by Alan Jones
December 11, 2007
We love the Christmas Markets of Northern Europe, so when we saw that Cunard's latest liner, The Queen Victoria, was visiting Rotterdam, Oslo, Copenhagen, Hamburg & Bruges for her Maiden Voyage, we jumped at the chance.
Embarkation - Southampton - December 11th 2007
After a short while, we were invited to board the ship, which despite only being a few feet away from the lounge required walking up & down an air bridge some 4 or 5 times to get to the Promenade Deck which is where they were embarking everyone. Fortunately despite being December, the weather was relatively warm & dry as we all stood in the queue for the security photos.
Once officially on board, you were left to your own devices as far as getting to your stateroom. There were white gloved crew welcoming you, and pointing the way, but no-one to escort you or help with your hand luggage.
Our stateroom (inside) was perfectly adequate for a short voyage, despite there being no sets of drawers, there were 2 small ones in the bedside cabinets, and a further one in the vanity unit. This was an issue for some people on board, and we understand that Cunard were to address the problem in the New Year. The height of the beds did however allow easy storage of suitcases, so any additional clothing was easily stored there. One other comment was that some women may experience issues with the height of the wardrobes, the maximum drop length is only suitable for long dresses of ladies up to about 5ft.
In most grades of stateroom, there is only one power outlet per standard (i.e. US, EU, UK, Japan), so you may want to pack a multi-gang extension lead.
The room layout & lighting felt spacious, and thankfully all the staterooms have flat panel TV's, which allow much more shelf space, and look more in keeping with a quality brand.
There was also a couple of forms asking if we wanted Personalized Notepaper, and our names entered into the Passenger List for the voyage. But we are not sure if this is going to be the norm, or just a one-off.
Afternoon Tea was also served in the Queens Grill Lounge, and Lido Buffet, which provided a 24 hour eatery, with the selection & styles of food available changing throughout the day.
Britannia Restaurant - Breakfast
Britannia Restaurant - Lunch
After the meal, when asked if you wanted tea or coffee, we always opted for the Cappuccino, which btw is free in the restaurants. These were always piping hot.
Britannia Restaurant - Evening
As with the lunchtime service, after dinner hot drinks included tea, coffee, or Cappuccino. Of course you can also get these around the various bars on the ship, but remember there is a charge in these locations.
Todd English - (cover chargeable restaurant)
On a later voyage we were entitled to a CWC lunch at Todd English, but were left very disappointed by the quality of the food served. We both had to send our meals back, whilst an elderly gentleman on a nearby table asked for another roll, as "it was, by far, the best part of the meal".
Lido Self Service
In the evening one side of the Lido was taken out to provide 'speciality' dining, the details of which are below. At various points around the Lido, there are tea/coffee/hot water stations, which meant that there were very few delays. There was also iced water and an ice-cream machine with warm cookies which kept us very happy.
Lido Evening Specialities
Basically what happens is that when you arrive, you are shown to your table, which has been laid up in keeping with the theme, by equally theme-dressed waiters, the table is your for the evening, so there is no rush. They will bring you the menu and take any drinks orders. When they return with your drinks, they will take you through the menu making recommendations, which we found most useful. They then bring you each course of your meal, and return a couple of times to make certain that everything is to your liking. Once you have finished one course, they will clear away the plates & ask if you are ready for the next course - so you control the speed of the evening.
Once the chefs have finished all their work for the evening, they come out to meet the guests & chat with them, checking that everything was alright, and seeking suggestions & observations. There were 3 different themes during our cruise, each night had 2 of them in operations. They were Indian, an English Carvery, and Swiss Fondue - unfortunately we were too late in discovering these & missed out on the Fondue which looked very interesting, and booked up very quickly.
Golden Lion - Pub Lunch
Returning late one day from tour, we tried room service, which offered a very good selection of snacks & meals. The efficiency of the service was excellent, and & quality of the food we ordered was most enjoyable, one other bonus was that unlike many lines, the room service carries no extra charge. When we phoned the order through, we were warned that due to workload it would take about 20 minutes, and some 25 minutes later the waiter knocked on the door with about twice as much food as we'd been expecting.
If you wanted breakfast in your stateroom, you simply filled in a pre-selection form & hung it on your stateroom door in the evening. The food was delivered within the 15 minute band that you also selected.
The Crew & Staff ?
The senior officers were very approachable and enjoyed chatting to the guests about the ship, the ports, their experiences, and your own thoughts.
