We just returned from nine nights aboard Cunard’s Queen Victoria. This was the first segment of the ship’s 98-night world cruise. It’s probably our 18th Cunard voyage. Would we do it again? Yes. The best way to explain why is to detail what we did each day.
Here is a summary of the highlights of each day.
Wednesday, January 11th: Day One
Our anxiety level lessened considerably on Tuesday after we got our negative Covid test results using the self-administered tests. Cunard requires all passengers to show proof of vaccination and boosters along with a negative Covid test result taken within 24 hours of boarding. To prove the test result, you line up the negative test result, your proof of identity, a watch showing the hour and a piece of paper showing the date. You take a picture, which will be shown at embarkation. (FYI: The iPhone probably shows the date and time the photo was taken anyway. This is important because “If you fail, you don’t sail.”
We took the National Express Bus from London to Southampton. It’s clean, modern and inexpensive. The ride took about two and a half hours. It was a short taxi ride to the pier. Check in took about another hour. This involved standing on four lines: One to get your Covid details checked, the second to check in at registration, the third to go through security and the fourth to board the ship. Once onboard, our keycards were at the cabin. We took them and went to out muster station to check in. This is still a requirement.
About 7:30 PM we headed up to our first dinner in the Princess Grill restaurant. Located on Deck 11, it’s a mirror image of the Queens Grill restaurant. Everything is very elegant and sedate. Thin stemmed Riedel wineglasses and fine china (probably Wedgwood) adorn the table. We were seated at a table for eight. This included another American couple, a Scottish solo traveler, another solo traveler from Wales and a London couple. The meal was elegant. It was our “getting to know each other” dinner.
Two highlights of the first day were the military brass band marching around the Queens Room (the major event space) and the fireworks as we left the harbor. The world cruise is considered a big deal! We found seats in the Commodore Club, the elegant cocktail lounge overlooking the bow. It was ideal for watching the fireworks.
Thursday, January 12th: Day Two
The seas were rough on the first night. At times it felt like you were gently rocked to sleep in your bed. Other times if felt like you were on a horse, show jumping over hurdles. Once or twice it felt like a St. Bernard dog jumped into bed with us. My wife, ever resourceful, had an extra set of those magic wristbands to help prevent seasickness.
At 7:00 AM we had a knock on the door. The rolls, juice and coffee we pre ordered the night before arrived. This means we need to be up and at least wearing robes. After showering and changing, we headed out for our second breakfast. We dined in the Britannia dining room, which is open seating at breakfast.
Hard to believe, but breakfast led into our next major activity, which was lunch! On this occasion we dined in the Princess Grill dining room. The ship has three elevator stacks. The Grill dining rooms are located on Deck 11, only accessible by the center stack, the “B” elevators. These service all decks, but Deck 11 requires keycard access. More on this in a future article.
In the Princess Grill, you arrive for meals anytime you choose within a window of time. For lunch it’s noon to 1:30 PM. You have your assigned seat for the duration of the voyage. In the Britannia dining room, the timing is about the same, but open seating. The maître d’ directs you to an open table.
Before we knew it, the clock read 4:45 PM. I showed up at the Golden Lion pub for my first trivia session of the voyage. This was progressive trivia. Although I thought progressive was the opposite of conservative, it actually means scores are progressively tallied over seven days. I committed myself to my team for the week. My other team members were a very smart Welsh couple and a German woman, all onboard for the full 98 nights.
At 7:00 PM we had drinks with friends we met on a similar voyage three years ago. They are “doing the world” although we are only on for nine nights. They are in Britannia grade, so we joined them for dinner in the Britannia dining room. The table was lively, both in the energy level and the movement of the ship in rough seas.
Thursday’s highlights were the first of my seven progressive pub trivia quizzes and drinks and dinner with old friends.
Friday, January 13th: Day Three:
Today, the ocean was calmer. We had breakfast in the Princess Grill dining room. Without going into detail, I started my routine of having prunes and stewed fruit at every breakfast. This was followed by Eggs Benedict.
Cunard voyages are unique in the quality and variety of their lectures. This is called the Enrichment Program and each voyage typically features four or five speakers. The headliner was Laura Truss, the UK author who wrote “Eat Shoots and Leaves.” She addressed the decline of grammar in society. Bearing in mind the passenger population is mostly of retirement age, the message resonated with her audience. She was excellent!
