QUEEN VICTORIA – DECEMBER 2018 A pseudo SWOT Analysis

In December last year I travelled with Cunard Queen Victoria on V836 from Southampton. Perfect choice for a pre-Christmas escape from the south-east English weather. I booked a Penthouse (Q4) – 7101 and I experienced a nice cruise but without a WOW factor.ship

After my return home I received the on-line questionnaire and when I reached the most important question for any type of business: “If asked, how likely is it that you would recommend Cunard to a friend or colleague?” I needed quite a long time to decide. And finally, the answer was NO.

WARNING: if you are an unconditional Cunard fan please stop reading this review now. I am a Platinum member with Cunard line, I always book trips on Queens grill, I travelled on all 3 ships but … I always keep a balance between “living the (marketing) dream” and reality. And I don’t want to upset anybody-ish.

NO modern cruise line can match Cunard Line’s legacy at sea, dating back to 1840 and its trans-Atlantic steamboat days. Cunard operated the first passenger ship lit by electricity, the first with an indoor swimming pool and the first to offer an around-the-world voyage, in 1922. But time changes, the cruise market is very competitive today and the old saying “we never forget that you have a choice” seems to be forgotten by Cunard.

I was trying to find why a trip, which could be a mesmerising series of experiences and memories ended as a folder of nice photos on my external drive. Suddenly I remember the nightmare of my last degree: SWOT Analysis. And I decided to look back to my trips V836 through the magnifying glass of a pseudo- SWOT Analysis

Queen Victoria, which during the years, established herself as a favourite way to explore the world has without doubt a lot of STRENGHTS in her pocket. In my previous trips, she always delighted me with her special appeal, where elegance and unique features combine seamlessly to create a unique atmosphere and warmth developing a sense of escapism.

My Penthouse Q4 (#7101) was a perfect choice for this trip: a private space of approximately 520-707 square feet, featuring marble bathrooms and whirlpool baths, plus an expansive private balcony which commands impressive sea views. Cunard spent more than $40 million on refurbishing Queen Victoria in 2017, but the work done in Fincantieri shipyard didn’t elevate the in-room experience. Don’t get me wrong, #7101 was a very nice stateroom but small for a penthouse, it is more of a suite. Cunard don’t make the best use of the space and a lot is wasted. The new deco adds gave me the feeling that I stepped in to an expensive room in an assisted living facility with old fashioned scatter cushions and incredibly ugly choice for the balcony’s loungers and chairs. The odd layout with lots of doors can explain the lack of storage…seems to be plenty in photos but, when you try to unpack you realise that the size of the wardrobe, drawers and shelves are matching a low-cost one suitcase only traveller profile.

Click here to see a video report about Penthouse Q$ (7101) on Queen Victoria

I always considered that on a Cunard cruise you pay mainly for the gastronomic on-board experience. And this time was the same in Queens Grill restaurant. An intimate and sophisticated dining room offered for every breakfast, lunch and dinner the finest culinary experiences with finest food and wines. The staff – Dom, Jesse, Michael together with the Maître D’ provided an excellent efficient and elegant service during the cruise, quite close to the expected renowned White Star Service. I said “close to…” just because Cunard started to cut some corners in Queens Grill Restaurant. Is already history the Silver Service style featuring the waiter individually serving each guest from a large platter, QG restaurant moving now to the “mainstream cruising style” of dishes brought from the galley on plates covered with plastic lids.

Of course, you can’t blame the amazing staff in the restaurant for the “flambé-mania”. Sorry…? You never heard about that? Let me explain you: Cunard was proud in old days to offer in the QG Restaurant the French type of service for dinner, requiring adequate space since food is prepared table-side for guests on a cart (gueridon) and cooked foods such as steak, beef wellington, or bananas foster prepared on a hot plate, or rechaud on the tableside cart. Now due to the quite high number of tables in the restaurant this special touch was erased and the only remain of those glorious dinners was the flambé touch of some dishes. But for those passengers using the cruise as a “Titanic veneer” flambé started to be the word of the day, every day, in a race between tables, setting in fire everything possible, overloading with work the restaurant staff and feeling the space with a strong “call the firemen” smell. In some nights the restaurant looked like a village in Germany during the witch-hunt from 1600s.

