I know, I know….sounds weird “Welcome back Cunard!”, like a grammar mistake…But is not ! And I will explain you why.
In the last 3 years we travelled with Cunard couple of times on all three ships: Canary Island, Transatlantic, Norwegian Fjords, two sectors of a World Voyage and so one. And each time, every time Cunard failed to impress us. It was nice but we didn’t find the “White Star Service” as advertised or expected. Cunard was missing something
Last year we decided to have another go, on Queen Victoria. And the result was a multiplied WOW. Everything was PERFECT. Maybe just pure luck? To be sure that wasn’t a “cruise miracle” we booked again on Queen Victoria, this year, a 7 days voyage to Denmark and Germany. When we left the ship in a cold morning in Southampton we were 100% sure that the previous experience wasn’t an exception and we can say loud and clear “WELCOME BACK Cunard!”, welcome back to what we like about you and what we expect from you.
Queen Victoria is elegance personified, an understated British style, without glitzy or loud and an ambience modest rather than striking. You can’t’ not love the luxurious furnishings and eye-catching features the air of extravagance on board atmosphere with muted colours and lots of dark wood. Is interesting the way how Cunard keep in Queen Victoria mixes the ambiance of the ocean liners of times past with the contemporary elegance of a modern luxury hotel.
Everywhere you turn there is a treat for the eyes, from the glittering chandeliers and white gloved waiters serving scones at afternoon tea to elegant restaurants and deep, rich carpets. The interior decor is ‘traditional’ in Cunard-speak, with public rooms finely decorated in Edwardian/Victorian styles, with wrought-iron balustrades on staircases and in some bars.
To be honest no matter how much blase you are, is impossible to don’t admire the stunning three-tier Grand Lobby with its unique artwork, sweeping staircase, sculpted balconies and a dramatic triple-height ceiling. A bronzed-effect sculptural representation of the cruise ship emerging from a sun motif coordinated with a marquetry relief depicting a map of the world is visible from nearly every part of the Grand Lobby.
Queen Victoria has 1,003 cabins. There are 143 inside, 146 ocean view and 581 balcony cabins. We had for our 7 days voyage a Penthouse – Q4 cabin situated on the 7th Deck. The Penthouse Suites feature a king-size bed a living area with sofa writing desk and chair balcony bathroom with bath and shower. Each of the 35 Queens Grill Penthouse Suites comes with a large living area, bedroom with acres of storage space and a veranda. Balconies have one large white table, one square small table, two stools, two loungers and two recliner chairs. The suite includes plush linens, a walk-in closet and a fully stocked bar. Additional amenities include butler and concierge service, fresh fruit and flowers, welcome bottles of champagne and strawberries, complimentary bottle water, complimentary broadsheet newspaper, DVD player priority disembarkation and tender service, access to the Queens Lounge, priority embarkation and luggage delivery, personalized stationery, Terry cloth robes with matching slippers.
Even if we loved the room, for sure the real star of this voyage was our butler Elvie – the personification of the service excellence and attention to detail. She was absolutely fantastic and from the moment when we arrived on board, every detail was taken care of, every need was met, and every desire anticipated with just the right level of sensitive, informed service. Elvie was the prototype of a perfect butler: trusting and trustworthy, friendly but not familiar, reliable, low-key, unobtrusive professional. Thank you very much Elvie.
The choice of daily canapes is up to you; we requested caviar on blinis before dinner and Elvie took care that the blinis change every day so no change to get bored. You can opt at the beginning of the voyage for 2 bottle of premium spirit and again the butler took care to replace the bottle before they finished.
Cunard is respected for its cuisine and service, with a wide variety of well-prepared and presented dishes. Queens Grill and Princess Grill, two Grill Class-only restaurants, provide exclusive dining. These have a single-seating arrangement, providing an intimate, exclusive dining experience than in the two-seating main Britannia Restaurant.
On the port side, the 142-seat Queens Grill is for passengers in suites and top category accommodation grades, and provides the best cuisine and service aboard. The Cunard Grill experience also includes alfresco dining in a seldom used courtyard terrace (The Courtyard), suitably protected from the wind, and exclusive access for Grill Class passengers to an upper terrace deck, with dedicated staff as well as the Grills’ lounge and bar.
