June 2015 - 14 Night Greece & Western Mediterranean (Athens To Rome) Cruise on Queen Victoria
Excellent ports, Cunard service good but not exemplary, and food hit or miss
This was our first Cunard experience, and will likely be our last. We much prefer the Holland America quality of food and service. We did enjoy the ship's evening atmosphere of everyone dressed to a "nice" level and the ballroom dancing was something enjoyed by many, including our teens. The kids area was poor -- extremely basic - and if I had smaller kids I would not want to leave them there for any length of time. The teen program was truly terrible, and the ship just does not want kids, it seems, even older ones like mine who dressed in tux/gown on formal night and enjoy finer foods and culture. After the first evening, no teens above 14 returned to the area -- teen club is 12-17, and geared to the younger set, even though Cunard does not allow passengers under 18 to enter the dance clubs or participate in many activities.
FOOD: The food in the Britannia was really not that great: fancy names to tasteless desserts, and nightly we discovered that some entrees were fantastic while others were barely palatable. After 2 nights, we elected to eat in the Lido on night 3 for a much better food quality, and on night 4 enjoyed immensely the additional-fee Verandah restaurant, which we again paid for on night 5. We tried the Britannia again on night 6, and befell again on variable quality food -- mostly poor -- and tired service. On Holland America, we never once felt the desire to avoid the main dining room. The Baked Alaska, for example, was truly terrible, while the Creme Brûlée was a tasty albeit burnished-ahead pudding quality.
STATEROOM: Stateroom service was fine, but not exceptional. On Holland, we always are made to feel special. Here, I actually debated reducing the $11.50 pp/pd gratuity charge, but decided in the end to let it go. On past cruises, we have always left additional cash for our attendant in addition to the "optional" gratuity the ship charges. Not this trip. On 2 mornings it was well after 12 noon that our stateroom was made up. And the halls were set up with cleaning carts by 6:0 am, left there all morning,and reappeared the same in the evening. It was really annoying and ugly. I sound picky, yet I'm not -- it was just that cluttered in the hall. Sometimes a vacuum cleaner would sit out for hours. The stateroom itself was roomy, but required we hang most clothes as it had limited shelves and few drawers. Room service was excellent, and prompt. Our pre-ordered breakfast was lost just once, and otherwise was hot on delivery.
The ship crew had a tendency to get to their deck-cleaning chores while you were still enjoying the deck. For example, on level 3 where their are wooden chase chairs (which don't recline and have thin cushions in need of replacement) for relaxing. The crew would start tying up all chairs and cushions by 6:00 pm, 3 hours before sunset. In the morning, chairs were still tied away, all cushions stowed, until after 7:30 am, sometimes later. The deck crew seemed determined to finish that task asap -- maybe so they could get to free time? They usually spoke to their coworkers in their native tongue, even though Cunard White Star policy says that is not permitted. (In fact we noted this practice of non-english dialogue among several levels of crew, in the halls, having private conversations). Once I was reading in a chair and literally the crew cleaned up all chairs other than the 5 being used by passengers -- making us all feel as though we were in their way. This was the case on upper level decks as well. By sunset, there was barely a chair left untied, and the pool deck wet with mopping. Also on the decks other than 9 (Lido), used plates for glasses would sit, uncollected by a passing crew member whose job was not kitchen related - seeming as if it was not their job to clean that, and they left it for the level of staff whose job it was.
A marked difference between Holland Am and Cunard was how the white-dressed crew showed zero interest in connecting with passengers - it was day 4 before we received a "hello" as they passed by. White uniform crew often diverted their eyes - almost stoic.
The crew of the Queen Victoria seems tired. I wonder if this emanates from the captain, who was invisible on this trip except at invite-only receptions (each passenger is invited to one), and even then he was a stiff sort. He rarely addressed the ship over the PA. The crew was "stiff" and this showed in the Purser's (reception) Desk as well, where one particular crew member Vittoria seemed to go to of her way to tell patrons that what they requested was not policy, or not possible. She simply never smiled. It was odd. In general, the lines at the Purser's desk were quite long during the entire cruise, with 1-2 people working the desk, and another observing, even when the cue was 10 deep. On day 4 we had to solicit the intervention of a manager to get a dining credit applied to our account, a promotion we had been inquiring about since before departure. The "run around" on Cunard is annoying.
Excursions seem fairly priced, although we did our own adventures at each port. I heard from one passenger that the "Best of Santorini" excursion was the worst excursion ever in years of cruising, with a guide that was barely understandable and all driving, with inadequate free time at each stop (10 minutes at most). The Excursions desk was open ONLY in the evening between 4 - 7:30, making questions at other times impossible. There was nobody otherwise on board to answer questions about ports of call. And when we asked during the correct time. the information we received was what is written on the website -- nothing based on personal experience at a port. There were several instances of miscommunication about shuttles and transports at port, including a water taxi in Bodrum that was promised but ran only once per hour for the waiting hundreds of passengers. We walked instead. When I later asked about that, the Purser's office blamed the port. They also blamed the port for similar lack of information about the shuttle in Salerno.
All of that said, the ship was very clean and these ports were excellent. And Cunard affords a nice long port time at each. They also waited on missing passengers at each location.
Bodrum, Turkey is excellent. But bring Turkish Lira (do NOT exchange on ship) for much better pricing, as the Euro equivalent accepted by locals is a far higher price. We had previously spent a week in Turkey, so we had TL and found Bodrum a fantastic port. We independently rented a gullet/sail boat for the day through a captain, and had a fantastic full day sailing and walking the market (watch your stuff in the market -- pick pockets abound, and one group "marked" our son, but we've travelled extensively and know what to be aware of, and caught on before they got his wallet. They are teen boys working in groups of 3 & 4). We loved Bodrum.
Santorini -- a bit exhausting unless you have a specific pre-plan and get off in time to avoid the huge crowds and long line for the cable car up the hill/cliff. With a plan in place before you disembark, Santorini is a gem.
Kataklon/Olympia: we had an amazing day with a private taxi (George's Taxi) we pre-arranged and paid in cash, far cheaper than any excursion, and half the quoted price through a travel agent, in a mercedes with wifi, and we saw many areas, including Olympia ruins with a private guide (we passed Cunard excursion groups of 60 or more), Olympia Land Estate Winery (highly recommend, and not at all commercial like the one the ship excursion goes to), a beach-side cafe, shops, etc. It was a full and fantastic day.
Salerno: unexpectedly beautiful town -- it has really cleaned up since 20 years ago -- and a free shuttle from the ship to the city center. Fix Rental Car is at the port. Taxi's too, but charge high prices. Take the shuttle. Consider a ferry to Positano instead of a drive. We had pre-arranged a car through Hertz as we needed to disembark here rather than Rome, and while our car was great, we found getting to that location by the train station was a hassle. Not Cunard's doing -- just port advice.
Overall we had a fantastic trip -- this the end of 3 weeks in Europe. We met passengers from GB and Scotland who received FAR better pricing than we for the same level or superior rooms. The ship is definitely british in feel and approach. Again, it was nice after 6:00 pm to have an entire ship "dressed" fro the evening.