This series of posts covers a day by day typical 7 Night Norwegian Fjords Cruise, based on my trip on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. The trip visited Bergen, Geiranger, Skjolden and Stavanger. In this series I will look at Cunard, Queen Elizabeth ship, and tips and advice on each of the stops.
Friday 6 July: Departing Southampton for the Fjords
As I write this, we have set sail from Southampton Ocean Terminal and we have just left the Solent River and are now at sea near to the Isle of Wight. Our relaxing and luxurious 7 night cruise on board Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth has begun.
For the next 7 days we will be cruising through the North Sea to Bergen, then on to Geiranger, Skjolden and Stavanger before another day at sea back to Southampton.
Cunard: Why is it The Only Way to Cruise?
This is the 2nd time I have been on the beautiful Queen Elizabeth in the last 18 months. As time of writing this, she is the youngest of the 3 ships currently in the fleet. I have travelled on all 4 of her ships in recent times, and visited the one that has been out of service since 1967 (Queen Mary).
Queen Mary in Long Beach. I have visited this ship twice now, and she is worth visiting add my Queen Mary Review discusses.
I adore Cunard and, for me, they are the only line I travel with. I have tried some others, but the style, approach and the decor of Cunard Ships and their history appeals and suits me.
What is it about Cunard that makes them so special?
Cunard is the “icon” of cruising.
It has a long history, established traditional style. It also is the only line in the world that still runs a regular Transatlantic Crossing service, previously with the QE2 and now with the Queen Mary 2. This harks back to the “golden age” of liner travel, something that Cunard retains and maintains.
Queens Grill. Princess Grill. Britannia Grill.
Unlike most cruise lines, Cunard also still has retained some of the class approach in their service. While some may see this as outdated or too much snobbery, it is not really unlike airlines that have First, Club/ Business and Economy/ Coach. It provides different service and space based on hugely broad and differing prices. On Cunard there is Queens Grill (“First”): Princess Grill (“Club/ Business”) and Britannia Grill (“Economy/ Coach”).
The key difference is in the type of Stateroom you have and where you eat. There staterooms are not on exclusive decks and various types are across the decks. But the Stateroom Grade determines which restaurant you eat in. There is one for each. The Grills then do have some limited excessive deck areas and a lounge with concierge. On the QM2 there is actually a lounge and then another Grills Concierge lounge.
Queens Grill has a range of Staterooms on each ship that range from impressive and spacious, like a Q6 (watch a video), through to the very large like the Penthouse Q3 and Q4 (Watch a video of a Queen Mary 2 Q3 and Queen Elizabeth Q4) through to the massive and very expensive Grand Suites. On the QM2 the main one is on 2 levels and can cost around £35 000 ($45000) for a Transatlantic Crossing!
White Star Service.
Cunard have had the White Star Service training and approach for well over a century. Named for the White Star Line that they acquired after the Titanic disaster decimated that exclusive service, it is the way of serving and customer service that they put their staff through. It is designed to provide incredible service. Overall the service is quite special, especially by the Stateroom Butlers and Attendants and in the Dining Rooms. But all the Senior Staff are also very people and service focused.
Decor and Style.
The Cunard Fleet retains and uses some of the glamour of travel that its heritage was built on, and relies on. The ships in the Cunard Fleet have a more understated style of decor than many of the cruise ships in service today. Most cruise ships are more inspired by the brightness and brashness of Las Vegas. Cunard is more inspired by the 1930s Art Deco. It is much less glitzy and bright, using more browns, beige and gold touches. This fits its positioning more. I love the feeling of this heritage and feeling of being linked back to the romantic days of sailing when it seemed ships were full of celebrities, movie stars and famous people. Of course they were not only full of the rich, famous and beautiful. But the image is powerful and compelling.
From “Gold” to “Platinum”. On this cruise I went from “Gold” on their loyalty program to “Platinum”. The level is determined by how many nights you have cruised. There are still 2 levels above “Platinum” to go! The main benefits are some discounts on on-board spending, free Internet time (which can be very expensive), priority embarkation and disembarkation, some access to different cocktail parties, a Cunard Pin with your level on and others bits and pieces.
Southampton Departure and Check-in: slick and efficient.
We drove down to Southampton from London through a rainy, overcast and fairly grey day. It was still raining and wet on arrival at the Ocean Terminal. This terminal is close to the Queen Elizabeth Terminal through Dock Gate 4 that Cunard usually uses. The Ocean Terminal is newer and very efficient.
Thought the whole process of checking in and embarkation is always so efficient and slick.
It starts with pre-booking parking for the car for the duration of the trip through CPS Parking (Cruise Parking Services). You then drive right up to the terminal and they check your car in, someone takes all your luggage away and then you swan off excitedly to check in. The next time you see your luggage is in your stateroom.
We arrived at about 11:40am. If you are one of Cunard higher frequent traveller tiers or in Queens/ Princess Grill you can check in immediately through a Priority Check in Lane and desks. Usually you then can board the ship immediately. If in Britannia they do it in a staggered fashion, allocating a number when people arrive based on what level of cabin they have. It is a very efficient system and they process around 1500 passengers, more on the QM2, with almost no lines of any note. Although the inevitable ones at security as people only start taking things out pockets and so on once they right at front of the queue.
