Sailing To Hawaii Aboard Cunard’s Queen Victoria – Special Guest Review
Written by: Cruise News
Guest author Kenneth Eden offers this excellent report of his recent cruise to Hawaii aboard Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria.
I am almost ashamed to say that while I have cruises all over the world, I had yet to take a cruise involving Hawaii. Cunard had what seemed to be a perfect option, 14 days, roundtrip from Los Angeles, and thus, the cruise was booked albeit, two years in advance.
We flew Delta from Norfolk, not too exciting, to Atlanta, then to Los Angeles, again, not exciting. Delta did a good job. We had Cunard book air and transfers, not hotel. Cunard had hotel packages that were outrageous, $349.00 per person in LA, so, we opted for the LAX Hilton, which was nice, a typical Hilton, just shy of chic, with a good breakfast, for $169.00 for two. Okay for one night. So, our 76th cruise was about to set sail!
Transfer to the ship was in a tour bus, not a private limo or van, which we as Diamonds got to use when in NYC for a Cunard cruise. Diamonds are Cunard’s top repeater level, and we also had a booked Princess Grill suite. We were ushered through the Grills processing area and boarded without delay. Being Diamonds, our luggage arrived fairly swiftly.
Nobody saw us to our suite, which was located on Deck Four. But we knew where to go and headed off on our own. Our steward Ariel was waiting for us in the hallway. After introductions we entered our suite. I must point out that a Princess Grill Suite on the Queen Victoria is not a special accommodation; it is a rather basic cabin, with extra amenities. There is a fridge, with sodas, a balcony, and upgraded bath amenities and linens, and two flat screen TV’s.
There were three bottles of champagne, a huge fruit compote, a tray of chocolate dipped strawberries, beautiful petit fours compliments of Cunard Line, and a very nice cheese tray from Mark, our travel agent, and finally a bottle of Cunard vintage port.
After taking this all in we needed to see about our dining room request for a table for two. Entrance to deck eleven – which houses the Queens and Princess Grills, and the Grills Lounge and Grills Courtyard – is made by inserting your suite key card in a slot in two elevators, both located at the B stairway section, one on port, one on starboard side. Both venues were closed when we arrived. We went in to the lounge and low and behold there was Luisa, a Cunard staff member we have sailed with many times before. She opened the door to the Princess Grill, we verified our table assignment, and then we fled to the Spa to make our massage appointments.
When we last sailed the Queen Victoria the spa was a branch of the Royal Spa of London, but it is now the Royal Spa operated by Steiner. Steiner has spas on many cruise lines. I had a great deal of trouble connecting with this spa before leaving for the cruise, trying a toll free line, direct to London, and e-mailing. It all worked out, as there were two male massage therapists on board. We always have a minimum of two massages each during a two-week cruise. Here is what was offered: Book three massages, get the first one for 10% off, the second for 20% off, and the third for 30% off. We were thrilled at the discount. We each booked a Bamboo Hot Oil massage and a Poultice (Thai, really) massage. We then booked a fourth one without a discount. All four massages were seventy-five to ninety minutes long. A major complaint we’ve always had with Steiner from our previous cruises is the constant sales pressure for their product line. Well, they did not push them here. Our massage therapists Danial and David were very professional.
Also, as Diamonds we were entitled to have a full sit down multi-course lunch in the Princess Grill. A pleasant surprise awaited us there. Raul was and still is the maître d’ and it was nice to have him welcome us back on board. We had a lovely waitress, Marija from Croatia, and her assistant, Chetan from India. Alexander was our sommelier and hailed from Ukraine. For those not in the know, most cruise lines provide someone who takes an order for wine, and that’s that. Not so on Cunard. In all dining venues a sommelier is provided. We also had assistant maître d’, Cholly, and head waitress, Ayla. This compliment of people saw to our every need and we appreciated their thoughtfulness. Also, a very special person had been temporarily transferred from the Queen Mary 2 for training purposes: Ossman, whom we know and love from the Queens Grill on the Queen Mary. So this cruise was going to be something special!
We keep to our balcony when we sail away. Our suite was on starboard side, and it was a good location in which to see the Port of San Pedro. A sunset as vibrant a pink as I had ever seen painted the sky. Those tall “funky” slim palms dotted the skyline, waterside restaurants twinkled in the near dusk, and diners saluted and chanted to our sailing. Off to our port as we made our way out to sea was the Queen Mary, her three stacks clearly visible. Snow capped mountains and all that is LA pulsed around us, like a heart beat.
