December 11, 2008
This cruise was the 1st year anniversary for the Queen Victoria and the last sailing in her inaugural season.
We heard conflicting information as to if the voyage was sold out or not. Some crew said it wasn't and some said it was. The ship did not feel overcrowded and there was plenty of space for everyone.
Ports of Call
Pre-Cruise Stay at Chewton Glen
As we drove up the sweeping drive to the entrance/reception a gentleman and a lady came out to greet us at the car; the gentleman took care of parking the car and seeing to our luggage whilst the lady escorted us inside.
As our room was not quite ready we were escorted to the gentleman's bar where there was a real flame fire in a grand open fireplace. Cruising the Caribbean couldn't have been further from our minds. Just to sit and allow oneself to be enveloped with the warmth of the fire and the coolness of a glass of Gossett Champagne was utterly heavenly. My husband said it was the quickest route to complete relaxation he has ever had after a hectic year at work!!
As we had been travelling for many hours we were quite ravenous so we partook in Afternoon Tea (well, we thought we would get some practice in for the White Star Service on board ship). This was absolutely delicious; freshly brewed tea, dainty sandwiches, fondant fancies, mince pies, Christmas cake and chocolates.
Further surprises were in store when we arrived in our room. It was absolutely huge, with a king size bed (heavenly), state of the art Bang & Olufson CD Player and a TV. The bathroom had a bath, double shower, large fluffy towels and a selection of Molton Brown toiletries (very nice). The facilities were further enhanced by a large dressing room.
In the late afternoon we enjoyed a couple of hours in the spa, which was definitely an enjoyable and relaxing experience -- so much so that my husband declared that once on board the Queen Victoria he wished to purcahase a spa pass (and he did, times two!!). I also visited the beauty salon and had a wonderful manicure by an attentive nail technician named Claire (Claire also gave me a bottle of polish to take away with me for touch ups, which was thoughtful).
We had a pre-booked dinner reservation for 8.30pm and yet again we found the unobtrusive service, fine food and beverages of the highest standard and quality and we would say the restaurant is well worth a visit for couples as well as groups.
We awoke on embarkation day to a bright, sunny and frosty morning. The grounds looked so neat, clean and crisp in the morning frost and we enjoyed a leisurely walk after breakfast. Chewton even provides racing green wellington boots for the guests to use if their own footwear doesn't fit the bill!
Also included in the price was parking for our car for the duration of the cruise and transfers to and from the port. The transfer was provided by a chauffeur driven Mercedes (John was our driver, who again provided a service that was unobtrusive yet attentive) along a scenic route through the New Forest (saw many wild horses and deer). All in all, a fantastic start to our holiday and we utterly recommend it.
I must add that there was a feeling of festive excitement provided by The Salvation Army brass band playing Christmas carols. It was beginning to feel like the start of magical experience.
By 12.30pm we were embarking the Queen Victoria for the first time via the majestic Grand Lobby. Words fail me in trying to describe the understated opulence of the 3 tier Grand Lobby. An absolutely awe-inspiring architectural wonder! We were both 'punch drunk' with the pure excitement of embarking such a beautiful ship and we could not wait to explore further.
We had our bed made up in the Queen configuration (can be twin) and it was very comfortable. The only disappointment was that we were unable to obtain a feather duvet (this is preferable when you are a woman of a certain age who has a tendency to have 'tropical' moments). Thankfully the 6 pillows were feather and they were also very comfortable. Under the bed were 2 large drawers (again I understand that previously there was near anarchy due to the Queen having no drawers!). These were very useful for underwear, swimwear, hats, handbags and belts etc.
There was more than enough hanging space in the wardrobes for formal wear, etc. The wardrobe also contained a key coded safe (very easy to use).
As this was a Christmas cruise, we decorated our stateroom with battery operated fairy lights and Christmas cards we had been sent by family and friends. Even our room steward commented how nice it looked.
We had a stateroom that had a 'corner' balcony. The balcony was larger than what we previously have had on the Queen Mary 2 on deck eight (although that had been big enough). The cabin itself was also larger than the cabins either side, another unexpected bonus (the extra space being a bonus and not the fact that it was roomier than the others). The stateroom was tastefully decorated in muted beiges, with a red carpet and drapes. The red theme was the norm for the port side and corresponded to the port side passenger deck corridors. The starboard side is carpeted in blue (colour coded carpets is useful when exiting a lift as you know immediately which side your cabin is on). I will mention here that the stairways are also different colours so you can identify if you are forward (A -- Red), midships (B -- Green) or aft (C -- Blue).
