Queen Victoria V111 Adriatic Explorer - 24 April 2011.
16 night roundtrip from Southampton.
This cruise was on Queen Victoria and I found her to be a very elegant ship. A few weeks earlier I had been on P&O's Arcadia and on the whole I would say that Victoria was by far the superior ship. This was my first time with Cunard and to give you an idea as to how impressed I was of the overall service, I have booked a 91 night cruise to New Zealand on Elizabeth in 2013.
My general view on ship excursions is that if you haven't been to a port before, do a comprehensive tour. If you return, you then have an idea of what to expect. In most cases, the guides are good and have a good knowledge of English. You also avoid spending too much time queuing for sites. I have done many excursions in Europe over the years and have normally found them to be disappointing where meals are concerned. However, those meals provided on the Cunard excursions were better than I expected.
These are the excursions that I did from the various ports.
From Cadiz, I did the "A day in Seville" tour at $130. This was a full day tour and we were about the last to return to the ship. Even in May, Seville was very busy and the tour guides decided to change the itinerary so that we could see as much as possible. This meant that we spent less time in queues. A good lunch was included, and after walking around Seville for a few hours was a welcome break. The tour took in the cathedral, Alcazar, historic centre and city walls. Before returning to the ship we stopped of at the Plaza de Espana for around 20 minutes. It was a comprehensive tour in my mind and I'd think it unlikely to be able to do as much independently.
Katakolon: Here I did the Essence of Olympia tour @ $99. This included a good tour of the grounds at Olympia with some free time at the end. Not enough time to see everything, but it covered the main areas of interest to me. After the grounds, it was on to the museum. The guide in Olympia was very good and provided plenty of information as we went around the museum as well. On to lunch in a local restaurant. A few Greek specialities and more general food dishes. After lunch it was on to the town of Olympia were there was around 1 hour for shopping.
Corfu. Here I did the "Best of Corfu" at $99. In my mind, an OK tour but we had an unexpected extra - a local parade (difficult to see as we were on the coach, but local colour). There was quite a bit of spare time in Corfu town, so I would suggest visiting the fort/castle as that is where the coaches back to the ship depart from. Lunch was included and again, I'd say OK - nothing that special. If I returned, I'd do Corfu town on my own.
Dubrovnik. The ship docks some distance from the town. I did "Land and Sea" at $60. We left the port and sailed around the cruise port and the walled city to arrive in the very centre of Dubrovnik. This was quite a spectacular approach to the city and I wouldn't have missed it. This took around 45 minutes. There was then a short tour of the old town and around an hours free time before returning to the ship. We didn't return straight to the ship but went to a view point overlooking Dubrovnik and plenty of time was given for a photo stop. There was the option to stay in Dubrovnik and return on one of the shuttle buses. The old town would be very easy to do on your own. The walls are around 10Euros but that must be paid in local currency which is easy to obtain in town. Given that my tour was only a half day, I'd suggest taking it mainly for the sea part if the sea part was at the start of the tour. Then stop in town and do a few things on your own like the walls or cable car. With the exception of entrance to the walls, Euros are widely accepted (even for just an ice cream), so it probably isn't worth getting local currency.
Venice. Be up early for the arrival into Venice - normally around 07:00 with commentary from the bridge. Best side to be on is starboard but you leave by the same route, so if you miss anything on the way in, you can catch it on the way out. Cunard provide a shuttle at $20 which stops near to St Marks Square. I had booked the Essence of Venice tour but this was cancelled because not enough people wanted to do it. I ended up doing the Dogues Palace and Gondola ride. We were supposed to visit St Marks on this trip, but due to flooding, the group entrance was closed, so we didn't go inside as the queue for the public entrance was too long. The tour was interesting, but the gondola was in my mind a bit of a waste. We were 6 to a gondola, so not very comfortable. Also, didn't see that much from the gondola as we did mainly back streets and no commentary. I thought that this was an overpriced tour at $85. Personally, I'd have preferred to have paid extra and had my own gondola and seen more. However, queues were long and where we went we did avoid them. Venice would be very easy to do on your own.
On the Korcula stop, I did "Highlights of Peljesac" @ $75. The port of Korcula is a tender port and the town seems to be very small. I decided to do the highlights tour as I wanted to see something of Croatia, rather than just another town. The excursion involved a further boat ride to the mainland of around 20 minutes. From there, it was a coach trip to Ston ( a small walled town recovering from an earthquake in 1997) for a stop of 30-40 minutes, a monastery, donkey farm and lunch in what I would define as a very local bar. There were samples of many types of ham, cheese, fish, bread, etc along with wine and local spirit. This was a very leisurely tour and I think you see Croatia as it was many years ago. It is certainly a "no hassle" excursion and was a complete contrast to the rest of the cruise. Of the excursions I did, it was the only one to give me a chance to sample "village food". The few locals that we did meet, were very welcoming - guess they don't get many tourists. There were plenty of places to grab a snack/coffee in Ston if you wanted to "play safe" on the food side.
Malaga: I used this as a chance to go back to Grenada and visit the Alhambra on the Grenada and Alhambra tour @ $112. First a warning if you want to do this on your own. The Alhambra now limits the number of visitors per day and on the day I went, that limit had been reached. There were a couple of extra passengers on the coach and they took tickets that had been provided for the ships staff as none were available. This was a comprehensive tour of the various parts of the Alhambra and gardens. Overall, around 3 hours were spent there. The tour included lunch in a hotel in Grenada which had various Spanish dishes in addition to more usual dishes to be found in a self-service restaurant. Not the best meal, but good enough for lunch and your standards go up the longer you are on a cruise :-).
Some observations about my time on board.
Some of the extras that you may want to try. They run some tasting sessions. The champagne one at $65 seems expensive, but you get 5 different glasses of champagne and luxurious canapEs. Malt whiskey gives 5 full measures for $25. Martini one at $25 wasn't such good value as only 4 Martinis were sampled. All of these plus 15% tip and lasted around 1½ hours each.
Pre-dinner drinks in the Commodore Club are good, as again, the canapEs are done to a high standard. I was on second sitting and often had to refuse second helpings of canapEs, otherwise dinner would have been a struggle.
Downsides to me was the service supplied by the wine waiter in the main dinning room and the amount of storage space in the bathroom. Neither of these were major problems and maybe I noticed them more because of the high standard offered by Cunard.
For an alternative lunch, try the Golden Lion as the meals I had there were to a high "pub lunch" standard. The sausage and mash was very good. They also do a dessert which isn't obvious from the menu.
Hopefully, the link below will work and it has a sample of the photos I took. The order is Leaving Southampton, Seville, Royal Wedding day, Olympia, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Venice, Korcula (Croatia), Alhambra.