We are from the UK travelling on our second Cunard cruise out of about 30 in total. We tried the QM2 in her inaugural year and been slightly underwhelmed, nothing to put us off Cunard particularly but we felt it lacked the value for money of, say, NCL, Princess or Celebrity. However, we bought some cheap one-way airfares with the intention of doing a westbound transatlantic cruise this year and when we started to compare the itineraries on offer the QV itinerary stood out a mile, by calling at both Madeira and Bermuda it took a southern route with only 4 days at sea to cross the Atlantic (I don't mind a few sea days if it is calm and sunny but not too many at a time, especially if the sea gets choppy). Price-wise it was only slightly more expensive for 16 days than most of the other lines were offering for less interesting 12/14 day voyages and we were pleased to have the chance to give Cunard another try.
Sadly it got off to a bad start before we even left home. First, shortly after booking and a couple of months before departure, we got an 'emergency notification' that the unusual port of Charleston has been cut out apparently due to lack of customs officers to perform the US immigration procedures. We later found that the same thing had occurred on the QV's eastbound crossing earlier in the year. I fully understand that many guests were put out about the substitute port of Nassau, after all that is a much visited port for the American guests in particular, but having never been to either Nassau or Charleston we were not particularly bothered - any cruiseline changing itineraries after taking bookings gets a big black mark from me on principal, but in this case a beach day quite appealed.
However, one of the big attractions of this itinerary was the late arrival into Fort Lauderdale at 11am, we had thought how lovely it would be NOT to be thrown off the ship at the crack of dawn for a change especially as Miami-London flight invariably depart in the evening. Now the substitute of Nassau meant that we were scheduled into Fort Lauderdale at 6am to clear customs there so no relaxing last day after all - oh well, we cancelled our airport shuttle that had fitted beautifully between scheduled arrival and earliest possible flight and booked a hire car instead so that at least we have somewhere to keep our luggage, and I will now be able to take advantage of some of Miami's shopping opportunities.
Next communication from Cunard was that departure from Venice was brought forward from 9pm to 5pm on the 2nd day. Oh well, we thought, we have been to Venice a few times, not a problem but a shame for anyone visiting for the first time to have their time cut by 4 precious hours.
A week or so before sailing another 'emergency notification' this time regarding Madeira, apparently QV had originally been scheduled an afternoon and evening in port on the first day there, which I had seen on some documentation and thought it odd as our schedule said 6pm arrival, but apparently this was another change for the early bookers - oh well, it does not affect our expectations. At this point I noticed that the Bermuda stop had also been extended by an hour until 5pm and that our guarantee inside cabin which had already been upgraded to an obscured view outside had now been changed again to a 'proper' outside so emergency notifications are not always bad news.
So the evening before departure we were packed and ready to go and I logged into our CC rollcall for the last time and what do I see but a Cunard Emergency notification - yes another one but we had not received it - saying that Venice is fogbound and the ship is in Trieste and that we have to proceed to Venice port as normal and a shuttle coach will be provided from there. By this time the UK office was closed so I phoned the US office (not inappropriate as we had booked through a Canadian travel agent friend, a fact that had caused Cunard's UK office to tell me they could not help me when I phoned with a simple query just after booking). The person I spoke to told me curtly and word for word exactly what the kind CC person had already posted, I asked whether there would be a shuttle into Venice on the Monday but he just kept repeating that the ship is in Trieste and will depart at 5pm on Monday. Oh well, we have been to Venice before, Trieste will be a new port for us, but anyone taking a long flight in the hope of seeing Venice must be very disappointed.
In fact on arrival at Venice airport about 8pm, nearly 2 hours late, we were met by 2 very pleasant Cunard representatives who confirmed that the ship was indeed in Trieste, 2 hours drive away, apologised for the inconvenience and told us to leave or luggage with the porter and wait about 20 minutes for the bus. In fact it was quite a lot longer until the bus came but there were only a dozen or so of us so we were soon underway and the time soon went, check in was smooth and we were on board shortly after midnight.
Very hungry by then, we found our cabin, which was very nice and larger than most, dumped our carry on bags and headed for the lido buffet, to find everything covered in clingfilm. I took this to mean it was closed but in fact one section was open with staff serving over the clingfilmed-off displays meant for self service. It soon became apparent that this was because of an outbreak of norovirus on the ship. This cruise was starting badly.