The bathroom and shower cubicle was of an adequate size and much larger than I was expecting (I had previously read on cruising forums that they were 'tiny and too small'). My husband is 6 foot tall and weighs approximately 210 lbs and he said the shower space was large enough. There was plenty of fluffy towels and a plethora of Gilchrist and Soames toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion) in the bathroom which were replenished daily.
There is a small glass shelf either side of the sink (for toiletries) and a larger shelf the width of the bathroom under the sink (also containing a waste bin).
The only down side to our stateroom was the climate control and the toilet. Even with the setting on the coolest, the room was 'airless, stuffy and warm' during the night. We were unable to have the cabin door open at night as this caused 'whistling' down the corridor and we did not wish to disturb our fellow passengers.
We had to call maintenance 5 times during the first 8 days as the toilet would not empty after flushing. Other than these couple of issues, the room met all our needs and it always felt welcoming returning to it each day. Artem, our room steward was attentive, unobtrusive and friendly when we did see him, although that was not often. He kept our toiletries and towels freshly replenished on a daily basis and turned down our bed each evening (complete with pillow chocolate).
I awoke early one morning early in the voyage and went for a stroll around the ship. I arrived at the Grand Lobby to find that the 'Christmas Elves' had put up the Christmas decorations. These were absolutely wonderful and gave a magical atmosphere. They had cleverly strung Santa in his sleigh and the reindeer across the lobby atrium so that it appeared to be flying across the ship. Fabulous! Over the next couple of days they added a life size fairytale scene with Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs set in a 'village' on deck one of the lobby.
I must add that throughout the ship there were many tastefully decorated Christmas Trees and decorations. In addition all the bars and public spaces had hand made Ginger Bread Houses filled with cookies, chocolates and candies. It all helped to create a Christmassy ambience and was a joy to see.
Talking about the Captain's table, we had the very good fortune to dine there twice during this voyage. The first time was on Christmas day when we were invited to dine with the entertainment and cruise sale staff (Edmund, Gaynor and Rebecca) and some of the many friends we made on board (Mandy, Brian and James). A wonderful time was had by all and there was much fun and laughter. PS: Very stylish shoes Edmund!
Captain Christopher Rynd and his wife Julianne requested our company on the 28th December and we gladly RSVP'd (I also booked a facial as I wanted to look my best and feel extra groomed). My husband and I felt so privileged to have been invited as we consider ourselves unassuming northern folk, who, like a lot of people, have worked hard to achieve this lifestyle (and continue to do so) and are grateful to have been 'noticed' enough to warrant an invite.
Three other couples were also invited and everyone was very pleasant and had interesting stories to share. I was very fortunate to have been seated to the captain's immediate right. Before the meal commenced a group photograph was taken and a couple of days later a complimentary photograph was delivered to our stateroom.
Half way through dinner, Captain Rynd and Julianne swapped places, which gave me the chance to share a 'good natter' with Julianne and gain some insight into the life of a captain's wife. Again this was another fabulous evening with interesting company. A night we will never forget and as a bonus we have a fabulous photo as a memento.
The menu choice and food that was available in the restaurant throughout the cruise was of a high standard and always arrived hot. The service on occasion could be slow, although we did not mind as we often shared other tables with the friends we made on board and we were too busy chatting and having fun to notice the time. It became noticeable when we often missed events that started at 10.00pm because we were still dining. In the main, the waiters and sommeliers in the restaurant were personable and friendly.
Chart Room: This was ideally situated to have a pre-dinner drink as it was outside the Britannia Restaurant on deck 2. As with all the public rooms on board, this is a tastefully appointed room with nautical artefacts and echoes the general Art Deco/Victoriana theme of the ship. There are some fabulous nautical paintings on display in this room. Nibbles such as nuts, and Bombay mix are offered along with your drinks.
Champagne Bar: The Champagne bar is located on deck 2 of the Grand Lobby. It echoes the one that is on the Queen Mary 2 and is tastefully decorated in the Art Deco theme that is favoured on board. You can get a selection of champagnes here including Veuve Clicquot. You are offered fresh strawberries with your drinks in this bar (I think caviar is also available). This was where we toasted in the New Year 2009 with a couple of bottles of Veuve with some of the friends we had made on board.
