“ Luxury cruise ship. „
Had the opportunity of popping onto the Queen Victoria recently. Such a lovely ship. I've travelled many times on different liners, but I much prefer the smaller ships that have their own personal character which she certainly does have.
The cabins are of generous proportions and clean and tidy with practical and usable seating (balcony and inside cabin) and all of the venue's onboard were in a very classical style. Lots of disabled people on board that were well looked after and catered for from a mobility perspective. The staff were well trained and ticked all the boxes. The Ship had a wonderful Spa, but it was a tad expensive to use.
Even in the very high winds that we experienced during the trip, the Queen Victoria coped well and didn't move around too much. The itinerary did have to be changed around, but you expect that in bad weather, and that's sadly something Cunard cannot help.
The only negative point for me was the 'class' system on board. In these days of equality and diversity I was surprised to find out that Cunard operate different dining rooms and bars for the guests in the suites. Their room card allowed them access to a different floor in the ship (that no-one else had access to). Sadly one or two of the guests made it their business to point out at every opportunity that they were in the Princess Grill (which is on the 'special' floor). Again, not Cunard's fault, but I think this goes to show the type of people that can travel with them.
However, putting that to one side, I would recommend them for anyone looking to cruise into the future.
After many wonderful years of sailing on the QE2, we took our last trip in September 2008 on her and had to go elsewhere for our cruise. The Queen Victoria seemed to be the most obvious choice in being a more similar size than the larger Queen Mary 2 and so we booked a two week Mediterranean cruise for summer 2009. Before I went I was as usual very excited to be sailing away and I searched the internet for videos and reviews but much to my disappointment I didn't really find that much that answered the questions that I wanted to ask. So I hope that this review will be useful to future Queen Victoria novices.
On first seeing the ship I thought she looked like a Cunard ship, the red funnel certainly set her apart but I couldn't help but feel that it was a little monstrous looking compared to the QE2 (but then again as most QE2 passengers were or still are creatures of habit, this didn't really surprise me). It was a bit more floating hotel-ish but I tried to get rid of any comparative thoughts that entered my head. If anyone out there did sail on the QE2 and is going on the QV I would recommend doing the same and seeing her for what she is, a new different ship because my grandmother didn't do this and so she didn't enjoy her cruise half as much.
The interiors of the ship are a tribute to the Victorian era and really she is a lovely ship. Lots of wood effects and memorabilia scattered around, a lot more modern than her predecessor but then again when I first stepped on the QE2 I remember thinking how old fashioned she was!
Embarkation was basically a breeze. After thinking that we might not make it due to traffic we did finally go through, although we had priority embarkation being Platinum World Club and Queen's Grill. I should probably explain the different tiers in Cunard now so as to avoid any confusion. On Cunard ships the type of cabin that you have regulates where you eat. As much as they don't like to say it, it is rather like a class system. The top "tier" is the Queen's Grill, which is exclusively for those passengers staying in the suites and penthouses. The Princess Grill is for those passengers in the mini-suites and all other passengers dine in The Britannia Restaurant.
After we got on board we did the compulsorary muster station drill and then went to the sailaway party on deck. Not really much of a party as more a couple of glasses of champagne and a bit of music. But it is nice to see the ship sailaway on deck. The champagne is at an additional charge so don't get too excited! We were a bit late and we were supposed to sail out with the QM2 but this didn't happen.
The Grill passengers get access to an exclusive area where there is a private deck and also a lounge where they serve afternoon tea, aperitifs accompanied by canapes and after-dinner drinks. Even though I was a Grill passenger the only time I ever went to the Grill area was to eat dinner. I never used the lounge as it always seemed dead to me. Very quite, not really many people except for before dinner or for afternoon tea and the rest of the time it was a couple of old people falling asleep. Not really my cup of tea. I also didn't use the deck, mainly because I'm nosey and like to people watch on the main decks. However I know my grandparents enjoyed having their tea away from the hustle and bustle and knowing they would always find a seat. Depends on your preference of holiday activity.
