SUMMARY: We loved everything about Cunard and the Queen Victoria. The Cunard people were amazingly organized and efficient. The ship has an understated elegance with a very comfortable feel. It was easy to find our way around the ship. The elevators were never very busy or crowded. In short, everything worked. The itinerary did not disappoint. Venice and Istanbul are two indescribably interesting and beautiful cities. We could have easily spent an additional week in each city. The other ports each had their own charms but were only worth a one-day stopover. Split, Corfu, Piraeus-Athens, Kusadasi-Ephesus and Santorini were as expected. Rhodes was a pleasant surprise.
BACKGROUND: My wife and I are in our mid 60s. We are physically active with no mobility problems. This was our 20Th cruise but the first with Cunard. We had been to Venice and Rome prior to this cruise but all the other ports were new to us. We like to explore on our own so we do not book ship excursions unless it is something that we can't do on our own or it is something that would take us far from the ship. On this cruise we did not book any ship excursions. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary and booked it through the cruisecompete.com web site.
PRE-CRUISE: As is our normal practice, we flew into Venice the day before the cruise. Since we spent the first night of the cruise on board the ship, we had two full days in Venice. Upon our arrival at Marco Polo Airport we took the Express Bus (5 Euro PP) to Piazzale Roma. From there we dragged our bags about ten minutes to Ca' San Rocco, the small hotel where we stayed for the first night. It was well located in a very quaint neighborhood. We had a high-ceiling room with a large king-size bed. The included breakfast was served on a tree shaded terrace. It was a great place for a pre-cruise stay in Venice. We spent the evening and morning before the cruise walking and riding around Venice.
EMBARKATION: We dragged our bags back to Piazzale Roma where we took the "People Mover" to the cruise dock. It was about a two hundred yard walk from the station to the ship. Getting on the ship was a breeze. We were at the registration building at 11:30 AM and within an hour we were in our stateroom. By the time we came back from lunch all our bags had arrived.
THE CABIN: We booked an obstructed view outside cabin on deck four. It was roomier than similar cabins we have had on other cruises. There was more than enough room for our clothes. It was well located and very quiet. We especially liked its proximity to the free laundry. The bathroom , as usual, was small and tight. Our steward was polite and unobtrusive, and kept the cabin clean and tidy.
THE SHIP: The Queen Victoria has an understated elegance. It is not as tacky as a lot of the cruise ships today. We thoroughly enjoyed the traditional British ambiance. The ship is well laid out and it was easy to find our way around. There was never a long wait for an elevator, nor were they ever overcrowded. The Captain was young and brought some humor to his job. He was around the ship a lot and was always making interesting announcements. Our only complaint was that the Promenade Deck does not go all the way around the ship.
THE PASSENGERS: The average age of the passengers was said to be 57 years old. I would have guessed a bit higher. Needless to say, we felt very comfortable in that demographic. Half of the passengers were British and about one fourth were from the USA. We loved interacting with the various non-USA passengers.
THE FOOD: On port days we ate breakfast in the Lido Buffet, usually having either a custom-made omelet or a custom-made waffle. They were always delicious. The choices for meat, breads, fruit and beverages were excellent. On the two at-sea days we ate breakfast in the Britannia Dining Room where we had classic Eggs Benedict. The Lido Buffet was never too crowded and the service in the Britannia Dining Room was prompt and attentive. Because this was a port-intensive cruise, we almost never ate lunch on the ship. At most, we grabbed something quick from the Lido as we came back to the ship. At night we always ate in the Britannia Dining Room at the early seating. We chose to eat at a larger table with other couples. We enjoyed our dinner conversations and looked forward each night to catching up with our table mates about their activities on shore. We were always one of the last to leave the dining room. The food was as good as any we have had on a cruise ship. The service was excellent and the food was well prepared. The menu was different every night and offered more than enough choice.
THE ENTERTAINMENT; We never missed any of the shows. The Royal Court Theatre is a good venue with no blocked sight-lines, comfortable stadium seating, and no drink tables. Every seat was a good seat. We usually arrived about 15 minutes before showtime, which gave us our choice of seats. The entertainment was the usual mix of song and dance productions, singers, and comedians. All the shows were worthwhile, but none were spectacular. Even though we are regular ballroom dancers, we only danced a few times in the Queens Room. The dance floor and the music were fine. We were usually too tired by the end of the evening, and we were usually back in our cabin by 10 PM. I can't comment on the gym and the spa since we didn't use it.
THE WEATHER: Late September is a great time of the year to visit the Eastern Mediterranean area. The weather in each of the ports was wonderful. Not too hot and not too cold. We were comfortable walking around in just a short-sleeve shirt. We saw no rain whatsoever in any of the ports. At the Acropolis in Athens it was sunny and warm and there was a gentle breeze. Ephesus was the same way. Those were the two places where we were worried about the heat. In Istanbul and Santorini it was much cooler than we expected. In both places there were strong winds which almost required a light jacket.