Culinary adventures aboard Cunard Queen Victoria extend beyond the elegant menus from superbly casual to sublimely creative. or guests who stay in Queens Grill accommodation, this is ultimate expression of dining excellence. The waiter will guide you through delicious possibilities. The chef does his best to fulfil all requests.
The 142-seat Queens Grill restaurant, featuring a cream, gold and blue colour scheme, is the exclusive dining venue of Queens Suite passengers. During the day, the entire length of the Queens Grill dining room is illuminated with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. At night, lighting comes from decorative glass uplighters. Wedgwood bone china, Waterford crystal, sterling silverware and Fili d’Oro Italian premium linens complete the scene.
The Grills are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the Grills experience is not limited to the restaurants themselves. The same goes for the room service for these guests and there is no charge for that, it is all kind of inclusive. In the Grills the world “limit” basically doesn’t exist. The caviar is available, the foie gras is available. If you want it every night, have it every night.
The dinner menu is a many splendored thing, with appetisers that might include sevruga caviar or seafood bisque. Typical choices for mains could be lobster flambe with Cognac truffle and wild mushroom risotto, while a choice of around six desserts (including a sugar-free option) The cheese selection is beyond magnificent. Here however, the menu functions merely as a guide because, in grand Cunard tradition, staff will accommodate any request, on or off the menu, if available.
The menus in the Grill restaurants are similar, but with a few added extras in the Queen’s Grill, such as Chateaubriand – and a genuinely ‘on demand’ service, where you can walk in and ask for whatever you desire to be prepared for you there and then!
Here is a sample of a dinner menu:
APPETIZERS & SOUPS
- Symphony of Salmon Tartar, Shrimp Ceviche on Trumpet Mushroom & Green Asparagus
- Sturgeon Caviar on Buckwheat Blini
- Baby Spinach Salad, Walnut & Crispy Bacon Bits, Balsamic & Grape Dressing
- Endive Salad with Asparagus, Honey Ginger Dressing
- Pan-roasted Halibut, Forked Potato, Orange & Lime Marmalade, Vanilla Beurre Blanc
- Lobster Américaine Flambé with Cognac, Truffle, Wild Mushroom Risotto
- Roast Duck à L’Orange, Pommes Amandine
- Châteaubriand, Larded Peas & Gratin Dauphinoise Potatoes
- Cassis Champagne Mousse, Wild Berry Coulis
- Mango & Passion Fruit Crème Brûlée
- Chocolate and Raspberry Crêpe Soufflé with Oranges, Vanilla Sauce
- Sugar-free Strawberry Tart with Fresh Berry Salad
- A Selection of International Cheeses from the Cheese Trolley is Served at your Table
In Queens Grill, Cunard have an obsession with setting fire every second so expect around 4-5 fireworks show at your neighbour’s tables when Maître D’ start the procedure of “flambé” everything is in the menu for main course. The huge set menu in Queens Grill is also supplemented by an a’la carte menu, and then the ability to order off menu if you want. The range of dishes is huge, including dishes cooked at your table. Service is exceptional.
Afternoon tea has been a Cunard tradition for more than a century, and the brew served is a blend of Ceylon, Assam and Kenyan tea specially selected for Cunard.. Tea is served from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Queens Room certainly deserves a mention, with a small army of white-gloved waiters dancing attendance with pots of fresh leaf tea and plates of finger sandwiches, mini open-faced sandwiches, mini cakes and, to finish, a separate individual plate with a scone, jam and cream. Sometimes you have to wait in line to get a table if you don’t like to share it but the secret is to arrive around 15-20 minutes before the closing time. The reward of sharing your afternoon tea with “the crowd” is the entertainment: very good quality classical musicians, sometimes a dancing afternoon tea (ballroom of course) The other option is the Queens Lounge where unfortunately if you don’t catch a table you end in the restaurant where the story is a bit different (see the comments at the end of this review). Here is no music but at least the quality of tea, sandwiches, cakes and even scones and clotted cream is above those in Queens Room.
