We don't really like big ships, but pretty much got what we expected from this Cunard cruise in an A2 balcony cabin with the Britannia restaurant: A modern ship fitted out to a high standard and kept immaculate, good food but not excellent, service generally of a high standard but patchy, professional entertainment, good accommodation with good size cabins but small bathrooms. However let down by a general feeling of being somewhat ripped off resulting from the determined efforts of Cunard to get you to pay for as much as possible as extras. We met many very loyal Cunard passengers who thought the standard of everything was very high, but I couldn’t help but feel that they had been convinced by the Cunard hype, and / or not having tried the lines with even higher standards (Silversea, Seabourn, Regent, for instance) they simply don’t realise what they are missing. However a few people seemed to think things have gone downhill a bit since their first experiences on Queen Victoria, and several felt the excursions are priced too high – we simply didn’t bother with the Cunard excursion programme at all.
The dining experience was “OK” but I really don’t like the fixed dinner sitting idea (though I accept it is probably the only way to manage things on such a big ship) and it is a bit disappointing that you would have to pay extra to use the ‘alternative’ dining experiences – Lido speciality or Todd English. The menu choices are very traditional British and not what I would describe as 5 star. One of us doesn’t eat meat, and I felt the meat (choice and quality) was probably superior to the choice and quality for a non-meat eater.
The service at dinner after the first couple of meals moved from good to excellent for our table of 8. We were blessed with a waiter and junior waiter who were both very good (better at their jobs than some of the more senior dining room staff). They remembered who didn’t want ice in their water, who wanted a cappuccino after dinner, and any mistakes in serving were rare. The same couldn’t be said for breakfast service, where one waiter that we had a couple of times was plain rude and offhand, smoked haddock was dried out by the time it was served, and one lady got the wrong eggs three days running.
Entertainment on ships is not a major issue for us (at least the Las Vegas style shows which I would generally avoid) but on the whole I was favourably impressed with the quality both of the regulars and the flown-in acts – very professional, and the dancers were particularly good. The one low point was the mortifyingly embarrassing Victoriana show, which, as well as being piecemeal and disorganised, was humiliatingly xenophobic – I felt ashamed to be British and hoped that not too many of the non-British passengers were there. Please, save us from flag-waving and renditions of Britannia ruling waves when there is a mixed audience. The comments from other members of the audience as we left suggested others felt much the same. The enrichment lecturers were also of a good standard. Some of their lectures were repeated on the ship’s TV channel.
Our balcony cabin (“stateroom”, sorry), on Deck 8 was a decent size (not up to standards of the small luxury ships though) but the bathroom was very small with only a tiny shower and small basin. Presumably the suites are better.
Overall this would have been a very enjoyable cruise but for the lingering feeling that Cunard never lost an opportunity to try and extract more money out of you. For example: themed night – an opportunity to buy over-priced merchandise so you can dress up to the theme; high mark up on wines – plus 15% service. Even at the champagne sailaway parties – you only got your glass of champagne if you shelled out $17+15%. People who won prizes got a half bottle of champagne, not a bottle. $30 for each photo and $35 for a DVD of the cruise. And then the tipping to be added on at the end. It felt a bit like Ryanair at some points. Definitely think that for us it is worth paying for all inclusive in order to avoid the first thing you have to do everywhere being showing your room card so you can be billed.