We sailed on Queen Victoria to celebrate our 25th Wedding anniversary, and this cruise was our first. We are both in our mid 40’s. We booked this 14 day Western Mediterranean cruise Embarking from Istanbul and returning from Rome around 5 weeks before departure and at that time took advantage of a Cunard ‘Saver Fare’ and opted for a balcony stateroom with an obstructed view, which best fit our budget. Nearer embarkation time we received notification from Cunard of our stateroom being upgraded to an unrestricted view on Deck 5 Aft, Stateroom 5161, which was a lovely surprise. In total, the cruise cost a very reasonable £1349pp for the 14 nights including flight supplements. The cruise number was V517D in the Cunard brochure.
Flights to Istanbul and return from Rome were included in the fare excepting a small supplement of £50pp due to us flying from Manchester (flights from London did not incur supplement). The charter flight carrier was Titan Airways, and flights both ways were pleasant enough, and flight times good, 8am out and 4pm for the return. It would have been beneficial, and I would recommend to all, to extend the holiday by staying on in Rome for a couple of days afterward or prior to embarkation in Istanbul or indeed both destinations, so that both these cities could be explored further but sadly, time and work pressures were not on our side.
Just a note on the Titan Airways flights, the information we were provided prior to the holiday was that a very restrictive 20kg hold luggage and 5kg cabin bag was imposed and no possibility of paying for extra weight; it turned out at the check in desk, that no such restriction was in place, and essentially our packing anxieties were unfound, I guess as long as you don’t go over the top, checking in an extra few kilos would be fine. We flew into Istanbul Corlu, which is a tiny military and civil airport so getting through customs and onto the awaiting coaches was swift, transfers to the port in Istanbul was around an hour and a half, but this accounted for by heavy traffic in Istanbul, a city of over 15million people!
Embarkation was an easy process, registering ourselves and our credit card for onboard spending was a speedy 5 minute process; passports exchanged for the ships card that provides you with identification to gain access and exit to the ship, port customs, stateroom key and as your currency on board ship throughout your stay. Our luggage was delivered to our stateroom within an hour of us boarding.
We remain in awe of this magnificent ship, and I cannot think of enough superlatives that quantify the feel good factor of being on board. The ship is fitted out beautifully, the public areas decorated and furnished to an extremely high standard and the deck areas nicely laid out and well provided for with equipment such as deck chairs and loungers, in the shade or in the sun. Despite the heat and humidity outside, the public areas and the stateroom were always at a nice comfortable temperature throughout, and the air-conditioning in the stateroom is nicely independently controllable.
In terms of dining, as per the booking conditions, dining allocated on embarkation, we were allocated the early 6.30pm sitting in the Britannia Restaurant, and we were disappointed by this initially, due to us having pre-booked several all day tours and we did request a change to the late sitting, the Maitre d’hôtel did get our reservation switched the second week, but actually, we much preferred the early sitting, as by the time you finish dinner following the late sitting, we were unmotivated to take in all the entertainment on offer due to the late hour and our tiredness, I guess its always to be careful what you wish for! The food in the Britannia Restaurant was fantastic; service was impeccable, unrushed and attentive our waiters Marlon & Mark were a great team; and the wine waiters were equally as diligent, but they were quite stretched and at times, they weren’t able to provide the service they are clearly capable of due to having such large stations to attend to. We were allocated a table for 2 on both weeks, early and the late sitting.
We also took advantage of the Verandah Restaurant on two occasions for dinner, and it certainly is a worthy upgrade, the food and service ratcheted up a notch from the Brittania dining and we thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance and service provided there and its certainly good value for the $24pp it costs.
Lunch, when not on tours and sea days, we took in the Britannia Restaurant which was always a pleasant experience and we did on occasions elected to sit with other diners which was nice to catch up with other people, their experiences and stories. We also lunched in the Golden Lion Pub and again, the food and service was great. Breakfast we also took in the Britannia; breakfasts there unhurried and relaxing, we took one room service breakfast on the balcony, but being a bit old-fashioned and much preferring a proper table we didn’t take advantage of the room service as much as my wife would have preferred to have done.
The Lido buffet restaurant: I need to disclose that I’m not a buffet fan (it reminds me so much of queuing at a works canteen and also, my lack of self control would have led me to have eaten far too much!), so my comments are limited to the several breakfasts we ate there when necessary as some of our tours required an early start, and it was always an ok experience; the food plentiful and hot. We took a couple of snacks from the Lido on deck, but other than that, we stayed clear of the Lido, preferring dining in the Britannia, so I cannot comment on lunch and dinner provided. The upgraded dining menus in The Lido typically costing $10- $15, of which waiting staff are provided to serve you at the table, such as the Indian, Italian and Oriental speciality evenings looked very nice, but I found it difficult to come out of my comfort zone to take any of these dining options.
