Overall Impressions: The Queen Victoria is a beautiful ocean liner with commendable White Star Service throughout the ship. The crew and service staffs were indeed cordial and attentive. Onboard activities had a nice balance of events with time for relaxation, reading and socializing. Our ten-day Mediterranean cruise included stops in Cadiz, Messina, Corfu, Dubrovnik, and Venice. The guests, largely British with other Europeans and Americans, were very friendly and engaging. This was our first Cunard cruise, and will not be our last.
Cabin/Room Service: We received fabulous service from our room attendant. He diligently cleaned our room at least twice a day, and always refilled our ice bucket. He definitely deserved every bit of the automatic gratuity built into our passenger fares. We decided it was only right to acknowledge his outstanding attention by providing an extra tip at the end of the cruise.
Our cabin was located on the 4th deck and despite some member complaints about squeaking walls, etc., we never experienced any of that. We also liked that our cabin was near Stairwell C with easy access to the elevators and public areas.
Dining: We dined almost exclusively at the Britannia Restaurant, table for two, at the second seating and found the menu quite good in terms of quality of food and manageable portions. Near the end of the cruise, we were all given copies of our evening menus (although it was understandably missing the last two nights), a very nice touch to help with memories of our cruise.
For breakfast we dined at the Lido Restaurant for speed and convenience, especially on port days. The fare was limited and fairly fixed in choices. The hash brown potatoes were one of our favorite items since they were always crisp and texturally pleasing and paired well with our sunny side eggs. The menu choices for the late evening snacks were very limited and so we only rarely ate there after a night of dancing.
We loved the occasional lunch at the Golden Lion Pub that was never crowded. The fish and chips were very good and surely must be one of their specialties. The crust on the fish was firm and not soggy and the fish was still tender after frying. What could be better than good old fish and chips with your favorite beer in a wonderful pub environment?
Wait service at various restaurants was always good. My only minor complaint was that water refills were not always as prompt as we would have liked. However, our wine steward was always very attentive in refilling our wine glasses. Definitely great service there! Overall, it appeared that wait service was better for group tables than for two.
Entertainment: The Royal Cunard Singers & Dancers did a very commendable job throughout the many shows. We were amazed they had so many shows to remember lyrics and choreography for over the course of our ten-day cruise. The performers had good costume changes with good backdrops and lighting. We especially enjoyed the "Dance Passion" show that featured various dance styles and genres, with something for every taste. Individual acts such as Jacqui Scott, star of West End musicals as Evita, Cats, and Miss Saigon, and David Copperfield, the "Unusualist" were outstanding. Copperfield is not to be confused with the magician of the same name, but we found him to be very entertaining with his variety act of impressionistic singing, comedy and magic.
The amateur talent show was among the best we have seen on any cruise line. All the "amateur" performers had amazing talent, ranging from a superb piano piece from a classically trained Taiwanese young man to other young performers who sang songs from Les Miserables. They were certainly good enough to qualify as professional onboard talent.
Activities: The Queen Victoria, like the other Queens, has activities for guests of all ages. We loved the beautiful library with its large selection of well-maintained books of fiction and nonfiction. A big plus is the onsite librarian to help with reading selections or questions. There are enough subjects to please any discerning passenger. It was very common to see guests throughout the Queen reading their favorite book at the many public spaces.
During the day and evenings, we especially loved the ballroom and latin dancing. A superb international dance couple, Artsiom and Volha gave basic dance instructions during the day and provided two wonderful performances most evenings in the Queens Room. They were delightful to watch because of their artistic elegance, execution of technique and presentation, choreography, and dance lines and extensions.
Since we both love ballroom dancing, we spent most evenings dancing at the large Queens Room. By far the Queen Victoria has one of the nicest and largest dance floors among all cruise lines in the industry. Dance hosts were always available for the ladies in search of a partner. We found them to be very friendly, encouraging and patient, as well as accomplished advanced ballroom dancers. The hosts always led or danced to the level of their partner.
We attended a few lectures and found the presenters engaging and knowledgeable. The lectures tend to appeal to a sophisticated audience. Our favorite was the WWII historian, Jeffrey Chandler, who spoke on "Dunkirk" and "The Italian Campaign: 1943-45."
The least organized of the ship's activities was one of the wine tasting events we attended. Tables were not properly set up and many guests had to sit away from a table in a semi-circle facing the wine stewards who presented their specialty wine. In between tastes, we were rushed to empty our glasses either by drinking fast or emptying out the wine. In either case, our glasses were re-used by quickly rinsing with water that diluted the next wine. There should have been separate wine glasses for each wine with cheese or food pairings on the table. Those items were available on the tables, for those who were able to access them. After a while, the wine stewards realized most guests could not easily reach the tables, so they eventually walked around with the selections—again not ideal since most guests could not put their wine glasses down anywhere. To make matters worse, another group of wine tasters came late and were seated near us. It was impossible to hear our wine stewards talk due to the competing presentation.
