Can I say right from the outset that we had a terrific holiday. We had no complaints about anything to do with the ship or Cunard. Well apart from the toast that is. I take toast very seriously indeed and the anaemic, anorexic slices of roofing tile that masqeraded as that most delightful of breakfast accompaniaments were an absolute disgrace. One could almost have been on an American ship. (Pace, Carnival).
OK. - Embarcation:- longer than we have previously encountered. We arrived at peak time though, about 1o'clock. We went immediately to a check-in desk (priority) and were processed and given a boarding card 'letter J' in about 5 minutes. There were a lot of people waiting in the priority end of the terminal and the boarding letter showing was 'F'. About 40 minutes elapsed before we were called to the security check. And it is here where the hold-up was. There were just two xray machines and security arches in use. There appeared to be only one detecting wand as it was being passed from one official to another as required. And of course there was the perrenial problem of the ludicrous amount of hand luggage being carried through the security system. This is a bit of a Bete Noir of mine and I've commented on it before but whyanyone, particularly elderly and/or frail passengers would want to lug a couple of roll-ons + a suit carrier + maybe a tote bag or a 150lt. rucksack around with them boarding a cruise ship I just don't know. Throw into the equasion a walking stick or two and stuff that is patently too big to go through the machine and has to be examined manually and it's no wonder that delays occur. Wheelchairs too are treated as some kind of Wheelbarrow or porters trolley and are festooned with all manner of luggage which has to be processed. That anyone could possibly need that amount of stuff between getting to their cabin and the luggage being delivered a couple of hours later is a mystery. Then of course you have the men who stand for ten/fifteen minutes in the queue and only think about removing their loose change, cameras, keys, jackets, belts and laptops when the official actually asks them to do so as they get to the machine. Plus the fact that some of the regular cruisers who know the system were taking their cards and ducking straight under the Tensa Fence irrespective of their boarding letter. Not in front of me though I might add. Enough - rant over.
Norovirus protocols were in place when we boarded and the captain gave a spiel about what precautions to take, all very sensible stuff. But I had to laugh at the end when he reminded me of a primary school teacher by admonishing us - 'And Don't put your fingers in your mouth'. There was no self service at the buffet, not a problem really except for tea and coffee where there were always queues at main meal times during the precautionary period. One of the catering staff said that these 3 day protocols are almost SOP now at the start of each voyage. 3 days later all was back to normal much to the relief of the staff I presume.
We loved the ship though. OK, from the outside it is a bit of an eyesore round the stern but once aboard it is lovely. I liked the Art Deco motif, and the muted colours, the browns and creams. Whether it is a faithful representation of the Art Deco style I'm not qualified to judge but I really liked it, particularly the carpets outside the lifts and in the central area. The art work too I found very pleasing, with the possible exception of that big glass doohicky near the Golden Lion which seemed totally out of place.
This may be of some interest to anyone considering booking one of these cabins or indeed accepting an upgrade to one of them. My cruise was on the QE but the same comments apply to the QV.
A short time ago I posted that I had been upgraded from a D8 inside cabin to a C4 Ocean view.
This was cabin 4126 on the QE which is an 'Obstructed View' cabin. If you look at the deck plan you will see that cabins 4110 to 4136 are obstructed by the tenders rather than the lifeboats.
The tenders being considerably taller than the l/boats present a different type of obstruction. Also unlike the QM2 the boats are not alongside balconies and are thus considerably closer to the cabin windows.
Cabin 4126 looked out between two tenders as does cabin 4128, cabins 4116 and 4118, 4136 and 4138 likewise look out between tenders. The same configuration applies on the starboard side naturally. The lowering mechanism or davits (though you can see they don't look much like davits) are much more complicated than those for the normal life boats. There is enough of the 'Oceanview' to comply with the trades description act but that's about all. If you are in the cabins directly behind the tenders then your view will be severely comprised by the height of the tender. In effect you will see the ocean through the cabin window, the s/board window of the tender, and the port window of the tender. The photographs are through the window of my cabin, 4126 from as many angles I could manage. I was unable to obtain any photos through the windows of cabins directly beind the tenders or those behind the ordinairy lifeboats. In the latter case I imagine some view of the sea could be obtained over the top of the lifeboat and an even less restricted view if you had a cabin between the boats. Also for those to whom noise is a sensitive issue, all these cabins are above machinery spaces, I think it is ventilation equipment, and a constant noise rather louder than a hum is discernable at all times. As this is a constant noise it soon became unnoticeable, just part of the background rather like living next to the railway. I must just add that it did not bother us at all and neither did the restriction on the view. In fact the QE is rather a noisy ship all round but in a nice way, lots of creaks and groans in even the slightest sea. On the lower level of the library it was rather like being in a sailboat. I quite enjoyed it, more like a ship than a floating resort hotel. I'm not sure I would pay the going rate for one of these cabins but would accept one as an upgrade without hesitation. The benefit of natural light and the extra room in the cabin, for us outweigh the sight of some machinery outside the window.
