A few months back I received an invitation in the post listing several dates where you could book a ship visit on one of the 3 Cunard ships; having read and heard many things about this cruise line from many sources we have always been curious as to whether Cunard would suit us. Unlike most other ship visits we have done this one came with a £50 per person charge which could then be offset against a future booking should you decide to do so, the fee initially put us off but eventually, we booked up. More out of curiosity than anything else as we wanted to see if the product was as good as it has been portrayed and at the end of the day a great opportunity to see around a true cruise liner with a spot of lunch to boot.
Cunard Ship Visits cost £50 per person* and include:
- – Complimentary car park at the Cruise Terminal
- – Complimentary tea and coffee after check-in
- – Guided tour of public areas of your chosen ship
- – Three-course lunch inclusive of wine and coffee
- – Exclusive ship visitor offer
We arrived at the Ocean Terminal at 9:45 and found it to be very busy with passengers disembarking from the transatlantic cruise that the ship had just completed, we gradually worked our way against the tide of people leaving the terminal until we eventually made our way upstairs to check in and wait for our tour to begin. I was surprised to see there were around another 80 or so others doing the tour today and while we were waiting to board everybody was split up into groups of 10 which made it nice and easy to navigate the ship. Once on board we were shown into the Grand Lobby and given a brief rundown on what we could expect to see on today’s tour. First impressions were that this area wasn’t as big as I was expecting considering it is Cunard’s flagship and I actually felt a little underwhelmed by the space. I had expected something much grander and spacious but it felt no bigger than the atrium on the much smaller ms Rotterdam we saw a few weeks ago on our previous ship visit.
We started our tour proper with a look inside the ships theatre which is called the Royal Court Theatre, it has a very traditional feel and look to it and again wasn’t as big as I had anticipated it to be on a ship of this size.
From there it was on to Illuminations which is used as cinema, auditorium, lecture hall and broadcast studio. It also is used as a Planetarium which we were told is the only one at sea. It’s very difficult to appreciate or judge the experience without actually seeing it in action and on our tour today the empty venue looked like any other ships theatre we have seen. I am sure it is quite an amazing spectacle when the show is in full swing.
It has to be said Cunard do like to name drop and the corridors outside Illuminations and the Royal Court Theatre the walls are adorned with famous celebrities who have all sailed with them.
We were shown various grades of cabin from the top-end suites to the humble inside. Much of the décor carried the same colour themes and I liked the light-coloured woods used in the cabin which do help make everything feel much more open and bright. All the accommodation appeared very comfortable and cabin wise seemed in very good order.
I was surprised to notice that in one of the Queens Grille suites we were shown did not have a window in the bedroom. Pay all that money and have what was in effect an inside cabin to sleep in. Yes, they are very spacious and comfortable but not waking up with a view of the sea would be a bit of a letdown. I am of the opinion this grade of accommodation is not a patch on the ones I was shown on the Oceania Marina last year.
From what we were shown today I did like the look and feel of Princess Grille Suites and also the Britannia balconies, the latter being more akin to our needs and budget when cruising.
Our tour continued with a walk through the mid-ship pool on deck 12 which is enclosed by a magrodome (closed today) and then out onto the open deck where we were shown the kennels and its adjacent area where there was a burger bar, outdoor seating and sunbeds. Unfortunately, this was as far as our tour took us today on the open decks and we did not get the chance to see any more of the open spaces.
The next stop was the Commodore club which is situated forward on deck 9 and provides some great views over the bow of the ship, I could easily imagine sitting up here mid-Atlantic watching the ship plough her way through the waves. There is also a great model of the ship behind the bar here which was the first of two that we spotted today.
En route we then visited the ship’s library on deck 8 which was extremely well stocked and according to our guide carried over 8000 titles. All the books were grouped together as per any library on land and displayed behind glass doors. I would imagine viewing the titles could become a little tedious should it become a busy as the spaces between were not that wide, the space also had quite a sombre feel to it.
The Winter Garden was the next area we were shown and this space was more in line with what I had anticipated the ship to feel like. It is spacious and bright with lots of places to sit. Apparently, this is one of the areas where you can indulge yourself of Cunard’s traditional afternoon tea.
We passed quite quickly through the Royal Court Buffet which seemed to be reasonably well laid out, lots of areas to sit but if I had to comment I would say quite drab looking. I didn’t notice too many servery areas compared to the amount of seating provided and wondered if that causes any problems.