Shortly after noon we cruised the Lido Buffet, then decided lunch in the Princess Grill dining room as the better option. There is a degree of customization there: The Scottish lady was curious about the cold meat platter, mentioning to us she hoped it included Serrano ham. I suggested she ask our server if they could assemble a cold meat platter for her built around Serrano ham. It was done.
Lunch was followed by nap time. On sea days, we live the life our cat does back home. We eat. We sleep. We use our box. Once rejuvenated by our rest, we headed to 3:00 PM afternoon tea in the Queens Room. This is an elegant daily event, included in your cruise fare. White gloved servers pour tea and offer scones and tea sandwiches. You meet new people and listen to a harpist.
Before I knew it, the clock read 4:45 PM. Time for my progressive trivia quiz. Today’s theme was literature. You needed to know your quotes!
Friday was the first formal night, the Black and White Gala. Everyone dresses up. The dominant fashion is either black or white clothing. After an elegant dinner with our tablemates in the Princess Grill, my wife and I headed to the Queens Room, the location for the gala. We might not dance, but we can admire others doing it. As an FYI about these formal nights, you see tuxedo, as you would expect. You also see men in kilts, others in dress military uniforms and some in formal garb native to their culture.
Fridays highlights were the Laura Truss lecture, afternoon tea and the Black and White gala evening.
Saturday, January 14th: Day Four
The ocean is calm. We started with breakfast on the Lido Deck. You might not think buffet dining is wildly popular, but it is! People might have the option of sit-down breakfast dining with white tablecloths, but up on Deck 9 it is difficult finding an empty seat.
At 10:00 AM, all leisure activity stopped as the crew conducted a safety drill. Most of the ship’s 1,000 crew members participated. I had returned to the cabin and later realized the stewards check each cabin for occupants, marking each door as “clear.” You know they are not leaving any passengers behind if there was a real emergency. Life was back to normal shortly after 11:00.
At 11:15 AM we found seats in the Royal Court Theater. The speaker was a former British diplomat who served in Moscow from 1982-84. The topic of his serious of lectures was on the Russian KGB and how they surveilled foreigners and diplomats at that time. He was excellent and drew a large audience.
I checked out the Mareel Spa and the gym after lunch. Checked out means visited, looked around, nodded approvingly and left. My gym visits will begin later in the voyage. This was followed by a visit to the shops. Some liquors are a spectacular deal onboard. For example, Bombay Sapphire Gin was $45 for two liter sized bottles, which was further discounted by 15%, bringing the final price to $38+. I could buy now, but only collect the bottles on the day before we would disembark.
By now we were getting into a routine. Drinks in a lounge like the Chart Room before dinner, followed by dinner in the Princess Grill. Our tablemates started to open up. At 9:00 PM we called it a night and turned in.
Saturday’s highlights were the KGB lecture and the ship’s emergency drill.
Sunday, January 15th: Day Five
We are sleeping in longer, which might not make sense since we are gradually gaining an hour every night as we factor in the five hour time difference during the crossing. We made it up to the Lido buffet about 9:30 AM. Today’s walk on the wild side included black pudding for breakfast.
We have been learning the best way to enjoy days at sea is to join in on one of the many social activities scheduled onboard. There is an early morning Christian Fellowship gathering, a Masons meeting, a Rotary meeting, another for Women’s Institute members… you get the idea. You make new friends and spend time with them.
At 10:00 AM I attended the interdenominational church service officiated by the captain. About 200+ people attended. It was well done and included four hymns. Every verse was sung.
At 11:00 We attended the next Laura Truss lecture, also held in the Royal Court theater. She was excellent, performing a monologue she delivered for BBC Radio 4 earlier. This was followed by lunch in the Princess Grill restaurant.
At 2:00 PM, my wife headed to the Woman’s Institute meeting and I went to the theater to see the film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This 1961 movie is a classic and aligns well to our first port, New York City.
4:45 PM was yet another progressive team quiz. This was followed by my first gym visit. We had dinner in the Britannia Restaurant with our friends at their large table. Dinner was followed by a performance in the Royal Court Theater by a young singer who performed Edith Piaf songs. Although she sang some in French, she sang other in English, which I have not heard before. She was excellent. By 11:00 PM we were back in the cabin and in bed.