Café Carinthia: Again this was another tastefully decorated public space where the Art Deco theme continued. The chairs and settees are of the large soft upholstered type and are very comfortable. There are a large number of tables seating four by the large picture windows that afford wonderful views of the waves. This was a favourite place to sit on the more 'choppy' sea days. We often sat in this room enjoying a hot beverage whilst watching the turbulent waves.
You have to buy your hot beverages in this bar/café although there are a variety of free light snacks available throughout the day. The prices were reasonable, with coffee and tea from a $1.00 upwards.
Todd English: Todd English is a paid supplement restaurant -- $30.00 Dinner; $20.00 Lunch. We enjoyed two dinners here; the food was exquisite and the service was exemplary. In our opinion we felt it was worth the extra, especially on a longer voyage.
Golden Lion Pub: This was a firm favourite for many passengers who like to enjoy karaoke and pub quizzes. The deco differs from the rest of the ship as it is of the traditional British Pub style. There is hot food available at lunch time and consists of traditional fish & chips (very nice), ploughman's lunch, pies etc.
Very authentic and we occasionally visited for the quiz in the afternoon or to have lunch.
Empire Casino & Bar: The casino was one of the few public spaces where passengers were allowed to smoke, so it was quite smoky. There is a seating area at the entrance to the casino and a large bar. These spaces always appeared full when we passed. We only visited a couple of times to have a go on the slots and the poker table.
Hemispheres Nightclub: This is situated on deck 10 near stairway A. It has a circular dance floor and a very ornate chandelier. It is a very attractive room, although often when we went in it was empty. Although the themed nights proved to be very popular, especially the ABBA night they had.
Commodore Club: This is one of our favourite spaces on the ship (as is the case on the QM2) and did not disappoint; we frequented it regularly. It is located at the bow of the ship on deck 10 and affords fabulous views of the waves during the day and sunsets in the evening.
We used it for coffee in the morning (after 10.00am), pre dinner cocktails and refreshments when returning 'home' on port days. Karen was one of the waiting staff and she provided a very efficient and friendly service and often greeted us by name (as other staff did during the voyage). You are given 'nibbles' with your beverages in this bar during the day and canapés with pre-dinner cocktails. A firm favourite!
Queens Room: This was a favourite for all those passengers that enjoyed dancing; we rarely were able to secure a seat in this area. I feel that being on second sitting does put you at a disadvantage for securing seats, as by the time you come out of dinner the passengers from the first sitting have already got seated. For us we still prefer to eat later, as it is less of a rush on port days. The Grill passengers would not have this problem as they have 'open' seating and eat when they choose between 6.30 -- 9.00pm. But then again they have paid a hefty premium for this privilege.
Royal Court Theatre: The theatre is the most opulent and authentically styled (traditional west end) we have seen at sea. It really is a fabulous theatre with unrestricted views from wherever you sit. There are 8 private boxes (curved perspex front) at each side of the theatre, which for the most part of the shows remained empty. We did have the opportunity to sit in one the first night as they were 'free', at other times there was a $50.00 surcharge. This included a small bottle of champagne and chocolates.
Winter Garden: This is a light and airy pleasant space on board and was popular with most of the guests. It is located between the Lido restaurant and the Pavilion pool on deck 9. My husband and I enjoyed a very nice bottle of Rose Veuve Clicquot Champagne on Christmas day in here and thoroughly enjoyed it (very civilised). I have saved the cork and cage for my memory box of the voyage.
Lido Restaurant: I must say all the food we ate from the Lido was tasty, hot and satisfying. The wait staff often asked us if we would like drinks fetched and they would assist any passenger who appeared to have their hands full.
You could also experience pre-bookable 'Alternative Dining' if you so wished. We booked the 'Asian Cuisine' and the service and food was absolutely faultless. There is no charge for this.
I was surprised to hear how some passengers spoke to the staff and to each other. They totally allowed what appeared to be 'trivialities' to spoil their experience and cause them to take their frustrations out on others (although I did not know what other frustrations they may have had). For example, two couples I saw were arguing over a table (when there were plenty of empty ones available). In another instance I witnessed a passenger really shouting at a Lido Food Manager about the fact that his coffee was cold. I was embarrassed and quite cross at the same time whilst witnessing this 'bullying' incident.