Enduring over 170 years of passenger service, Cunard has reinvented itself many times over, embellishing and improving its ships and on board delights. We started sailing Cunard in the 1970″s, on the QE2, and went on to other less fabled Cunarders, such as the Cunard Ambassador, Cunard Countess and Cunard Jewel. Offering more elegance, we sailed many times in the Sagafjord and Vistafjord, before and after Cunard bought Norwegian America Line. We kept up with the QE2, and have fallen for the Queen Mary 2, which we have sailed many times, and here once more on the Queen Victoria. One area that has people so knotted up is the dining and the class system they think is imposed upon them. Yes, on the three Cunard ships there are differences in dining room venues, set by the price of the given staterooms. Here is my definition of the dining differences, starting with the Britannia Accommodations. There are several types of accommodation – from inside cabins, outside without balcony, and outside with balcony – cabins located on many decks. The entire ship is available to all passengers that dine in the Britannia, with the exception of the Grills and Grills areas. The menus are impressive, and the lunch and dinner menus are the featured menus for the Grills each day. Sommeliers, and Maitre d’hotels oversee the dining room. The Britannia is a two level opulent art deco inspired room, similar to the Queen Mary 2, retro to the original Queen Mary. It is truly spectacular. Menus are the same as those found in the Grills, which form the backbone for all dining, be it Britannia, Princess or Queens Grills. All shops, show lounges, and pools – the entire ship is available to one and all. In all fairness, there is yet another dining room option NOT available of the Queen Victoria, and is available on the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth, the Britannia club, a step above the Britannia, with its own ala carte menu.
The Grills are considered special. I will not elaborate on the Queen Grill since we did not dine there. As mentioned there are some added amenities in the Princess Grill suites. What set this dining venue apart are the ala Carte menu, and the ability to order “off menu”. The daily menu, which is provided for Britannia, Princess and Queens Grill dining rooms, is well balanced, offers a grand assortment of items, and should please most, with vegetarian and spa selections always available. The ala carte menu provides additional items such as appetizers, salads, entrees and dessert items which are not available in the Britannia. Such items included: rack of lamb, prepared table side, duckling, again, tableside prep, sole, skinned, filleted and boned at table side, with crème brulee and other items that were indeed special. Ordering “off menu” was something we did often. Our special orders placed with Raul, at no extra cost, just advance order, included: (caviar is complimentary in Queens Grill each night)
Homemade spinach pasta Lasagna (lunch)
Crepes Suzette – Tableside prep
Linguini with meatballs, Bolognese (lunch)
Caviar ($35.00 per hefty portion)
Lobster Thermador and Lobster sautéed in garlic
Coquille Saint Jacques – tableside prep
Princess Grill Breakfast:
Fresh OJ, real maple syrup, five kinds of pancakes, plus waffles and French toast, four breads, fresh sliced smoked salmon with a real bagel, I say real, I have had things that are round called bagels on some ships, that are not bagels at all, all manner of beverages, hot chocolate, several coffees, a ritual of tea menu, five different sausages, three bacon types, Eggs Benedict available every morning, omelets made to order, including my favorite, spa egg white omelet with vegetables and cheese, herring, finnen haddock and kippers, eggs cooked in a manner to taste kiwis, melons citrus and fresh berries and for those really hungry steak and lamb chops, with a riot of decadent French, Danish and American pastries, with English scones and muffins, plus, both American and English sausages and bacon!!!! There is also a Lido buffet, which we never saw. Not to mention a most astounding room service breakfast, which we used once.
Entertainment has always been a Cunard hallmark, a tradition that goes way, way back. I can remember performers from my earliest Cunard sailings. I also remember Amanda Reid, from Cunard Countess, 1980″s, when she was a dancer, eventually having her own dance troop, and today, she is the Entertainment Director on the Queen Victoria. How nice to meet up with her again.
The evening’s entertainment during this cruise was typical Cunard, varied, live and a lot of it. Three major production shows, with the cast of the Cunard Singers and Dancers. There were many familiar faces we knew in the cast of dancers, from previous Queen Victoria productions we had seen. The singers seemed new to us. Most of the dancers hailed from Central Europe, the singers mostly from the UK. The talent offered here was astounding, as it is on the Queen Mary 2. The energy, professionalism, and even the costumes, are a step above what I have seen on other cruise lines.
