Leonard1104

Leonard1104
Second Mate

Joined: 01/11/2016
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Leonard1104's Past Cruises

Norwegian Epic

February 2016 - Norwegian Epic to Europe - Western Europe

HAVEN has fallen

“Olympus has fallen” , “London has fallen” … and now “Haven has fallen”

No, it is not another blockbuster for the movie series. Is what I sense recently in our 11 days Canary Island Cruise from Barcelona on Norwegian EPIC.

For more than 4 years I’ve been one of the biggest supporter of the Norwegian Cruise Line. Their concept of “ship within ship” called HAVEN never let me down and the inscription on the ship card, “Welcome to you sanctuary” was always backup by the reality on both JADE and EPIC. Until now…

We did in December a canary Island Cruise from Barcelona and we left the ship with an imperious need to come back as soon as possible. And here we are, less than three months after, back on board, on Norwegian EPIC, in Haven, room 17017.

What a joy this cruise could be! Unfortunately the reality was far away from our December experience and I am still trying to find what and how things on board can change in such a short time.

Read Full Review »

Queen Victoria

January 2016 - Queen Victoria to Europe - Northern Europe

WELCOME BACK CUNARD - a Queen Victoria cruise review –

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.

Accommodation

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.

Dinning

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

SALADS

Baby Spinach Salad, Walnut & Crispy Bacon Bits, Balsamic & Grape Dressing Endive Salad with Asparagus, Honey Ginger Dressing

ENTRÉES

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

DESSERTS

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

Entertainment

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) 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

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.

Accommodation

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.

Dinning

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

SALADS

Baby Spinach Salad, Walnut & Crispy Bacon Bits, Balsamic & Grape Dressing Endive Salad with Asparagus, Honey Ginger Dressing

ENTRÉES

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

DESSERTS

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

Entertainment

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) 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

 

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MSC Preziosa

January 2016 - MSC Preziosa to Europe - Western Mediterranean

“EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING” - a luxury cruise with a lot of “BUTs…”

The arrival and the embarkation had indeed a WOW factor. When the transfer bus stopped a butler was waiting for us already, he took care of our luggage and escort us to the special Yacht Club check-in area. A welcome buffet with some nibbles and Prosecco was waiting for us, the check-in formalities were quick and after that another butler escorted us straight to the ship passing all the lines and queues. We spend around 10 minutes in the Concierge area to have our credit card registered and we were escorted to the room. Our luggage was already there. From our arrival at the airport to entering the room we needed only 1h30minutes. Impressive and well done MSC!The arrival and the embarkation had indeed a WOW factor. When the transfer bus stopped a butler was waiting for us already, he took care of our luggage and escort us to the special Yacht Club check-in area. A welcome buffet with some nibbles and Prosecco was waiting for us, the check-in formalities were quick and after that another butler escorted us straight to the ship passing all the lines and queues. We spend around 10 minutes in the Concierge area to have our credit card registered and we were escorted to the room. Our luggage was already there. From our arrival at the airport to entering the room we needed only 1h30minutes. Impressive and well done MSC!

There are 20 bars, including the new Diamond Bar that's one of the quieter venues and two outside pool bars. Others include the Green Sax jazz bar, chic El Dorado piano bar and the large Safari Lounge that hosts smaller shows with a very annoying animation team and has a dance floor. Our favourite place was with no doubts Green Sax with nice deco and good music (especially the mix duo Romanian-Ukrainian); and of course an amazing Romanian bartender, Vlad, who’s cocktails very close to perfection in mixology.

BUT … MSC having a very cosmopolitan crowd on board all the announcements are done in 6 languages…even the safety ones (can you imagine if you speak Japanese you will be the last one to find that the ship is sinking…oops…sounds like Costa Concordia story). The annoying thing is that while you enjoy a lovely cocktail with some good music in the lounge the charm is destroyed by a Chinese man screaming on PA system something that’s sound like a menu in a Chinese Takeaway. Priceless moment(s)!

This is not a ship where the majority of passengers are running to bed before midnight. The main entertainment venue is the 1,600-seat two-story Platinum Theatre on Decks 6 and 7. The emphasis is on visual shows which supposed to appeal to an international audience. The theatre is, once again, like the entire ship impressive and has all the ads on to host amazing shows.