Lido Pool, Deck & Bar: We generally favoured this deck to sun bathe or enjoy an afternoon cocktail (weather permitting). From the second time the deck attendant Warren and the bar man Martin saw us they would greet us by name and ensure that we had everything we needed. They both really went the extra mile to provide an efficient and attentive service. 'Thank you' warren and Martin!
Library: The focal point of this 2 tiered library is the magnificent mahogany spiral staircase. The library is reported to have 6000+ books and contains something for everyone from autobiographies, true crime, history, fiction and non-fiction. There is also a selection of daily papers and magazines for passengers to read whilst visiting the library.
You can also pick up a daily quiz and crossword sheet.
Cunarder Museum: This was something we passed everyday as we walked around the ship but we did not find the time to really study what was in the display cases. Yes really, on a 3 week voyage we found there were things we still had not managed to fit in. The museum carries memorabilia from previous Cunard ships. We intend to peruse more thoroughly when we revisit the ship in August 2009.
Royal Arcade: The main focal point of the Royal Arcade is the 'Pillar' clock, which has been made by Dent & Co (who is credited with making Big Ben in London). The clock casing is black with gold leaf and the clock face is white with black roman numerals. It stands in the centre of an illuminated double staircase and looks very grand. This was a favourite spot for the ship photographers to take pictures of the passengers on formal nights. On the starboard side of the staircase is the Golden Lion and the Casino is on the port side.
The shops on board are of the upmarket variety where you can buy Faberge Eggs, Fine Art and branded watches and jewellery. The shops were supplemented by $10.00 stalls that sold toiletry sets, belts, bags, ties, jewellery, watches etc. These were ideal as affordable gifts for either people back home or the cruise staff.
There is also a shop that carries a range of everyday toiletries, over the counter medications and plasters etc.
Spa: We purchased '5 day' spa passes ($85.00 each) and thoroughly enjoyed visiting the spa after a day's sight seeing. The passes do not need to be used on consecutive days, which was a pleasant surprise as previously I had read on forums that they had to be.
The spa is a wonderful tranquil space and the hydra-therapy pool is excellent. It is furnished with wooden steamer chairs & fresh towels. There is a water cooler and fresh fruit platters for the passengers' replenishment. However, I did feel the water in the pool looked a little murky towards the end of the voyage.
Grills: We were not able to frequent any of the Grill areas and on this ship they are cleverly segregated from the rest of the ship and the public areas. The Grill facilities are located at the top of the ship on the upper decks 11 & 12. I think the way they have been located is very appropriate and diplomatic of Cunard as the Grill Passengers do pay a hefty premium for the privilege of having the extra attention, space and open sitting dining.
Ports of Call
I will only mention Barbados as it is a favourite of ours; we married there in year 2000. We visited where we got married in the morning (which brought back very fond memories) and then we went on an excursion in the afternoon.
We did the 'Caribbean Sailaway' in Antigua (full day) and can truly recommend it. We had a fabulous day that included snorkelling, swimming, sunbathing, dancing and generally having a good time (assisted by the provision of a rather tasty rum punch).
We also partook in the 'Swimming with Turtles' in Barbados (half day). This trip coincided with other ships' excursions. This resulted in the waters where the turtles were being over crowded and quite chaotic. My husband went in the water and I chose to sit on board the catamaran and view the turtles from above. They were a lot larger than I realised and were up to a meter across.
There was also time to spend at the beach at the Sandy Lane resort. This was quite bizarre as we were instructed that we were unable to use any of the sun lounges but we could lay on the sand. The resort had even posted a 'security guard' to watch over us. Nonetheless, a pleasant hour was spent here swimming, beach combing and sun bathing. The crew from the catamaran also provided drinks on the beach.
In other ports we did it 'free style' and either commissioned a taxi or went for a stroll. We always allowed plenty of time to return to the ship as we did not want to run the risk of it leaving without us!
All in all we had a fabulous cruise onboard a truly elegant yet contemporary ship, which had a wonderful 'cosy' feel about it; that has given us many pleasant lasting memories and we have made friendships that I feel could last a lifetime.