So in June of this year I finally got the chance to Sail on one of their three Ocean liners, the Queen Victoria. Now before anyone gets frustrated, I realise that the Queen Mary is the only true Ocean liner but having survived 70ft (21 metre) waves for a couple of days in the Atlantic this January, I’m confident this modified Vista class ship is worthy of Cunard’s Ocean liner marketing.
A random side note for those interested in rather pointless trivia is that the ship currently sailing as the P&O Arcadia, was initially marked to become the Queen Victoria and still retains its Cunard style funnel. Late in the construction phase it was decided to switch this hull to P&O and Cunard commissioned a larger redesigned ship, the Queen Victoria we know today.
I was also fortunate enough to be departing on the same day as Cunard’s flagship the Queen Mary 2, I definitely have this on my must do list! The previous day I was able to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth departing on a short cruise, following her refit in Hamburg.
Day of the Voyage
On entry to the ship the first site is the Grand Lobby. This is an impressive 3 level atrium, which really sets the scene for the quality of the interior of the ship. It’s Grand with out being showy or ostentatious. It creates a sense that this is a reserved yet classy ship and is certainly not an in your face, Vegas style Mega cruise ship.
From the lobby we headed to our staterooms. This is a Cunard ship, so heaven help you if you call it a cabin. (Well I must admit that I was a little worried that the ship and it’s crew may be a little pretentious but this was certainly not the case. Service was warm and professional combined with a good sense of humour.)
The Staterooms are very nice (by the way the picture below is the only one I didnt take, as somehow I forgot to take a Cabin shot but it closely resembles our cabin), air conditioning was excellent and temperature could be easily controlled and adjusted. Beds are extremely comfortable and large; AIthough I must admit to being rather jealous not to have one of the large widescreen LED TV`s that have now been installed throughout the Queen Elizabeth. I believe Victoria will gain these in her January refit. (I’m not normally interested in watching TV on holiday but the World Cup was on and promised up until England’s defeat to make for good bedtime TV viewing) Furniture and fittings were of a good standard and the complimentary bottle of fizz was greatly appreciated. The Bathroom was in excellent condition, with all the facilities you would expect, although as you would imagine on a ship, they are on the smaller side.
I think it will be apparent from my ramblings so far that this is not a Party ship so don’t come onboard expecting a hedonistic experience akin to Ibiza. The pictures below show the Grand Arcade, which contains a number of Shops, a Casino and the Golden Lion Pub. The Golden Lion is a traditional British public house, complete with live music in the evenings and excellent traditional pub lunches. All are included in the price of the cruise. The Chicken Tikka Masala and Pie of the day were my favourites but others swore by the Fish, Chips and Mushy peas.
The Champange bar located just off the Grand lobby was possibly a little lacking in atmosphere at quieter times but provided a sophisticated environment to enjoy some vintage Champagnes and cocktails and had a loyal following, along with the customary first class service.
The Chart Room was always popular, especially for pre-dinner drinks. The string quartet were superb and provided a very comfortable and relaxed setting. Canapés were served with any drinks ordered in all of the main bars, and ranged from Crisps and nuts, to hot snacks.
The Commodore Club was my favourite bar, with a spectacular view from the crows nest of the ship. Service matched the breathtaking views and the cocktail pianist was first class and really got the party started.
Hemispheres is the “Night Club” on board. It’s certainly no Gatecrasher or Ministry of Sound but was always very popular till the early hours. The resident band from the Caribbean and the DJ, a former BBC producer were both very good!
Britannia is the main dining experience for for all but the exclusive Queens and Princess Grill guests. Therefore the vast majority of the ship dine here and two sittings are in operation. We thankfully were on the later sitting, as I feel 6pm is rather early to eat but that is very much personal preference. The dining room is split over two levels and has a traditional flavour to the cuisine and decor. The quality of food was excellent, both in the morning for breakfast and in the evening for dinner (I did not get chance to try out lunch at the Britannia). Service was first class, tables having two waiters/waitresses and a Sommelier; It must be noted that drinks prices on Cunard are not the cheapest but the quality of Wine did seem to match the premium price. I wish I had more pictures of the food we received but it was so good I just didn’t have the time or patience to photograph my food before eating it. We shared a table of 10 which provided excellent conversation and entertainment.
