I cant tell you how much we enjoyed our pre christmas Voyage on Queen Victoria. It was the perfect Christmas break for us. The next best thing to an actual christmas cruise, and in many ways even better than! A five night Christmas Markets voyage, departing and returning to Southampton. We travelled Princess Grill in a midship suite on deck 4.
Wednesday 15th December 2010
Queen Victoria has been sat in view of our window at Holiday Inn all night. She is fresh back from her first refit and Im sure final preparations have been being made all through the night for our arrival. Its a glorious sunny morning with blue sky, it might even be summer if it weren’t so cold outside! 1045 and we check out of the hotel and make our way along to Mayflower Terminal. An army of CPS staff are waiting for the arrival of cars and we are soon handing over the car and entering the terminal for check in. We are directed straight to Grills check in, efficiently checked in and proceed straight to the departure lounge. I can confirm that ‘clipboard woman’ is alive and kicking and residing at the Mayflower Terminal. We were greeted with a cheery ‘Welcome to Queen Victoria please take a seat anywhere and make yourself comfortable’ which we did, only to be told 2 minutes later ‘you cant sit there, please move along, wheelchairs only along here please’ so we moved and then watched the whole process ten times over as other arriving passengers did exactly the same as us. A wheelchair only sign might have been useful, or a change to her greeting maybe? We spent a pleasant 45 mins people watching and at 12 noon we were invited to board in the priority group. A quick embarkation photo and we had arrived! Red uniformed bellboys greeted us onboard, in the lift, straight to our suite to drop off the bags, and within minutes we were in the Grill lounge ordering a champagne cocktail. Crew did look a little startled to see us so soon after embarkation. No Hibiscus champagne cocktails as the bartender gave the excuse he had to throw away all the flowers for US port inspection. Mmm?! Its all very civilised and relaxed in Grills lounge and one immediately chills. 1.00pm and the restaurants is open so we go through fir lunch. But there appears to be a problem. The maitre de informs us we should be in the Britannia Restaurant! Errrr I really think not! But he didn’t have an allocation for us. While all this is going on a queue is forming and the lady just behind us is not amused. A fair bit of tutting and huffing and puffing is going on, but its hardly our fault. Its a mystery as to why we were allocated the Britannia, but he did ‘invent’ a table for our use during lunch and he will allocate us something later for our permanent table. Our invented table is actually quite nice overlooking the deck below and the Queen Victoria sign, but it is blocking a fire exit and so tucked in that the waiters cant even reach me and my place setting, but hats off to the maitre de for inventing a table so efficiently for us. He is back to the table before the end of lunch to inform us we have a ‘beautiful’ table, 112, which will be ours from this evening.
We retire to the stateroom to do the unpacking and check a few emails etc (work must go on) Before we know it, its muster drill and then our lady Captain Inga informs us that all pre departure checks have been satisfactory completed and we are about to let go our lines thats one of my all time favourite sayings! We have been berthed starboard side too at Mayflower so we need to go up into the basin and turn. Only one place to view that from and thats the Commodore Club. I had a very nice Martini from the ‘New Age Martini’ menu then left the lads to it to have a ‘couple for the road’
Dinner in Princess or Queens Grill is open sitting and we arrived at the Grill lounge at around 8.00pm with no problem in getting a seat or service. The crisps and nuts arrived closely followed by the canapes . It was impressive. King fried tempura prawns, fillet beef and onion, pickled carrot and peppers and a salad wrap and that was only the pre dinner nibbles! I tried another new martini and we were about ready to dine. The meal was to die for, absolutely divine food, but it was like an icebox in there. Me and kath were shivering and they promise us we will be warmer tomorrow. Well lets hope so. Nobody could really top our amazing sommelier, Kevin, from last year, but as soon as I ordered our chosen wine, I was immediately informed that it wasn’t what I should be ordering and his recommendation was put forward. He was confident it was a perfect choice and he wasn’t far wrong. Excellent wine! I really should start taking note of what we drink. We were the very last to leave the restaurant, but at no point did we feel in the way or as if they wanted us out. We were constantly asked if there was anything more we wanted.