This was our first time on the QE and our first sunshine cruise for a very long time. Our maritime meanderings having been confined over the last several years to transatlantics and a Baltic cruise on the QV. I have very little recollection of that one 'cos I had what I suppose we must call 'health issues' which coloured my perspective somewhat. We are neither of us acolytes of Phoebus but the holiday was at a good price, it left Soton on our Anniversary, it was a good price, we felt we needed a break from a very stressful year, and it was a good price. And apart from that it was a very good price. Not that that was an important consideration you understand.
There was certainly to my mind a very different attitude on board compared with a TA. my biggest surprise was how little the Commodore Club was utilised. Apart from the final 3 nights of the 23 night cruise there were never more than a dozen people in after second sitting dinner. The seats round the bar which are always full on QM2 were deserted. On the last night 4 of them were occupied. It was a bit busier pre dinner but there were always seats. The midships bar did well before dinner as did the Cafe Carinthia but after second dinner they were practically deserted. The pub seemed to do a good trade but it was a bit noisy for us, karaoke and so on.
The nightclub too had a spotty attendance. We looked in most nights on the way to the Commodore club and sometimes it was completely empty and other times it was heaving. The ABBA and the Beatles nights were a sellout. There was one of the Caribbean bands of which Cunard seem to have an inexhaustible supply. This changed at one of the ports for another Caribbean band with a penchant for country and western. The girl singer with first lot was pretty good.
Dancing: There is a constant complaint on the Cunard board about the poor quality of the band in the Queens' Room. I don't dance anymore I'm sorry to say, a couple of circuits in a slow waltz just for form's sake leaves me blowing for tugs these days. But I did listen to the band and it is true that while they sound OK their tempo is a bit hit and miss. Especially when the vocalist is on. It's a toss up who will finish first, him or the band. But like I say pleasant enough to listen to. The Queens room was eerily deserted on some nights about 10-10.30. There was recorded strict tempo music at various times and there were some very good dancers who took advantage of this, gliding gracefully around the floor. The effect somewhat spoiled though by the tendency of the men to remove their jackets and dance in open-necked, short-sleeved shirts, Ah Well! The dance classes were, so I heard, very popular and I saw that the line dance classes were very crowded, so much so that an ill-judged 'Kick-Ball-Change' could result in serious damage to one's neighbour. But it all seemed very good fun to the onlooker.
The various quizzes were as ever very poplar, the card room overflowed onto the central area outside the library. The two jigsaw tables were always occupied. There were classes for Apple Computers, some free and some which are a bit more advanced i.e. Movie-making and the like have a fee of $30. There are too Apple products on sale for what seemed like a good price. Unfortunately after the first port this facility was closed and remained closed for the rest of the voyage I have no idea why. There were a good group of ladies for the sewing, knitting and chatting sessions. The pools and jaccuzzis were busy. The few children(about six or seven of them I saw) were beautifully behaved, in public at least, even the baby in arms
Alternative Dining. The Veranda. This place was virtually empty each time I passed, I felt quite sorry for the M.D. Standing about all folorn most evenings. The restaurant itself seemed very nice when I had a peek inside.
The Lido alternative dining arrangements. These go to a specific schedule and I will try and post a photo of this if I can touch it up enough to be legible.
We had a nicely placed table for two with amenable neighbours on each side, good service and excellent food. The Lido too had very good food, normally on a TA we use the MDR all the time but on QE on port days we used the Lido a lot. What else, entertainment, pretty fair, and apart from the show La Danza, it all seemed fairly new. I don't go to the song and dance stuff but hearsay gave it the thumbs up. Excellent lecturers, with one exception, a political guy who had good material but poor presentation skills. We have been to the Caribbean before but a long time ago and to be honest one palm fringed beach bears a remarkable similiarity to another for me but we had a couple of good tours with amusing and knowledgeable guides. We did a Cunard tour in Barbados but stuck to local tours in the other islands and they were every bit as good. The weather was a bit choppy for the first two days out of Soton but nothing to bother us. There were though quite a number of people with arms in casts or slings or supports of some kind or other. One poor lady fell down the MDR stairs and got pretty knocked about and broke an arm. She was full of praise for the medical staff. A couple of oddities, The Viennese Ball was held on a SEMI-formal night which seemed strange. The CWC party was held over two days at 11.30, dress elegant casual.
OK, OK, I hear you say, enough with the cheerleading already. Give us the lowdown on the bad stuff. Well guys I cannot tell a lie, the only bad stuff came from my fellow guests. I said at the beginning that there was a different attitude from a TA. Well there was for a start much much more moaning. Samples: 'Too many bloody sea days.' Did they not read the brochure? Did Cunard keep the distance between the Azores and the Caribbean a secret?