BUT… MSC definitely cut costs in the entertainment department because I never saw such a poor offer in my entire “cruiser career”. The cast, sets and costume are repetitive and the production are just a line-up of well-known songs with no concept or imagination. The dancer were quite good but looking at their performance you can realise the different background and training: ballroom, cabaret, street dance. It was a repetitive performance of how they couldn’t manage to synchronize their movements every night and lift their hands or legs in a random order, for sure not created by the choreographer. As I said the dancing was not so bad. What really made me leave the theatre before the end of the show were the two leading voices…Painful most of the time, far from being a duo when was a need for that, more interested in their stage pose than their vocal performance and managing to kill every song in a very personal and powerful way. Worse than the first pre-pre-pre-pre selection for XFactor in Margate! I wonder if MSC found that Italians invented big lavish TV entertainment on Canale5 or they host every year the high quality Festival San Remo ?

MSC Voyagers Club

Is the scheme for frequent travellers on board of MSC ships. All cruise lines offer a series of benefits depending the level that you have in the framework. MSC made a step forward, trying to encourage passengers from other lines to try MSC by offering them the equivalent status they have attained in their loyalty club in the MSC Voyagers Club. Genial marketing idea !

BUT…in reality is a little bit different. We are Diamond on Cunard and Platinum on NCL so we got an equivalent Black level on MSC. A statement from the line said: "As with the previous MSC Club, members qualify for a whole range of benefits and extras which increase as they rise up the membership tiers. Gold and Black members will now receive additional tier benefits as standard. The only benefits that you will get is a Welcome back cocktail, Complimentary basket of fresh fruit in cabin, Complimentary MSC Voyagers club photo, Complimentary speciality restaurant dinner (no beverages), MSC Voyagers Club black party, MSC Voyagers Club chocolate ship, Complimentary dancing class sounds more like budget scheme the a loyalty one. And don’t expect to get all of this without asking. In two weeks we manage to get the party invitation, the chocolate ships and the free dinners. Actually, quite sad, the person who supposed to be your Voyagers Club host and the one who can make you to book another cruise with MSC, the Cruise Consultant, was the rudest and unprofessional person on board. When we try to speak with Melanie about another booking she push her hand in our faces and shout at us to wait because she was busy! If she’s working on commission for sure she lost a lot and she needs some training in customer service. And reading the online reviews the changes in their benefits for Voyagers Club members is not very popular.

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Norwegian Epic

November 2015 - Norwegian Epic to Europe - Western Mediterranean

NORWEGIAN EPIC–NCL’Marmite

Is not just a metaphor is a reality.

I just come back from a 17 days “back to back” cruise on Norwegian EPIC and I realised, once again, that EPIC and in general Norwegian Cruise Line is like marmite for breakfast: you love it or you hate it! Norwegian Epic is big, brassy, bold and ballsy…and I love it!

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But let’s take it step by step

 

 

 

Accommodation

If Epic stands out in one particular area, it's in its cabin design. From its funky "new wave" staterooms and its wildly popular solo Studios to the fact that every outside cabin has a balcony (an industry first), there's a lot to admire and question on the ship.

We had a Haven 2 bedroom Villa – cabin 17024. Whoever had the idea of building The Haven deserves a big hug! The Haven complex, the largest "ship-within-a-ship”, nestles atop the ship on Decks 16 and 17, the space also includes a private pool, two whirlpools, a gym, sun deck and the posh Epic Club restaurant. The 60 accommodations include 46 Family Villas, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and separate living and dining areas (up to 506 square feet); eight Deluxe Owner's Suites, with king-size beds, floor-to-ceiling windows and his-and-her powder areas (up to 852 square feet); and six Courtyard Penthouses, with queen-size beds, separate living and dining areas and a luxury bath (up to 322 square feet).