Click here to see a video report of the first dinner on board

I tried the Lido for lunch a couple of times and the food was cold and a very poor selection with no service from the waiting staff who never once offered to bring drinks or cutlery just avoided eye contact and carried on chatting.

Being innovative and taking the risk of being trendy for sure improve the customer experience. And on-board Queen Victoria I found the perfect example: the “gin and fizz” themed menu in the Midships Lounge, which includes a variety of wines, Prosecco, Cava and Champagne alongside premium gins and spirits. One night, Adam the bartender in the Midship Lounge help me to explore with a lot of professionalism and plenty of knowledge, the fascinating and intrigue world of weird gins. It was what I call a wow moment…so it is possible if you want to add something extra and create some revenue at the same time.

I was talking earlier about the White Star service, a Cunard trademark, framework of service standards that go above and beyond, exceeding the expectations of guests from the moment when you step on board. On Queen Victoria was a little bit different: a boarding process efficient but flat and a waiting area for passengers in Grills looking like a check-in area for premium passengers of a low-cost airline.

Click here to see a video report from the embarkation day

Upon entering the ship, I went through the security in to the lobby and stood there for a few minutes and decided there was going to be no bell hop greeting and being escorted to our suite as advertised by Cunard. I arrived in the suite and stayed there about 30 mins thinking the butler would be there to greet me but since no sign of them I went to lunch. On my return I was in the cabin about one hour before the butler turned up.

The butler was very efficient, and the cabin steward kept the cabin clean and tidy but is weird how I can’t remember their names. Normally, in all my previous cruises, the butler’s name stayed always with me as a pleasant memory, but this time, the lack of personal touches places the experience in to “another cruise” box. And I’m not talking only about the HK team, everywhere on-board everybody was doing more or less excellent their job without creating memories or experiences…just their job!

Click here to see a video report of QV leaving Southampton

It is not a secret anymore that the competition on the cruise market is fierce and the luxury segment led by Crystal, Seaborn or Regen gained recently new dimensions with the “ship within ship” concept of MSC’s Yacht Club. Therefore, Queen Victoria needs to address her WEAKNESSES.

First of all, overall deco. Classy and luxurious doesn’t mean at all old fashion. I was expecting after the 2017 revamp to meet an elegant Cunard Queen, keeping the charming art deco style but bringing a fresh touch.

 

“This investment in Queen Victoria just goes to demonstrate Cunard’s passion for delivering an experience that exceeds guests’ expectations in luxury travel by sea,” said Simon Palethorpe, Senior Vice President, Cunard. In realty the changes brought QV in line with other mainstream ocean liners. The new Penthouse Suites on Deck 8 aft, adopting once again the “Titanic veneer” obsession, with the new colour schemes create a subliminal claustrophobic feeling behind the apparent luxury defined living and sleeping spaces.

43 Britannia Club Staterooms were added, of course increasing the revenue, the upgraded and refreshed Winter Garden features now a real tree in the centre of the room but a lot of bright, colourful furniture making the place more overcrowded than comfortable and stylish during the day and the Hemisphere’s nightclub reworked into The Yacht Club with art-deco-ish gold-ish dividers and blue and green furniture transforming the place from a successful night spot in a blunt day/night lounge.

The interesting thing is that during the cruise I watched on TV a documentary about QE2, admiring the revolutionary, trendy, almost avant-garde features of on-board venues and deco. Something was lost during the years…Why Queen Victoria keep both her anchors in the past (not very sure which) without sailing in to the future?

The weakest link on Queen Victoria in my December cruise was the entertainment and that’s includes not only the shows but the daily and evening activities too. The reason behind this is that Cunard didn’t updated the passenger profile: a 60+ passenger in 2018 is completely different than a 60+ passenger in 2000. Especially on trips with a lot of sea days other companies try to offer a wide spectrum of activities targeting different generations, interests and level of activities. On Queen Victoria the main daily “attractions” were needlework and watercolour painting classes, couple of dance lessons and the favourite of our Cruise Director – chairobics. The iPad and Facebook lessons were almost “offensive” for 2018 when everybody read and write on-line reviews and shopping on-line was more successful, according the statistics, for 60+ customers last Christmas. On those sea days I had the feeling that all these activities were part of a secret plan to have passengers frozen in boredom in the lounges or in the elegant new re-fitted Winter Garden.