By the next morning our luggage had arrived (along with somebody else's, inexplicably intended for deck 4 - they were delighted when we reported it as they had waited up most of the night for it). After breakfast at the 'buffet' we headed out to explore Trieste, along with most of the ship, to find that it was freezing cold and most shops close on Mondays. But it is an attractive city, we wandered around for about 3 hours, found a couple of department stores and some supermarkets open, saw the Roman amphitheatre which is right in town, admired the typical Italian architecture, and generally enjoyed being somewhere different - but Venice it is not, of course. It was indeed very foggy and we could understand why a big ship could not safely navigate into Venice. There was no shuttle bus back to Venice and, surprisingly, the only tours on offer were a walking or bus tour of Trieste - cancelling the Venice tours must have cost Cunard a fortune.
The next day at sea was cold and wet and got quite rough as the day went on.We attended the first of an interesting series of lectures about the Olympic games which, along with an ex-BA pilot who spoke about navigation, kept us interested throughout the voyage.
Our allocated dining table was right by the aft windows, above the propellers, unfortunately the position I could most feel the ship's motion and also very awkward for DH to weave his mobility scooter through the tables and people to the back to the restaurant. I would have liked to have moved but it seemed so rude to our table companions, who were delightful so we opted not to leave them.
We arrived into Katakolon to find that the weather had improved and the sun was shining. My research had led me to have low expectations of this port, the main attraction of course being nearby Olympia, but we long ago gave up on visiting ruins with the scooter. However Katakolon itself is a pretty village with a street of quite a few tourist orientated shops and several bars and restaurants long the seafront. We set off somewhat ambitiously towards the 'best beach' of the area at Agios Andreas. Surprisingly we made it, although the beach was nothing spectacular and nothing was open there, it was a truly beautiful walk about 2 miles each way through peaceful quiet countryside edged by orange, lemon and olive trees. One elderly lady saw us admiring her garden and presented us with a freshly picked orange, which was amazingly sweet. We walked back a slightly differerent route along Katakolon beach itself, which is compressed enough to take the scooter without getting stuck in the sand as the locals, bizzarely, drive their cars along it. Nice sandy beach but covered in washed up seaweed and large jellyfish, some the size of dinner plates, not somewhere I would want to swim even if it was warm enough.
Our short morning call at Gibraltar was pleasant, Cunard surprised us by NOT collecting up duty free alcohol purchased ashore, maybe redeeming themselves slightly for the unforegiveable faux pas of stating in the previous 2 daily programmes that we were (I quote) "en route for Gibraltar, SPAIN" ! We got back on board to find the norovirus precautions ended, so the buffet was back to normal and the other food outlets - Cafe Carinthia, Todd English and the Lido burger bar - open for the first time. Actually we struggled to see why they were ever closed as none of them have the same potential for cross infection as does the buffet, I suppose just to minimise the number of places to be sanitised each time.
Madeira was also very nice, we docked at 6pm on the first day, at the furthest berth from the city, there was a free shuttle bus into town but it was complete choas, we walked/scooted there along the seafront and got back on board just in time for our evening meal. On the Monday we used the shuttle, explored Funchal town, market, 3 or 4 shopping malls and 2 lovely parks and then walked/scooted back to the ship. Funchal has developed almost beyond recognition since our last visit about 10 years ago, another lovely day.
The Atlantic crossing passed quite well, some days pleasantly sunny and others windy with rougher seas. It was particularly rough when we arrived in Bermuda and some doubt as to whether we would be able to dock. After a few attempts and with the aid of a tug and a rope taken across by the pilot boat we made it into Heritage Wharf, part of the old Royal Naval Dockyard. This was another itinerary misdescription by Cunard as it was listed as Hamilton but we had long ago checked the Bermuda Port Authority website (thinking it unlikely that a ship the size of QV would get into Hamilton port itself) so we were prepared. However I was furious to find that our departure time had been brought forward to the original 4pm rather than 5pm as it had been extended to following the loss of Charleston. There was no emergency notification, in fact no notification or explanation at all, just the all aboard time printed in the daily programme delivered to our cabin the evening before. I rang pursers desk to see whether it was another printing error (as had happened in Gibraltar) but no, we sail at 4pm and they did not know why it had been changed. We wanted to see as much as possible so joined with 2 other couples and hired a taxi van for the day which cost $40 each,it was supposed to be a 3 hour tour but we left at 10am, drove to several beaches along the south cost, the lighthouse, a couple of the best hotel, a private golf course, nearly to St Georges, then had a free hour in Hamilton and got back to the ship about 2.30pm, our driver was called 'Hop', he is 79 and a really fantastic guide to his beautiful island.