Hemispheres is the place to go after dinner and Mr H is left in charge of sorting out the route without us having to go outside, needless to say he didn’t quite get it right, but we got there eventually. An excellent band, Changez, were playing. They did anything and everything but a lot of reggae and Bob Marley etc which got everyone up and dancing. I multitasked and tried a few more new martinis whilst doing a lot of people watching. I am yet to go on a Cunard ship and find a nightclub that has been quiet and underused. There is always a good lively band and DJ mix to keep a good party atmosphere going. The lads seemed to be doing a lot of ‘just one for the road’ which isn’t bad considering they were both tired hours ago! We left shortly after the bands final set of the evening and there were still people dancing to the DJ and I’m sure the party went on for a good while longer – and it was almost 3.00am!!
We arrived back in the stateroom to find what looked like the whole of the pillow menu on the bed. I had asked the stewardess earlier for a memory foam pillow and she had a little difficulty understanding what I was asking for, so she obviously decided she would just bring one of each and I could choose my own, lol. Im sure she had taken an iron to my pj’s too and they were laid out with precision. Bless, they do make the effort to make those little extra touches matter, and its greatly appreciated.
Thursday 16th December 2010 At sea & Amsterdam
Oh heck, maybe getting to be at 5 to 3 this morning wasn’t such a good idea? Mr C decides to wake me at what seemed like a very unearthly hour to suggest we go to breakfast! Sounds like effort is involved in that but as time is ticking I agree to pull myself out of bed so we can get to Princess Grill in time for Blueberry pancakes. Its very grim outside, grey and pouring with rain. We arrive at our table just as we are entering the harbour wall for the entrance to the canal along to Amsterdam and we have a fireboat welcome as he comes alongside the starboard side then passes around the stern and up along the portside. I had a lovely full English breakfast, all freshly cooked, and very nice. Meanwhile Mr C seemed to demolish the entire breakfast menu and work his way through it at a fast pace, starting with a smoothie through to omelette and of course including the blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. We managed a little stroll around the ship after breakfast but I was soon back to the cosiness of the stateroom. We passed quite a few sips in the canal as they past us on our port side. They all hooted and we responded to them all. One tanker even turned his water cannons on for us – shame it was pouring with rain and not fit to stand on the balcony. It wasn’t long before I took to my duvet and took the time to inspect the inside of my eyelids.
I woke up and we had arrived in Amsterdam, but we had no inclination to move very far. Mr C opened a bottle of champers and ordered room service so it was lunch in bed! How lazy is that? I did feel really guilty when the room service attendant walked past the foot of the bed carrying my lunch and there was me propped up in bed, watching the Queen Elizabeth naming ceremony on the TV with a glass of champagne in my hand, but hopefully she is used to it. Of course after lunch I needed another snooze followed by a soak in the bath. Mr C did venture out to the Golden Lion for a beverage, so one of us did get to see some of this lovely ship today.
Pre dinner drinks in Grills Lounge, where else?! Some hibiscus flowers have been located and so Kath and I felt obliged to have one, and oh it was worth the wait. Nobody does them like Cunard! We were rather late going through to dinner, but it never affects the service. We were advised that there might be a slight delay with main course, but in truth we never actually noticed any delay. Kath had her duck flambé d at the table which was rather impressive. All of the meal was to die for and the passion fruit cheesecake was just superb.
We headed for Hemispheres again after dinner and Changez didn’t disappoint, who would have thought that some of the best nightclubs at sea would have been onboard Cunard?!
Friday 17th December 2010 – Amsterdam
We have had an overnight in Amsterdam, but its still not enticing us to go ashore. Room service breakfast arrived spot on time. Blueberry pancakes, full English breakfast (for Mr C) salmon bagel, and toast, with a pot of tea and coffee. We polished that off and climbed back under the duvet to sleep it off.