Royal Theatre Private Box Experience
An extension to this feature, and something that we weren't sure would be VFM was the Private Box Experience. For a charge, you were invited to the theatre side seating for champagne & hors d'oeuvres, then just before the show, you were escorted to your box by white gloved, fully suited Bell Boys, where you were served with another half bottle of Champagne, and chocolate truffles. After the show you were presented with a signed photograph of the troupe as a certificate of your experience. A truly unique experience, and worth the money for that special evening.
Drink Prices ?
The soft drink card that many people were use to on the QE2 has been revamped, and basically now only covers drinks available from the soda gun - most of which were flat due to lack of demand.
And so to the cruise itself .....
Southampton Sailaway 11th December
The evening entertainment in the Royal Court Theatre followed the standard pattern of a short performance by the dance troupe, followed by a British comedian, who was entertaining, but really needs to find some new material.
A brief wander along the Prom Deck (which doesn't wrap all the way) proved it to be functional, but uninspiring, so we dropped back inside & took a rest in our favourite bar - The Midship Lobby, which overlooks the atrium, and was therefore a good place to watch the world go by.
Rotterdam 12th December
Most people took the organized tour into Amsterdam, but having been there too often, we decided to take the shuttle bus into Rotterdam, where we spent a couple of hours looking around this modern city, it's Town hall, shopping streets, canals, gardens & finally back along the waterfront to view the ship. Upon returning to the ship, we saw the obvious sadness of many of the crew, who had been visited by their colleagues from the QE2, and were now having to say goodbye to their 'family & friends from their old home'
Sailaway that evening was rather delayed, but we were kept entertained by the sound of a local band & it's lively singers, who appeared to be enjoying singing various “sea shanties”.
That evening the Royal Court Theatre held a performance by Welsh singer & entertainer Aled Jones - who was quite entertaining, not only with his singing, but stories of life on the road . Being on first sitting we attended the late show, and upon finding that the Royal Box was free we just had to go for it. We were advised that apart from the first sitting guests we were the only non-celebrities to have used the box. So apart from the Royal couple, Mickey Arison of Carnival and John Prescott (a British politician) we were the next people to use the box.
December 13th - A Day at Sea
That evening, was a formal night with the first of the various welcome aboard parties being held in the Queens Room, and hosted by Captain Paul Wright. Dual entrances were being used, the first if you wanted to join the very long queue to meet the Captain & have your photograph taken, the other for those who just want to join the party, and catch a photograph later.
The show for the evening was a performance called 'A Dance Passion' (aka Appassionata). So we tried & were successful in booking the Theatre Box Experience. It only cost $25 per person, and for that you are invited to take champagne & canapés in a wing of the theatre before being shown to your box by a 'dressed' Cunard Bell Boy. In the box, a further half bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne was on ice, along with 4 Belgian style chocolates. Each box is fitted with a pull cord so that you can call for more service. We ended up with box 12, which we found to be perhaps the best box in the Theatre & returned there, or it's mirror opposite box, for a few 'non-formal' nights, when the boxes are open on a first come first served basis. After the show we were presented with a photograph of the dance troupe. It didn't happen on this voyage, but the plan is to work out how they can incorporate a back stage visit.
Returning to our stateroom that evening, we discovered a limited edition Wedgwood gift bone china dish, printed with the Cunard logo, and the wording - QUEEN VICTORIA - Maiden Voyage December 11th 2007.
Copenhagen 14th & 15th December
Later on that day, in a continuation of the St Lucia Day celebrations, a local school (Zahles) choir visited the ship, to sing traditional national songs & carols. As if it wasn't hard enough to perform on the main stage in front of hundreds of people, they sang the last carol in English. They were then treated to be well earned afternoon tea on board.
As this was an overnighter in port, many people remained ashore, so we decided to book ourselves into the Lido Indian Buffet. The Indian 'Buffet' as mentioned is held in a sectioned off area of the Lido which had been transformed with table runners, elegant glass plates, and very unusual condiment set (if they had sold them we would have bought some). The waiters were dressed up in Indian robes, and presented the menus to you describing each of the options & helping you choose your dishes. Basically they filled each table with a good selection of dishes for you to try. At the end of the meal, the chefs came out to talk with everyone & answer any questions.
The comedian appeared in the Theatre again, but upon realising that his show wasn't getting much response in the near empty Theatre, he left the stage & started interacting with the audience. This forced him to ad-lib, or at least rework his show, and it was the best show of his that we had seen in a long time, if only he had to do that every show. He did seem to have a knack of finding the wrong victims, out of the 6 people he picked on with, 3 were teachers, 1 was from the UK tax office, and another was an undertaker. The evening was rounded off with an enjoyable 10 minute firework display off to the seaward side of the ship, followed by a hot drink to thaw out again. Café Carinthia serves lovely hot coffees and hot chocolate (chargeable) throughout the day, along with a selection of Danish pastries & Muffins.
