Firstly on behalf of myself and 'the Wife' thanks for the great tips and pointers.. It really helped us to prepare and make Honeymoon v1 a truly amazing experience.
So maybe nobody is interested, but I wanted to give a debrief of the trip, our first Cruise!
Honeymoon v1, well we are blessed and lucky (one of those weird silver linings of the COVID crisis) to have two honeymoons! Our intended and long planned honeymoon was due to be a BA First Class trip to Las Vegas booked last year. However as our Wedding date approached, and thus our honeymoon did also, it was looking more and more unlikely that the USA would open up to tourism from the UK. And alas around 10 days prior to the wedding the flights got cancelled. Now thankfully, we were able to rebook and move the whole trip to March next year! Great news. The weather there would be good again in Spring, and it was more or less the same price- no extra to pay really. Except we lost the suite we had previously booked in the Luxor for a executive room- but still First Class all the way with BA.
Obviously we now had the problem, whilst in the midst of mad last minute wedding prep (for the 200-odd guests to the Church ceremony and 140-odd for the evening reception), of no honeymoon straight after the wedding! Thus some frantic searching, and stumbled across this Cunard sun voyage trip. Brilliant! Ticks all the boxes, some luxury (it is Cunard after all and even though we were new to Cruising we knew of Cunard's prestigious reputation) even though only in a basic stateroom, some sunshine, and additional points for a digital detox!
It was booked and 6 days after tying the knot we were on the way to Southampton on the train from Waterloo. We had a fair bit of luggage having read about the Gala nights and bringing appropriate outfits and shoes etc, so the train was a bit of a palaver. We got a cab from home to Waterloo for the train. Incidentally, Waterloo station- what a joke! Firstly not a luggage trolly to be found, as an attendant later confirmed that they don't have them any more. Secondly, not a single bar/pub open in the whole station. We wanted to start the honeymoon with a glass or two of something as we waited for our train, but there was nowhere at all to go in the station. So it was sat on a bench with some pigeons for company with a can of M&S premix G&T we had settled for- not the most glamorous start to the trip. For Britains busiest station I thought this was pretty poor. Waterloo take some advice from St Pancras (or pretty much any of the other London terminal stations) and sort yourself out!
Anyway we was onboard the train for the 1hr10-ish hop to Southampton Central. Sadly onboard this SWR service was not much better than the station experience. The train had NO luggage racks leaving us to balance them up against a vacant table/area- thank goodness the train was quiet. Also any hope of a celebratory drink on board was quickly dashed, the buffet/trolly long scrapped I was told by the guard.
We dragged our bags over to the Novotel which wasn't that far. And upon check in we were congratulated on our wedding and given an upgrade to an Executive room and a voucher for a celebratory drink at the bar each on the house. This was a nice touch and got the trip off to a special start.
We went out and saw what Southampton had to offer with a bit of shopping (last minute bits for the trip) and some dinner and drinks. Without wanting to offend any Southamptoner's, I won't be rushing back for an evening out😬anytime soon. But the Italian Dinner we had at La Tavernetta was very enjoyable.
So the next day, embarkation day, after Breakfast at the hotel which was perfectly fine, we left and checked out, requesting a cab for 2pm (for our 3pm embarkation time) and left our luggage. We went for a stroll and ended up back at the Slug & Lettuce for some fizz as we excitedly discussed what we were expecting from our cruise of a lifetime later on.
We made our way back to the hotel, collected our bags and our cab duly arrived and dropped us off at Southampton Cruise terminal. We had already printed (and I had laminated because I was scared of them ripping and falling off) and attached our luggage tags, so as we exited the cab saw the luggage conveyor and asked if we could drop our bags off there. The nice gent was happy to take them and thus we followed the directions to the COVID test centre. Now this was a very well oiled machine and everything worked well. We got our COVID test quickly and off we went to await our results, which came in after about 20 minutes by SMS. Negative! Phew...
One thing that did make me think here, was what if we wasn't tech savvy? The whole online check in, printing of boarding passes and luggage tags, and SMS covid tests... my old Gran who still travels wouldn't have stood a chance! When we fly we generally never bother with the online check in lark or printing of boarding passes, we leave all that to the airline and at the airport. It was unclear what would have happened to those without means to do all this themselves or didn't have a mobile phone.
