeed that is not correct, nor was the assertion that Tasmania is not a State of Australia -but we did not dwell on it - rather, we enjoyed the quizzes without too much concern as to the veracity of the answers.
Deck chairs around the ship were readily available, and once the weather warmed, additional outside activities were introduced. Lectures in the theatre were informative and many were full 10 minutes before the start.
Not so informative were the lectures, purportedly on health and well-being, presented by the gym staff. I was alarmed to be informed by the buff (perhaps 20yr old) gym instructor - without medical qualifications - that underarm deodorant causes breast cancer in women and that low-cal soft drinks (sodas) are equally carcinogenic. Such broad statements, not supported by empirical evidence, should not be presented as lectures by unqualified medical practitioners. How fortunate that we could redress all that cancer by purchasing their seaweed product. Medical researchers - take note.
Our cruise director - she of the 'mahhhhhhhvelous' response was gratifyingly less self-serving that others we have encountered and did not in any way seek the limelight.
We are convivial folk and requesting a shared table for lunch or breakfast in the Britannia restaurant enabled us to meet other passengers. The 24 hour buffet was an asset in that it was open all hours - a sandwich or pizza at 3 am should one so need. We found the best lunches to be at the Golden Lion Pub - food was hot, fresh and the fish and chips superb! The white-gloved afternoon tea in the Queens Room was exquisite and when accompanied by the harpist or string quartet, a delightful experience. Cunard's policy of allowing alcohol to be brought on board was appreciated. We still purchased drinks daily from the bar, but enjoyed our pre-dinner balcony tipple (complete with pate and cheese from the buffet). Should it seem that all we did was eat, we hasten to advise you that the gym enabled us to see, in blinking green lights, exactly how many calories we were burning on the treadmills, steppers and rowing machines. Gazing at the ocean ahead makes exercise a surreal experience. Indeed, one of the best features of the Queen Victoria is that one can readily find a spot with an ocean view to read, nap or merely contemplate.
Cunard makes 100% effort in most aspects - while not dwelling on the negatives, a Mexican gala night cannot be called so when it is simply a gathering with a band on the open deck, without Mexican food, drink or even decorations - not a sombrero in sight. Call it a deck party.
Staff we rated 100% - Marija our room steward was inconspicuous yet highly efficient. Room was always made up while we breakfasted, despite us eating at a different time each day. She respected our privacy as requested, and conversed with us when we so wished. She immediately addressed our one request for a new hairdryer. On our cruises we enjoy learning as much about crew national backgrounds as we do passengers, Queen Victoria housekeeping and dining staff are highly intelligent and accomplished people and deserve to be treated well by us.
Shore tours - we took two privately arranged and two ship's tours. The privately arranged tours were better value and more personally tailored. Being 'dumped' in a small beach town for 2 hours with no other options does not make for a cultural experience. We do not hold Cunard responsible for this, rather it reinforces our preference for privately arranged tours - thank you a thousand times Lorraine from Cruise Critics for your efficient and superb arrangement of tours.
This review is already too lengthy - in summary our cruise was an overall success, it met our expectations and importantly, we would recommend this ship.
Would we cruise again with Cunard - Yes - and soon we hope!