To see the zillions of photos I took of the Queen Victoria and the places we called at: click here
Friday May 2 2008: Setting sail from Southampton
This journal is about a short 4-night cruise on the fairly new and latest Cunard, ship called Queen Victoria. The ship’s maiden voyage was in December 2007. And so it should still be “shiny and new”!
The 4-nighter is the only short cruise that the ship is scheduled to do in its first year. These trips tend to be targeted at people interested in trying a cruise but want a sampler, this one is more likely to be fill of people (like us) who want to see and try the new ship but not able to go on a longer cruise on her. In our case as we are back on the stunning Queen Mary 2 at the end of August on one of the classic Transatlantic Crossings from Southampton to New York.
We drove down to Southampton, booking the car into the cruise linked parking (CPS) which is a very good service for all the cruises where they meet you when you pull up to the cruise terminal and then take the cars away. When you arrive the car is parked nearby. In the case of Cunard ships the cars are parked for collection right in the large warehouse/cruise terminal.
As we got close to the Southampton docks the motorway got almost grid locked due to the vast queues of cars trying to get into the docks. We realized that the issue was because in dock were the P&O Ventura ship (which is their new largest ship and holds close to 3000 passengers), the Independence of the Seas (which is the new Royal Caribbean ship, and the largest cruise ship in the world) and our ship (Queen Victoria). It took ages and we were stationary for ages.
Once we arrived at the Cunard Queen Elizabeth terminal, the rest was very fast. Our bags were whisked away and then we strode into the Queens Grill check in, got our cruise cards and then through security and straight onto the ship. We had originally only got a cabin in Britannia Grill as we had left things fairly late. For those unfamiliar with Cunard, they have 3 types of cruise experience – a bit like the airlines. There is Britannia, then Princess Grill and then Queens grill.
Each has their own dining room. In the case also of the Grills there is a special lounge/ bar, outside eating area and also a deck with loungers only for Grill passengers giving more space, and a place to escape to.
Our cruise agent, the amazingly efficient and friendly Jane Chadwick of Go Cruise, had put us on a waitlist and then something came up and she got an amazing deal. She got us a Q4 Penthouse on Deck 5 (Suite number 5106). We were very pleased! There is a video of the cabin on YouTube: click here to see it
Unlike P&O, Cunard do not show you to your cabin. We found ours easily though. It is great.
It is a fairly strange layout but has a hallway, kitchen sort of area where the mini-bar is, a small seating area, bedroom area, desk and cupboards area, walk in cupboard and then bathroom with bath and separate shower and toilet. There is a video on YouTube and on the blog, as well as picture links.
As it was now 1.30pm, we headed up to the Queens Grill for our lunch. To access the Grills restaurant on deck 11 you have to use your cruise card in the lift to activate. The restaurant was beautiful. We are at table 16, a table for 2, in the middle of the restaurant so great to see everything going on! The Queen and Princess Grill restaurants are on this deck, high up on the ship with stunning view across the ocean.
Of course the restaurant is beautiful, the service is excellent, with 2 waiters called Kelvin (from the Philippines) and Michael (from Malaysia). The wine waiter, though I think they call themselves sommeliers, as they are being posh, is a chap called Kevin who was our wine waiter on the QE2.
After lunch, we had a stroll about the ship, did the regulation muster session and then stood on the promenade deck at sail away time. Just before we set sail, the gigantic “Independence of the Seas” set sail and came right past us. What a whopping great ship it is. I got some good photos and made a short video clip.
This evening for dinner was “Smart Casual”, this means suit with no tie. So you can see how much more elegant and strict the Cunard approach and experience is versus other cruise lines, like P&O where smart casual for a man means slacks and short sleeve shirt. The daily program also makes it clear that dress policy is enforced in the restaurants.
In Queens Grill you have a choice from the huge menu of the evening, but there is also an ala Carte menu that you can order off (there is no charge). I love this as it means that for starter I can order caviar with all the trimmings. I love the stuff, and of course having it any other time is very expensive. For main I had a pork chop dish.
After dinner we spent a bit of time in the fairly large casino and as luck was looking very much against us we did not stay long. We just played the machines. The one downside of this area is that it is one of the few places on the ship inside where people can smoke, and the area is very smoky.
Saturday 3 May 2008: Le Havre
We went to be around 11 or maybe a bit later last night, after a nightcap in the cabin. In Queens Grill, you can choose 2 bottles of alcohol, which is included. We have got a whisky and rum. They are the huge “duty free” size bottles.
We woke up only at 8.45 am, and as our restaurant closes at 9 am we went to “The Lido”. This is the self-service restaurant that all ships have, and is always jammed with people taking advantage of the 24-hour food. We just had cereal and fruit.
Then we caught the shuttle bus into Le Havre. In the brochure and promotional material, this cruise suggests that one goes to Paris, Amsterdam and Bruges. But in reality we are going to Le Havre (and the Paris excursion is 10 hours with 3of these in a bus), Rotterdam (with another all day excursion to do Amsterdam) and the ferry port of Zeebrugge (with a 45 minute to and from Bruges). We do not mind as we plan to relax and not really do tours.