Click here to see a video report about a day on board Queen Victoria

The Cunard’s main competitors erased long time ago the idea of a bearded inaccessible man talking 30+ minutes every midday from the ceiling – The Captain. The big boys on the cruise market made the officers and the crew part of the guest experience and travelling with Viking, Seaborn or MSC will always give the chance to be approached and have a friendly chat with the men in white giving you the feeling that you are a “GUEST” on board. On Queen Victoria you must join the line to shake Captain’s hand for each cocktail and apart of a monotone and long everyday 12 o’clock speech you wonder if he really exists or if he knows from his golden cage what’s the “PASSENGERS” experience of cruising on Queen Victoria.

Not long time ago I was so excited by Cunard’s enrichment program and I remember couple of cruises when I spent hours in the Royal Court Theatre witnessing captivating lectures performed by true magicians of public speaking. In December, on Queen Victoria, an unbalanced double choice keep me away from the theatre after the first try: Jim Kennedy – Former Director Kennedy Space Enter, quite interesting and trying hard to be entertaining at the same time and Ken Vard – Maritime Expert with long, boring “reading from the notes” talks about history of cruise liners (a very appealing topic killed with passion couple days in a row). I think Mr. Vard’s Titanic’s drama approach was the only occasion when I couldn’t wait for the famous ship to sunk! Somebody missed the idea that the lectures are not part of a dull second-hand University schedule but are part of a not at all new concept called infotainment/edutainment. But that’s cost money and Queen Victoria was sailing to make a profit!lecture

In my 10+ previous cruises with Cunard, the Gala Balls were the highlight of the evenings on-board with finest dinner jackets and ballgowns sweeping around the Queens Room and an eight-piece orchestra setting the tempo to an evening of dancing. This time, the three Balls were just a pale copy of the former glory. The Black&White, Masquerade and the Royal Cunard events, despite the amazing performance of the live orchestra didn’t manage to be the evening magnet like before. Could it be the target audience of this particular cruise, could it be the “I have 90 minutes to dance before bed” animation team or the result of tiredness of doing nothing during the day? Who knows! What I remember is how, at the Masquerade Ball, the couple of us wearing masks were eaten up by the waves of dirty looks coming from a sea of Matalan tuxedos and Primark dresses. And all those nights ended with a hand full of couples rehearsing their dance steps and starting from the same corner of the dance-floor in case of a mistake. Looking at them I remembered an excellent line of Darcey Bussell in one of Strictly’s episode: “Stop counting the steps and enjoy dancing!”

The live orchestra was once again amazing, but Queen Victoria didn’t score this time with the dance Band Changez or the DJ. The Yacht Club (former Hemisphere) which use to be the hottest night spot on-board until early hours was now dominated by the mediocre performance of the band and the “I’m too good to be here” attitude of the lead singer plus a DJ with no sense of the floor, who managed to make the dancers to run way every 4 songs with his choice of music. And no surprise that the same vibe was repeated during the sail away parties transformed from a celebration of glorious weather evenings in time fillers before the first dinner seating.

Queen Victoria needs to wake up because they are plenty of OPPORTUNITIES out the without massive costs which will increase for sure the guest experience.

The accomplished resident musicians were able to create an enticing ambience and the resident pianist was setting an elegant tone to every evening in the Commodore Club. They can be more than a warm welcome on board and melodic accompaniment to Afternoon Tea; adding a contemporary touch and placing them in the centre of a musical event will be for sure a highlight of a cruise

The magnificent Royal Court Theatre with its three-tiered venue unsurpassed in form and function, an ambience much that of a 19th century theatre, with rich brocade fabric dressing the walls, a deep red velvet curtain, private boxes featuring an ornate frieze of gold leaf, and murals framing the walls above the stage is a unique opportunity to bring back to live memorable shows. I had the chance to see two during my cruise: “Dance Passion” and “Hollywood Nights” with exquisite performances of a live orchestra on stage and breathtakingly sound and lights effect. This time the dancers and choreography were quite impressive, but the resident Royal Court Singers reminded me of a end of the year performance of a Stage School.

