It was difficult to find fault with the Queen Victoria and the cruise. My partner and I had a spacious Queen's Grill suite with a huge balcony (at the aft). We can't understand why mid-ships is so much more popular, especially in calm -â€“ or mostly calm -â€“ summer waters. Aft suites provided balconies much larger than those on the side of the ship. Inside, we had a three-seater sofa-bed and two arm chairs in the sitting area, along with the usual desk, sink, bar, etc. The bathroom was superb too. The whirlpool bath was roomy, the shower large, and it was all cleaned immaculately twice a day. One evening we had drinks with fellow-diners in a Q2 suite, where their jacuzzi had a sea-view, but this isn't the place for giving vent to my envy. We had booked Q7, although most ship plans showed these suites to be Q4 or Q5.
This was our first cruise and reading reviews and blogs before we went was a great help. We followed the advice of seasoned cruisers and checked in for embarkation as soon as it opened. QG meant we were the first on board. That gave us an hour to begin exploring this very elegant ship before having an excellent lunch on the Grills Terrace. We asked our butler to do the unpacking (another blog tip).
Cunard's attitude always seems to be "let's see if we can make it possible" rather than "we don't do that". Hence when we requested Bombay Sapphire gin and Campari as our two complimentary bottles of spirits, they were provided, even though not on the list of choices. When we asked for orange juice in our mini bar, it was then provided every day. (One of the treats of QG: mixers, lager, soft drinks & bottled water all provided in the suite at no additional charge.) Morning coffee, which we had brought to wake us each day, was disgusting, so we asked for filter coffee (which wasn't on the breakfast menu) so this was brought instead, and was very good. Throughout the ship, we found staff at every level to be polite, friendly and warm. They would invariably greet guests in passing, and they worked extremely hard.
Service in the Grills restaurant was outstanding. The waiters knew not only how to serve, but how to arrange food, and the Matre d' and Head Waiter were brilliant at finishing and flambeing as well. We asked for tap water with our meals and skim milk with coffee, and it was provided from there on without the need to ask again. The sommelier was as knowledgeable as one would expect him to be and, having gauged the kind of price we were prepared to pay for a bottle of wine (none was inexpensive and some was astonishing!), rarely suggested anything over-budget. In Istanbul, after an afternoon's hot and crowded sight-seeing, we were too shattered to bother dressing for dinner so ordered room service from the Grills menu. Our butler duly laid the table on our balcony, asked if we would like each course brought separately or together, and we dined in style, wrapped in fluffy bathrobes, and watching the lights come up over Istanbul.
Every evening canapes were brought to our suite, and having once asked for crisps, these subsequently came every day. On several occasions we invited others in for pre-dinner drinks. Then we had only to ask, and additional glasses and extra canapes appeared, again at no charge.
We only booked one ship's excursion (Corinth Canal and Ancient Corinth). This was very good, but we aren't coach party people and being led around by a guide holding up a numbered paddle isn't really our thing. Again, thanks to the blogs and research, we booked two tours independently on the web: one we did as a twosome; on the other, the tour operator got us to coordinate with 2 other couples, which worked out very happily, and at $US50 per head, this was also cheaper than the ship's tours. At other ports we explored independently, either on foot, or, in Naples, by catching the train to Pompeii. All this independent stuff is fine as long as you allow plenty of time to get back to the ship. If you're late, they will sail without you, and you're responsible for getting yourself to the next port. There were several days when we had urgent announcements calling for passengers to present themselves to the pursers' desk. Comparing tour experiences with others at our dinner table, our decision to do most of the exploring independently was clearly the right one. If you aren't an active person, used to independent travel, the ship's tours provide security, but otherwise, do it yourself.
On the Grills' sundecks ice creams were brought around during the afternoon, followed by sandwiches at tea time. Afternoon tea in the Grills Lounge was also quite sumptuous, although it was easy to overdo it and have to go lightly at dinner time! I think others have sounded murmurs about the absence of comfy padded deck chairs on the upper deck: they are absolutely right, which is a bit poor of Cunard.
And did we put on lots of weight? Well, I managed to gain 3kg, while my partner -â€“ disgracefully -â€“ gained nothing. This was thanks in part to lots of shore excursions with a fair bit of walking, and also to following the tip of friends, which was never to use the lift. We did arrive at breakfast and dinner (and sometimes lunch) a little out of breath, but it clearly paid off.
There were only three sea days on the Pearls of the Black Sea cruise, which ended up feeling too few. We wanted a cruise that visited interesting places, but there were always so many interesting things to do on board, apart from lazily reading in the sun, which was itself a priority. The lecturers and speakers were extremely good (and Robert Powell particularly). The evening shows were fun, if sometimes rather strained in their themes, and the singers and dancers high quality.
Our complaints? They're minor, really. There were far too few self-laundering facilities. Three washing machines, three tumble driers and one iron & board per deck was paltry and usually meant queues, although this made the laundry often quite a sociable place too, even if you'd much rather be elsewhere on a glorious summer's day at sea. Dry cleaning was actually cheaper than we would pay at home. One of our suitcases didn't turn up until almost dinner time, and no explanation was ever given, although our butler did a sterling job at running around until he located it.
So would we go again? Yes, please.