Sundays highlights were the excellent interdenominational service, the Laura Truss lecture and finally getting to the gym.
Monday, January 16th: Day Six
We are back to rising early. We were up at 6:00 AM and seated at breakfast in the Princess Grill at 8:00 AM. Because the menu selections are broader, I opted for the lamb kidneys for breakfast. This was accompanied by a smoothie.
At 10:00 I squeezed in one of the morning trivia sessions. (There are at least four every day. The Golden Lion pub is packed for every one.)
Noon was the wine and food pairing lunch. It was held in the Verandah specialty restaurant and featured four courses and eight wines. I was seated at a large table. Two couples sat across from me. Both were on for the full 98 nights. After a few courses and some getting to know you conversation, the suddenly discovered they lived at opposite ends of the same town in England!
I needed to leave shortly before 2:00 PM because I had an interview with the captain scheduled. Although I met him for a few seconds, the interview was postponed one day for a very good reason: A seriously ill passenger was requiring emergency evacuation. The captain both needed to make arrangements for an air ambulance and reroute the ship’s course towards Newfoundland, Canada to get within the helicopter’s range. It is reassuring to know the ship will do this if a passenger’s life is at risk.
At 2:30 I was back alongside my wife in the Royal Court Theater for the next lecture about the KGB by the British diplomat. It was excellent. Afterwards, we headed to the Queens Room for afternoon tea. We were seated with another charming British couple who booked a cruise four years ago. Because of Covid, things getting cancelled and rescheduled until they ended up sailing around the world on this voyage! That’s not what they originally planned, but it sounds like they are happy with the outcome. Covid is still with us because some ports were cancelled and others added.
By now, you know the routine. 4:45 PM progressive trivia was followed by a gym visit.
Dinner was different. The Scottish lady had suggested we all dining in the Verandah specialty restaurant for a change. One of their specialties is a “fruits de mer” cold seafood platter. That is one of my favorites!
I needed to slip out for the 10:00 PM single malt scotch tasting. It is a mystery to me why only three people attended a great event like this one. We tried five different scotches in a tutored tasting lasting longer than an hour. This is an undiscovered gem of these voyages.
Today’s highlights included the KGB lecture, the wine lunch, the Verandah dinner and the scotch tasting.
Tuesday, January 17th: Day Seven
The ocean was a little rougher last night because of the diversion towards Newfoundland. Fortunately the passenger evacuation went well.
We had breakfast in the Lido restaurant again. It was time for another British classic, haddock poached in milk. I think I will stick with eggs and sausages in the future.
At 10:00 AM I had an interview with the hotel manager. He explained not only do people make careers serving onboard and rising through the ranks, they sometimes bring in relatives or the next generation to also build a career at sea.
At noon we had lunch in the Lido Buffet. Today we tried fisherman’s pie, which I augmented with a couple of small slices of pizza.
At 2:00 PM I had my interview with the Captain. To my great surprise, it took place on the ship’s bridge, which has a small seating area with a round table. We chatted for about 30 minutes.
My intent afterwards was to head to another wine event I signed up to attend. This was a tasting of twelve paired wines, with canapes presented in a walk around fashion, similar to a cocktail party. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. The motion of the ship determined I should skip this stand up event. FYI: Later I learned others attended, preferred to stay seated and the staff brought the tasting to their seats instead of requiring them to walk around.
At 4:45 PM it was more progressive trivia, but no gym today. Before we knew it, we were heading up to the Grills Lounge on Deck 11 for pre-dinner cocktails. Tuesday was our second formal night, the Red and Gold Gala. This is a new event for the two of us. Several women were in red or gold sequined gowns. You also saw men in gold sequined dinner jackets. The featured dishes were Dover Sole and Crepes Suzette prepared tableside.
Afterwards, I took a few pictures of red and gold clad dancers in the Queens Room. It was time to call it a night.
Today’s highlights were my interviews with the ship’s officers and the red and gold formal night gala.
Wednesday, January 18th: Day Eight.
We gained an hour when we set the clocks back on Tuesday night. Before breakfast I tried sending e-mails, but the connection tended to be unstable. The bottom line is there are no cell towers at sea. We have heard the connectivity is better at the ship’s library, but I think people would look at me strangely if I showed up in the grand Lobby at 6:00 AM in my robe and pajamas, carrying my ipad.
