After writing this review, I realized how long it was. But I feel its length only reflects our satisfaction from this voyage, so thank you in advance for your patience if you are going to read.
First of all, about the ship itself. Some time ago we watched a discussion of professionals about the cruise industry. One of them commented: 'The Queen Victoria is perhaps the most beautiful ship in the world'. As far as we can tell, we can share this opinion.
Some people argue that she is just one in the Vista Class of cruise ships, which comprises of more than a dozen liners scattered among various brands of the Carnival Empire (Holland America, Costa, Carnival, P&O). So, they say, unlike her larger sister Queen Mary 2, Cunard's flagship, she is not one of the kind.
First, all VIsta Class ships are wisely designed, with easy passenger flow and comfort in mind, and she and her nearly identical sister, the Queen Elizabeth, are the culmination of this Class. Then, just having a little stroll around reveals how much thought her designers put to create something unique. Brilliant innovations differentiate her from the other Vistas and blend harmonically spaciousness with intimacy. Fine examples are the Winter Garden, whose roof opens in sunny weather, the Disco, the Lobby (although it is based closely in Princess Cruises design) or the marvellous two-story Library with its spiral staircase, the largest afloat after QM2's, having more than 6,000 books.
The magnificent Royal theatre reminds of a West End theatre. Of particular interest are its theatre-boxes, another innovation. One or two other cruise lines (NCL for example) offer theatre-boxes, but none offers the elegance and ceremony Cunard offers. I think it is worth telling a bit more about it. You are welcomed at the entrance of the theatre by a uniformed member of the crew, who accompanies you to a little private, 'secret' salon. There you spend your time being served Veuve Cliquot champagne (Queen Elizabeth's official) with chocolates and canapÃ©s. When time comes, your escort appears again and guides you to your private theatre-box, where a new bottle of champagne and chocolates await you. The boxes are well designed with nice, uninterrupted view of the stage (with plexiglas railing), and if you want to call your escort a cord is provided, like in fine old houses. In the end a photo of the show is handed to you to commemorate. It was a most civilized experience, worthy of Cunard's reputation.
But we found that the culmination of the innovations was the two-story high Queen's Room. Only complaint was that it was cold at times. Otherwise, magnificent decor with elements from Queen Victoria's summer palace. According to Carolyn Spencer Brown, the Editor of Cruise Critic, it is one of the finest rooms at sea. In this most elegant setting Cunard served the afternoon tea (unlike other companies, which use the restaurant for this), and under the accompaniment of strings, harp or piano we enjoyed nice sconces and sandwiches provided by waiters in white gloves. Of special notice was the Viennese Tea in the last day of the cruise, with its magnificent buffet, a joy for both eyes and palate. In the evening the room found its real identity as a wonderful ballroom. Cunard associates itself with fine dancing and it provides the largest stages afloat. It was such a beauty to watch nicely dressed people enjoying dancing here, evoking nostalgically the dance floors of the great ocean liners of the past.
Speaking of dressing, one of Cunard's strongest points is the elegant dress code. I know of no other cruise line offering this feature. It creates a unique atmosphere on board, reminding of the Golden Age of shipping. Elegant dressing complements beautifully the marvellous surroundings of the ship, and if you are romantic and nostalgic then search no longer.
Cunard focuses on its tradition and offers artefacts from its long history in the Cunardia exhibition. Having been on QE2, which was rich in Cunard history, we would like more artefacts to be exposed here. But it is said that most of these were sold with the ship to Dubai, specifically demanded by the buyers, when QE2's status enabled Cunard to receive an offer that they simply could not resist - 100 million dollars for a 40-year old ship. In the staircases there are works of art showing old Cunard ships, or photos of the numerous celebrities that travelled on them (and some continue even today...).
We had dinner in the Britannia Restaurant. The restaurant itself is wonderful with rich wood-imitating panels. Compared to other restaurants in the Vista Class it offers more space for passengers, as the passengers in the Grills eat in their own appointed dining rooms.
We always prefer second sitting (20:30), as this gives you plenty of time to see the ports and enjoy the sail-aways. Unlike first sitting (18:30), the waiters don't want you to leave the table as earlier as possible to prepare it for other passengers. And there was always enough time to watch the 10:30 show.
Food and service by Sandy and Romeo was of the high standards of all our Cunard cruises: excellent. We were so satisfied that we did not feel the need to go to alternative restaurants.
Soft Drinks Package
Cunard's Soft Drinks Package is worth telling, as it is as far as I know the best of its kind in the cruise industry. For a reasonable price ($5.25 plus 15% tax per day) you get unlimited sodas and fruit juices from a wide variety, in all bars and restaurants by the glass. Absolutely worth buying it, it you are a non-alcohol drinker or healthy-seeker like me.