Public Rooms: The public areas were impeccably maintained throughout the Queen Victoria. These rooms, along with the atrium, provided nice background music from harpist, quartet, pianist, or the occasional piped music. Our favorite areas were the Chart Room and the Queens Room. The Chart Room was especially nice for quiet reading, conversations, people watching, or enjoying the pleasant live performances. The Queens Room was superb for dancing, the various Balls and the fine afternoon tea service with attentive white-gloved waiters.
The Royal Court Theatre was amazing. We loved the architectural details, the overall design and size. The theatre certainly rivals some of the best venues we have visited on land.
Excursions: Of the five ports of call, we took Cunard excursions on three of them (Messina, Corfu and Dubrovnik). For Cadiz, the port of call fell on a Sunday and most shops were closed. We walked around ourselves by taking one of the self-guided tours made easy by the color-coded lines in the streets. Be sure to drop by the Tourism Office first to pick up a map that shows four walking tours. The local restaurants were very crowded from the cruise passengers, further packed by the closure of other restaurants or shops on Sunday. The narrow streets were very quaint, but also crowded, as were the street vendor stalls.
There was not much to see in Messina since the historic and older sections of the city were destroyed from earthquakes in 1783 and 1908 (and the resulting 20 foot tsunami) and the ravages of World War II bombings, especially in 1943 that reduced many buildings to rubble. However, we took the bus tour to Taormina to visit the quaint, picturesque village that originated in the fifth century BC with fantastic views of the Mediterranean and Mount Etna. The highlight was the old Greco-Roman theater still in use today. Be sure not to miss the narrowest street in Taormina, which is barely an arms length in width that bisects the main road, Corso Umberto. Blink and you would miss it. There are plenty of retail and pastry shops along the Corso Umberto, with many fashionable and expensive boutiques.
Corfu: We took the "Best of Corfu" tour and enjoyed it immensely, despite the 100 degree weather. The highlight was seeing the gorgeous waters below as we drove past the many alcoves toward the Achilleion Palace in Gastouri. Aside from the historical and cultural significance of the Palace, it commands fantastic views and is well worth making the trek, either by tour or DIY. If you are a James Bond fan, you will appreciate seeing the empty room that once housed the casino where "For Your Eyes Only" was shot with Roger Moore. We were also treated to a ten-course Greek lunch replete with folk songs and Corfiot dances in the mountain village of Kinopiastes. The major negative of the tour was that our bus nearly left my wife and I behind at one of the stops. The guide did not bother to count the number of bus passengers correctly before instructing the driver to take off. We were NOT late for reboarding, as was confirmed by other passengers. Fortunately the guests sitting behind us noticed we were not in our seats and promptly told the driver to stop. Thank goodness for sitting in the same seats and for having caring guests looking after your backs (literally).
Dubrovnik: We highly recommend the "Dubrovnik by Land & Sea" excursion. After disembarking from the Queen, we immediately boarded a boat for the scenic journey to the port. The guide gave interesting information about landmarks and sites along the way, leading up to the impressive Fort of St. Lawrence and the port itself. It was majestic seeing the medieval city walls from the waters, and viewing them as mariners over several hundred years saw the city as they approached land. Try the local ice cream...it was delicious! After the guided walk and some free time, a bus took us on a scenic drive away from Dubrovnik back to the Queen Victoria. We certainly had time to reflect on a time not long ago when Dubrovnik was besieged in 1991 for seven months and shelled by Serb-Montenegrin forces upon the breakup of the former republic of Yugoslavia.
Venice: We did not take any tours as it is easy to use a good tour book to explore Venice by foot (or boat). Aside from the many "must sees," we especially enjoyed the Rialto Market area, which reportedly had its origins in 1097 AD. The fresh produce stalls were plentiful and colorful. We got a kick out of watching the local fishermen bantering with each other in the fish market section of the marketplace.
Negatives: We only had one consistent complaint: the Internet Cafe. Despite warnings that sea-based satellite internet service is slow, we were not prepared for the excruciating delays in accessing email or web content. Its "speed" felt worse than snail mail. We easily burned up 90-100 minutes of our 120 minute plan waiting for the system to respond. The result was that we only had about 20-30 minutes of actual use.
We appreciated how the waiters did not aggressively push alcohol drinks, despite the fact cruise ships make their greatest profits from drinks. However, they did provide water with a slight reluctance when asked. For guests who do not consume alcohol, or only drink occasionally, they should not have to feel like they are burdening the wait or bar staff.