It was snowing heavily outside and there didn’t seem to be much sign of life in the offices opposite. We chose not to go ashore again and were up and about just in time for lunch in the Golden Lion pub. I had fish n chips and Mr C had the steak n mushroom pie. We had a bit of a wander but ended up in the Grill lounge. Its always so cosy and relaxed in there. A fantastic view too of the snow covered decks, which by now was really quite thick. The restaurant staff is loving the snow and all are nipping out to take photos of the snow. They even build us a snowman in the Courtyard. Princess Grill snowman is much more impressive that Queens Grill. Even the chef is out there shovelling snow! We stayed in the lounge for afternoon tea. The fantastic white gloved service, dainty sandwiches, lovely cakes and warms scones and clotted cream, piping hot freshly brewed tea.
It appears that it is not only the UK that grinds to a halt in the snow. Trams and buses had to stop running in the town and Captain Inga has just advised that she is going to wait for upto and hour for a few missing passengers. Some have contacted the ship to say that they are stuck in snow about an hour away, but judging by the announcements for missing passengers and crew we are still missing a few people.
Pre dinner drinks in the Grill lounge and once again the service was spot on, the canapes and nibbles just keep coming. This has to be my favourite spot on the ship. Dinner was divine. I had Dover Sole prepared at the table then we all had flambé d crepes, specially prepared by the maitre de. As per usual we were the last ones out of the door. Our late departure from Amsterdam meant that we had a very interesting transit of the snow lined canal and we entered the locks during desert, so theatre inside and out as we dined.
We had decided on a little walkabout after dinner this evening, so went down to decks two and three and walked through all the lounges and bars, observed what went on where. There was a party night on in Queens Room with Changez and maybe we should have stayed there, but we carried onto Commodore and I sampled one of their Molecular Martinis. Not as much theatre with the preparation but equally as nice as Celebritys and a heck of a lot cheaper! It was way to warm in Commodore Club and the ship had a gentle sway on as we entered the North sea so it was time to move. We were too late for Hemispheres as by now it was standing room only. We stood for a while but no seats became available. We walked again and ended up back in Queens room in mega comfy chairs and stayed chatting way beyond when the band had finished.
Saturday 18th December 2010 – Bruges
I didn’t stir from my bed until 5 to 9 and got up and looked out to see Blankenburge with a heavy covering of the white stuff. Within minutes Captain Inga was on the address system to inform us that that cant get any buses into the dock area to conduct the tours so all will be cancelled. She tells us that after 6 hours of very heavy snowfall overnight they are struggling to get us any transport at all, but the gangway is going up and they will do their best.
Cunard did indeed do their best and I don’t think I have ever seen such an impressive fleet of coaches turn up at such short notice. We decided we should make the effort and go ashore and see if we could get to Bruges. I was even more impressed with Cunards arrangements of shuttle service when I realised what a state the roads were in. No gritting here, just a snowy white track on the road into Blankenburge. A local representative got on the coach in Blankenburge and advised us that 15cm of snow was expected this afternoon which might result in disruption to the train and road services. We decided we had time to get into Bruges and back and we could keep an eye on the weather. Trains to Bruges were 10 past the hour and we had perfect timing. We always buy first class tickets to Bruges as the chances of a seat are far more likely. The train was in and as we boarded Dave & Kath were already sat onboard. 15 minutes later we were in Bruges. We then took the free shopping bus into the main shopping square and bus terminal and walked a very short distance into the main square. I missed my walk from the train station via the park and cobbled streets, but it was by far the most sensible option as the paths were very slippy and icy. First stop was the newer Dumon shop for a hot chocolate before we hit the Christmas markets and soaked up the atmosphere of the main square with ice rink and Christmas market. We then made our annual pilgrimage to Dumon traditional chocolatier. We thought we had a plan to stick to our shopping list and not go to mad, but their chocolates are just so tempting that we ended up with two bags full! We then retreated to a restaurant with burning log fire for some mulled wine, strong beer and food. All the time I am watching the time on the clock tower and we decide to head for the 2.36 train back to Blankenburge – but not before another stop at the new Dumon shop for more supplies! We walked upto the bus station in the main square and straight onto the free bus back to the station. Upto platform 7B and straight onto a waiting train. Train departed spot on time and we were straight onto a waiting shuttle back to the ship. From there we were straight upto Grill lounge for the most civilised afternoon tea at sea. The service and tea is just to die for and the cakes and scones way to tempting.