Interestingly, orange juice is free in the dining room for lunch and dinner. Fruit juices like orange or cranberry are free 24 hours a day in the Lido casual restaurant.
Our cabin was spacious, tastefully decorated, comfortable and cosy, with a nice sofa and the usual mini-bar. It was kept in immaculate condition by our excellent stewardess Cathy.
There was plenty of storage space. When the ship entered service there were complaints about lack of drawers, but this was quickly addressed and we had more storage space than we needed for 12 days.
One issue is that there are no tea and coffee making facilities in the room. Following Cunard's classical concept of cruising, these were available by room service. But no problem, as room service was free 24 hours a day, efficient and always arrived quickly. Let alone the wonderful variety in offer if you wished to dine in your cabin (the Thai plate was delicious, for example).
Some people complain about the size of the bathroom - and particularly the shower. I guess this expectation comes from the beauty of the rest of the ship. But we found it to be adequate and neatly appointed, with ample shelf space in the sink. Moreover, beautiful Gilchrist & Soames toiletries were provided: shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body lotion. Also hair-cup, cotton, ear-cottonettes. Some other companies provide such items only in suite categories.
Slippers and sparkling wine in embarkation are provided free for everyone. Also bathrobe to use on board - and you can buy it if you want. Fruit basket is provided, but you have to ask your steward for it. Last, after our smooth embarkation our luggage arrived here without delays.
Activities and entertainment
As said, Cunard cruising is in the classic way. They promote a sober and refined atmosphere and this was generally the case. No climbing walls or hairy chest competitions by the pool. No drunken people shouting in the cabin corridors at night. No public announcements during the day, or music in corridors or elevators. And no continuous pressing to purchase, as in other cruise lines.
Instead string quartets, pianists, harp playing were the norm. Well-thought and informative lectures in the theatre. In the evening beautiful dancing in the Queen's Room, as I said above. Interestingly, there were every night gentlemen hosts there to dance with single ladies. And the Disco was beautiful, too.
Although the theatre was stunning, we did not go to many shows - usually preferring a nice lounge after dinner. But the magician was funny and excellent, and the Victoriana show was equal to a lavish production on land. The 'hardware' was amazing and the singers and dancers were talented and worth every praise.
Service throughout the ship was of top quality. The staff was kind and attentive. It was always amazing how those people remembered not only our preferences, but our names as well.
Of the many and beautiful lounges that the ship boasts, our favourite was the panoramic Commodore Club, where Czilla and Libia exceeded our expectations with their professionalism and friendliness.
Itinerary and shore excursions
The itinerary was just beautiful. Venice, Dalmatian coast, Egypt, Turkey and Greece in one piece. A real odyssey. I would like particularly to congratulate Cunard for offering the ports of Volos (Greece) and Dikili (Turkey). From the first you can visit Meteora (a one-of-a-kind spectacle in the world, where centuries-old monasteries are built at the top of huge Canyon-style rocks) and mount Pelion, where natural beauty meets rich ancient mythology. Dikili is perhaps better known as it is near Pergamon, once the capital of a Greek kingdom, built strategically at the top of a mountain and offering breath-taking views.
Cunard provided free shuttles from ship to town in many ports, while other companies charge for this service (Dubrovnik, Corfu or Volos for example). In Venice there was a reasonable charge of $20 pp for unlimited ship-to-San Marco Square water-shuttle trips in the two days that we stayed there (compare the $7 one-time Piazzale Roma-San Marco vaporetto ride). It was a pity that our agent did not inform us about it, as we pre-booked vaporetto trips, which were not as convenient as Cunard's shuttle.
People complain that prices of tours offered by cruise lines are often excessive, but this is not always the case. I did a little personal search for some of the ports of call, and many times Cunard's prices were similar or even better than elsewhere. Nice examples were the tour with a gondola ride in Venice, or the Turkish baths in Istanbul. Moreover, tours were well organized and informative (as in all our Cunard cruises, I must say). Add safety to that: in Alexandria the ship waited more than an hour for the buses to return from Cairo (something similar has happened to us also on Queen Mary 2 in Chile).
Best guides were in Pergamon and Beylerbey Palace in Istanbul, where wireless devices were distributed to everyone, so we could hear the guide clearly.
Some people complain that a Cunard cruise is expensive to book, but when considering all that this cruise offered, we found it good value for money as well. Gorgeous ship, fabulous ports, friendly and efficient staff, excellent food and service. Add lovely weather and great travelling companions. When comparing to past Cunard cruises, I think it is getting better through time in many aspects.
So, if you ask if we would travel on Cunard again, the answer is obvious: withour second thought. Again, thank you for taking the time to read this long review.