 

 

When we board the ship EPIC just got a make-over in the dry dock of Cadiz. Not a 100% successful one but you can feel it all around the ship. The Concierge area, Epic Lounge and Epic Club lost their heavy kitschy, purple velvety ambiance and now look modern and fresh with an understated elegance. Even the room had been touched by this changes and looks more elegant and modern. Of course the only slip on-board Norwegian Epic is the attention to details: a vanity mirror disconnected and left on the table with the cable hanging next to a hole in the vanity table, a smoke detector (safety please!) covered with tapes due to the loss of some screws to fix it on the ceiling, couple of doors not properly fixed and making a constant subliminal noise when the ship was moving. But at the end of the day the “little” Villa is a lovely space to spend your vacation and I love it.

The only thumb’s-down for our cabin was the location: 17 Deck just opposite the Crew Access Door. A lot of banging and noise even if we mentioned that to our concierge. But as the noise was mainly in the spare room used during the voyage only as a laptop and storage room we survived 17 day with no problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The service in Haven is exactly what you expect from a Premium Cabin; an excellent butler and steward, always there without being too much in to your face ready to assist with whatever you need: from laundry to organising a private party in your own private space. Lots of genuine smiles and polite conversation even if the guests in Haven are not all the time “Premium Guests” and the feeling of “new money-bad manners” is quite common on NCL. The Concierge, located in the heart of Haven assist us with everything we needed from bookings and cancellations of restaurants and land tours to dealing with day by day issues even if the results were not all the time the expected ones. Monica, our Concierge was great, especially when she was dealing with stupid requests from “posh guests” travelling with low-cost airlines

 

 

The space in Haven is more than generous: a private gym and spa-like area with sauna, steam room and hot tubs, an elegant modern decorated lounge, a nice partially open terrace for lunch and snacks, the lovely elegant courtyard with a not too big not too small pool, a private sun deck and of course one of my favourite spots – The Posh Beach Club. Pity that due to complaints from guests on 17 Deck the bar was closing at 7.00PM, but we were located under the Posh Club and we understand perfectly why.

 

 

Dinning

NCL pioneered the freestyle dining concept (that is, eat whenever you want with whomever you want and wherever you want), and it's taken it to a new level on Epic. The LCD touch screens around the ship display information including deck plans and which dining rooms were the most crowded.  (Far from ideal in a Norovirus situation). Whereas most mega-ships feature a massive, swanky dining hall where strangers mingle at large tables under glistening chandeliers, Epic goes another route. Booking the speciality restaurants is advisable. If there is a queue for the main dining rooms you are given a pager. These normally go off within 10-15 minutes regardless of the staff telling you there will be a half an hour wait.

We didn’t used the main dining rooms but is a choice between Taste, set in a cool space at the bottom of the ship's main atrium and the Manhattan Room, an Art-Deco space with a two-deck window overlooking the ship's wake, and a bandstand and dance floor.

 

 

I prefer to have my lunches and dinner in other venues, initially paid restaurants but unfortunately now, as an incentive for new bookings, included in dinning packages:

Le Bistro - Contrary to the name, Le Bistro is not a bistro. In France, a bistro is a low end dining venue where the patrons eat whatever the cook has decided to make that day. Le Bistro is just the opposite. It is an upscale fine dining venue where the guests select from a menu of items prepared in the French style. The rooms are done in a charming Second Empire style with copies of French Impressionist paintings on the. The food offerings are a selection of French dishes that appeal to a broad audience. Before the dinning package Le Bistro has as a main element in his the formula the intimacy. To maintain its charm, Le Bistro requires a relatively small room, not a cavernous hall. Thus, while most things on Norwegian Epic are done to a grand scale, Le Bistro remains a comparatively small room. The place used to be my favourite restaurant on Epic. After Norwegian introduced the dinning package the standards dropped dramatically. A long wait for the food to arrive, more waiters who don’t know the menu like before, a kind of rushed service to create space for the next bookings, and even the quality of the food was not the same. The duck and the lamb needed to be sent back to the kitchen being too cold, but the escargots and the bouillabaisse were charming and spot-on and manage to balance the culinary experience of that night. However after 2 quite disappointing experience I decided to limit my booking in Le Bistro for 2/week.

 

 

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Cagney’s - a classic dark, woody steakhouse with an amazing menu and service. Cagney’s menu selections begin with starters such as shrimp cocktail or oysters, soups and salads including lobster bisque and Caesar salad, mains of 10oz New York Strip steaks, Salmon Oscar or vegetarian saffron casserole amongst other dishes with the option of 6oz lobster tails, sides ranging from baked potatoes to steamed asparagus and fries with white truffle oil and parmesan cheese and desserts including raspberry crème brûlée and warm espresso chocolate brownies served with macadamia ice cream. Always during those 17 days Cagney’s was the best choice for dinning.