Formal Black & White night this evening. We were ready early and made our way down to deck 3 listen to the carol service in the Grand Lobby. It got pretty crowded and I was yearning for the sanctuary of Grills lounge so we didn’t stay long. Back to the world that I know and love. Drinks order taken, crisps and nibbles soon after followed quickly by a plate of hot canapes. I had the most delicious turkey in a lime sauce for main course which was preceded by the most yummy chicken soup. I had to try the key lime cheesecake again. The restaurant was emptied long before we left and I think they are used to us being the last to depart now. From there we headed straight upto Hemispheres and took some the last seats available in the room. Changes were fab and the DJ had the place jumping. Changez then came back on and were dancing round the dancefloor with the guests while playing base and singing. Absolutely fabulous evening – but what do you expect from Cunard?! Love it!
We then made our first trek of the voyage to the Lido for a bit of a snack and some hot chocolate. My eyes lit up when I found a pot of Ovaltine but Kath needed a hot chocolate fix. Now we tried and tried to make the staff understand the need for hot chocolate but they kept thrusting Nesquik or ovaltine at us. Me being the type of travel agent that I am was like a dog with a bone and tracked down an officer to locate the hot chocolate. The Nesqik was reproduced but after a little insistence the required hot chocolate was located, cant have my clients unhappy : ) We then had a 20 min discussion about where exactly we were on the ship? Forward or aft? Port or Starboard. Mr Hellon was correct , but it was all new to me with it being my first visit to the lido lol.
Sunday 19th December 2010 – Le Havre
I had ordered breakfast at silly o’clock this morning when I got back to bed, but could I sit up to eat any of it? Mr C was sat up in bed enjoying a full English but the effort involved was way toe much for me. I could see we had arrived in Le Havre and I could see it was snowing so where was the incentive to wake up? I just slept and slept and slept. It was bliss! I got up at about 11.30am and threw a few things in the case then showered and headed for the grill lounge for a combination of work from the laptop and drinks from the bar.
Lunch in the Princess Grill, our last one this voyage. There is a great view across the harbour to town from our window seat and you could see the coaches were struggling. It wasnt long before there was an announcement to say that all coaches into town were suspended and they would concentrate on bringing back all of the passengers that were ashore. We heard that Le Havre was pretty much closed with it being a Sunday, and the Christmas Market was almost nonexistent with the continuing snowfall and bitter cold etc. so we didnt miss a lot. It gave me time to finish the packing neatly and get ready for the night ahead without too much stressing.
We had a wonderful last evening onboard, starting of course with our pre dinner drinks in Grill Lounge before going through to our final evening meal in the Princess Grill. Our sommelier has been fantastic, his recommendations of wine have been spot on, and tonight I finished with the first one he recommended. Hurry, our waiter, and his assistant have been great, nothing too much trouble and although he has been kept busy by other diners he has always had time for a smile and a chat. Phil, the Man in a Suit, has been a superstar. I sense a bit of rivalry between the boys with the flambé station, but Phil made us the best crepes ever! But tonight he went one step further – last night I had jested that as it was ‘Gala Evening’ where was the ‘Baked Alaska and Parade of the Chefs’ Tonight he had a treat for us and flambé d the most amazing cherries for us, and then Hurry produced the baked Alaksa!!!! Impressive??!! I tell you – it was to die for!