When we booked we originally booked a suite that was a grade down from the top suite but the upgrade fairy came to visit and we got one of the four best suites on thw ship, a Q1. I have to say that I didn't really take full advantage of everything, mainly because I rarely spend time in the cabin, but it was really something. There was a beautiful marble entraceway with pillars, which opened out to the kitchen area and dining table on one side and the lounge area through another. Through another door there was the bedroom and another door to a dressing area, which led to the toilet, and then another door to the shower room and sinks and then another door (which also linked to the bedroom) to the whirlpool bath. All beautifully decorated in marble. There was also a balcony that covered half of the aft of the ship with numerous sun loungers (including a double!) and a six seater marble table. Inside the kitchenette there was a bar and sink and every day they restocked our fridge and brought us crisps, pretzels and other snacks. We also received two complimentary bottles of spirits of our choice and a bottle of champagne and some chocolate dipped strawberries on arrival. Every night we were brought canapes and fresh fruit was stocked up every day. The shower was probably the best part because it was walk in and it had a seated area (makes shaving your legs so much easier!) and it was lovely and powerful. There was also a walk in wardrobe, which would have been amazing except my grandma insisted on putting all the suitcases in there...The only complaint regarding the cabin was that there was not complete privacy on the balcony. In fact if you moved half way towards the railings then anyone on the Lido deck could see you above. If I wanted to know if my grandparents were on the balcony when I was elsewhere on the ship I just simply went to the pool and looked over. In fact a man even said to my gran "I saw you reading on your balcony!". Slightly disconcerting.
So every night we ate in the Queen's Grill and every night it was pretty much perfect. The menu changed daily and in addition there was a grill menu that stayed the same with things such as steak, duck a l'orange, lamb chops, caesar salad, snails, frogs legs, tomato soup, all sorts of things. This was always good when you didn't fancy the menu but nothing was ever too much trouble and you could request anything you wanted. The snails were absoloutely amazing and I had two portions they were so good! Only criticism was that the second week some dishes on the regular menu were repeated. But at least if you enjoyed them the first time round you could enjoy them again.
The actual restaurant was a slightly strange set up. It was very long so we couldn't really see a lot because of the lack of width. The Grills are open seating meaning you can go to dinner from 6.30-9pm. This means that we didn't even see one table of dinners for the entire voyage. We had a private table for three but there was an option for sitting on a larger table with others. Sometimes the open sitting made this a little odd though with some people eating their appetisers whilst the others were eating their desserts. However our waiter was lovely, the assistant was slightly robotic and rehearsed, as if he had got an English phrasebook and learned five sentences. Wine waiter was sometimes a little tipsy and often our wine would not come back towards the end of the evening and we would have to ask for it. Still he was pleasant enough.
The Britannia Restaurant was my muster station i.e. the place to go if there was an emergency, and this was the only time I saw it. It is on two floors and it is rather impressive. I think I would have enjoyed eating here because every time I walked past there seemed to be a really good atmosphere that the Queen's Grill lacked. The main menu was the same but there was no option of the Grill menu. However I made friends on board with a family who requested an Indian meal one night and it was prepared for them without any trouble. I didn't hear any complaints about the food only about the "stuffy" people in Queen's Grill! How I loved to tell those people moaning to me about the Grill passengers that actually I was a Grill passenger! It is worth noting that on booking you have to choose between late and early sitting. I have to say that as we went in to our restaurant around the same time as the late sitting, we often found it difficult to get out in time for the evening activities. On the other hand the early sitting had half the day cut short to go and get themselves ready for dinner. I'm not really sure which is better!
Alternative dining options are available to everyone. The Todd English serves lunch and dinner, although I never went there due to the additional charge and having fussy grandparents. The Lido is a self-service buffet where you can go for breakfast, lunch and dinner and also for snacks throughout the day. I usually ate there for lunch because it was quicker and less filling than going for the full three courses in the restaurant. The pizzas and pastas are made to order and they are really delicious. They are available late into the night and there are also sandwiches and salads available. Coffee, tea and juice (although it's like powdered, concentrated stuff) are available free all the time from here but you have to pay for any other drinks you want.
Another option on sea days is the Golden Lion Pub. This was where I spent the majority of my cruise. On sea days they had a few of the orchestra come play jazz at lunch and they served a pub lunch with the traditional cottage pie, fish and chips, etc. It tended to get very busy during this time. The pub was like an English pub from home. There were quizzes, karaoke, darts competitions, sport (when they could get the satellite) on TV. Although on port days it was empty it was never really quiet on sea days. Bar staff here were probably the friendliest but that could be because I spent most of my time in there! I even sat on the same bar stool...
So other bars on board were Cafe Carinthia, where I had a coffee once. This seemed to be the place where people just went to try to read a book but fall asleep. It was generally always quiet. The champagne bar seemed to be even more empty. The casino bar was usually buzzing during the evening, probably because it was one of the two indoor smoking areas. The Commodore Club was probably the most popular whilst I was on board. It offers fantastic views of the horizon and it was lovely to go sit there during sunsets. There was a pianist in the evening and they had themed nights such as James Bond and Rat Pack nights. They also served Churchill's Cigar Lounge next door so smokers tended to congregate there. Then there is Hemisphere's the nightclub on board. But this was usually empty and closed really quite early fora nightclub. Sometimes not long after the Commodore Club. I only went in a few times because there really wasn't a lot of atmosphere and it wasn't that big at all. Rather disappointing compared the Yacht Club on the QE2. The only time it was full was when they had a themed night such as 70s night but then it would empty pretty soon after.