It is over 20 years since we went to the Bahamas on our first ever cruise, it was grotty then and does not seem to have improved much, judging by the condition of Nassau. That said we spent most of the day wandering around the town, looking at the shops and the Straw Market, and a couple of hours on Junkanoo beach, so not such a bad day.
Things we liked about the Queen Victoria:
The air conditioning - it sounds stupid but my sinuses invariably react badly to the cold air on a cruise ship, the QV temperature was comfortably warm and not the usual fridge-like temperature in the public rooms (except the front fews rows of the theatre) and it was the first cruise for ages that did not give me cold-like symptoms - wonderful !
The winter gardens - a really nice (and not air conditioned) seating area for when the weather was not good enough to be outside.
Entertainment - good mix of original shows, guest acts, classical music, lectures, quizzes and comedy - probably among the best cruise entertainment we have experienced, not to mention the famous themed balls, which we did not really experience much as they seemed to be aimed mainly at early sitting diners.
Things we disliked:
DH hated having to wear a jacket every evening, even on 'casual' nights. The 3 gentlemen on our table all became uncomfortably hot on most evenings and DH felt it discriminatory that ladies could and did wear blouses or low cut dresses but he could not wear a smart shirt without a jacket. The most unnecessarily pompous part (in our opinion) is that the dress code applies in all public areas from 6pm, so in effect rules out staying out beyond that time in daytime clothes and making it a very long evening of hanging around waiting for late sitting dinner. On most lines we would not go to our cabin to shower and change until about 7.30pm.
Fixed seating dining - I know, of course we knew about the dress code and the dining arrangements when we booked, and we could not have asked for nicer tablemates than on this particular cruise, but it made me appreciate the benefits of flexible dining times on other lines and that would certainly be our preferred option for the future.
Cunard seem completely clueless about disability issues. We informed them we were bringing the scooter and that we did not need a wheelchair accessible cabin. We did not need or expect ant special treatment, but surely it would have been common sense NOT to allocate a scooter user to the least accessible table area in the entire Britannia restaurant ? In Madeira we were repeatedly told that we should use the deck 2 gangway 'because it is a slope' (even though it was 2 storeys high and an incline of close to 45 degrees that no scooter could possibly cope with) rather than the few tiny steps from deck 1, which as we demonstrated each time was dead easy for DH to walk and me to carry his folded scooter. On return in Madeira the low gangway was closed and the steep ascent was very difficult for him. Ok close a gangway during quiet times but surely keep open the more accessible one !
Now to the food, which is certainly not a dislike, we thought it was roughly on a par with Princess/NCL but nowhere near the standard of our all time favourite Oceania. The desserts, in particular, were disappointing. I usually struggle with too many sweet choices but on the QV I skipped dessert completely many times in both the buffet and restaurant because everything contained fruit, which I do not like. Once the buffet was properly open it was quite good, we liked the freshly made pizza and pasta stations. Cunard make a big fuss about afternoon tea in the Queens Room and it was nice but we have been spoilt by Oceania's far superior afternoon tea offerings. Evening meals varied from excellent to fair but our waiters were both always very pleasant and efficient, as indeed were all the crew.
Will we book Cunard again ? Possibly but they are certainly not my line of choice and it would have to be a good enough bargain to be considered a ''mystery cruise" as I would not trust them to honour a published itinerary. Naturally the Venice situation was not anyone's fault, last minute changes happen occasionally and I think overall Cunard handled it very well. My problem is that they clearly have no qualms about substituting less desirable ports or changing shore times after bookings have been taken, airfares arranged etc leaving guests with no real option but to put up with the changes. We got a refund of $11 each on our account which we put down to the Trieste port tax being less than Venice, but would have far preferred to have followed the itinerary we booked and paid for.