We were a little stressed over the dress code. I despise neckties, but could manage a sport-coat without great suffering. My wife found a large selection of new formal dresses online for around $69.95 each, which only required hemming and some fussing over shoes. I owned a tuxedo, which after a bit of dieting and a replacement set of trousers from eBay still could fit.
Embarcation in Barcelona was the worst we have ever seen. We were not told when to arrive and when we did we were assigned groups in a tired outer hall. After 45 minutes they seemed to stop calling groups and angry guests just stormed up and went into the departure hall where there was a long snaking line. We were commiserating with some fellow passengers when one disappeared. He came back shortly and said to follow him. He found the “group check in” was under-utilized and he made our own pretend group. We wonder if the others ever got on, despite the fact that we did not leave until the next day. A little supervision would have fixed this. Cunard cleverly checks passports for UK arrivals at sea, so getting off the ship and to the bus in Southhampton was on the other hand the fastest we have ever seen. We walked off the ship about 8:30 and were at our gate at Heathrow by 11:30.
All modern ships are nice, but the Queen Victoria was a cut above. They got rid of the wasted space of a massive lobby. The “woodwork” was upgraded and just felt classy. There was a half bottle of Champagne waiting in our stateroom. The cabin was well appointed, quiet and had some nice touches. We were delighted to find a tea kettle, which allows the use of proper boiling water for making tea. Our cabin attendant acted more like a butler.
Smaller cruise lines are better than large ones for one reason lately. There is not an aggressive “draft” of literally thousands of experienced crew to go to newer vessels. They get to learn their craft and perfect it. The main dining room team was amazing- down to deftly removing skin from fish and applying lemon. You never got a trainee waiter, even for breakfast, which is normally a pick-up team. Eagle eyed head waiters maintained service standards, energy which on other, lesser lines, goes to upselling you to alternative dining.
The Britannia main dining room food was as reported- you get to eat what they are serving. It is well prepared, but is probably not what you want or were expecting. We would scan the menu and it was sometimes unrecognizable. The choices were explained to us as British food. There were 1000 Brits aboard out of around 2000 total. We had lovely Indian in the pub. The wine list was large and varied but not cheap. The beer list was extensive- they even had an IPA.
One iron clad industry rule was gone- you could actually buy wine ashore and bring it aboard to drink in your cabin. And it was a great luxury to find self-service laundry on most decks. Sales pressure was limited – the photo staff was unobtrusive and there was no overt selling of unlimited diabetes (fountain beverage) packages. They had the old style per minute Internet service (who remembers logout.com) which was pokey slow.
The dancing was lovingly cared for. The Queens Room was in the center of the ship and had a large dance floor. A social director called the dances and there was a seven-piece dedicated orchestra. There was a dance couple, who were internationally ranked and some dance hosts and a hostess. The dances were split between ballroom, Latin and some British Sequence Dances. A lesson or two were mixed in. This was the place you could use the dance lessons you took on other lines. The dance floor was often quite full. The Queens Room was the home of several balls, such as the Black and White.
The Captain was charming. You got the sense he was very much in charge of our happy ship, and was not just a minor functionary assigned to read us policies from headquarters. One night he decided we would dock early in Gibraltar, and get a good night's sleep at the dock rather that "driving around in circles all night."
The fellow passengers were normally retired, accomplished and well-travelled. There is great brand loyalty to Cunard (pronounced with a leading “Q”) and there seemed to be demand for shared tables at dinner as the conversation was quite interesting.
All in all we were impressed. If you are tired of waiters in training and smoky casinos and don’t mind dressing up for dinner this is the place for you.