This was our first time cruising with Cunard and like many others on board we had been tempted by the significant reduction in the price of this cruise.
With the cost of a balcony cabin being about half that originally advertised, we were concerned it would result in a reduction in the service provided. We were therefore relieved to find this was not the case. In fact, with a few minor exceptions, the whole experience was extremely pleasant. I should say that the comparisons made in this review are with previous cruises with P&O, Princess, Celebrity and Azamara.
We booked direct with Cunard, as their price was the same as that offered by the cheapest on the internet. The whole process was very straightforward.
We arrived at 12:30 and there was little delay in checking in and boarding. Our cabin was ready for us (unlike P&O, where there is usually a delay). Lunch was available in the Lido self service restaurant. We decided to have a freshly cooked pizza, which was excellent. These are available each day with various toppings, as well as fresh pasta dishes prepared while you wait. These are in addition to a wide variety of cooked and cold dishes, plus daily specialities. Unlike others who have complained about the food served in the Lido, we found it offered a consistently high standard with a good variety each day. At peak times, on sea days, it could be difficult to find a seat, but by not arriving at 1 o’clock for lunch, this could be avoided. There was always the option of eating lunch in the Britannia restaurant, where there was always a good choice of food. (Not on embarkation day).
Our standard A4 grade balcony cabin was comparable in size to other ships with similar facilities. One thing it lacks, which P&O provide, is tea and coffee making facilities. These can, however, be supplied by room service and are also available from the Lido.
The hanging space is very limited, with two wardrobes, each being only 20 inches wide. As Cunard have a more formal dress code than other ships, more hanging space would have been useful. There are three sets of fairly small drawers, plus shelves for clothes which do not need to be hung up.
If you bring more than two large suit cases, there is insufficient storage space under the beds (which have the option of twin or double configuration). This is because Cunard have installed large drawers under the ends of the beds, taking up much of the normal storage space for cases. These drawers are for the storage of duvets etc for the alternative bed configuration, not additional storage space for you!
Dressing gowns and slippers are provided.
The mattresses were moderately hard, but not uncomfortable.
A small flat screen television is provided. The picture quality varied from day to day. It has satellite news channels, including Sky and BBC World, plus a range of films, music channels and recordings of earlier lectures in the theatre, plus presentations on the ports of call. There is a useful morning program presented by the Entertainment Director, telling you about what was going on during the day, as well as interviews with members of the crew and some of the lecturers. There was also a “weather forecast” which was invariably wrong. It would forecast rain, when there was warm sunshine and vice versa, but it was presumably recorded the night before.
In the shower room Gilchrist & Soames shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion are provided, but strangely, no shower cap. The towels are thick and of adequate size, but certainly not large, or fluffy. Face flannels are also provided.
In our shower room the grouting between the tiles was starting to discolour and there was mould in the corners. This was one of the few areas where the ship was starting to show some deterioration. It was noted that during the cruise there was ongoing maintenance and sections of worn carpet were being replaced.
The thermostatic shower always provided a strong, hot supply of water. The shower drainage was very efficient, unlike that experienced on some other ships, where the bathroom would often flood because the water did not run away fast enough.
Again, unlike some other ships we did not experience the toilet drainage system becoming blocked – through no fault of your own making!
All but those in the Suites eat dinner in the Britannia Restaurant, spread over two decks, with two sittings, 6:00 pm and 8:30 pm. This is where Queen Victoria excels. The quality, presentation and choice were very good. For vegetarians there were always a number of choices, but I do not pretend to be an expert on this subject.
Generally, I would rate the quality of the food from very good to excellent. Unlike P&O, who still provide “Silver Service”, the appropriate vegetables were provided with each dish. P&O provide a separate serving of often inappropriate, under or over cooked vegetables.
Breakfast and lunch are also served in the Britannia Restaurant. Service for breakfast could be erratic. If you were lucky enough to have an experienced waiter, the service was excellent, but if not,there were times when the wrong combination of cooked food arrived and your tea or coffee was not automatically topped up.
As we were more than satisfied with the food in the Britannia Restaurant, we did not try the Todd English fine dining restaurant, where you pay according to your choice from an a la carte menu. Those who did eat there were very impressed.