'Too much piano music, every where you go someone's bashing a piano'. This would be apart from the dixieland band, the classical guitarist, the flautist, the string quartet, the dance band, the theatre orchestra and the harpist. And I don't think any of the talented pianists could be accused of 'piano-bashing'.
A constant source of complaint heard all over was the price of drinks. I don't drink enough for this to be a problem but because it was so much of an issue I have done a little calculation. This is very rough and ready so mathematicians step away from the keyboard now!
I averaged out the price of drinks like so, the cheapest and dearest in each category , cocktails, spirits, beers and wines. Then averaged out those prices. In the case of wine I used the base price of house wine and the same with spirits, no crusty old ports* or Napolean brandies. Wines from the sommelier at dinner I've ignored too as they vary so much. So here's what I came up with.
The average price of a drink worked out at $7.65. Calculate 4 drinks per couple per day (Obviously a minimum and excluding wine at dinner) for 23 days = $703.80 + 15% @ $105.57 = total $809.37. At todays exhange rate = Â£519.21.
Now, the average price of a drink in the UK in surroundings equivalent to those on the QE I.e a decent hotel, not your local working men's club or spit and sawdust boozer and using the same method of averaging out is approx Â£7.40. (That will be a lot higher in many wine bars.)
So Â£7.40 x 4 x 23 = Â£680.80.
These prices will have regional variations but you get the picture.
*(I know Port isn't a spirit, don't write in)
Next point, almost every conversation seemed to veer round eventually to money. How much it had cost, how much they had saved, what it cost on P&O, HAL etc etc. What their strategies were for booking. Pretty boring stuff. I gave up sharing tables at b'fast in the MDR because of this obsession. The food was condemned as rubbish by some. What their standards can be at home I do not know.
There is a book entitled 'Men Who Stare at Goats'. I am considering a maritime version called 'People Who Stare at Food'. It will be dedicated to those Lido customers to whom the sight of a dish of chopped and sliced tomatoes is a culinary concept too far. And to those who approach a bowl of lettuce with as much trepidation as a thicket of bamboo wherein lurked a Sumatran man-eating tiger. Just pick up your damn food and move on. You eat it, it does not eat you! (Unless you're very unlucky).
The confusion at the tea points. Long a bone of contention on this forum. In respect of the central tea point I have no explanation as to the layout. The teapoints at each end however are laid out logically - if you are not british - that is. The layout is:-
Cups, spoons, hot water/coffee, teabags, rubbish hole, sugar, millk. BUT we of the sceptred Isle like our tea bags in BEFORE the water, and this fouls up the whole system as Brits reach over and around and under to get the bag in the cup before moving backwards to get the water with many an 'excuse me' and 'sorry' and 'can I just...'
The daily programme for the port of Barbados said there would be shuttle buses on the quayside and so there were. These were 10/12 seater taxis with a despatcher in a hi-vis jacket whizzing people along. Before you got to the cab he informed you the price was $2 one way. OK. Not so, the moans of outrage could be heard for miles. 'Cunard should provide, they said there were shuttles, they should be free' and so on and so on. Quite why someone who would willingly, even happily, pay $40 for a $15 bottle of wine on board would complain about paying $4 to save him and his dearest a 3/4 mile walk in 83deg. heat is beyond me.
All this is not to say that we didn't meet some very nice and very interesting people, we did and enjoyed some very fine company. But Oh Dear there were an awful lot of the other kind on this trip.
Dress: Always a topic of interest on the Cunard forum. The daily programme gives the code for the day but states that the " Guests who wish for a more relaxed form of dress can use the Lido."
This of course is carte blanche for general scruffiness in the evening. It is inevitable that the "relaxed dress' of the Lido will filter down to the rest of the ship. After all who is going to go for their evening meal in shorts and T-shirt and then go and get dressed properly to go to the theatre or a bar. MDR dress code in the evening was pretty much 100%. But there were shorts and shirts aplenty in the MDR at other times. Day time dress was pretty much anything goes.
We saw the lifeboats launched and exercised in one port and one of the emergency liferafts was deployed (Again, photos when can get around to it.) The ship was beautifully decorated for Christmas. There was a crew talent show which was excellent, some very talented people work on that boat. It played to an absolutley packed theatre, standing room only. Some passengers formed a choir and were tutored by one of the entertainment staff and they gave a terrific concert. We had a carol-sing round the central atrium, very well attended. I thoroughly enjoyed it though as I can't hold a note it might not have been quite as nice for my immediate neighbours. We won a ticket in one of the quizzes. My cup ranneth over.
There were bands of one kind or another at each port, the weather was lovely, the sky and sea were blue, the martinis were icy and it all ended much too soon. We came ashore refreshed and happy. What can I say, we had a great time. Maybe we are easily pleased, if so long may it continue.
Some pictures at