Two words: Go hungry. The Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes appetizer was a hit at our table! The crab cakes were soft, creamy and warm. The perfect combination for crab cakes. I can confirm that Cagney’ uses ‘Premium Angus’ steak which is of a higher quality that the steak used in the ships other restaurants. Not only are the steaks amazing, the sides are spectacular as well. The signature Chagney's fries are dressed to impress in truffle oil and parmesan cheese. They won't disappoint. The creamy corn is also one of our favourites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moderno Churrascaria - South American-style steakhouse where servers keep bringing slices of grilled meats to you until you pop (or tell them to stop).Is an all-you-can-eat meat fest. Again due to the dinning package the ritual was change and now the different types of meat arrive in a quite chaotic way but the taste is unbeatable. The restaurant serves succulent skewers of barbecued meats which are carved tableside. Guests control how much they want with their green and red card, green means the carving continues and red is shown to indicate when guests are full. The signature cuts of beef, lamb, pork and chicken are served along with rice, black beans, mashed potatoes and sweet fried bananas on the side, a wide selection of salads, Brazilian cheese bread and desserts including coconut flan, papaya crème and mango rice pudding. My favourites: Ceviche from the salad Bar, Picana and Garlic Beef. A big plus for the restaurant this time was the charming Maître D’ Mihaela who control the entire venue with a massive genuine smile and made us return more than we expected in Moderno

 

 

 

 

La Cucina - is Norwegian Cruise Line's Italian specialty restaurant and on Norwegian Epic, the concept has been enhanced to become a much more substantial, located in the front of the ship overlooking the bow. There are large picture windows both to the front and to port and starboard. Since the restaurant is high on the ship's superstructure, the views from these windows are panoramic. While there has been an overall upgrade to the menu, popular favourites remain. The fried calamari was again fresh. It was lightly breaded, tender and not at all rubbery. La Cucina's entrees now include a rib eye steak prepared with garlic butter. This was perfectly prepared - - tender and flavourful. For dessert, I had chocolate ice cream with an espresso sauce. The ice cream provides refreshment while the espresso provides zest.

 

 

The Epic Club - Epic's first class dining room. Located within the precincts of the luxurious Haven section of the ship, it is open exclusively to guests staying in the suites that make up The Haven. And if you want you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Epic Club. The Epic Club is indeed a club and the guests in the Haven “all come to know one another.” Thus, the atmosphere in the Epic Club is enhanced, not only by the intimate size of the room but by familiarity with your dining companions and the 5 stars Maître D’ Diana who was always the perfect host. The cooking here also resembles a specialty restaurant. Each item is prepared ala minute. Moreover, the use of spices and the care in preparation makes this a gourmet experience. Because of the speciality restaurants on board we didn’t use Epic Club too often but one of favourites was the butternut squash soup, which contained pieces of duck to balance the flavour of the vegetables. The Black Angus strip steak on the lunch menu is a straight forward dish. It is not the best cut of beef but through the use of pepper and other spices, the Epic chefs render it quite flavourful.

 

 

 

 

We didn’t missed again the amazing The SVDEKA Ice Bar with its 8 degrees below zero temperature and features ice sculptures and furniture carved out of ice. Wearing our poncho and drinking the included s two cocktails served in an ice glass we enjoy it so much and went back couple of times. My favourite cocktails: Cobalt Blues and Nordic Apple .

 

 

 

 

Entertainment

I don't hesitate to say that Norwegian Epic offers the best entertainment at sea today. NCL has been in my top for entertainment form the beginning. With Epic, NCL sets the bar to a new height, industry-wide

Epic Theatre now hosts the double Tony Award winning (for costume design) musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Based on the flamboyant comedy movie, this colourful extravaganza features over 500 dazzling outfits, including 200 headdresses and an array of feel-good dance floor hits. I saw the show 3 times in 17 days and I will go back again and again. I didn’t have the feeling for one second that I was watching a cruise ship show…it was 100% West End or Broadway. Burn The Floor, the second main show on Epic featuring 14 dancers, a live band and two singers and brings their Ballroom Blitz show to the Epic with sizzling and steamy dance routines taken straight from their hit Broadway show.