Afternoon tea was extremely nice in the Queens Room and served with care and attention, and always accompanied by a pianist, the small cakes were gorgeous. I believe that afternoon tea is also available in the Winter Garden and Lido. We didn’t use Café Carinthia, and I’m really not sure why, probably just because of our schedule, as when passing by, the food and coffee always looked great. To sum up dining on Queen Victoria; there’s bound to be something to suit all tastes and palettes and dietary requirements, my wife did on occasions take the Royal Spa selections which are suggestions at meal times for health eating, in hindsight, perhaps I should have done the same. In short, you could never go hungry on Queen Victoria.
All the bars provided great service and we tried them all out! The Golden Lion, great for a cooling drink following a tour, and a great place to have fun, such as quizzes, bingo etc. Midships Bar and Chart Room a really nice place to take a cocktail or G&T prior to dinner and pre dinner always served with a nice selection of complimentary small eats such as nuts and canapés. Fantastic views in the Commodore Club, but we found this space a little bit too stuffy and formal for our liking. The bars on deck were also very pleasant. I feel the drink prices were in keeping with the service provided and I feel that if Cunard provided an ‘all inclusive’ drink package add on, it would only serve to lower the quality and service standards and might cause over indulgence by some. We did take wine in the restaurants with our meals, and there’s plenty of selection to suit all pockets, ours were at the lower end, but there were some great wines, red, whites, rose and fizz in the $30 to $50 range that amiably accompanied dinner and made every evening special. The odd bottle of bubbly we had was a real treat.
This must be so difficult for any cruise ship to get the right balance and to suit all tastes, but the entertainment we participated in was great fun or interesting. Wine tasting was great, unlimited quaffing of some great wine and I did learn a lot from the experts on hand; lectures were engaging, particularly Jane Corbyn; sing bingo, quizzes etc. in the Golden Lion were great fun, the comedian Mick Miller attracted great big belly laughs all around the theatre. Dance classes were hilarious, due to my two left feet and the Royal Cunard singers and dancers put on some great shows, and clearly they are very well organised and proficient in what they do. Didn’t use the Hemispheres Club as we were simply too tired after all the days activities but perhaps we should of pushed ourselves that little bit more, as the advertised music on offer there sounded like great fun. My wife used the Spa on a couple of occasions and also the hairdressing, she would have probably used it more but the costs were for our budget, prohibitive, $70 for your hair putting up prior to dinner is cost prohibited, but probably is about right to stifle demand on the available hairdressers! Shopping on board was great, and the duty free prices seemed reasonable. There appeared to be some great deals on premium products.
Here’s my only gripe of the cruise, and not down to the quality of the finished product or the expertise of the photographers, but both the costs and the delay of getting to view the photographs. $24.95 for a photo at dinner or on quayside and $34.95 for the formal compositions are, I feel simply too high, particularly in this digital, everybody having a camera in their pocket day and age- maybe photography has become just too common place and taken for granted by me, but even my wife, who is usually over zealous and Gung-ho when it comes to photo purchasing at any location we visit, balked at the prices. Photo packages did not seem good value. I clearly don’t have access to Cunard’s balance sheet and cost of sales in the photographic department, so maybe for the quality and overheads of employing the experts they do, the prices might well be fair, but what I do know is, that if the prices were pegged at say $14.95, my wife would have certainly purchased a dozen or so photos, but as it was, she only purchased one! Extremely out of character for her. A suggestion I made on our feedback post cruise to Cunard was to raise my pricing concerns and at least suggest to make all the photo’s available as a digital download post cruise, for a more reasonable fee, or even at the same fee, but giving some time to consider the photo’s and buy them at a later date when you can save up a bit for them, rather than the inevitable and wasteful shredding and recycling of the printed article.
Istanbul. Fantastic city with so much to see and do and welcoming and friendly people and fantastic food and drink. We were so lucky to have an overnight stay there the first day before setting sail the following evening, and even better was a return to the city several days later. We used the first full day to take a marvellous excursion taking in the highlights of the city, so that when we returned, we could concentrate on taking a look in more detail of the sights, smells and sounds. The call to prayer from the many mosques around the city was fantastic to wake to in a morning and listen to at sunset.
