Although this was our tenth cruise it was our first with Cunard. Our expectations at the outset were high due to Cunard's reputation and for the most part were fully justified. The expectations that were not met were due to a bizarre mix of Cunard and Carnival cultures or perhaps it was American vv British cultures. Either way I suspect neither group of passengers were completely happy.
Embarkation was fast an efficient and the whole process took less than half an hour. We arrived at the port five minutes after our scheduled time of 12.30 and walked into our cabin 30 minutes later. Bags took a further two hours during which time we had lunch in the Lido restaurant. Full marks to all concerned. Disembarkation at the end of the cruise was chaos as there was a delay due to mechanical failure of port equipment, after which everyone left at once! Finding 4 cases out of circa 2000 was not an easy matter.
Queen Victoria is fabulous in every respect. Our cabin (8116) was comfortable and sufficiently spacious with ample room under the beds for all cases and sufficient drawers and cupboards for clothing. The only downside was the air conditioning which was difficult to control and was either very cold or warm. All of the public areas were exceptionally well designed, very comfortable and exactly what we expected of a Cunard ship, tasteful and sophisticated with lots of polished teak and brass, thick tasteful carpets and a touch of elegance. One of the ships real plusses is it's stability and we only felt slight motion on one day out of twenty four and that was with a force 9 gale blowing.
The Britannia Restaurant was well appointed and the service was good on the whole but several points are worth making. The menu was varied but did not always suit our tastes and there was no basic fallback to a basic fish or chicken dish if you wanted a blander meal. Also, vegetables were on the plate for decoration so there was a need to request additional vegetables for most meals. A request on one evening for an alternative meal was referred to the Head Waiter who then accosted me with "you don't like the meal sir !!" Request met but was the fuss worth it. After the first week, we followed the example of other passengers and checked the menu during the day outside the restaurant and if it didn't suit our needs used the Lido Restaurant instead. This was well used even on formal nights and had the advantage that you were able to eat exactly what you wanted in quantity, content and quality, always hot, and the restaurant was much quieter. It could also be used at a time of your choosing thus avoiding fixed sittings.
The Entertainment was a mixture of excellent and poor. The afternoon concerts given by professional pianists were superb and several of the professional entertainers in the evening shows were equally good. However, the Cunard show team were mediocre and not helped by the fact that they had clearly been told to "belt it out" and then been given maximum amplification. We left several of their earlier performances after the first two songs, along with at least 20 on one occasion, because the sound level was unbearably painful and then stopped attending the shows. The show content was also biased to American tastes and music from the 60's and 70's. A huge disappointment and certainly not up to a reasonable standard. With so much good music available there is no need to deliver such low quality.
Service and Gratuity charges are automatically added to your bill - 552US$ or circa £437.00 in our case - and it was interesting to hear from many of my fellow passengers that they go straight to the Pursers Office and ask for it to be deleted and then tip individually as they see fit. A form is available, no questions are asked, but there may be a small queue on the day the interim accounts are issued ! Gratuities are added to all purchases, even a bottle of water gets an additional 15% added with the invitation to add a further gratuity should you feel it appropriate!
In Conclusion, we had an excellent holiday and for the most part it lived up to our expectations. Cunard is certainly better than a lot of cruise lines but is not as good as the best. We will use Cunard again if the destination suits our needs but will also return to Fred Olsen for the genuine personal service and intimacy which Cunard lacks.