Of course, as on all other ships the range of restaurants is quite impressive:
- The Lido on Deck 9 – a casual, bright and airy informal dining area with a daylong buffet selection and historic Cunard images lining the walls.
- Golden Lion Pub on Deck 2 – the only bar onboard that sells draught ales and lagers with an atmosphere which resembles a traditional English pub with an antique-ish pressed tin ceiling and wide-screen wall-mounted TVs showing the latest news and sport.
- Cafe Carinthia on Deck 2, named after a former Cunard ship, offers the style and sophistication of a traditional French patisserie in a classy space highlighted by Art Deco elements in shades of gold, blue and rich bronze. An ideal spot for a light lunch when quiches, smoked salmon sandwich and salads are on the menu.
- Britannia Restaurant on Decks 2 and 3 is Queen Victoria’s largest dining venue, an elegant space with double-height ceiling offset by cornices and intimate groupings of tables that try to balance the room’s size. The room’s upper and lower levels accommodate 878 guests and a string quartet or harpist usually performs during the first hour of dining
I have always found Cunard entertainment disappointing. It is very dated. The production shows are predictable and rely heavily on safe routines of songs through the ages and they pull in UK based guest entertainers that are past their prime. It is unadventurous and is (in my view) unexciting. I usually avoid or end up leaving most shows. They are trying to attract a younger crowd on the ships, but their entertainment has not yet got that memo!
The 830-seat, three-deck Royal Court Theatre on Deck 3 was designed to emulate the grandeur and luxury of the spectacular designs of architect Frank Matcham, whose dramatic multi-tiered theatres made him one of the most prolific theatre designers
Two shows per night — at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. — last around 50 minutes. While on-board, Cunard had on schedule a quite good dance show), a performance by some comedians, which was sometimes rude and the British sense of humour was unsurprisingly rather lost on many of the Americans and Germans in the audience and the same blues band from P&O with the same attitude and mediocrity.
Dance Passion celebrates the exuberant world of dance. Outstanding international dancers execute superb and diverse choreography, capturing the magic of Gene Kelly – the sensual Argentine Tango, Salsa and Samba. The show delivers the grace and elegance of classic dance to the vibrant energy of Swing and Jump Jive. It was our favourite moment in the Royal Court Theatre and for the first time bot singers and dancer the reach the same level of professionalism and quality.
Among the Royal Court’s most distinguishing features are the 16 private boxes that frame the stage and are furnished with armchairs and cocktail tables, two of which are wheelchair accessible. A box for two entitles you to a glass of Champagne, canapes or chocolate-covered strawberries, a photo taken with the cast and the services of a uniformed bell boy who escorts you to your seat. Is a must do experience!
Especially on sea days, passengers are offered for choice with lots of activities, including beginners’ bridge classes, golf-putting tournaments, whist, bingo and lectures. The Golden Lion Pub hosts a variety of entertainment (such as darts or trivia games), while ballroom and line dance classes get passengers moving in the Queens Room. Art classes are sometimes held in Hemispheres. There are also daily Friends of Bill W and Friends of Dorothy meetings. Wherever you go, you will encounter live music, typically harpists or pianists. The lectures must be said in my opinion were very poor. A Nigel Vardy an “explorer”? And a Malcolm Macfarlane who spoke on music in 60’s,etc!
Hemispheres on deck 10, positioned aft of the mast and adjacent to the Commodore Club, overlooks the wood-decked Pavilion Pool will play recorded ballroom and Latin music in the early evening and offer live music for late-night dancing from 10:30 p.m. onwards alternating with a DJ. The band was “alright”…maybe too much reggae and a massive obsession to change every other songs in “reggae style” music…and their go on ABBA was quite painful. Despite the 60-70-80’s type of music we loved our nights in Hemispheres and we catch early hours of the morning there.
1920s Art Deco inspired The Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar, overlooks the Grand Lobby and is a chic room sparkling with golden glass elements that form a backdrop for sandblasted Art Deco glass panels. As the name suggests, the bar serves Veuve Clicquot Champagne exclusively. This costs from $80 to $395 a bottle but no worries you cannot order Champagne by the glass.