 

 

 

 

The Cavern Club invokes the spirit of the iconic Liverpool nightspot made famous as the venue for The Beatles early shows. Moodily-lit with plenty of red brick, it makes a good stab at recreating the atmosphere of the 1960s club, though some modern decorative touches do break the spell. One of the bartender told me that the venue is designed in partnership with the owners of the real 57-year-old club.

Bliss Ultra Lounge suffered a make-over during the last dry dock and now looks a little bit less glitzy, more modern and more inspiring. Great DJs feeling the vibe and knowing the audience when they were choosing the music and good cocktails even if the service was quite slow – again a consequence of free drinking package and shortage of the crew. I miss the cages but I was happy to see the old horse at the entrance retired.

 

 

 

 

The main feature of the Pool Deck is the Aqua Park with its ‘Epic Plunge’: the only tube slide with a bowl slide and a 200-foot long tube. The Aqua Park also includes two main pools five hot tubs, a wading pool and a kid’s pool that features whimsical sculptures, water sprays and a slide.  Behind the twin funnels are two rock climbing wall. Even if the weather wasn’t great we couldn’t miss the chance to jump on the slides….AMAZING!

 

 

Even if for the general concept of entertainment Epic got a massive thumb's up for this cruise I still need to give a thumb's down for the Cruise Director and his team. A massive obsession for line dancing: anywhere, everywhere, anytime and doesn’t matter the music! Same steps and same screaming with an Assistant Cruise Director, Nacho, desperate for a promotion.  This “get involved” of animators not guests destroyed the genial idea of themed parties: White Hot, Night Out, Fabba. Instead of listen and dancing on ABBA music (great for the gay crowd on this cruise) we were locked as spectators on a boring amateur-ish dance routine of Nacho&Co. When finally the line dancing finished and we were ready to Fabba party the music change and the DJ returned to his normal playlist. Do something about that NCL: you have genial concepts but …explain the concept to cruise Director team…in details!

 

 

 

 

Another thumb's down: SHORE EXCURSION Department. I am not a big fan of excursions booked on board and normally I want to organise my private exploration sessions. This time I put everything in the hands of Epic Shore Excursion Department. BIG MISTAKE ! The only few port-talks were boring and un-professional done, the logistic of each trips chaotic and the customer service of the ShoreEx Manager was … inexistent. When trying to give some feedback after one experience the answer was: “too busy to speak with guests” and 25% discount “if they are not happy”. And once again, our amazing concierge Monica has to deal with the rudeness of the ShoreEx Manager and cover the damage. Some training is needed in this Department for sure.

In my opinion ‘freestyle’ matches the tastes of the modern passenger better than the traditional inflexible system: ‘two sittings’ for diner followed by a main show.  However ‘freestyle’ is not perfect and restaurants can become crowded at peak times and queues can form.   Ideally popular shows need to be booked and entertainment options can clash.  Some traditionalists may simply not warm to ‘Freestyle’. Especially when you meet shorts during dinner, white socks in sandals or somebody taking his tie off after 5 minutes at Captain’s Cocktail Party.

Epic has all the advantages and disadvantages of a big ship. For example the corridors are endless and the stair cases go on forever, so Epic may not be an ideal ship for those passengers with mobility problems.  Epic can feel very busy at times and the pool deck was often crowded.

 

 

So how to sum up a ship called Epic? She has her good sides, and she has her not-so-good sides and with upgrades to entertainment, activities, and the lovely haven, she'd probably have been met with near-universal praise aside from those little slips to Carnival’s style.

I am not afraid to say that I like EPIC and I like NCL. The company is, in my mind, the most mainstream of today's cruise lines. I mean that in a good way. They're centrists, offering a huge swath of people a chance for a fun, social vacation at a decent price. Accessing some of Epic's better activities will require you to plan ahead, and in a few cases will cost extra. But you won't break the bank, and you sure will get a lot of wow for your pounds.

