I went on the 24 night roundtrip voyage on Queen Elizabeth from Southampton to New York and New England for my 30th Birthday. The ports of call themselves were beautiful, fantastic, everything I thought they would be and more even though the weather wasn't great. Going to New York has always been a dream of mine and to have that dream come into reality was bliss. However I shall keep this review about the ship, the ports of call can always be searched alternatively.
Allow me to begin this review by stating that I chose the Cunard line for a purpose; I have a specific interest in maritime history and the days gone by as it were, and I wanted to relive the nostalgia of the vintage era. The ship lived up to it's name - the passengers, well, they were a different story altogether.
I will start with the good points about the ship as there were many. First of all, the ship was pristine, glistening marble and wood, polished tables and stunning decor.
The cabin, we were A4 Balcony, far exceeded my expectations. It was spotless, the bed was comfortable, our room steward was beyond fantastic - he put up with doing some extra cleaning due to my allergies and immunity etc. There wasn't a great deal amount of space for clothing etc but we managed and sitting on the balcony at 5am watching Lower Manhattan pass by slowly is something I will never forget and something one cannot experience if flying into New York.
The Matri-D's were excellent, there was a man whose name passes me by now, but I nickednamed him Jose Marino for his slight resembelence to the Portugese manager. He was so friendly, he used to go out of his way to come and speak to us every day and say hello. Our restaurant Matri-D', Ali, was also friendly and rather amusing, one felt as if they were talking to old friends rather than staff of a large ship.
We were seated in the Britannia Restaurant towards the back of the ship where we had glorious sweeping views of the sea as we ate. The food was excellent, simply excellent although I could have done with a slightly bigger plate as it was so delicious, the portions were somewhat small.
The ship itself is furnished in wood and bronze with stunning art deco decor and a real feeling of being in the gilded age itself. You could not fault the design of the ship with its sweeping grand staircase and beautiful ornate furnishings. If you are looking for a ship with a pizzeria and a shopping mall, a duplex on sea then you are looking in the wrong place. Cunard is all about taste, refinement, elegance, tea in the afternoon served with white gloved waiters whilst listening to a harpist, classical music accompanying your dinner, ballroom dancing and old style glamour.
This was fine by me, I suffer from a host of medical conditions and rest a lot so I felt the haze and rush of Royal Carribean would not have suited my needs.
The entertainment staff were excellent, they really got the guests involved, especially the Head of Entertainment, Keith Maynard, who I gather has quite a following amongst Cunard fans (lucky Keith!). Not surprising, he cut a fine dash in his tuxedo and was funny, witty and professional, and dare I say it rather naughty in the Mr and Mrs Quiz!
This brings me round to the question, and my first complaint, what was there to do?
The answer was not much if you are under 65.
This cruise was not marketed as an over 60's but may has well have been, Cunard know where their cash cow lies and do little to offfer much to any other demographic - every facility and design of that ship was catered with the over 60's in mind.
Yes, one might argue, this is the greatest percentage of cruisers. But, what about the other 20 or 30%, does their money not matter? I am in my thirties and was quite honestly disappointed.
As I stated above, I was not looking for nightclubs, a booze cruise so to speak but found myself wandering around at 8pm wondering what an earth to do with myself in my ballgown.
The entertainment was not to my liking at all, apart from the odd thing like the comedian and magician who were both excellent.
Shows and musicals are not my forte so unless one wishes to go to the Royal Court Theatre or wait from dinner till 11pm for the Golden Lion entertainment, especially if you are on the early sitting for dinner, there is little else to do. No evening films, no evening classes, nothing, apart from aimlessly wandering the decks.
The same applied to the daytime activities. All were catered for the over 60's...bingo, bridge, ballroom dancing classes, lectures - none of that appealled to me. Whilst I would not have wanted to hang from a rock faced wall or skated on ice at sea, I wouldn't have minded something to do. I did however attend David Henderson's lectures on air travel which were excellently presented and Seth Golpin and Bill Millers lectures were also good but I missed them and caught them on the TV.
If one fancied a little music, the DJ did not start until so late that it was time for bed by the time he had put his first track on. I would like to have gone to Michael Jackson night but my condition means I need to rest early and everyone else was supping cocoa and reaching for their slippers by then.
Which brings me around to my primary complaint: the people on board. I worked in PR and can easily mix with all types of people from all walks of life but I have never encountered such rudeness and hostility as the passengers on this cruise.
A lot of these people were of retirement age, or older, and some obviously had a lot of money and were loathed to breathe the same air as anyone who they felt was beneath them. You walked into the elevator, for example, said good morning to someone and they snubbed you.
I use a walking stick at times and twice was pushed over, the first time I was knocked off my feet outside the arcade shop by a man bustling past who did not even turn round to apologise even though I told him he had just knocked me over. I was speechless. The second time was in Quebec City, where a man did not wish to wait for me to hobble past, barged me out of the way and grabbed my arm and bruised it as I fell, he then walked off and turned around and shouted at me, in full view of other passengers, shouting that my stick was in his way. He carried on striding ahead and kept turning around and hesitating as if to start an argument but his long suffering wife, who was also disabled, with a stick, chastided him to the best of her ability.
These people did not say excuse me whilst queuing for tea, they just pushed you out of the way, barged in front of you if you walked too slow and tutted if you said something they did not like.