We caught the shuttle bus into Le Havre and jumped out when we got to these amazing looking squares near the Hotel De Ville. No-one else got off and we realized that we had not got off at the official drop off point but the driver assumed we wanted out, and so had no idea where to get the bus back!
Le Havre is a port town with a long history, and was bombed badly during the 2nd World War so was built up again from 1945 onwards. It is the largest city in Normandy, and is apparently one of the fastest growing in France. It was a fairly nice looking town, and the park and square in front of the City Hall is stunning with innovative fountains and wooden covered walkways. During our strolling about we kept an eye out for the shuttle buses so we could work out the route they took.
As we had been given a map as we got on the bus, we also realized there was a beach area. We walked down to it and found a very pleasant beach front area where we watched the world go by, including a few of the shuttle buses.
We then, by deduction, tracked where we thought the buses went and did find the drop-off and pick-up point.
As the ship is docked on a fairy open dock this was also the first chance to see the ship from the outside properly, as in Southampton a lot is blocked by the large cruise terminal. The ship, although it has the Cunard colors, looks like pretty much any cruise ship – and especially like the P&O Arcadia that we have been on twice (and was originally when started to be built was going to be the Queen Victoria actually). This is because the Queen Victoria is built using one of the Vista style “bases” for cruise ships. It does not have the distinctiveness that you get with the “liner” style bow and overall uniqueness of the QE2 or Queen Mary 2.
But once inside, Cunard has done a great job at making the ship feel and look distinctively Cunard. I think the ship is beautiful inside, and is so much plush and stylish than ships that I have been on like the Aurora and Arcadia – but does have the feel of the QE2 (though none of the quirkiness) and the Queen Mary 2.
There seems to be more public areas and much more space for rooms like the Queens Room, Royal Arcade, Grand Lobby (stunning and over many floors with sweeping staircases) and Theatre.
Sunday 4 May 2008: Rotterdam
Today was my birthday. One of the reasons we also decided to do this short trip was that my birthday falls while we are away, and Mark is on Thursday.
Today we were in Rotterdam. This used to be the world’s busiest port until a few years ago, and now it seems that Shanghai is the busiest, Singapore the 2nd and Rotterdam the 3rd. We docked at about 11.15am after moving (fairly quickly at that) up the river that leads into Rotterdam. There seemed to be ferry and other river and transportation associated things along the banks. Although as we got closer to Rotterdam, I realized this was just the whole port as it has spread down the river.
The ship docks right near the centre of the city at the Holland America dock where the cruise terminal is. We found out later that this was where the Dutch people who were emigrating to America used to sail from. There is a very beautiful building which used to be the Holland America Line headquarters but is now a hotel called New York.
We had breakfast in the room today, having placed and order before bed. It was great, though the Queens Grill restaurant is so beautiful and the service so good we also missed out on that.
Once the ship had docked we got off and caught one of the free shuttle busses for the short ride into the centre of town. There was a very amusing guide who told us about the city and some of the history, and like so many port cities in Europe bombing during the 2nd World War destroyed it.
The city has around 600 000 residents and the centre, other than the beautiful City Hall and not very attractive Concert hall seemed to be full of clothes shops like C&A, Zara, H&M and similar. We strolled about as it was a beautiful sunny day, and as many of the streets are paved for pedestrians so it was easy to stroll about. The city was very busy.
We headed back and spent a lazy afternoon lying about in the sun on the deck for Queens Grill guests, with very comfortable loungers, going to the gym and then afternoon tea.
Monday 5 May 2008: Zeebrugge (Belgium)
Zeebrugge is not the most glamorous of places to call at, as it is a large ferry and freight port. It does seem to be a popular stop on this short Channel hops as when we did a short P&O 3 day break we also came here. It is about a 45-minute ride to Bruges by bus and that is very pretty.
I guess like so many European port cities they were all destroyed in the 2nd World War, and then the focus was on rebuilding that design.
We caught the free shuttle bus into a seaside resort called Blankenberge, and got dropped off at Kennedy Square. We spent very little time in Blankenberge.
The town is a seaside resort that is so typical of the fading resorts, driven more an more budget and shoddy by the competition and low cost of going to warmer parts of Europe along the Med where the beaches are better and the sea warmer. We walked along the main shopping street with shops selling chocolates and nougat (and not even the exotic ones that Belgium is known for), to the seafront. This was a long and wide area with hotels and apartment blocks stretching very far. The beach was not very exciting, as I guess it is the English Channel and the beach was divided up into concessions, which charge 4 Euros for a chair and more for an umbrella.
We then fled back to the ship and enjoyed the glorious weather, gym and ate.
We had to pack up and leave our suitcases outside our room before midnight.
Then off to bed to wake up docking in Southampton. We were off the ship by 08.30. Next time we will do self-embarkation as hanging about waiting for them to off-load luggage is boring!
I have written a review of the ship that will be posted separately!