We recently chose Cunard for a family trip to the Mediterranean because we had heard such wonderful things about their line--its elegance, tradition, and prestige. I have never been so incredibly disappointed in a company.
For background: I am in my early thirties, American, was traveling with my extended family, and have cruised with everyone from Carnival to Crystal. This cruise was like paying Crystal prices for a Carnival experience. I know Crystal is more expensive upfront, but by the time Cunard is finished nickel-and-diming you, it is honestly about the same price.
The worst thing overall was just the complete lack of customer service. It felt like WORK being a passenger on Cunard. There was never anyone around to help with anything or to even take a drink order. The Purser's Desk acted like you were at best inconveniencing them and at worst a total idiot. At one point, our travel agent had paid for an hour-long cocktail party for our group. We had the PDF confirmation FROM CUNARD. When we showed up, the entertainment manager told us that she had no record of it and couldn't help us. Our travel agent (who was absolutely mortified) had to contact the company in Southampton to get it worked out and rescheduled--even then, they scheduled it during our dinner seating on our last formal night. We got, at best, a shrug from the staff.
I knew I was going to pay for drinks. Fine. I bought the "soda package" that they sell hard that first day--supposedly unlimited soft drinks for $6-7 a day. Great deal if you drink two or more a day and I figured I could use it as mixers for any liquor I bought in port towns. HA. What they don't tell you is that it is next to impossible to get a drink on this ship. Sailing away at 5:00 from a beautiful city with a couple hundred people on deck? One bartender on duty. Beautiful day at sea with hundreds of people at the pool? Ideal time to have waiters around taking orders--NOPE. And then they tell you that the soda package doesn't include ginger ale... or drinks in the dining room... or that waiters will purposefully not bring you your order because you have the soda package... or that you can't order a drink from anyone in the buffet and have to bring it in with you. Super customer service.
Then there's everything else you pay extra for: $24 for a roundtrip shuttle into Venice because we docked at the pier; $12 roundtrip for shuttles into the middle of all other port cities; $3 for a bottle of water as you were getting off the boat to go on tour (and signs warning you off filling up your own water bottles from their drinking fountains for "hygiene" reasons); $15 for the WORST meal in their "alternative dining" option, Bamboo (really just half the buffet closed off and set menu). I understand that all of these things cost money, but for the love of cruising, just include it in the ticket price and stop making me take my card out every two seconds.
The ship itself is adequate, but no better or worse than any other luxury liner. The cabins were small and cramped--especially the bathroom. A room that same size (balcony, king bed, small sitting area) on Crystal included a full size tub. This bathroom had one sink and a tiny shower.
The dress code was not a strict as you would think, but I always tend to overdress anyway. Nice cocktail attire was fine for formal nights.
Shore excursions through Cunard were horribly organized. You get herded into one of the common areas at the appointed time... and then you wait. Sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes an hour. Not OK. They obviously know they have to split the groups--why not go on and do it ahead of time so that we're not wasting vacation time sitting in a windowless room when we could be either sleeping or enjoying a port city.
The food is terrible. Maybe it's better in the Queen and Princess grills, but the regular dining room was either trying too hard or not trying at all... I am not really sure which. The Lido buffet was downright disgusting. Breakfast was the exact same every morning and was very English--which I get, but the lack of options was disturbing. Lunch and dinner were usually extremely heavy and served lukewarm, with people fighting over places in line because there was absolutely no flow to the space.
Fortunately, the places we went were amazing, because that is the only thing that saved this trip. Needless to say, our group of seventeen people will not be traveling with Cunard ever again. They need to stop resting on their laurels and realize that if they are to compete with the true luxury liners, they need to put the guests first and live up to their reputation.
Tiny bathroom for an otherwise adequate balcony room