Hemispheres was calling and for the first time it was virtually empty. Everyone must be packing! We have had some great nights in here just as we did last cruise. Despite the clocks going back an hour before morning, we knew we had to take to our beds as all of us faced a very snowy conditions for our journeys home tomorrow.
Our suite was immaculate as usual, I loaded what we were wearing into the last case and it was placed outside for collection. I didnt hear another thing until I woke to see us gliding up the Solent.
Monday 20th December 2010 – Southampton
We went to breakfast in the Princess Grill at 7.30am shortly after we had berthed at Ocean Terminal. The snow didnt look so bad here, but we knew it was going to be bad as we headed north. We could see a lot of people doing the self disembark and just as they left the ship the snow started to come down pretty heavy. We timed breakfast to perfection and just as we were finishing off, it was announced that all priority passengers could now disembark. Straight down to the suite to collect our belongings, down one flight of stairs and we were off the ship. As predicted our car was at the far end of the carpark which was not a pleasant walk in the snow that was falling. Then the car had to be de iced! But by 9.04am we were on the road and heading for home. Not the easiest of journeys with patches of ice on the roads, the windscreen constantly freezing over and even the magic sub zero temperature windscreen cleaner that was in the windscreen washer was frozen solid, so I think it should drop that claim to fame! Motorists seemed to have stayed off the roads so at least we weren’t stuck in traffic for our journey back, but it was a slow and careful one.
All in all, our time onboard Queen Victoria has been excellent! It way exceeded our expectations, even though we had experienced it all before. I cant recommend the Grill Class Experience enough. The service, the food, the ambience…. just everything, for us as been spot on. I would love to do a Mediterranean or Caribbean voyage in Grills and take advantage of the other Grill facilities such as the private deck area and Courtyard dining area. I will be watching the offers very closely!
Grill class offers much more of a small ship experience, laid back atmosphere and a more personal service. But the beauty of it is that there is a whole ship full of facilities downstairs for you to indulge in, offering you more choice of venues etc if you choose. Personally I was just happy to chill out and have the peace and quiet for a few days, knowing that everything was there if my mood changed.
The entertainment has been excellent with plenty going on in all venues. I admit we didnt choose to attend many venues other than Hemispheres. As I’ve already said Changez were excellent. The pianist in Golden Lion always seemed very lively and extremely popular when we passed by. There was dancing in Queens room and different cabaret and shows in the main theatre.
The ship looked stunning with the Christmas Decorations. Extremely tastefully done, and with all the snow outside it was very festive.
Food was simply some of the best I have had at sea. Being Princess Grill it wasnt mass catering and the difference showed. Much of it was cooked fresh to order and some of it cooked tableside, which was an entertainment in itself. The Restaurant staff were first class and nothing too much trouble. They knew we would be some of the last to arrive and some of the last to leave, but it never once affected the service.
Having experienced Queen Victoria before, and having had the pleasure of experiencing Queen Elizabeth during her naming ceremony celebrations the subtle differences between the two ships stood out to me even more this time. Queen Elizabeth may just have the edge with her tweaks and slight decor changes, but those like me, who prefer a more traditional cruise experience, will not be dissappointed by either of these fine ships.
Does Cunard get my recommendation? Absolutely! Would I recommend paying the extra for Grill class? I wouldn’t hesitate. If the budgets will stretch to it, go for it and sample the difference for yourself.
Why not sample the Princess Grill experience for yourself. Cunard have a few 5 night voyages departing in 2011. I have a range of Cunard voyages departing in 2011 with added benefits and additional onboard credit, so contact me for the best prices and availability.
Full set of photos from the Queen Victoria Christmas Markets Voyage can be viewed via the ‘photo tab’ at the top of the page.