The Verandah restaurant has been highly commended as one of the best restaurants at sea. Many people didn’t try it as it requires a supplement of around £15 and the food in Britannia is just so good. I was glad we decided to try it and the dishes ordered proved excellent, the Foie gras panacotta and Duck consommé stater was a real highlight as was the Foie gras grilled beef burger with Shiitake mushrooms and garlic fries. The Rack of Lamb in pastry, with Morel mushrooms and Madeira reduction was also excellent. The Desserts were to die for, as you can see from the pictures. The Grand Marnier Soufflé with Vanilla Pod Ice cream and orange sauce was divine, the Bitter Chocolate Slab with whipped Vanilla Ice cream perhaps even better.
The Lido is open 24 hours a day and provides buffet service. The food as always on Cunard is excellent, although the surroundings are less glamorous, as would be expected from a buffet restaurant. The freshly prepared stonebake pizzas were a real favourite of mine.
The Queen Victoria has two main pools, the Pavillion and the Lido, as well as the hydropool in the Spa. Deck space is excellent and extremely well maintained. Despite the ship being full and the weather being excellent we never struggled for sun loungers or tables to sit and enjoy the beautiful lido food. There was always plenty of space in the jacuzzis and pools and It never got too crowded.
The Winter Garden is a conservatory like space that can have its roof removed in warmer weather. There is space for live music but it is generally a relaxed and quiet area, used for quiet reflection and reading during the day.
The Spa and Gym
I’m not an expert when it comes to Spa facilities but they seemed pleasent and inviting, if rather expensive. This was the only place on the ship were active selling and marketing went on, which I’m not a fan of but it was never too intrusive.
This was a real centre of activity, despite not looking so in my photograph. From the fantastic White Star Afternoon Tea, white gloved service, sandwiches, cakes and Scones complete with clotted cream. All of this again was complimentary. In the evenings this transformed into the ballroom. There were an International Dance couple on board to help instruct and the dancing proved very popular with a large swathe of Cunard’s clientele. I enjoyed watching but kept a safe distance from the dance floor,
The Library was an excellent facility that I did not anticipate using but ended up visiting on many afternoons. There was an excellent selection of books to loan and it proved a beautiful location to read whilst looking out to sea.
I did not get the opportunity to sample a cigar in Churchill’s but it seemed like the kind of place that could turn you into a Cigar smoker. A real colonial vibe.
What a stunning theatre. It really felt like you were in the West End. The only difference being the quality of the audio and lightning, which was vastly superior. The Cunard Royal Singers and dancers were fantastic and put on West End levels of performance. We even had the pleasure of Roy Walker on board who was very entertaining.
Cunard also has an Insight lecture programme. The star of this on our Voyage was Simon Weston OBE. He was an utter inspiration and an infectious character. He made time for everyone to chat to him outside of his shows. I feel extremely fortunate to have got to meet someone with a truly special and unique ability to inspire.
Chocolate and Ice Spectacular
On the penultimate night we were fortunate to be treated to a Chocolate and Ice spectacular. The level of effort and skill that went into this was superb and if you were a chocoholic you thought you’d died and gone to heaven.
As you can tell from reading the early parts of my review I had very high, nostalgia-tinged expectations for my voyage with Cunard. However I can safely say that this voyage exceeded all expectations.
If you want a Mega ship, which parties the hours away and provides all the thrills of the fair, then Queen Victoria or Cunard in general should be avoided. If you want a luxurious ship, reminiscent of the great liners of the 30’s with a modern twist; Fantastic dining experiences, first class service, excellent stage shows, insightful lectures and beautiful on deck pools and loungers then Victoria or her sister ships are for you.
If you are about to travel on Queen Elizabeth and wonder how she compares, well they are sister ships and the layout is more or less identical. Elizabeth can be distinguished by her slightly flatter stern, which accommodates a few extra staterooms. Elizabeth’s Decor is more Art Deco to Victoria’s Art Nouveau. From talking to friends and family who have sailed on both, they say that it’s very hard to split the two, although some may have a favourite due to fond memories from a previous voyage or a preference for one style of decor over the other. Both are beautiful ships, as I’m told is the QM2, the largest Ocean Liner of them all and I can’t wait to get chance to sail on her!