The following day saw Sir Roger Moore visit the ship today to attend a 'Welcome to Copenhagen' Plaque Exchange ceremony. However, we missed all that as we had taken the shuttle bus into the city centre today & enjoyed the Christmas decorations (see photo album) & shop displays as we walked to the City Hall and Tivoli Gardens, then along another waterfront, before winding our way back to the outdoor ice rink which backed onto Nyhavn .
During the afternoon there was a parade along the dockside by the Tivoli Boys Guard band, who performed various marching tunes. Unfortunately one of our external warm air blowers started pouring our clouds of white smoke, so they disappeared into the 'fog' & reappeared on their return march a few minutes later.
We set sail that evening, to more Christmas carols, this time from the Women's Marine Orchestra, and a crowd gathered to cheer us on our way.
The evening saw us in another cocktail party at 19:15, but the timing of it meant that we had to forego our set dining. We tried to book into the Lido Fondue, but it was fully booked, and this was the night that the Britannia Maitre D' (Luca) managed to organize us romantic table for 2 on the late sitting.
This evening's entertainment in the Theatre was provided by The OperaBabes, who were good when singing, but dragged their performance out far too long by padding it out with in depth dialogue of how they got to where they are today.
Oslo 16th December
In the afternoon we went on a tour to the Viking, Fram & Kon-Tiki Museums. The coach driver took us around the city of Oslo first, and the courier was able to give us a wonderful insight into the life of the locals. On the drive out to the museums, we also passed various other 'living museum' areas, and one of Oslo's Pagoda style churches, which was a delight to see, but seemed really out of place.
The first museum we visited held a Viking burial ship, which still has some 90% of it's original wood. The ship itself had been buried on land as a funeral tomb, and uncovered early in the 20th Century, then transported through the town on specially laid rail tracks to a ship which transported it to it's new home on the other side of the port.
From here we were taken to the Fram museum (which was bitterly cold) to learn the story of, and walk around, the purpose built (ant)arctic ship the Fram. The reason I say (ant)arctic was that the ship was originally funded for a Norwegian Expedition to the North Pole, but by the time the ship was ready, this has already been achieved, so after setting sail Roald Amundsen advised his crew that they were going to take Scott on & try & beat him to the South Pole. The display included a copy of the telegram that Amundsen sent to Scott advising him of the challenge - it was felt that to take him on un-announced would not be sportsman-like We then simply walked across the car park, to get to the much warmer Kon-Tiki Museum, where replica's of the various boats/rafts are on display, along with the history of how & why Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove that such voyages were possible. All the links between the Incan & Egyptian cultures were laid out, leaving little doubt that there must have been trading between these two empires on opposite sides of the earth.
Upon returning to our stateroom, we found an invite to the Art Auction Cocktail Party which was scheduled for 19:45, so we were able to return to our set table - only the 2nd time that all the table companions had turned up, much to the waiter's amusement. The cocktail party was lovely, if somewhat overcrowded as it was held within the confines of the Art Gallery, but it gave everyone a good chance to mingle & chat.
The entertainment that evening was certainly something to behold. It was a true variety Show, starting with twin performers juggling whilst balancing on each other, or with bodies intertwined. They were followed by what was advertised as Vase Balancing, and turned out to be a Chinaman tossing various sized earthenware pots into the air - some VERY LARGE & heavy, and catching & spinning them on his head or arms, back, neck etc. incredible performance. These acts were supported by a couple performing Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics on ribbons from the rafters.
December 17th - 2nd Day at Sea
The Cunard World Club cocktail party in the Queen's Room started at midday & lasted for well over an hour. It was hosted by the Future Sales team, and attended by the Captain, who made another one of his very amusing speeches, including his response to the enquiries as to why the Prom Deck didn't go all the way round, by offering to look out for any drift wood to finish the job off. At 15:00 there was a Wine Tasting seminar held in the Britannia Restaurant, and despite being very disorganised at the outset, once the numbers thinned down, and they got their process sorted, we all had a good chance to taste several wines & canapés, with very knowledgeable input from the impressive sommeliers.
