We had quite a few worries before we arrived on board. I have to say that none of them were borne out. We enjoyed the trip immensely.
We were a party of four: two elderly parents with two thirty-something offspring. Would there be enough to keep everyone interested? We took plenty of reading just in case. Very little reading was done; the on-board activities were many and varied.
There was a show in the Royal Court Theatre every night - twice, actually: one for each dinner Sitting - and the standard of entertainment was high indeed. The Royal Cunard Singers, a close harmony group, were as good as you would find anywhere. We were really impressed. The dancers, too were excellent. Other acts, whilst making rather less of an impact on us, were also of high standard. The theatre itself is surprisingly large with none of the usual obstructions (pillars etc) we have seen on other vessels. Were it not for the gentle swaying of the ship you could imagine yourself in a medium-sized venue ashore. The ceiling is high and there are upstairs and downstairs seats.
The ballroom is advertised as the largest afloat and I am prepared to believe it. Once again no compromise seems to have been made just because it is on a ship. It is a full-sized affair that would not disgrace your local venue. Here, in addition to the obvious balls, dancing lessons were given and the daily afternoon tea sessions took place: tea, sandwiches, and cakes served at table in typically English fashion.
The third major venue is called "Illuminations." This is the world's only sea-going planetarium which doubles as a perfectly adequate cinema and theatre. Here it was we enjoyed "The King's Speech" - there was a different film every night: all up-to-date. Although there were some technical problems that delayed the planetarium presentations, we were astonished by "Cosmic Collisions" and "Search for Life" as we reclined on the special seating in almost total darkness. German guests had their own presentations. In was here, too, that the Cunard Insights lectures took place: talks on a variety of topics by expert speakers including astronomer Mark Butterworth and journalist Jerry Eskenazi.
Especially enjoyable was the programme of events provided by the group from RADA. In addition to conducting an excellent series of workshops on storytelling, the group presented performances of "Canterbury Tales" and "Much Ado About Nothing" in the theatres, and read bedtime stories and ghost stories at other venues, as well as "Jazz Poetry" and "Passion and Piano" which we were not able to see: there was simply too much to do. Thus we did not use the pub, the casino, the Winter Gardens or the Chart Room, and spent only a little while in the Library. The youngsters spent quite a lot of time in the fitness room, and seemed pretty content with arrangements there.
There was one major disruption to the programme of events on 29th April when the Royal Wedding was shown on TV in cabins and on the big screen in the Illuminations cinema. Many other events were poorly attended that day, which is not surprising. Most of the ladies loved it, and Cunard rose to the occasion with a special afternoon tea, dinner menu, souvenir menus, complimentary wedding cake for all guests, and special souvenir items on sale in the Mayfair shops. Dinner that night was Formal - an exception to the normal pattern. There are normally two formal nights when dinner suits are pretty well mandatory. On our trip, of course, there were three. It all adds to the overall atmosphere and fun. A few people let the side down by not adhering to dress codes, but then...
We all love dining out and enjoy good food. The Britannia Restaurant did not disappoint. Far from it. The fare was consistently as good as our favourite restaurants at home. Furthermore, our special needs did not cause any problems. One of our party is vegetarian, and was able to select from an extensive vegetarian alternative menu daily - or select from the regular one. I am diet-controlled diabetic, and once more there was no problem. I did not need the special diabetic menu: the regular one had sufficient choice of suitable items.
We were impressed by the overall standards of cleanliness, not only in the staterooms, but throughout the ship. We managed to get a glimpse into the kitchens. Absolutely shiny and spotless!
A few grumbles:
Internet access is expensive. So is the Hair Salon ($200+ for partial highlights: $120 quoted, but then a surprise $80+ for shampoo and blow-dry, as if there is any choice about this.)
$11 per person per day is added automatically to your cabin account. No real problem there, the service was excellent and well worth it: I'd just prefer it included in the ticket price. But then another 15% gratuity is added to the price of drinks and some other services, and there is room on the payment slip to add yet an extra tip! A tip + a tip + a tip?
A few tips:
We discovered that getting a cab from Manhattan to Brooklyn can be a real problem around 3pm: the time that the taxi drivers change shifts. (We made our own arrangements in Manhattan.)
There was no problem arranging for our cabin cards to open both cabins and getting different cards allocated to different credit cards.
Laundry is not a problem. There are several self-service laundries with dryers and ironing facilities, and they are free to use but not available 24/7.
You can get tea, coffee, snacks, etc in the King's Court just about anytime, and full meals most of the time - all free.
Disabled access throughout the vessel is first-class. Lifts are provided wherever needed.
Room service is free.
We were glad we chose the early (6pm) sitting for dinner. Otherwise it's late nights if you want to include the shows.
The clocks go forward one hour per day on the Eastbound crossing.
There are phones located all around the ship and you can use these to ring you cabin.