A fantastic last-minute deal on the QM2 seemed too good to miss, especially as the cruise was to the Norwegian Fjords, a place I have never been before but have always wanted to visit. We travelled down to Southampton on Tuesday 12th June and stayed in the Dolphin Hotel, in Southampton High Street. This is a great location, near to the shopping area and surrounded by good places to eat. The deal the Hotel offered was £95.00 for bed, breakfast and 8 days parking while we were on the ship. They provide a taxi to and from the ship and they are absolutely reliable. The only problem on this visit was that it was extremely warm in the hotel, but we were provided with a fan in our room and three windows that we opened while we were in the room (ground floor).
On a Tuesday evening, the Weatherspoons pub a few doors up from the hotel, had a Steak Deal, offering a main meal and a drink for £5.99. Dan, my husband, had Rump Steak (which was lovely), chips (cold) peas, tomato and mushroom and a pint of Carling Lager and I had Salmon (which was lovely), chips (cold) peas, tomato, mushrooms and a pint of cider (which I rarely drink, but it was very good as it was a lovely warm evening).
We left the hotel at 1.30 pm and were on the ship by 3.00 pm, which wasn't too bad considering how many passengers were at the Port when we got there. Our cases were already in our cabin by this time and we were pleased to see that we also had a bottle of bubbly cooling on the table.
We were on Deck 5, mid-ships, and our cabin was lovely with plenty of hanging space and drawers for storage. The bed was very comfortable and we used the two-seater sofa in the evening while we had our in-cabin G & T bedtime tipple.
As breakfast was available in the cabin, for the first two days this is what we did, having cereals, Danish pastries and toast with Orange Juice, Tea and Coffee. For the rest of the cruise we went mainly to the Britannia which, although a little slow, did provide a really good choice for a well-cooked breakfast.
At lunch, we generally only have a small snack, so we found our way around the buffet - except when we went into the Golden Lion and had traditional Cod and Chips - which was excellent.
We had all our evening meals in the Britannia and found them to be plentiful and usually very well cooked, with lots of choice. Our waiters, Alex and Dom, were very attentative and pleasant, as were most the staff we encountered during our week. Our cabin steward, Joeu, always kept the cabin spotless and it was cleaned and ready for us to use very early in the day.
I loved the sheltered balcony we had, and used the balcony a great deal as we went through the Fjords, as it gave a really good base for photos.
Our first day at sea was especially bad weather with torrential rain, winds of 5-7, gusting at gale force 8 at times and the waves were about 15 feet. Despite this, the ship hardly rocked, as it is so stable (obviously built to cross the Atlantic so is able to deal with the seas). It is a beautiful, traditionally-shaped ship, which is reminiscent of the time when cruising was only available to those used to the very best. I have never been on a ship where there has been so much deck space absolutely empty and there is rarely a sense of how many people are on board.
We attended a Cruise Critic gathering on the first day at sea, which had been organized by two CC members, Graham and David. They had put a lot of effort into the arrangements, and they were disappointed to find that invitations promised to the members, had not been received. However, there was a second gathering near the end of the cruise, which was attended by the Commodore, Deputy Captain and the Hospitality Officer - which was a nice event.
Although we had been watching the long-range forecast and expected rain on most days of our cruise, we were really lucky in Stavanger and Alesund, where the weather was lovely and warm. Geiranger Fjord was spectacular and breath-taking (in fact I woke my husband up at 6.00 am as we were travelling up this Fjord with my "Wow!") In Alesund, as we left the ship, we were met by two lovely ladies dressed in Norwegian National costumes, who handed us a city map, which was also a showcase for the many independent trips that were available. We opted to go on the City Train and bought our tickets at a cost of 130 Kroner, about £15 each. As the train standing at the stop was full, we had time to look at the Summer Festival Exhibits, which was on for a couple of days. We say fish, chips and mushy peas selling for about £11 and a Chinese takeaway for £8-9. I also looked for some tights for that evening, but decided that the ones I had were more than adequate when the price I was quoted for one pair of tights was just over £12. Anyway, we joined the next train (which actually ran on wheels, not rails) and we were given a running commentary as we wound our way through the narrow streets and finally up to the top of the mountain. The views were spectacular and we had just the right amount of time to take our photos and look around before we boarded our train again, resumed our commentary and headed back to the city.
We didn't take any of the ship's tours (which I felt were expensive), as we found the places we visited had so much to offer in themselves.
Overall I enjoyed this cruise a great deal, probably one of the best we have been on in terms of destinations. I found the food in the Britannia to be very good, plentiful and room service was also very well prepared and presented.
My only gripe is the fact that I still don't have a handle on the cabin gratuities charged daily. We did not amend or withdraw our payment of these, but we did then limit the amount we tipped on top, but I was disturbed to be told that the staff are only paid their full wage if all their passengers do pay the full amount, but that they lost money if passengers didn't pay it. I think this element alone is enough to make me really think twice about another Cunard cruise - I don't begrudge tipping at all for good service, but I do find the likes of Thomson - who stipulate that tipping is not expected - have found a better way of making the experience of a cruise special.