Once on the ship we made our way to the stateroom. Cunard do not show people to their cabins. So if a first time cruiser ask for directions from staff or other passengers who seem to know what they are doing and where they are going.
A quick stroll around the ship to reacquaint ourselves and then it was off to lunch in the beautiful Queens Grill Restaurant. We are at table 54, which is not right by the windows like last time. The Grills Restaurants and Lounge are on Deck 11 at the top of the ship, with floor to ceiling windows.. The 2 level Britannia one is at the back of the ship, and it is a very grand and large place with massive sweeping staircase. The food on all is just amazing. The menus are largely similar for the core each day, but the Grills then have more options and at night in Queens Grill an a la carte menu as well. As if there was not enough choice anyway!
Afternoon is more strolling about, unpacking and then at 4pm was the regulation muster drill. Our muster station is in the Royal Court Theatre at the front of the ship. The Commodore speaks to everyone through the loudspeaker system and the staff demonstrate putting on the life jacket, which everyone gets to do. Not as easy when in a row of seats.
As it was still raining, the on the decks Sail Away Party was not held, and instead indoors. We set sail at 5pm. It is due to be a calm night the Commodore advised.
Stateroom 7037: Queens Grill Penthouse Q4
We are in Stateroom 7037 on Deck 7. This is a Queens Grill “Penthouse” Q4. I made the inevitable video of the cabin that I always do. It is a great cabin, with lots of space and unusual layout as it is a circular layout. In the room were 2 bottles of champagne on ice, chocolate dipped strawberries, a welcome back note, various documents and daily program. The mini bar is stocked with various sodas and water. These are included in the Queens Grill fare, and they also provide 2 verity large bottles of spirits of your choice. You also get to order personalised stationery.
Our butler is Olena and her assistant is Joenil. Very friendly and very helpful.
The Stateroom is amazing, and even in the short time since I was last on the ship they have made some updates and fine tuning:
Bose iPod Speakers have been added, which is a great addition.
There still is not tea and coffee making facilities. Though you can order from room service at no charge. But I always feel bad just ordering coffee.
TV is a combined TV/ DVD Player. You can borrow DVDs from the Concierge Desk. Though they play a selection of movies all day through the TV Channels with a lot of choice. They also have them in other languages other than English based on the passenger mix on-board. They also play talks that are on the ship on the cruise, as well as some popular talks that have been on the ship in the past. For example, Chris Frame’s talk on the history of Cunard Queens.
Internet can be accessed by wireless. Though it is expensive ($48 for 2 hours) and can be very slow as is satellite and so depends on where the ship is. As we found out was intermittent and very slow in the Fjords.
Video I made of the Cunard Queen Elizabeth Q4 Penthouse 7037
Bedtime. Had a great meal in Queens Grill. Proscitto and Melon. Dover Sole. Apple Strudel. Glass of Rose Zinfadel.
After dinner we went to the Royal Court Theatre to see the Welcome to The Cruise show. The Cruise Director takes people on a visual tour of the ship, interspersed with some songs and dancing by the ship’s Theatre Company. They are a surprisingly large Company with around 20 dancers. They also introduce the Foreign Guest Hosts who are there to translate and support non English speakers.
After the show we went to the small but varied Casino. We stuck to the slot machines. There is a new system on-board where you use your Cruise Card, which is also your room key, to put on cash and collect winnings. It requires you to set up a pin system for security on the machine, something you use to transfer funds off the card to the machine. It also allocates points as you play, and if you get a 1000 you get $10 bonus. This system did seem to confuse and befuddle many of the guests though.
The passengers on this cruise seem to be older than others I have been on. This may be a function of the destination which probably appeals older. We certainly thought of it that way before we went. Something if a destination that is for the older crowd.
I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.
My wife and I took a similar cruise on the Queen Elizabeth in June of 2013. Although we have crossed the Atlantic several times on the QM2, this was our first time on the QE and we were very impressed. We travelled in Princess Grill and, other than the Princess staterooms, the QE’s Grills experience is superior to that on the QM2. The Princess staterooms are just longer versions of the regular balcony cabins which means, of course, there is a tiny balcony. The Princess staterooms on the QM2 are essentially square and have a large balcony. This is not a moan – just an observation – as I had done my homework and knew what we were getting. Our assigned table for six in the Princess Grill was fabulous. We were right at the forward end, with full-length windows on two sides. The Grills lounge, although smaller than that on the QM2, is more elegant. There is considerably more deck space for the Grills than on QM2.
A few weeks before the cruise, Cunard made a change in the itinerary. The port of Flam was substituted for Olden. Being a rail travel enthusiast, I was very pleased to say the least. The Flamsbana was a short train trip I have been hoping to take for decades and it was worth the wait. Although we have been on a Norway cruise once before (on P&O’s Canberra 23 years ago) the weather was better on this, albeit shorter, cruise. Other than the Flamsbana, we did not book any ship’s tours. In Geiranger we discovered a Viking boat tour which was a “hoot” as my wife says. We were given smocks, horned helmets and shields and plastic swords with which to threaten all other boats – and the Queen Elizabeth, of course. I was asked to sound the Viking war-horn when encountering other boats. I doubt we would have had as much fun on a coach excursion. I would go back on the Queen Elizabeth and/or a cruise to Norway in a heartbeat.