We then followed our guide onto the Queens Room which boasts the largest (sprung) dance floor at sea. It is another area of the ship which did match my expectations being a large open space with the grandeur befitting the brand. I would imagine this area to be quite a scene on one of formal nights on board.
Having been previously shown the buffet we were then shown the other end of the scale and taken into the Queen’s Grille where the tables were busy being laid out for the evening.
Amongst other areas that we were shown on the tour were the Gymnasium, G32 Night Club, Various Bars and the Canyon Ranch Spa Club. Not all of which I took photos of but below is a small selection of some of those.
Another area we passed through quite quickly was the Todd English restaurant which is towards the rear of the ship on deck 8, this is a speciality restaurant where there is an additional cover charge to dine in it, as there were no tables dressed when we passed through it looked less than impressive.
We continued through to an outside area which if I am correct is called the Queens Grill Terrace and is exclusively for Grills passengers. We were able then to look over the balcony to see two further open decks below which I assume are for everybody to use, one with an open-air pool.
Following the last stop we were then advised that we had run short of time and needed to be in the Britannia Grille to have our lunch so we made our way down to what I believe was deck 2 where we were treated to a 3 course lunch. I say deck 2 because there didn’t appear to be any lower decks of the dining room.
Lunch was very enjoyable and we shared a table with two other couples, one pair who had taken a couple of cruises with Celebrity and like us just curious about Cunard, the others yet to take the plunge. The lady not being quite sure if cruising was for her but by the end of the meal we had convinced them both.
After lunch, our guide quickly showed us through the Golden Lion pub where newly boarded passengers were enjoying the rugby world cup on various screen positions around the venue. Now call me a misery guts but I cannot see the point in having a pub on the ship which looks and feels like a pub on dry land where you can eat fish and chips and shepherd’s pie at lunchtime and play darts. When I go away I want to be away and not surrounded by familiar things you would see at home. I don’t get it. Each to their own but for us, this is something we would run a mile from on a ship.
On our way out we passed the giant reliefs on a wide corridor just off the Grand Lobby which I have to say did look very impressive and another area which I thought was befitting of my preconceptions of the ship. They are representative of the world’s continents and do make quite a stunning display.
Amusingly we were led off the ship using the crew gangplank so as not to be walking into the tide of embarking passengers for the two-night cruise to Hamburg. In through the front door and out through the back so to speak.
Today we were totally dependent on our guide to reveal the various venues and were not given any deck plans whereby we could follow our progress, on a ship this size I like to get a feel for the distance between areas so it was very difficult to get a grasp of how far we had travelled or which deck we were on especially as we seemed to be moving up and down from deck to deck quite frequently. So now having now consulted the deck plans it would appear there were a few areas we didn’t get to see, not that it mattered because we were able to draw our own conclusions from what we did see. We enjoyed the tour and of course the lunch but what was our overall conclusion?
What did we really think? Well, we were impressed and also unimpressed if that is possible, if the tour was meant to hook us then it failed. What we did establish is that Cunard is just not for us, the ship is absolutely fascinating and it was a pleasure to look around and see it first-hand for ourselves but I did not see anything to tempt me away from the cruise lines we are currently using. You hear regularly that Cunard is a luxury cruise line which is something their fans certainly like to extol and while I do concur it’s indeed a quality product, it does come across to me as being slightly pretentious and certainly does not appear to me to be as high end as they like to proclaim. No doubt their ardent followers who always seem to take umbrage whenever anyone puts down their devoted cruise line (more so than any other cruise line I might add) will seize on the fact that I only had 4 hours on board but I can tell you with certainty that it was enough time for Mrs W and me to confirm our preconceptions.
Granted they offer a luxury product, but from what I experienced it is certainly not any more luxurious than anything I have seen elsewhere, it’s just that they very much like tell you it is. The basic message that came across to me is “Traditional cruising without the riff-raff”. If you tell enough people you are the best then eventually there are many who will believe it without question. Cunard to me has a very ostentatious feel to it and there are plenty of loyal followers who will happily endorse the Cunard ethos, I am one who won’t be joining the gang. It’s great to have choices and for me, one of them is to be able to choose not to wear a jacket for dinner if you don’t want to.
The ship is due in for a refit next year and while looking for a deck plan on Cunard’s website to help with identifying areas from my photos I noticed this statement.
This major refurbishment will launch a brand new look with exciting innovations across many areas of the ship including the renowned Cunard Grills experience. This exciting project will reaffirm the position of Cunard accommodation and dining as the best of the best.
This reminded me of something my father used to tell me as a youngster, Self-praise is no recommendation!