There was also the option of themed dining in a section of the Lido each evening, with the Indian theme the most popular. There was a cover charge of $10, plus 15% service charge.
This is another area where Cunard excel. Served in the very attractive Queens Room, by waiters and waitresses wearing white gloves. A truly special occasion, equal to that provided in top hotels.
This is probably the biggest criticism of Cunard and many other ships, other than those operated by P&O. The prices are very high and then they add a 15% service charge. They are approaching twice the prices charged by P&O. This means that many tend to drink less, but presumably not to such an extent that Cunard still make an equal profit to P&O, where the lower prices result in more drinks being sold. I suppose that with the cost of cruising continuing to fall, in relative terms, the cruise lines have to extract as much as possible from us once you are on board. As a result, drinks and excursions (I will not have a rant about tour prices) are extortionately expensive.
This is another area where Queen Victoria excelled. They claim to provide a “White Star Service” and it shows. The crew consisted of a mix from most corners of the world and with only a few exceptions, they were, friendly, polite and efficient. We have not experienced such consistently good service on any of the other ships on which we have cruised. One of the exceptions was our stateroom steward. He would sometimes forget towels or to replace the shower gel. He would however, always clean the room efficiently while we were at breakfast and dinner, thus causing us no inconvenience.
This is an area where I am usually very disappointed. The normal standard of entertainment in the theatre on the ships is very amateurish. On Queen Victoria the Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers were truly of West End theatre quality, as were the costumes, lighting, sound, choreography and music. OK, so some may have found the amount of dancing a bit monotonous, but you could not fault their skill, or desire to create different forms of dance.
There was an outstanding comedian/singer/impressionist. Sorry, I do not recall his name. He was deservedly given a standing ovation. There were also some interesting lecturers during the day.
The theatre itself was stunning, it really is just like a traditional West End theatre, complete with boxes.
PORTS OF CALL – ALTERNATIVE TO ORGANISED TOURS
COPENHAGEN. Docked a short walk from the town and only a few minute’s walk along the waterfront from the Little Mermaid.
Hop On Hop Off buses were parked next to the ship and charged about 24 Euros for the day, which included all three routes around the town.
STOCKHOLM. Docked well outside the town, but free shuttle buses took you to the centre of town.
Hop On Hop Off buses also stopped at the port.
HELSINKI. Docked well outside the town. A shuttle bus was provided at 8 Euros for a return fare. Hop On Hop Off buses stopped next to the ship.
ST PETERSBURG. Docked a long way outside the town. Without a pre-arranged tour, with Visa, you were not allowed to leave the port. There was no form of independent transport available. Therefore, if you want to travel independently, make sure the local tour operator has provided you with tickets and Visas. One couple had arranged a private tour, but their tickets and Visas were on the other side of the passport control and they were not allowed to leave.
TALLIN. Docked a short distance from the town, but free shuttle bus provided. Also Hop On Hop Off buses at the port.
ZEEBRUGGE. Docked in the commercial port, but free shuttle buses took you to the adjacent seaside town of Blankenberge. This had a good range of shops, cafes and restaurants.
Leaving the ship at Southampton could not have been more straightforward. Our allotted time to leave was 8:30am. We were off the ship, had collected our cases and were in our waiting taxi by 8:50.
The average age of those on board, excluding the small number of children, was probably mid fifties to early sixties, unlike our experience on P&O cruises from Southampton on Aurora, where the average age is probably late sixties, with a much greater number in wheelchairs, or charging around on their mobility scooters.
We had always wanted to try a Cunard cruise and the reduction in price was sufficient to persuade us to book Queen Victoria. We boarded with no high expectations, but we were very pleasantly surprised at just how good it was.
Cunard/Celebrity have obviously fine tuned the design of these modern ships and basic services, such as plumbing, heating and lighting work efficiently. There is also good sound proofing between the cabins, sorry, staterooms!
One also has to bear in mind we were on a cruise operating at full capacity and whereas this has caused problems on other ships, we were not aware of any such difficulties on Queen Victoria.
I am sure there will be others on the same cruise who perhaps did encounter problems, but we appreciate that when there are around 1000 crew members, however good the training may be, it cannot be perfect all the time.