My mother takes medication that keeps her alive, without it she would be dead, simple as that. Whilst taking her medication at breakfast one morning, this hideous couple started whispering and pointing at my mother. The man then leans over and shouts "if you take any more of them your going to rattle". I was astounded, who made it his business. These people continued whispering and pointing at my mother whilst we were in Halifax much to our annoyance.
As I said before, I sometimes use a walking stick. I suffer with a very rare genetic disorder which means my ligaments tear and the collegen that supports the joint does not exist and all my joints move, dislocate, fracture etc on mimimal exertion. This has also affected my heart and sometimes I need a wheelchair, other times I can manage. Because of this, I spent the entire cruise being stared at, people pointing at me, whispering and making nasty comments. One woman at tea was saying to her husband "one minute she has a stick, where is her stick now" as if God made it her business. Folded in my bag was the answer but I confronted her and she got very nasty.
These people looked me up and down like they were eying up vermin, like I was something on the bottom of their shoe which I have to say, ruined my holiday, as I could not relax and unwind, I felt like I constanty had something to prove with people whispering and backstabbing. What do they know of rare genetic diseases and how ill I felt?
The attitude of the ship's staff towards my disability left little to be desired. I boarded the ship in a wheelchair and made it known I would need assistance yet there was no protocol for assistance, no-one to ask where to go and what to do. When we got to New York we were told at the terminal there was no wheelchair assistance to get me on and off the ship and they left me standing there until I collapsed and was then given a chair to sit on. Of course I got filthy looks from passengers who had seen me walking a little bit without the need of a chair.
It was only at the END of the cruise I was told that I needed to book the wheelchair from the pursers office to get on and off the ship and that they pick you up from your room. I had never been told this.
I only found out through my horrific experience getting off the ship by tender at Bar Harbour. We were delayed due to bad weather so some tenders had gone, others were waiting. To get off, if you are part of a tour you went to the Queens Room, got your ticket and went when your ticket was called. If you were not part of a tour you were put at the back and had to wait till the very end to get off, apparantly the Captain announced 'open tender' and anyone could then disembark. I went to the Queens Room to ask for a wheelchair, to be told by a very rude man who SHOUTED at me "WHEELCHAIR, WE DON'T, YOU CAN'T HAVE A WHEELCHAIR". Then I was told to go the pursers desk, who then sent me back to the Queens Room to get a ticket despite me telling her I was not on a tour and needed a wheelchair. I was in tears by this time and feeling rather unwell with all the walking backwards and forwards. Eventually I braved the tender alone, thinking I'd use my stick and manage, only to be told "I wasn't disabled enough to use the lift, I had to walk". Excuse me I said, I cannot manage two flights of stairs? You are not in a wheelchair therefore you walk was the curt reply from the woman checking people off the ship. "How dare you" I fumed, "what is this, disability discrimination?" The Entertainments Manager luckily was there and told me to go ahead and use the lift. Who are they to judge my pain and condition, the Department for Work and Pensions?
The staff in the Lido were horrific. Not all of them I must stress, some of them were lovely but the particular individuals I encountered were so rude and nasty I would not sail on this ship again.
Some of the staff huffed and puffed and clearly could not be bothered to work. The tables were never cleared away, we had to ask each time for a table to be wiped of the previous passengers food reminants. One girl REFUSED to wipe the table, I had to get her manager. They could not be bothered to wait for people to get their drinks and barged in to do their job with little regard for the passengers. This lead to my having an accident.
Two surly buffet staff were waiting to fill the coffee machine, there was a queue a mile long for tea and hot water. Instead of saying excuse me, or letting people get the hot water and tea whilst putting the coffee people to one side, they pushed in and huffed and puffed their way through the process of replacing the filter. I came to my turn of getting hot water and they would not move. I said 'excuse me' and they said 'you can get there'. I replied I could not and would they please move. They pointed at a tap next to me with hot water which I proceeded to use but instead of waiting for me to finish, these two buffet stewards pushed me and I scalded my hand with boiling hot water.
I screamed, dropped my cup, and went to get some ice. We called the Matri-D over, a loathesome chap called Theo who strutted around looking down his nose at everyone. He came over and looked me up and down with a look of disgust and said he wasn't there therefore could not possibly comment. He saw my hand was burnt and red raw and stuck up for his staff, offered no apology yet looked at me with pure malice. I told him off for looking down at me and said with absolute horror "are you not going to offer me an apology". To which he repeated his first response of that he was not there. I could not believe the attitude of this man who was paid to wait on passengers, not make them feel two feet tall.
Everything on this ship was inflated, grossly overpriced. Hair Colour for $90 only to be charged an extra $30 to dry it, $15 to remove nail polish? Even the spa treatments were triple what I normally pay in the heart of London.
The tours were grossly expensive as well, one could have picked up city buses in Boston and Newport for a few dollars rather than pay over $60 each. We did Quebec by ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed it. I only did a few tours, there were a lot of complaints about the organisation of the tours but the New York one I did was absolutely fantastic - couldn't have asked for a better experience although my fellow passengers were grumbling and glaring at me, grinning from ear to ear taking in the sights and squealing every time we got to a landmark. The Boston tour we did was also excellent.
To sum up: I was truely ashamed to be British from the attitudes I got from my fellow passengers. There was no tolerance of others, no manners, no please and thank you.
Yes I met a few nice people, I will not lie that there were some nice people on board but 95% were as described and I thought it was the younger generation wherein the problem lies....