Venice: We spent the better part of two days walking and riding around Venice. Even though we had been to Venice three years before, there was still much to see. A map, a vaparetto pass, and a good pair of walking shoes is all you need to enjoy the wonders of Venice. In fact, just meandering aimlessly around the city is all you really need to do. We enjoyed the sail away from Venice with drinks on the Promenade Deck.
Split: To our surprise, we tendered in Split, but the tendering was hassle free. Once on shore, we took the "Spirit of Split" combo tour that included a 45 minute guided open top bus tour of the Split area and a 45 minute guided walking tour of Diocletian's Palace. We finished the day by walking around the medieval town next to the palace and walking along the harbor front promenade called "The Riva."
Corfu: It was a short day in Corfu- 9AM - 2PM. We took a free bus from the ship to the terminal and then a free Cunard bus to the edge of Corfu's "Old Town." We spent a little time walking around the "Old Town", but spent quite a bit of time at the Old Fortress. The fortress had great views of the city, the harbors, and the beaches. It also had a quaint Romanesque church on site.
Piraeus and Athens: After getting off the ship, we walked through the terminal and got on the Piraeus hop on/hop off bus. It included an English language audio guide. We toured Piraeus and got off the bus at the Acropolis. It took about a half hour to get to the Acropolis. The Acropolis provided several surprises. Since it was Sunday, there was no admission charge and the top of the Acropolis was not nearly as warm as we were expecting. There was a cooling breeze and quite a bit of shade. We spend l l/2 hours following Rick Steves' self-guided tour. What's more, the climb to the top was not as arduous as we were led to believe. We just had to be careful when walking on the slippery rocks. We did see a woman take a fall. We got back on the bus and did the full Athens tour without getting off again until we returned to the Acropolis. There really wasn't much to see. Athens is not a very attractive city. Before heading back to Piraeus we walked around the neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis where we had lunch at an authentic Greek restaurant.
Kusadasi and Ephesus: A month before the cruise we booked a private tour with "Ephesus Shuttle." We chose "Ephesus Shuttle" because it was rated the #1 thing to do on Trip Advisor. Our private tour included a visit to the House of the Virgin Mary and a guided tour of the Ephesus ruins, including the Terrace Houses. A similar tour through the ship would have cost about the same but would not have included the Terrace Houses. We finished the tour with the required stop at a rug store. The sales pitch was not too aggressive and the rug making demonstration was actually quite interesting. The tour was excellent though a bit rushed. Before returning to the ship we walked around Kusadasi and had a small glass of raki.
Istanbul: We watched our arrival in Istanbul in two comfy seats in the Commodore Lounge, high up in front of the ship. Like Venice, Istanbul is a great city for just walking around. There is an inexpensive tram that runs from the cruise docks right through the tourist area, but it is all very walkable. Because the ship's dock space was not available when we arrived, we were tendered off the ship. Cunard supplied a free bus to the Grand Bazaar. On the first day in Istanbul we toured the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia and spent time at the Grand Bazaar. We had a light Turkish-style dinner at an outside restaurant that was next to the tram line. Among other things, we had a blown-up pita pocket that was the size of a football. On the second day in Istanbul we visited the Topkapi Palace, the spice market, and the Underground Cistern. Rather than take the tram, we walked across the Galata Bridge back to the ship. Two days in Istanbul were enough to take in all the major sites, but we could go back and easily fill up another couple of days in Istanbul.
Rhodes: Rhodes was a surprise. The town is very picturesque. The ship was docked right next to the town's fortifications. The town is a walled city filled with medieval architecture, small touristy shops, and interesting restaurants. As we walked around the town we visited the "Master's Palace" and stood at the head of the Old Harbor where the Colossus of Rhodes once stood.
Santorini: We were on the very first tender off the ship. There was no wait to get on the cable car to the town of Fira. We immediately headed for the bus station to take the half-hour bus ride to the town of Oia where the picture-postcard scenery is. Once in Oia we walked along the streets that follow the edge of the caldera, taking photos the entire way. The views were spectacular. The town was filled with music as there were strolling groups of musicians everywhere. Just as the town was getting crowded we headed back to Fira where we walked around a bit and had a drink overlooking the caldera with the Queen Victoria sitting in the middle. There was a short wait for the cable car back to the cruise dock. Since we were the only large cruise ship in Santorini that day the crowds were not as bad as they can be. It was an easy day in Santorini.
DISEMBARKATION: We chose the Cunard provided bus transfer from the port of Civitavecchia to the Rome airport. Three years ago we ended a cruise in Civitavecchia and, on our own, took two different trains to Fiumicino Airport. The trains worked fine, but it was a little tight making our flight due to the chaos that is the Rome Airport. We left the ship at 8:30 A.M. and we were at Fiumicino Airport about an hour later. Since our flight was at 1 P.M. we had over 3 hours to spare. As was the case three years ago, we easily ate up that time checking our bags and getting through security. By the time we got to the gate, they were just starting to board the plane. We didn't have time to so much as buy a newspaper. My advice to everyone is that you have to allow a lot of time because of the inefficiency and disorganization at Fiumicino Airport. Getting there is not the problem. Being there is the problem.