The tour we went on ‘Best of Istanbul Four Seasons’ took in all the major sites and included lunch at a fantastic hotel. The sites were of course the Blue Mosque but also Hagia Sophia; Topkapi Palace and the Harem; spice bazaar and so on. The tour guide was engaging, funny and knowledgeable and lunch a pleasant adjunct to the afternoon activities. I just wish Cunard would refrain in all of the Turkish port tours to include carpet making and the clearly commissioned sales pitch at the end! But I guess they are an optional feature of the tours. Shopping in Istanbul or any of the Turkish ports is a must, particularly clothing and jewellery, spices, tea olives, nuts and sweets such as Turkish Delight, which are all good value for money and high quality. On our second day visit we went to the Basilica Cistern and Grand Bazaar as well as chilling out in several squares and cafes and simply wandering the streets and parks taking in the cities warmth and culture.
Marmaris. Beautiful port for Queen Victoria to sail into and berth, sailing into Marmaris is reminiscent of fjords, narrow channels, tiny islands and a backdrop of mountains shrouded by pine forest. We didn’t take a tour there, and simply walked to a beach for a day there swimming and sunbathing, followed by a traditional Turkish lunch. People we spoke to told us that the tours were great value, particularly the river cruise tour.
Heraklion. We took a tour to Knossos, in hindsight, it would have been better and much, much cheaper to have done this tour independently and it’s a small site, cheap to enter- 6 euros and transport there by bus is only a couple of euros. Although the tour guide was good, we could hardly hear what she had to say due to it being so busy and because of the constant chirping of the Cicadas, which were extremely loud! The lack of the tour guide providing radio audio commentary hamstrung the tour.
Piraeus. My wife’s favourite. Athens was a fantastic port of call; lots to see and do and we took a tour of The Acropolis and visited the Plaka area. Worthwhile and good value and the sights of the city from the Acropolis amazing. The Plaka is a great place to lunch and shop.
Dardanelles. At sea passing the Dardanelles was amazing, and gave time to contemplate the strategic position that Turkey holds and the reason why so many lost their lives during the Great War in order to attempt to hold this. There are poignant memorials to those who fell are visible clearly from the ship.
Kusadasi. My favourite port of call. Tour to Ephesus is not to be missed, and we took in two other landmarks also, Miletus and Didyma- all I can suggest is to visit, I can’t begin to sum up how wonderful and amazing Ephesus is, the tour guide was fantastic and lunch included on the full day tour, which engaged so much that the day whizzed by. Kusadasi itself is a fantastic port, lots of great shops, fantastic places to eat and drink, and don’t forget to treat yourself to beauty treatments; massage and a visit to a traditional Turkish barber who will coiffure your hair, massage your head and shoulders and give you the closest shave you’ll ever get for 30 TLi, a lot less than £10 GBP.
Santorini. Now this was meant to be one of the highlights of my journey, but sadly I probably placed too much expectation on this port of call. We anchored in the bay, and tenders took as ashore to awaiting coaches to visit the village of Oia, and then a wine tasting, neither impressed, Oia was thronged with people, and the streets jam packed with a sea of people. Oia itself is without doubt beautiful, but too many people spoil the experience and the village is essentially one big gift shop! Santorini wine was uninspiring and not to my taste, but again one mans meat is another mans poison. To finish off the tour, a ‘free’ ticket was given for the cable car down to the old port from Thira, unfortunately, the demand was such that if we had queued we would never have got the last tender, so a horrid walk down the Donkey manure encrusted steps ensued, a horrid experience, made worse by people riding up and down the steps by the clearly exploited Donkey’s which lacked shade and water. If I do return to Santorini, it will have to be out of season.
Transit Messina Stait. Amazing!
Salerno. Not a pretty port! We were all tripped out by the time we berthed in Salerno and didn’t visit any of the obvious choices of excursions such as Pompei; Vesuvius; Amalfi or Sorrento but instead had a sojourn around Salerno, nice trip to the beach for a swim and the most glorious pizza and ice cream to round the day off.
Civitavecchia. Our last port of call, and again, not pretty but if only we had time to stay on for a day or two in Rome but we did take in a city tour en route to the airport which was informative, but sadly not enough to satisfy much at all of what Rome has to offer.
Much the same as embarkation hassle free and smooth.
All in all, this was the best holiday we have ever taken. It was a special occasion for us, and we spent much more money on this two week holiday as we would taking our three sons away for a couple of weeks in the sun on our usual annual holidays. In terms of value for money and quality, the whole experience far exceeded our expectations, impeccable and friendly service delivered with care, attention and professionalism. Its great to get dressed up and make every evening a special occasion. The only difficulty for us now, is that Cunard has set the bar for our first taste of cruising and it would be so difficult to choose any other cruise line, in case the experience we had with Cunard wasn’t replicated. Read Less