We are a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) and travel internationally almost every year, however; cruising on the Queen Victoria was definitely the best holiday we have ever had!
Right from the start, we had a good feeling. We flew into Heathrow and were driven down to Southampton in a little over an hour. We arrived at Southampton terminal thinking we would have to wait with our luggage until it was our scheduled time to embark. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that we could drop our luggage off with the porters (located on the outside of the check-in building) and walk into town for a couple hours to shop.
Upon returning to the terminal, we went through the necessary steps to embark and were shown directly to our inside quad cabin. We were expecting a small room but were quite impressed with the large, roominess of the cabin. My husband and I had twins beds joined together and the children slept in a bunk bed (converted sofa with pullman above). The bathroom was a little on the small side though and negotiating all of us for the shower was a bit time consuming, but manageable. We discovered that toilet visits were easily managed for a family of four, by using the many clean public facilities too. It must also be noted that drinking water from the bathroom taps was discouraged and we soon found out that to avoid paying exorbitant prices for bottled water, we could simply ask our cabin steward for water to be placed daily in our room (free of charge). Rooms were very clean and towels changed twice daily. Our steward was very helpful with all our questions and we rarely returned to our cabin after breakfast to find it unmade.
We registered both children into the kids club but unfortunately they were in separate age groups. We found this to be quite a sore point as our youngest child was only 6 days from turning seven, which would have entitled him to participate with the 7+ age group, where his sister and cousins were. It was quite frustrating and even after many conversations with management, it was still a policy that was enforced; sad.
The friendliness of staff in the restaurants and bars was incredible. Nothing seemed too difficult; in fact, it was the staff who served us drinks and food that made the cruise the luxurious cruise that it is known for. Our names were always remembered, including favourite drinks! The staff morale in the Britannia Restaurant and the Commodore Club was exceptional; in fact, the highlight of every day. They wanted to serve and make our experience the best we would ever have. The food was fantastic. My husband and I are real foodies and eat out a couple times each week. The food on the Britannia was of a very high standard. The serving sizes were perfect and the times in between courses worked very well for us with children (we pre-booked a table for the early seating at 6). Food, food, food. I can't believe how much we ate. Next time I will be taking sneakers and using the gym; daily!
The Lido buffet on the other hand was an area that I tried to avoid. Peace and tranquility it was not, so we only ate breakfast there and chose the Pub or by the pool as alternative lunchtime eating spots. It must be noted that the breakfast food was quite good in the Lido, just very rushed and busy, as most days we were rushing off for port excursions. On our next cruise I will be ordering room service for breakfast or choosing the smaller cafes or Britannia restaurant.
Afternoon tea was wonderful! The traditional silver service with strings unobtrusively playing in the background was memorable to say the least. But beware, do not turn up even 5 minutes after the official starting time as you will end up standing in a queue; that is, on the days at sea.
My favourite part of the ship was definitely the Commodore Club. The views from there were totally spectacular. The Norwegian Fjords were just breathtakingly beautiful. Once again, the service and peacefulness in the Commodore Club was the icing on the cake each evening (whilst the kids were taken care of in The Zone & Play Zone up until midnight every night!) My husband and I felt so free and totally pampered - a real treat for us.
Entertainment on board any ship often leaves alot to be desired (I'm told), but the entertainment on board the Queen Victoria was pleasant enough - the theatre was a stunning old world venue with traditional theatre boxes too.
There were self service laundries on board which were free of charge. I managed to avoid the rush by dropping in a load before heading off to breakfast each morning; no problem.Stavanger is a picturesque port with timber, quaint houses dotted everywhere. Unfortunately, the day we arrived was Sunday and therefore all the interesting shops were closed. Due to an industrial issue at the port, we were late to arrive and missed our scheduled excursion (which we were reimbursed for at the end of the cruise), but quickly booked our own tour once we disembarked for the day. This ended up being a much cheaper alternative and we saved a considerable amount of money. Beware, Norway is very, very expensive. A cup of decent coffee (espresso) was approximately AUD$7.00. The walk up the hill to the right, of the town was pretty and interesting. The boat trip out to Pulpit Rock was definitely worth the effort, regardless of the weather-(it was raining for us and we still enjoyed the trip). Next port is Geiranger. We booked an 8hr tour and were a little anxious that it would be far too long. We needn't have worried; it was the best day ever! Apparently we had the best weather too. We went right up to Dalsnibba then right around to Hellesylt and caught a ferry back to our ship. Our tour guide on the coach was fabulous; kept us all interested and informed with his wit and humour. The views on this excursion surpassed everything that I imagined Norway to be. Norway is certainly the most pristine, beautiful place I have ever been to. The remoteness adds to the attraction too. The warmth of the sun against the clear sparkling lakes and snowy mountains will always be remembered. Booking a tour is imperative as Geiranger is quite a remote area and you really can't do your own thing there. Pay the money and enjoy!
Disembarking...we chose to carry our own bags. We got straight off and straight into a cab up to London (cheaper than taking a train and saved a lot of time too); too easy!
Our cabin was an inside cabin located on deck 1 close to the Theatre. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of movement here but then my husband didn't notice a thing. The space was ample and luggage storage was brilliant. We were able to store away two large suitcases, 2 roll aways, one over the shoulder bag and a suit bag. There were enough drawers and cupboard spaces for clothing too. The shower cubicle was far too small for my liking and the shower curtain was a pest. The drainage was very slow in the shower and the ventilation was quite pungent at times. Only one person could be using the bathroom at a time - very small. Linen was fresh and beds very comfortable though. Lighting was also good. Not a lot of bench space for 4 iPhone and ds games to charge at the same time; along with a laptop and 2 cameras. Recharging had to be thought through! No noise to report, and we were sleeping in till around 8:30 - 9:00am.
Next port was Flaam. It is very important to pre-book excursions for the train. I can't stress that enough. It is a very busy place. We met people who missed out on the train because they thought they could get on by just turning up to buy a ticket.
The tourist shops in Flaam are bountiful, but that is it for shopping. The highlight is the train trip or other excursions that are on offer with the cruise. My husband went on the mountain bike excursion and loved it! If I didn't have under aged kids to look after, I would have done the bike trip too. I'm not an experienced cyclist by any means but I would have preferred the peacefulness of the bike ride to the overcrowded train ride and pathetic waffles on offer along the way!
Last port is Bergen. The weather is warm again; a beautiful 25 degrees. We do our own thing in Bergen; no excursions are booked. This works out well for us as we still get a Cunard coach ride into the city. We wander aimlessly through the city; lots of shops! We take the funicular ride to visit Mt Floyen. A great stop for kids as there was a brilliant troll park in the woods at the top of the mountain - kids could have hung out there for hours. Bergen is a picturesque city - photo worthy. Highlight for me was the shopping!