Ten months ago (Sept 2010) I bounded down Queen Victoria's gangway in Civitavecchia following a 10 day Med and Black Sea cruise declaring her a fantastic ship and my best cruise in 7 years' experience. So it was with great anticipation and optimism that my partner and I boarded Queen Elizabeth on 26 July for the Norwegian Fjords and Waterfalls cruise. After all, if QV had ticked all my boxes, QE must be at least as good! Oh dear! How wrong can one be?
We got off to a great start: using the pre-booked car-parking facilities at Southampton we were met by very helpful, friendly staff. We whizzed through the check-in procedures and had no difficulty in finding our cabin. Because we booked the cruise quite late, we had had to take a "guarantee cabin" arrangement whereby the actual cabin number is not allocated until close to the sailing date and were pleased to be located close to the lifts and stairway, port side, forward. The room itself was, as expected, spacious, soberly decorated and comfortable. Luggage was delivered very quickly and our stewardess soon came to introduce herself.
I suppose things started to go down hill on the first night in the Britannia Restaurant. We don't usually go to the restaurant on the first night of a cruise - preferring to save the restaurant experience for the first formal night - but on this occasion we decided to do things differently. It was first sitting and quite a few tables were unoccupied so there was really no excuse for the slow service and long gaps between courses. We were on a table for 6 and for the first 30 mins we were alone. Then another couple arrived, they studied the menu, then promptly got up and left. And I could understand why: the menu was unexciting, unimaginative and uninspiring. But then this was the first night - it was sure to be better tomorrow night. Wasn't it?
A day at sea followed, with the Captain's Reception that evening. The lay-out of QE is identical to that of QV and at no time did we need to consult the ship's deck plan to find our way around. But as the day wore on I began to feel depressed by the dEcor - drab colours in the Lido buffet, the Garden Lounge resembled a care home and the crew members apparently not a happy bunch.
Crunch time came at the Captain's party on the second evening. Our cruise had been intended as a birthday celebration for my partner, albeit the actual birthday isn't for another couple of months. Consequently we were quite happy to pay for Veuve Clicquot champagne at $87 a bottle (including Cunard's 15% service charge) during the trip and had indeed done so on the previous evening. However, at the Captain's party the "champagne" offered by white-gloved waiters is in fact a cheap French sparkling wine. This might sound snobbish but, since Cunard widely promotes Veuve Clicquot on all their ships, I think the least they could do is serve it up on Captain's evenings.
We had no complaints about the itinerary: Stavanger, Alesund, Geiranger and Bergen. Each of these was an interesting and scenic stop. Our one shore excursion was in Geiranger: well organised with a very knowledgeable and entertaining guide.
We gave 10 out of 10 for room service - never a long wait, courteous service with a smile. We would have marked our stewardess "excellent" on the feedback form too if only she had managed an occasional smile.
As the week wore on we encountered other passengers with similar gripes about the lack of atmosphere onboard, the dull food, the poor standard of food service. I came across dirty cutlery on more than one occasion and cracked cups in the Lido Buffet.
My other moans include the mega $$$ charge for internet access - even if you take your own wireless device onboard you still have to pay (per minute) a ridiculous amount for a connection. Photographs taken by the ship's photographers were of an appalling standard for $24.95 each. At the Southampton Sail-Away a photographer approached us for a picture and then seemed never to have held a camera before. It took him sometime to get the focus right and by then the moment had passed.
This was not our first cruise by any means and, as previously mentioned, not our first with Cunard. There is something seriously wrong here on QE. Cunard is a world famous brand name in the cruising industry yet there seems to be little to back it up in practice. I have been on far less expensive cruises with far more exciting food, a more amiable crew and a generally happier atmosphere. There was a frequently shown film on TV during the cruise charting the construction, the fitting out and launch of QE. There was a boast that it was the fastest time in which a liner of this size had been completed - perhaps that's part of the problem. It seems to me that Cunard were so eager to build on the popularity of QV that they figured another, identical ship would double their success and profits without having to put in too much effort. A bit like 2 for the price of 1.
After my very positive reaction to QV in 2010 and QM2 in 2008, QE came as a huge disappointment. I was pleased to get back to home-cooking and am unlikely to choose Cunard again.