I realised, once again, that EPIC and in general Norwegian Cruise Line is like marmite for breakfast: you love it or you hate it! Norwegian Epic is big, brassy, bold and ballsy…and I love it!

So what about another cruise on board of Norwegian Epic?! Done….and booked for February 24 2016.

EPIC here we come!

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Celebrity Constellation

August 2015 - Celebrity Constellation to Europe - Eastern Mediterranean

Celebrity Cruises 7 Night Greece & Turkey on Celebrity Constellation sailing on 08/23/2015

20150824_131012As we just come back from our 7 Night Greece & Turkey cruise on Celebrity Constellation (sailing on 08/23/2015), I decided to write down an objective review for those readers who would love to start cruising with Celebrity but somehow got confused with all the contradictory reviews published almost everywhere.

I never cruised with Celebrity before and even if this year I already booked 7 cruises I decided to have a go. It was a 7 Night Greece & Turkey cruise on board Celebrity Constellation starting from Venice and visiting Dubrovnik, Kussadasi, Mykonos and Corfu. I took the decision to choose a medium value stateroom just to stay on the safe side in case this cruise liner was not my coup of tea.

My and my partner we were in an Aquaclass Cabin – stateroom 1110, on the 11 deck

Celebrity Constellation Overview

Celebrity Constellation

Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the final ship in Celebrity Cruises' Millennium Class, with 2,034-­passengers and affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans. Spending 7 days on Constellation, at every step, in each venues, I didn’t have the feeling that I am on a cruise ship, one of those massive floating hotels sailing all-over Mediterranean sea; Constellation manage to balance the intimacy offered by smaller ships and the space offered by bigger ships. Passengers have access to nine bars and lounges, French, Italian and bistro alternative restaurants, shopping zone and lot of public areas without the risk of getting agoraphobic.

Is easy to fall in love with the modern and exquisite deco where rich but not opulent fabrics in jewel tones mix elegantly with the abundant use of marble and wood accents throughout public areas. The atmosphere is not like any other cruise ships we’ve been before but one with personality, filled with grand spaces that flow nicely from one to the other

Accommodation

AquaClass Stateroom 1110

Our option was an Aquaclass cabin to stay on the safe side in the balance value for money-comfort-services – and wasn’t a bad option at all. I have to say that from outside Constellation look very impressive with an incredible number of balconies due to the fact that about 60 percent of its accommodations feature verandas.

AquaClass Stateroom is, apparently, among the most popular choices on all Celebrity ships a kind of a spa-inspired cabins. The Celebrity website introduce the AquaClass stateroom having floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors opening to a private balcony large sitting area private bathroom with Hansgrohe massaging showerhead 100% Egyptian cotton towels complimentary use of bathrobes minibar 32-inch flat-screen TV direct-dial telephone and voicemail thermostat-controlled air-conditioning individual safe hairdryer and 24-hour room service. Pretty accurate but:

most of the Aqua Class staterooms aft on Deck 11, including ours (1110) are beneath the basketball court on Deck 12, and above the Seaside Grill on Resort deck. Quite noisy sometimes Hansgrohe massaging showerhead not an amazing addition as couple of days the water pressure made impossible of using all options of the device. the Egyptian cotton towels looked sometimes a little bit tired like the complimentary bathrobes which for sure need a replacement

I was very impressed with the fact that our room steward (Cruz excellent in all aspects) was changing the fruit basket daily but not very impressed with the odd looking and lack of quality healthy drink placed in our room on a daily base.

Quite happy with the storage space even if the cabin has the size normal for a balcony cabin on other ship. The best feature was with no doubts the balcony: due to an ingenious design the balcony looked bigger than others and have enough space for 2 chairs, 2 small tables and a footrest – perfect for a relaxing afternoon.

Bottom line – AquaClass cabin is a very good investment for the space offered and the amenities,  if you can see beyond the oversold amenities and add-ons going on-board with not so high expectations.

