In late 2009 we travelled for 15 nights on Celebrity Infinity on a repositioning cruise, from Fort Lauderdale to Valparaiso, which included transit through the Panama Canal. We had a Royal suite, butler, pre-purchased two wine packages, and ate six times in the SS United States speciality restaurant. Flights via Air France, one night's accommodation in Fort Lauderdale, and all transfers were arranged through Celebrity and included in the price.
In June 2011 we travelled 14 nights on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth from Southampton around the Baltic. We had a Queens Grills Suite, butler, no wine packages were available, and we never ate in any speciality restaurants. There were no air flights, accommodation or transfers.
The Queen Elizabeth cruise was double the total cost of the Celebrity cruise, but was it double the value?
Boarding QE was reasonably quick, although once on board we were left to find our deck and stateroom ourselves. On Infinity we were met by our butler who took us to our stateroom for an introduction of services and facilities, leaving us his telephone number.
QE's stateroom was well proportioned with so much storage some drawers were left empty, a mid-sized flat screen TV, and a two-roomed bathroom with Jacuzzi bath and shower in one room, basin and toilet in the other. A long but narrow balcony prevented the two loungers (plus footstools) from being extended. The balcony rail had been re-varnished so on day one we had warning signs taped to the balcony glass panels which remained for several days. The butler was pleasant but appeared to have to service too many staterooms, so having had almost no contact, by day four we had to ask for a telephone number, The butler might just as well not been there. Room service was provided by different staff on the rare occasions we had it. The thing we noticed most was the vibration throughout the ship, and it was very intrusive in our stateroom at night when trying to get to sleep.
Infinity's stateroom was significantly larger with separate dining area, table and chairs, a separate sitting room with 'L' shaped sofa and coffee table, large screen TV, and its own computer terminal and desk plus 'free' internet minutes. The large bedroom also had a large screen TV. There was a walk-in wardrobe, a bathroom combining jacuzzi bath, shower, toilet, and two basins. The balcony was long and wide with two sun beds, table and chairs, and an external Jacuzzi bath. The butler was with us at least twice a day and provided room service on request laying out our dining table and serving the food.
On the QE we ate all meals in the exclusive Queens Grill restaurant. We found a wide choice of food that was well cooked and presented. Using menu items on succeeding days is a commercial necessity (eg cauliflower as a vegetable on one day, the next day as a soup) however it was very obvious on the menus of the QE so trying to avoid the previous day's items became a bit of a game. What was not so easy to get to grips with were other passengers ordering 'non-menu' items, something that was not explained to us. Meals were plated rather than silver-served. The waiting staff were friendly, though a little over-familiar, leaning over passengers to serve rather than 'serving to the right and clearing from the left'. Much of this was because of the number of tables squeezed into the restaurant. Wines (and drinks) were very expensive even before the 15% service charge, and the lack of space meant that a number of wine bottles were kept in one ice bucket well away from diners. Dining lacked finesse, sparkle or any sense of occasion.
On Infinity, due to our stateroom grade, each day we enjoyed complimentary cocktails in Michael's Club prior to eating in the Trellis restaurant, with excellent food and service. The wine packages meant that wine was realistically priced from a wide and varied selection. We also ate many times in the SS United States speciality restaurant for a small supplement, where the food and service matched the very best Michelin star restaurants. It was always a memorable experience, with highly skilled and attentive staff demonstrating their prowess and expertise.
QE's entertainment shows were best described as watching 'enthusiastic amateurs' not quite at the level of the professionals who visit our local theatre. On Infinity, a chance comment made to the Entertainments Director that may of the dancers and singers were good enough for the West End stage, received a reply that many of them rotated between the West End and the ship!
In summary, we wanted to experience one of the top brand cruise lines (Cunard), on a brand new ship and paid a 'luxury' price, especially as this was QE's inaugural Baltic cruise. What we received was an eight month old ship that is still being 'snagged' - revarnishing balcony rails all over the ship for the two weeks, one pool closed for maintenance one week, the other pool closed the second week. Restaurant service no better than 3* and similar to many restaurants where we live. Staff whose friendliness is improving (based on previous reviews) but whose skills and abilities are somewhat short of a luxury brand. It all adds up to the impact of pressure to deliver profits and the cost-cutting/exorbitant pricing measures are clearly visible - cheap bottle of wine $39 + 15%, photos $24.99 each, butler who has too may staterooms to provide level of service expected... Sorry Cunard but you aren't even close to Celebrity, and at your prices there is little 'of value' compared with Celebrity in your offering and so we won't be travelling with you again.