As this is our 20th year of marriage, we had put our names down for the Renewal of Wedding Vows ceremony. Unfortunately one couple who had signed up had to return home early for a works emergency, but the Father on board was good enough to perform their ceremony before they left the ship. The rest of us enjoyed a shared service, with music on the harp from Chiara Capobianco, and optional champagne & photo shoot. We were all presented with certificates, which we later had signed by Captain Paul Wright in one of his book signing sessions.
Then in the evening was yet another Cocktail party, this one for Platinum and Diamond Tier Guests. Again it was attended by several Senior Officers who happily mingled & chatted with the guests. Being a late function, this messed up our dining sitting, so we opted to try the Lido Carvery, and again visited our table to excuse ourselves once more. As with the Indian night, the table was set especially for the whole night, and the food was served to you, with the head chef visiting each table to ensure that everyone was happy.
The entertainment for the evening was two fold. In the Queens Room, was the Royal Ascot Ball, which wasn't our sort of thing, so we went off to the Theatre once more.
In the Theatre that evening was an Elton John Tribute by an artist called Jonathan Kane. He was very convincing, and was obviously really enjoying his work - as did the very mixed age audience who had come along to 'party in the aisles'. Apparently Jonathan Kane is Elton John's only officially endorsed Tribute Act, and it was obvious why. If you like Elton John & ever see this guy advertised locally, go along for a great night.
Hamburg 18th December
up, another beautiful Winter's day.We had booked onto a morning tour, called Land and Sea, which started in the main square, where a traditional Christmas Market was set up, then walking through the Rathaus/Town Hall learning a little of the political running of the town & it's close links to the Hanseatic Cities & England. From here were strolled along the more exclusive shopping area to the Aussenalster lake, where we boarded our well heated barge style boat. This took us around the lake giving us wonderful views of the city, with some of it's more exclusive houses (and US embassy). The lake trip was remarkably relaxing, just soaking up the scenery, and we were eventually dropped at the other end of the lake to rejoin our coach, which then made it's way around the outskirts of the city to St. Michaels Church. Behind the church was a very short, narrow & busy alleyway with buildings from the middle ages, which were now used as shops selling mainly packaged teas & coffees, and olde worlde sweets, but if there were more than a couple of people in the shop, you couldn't move. Unbelievable that the shops still existed. From here it was back to the coach & continuing the city tour, taking in, of course, the Reeperbahn famed for it's nightlife & Beatles connections.
All day long, busy tour & private boats sailed up & down the Elbe to view the Queen Victoria, and streams of people came down to the port to take photos & see the ship for themselves. It's just a shame that they couldn't see how good she looks on the inside. We decided to give this evening's show (Mark O'Malley) a miss, and visited the Golden Lion instead where a party atmosphere was growing thanks to the pianist Danny Mills. At 21:45 we ventured out onto deck, armed with cameras for another firework sail away. We weren't disappointed, the display was very powerful & effective, and as we set sail horns & whistles filled the air, we were also escorted for a couple of hours by a paddle steamer and smaller private boats. For several hours every ship or river boat (even large lorries) that we passed, sounded off, and the members of the Bridge Team were more than happy to respond in kind. A night that not many will forget.
Day at Sea 19th December
During the afternoon, we finally succumbed & joined the book signing queue. I don't know how many times the Captain put his pen to paper, but he really should have had a collection box on his desk for contributions to Queen Victoria's chosen charity, he would have made a small fortune.
That evening we gave the theatre a miss, as we had already seen the show Victoriana, and found it not to be our thing. The show was a huge success with the elderly clientele, as they basked in the 'Good Old Bad Old Days' format, and enthusiastically waved their hankies & Union Flags when encouraged to do so. Judging by the numbers of flags still being waved as they walked around the ship, it produced a real feel good factor amongst the audience.
Zeebrugge 20th December
We had another tour today - Bruges on your own - that is if we can find our coach, and if the driver can find Bruges ;o) The roads were very quiet, and the journey time was only about 30 minutes, which meant that we had over 5 hours to explore Bruges. We had never seen Bruges in the Winter before, and were very happy with what we found. The rivers were mostly frozen, and the stone bridges, trees, and even cobwebs were all white with frost - very atmospheric. Being on tour, we missed the auction for Ship's Nautical Chart, but understand that it went for several thousand pounds, with the proceeds going to charity.
We returned to the ship & set sail shortly afterwards for home. The entertainment for the evening was provided by the Irish Comedian Adrian Walsh, meanwhile in the Golden Lion, the pianist's performance once more turned into a very cheerful, if unofficial, karaoke, with all having a good time.
Southampton Disembark 21st December
And so to the important question