Dinning

As an AquaClass guest you have access to a special restaurant – Blue. Again a little misleading from Celebrity: "clean cuisine”. That can put off some guests, like myself, who just want to enjoy a special and divers culinary experience, thinking that you will get only healthy, low calories, steamed food even in holiday. That’s wrong, very wrong as Blue is quite an amazing option for dinner. Although there's a preconception by many passengers that the menu is full of flavourless vegan-type dishes in small portions, the reality is that the chefs manage to dinners that are palate pleasing and reasonably good for you. Can’t forget the delicious escargots de Bourgogne, the frog legs, chilled soups or dream like stakes. A typical dinner menu would start with appetizers like the amazing braised beef short ribs followed by a soup or salad course (my favourite was the Waldorf salad). Entrees include anything you want from veal and beef, to game hen, prime rib and fish. Superbly presented and served every evening. The entire atmosphere was exactly as described on Celebrity website: Blu - Intimately elegant, yet fresh and modern. The only downside was the slow service: if the restaurant was busy you needed around 2.30-2.45h to complete de dinner even if around your table you have a small army of 2 hosts, 1 waiter, 1 assistant waiter and 1 sommelier. But the quality of the food made the waiting worth it. The modern feel to Blu’s décor transcends to food and presentation and you  forget that you’re on a cruise ship and feel like you’re out at a contemporary restaurant.

Only once we tried the breakfast in Blue – maybe to healthy for us and again a little bit slow. Funny but useless the idea to have a “tableside muesli service”: if you want to stay fit and healthy I think that a short walk to the buffet to create your own muesli will not kill anybody.

Blu features open seating and reservations are not required. Cruisers can dine anytime between 6 PM and 9:30 PM. Quite a good idea that idea to get a pager if your table is not ready and avoid waiting in a line in front of the restaurant. The lines in front of San Marco Restaurant (the main dinning venue) were funny: men in tuxedos and ladies in elegant gowns waiting in a 10-15 people line for 20 minutes reminds me of a Tarkovsky movie.

The buffet is like anywhere else; good ideas to have different stations with different dishes but unfortunately the timings for meal was wrong. On board they have strict timings for different meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks (afternoon or late) which remind me of a summer camp or a Spanish all-inclusive resort. For example if you fancy a snack after 11.00pm you lost the battle: nothing open, nothing available apart of the room service – with an announced waiting time of 30-40 minutes. We tried once, after spending some time in the night club to order something and after 45 minutes, around 2am we needed to cancel the order and jump in bed – maybe that was the healthy option offered by AquaClass stateroom!

And twice we had lunch in the main dinning room – San Marco. Was empty and we expected a quick friendly service but, again, Celebrity needs some work in this area: an army of waiter were walking around – in search for the missing polite smile maybe – and the lunch took 2h again.

Room service is very good with an improved menu in AquaClass stateroom. Annoying is just the policy of calling the room to check if “everything is fine with the room service”; even if at the beginning that impressed me quite a lot, couple of times we got the phone call before the breakfast arrived which destroyed completely the feeling of “personalised and carrying service”.

Blue dinnerblue dinner

San Marco lunch

San Marco lunchBlue dinner

Public Areas

The heart of Constellation’s public areas is her Grand Foyer, a rectangular, three-deck atrium dominated by a backlit onyx stairway that glows beneath you. Grand Foyer

Starecase in Grand Lobby

The elegant Reflections venue on Deck 11 serves as an observation lounge for readers and a quiet place for dance and craft classes by day, but it's also the official gathering place for very good clubbing music.

Reflections Lounge

Entertainment venues include the three-deck Celebrity Theatre in the bow; the modern 900-seat theatre is where most of the major entertainment action takes place. The banquet-style seats are comfortable enough for the nearly hour-long programs, and the small tables positioned along the rows of seats are handy. We enjoyed there couple of nights watching the ship’s shows.

celebrity theater

We didn’t used the contemporary Rendezvous Lounge, Fortunes Casino as was not a lively atmosphere when we passed through.

Constellation also got a Martini Bar (our favourite space even if sometimes crowded and most of the time understaffed) - a combination of booze and entertainment with the bartenders flipping and juggling bottles of top-­shelf vodka and gin in time with disco music. Finding seats around the main bar during peak time is a challenge, as is getting a bartender's attention. One of our fellow passengers told me that if you plan to be a regular at this bar, a tip the day you come aboard of $20 or more may result in better service throughout your cruise.