We signed up for an wine tasting event – “Around the world in 12 wines” which was 100 times better than the similar free wine tasting dedicated to loyal guests. The Chef Sommelier (Ovidiu) and our own sommelier (Dejan) gave us in a very pleasant, relax way the chance to discover what we like and what we don’t like about wine and manage to infuse a lot of knowledge in a very entertaining and professional manner.
And the sail away from Hamburg was an exceptional event with the marching Band of Elsinor Girls (Helsingør Pigegarde) fireworks, hotels beside the river Elbe saluting the ship and a passing by Queen Elizabeth with horns in full blast. What a magic evening !
I was always impressed by the library on decks 2 and 3 which offers a selection of 6,000 books. This traditionally styled, mahogany wood, double-height room is connected by a spiral staircase to the upper level. The carpet is embedded with signatures of literary figures and there are plenty of leather sofas and armchairs
And of course the magnificent Queens Room ballroom hosting themed parties, cocktails and ballroom dance sessions every day !
The Cunard White Star Service and training is clearly very efficient and service is very good. It is a more formal, British and reserved style of service. Though I think, that it lacks some of the warmth though. The Captain, and senior crew, in all my experiences have been more distant and formal and stayed at arms length from the passengers. On recent trips there also has been more of an underlying tension about the changes that Cunard is going through to grow and become more modern that on-board seem less welcome of, and this seeps through the crew. On our last trip this feeling was not present anymore and we enjoyed every second on-board. The slickness and professionalism of Cunard, through its White Star Service credo, compensates for the less warm approach.
Couple of points where Cunard has be look in to be not only very close to perfection, but perfect:
- Afternoon tea in Queens Lounge
Despite the fact that Queens Lounge is a lovely comfy stylish space can’t accommodate all the guests in Grills. Therefore the Maître D’ use Queens Restaurant as an overflow space which is OK. Unfortunately the service standards are not the same; the waiting time was quite long, the waiters seems to be quite annoyed when you ask for a menu or a special type of tea and you need to wave couple of times to get the attention of somebody for an extra cake or scone.
- Purser’s Desk Staff
All over the world, in hotels or cruise ships the reception team is the interface between the guests and the rest of the team and therefore they must be a quintessence of the entire company’s customer service philosophy. On Queen Victoria, in two occasions, the receptionist manage to destroy point by point the entire list of Cunard White Star Service code and more than that when we mentioned the wrong attitude to the Purser the reaction was more or less the same; the only difference were the stripes on the jacket.
- On-board lectures
Cunard always exceeded the expectations of traveller with very interesting lecturers and topics. From literature to art, from history to media, I always try to find a place in the theatre for a morning or an afternoon lecture. This time the two options were completely wrong. Malcolm Macfarlane talking about 60s and 70s music mastering quite well PowerPoint, Google Search engine and YouTube but leaving behind any confidence in front of the audience and any charisma and Nigel Vardy ,an “explorer”, which manage to empty an venue ¼ full at the beginning with at least 40% till the end of the presentation
Bottom line: this new experience on Queen Victoria brought back Cunard on our options list for a future cruise due to Cunard’s commitment to ensuring each guest is pampered during each voyage. Cunard prides itself on standards of service that go above and beyond, exceeding the expectations of guests. And indeed on Queen Victoria this January we rediscovered the White Star Service
Before the last Cunard cruise I was part of the pessimists concerned that Cunard is having to “dumb down” through the demands and pressures of Carnival ownership. I believe that I can observe a trend of erosion of the high standards and quality that Cunard used to strive to and maintain. Now I am on the other side, the optimist side believing that the less than superlative experiences are the inevitable challenges of having to deliver service consistently across a larger fleet. For a very long time Cunard had just one ship in the form of Queen Elizabeth 2. This meant it was easier for the company to maintain consistency. Now they have 3 ships with many more crew members and demands. But Cunard is back on the right path!
So to sum up this has been a trip which has seen Cunard keep up its exceptional service and standards. Cunard does keep it First Class and does rule the waves