We had breakfast in the Britannia Dining Room. I requested a table closer to the entrance, further from the stern. No problem. We lingered over breakfast for an hour. No one rushes you.
At 10:00 AM my wife went off to the Royal Court Theater for the final KGB lecture. Almost every seat was filled. I was meeting with the Food and Beverage manager for my 10:00 Am interview. He started with Cunard in 1978 and worked his way up the career ladder. Many years were spent on the QE2, the iconic ship that defined luxury in the 1970’s. The ship actually had a garage with the capacity to hold 120 cars! On at least one occasion, it was used to transport classic automobiles for collector car shows.
We had lunch in the Princess Grill where I was treated to one of my favorite dishes, steak tartare. Not being able to choose between two desserts, I ordered both. My wife sipped her cappuccino as she watched me overeat.
At 2:30 PM we headed to the Yacht Club bar for a “Meet the Speaker” session with Laura Truss, the author. She fielded questions from the audience.
At 3:15 I was in the Grand Lobby for the performance of the Queen Victoria choir. This is a group of about 60 passengers, all in formal dress, who sang as a group, even though they only met for the first time a week ago. They were great.
At 7:00 PM we were visiting our friends in their cabin for canapes and cocktails. This was followed by dinner with our Princess Grill tablemates at 7:30 PM. It’s hard to believe of the eight of us, three of us will be replaced on Friday as we disembark and others take our place for the next segment. I needed to attend the 9:15 PM pub quiz because it was all about New York City facts. We both lived there for years, so this should be our specialist subject.
We wrapped up the evening at 10:00 PM, checking out the late night buffet in the Lido Restaurant. We were not hungry, but I had to see this for myself. The midnight buffet is a staple of cruise ship lore. We turned in afterwards.
Wednesday’s highlights included my interview with the food and beverage manager, steak tartare for lunch and cocktails with our friends in their cabin.
Thursday, January 19th: Day Nine
In the early hours we arrived in New York Harbor. We were out in our overcoats and pajamas taking pictures as the ship sailed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I would guess we docked before 7:00 AM.
There is an Immigration procedure it is good to understand. Everyone needs to get off the ship and clear immigration, even if you are staying onboard for the day. You cannot reboard until every passenger and crew member has been processed. We were among the last off about 10:30 AM and the Immigration process was straightforward: “Welcome back to the US.” We waited an hour in a seating area and then reboarded. We live about 70 miles from New York City and visit often. We decided to enjoy the ship on a rainy day.
The shops are closed. There is no entertainment except for cocktail music and trivia quizzes. Those are standard rules when a ship is in port. We had lunch in the Princess Grill dining room, our final lunch of the voyage.
About 3:00 PM I met my contact person at Cunard, who was in town visiting the ship. We have corresponded for years, but never met in person. I also met another of her colleagues. At 5:00 PM, I had my final interview of the voyage. Meeting the chief sommelier was a treat, considering I am a fellow wine fan. I learned a lot.
As most people would do, we spent the remainder of the afternoon packing our luggage and checking every nook and cranny of the cabin to be sure we did not forget anything. We had drinks for the third time with our friends in their cabin. Then we headed up to the Princess Grill dining room for our final dinner with our tablemates.
This was also our opportunity to hand out white envelopes with tips for individuals who have looked after us. Although tipping is an included charge added to your statement, we also discreetly hand out cash. It’s traditional.
We returned to the cabin, set our luggage outside the door and called it a night.
Thursday’s highlights were the interview with the Chief Sommelier and standing on our balcony taking photos in the early morning.
Friday, January 20th: Our departure day.
It was simple, but it was sad. We walked off shortly after 8:00 AM. We collected our luggage and handed it to a porter who set it on a cart. It was wheeled through Customs, over to the elevator and up to the parking deck. Our car was parked about 50 feet away. He helped load the luggage inti the car and we were on our way. Two hours later, we were home. There was no traffic.
As you can tell, it was a great holiday.
Many thanks to Cunard Line and thanks to the All Things Cruise team as well
Queen Mary 2
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Cover photo: Queen Victoria, credit Cunard Line