We have sailed with other cruise lines a number of times and we were booked on a trans-Atlantic sailing with one of those other lines when we looked into the possibility of arriving at the departure point by taking the Queen Mary to England. We thought that as opposed to flying, taking the Queen Mary would be an alternate method of getting to Southampton and it would allow us to experience travel on the Cunard line. In researching the Queen Mary, we came across the Queen Elizabeth Mediterranean Europe sailing. The itinerary, price and timing were excellent so we booked.
We arrived in Southampton four days before our sailing and checked into a historic (and supposedly haunted), hotel in the old town. As expected, we did not see any ghosts but we loved the ambiance of a storied building with a bit of quirkiness. We also enjoyed a day trip to Winchester which was easily achieved by taking a local bus and touring on our own.
On the day of departure, 15 October, 2018, we headed to the port around 12:10pm. I would be remiss if I did not comment on the excellent boarding process. Never have we encountered such a smooth, seamless and speedy check-in as we did with this sailing. Cunard set a service standard with its handling of the check-in, security screening and overall boarding experience. From the time we arrived to the time we entered our cabin, we were welcomed and made to feel like we were valued guests. Given that this was our first sailing with the Cunard line, we were very impressed.
Two things of note that both surprised and pleased us was the availability of our cabin and luggage delivery. There was no waiting around in overcrowded common areas for our cabin to be opened to us. Upon boarding, we were told our cabin was available to us and we found it ready and waiting. Some friends had purchased special items for us and these were already in the cabin which although expected, showed a certain level of efficiency given the quick turn-around time to service and set up each cabin. Shortly after we entered our cabin, all of our luggage was delivered. This was truly impressive and a marked difference from what we have experienced on different cruise lines where we have experienced waits of up to eight hours.
Our cabin was 8129 which falls into category “BC”. It is an irregular sized room which gives it a little more space than normal. It also meant that the balcony is a little larger as well. Over-all I would describe the cabin as having sufficient space for our needs and we found it to be quite comfortable. The two seat sofa, which I understand is also a sofa bed, was a little tired looking but not shabby.
The bathroom was a good size. I had read reviews that indicated the showers were small but I found the shower, and bathroom as whole, to be fairly consistent in size with those found on ships associated with other cruise lines and perhaps even fractionally larger.
We had plenty of closet space. Given that ours was a 17 day sailing with four (4) formal nights, we had packed a lot of clothes, the available storage space was appreciated. Our cabin attendant, Glenn, was excellent.
Dining was in the Britannia Dining room and was a bit of mixed experience for us. We are used to open dining options (such as “My Time” or “Select” dining), so having a fixed seating dinner time was not the best option for us. Unfortunately our only options other than the daily buffet had been early, late or specialty dining. Also disappointing is the fact that this fixed seating meant that we, and all others in our assigned dinning time, were seated at specific tables that would be ours for the duration of the sailing. For those used to flexible times and the ability to move around to different tables, this was a let-down. Our little table for two was not in the best location but to be fair, there were certainly worse areas in which to be seated. I could see windows but we were far enough removed from those windows to be disappointed that every evening we would be doomed to miss every single sail away from port or the ability to view the sunsets. Since the ship was departing most evenings around the 6pm time-frame, our only option was to miss either our assigned dinner seating or the view of the sail away and/or sunsets.
What was fairly maddening, is that there were tables by the windows, which were often unoccupied. For example when we departed Venice, it would have been delightful to view our departure as we dinned however several choice seating tables by windows remained unoccupied while we strained to catch a glimpse of anything from our mid room perch. Surely there is a fair solution to this problem and going to payment for an open seating option on the upper level of the Britannia restaurant is one of them. As with other cruise lines, we would be willing to pay extra for an open dining option that assigns window seats on a first come, first serve basis.
The food was on average, good. I rate it as good as it was inconsistent. Some days the food was exceptional (five star), and other days it was adequate at best. Service was always superb. Presentation was usually quite good and all meals arrived well displayed and visually pleasing. A very nice touch was the production, at the last evening meal of the sailing, of a folder containing copies of every menu used during the sailing. Nicely done!
A quick word about the dress code. We loved the formal evenings and we also enjoyed the dress code and the fact it was enforced. It was a far departure from a trans-Atlantic cruise we took last year. On that cruise we were seated at dinner on a “formal night” and the photos from that evening show that while we were in evening wear, the people at the next table sported shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. Unfortunately that couple were not the only ones who adversely affected the overall look and tone of the evening so Cunard’s dress code policy was refreshing and the formal evenings were elegant.
We bought one meal in “The Veranda” a specialty dining restaurant. The décor was chic, the service exquisite and the presentation of all components of the meal was stunning. The appetizers were excellent, the main course poor (for both of us), despite sending one meal back. We normally enjoy three or more meals in a specialty dining room(s) during a cruise but even the lovely atmosphere and a great table by a window was not enough to tempt us back into the Veranda.
There is another dining option in the form of a Lido deck offering. For a small surcharge we were able to dine in a reserved area of the Lido deck offering specialty food themes that change throughout the cruise (American, Asian etc). Service and food were excellent. We will certainly enjoy this option on our next cruise.
Entertainment was very good. I confess that we did not attend all the shows and in fact probably missed 60% of the theatre entertainment. Our first-hand experience, although limited, was thoroughly enjoyable. Comfortable seating, quality acts.
There were a lot of activities onboard but no more or less than we have found on other cruise lines. The library was outstanding both in appearance and content. Spanning two levels with a spiral staircase and dark wood paneling, it exuded comfort and warmth. For those of us who usually motor through several books on a sailing, it was a little oasis.
The Golden Lion pub was a treat and I confess that we attended the various daily trivia events with great enthusiasm. It would have been nice to have some sort or progressive trivia with a prize at the end. The pub atmosphere was congenial and informal. We met numerous people and also partook of the fish and chips at lunch which was very good.
Given that we were enjoying the peaceful solitude of our balcony, we did not spend a lot of time in the outdoor common areas of the ship. We did however enjoy a spirited game of chess on the giant outdoor chess board.
Overall Queen Elizabeth experience was excellent and we were so impressed with the Cunard line that we booked another sailing and we have convinced a number of friends to join us.
Our cabin was 8129 which falls into category “BC”. It is an irregular sized room because it is at the juncture where the ship has a bubble (there are several areas where the ship juts out). Consequently, the cabin is a bit irregular in size which gives it fractionally more space than other BC cabins. It also meant that the balcony is a little larger as well as it is on an angle. One downside to that angle is the wind. When the ship is in motion, we seemed to get a lot of wind on our balcony. In the summer it would be great but in October, it often made it chilly to sit out and read.
The bathroom was a good size and fairly consistent in size with those found on ships associated with other cruise lines (perhaps even fractionally larger).