We chose this cruise in order to experience Christmas,New Years and significant birthday at at sea. There were several highlights on the Queen Elizabeth; the food in the main dining room was excellent, our shoulder cabin and balcony seemed vast, and some of the guest speakers were excellent (Dr Richard Harris, Australian of the Year, gave a wonderful presentation about his role in the Thai cave rescues which could be used as an exemplar for all those who aspire to talk about themselves in public forums; he was humble and self deprecating, at times very funny, and his tale was spine tingling).
So why won't we be back? In a number of administrative matters Cunard proved to be seriously deficient, and these issues combined to leave a nasty aftertaste to an expensive cruise that could have been so much more.
In the weeks prior to departure to join the cruise the online Voyage Personaliser was almost always not working, so it proved nigh on impossible to finalise details of excursions, make bookings for restaurants, and complete embarkation details. The Cunard call centre knew all about the problem with the website, yet it remained non-functioning right up to the point of sailing. I understand that technology can fail, but there is no excusing that the website didn't acknowledge the problem, and give clear instructions as to to how to work around the issue.
Our cruise embarkation details were supposed to arrive to us a month before embarkation, including such details as location and time of embarkation, the ship's itinerary, and luggage tags for checked luggage. We disembarked the ship on 12 January, and the smartly printed embarkation details folio arrived by mail on 27 January - it contained lots of details that would have proved helpful 2 months earlier.
In crossing the Tasman we passed through two time zones, and Queen Elizabeth elected to make the time changes at 10:00 AM (mid morning). We have crossed many time zones in many ships - we have never experienced time changes during daylight hours before, and the resulting schemozzle was completely predictable. I remain baffled as to why Queen Elizabeth elected to do something quite so unnecessarily bizarre - it certainly confused many passengers.
Disembarkation in Melbourne was woefully organised and executed. There were passengers like us disembarking after visiting New Zealand, and therefore needing to clear customs, and a large majority of others leaving after a shorter cruise in Australian waters only. The night before disembarkation there were what seemed to be clear instructions about labeling bag for each group, and we, as part of the group needing to clear customs, were to disembark first, with no other passengers allowed off until the customs group had been processed.
This might have worked - if all of the disembarked luggage hadn't ended up in a hopelessly jumbled pile, despite clear labeling. The resulting logjam took over 2 hours to clear, without a single word of advice from ship staff, nor any assistance to the many elderly and confused passengers who were obviously going to miss flights and pickups because of the delay.
Some final observations. Cunard does an effective job of selling itself as being something special in the crowded cruising market. Its advertised 'White Star Service' and other overblown snobbery make it seem something unique ... and it clearly works, as we met numerous passengers who proclaimed themselves Cunarders for life. In our experience this is a triumph of marketing over reality. Queen Elizabeth is not our worst cruising experience - that was Queen Mary 2 on an Indian Ocean crossing, but it is far from our best, and dollar for dollar it doesn't stack up against other lines who live up to their promises and deliver a great complete experience. Remember - Cunard became part of Carnival in 2005, and is therefore being driven by the same business model as the rest of the Carnival holdings - something the slick advertising doesn't reveal. The reality is that the standards of service onboard are the same as we've experienced on many other ships - not better, not worse.
And ... everything onboard is priced to match the hype; 1 barista coffee $7.83 (Aus), 2 drinks at the Golden Lion Pub $38.61 (Aus), dinner for 2 at the Verandah $118 (Aus) with 2 glasses of wine $52.17 (Aus). Daily automatic gratuity $17.40 (Aus) per person - therefore $765.60 (Aus) for the 22 days were were aboard.
So no - we won't be back.
A shoulder cabin, with a substantially greater floorspace, and a balcony roughly double the usual size.