We chose this cruise after enjoying a Queen Mary 2 circumnavigation of New Zealand a few years ago. Our boarding time was 2.30pm and we arrived at Station Pier, Melbourne, 10 minutes before the scheduled time to encounter a long and mutinous queue stretching along the pier. We had to queue for 40 minutes on Station Pier in 30 degree heat. Several elderly passengers were becoming quite distressed. Passengers were being allowed into the Cruise Terminal in groups of about 20. Here we queued for a further 40 minutes in a hot, stuffy antiquated building - the air conditioning unable to cope with the passenger numbers. I understand the problem was due to multiple computer crashes and a passenger who fainted in the airless terminal having to be medivaced. Cunard could, and should have handled the situation better. They could have sent a ship's officer down onto station pier to explain the situation first hand. They could have set up the cold drink stations and gazebos on the pier as they did at every port stop. They could have provided temporary seating for elderly passengers. An apology would have been nice. Maybe even a voucher for a complimentary drink once on board. This was hardly Cunard's famed White Star service and the problem was exacerbated by Melbourne Port's antiquated facility. Overall the embarkation was a tedious, unpleasant experience. Most reasonable people accept that things can go wrong. Unfortunately, the bad embarkation experience got the cruise off to a bad start with some passengers just looking to find fault wherever they could.
Once on board things changed considerably for the better. Our cabin was spotlessly clean and well appointed. Our steward, Alfie, was an absolute treasure. There were a couple of minor issues with our cabin - a blown light bulb and blocked toilet. Both were fixed very promptly following a call to the Pursers office. Like one of the other reviewers, i was slightly irritated that there was no pen provided in the cabin. On our QM2 cruise there was a nice faux "Mont Blanc" style pen. Cost cutting to save a couple of dollars on a cruise costing several thousand dollars just doesn't make sense.
The ship itself is fabulous with its art deco interior, artworks and magnificent staircases. It is only spoiled somewhat by the gaudy poker machines that occupy too much premium space. Surely they could have been placed somewhere less conspicuous (preferably down on Deck 1).
I find it hard to understand why some reviewers complain about the food. The dining choices are many and varied. We ate most of our meals in the Britannia Restaurant where the meals were excellent, as was the service (and we're fussy). We had a couple of meals in the Lido buffet where there was plenty of variety and we had no problem with service. We loved the Golden Lion pub and the English fare. The Fish 'n Chips were great and I enjoyed one of the best chicken curries I've had in a long time. Our favourite bar was the Commodore Club for pre-dinner drinks. Service was always excellent and the complimentary canapés were a nice touch. Our only problem with service was in the Verandah Bar where we once waited 20 minutes to get any service. The waiter seemed more interested in chatting with the barman than attending to guests. Drink prices were high for guests paying in AU dollars. Beer was best value with prices being about what you would pay in a good quality hotel, even after conversion. Wine was expensive for Australian travellers who love their wine. The wine list provided an excellent selection from around the world and I enjoyed attending the wine tasting and sampling wines that are not easily available in Australia. Our sommelier was very knowledgeable and happy to share his expertise.
The enrichment lectures were of a very high standard as were the song and dance routines accompanied by an excellent band.
We had no problem with the embarkation and disembarkation by the ship's boats in Akaroa as reported by another reviewer. We also opted for the Train excursion in Dunedin which was well organised and well catered for. The train came right onto the Jetty at Port Chalmers. The highlight of the trip was the navigation of Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound which was accompanied by an excellent commentary form a local expert.
Would we book Cunard again? Definitely. We have already booked the QE Christmas and New Year cruise to NZ.
I'm pleased to report that the disembarkation ran a lot more smoothly than the embarkation.
Cabin was well appointed and spotlessly clean as was the en-suite bathroom. Generous supplies of good quality shampoos, soap etc. and tissues. The shower worked well.
A very pleasant small town. Some good shopping ashore.
Typical large seaport city. Some parts quite seedy - take care.
Travel ashore in ship's boats. Some excellent cafes and bars ashore.