. And I don’t want to forget the amazing experience of the collection of sixteen private boxes – the first-ever at sea – that frame the stage and afford 48 lucky guests exclusive seating from which to enjoy the performances. Seating from two to eight guests each depending on the size, the boxes are furnished with graceful armchairs and cocktail tables. Individual-sized champagne bottles and sweet or savoury treats are served by white-gloved theatre ushers. Perfect opportunity to enjoy a world class show if you have one to enjoy!

Click here to see a video report about shows at Royal Court Theatre

If anything, perfectly encapsulates Cunard’s service and sense of occasion, it is the prized daily ritual: Afternoon Tea, served by white-gloved waiters every afternoon in the Queens Room. Indulgent finger sandwiches, scones and pastries accompany Twinings fine leaf teas, as the orchestra provides a melodic backdrop. It is a unique moment which can benefit from eliminating the rush service feeling and a kind of a dress code for guests. Of course, Grills guests may also retreat to the more intimate Princess Grill restaurant, with waiters waiting for the service to end and focusing on guests known from the evening service – this made the entire experience more a food service than a recreation of an old tradition.

The world is full these days with gadgets which can be adapted to increase the guest experience on board Queen Victoria. It is not acceptable in 2018 not to be able to check your account on an interactive screen in your cabin or to call room service for a late order when other cruise lines brought the modern technology closer to their passengers. Being traditional and stylish doesn’t mean that you must watch old fashioned designed programmes on internal TV channel, order a DVD to watch a movie, or spend a minute or two trying to catch the attention of a busy waiter for a drink. Crystal, Viking, Celebrity, NCL or MSC found Hi-Tech solutions to all these issues forcing the technology to serve the idea of a cruise focused on comfort, flexibility and choice. The excuse of 60+ market doesn’t exist anymore when everybody has at least a smart phone, a tablet or a laptop on-board.

When the cruise market is dominated by the power of choice, my lovely Queen Victoria faces a series of THREATS which can damage her position on my favourites ship list.

For many, many years Cunard relied upon a market groomed by the 60s and 70s cruise liners experience: unique, trendy, upmarket. I had the chance to talk with passengers travelling on QE2 still talking about the vibe on board and telling me that now this feeling is lost in the mass-production in cruise industry. The risk is now that this market will stop cruising sooner or later due to obvious reasons and Cunard didn’t act in the last years to gain passengers in their 40s or 50s. Viking, Crystal, MSC and Celebrity acted a little bit faster and now they attract a market which started to be loyal. Once again being traditional, stylish and classy doesn’t mean boring and old fashioned and the passenger’s profile change from year to year, not from generation to generation like before.

I am sure that Queen Victoria will find a way to please different generations and lifestyles with activities, programmes and events. It is a well needed plastic surgery session to erase the wrinkles which I saw on her forehead during my last cruise.

To keep sailing QV needs to be profitable. It is a fact. Lowering the price to have the ship always full, bringing the concept of mass-production in their cruising style have their advantages and disadvantages. The effects of mass-production are universal: the cost of goods/services kept on falling which meant that more people could afford to buy them. But that evolution contradicts the marketing promises of Cunard to be “a lasting legacy of historical connection to the White Star Line and honours the golden era of these elegant and luxurious vessels” Walking on the ships’ decks and looking at the black and white photos hanging on the walls you easily realise the distance between eras. In the cruise industry you can make a profit without compromising the elegance, exclusivity and standards and Viking, Crystal, MSC’s Yacht Club or NCL’s Haven are “sailing” proves that a high price attracts a certain clientele which appreciate every effort made to achieve a modern elegance, luxury. If not, the risk is to have a too white plastic veneers instead of a durable, discreet and elegant implants.

download

I know that these pages will upset the loyal admires of Cunard and Queen Victoria for criticising their beloved ship and cruise line.

I know that these pages will drive crazy my University teacher for not respecting the rules of a SWOT Analysis.

But I was just trying to understand why in December Queen Victoria offered me instead of durable memories just a “nice” cruise. I was just trying to understand why, in the last 5 years, while keeping constant the number of 10-11 cruises/year, my Cunard bookings dropped from 5 to 3 to 1 and, until now, 0 for 2019.

img_6313

~ by leonard69 on January 12, 2019.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: