A little background: I'm a solo traveler by choice, love to be on my own, don't like being held to a schedule, and am very happy if I do nothing more each day than sleep late, read my stack of books, and spend time on the internet. I wanted a voyage that would allow me to do things my way instead of being regimented, and I wanted to avoid all sorts of crowds, queues, announcements in my stateroom, and distractions of any kind. I also very much wanted great food and service in an intimate setting. Queen's Grill on Cunard's Queen Victoria gave me all of that and more.
Embarkation in Ft Lauderdale was effortless; I arrived about 2PM, was taken directly to my suite, and within 15 minutes my bags had arrived. Galvin, my butler, helped me unpack and in less than an hour clothes were hung and bags stowed under the bed. Next I checked with Maitre'd Andrew Nelder in Queen's Grill and was delighted to learn that my request for a table for one had been arranged. I felt very lucky as I had dreaded sitting for hours at a large table, and at that moment Andrew became my hero!
The most important event for me each day was dining in the Queen's Grill. I have crossed on the QM2 in QG but thought the dining room was one of the least attractive high-end restaurants I've ever been in. Not so on QV . . . the room is drop-dead gorgeous and the lighting superb. And additionally, Andrew Nelder is the archetypal Maitre'd, both in appearance and in the professionalism that radiates from him. Hollywood casting at its best couldn't have done any better! He looked after me so well during those 16 days that I was nearly in tears when the time came to say goodbye.
We sailed on schedule and my first dinner in QG set the pattern for the entire trip. Very good wait staff, a wonderful sommelier named Stalin, and simply marvellous food and service... that first night I knew I'd found a very special place where I was sure to come back to.
The great thing about QG is ordering off-menu and I did this several times, but always with 24 hours notice. My favorites were Chateaubriand for one, dover sole, steak Diane, crepes suzette, cherries Jubilee -- all done at table with flames and flourishes. I also loved the cold fruit soups, especially the raspberry with sloe gin which I repeated at dinner one night in a soup plate, giving me about 3 portions instead of one that comes in the soup bowl. When my waiter learned that I was fond of cinnamon ice cream a supply was kept in the freezer for me. Best of all, I requested a dessert made with lemoncello and the next night I was offered a choice of two: roulade or lemoncello jello. The roulade was excellent, but the following night I tried the jello... it was the star and I had two servings of it.
My suite was midship on deck 7 and although we had four days of strong gales I was never bothered by the motion. The bed was a dream... lots of wonderful down pillows and bedding of the highest quality. Loved the configuration of the suite: sitting room and bedroom separated by a heavy curtain, ample storage space and a good clothes closet. With this set-up I could order a cold breakfast (hot coffee in the thermos) and sleep as late as I liked knowing that when I awoke my breakfast would be on the table. The piEce de resistánce of my suite was a huge deep jacuzzi tub with separate shower in one room, and a toilet and hand basin in an adjoining one. There were high quality toiletries and plenty of shelf room at each end of the counter. Marble galore... floors, walls, counters, everywhere. I was surprised that there was no double sink in the bathroom, especially as this Q6 suite was to become Q4 on the voyage following ours.
I skipped entertainment completely -- no shows, no lectures or concerts, and no scheduled activities. Used the fitness room a couple of times and liked their equipment. Had a manicure and pedicure at the spa (very good) and also a scalp massage and treatment for my dry hair (massage was great, treatment was not). Checked out the library and was surprised not to find a single biography of Queen Victoria. But there were prints, watercolors, sketches and photos of Victoria, Albert and the family (including favorite dogs) scattered about the ship and I loved seeking them out and putting names to the faces.
We called at seven ports: I didn't leave the ship in Cape Canaveral, did a stroll around Nassau, another stroll at the port in Bermuda where there was a very nice 'shopping mall' -- architecturally rustic and quite attractive with some good shops. Then came the Azores where I joined up with two other cruisers whom I'd met on the cc roll call for a wonderful drive through the most amazing countryside. The island is a treasure -- green, lush, fabulous plants and flowers in riotous colors, cloud-covered mountaintops -- totally unspoiled and breathtakingly beautiful. The time there was all too short, I so hope that I'll be able to return one day.
Next stop was Lisbon. I had arranged for a full day private tour with a highly recommended guide; as I had spent time in Lisbon before we headed north to the hill town of Óbidos, a beautifully preserved example of medieval architecture lying 100 km north of Lisbon. The streets and squares were filled with color and bright flowers were everywhere. We also stopped in Sintra, a World Heritage Site, and then drove along the coast where many once-royal personages had lived in exile, and finally back to the ship.
Cohb, Ireland was charming, I did my usual stroll around with some friends, and we ended up at a terrace cafe where we drank very good Irish coffee and watched the world go by. Final port was Le Havre but I stayed on the ship to get my packing organized for debarkation the following morning.
For months before the sailing I had been apprehensive about clothes: five formal nights, six semi-formal and something different each night was the message I was getting from reading the boards. So I shopped too much and I packed too much and in the end I learned a lesson about 16 day cruises: no one cares if you wear the same outfit twice or even three times. And another thing, gowns don't have to sweep the floor, they can be ankle length or even shorter. I mention this as I read many other posters asking these questions and I want to reassure them that you can take less and feel completely comfortable and appropriately dressed.
Debarkation was smooth with no glitches. I was sending a bag home with the White Star Luggage service and their representative had been very helpful on board taking care of the paperwork, so all I had to do was leave the bag at their pick-up point and be on my way. I stayed on in England for four days and when I got home last night the bag had already arrived safe and sound. Bravo White Star Luggage!
My one quibble -- and it is an important one -- is the internet. The problem is that it's both incredibly sluggish and incredibly expensive. I've heard that nothing can be done about the speed but I don't think that's true. It's a simple matter of money; to upgrade the system to 21st century standards Cunard will have to invest money. I hope they will decide to do that... the internet is almost what makes the world go round these days. For me, this comes close to being a deal-breaker... without it a two week cruise would be my limit.
Internet aside, Queen Victoria has turned out to be an excellent match for me. Although there were nearly 2,000 passengers aboard I never had the feeling of being crowded or overwhelmed. I could easily find the peace and quiet I craved without raining on anyone else's parade. I had come aboard with only two priorities -- being reclusive by day and dining superbly each night. Both of these were fulfilled far beyond my expectations.