One does not simply take a cruise with Cunard, one embarks on a wonderful voyage and although my first experience with Cunard may have only been for 3 nights, it was still a voyage that I am not likely to forget in a hurry.
I had been building up to the cruise for quite some time, so when embarkation day finally arrived I could barely contain my excitement: I just wanted to get to Southampton and meet Queen Victoria. Finally, I was at Ocean Terminal and about to board. First stop: my stateroom.
I had a Princess Grill Suite on Deck 4 and it was beautiful. There were 2 beds – both adorned in the signature Cunard gold piped bedding – a sofa area, large balcony, ample storage space and a bathroom with a shower over the bath. There were even 2 TV’s (I’d never watched Pitch Perfect in Spanish before!) It was more than comfortable and the pillow menu – yes, pillow menu – just added to the overall experience.
Once unpacked I made my way towards the Lido for some lunch. There was plenty of variety, but it was the chicken curry that called my name, so I grabbed a spoonful of that and some rice and tucked in. It was very tasty and gave me the fuel I needed to then head off and explore the ship. I must have spent 2 hours going from deck to deck and by the time the muster drill rolled around I think the only place I hadn’t been was the spa.
Finally it was time for us to sail, which also meant it was time to head back to my suite and freshen up for the evening. I also made a point of sorting out my clothes and bag for the following day (a visit to Bruges) as our itinerary changed last minute because of the weather. I like to be organised!
Guests in the Princess Grill and Queens Grill have their own allocated tables in their own allocated restaurants, which means no matter what time you wish to have breakfast, lunch or dinner, your table is always there waiting for you. For me, this was one of the biggest highlights of being in the Princess Grill, it was freedom dining without the hassle of having to wait for a table. Grills guests also have the advantage of their own lounge, Grills Lounge, and that’s where I went for my pre-dinner drink. It was a small and intimate space and it was beautiful. The bar staff were very attentive and each table was served warm canapes every evening. Delicious! I’m not usually a pre-dinner drink person but I really enjoyed going in there for an hour before dining. I’d also like to point out that in order to reach the deck that housed the Grills restaurants you had to put your key card in a slot inside the lift in order to activate the button – I felt like I was VIP.
The Princess Grill Restaurant was beautiful (I could see right through into the Courtyard from my table, another area reserved exclusively for Grills guests) and the menu was extensive. On my first evening I had pumpkin soup and seared beef tenderloin Rossini, both were delicious, but I could hardly breathe by the end of the meal. I was so full. Maybe it was the scallops that pushed me over the edge! They were offered on another dish, so I asked if I could have a few with my steak and my waitress kindly agreed. I sat for a few minutes before heading for the Golden Lion, where I enjoyed a few drinks before playing the quiz and then making my way towards Hemispheres, a club on Deck 10 which would turn out to be the “go to place” of an evening.
The following morning we arrived in Zeebrugge for our tour with Tripashore to Bruges. The weather was awful, the kind of weather where you open the curtains and promptly close them again and go back to bed! I dragged myself up and got ready then made my way towards the port gate to meet my tour guide, Rudi. We drove into Bruges, parked the car and began our tour. I have to say that I’m not a fan of sightseeing in the rain, I don’t think anyone is to be honest, but Rudi made the tour for me, he really did. He knew everything and had a great sense of humour. We walked all over the UNESCO recognised city and admired the Market Square, Old St John’s Hospital, City Hall, Provincial Court and the Princely Béguinage Ten Wijngaerde. The latter was one of the most interesting for me and the grounds were incredibly peaceful, even now men are not supposed to be in the area after 8PM. The Beguines were Christian lay religious orders whose members lived in semi-monastic communities but did not take formal religious vows, although they promised not to marry as long as they lived as Beguines. They were free to leave at any time. Beguines were part of a larger spiritual revival movement of the thirteenth century that stressed imitation of Christ’s life through voluntary poverty, care of the poor and sick, and religious devotion.
Before heading back to the ship we stopped for a hot chocolate (nicest hot chocolate I have ever had by the way) and paid a visit to a local chocolate shop – when in Belgium one must abide by the law of chocolate! This was my first experience with Tripashore and I would highly recommend them to other cruise passengers. The one thing I like most about their tours is that if for whatever reason you were delayed and you missed your ship, they will get you to your next port of call free of charge! Now, tell me which other tour company would do that!
Once back onboard it was time once again to get ready for dinner. I stopped by the Grills Lounge for a pre-dinner drink then made my way to the Princess Grill Restaurant. To start I had broccoli soup, which was delicious, and for main this time I went for Shrimp Provencal. I’d never had it before, had no idea what it was, but the word shrimp had me. When it arrived, it didn’t look like the most appetising dish in the world, but oh how looks can be deceiving! It was absolutely delicious and the prawns were huge. I had to take 3 breaks in order to finish it. I left the restaurant feeling very satisfied and had a slow walk to the Golden Lion. Again, I had a few drinks and played the quiz before making my way to Hemispheres.
Sunday brought a much needed sea day and a chance to visit the Royal Spa, but first it was a visit to the onboard shops (where I overspent on branded clothing) and a quick lunch. I love a good Sunday roast and I was not disappointed with the offering on Queen Victoria. I had a juicy chicken breast with mashed potato, broccoli, savoy cabbage and a Yorkshire Pudding – it was almost as good as homemade (sorry, mam!) and I even managed to avoid pouring the gravy everywhere! One thing I noticed in the Lido is that all the food served is offered in small trays, for example one evening there was grilled minute steak on offer but the chef only laid out 4 or 5 pieces at a time. It was gone instantly which meant everything you touched was incredibly fresh, it hadn’t been sitting there for 45 minutes waiting to be consumed.
I’m not a spa person, but I purchased a day pass for the Royal Bath House and I was quite glad that I did. It allowed use of the Hydro Pool, relaxing loungers, steam rooms and sauna and the Thermal Suite. The pass was $35, which I thought was very reasonable. I literally just chilled out for an hour. I was quite happy just sitting and listening to the sounds within the room, it was very pleasant, if not a bit warm for me, and once a few people left the pool and freed up some space, I took a dip. The water was 36 degrees Celsius and ideal for those looking to ease some tension and aching muscles – I often get pains in my knees and the warm, comforting water was a real treat. I also liked the jets, they felt great on my lower back. I would definitely use the facilities of the Royal Bath House again, but maybe on a port day. They say that they limit the amount of passes given out, which I am sure they do, but it seemed as though everyone with a pass wanted to be in there at the same time and it soon became quite crowded. I had wanted to try the warm, stone beds, but I didn’t get a chance.
I spent my final evening onboard making the same circuit: Restaurant, Golden Lion and then Hemispheres. I was actually surprised how busy Hemispheres was given that it was the night before disembarkation. I enjoyed that evening so much and I met some lovely people. It was as if everyone in that room didn’t have a care in the world, they just wanted to enjoy themselves. It was the absolute perfect end to what had been a fabulous first experience with Cunard.
Before I finish my blog, I want to share with you some pictures of my absolute favourite areas onboard Queen Victoria and they were the Queens Lounge, Royal Theatre and the atrium.
I am now counting down to my transatlantic crossings aboard Queen Mary 2 and having now sampled the Cunard experience, I can’t wait! I visited Queen Mary 2 a few years ago and it was love at first boarding, this time I will sail on two of her iconic voyages, from Southampton to New York and back again. Life is a blessing. 240 days to go…