Another busy place for the evening was the Queen's Room, which is where all the ballroom dancing was held. This got quite busy after dinner, especially with the older clientele. I didn't really go here except for the passenger talent show, which is always an amusing event. They also have ballroom classes and fencing there in the morning. Afternoon tea was also held here and it got really busy. I only passed through but the sandwiches and cakes did look lovely, served by white gloved waiters. It was a bit of a fight for a table so I just didn't bother. Plus breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and midnight buffet is a bit of a stretch or my digestive system! The cocktail parties were also here and this is where something is finally free. There is usually a choice between champagne (which is not really champagne) or orange juice or wine. If you don't like mingling it is a little pointless going and I would also recommend that if you don't want to meet the captain you go a little later and avoid the monstrous queue or come in from the other side. I just skipped the queue at the front and said I didn't want to meet the Captain but I did feel a little rude as if I thought I was better or something!
The casino was very popular. Bear in mind though that they can't open during port so it is only sea days and evenings that they open. I still think the popularity was due to the smoking area as much as the gambling attraction. If you don't know how to play they give tutorials throughout the voyage. I didn't personally gamble but I spent a lot of time there with the fellow smokers. It was sometimes hard to get a seat and I spent a lot of time standing around the bar or asking people if I could join them but it was a good way to get speaking to people.
There is also a library and I have to say I was a little disappointed because it had been raved about, being on two floors, but as nice as it was it was very small in comparison to the pictures I saw. Still quite cute and cosy though.
One of the highlights is the theatre, which is the best I have seen at sea. It really could rival the West End. I didn't go to any shows but there was the option to book a box with canapes and champagne for an additional fee and I'm sure that would have been wonderful.
The Winter Garden is out on the deck but is covered, like you expect from the old Victorian winter gardens. It is really pleasant but once again it never seemed to be very busy so I didn't often go there.
The one pool is nearby but I didn't test the water. On this particular cruise there were quite a few children and teenagers on board so I tended to avoid the pool areas. The pools aren't very big and the other one on the Lido deck seemed to attract as much young attention. The only time I ever went around there was to take the stairs up to smoke.
There is a shopping area complete with Harrods. But Harrods is really just the souvenir stuff. You can pick up some deals on perfumes and jewellery but most of the good stuff is never on offer. There is also duty free that you can pick up at the end of your voyage. There is also the usual QV souvenirs and a convenience shop. Don't expect too much from it though. The clothes would not suit anyone my age and even my grandma thought they were old fashioned.
The general atmosphere on board will vary from cruise to cruise. It often depends on the time of year and the itinerary to determine what the clientele will be like. Due to it being school holidays there were moer youngsters than usual but the number was nothing compared to the amount of children on other cruise lines. In comparison there were relatively few.
Cunard have the reputation for elegance and you do have to dress for dinner according to the dress code. This sometimes meas a man cannot enter the restaurant without a jacket and tie. Most passengers adhere to this but Cunard has it's loyal following and this means that most on the ships come year after year and they enjoy this type of cruising. I have to say that at first it is a novelty dressing up in your finery but then there were a few nights when I thought do I really need to put all this make up on and do my hair again? You also cannot wear shorts in the restaurant or jeans in the evening in the restaurant. This didn't really bother me except for the fact that we were in the Med so to change out of my shorts was just a hassle. So I just didn't bother.
You will find a lot of hardcore QE2-ers on there and the amount of times I heard "On the QE2..." but there is one certain aspect that I found strange. The smoking policy. On the QE2 the pub was smoking and on the QM2 the pub is smoking but on the QV it's not. Instead they confine smokers to a tiny room that is always full and to the casino. Now there are enough bars on board to make one smoking. If you don't like smoking you can go to another bar where it is non-smoking. But not all gamblers smoke and they can't go to another bar. This put my grandparents off gambling, as they normally would, because all the smokers were concentrated. I'm not quite sure what Cunard was thinking on that one. Probably some theory that smokers gamble and drink more, I imagine.
The prices for drinks are not that bad. At first you think they are until you remember that everything is in dollars on the ship. Really they are not much higher than you would expect to pay at home. You can purchase a soft drinks package, which allows you to have unlimited soft drinks at all times for a daily fee (sorry dooyoo took so long to process this suggestion I have forgotten how much!).
Overall I have little to complain about, and I did actually grow to like her exterior. We enjoyed it so much that we have booked a further three voyages on her for 2010. Just don't compare her to the QE2...