Value for money & get what you pay for Baltic Cruise: Queen Victoria Cruise Review by c&semail

Queen Victoria 4

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Value for money & get what you pay for Baltic Cruise

Sail Date: July 2011
Destination: Baltic Sea
Embarkation: Southampton
We don't really like big ships, but pretty much got what we expected from this Cunard cruise in an A2 balcony cabin with the Britannia restaurant: A modern ship fitted out to a high standard and kept immaculate, good food but not excellent, service generally of a high standard but patchy, professional entertainment, good accommodation with good size cabins but small bathrooms. However let down by a general feeling of being somewhat ripped off resulting from the determined efforts of Cunard to get you to pay for as much as possible as extras. We met many very loyal Cunard passengers who thought the standard of everything was very high, but I couldn't help but feel that they had been convinced by the Cunard hype, and / or not having tried the lines with even higher standards (Silversea, Seabourn, Regent, for instance) they simply don't realise what they are missing. However a few people seemed to think things have gone downhill a bit since their first experiences on Queen Victoria, and More several felt the excursions are priced too high - we simply didn't bother with the Cunard excursion programme at all.

The dining experience was "OK" but I really don't like the fixed dinner sitting idea (though I accept it is probably the only way to manage things on such a big ship) and it is a bit disappointing that you would have to pay extra to use the 'alternative' dining experiences - Lido speciality or Todd English. The menu choices are very traditional British and not what I would describe as 5 star. One of us doesn't eat meat, and I felt the meat (choice and quality) was probably superior to the choice and quality for a non-meat eater.

The service at dinner after the first couple of meals moved from good to excellent for our table of 8. We were blessed with a waiter and junior waiter who were both very good (better at their jobs than some of the more senior dining room staff). They remembered who didn't want ice in their water, who wanted a cappuccino after dinner, and any mistakes in serving were rare. The same couldn't be said for breakfast service, where one waiter that we had a couple of times was plain rude and offhand, smoked haddock was dried out by the time it was served, and one lady got the wrong eggs three days running.

Entertainment on ships is not a major issue for us (at least the Las Vegas style shows which I would generally avoid) but on the whole I was favourably impressed with the quality both of the regulars and the flown-in acts - very professional, and the dancers were particularly good. The one low point was the mortifyingly embarrassing Victoriana show, which, as well as being piecemeal and disorganised, was humiliatingly xenophobic - I felt ashamed to be British and hoped that not too many of the non-British passengers were there. Please, save us from flag-waving and renditions of Britannia ruling waves when there is a mixed audience. The comments from other members of the audience as we left suggested others felt much the same. The enrichment lecturers were also of a good standard. Some of their lectures were repeated on the ship's TV channel.

Our balcony cabin ("stateroom", sorry), on Deck 8 was a decent size (not up to standards of the small luxury ships though) but the bathroom was very small with only a tiny shower and small basin. Presumably the suites are better.

Overall this would have been a very enjoyable cruise but for the lingering feeling that Cunard never lost an opportunity to try and extract more money out of you. For example: themed night - an opportunity to buy over-priced merchandise so you can dress up to the theme; high mark up on wines - plus 15% service. Even at the champagne sailaway parties - you only got your glass of champagne if you shelled out $17+15%. People who won prizes got a half bottle of champagne, not a bottle. $30 for each photo and $35 for a DVD of the cruise. And then the tipping to be added on at the end. It felt a bit like Ryanair at some points. Definitely think that for us it is worth paying for all inclusive in order to avoid the first thing you have to do everywhere being showing your room card so you can be billed. Less

Published 08/10/11

Cabin review: BA Balcony

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Port and Shore Excursions

Zeebrugge / Bruges: The port organised shuttle buses to Blankenburge from where we took the train into Bruges – however, be warned these are once an hour on Sundays (at 11 minutes past the hour) and our shuttle bus dropped us at 6 minutes past. We sprinted (pursued by many others off the bus) and just caught the train by the skin of our teeth. Bruges is a beautiful and photogenic little town , very easy to walk round on your own. It is really unspoiled in spite of zillions of tourists. We downloaded the brilliant walking tour which we more or less followed, adding in a brewery tour and a canal trip and almost running out of time to make the last feasible hourly train back to Blankenburge to make the last shuttle bus. But we made it!

Possibly the very wet weather made us less excited by Copenhagen than some of our other ports. Luckily managed to find a taxi on quay side that dropped us by the Rosenborg Palace near the middle of town (take your smart phone for an excellent free wi-fi guide), thereafter we walked in raincoats and with umbrellas - but it is quite manageable in scale - we walked all the way back to the boat too. We got to the palace before the crowds, took a nice boat trip round the canals, festered around a bit and unfortunately got to the Amalienborg palace at 2 minutes past 4 to find it shuts at 4pm (our fault). Strolled back past the Little Mermaid.

Again somewhere visited for work previously, which probably made it seem less exciting. The highlights for us were the market on the harbour where we had lunch and browsed the many stalls and Suomenlinna Fortress Island which is a 15 min boat trip away from there. Larger boats get docked approx 3km out, but we took both Hop on Hop off bus routes A and B

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This was a round trip. Southampton was easy for us and the parking worked well.

We had also visited St Petersburg before, but it was well worth re-visiting. Two days was really not enough. We booked a full 2 day tour from England via the internet through TJ Travel (Russian company) and so did not need a visa. This was outstanding (and much better value, even with only 6 people, than the Cunard offering would have been). It was pretty annoying that Cunard tried to tell you that "the Russian authorities insisted" that their disembarkation procedures would have people booking non-Cunard tours as the last of 4 categories to disembark (the first being the Cunard tour groups) but luckily, with experience of the travel industry in Russia, we totally ignored this and got off at 8.00 as planned, and found the stuff about Russian authorities insistence to be the baloney we expected. Unless you have a visa a pre-booked excursion is the only way to get ashore – however even with a visa, unless you know Russia I think a local guide is essential - TJ travel provided an excellent guide for our little group. Sophia was knowledgeable, well-educated and flexible. (And very different from the Intourist Guides on our first trip to Leningrad as it then was!) Both her, and the driver's English was very good. In the two days we packed in as much as we possibly could: an extensive city tour, hydrofoil ride, Peterhof Gardens, St Catherine's Palace, Church of Spilt Blood, St Isaac's, 3 hours in the Hermitage (which was still not enough)more churches and palaces, subway ride, lunch in a local speciality pie shop - you name it. We still wanted to see more but some things close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, plus we were ready to drop by the end! But wouldn't have missed any of it. The only slightly sad thing is that again the large ships dock 5 km out of town, so seeing a Silversea ship docked in the Neva river right in the centre of town made us feel we might jump ship!

We'd both been to Stockholm before on business so concentrated on an early trip to the Vasa Museum which opened at 8.30am - and were very glad we'd gone early when we saw the horrendous queue that had built up by 11.00am when we left. We got around Stockholm entirely by the Hop on Hop off water taxis that stopped at the dock where the ship was, as well as hopping between everywhere else we wanted to go. We spent the rest of the time idly wandering around the Gamla Stan (Old Town), which I had visited from work, and saw Changing of the Guard and the usual sights.

Lovely old town (again one we've visited before), easy to walk round on your own. The ship provided a shuttle to the town and we just walked around and enjoyed the local colour. We also visited the old Town Hall which hadn’t been open for our last visit. Oh, and we did get a local tram to the Kadriog palace which was worth a visit (but nothing like St Petersburg).

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