Martini BarDSC04458DSC04459Martini Bar before openning

The comfortable Café al Bacio and Gelateria for specialty coffees and ice cream was a little bit too crowed for us and the Cellarmasters wine bar, was most of the time empty.

Cellarmasters wine barRendezvous Lounge

20150829_111755Café al Bacio

Entertainment

Celebrity has a favourite list of entertainers, musicians and singers from England, which tried hard to be too alternative and less entertaining. The overall quality was far under the similar acts on other cruise liners. If you add the loud and weird background music on-board you will understand why we preferred to spend our evenings in Martini Bar.

Talking about background music: was funny to have breakfast in Blue around 7.45am and being bombarded with loud alternative sounds; was hilarious that that time in the morning one of the songs was related to “sex on the beach”, “push it harder” or “orgasm”. Maybe this is modern luxury – music sex and … scrambled eggs!

Reflections club is a great place…but the DJ manage to kill it; my partner and I love dancing but the disco was club music aimed at 18 year olds (not many of them on the cruise). When we spoke with the DJ with some request he ignored as in a very impolite way and after the second went back to his favourite music: clubbing. Was quite weird that a DJ doesn’t realise the need to change the rhythm when the dance floor is empty for most of the time and quite full for one song or another. Therefore we preferred the parties in Martini Bar.

The shows were a big disappointment. With such a great venue as Celebrity Theatre and the level of quality advertised by Celebrity you expect something much better than on other ships. But we were wrong again. Apart of some acts, guest entertainers, the Celebrity productions remind me of an end of season show of a mediocre acting school.  The costumes, the lights, the sound and the stage production were great but didn’t manage to raise the level of the cast: chubby dancers, singers with a “BGT audition” voices and scripts insulting the IQ of the audience.

One night we decided to watch the Elrya – the most acclaimed and newest Celebrity production, described as a “sensual, seductive and dreamlike” stage performance and rated 18+.A show launched in April and prepared in the new Royal Caribbean Production Studio. “Our (rehearsal) space is even bigger than Cirque du Soleil’s,” Thomson-Foley-a former dancer turned cruise director turned entertainment boss, said. Unfortunately the size doesn’t matter in showbiz. The entire performance remind me of a bad casted pantomime in Blackpole for a stag’s and hen’s parties. What was the need for the vulgarity and the poor quality of the stand-up drag moments? What was the need of killing massive songs with poor voices? Fortunately for all on stage the performance was on a cruise ship and not in a real theatre…the critics will kill the show after the first night. On the Constellation you can re-cover in the Martini Bar.

The Cruise Director and his staff was “Carnival style”: great jokes if you are half-drunk, activities who try hard and unsuccessful to be funny, their entire presence around the ship (even on television) was dull and over the top.  When you search for modern luxury you don’t expect to find officers playing water polo in their uniforms or pub style competition…on a cruise ship yes, you do!

Swimming pool by nightPool area

OK, that’s enough for now…quite a long review but the only reason is that I enjoyed cruising with Celebrity and I am sure that they can do better and they have to if they want to be “modern luxury”.

So,

Why I liked our Celebrity Constellation cruise?

Superb food, no compromises in quality and presentation Elegant and modern look like ship with all the facility that you expect from a cruise ship but keeping a sense of intimacy and class Very good room steward – Cruz (staterrom 1110) and an all the time polite smiling bartender – Milos (Sunset Bar) Excellent bar concept – Martini Bar Amazing selection of drinks (no mass produced cocktails)

Why I didn’t like our Celebrity Constellation cruise?     

Slow service all around the ship maybe due to the under staff cutting costs policy Not a 5* service overall with a tired attitude and “we’ve done that for the last 6 months” smile A fantastic venue (Reflection Lounge) killed sometimes by a “playing music for myself” DJ Low quality and profile entertainment with a waste of money and energy for a mediocre result

When I looked back I realise now that was not exactly their slogan “LUXURIOUS. MODERN. UNIQUE”. It was a nice cruise, a little bit overpriced, with fellow guests trying to balance their spending and expectation with the only solution of enjoying their vacations.

Of course far much better than Costa or MSC but a long, long way to Regent or Viking! So Celebrity you still have time to act and be where you want and deserve to be. You will have another go soon…

Thank you for a nice week.

Tendering in Mykonos

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