Anyway we was in the terminal quite a while even after the COVID test, maybe an hour. We ended up getting onboard about 1600hrs. There was a delay due to a technical problem apparently on the gangway. It was mind-numbingly boring. People say it is much nicer than the airport experience but I have to disagree. We usually always fly BA and have priority check in and security, so normally after the usual formalities we are in the terminal when even if no lounge is available for us, there are numerous bars/cafes/shops etc. Southampton cruise terminal had NOTHING. Sat there with nothing to do and nowhere to eat or drink for an hour. Even the one drinking water machine, was taken out of use (presumably due to some COVID rule).. so that was out of question. There was a cafe in the COVID test waiting area, but that was closed, heavens knows why as they would have made a fortune if open! In this respect Airport v Cruise port, airport wins for me all day long.
Anyway we got chatting to a lovely chap in the waiting area who happened to be staying on our deck near to us. He was a frequent cruiser so gave us all kinds of hints and tips. He was a really lovely guy who we would eventually end up enjoying afternoon tea with a couple of times during the trip. Then it was time to board. Off we went and in awe of the ship as we boarded her, we went and found our stateroom. As per the advice here we went via the Pursers desk and advised them of our honeymoon status and requested we be considered for any upgrade available. We found our room and was greeted by our friendly steward who gave us a briefing of the facilities and features of our cabin.
We went for tea which was lovely, and then promptly found one of the bars. Cocktails were served and were very much enjoyed. The first of many!
We was offered an upgrade via telephone from the Pursers desk, the next day, at zero cost. It was to a window room but not a balcony. After discussion with my new wife we politely declined as we had got everything out and unpacked and didn't fancy the upheaval. If it was a balcony offer we would have of course suffered the upheaval! But just to get a window in a room we wouldn't be spending much time in, it didn't seem worth it.
I won't give a minute-by-minute day-by-day account of the trip but we did love every minute. The drinks package was totally worth every cent. It was very clear, as Ynox states above, there was nobody measuring out the spirts or the (pathetic) 150ml wine measures. The odd $5 or $10 bill slipped to the sommelier and bar staff ensured that we were VERY well looked after in that department. Also the 15 drink limit per day went out of the window. I counted one day we went well over 20 alcoholic drinks each from getting up to finally crashing out in the early hours. I have no regrets about purchasing the package and advise any drinker to do the same. By half way through the trip the waiters had memorised our room number and we didn't even have to present the card for drinks orders. We was amazed by the selection available even at the pool bar, we wasn't able to name a cocktail that they weren't able to make!
I was slightly surprised the pavilion (middle) pool bar was closed. There was a lot of people out there drinking and the waiters were having to run round like headless chickens between outside upper and lower decks and the inside (garden) bar fetching drinks.
Speaking of bars, we are used to on holiday going on till about 2/3 in the morning. So was surprised on day 1-2 when we found ourself getting asked what we want for last orders at little past midnight! This was before we properly sussed the ship out, so I responded in the yacht club "oh don't worry we will goto the nightclub for late drinks, where is it please?" to be told that we were indeed already in the nightclub and at the modest time of approx 0030hrs they were closing and nowhere else would be open on the ship for a drink.... oh dear!
Also one thing we were disappointed with was the lack of any kind of dancing, ballroom dancing excepted (which is not our department). I thought we would be able to dance in the nightclub and I thought there might be some venues or times when there was more young music. But basically if you didn't want to do ballroom dancing, you were not allowed to dance. This was a shame! Even though we are in our early 30's we still like a good old dance and that was a no-no on board the Queen Elizabeth.
This takes us nicely on to the subject of masks... and I have to say, it was a pain! I could not for the life of me, understand why we needed to wear them. We had every single human soul on that ship double vaccinated and tested negative for COVID immediately before boarding. Yet we still had to wear masks. To be honest, I found that ridiculous. As I mentioned, just days before the trip we had over 200 people in Church for our wedding all mask-less, and 140-something dancing and singing and partying for our evening reception, again mask-less. And no COVID outbreak.
I think it was totally overkill to have to wear masks at all times. It certainly ruined the theatre experience for me, which we visited twice. In the West End the house can be full without masks with drinks etc in full flow, (for months now since July) but onboard Cunard QE- none of this. Everyone masked up and drinks banned.
The most ridiculous part of it I think was when on the first night, after getting a drink in the Golden Lion pub, going to the (very quiet) Casino and the two of us taking a seat at a slot machine and feeding it $20, sat there playing the slot and being told by a member of staff to put our masks on! "But we are sat down with a drink and playing the machine" we insisted, but was duly told to lower our masks whenever we want to take a sip then put it back up between sips. Sorry but that is ridiculous.
However, that aside, no way was masks going to ruin the holiday. The food was amazing, the drinks were perfect (and plentiful!) and the service was wonderful.
We had an amazing trip and honeymoon and thanks to everyone here for your help and advice and tips!
Would we go on another Cunard Cruise? Absolutely, book us up. Would we go when masks are still compulsory? Sorry, probably not.