A week after my return from a cruise to Iceland and Norway on board Cunard’s Queen Victoria, and it’s time to look back at what was an unqualified success in almost every way.
Freyr, the Viking god of weather, was kind to Captain and Mrs
Greybeard, providing T-shirt weather even in the north of Iceland, and
only soaking us with persistent rain at our last port call, Stavanger.
At two ports in Iceland we booked Cunard excursions. A fascinating $99 (£62) tour of the western Snaefellsnes Peninsula from Grundafjordor brought us almost within touching distance of nesting kittiwakes on the cliffs at Arnarstapi, and gave us distant views of the majestic snow-topped peak of the Snaefellsjokull Glacier. From Akureyri a three-hour bus ride to the thunderous Godafoss waterfall was a bit steep at $72 (£45) even if it did take in a visit to the city’s botanical gardens.
It was our choice to play it safe as first-time visitors to
Iceland. In Norway, which we had visited before, we did our own thing,
booking a £90 helicopter flight on the quayside at Geiranger (not available through Cunard, but worth every penny), and buying our own tickets for the Flam railway for about £30, rather than paying for Cunard’s $99 excursion which admittedly included refreshments. Our lunch ashore, consisting of a sandwich and a lager cost another £28, but we still saved about £20 each.
Strange, incidentally, that Cunard persist in pricing everything on
board ship in US dollars when the passenger list is predominantly
British and the fares are quoted and paid in sterling. It makes little
difference when all charges are put on your plastic cruise card, but
it does give some pause for thought when working out that a $4.95 pint
of Stella is £3.10, plus an obligatory 15 per cent service charge,
bringing the cost to £3.55
A year and a half since her launch, the ship has settled down well,
and the friendly crew just can’t do enough for you.
The Lido buffet is disappointingly chaotic and with a surprisingly
limited choice at lunch. Costa and Holland America Cruises, both under
the Carnival umbrella, and both operating similar-sized ships, offer much greater variety and with less of a scramble for tables at peak times.
And if HAL’s Eurodam can supply freshly-squeezed orange juice at
breakfast, why does Queen Victoria fall back on processed concentrate?
At least in the Princess Grill restaurant we got the real thing,
together with impeccable service (thankyou JunJun and Samantha), and
meals which – while not of Michelin-star standard – were at least as
good as anything available in any top English hotel.
In her early days, Queen Victoria’s décor earned it the nickname “Mrs
Brown” but it is a thoroughly restful atmosphere, conducive to
relaxing evenings sipping long drinks and listening to a little light
piano music. On the nights we were feeling more energetic, there was disco dancing in Hemispheres. Thankfully, Churchill’s Cigar Lounge was close enough for me to use as a recovery room after the exertions of Sixties Night.
Smoking, incidentally, is allowed in cabins and balconies, on limited parts of the open deck, and at three tables by the casino bar. Which was fine by me and left the vast majority of the bars and lounges clear for non-smokers.
There was plenty of fresh air at the main pool as well; I had forgotten that unlike some ships, Victoria does not have a sliding glass roof, except for a small one over the Winter Garden.
But the overall impression was excellent. Watch out for a full report in the Daily Mirror soon, and check back here for more pictures within a few days when I get back from the launch celebrations for Celebrity Equinox.
FIRST PICTURE: Tenders taking passengers from ship to shore in Geiranger.
SECOND PICTURE: Queen Victoria in harbour at the Art Nouveau town of Aalesund