The three shows all featured live orchestration. The first show was during the Black and White Ball, a very formal evening on board. “A Stoke of Genius” presents through song, dance and costumes, a modern interpretation of famed paintings by the masters in art, Degas, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, with ballerinas and dancers, come-to-life-from the paintings, a weave their story through interpretive ballet, waltz and swing era, to disco and interpretive vibes though the meaning of color. Ingenious.
Another grand show, Dance Passion, which is a follow up to the Apassionatta, the iconic production show on the Queen Mary 2. The third, “Victorianna”, pays homage to the Victorian Era, set in London. This “veddy” British production relives that era, with songs that were made popular in the West end of London, and revived in the tradition of that era. The shows were staged twice; to accommodate first and second Britannia guests, in the awesome Royal court Theatre, seating 830. Of the four galas, there were Black and White Ball, Ascot Ball, Masquerade Ball and Victorianna Ball. I would like to mention, the Queen Victoria has a 19-piece orchestra, a real disco and lots of live music.
One night reserved a Royal Box, one of eight that offer a suspended viewing of the stage in the Royal Court Theatre. For $57.00 you receive a bottle of Vueve Cliquot, the preferred champagne of Cunard Line, chocolates, petit fours, and use of the box for the evening. Decadent, yes, you bet.
A word about dress on board: Dressy, dressy and dressy. We had five formal nights initially, that were drawn back to four. Formal is just that, tuxedo or dinner jacket, and gowns. There are no exceptions except a dark suit with tie or dressy pant ensemble. Semi – formal is a jacket and tie, a suit, or sports coat. Casual elegant – jacket no tie. That’s it folks. No casual, no jeans after 6:00pm – not up to dress code, no admittance in any dining room after six.
Two alternate choices one for lunch and dinner are Todd English and the Lido We had pizza there and it had to be the best if not ever, in a long time at sea. Dinner in the Lido offered different of culinary interests, buffet or sit down, with a new fee of $10.00, where it was once complimentary.
Todd English has two restaurants at sea, the first one on the Queen Mary 2, and the second on the Queen Victoria. One benefit of being a Diamond is preferred reservations at Todd English and a complimentary lunch once during the cruise. We did reserve lunch there, and it was exceptional, as it has always been, and on a par with the Todd English on board the Queen Mary 2. On previous cruises we have dined at Todd English for both lunch and at dinner. We opted for the lunch only this time around.
All too often the so-called disco on a ship features oldies, Y M C A and line dancing. Not so here on the Queen Victoria. Live DJ, actually taking requests, and a live band, CHANGEZ, from Jamaica, excellent sound system and light show, made for a truly nice evenings experience. Up to date – with songs by Rhianna, Lady GaGa, JLo and Usher and others. The place to party after 10:00pm is Hemispheres. Good bar, too.
On to Hawaii, that was the point of the cruise. Our first port was Nawiliwili, Kauai, after sailing four days at sea. With the exception of Honolulu, we booked our excursions pre-cruise, and booked Honolulu, while onboard, all with Cunard. This port was beautiful. We were bussed to Waimea Valley, which was nice enough, 80% of it spent in the bus. Saw the latest Wal Mart, K Mart and Home Depot. Next, Honolulu, took the Hop -on- off bus, could have been a nicer trip ashore, except, the stops on this self guided bus tour are double-backed, where upon the bus doubles back on areas previously seen, the wait for the bus often way too long, and not enough time to stay or stop and see what you want to se. Having said that, were not scenic or tourist site deprived, we saw a lot of Honolulu, and plan to see more in the future. We got to see Diamond Head and some gorgeous scenery. I like cities, and Honolulu fit the bill.
A chunk of time was spent at the Manu Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, with samples, and lots of good nutty things to buy including Kona coffee. A tram tour of the Botanical Gardens was really special, with flowers, tropicals, and orchids in bloom.
The last two ports were more rewarding as to the sites we got to see, one excursion really nice, the other “creepy”. First, the nice one. Lahaina, Maui – all accolades about Maui are true, it is beautiful. The Wal Mart, the K Mart, the Home depot, oh, up-scale malls, the Macy’s – all that, and all of the chains to eat at – hugging the secondary roads just like home! The highlight of this tour, two, actually, was the Ioa Valley and Needle, a state park in desperate need of toilet restoration, lots of porta-potties – the needle, a tall jagged spire and waterfall, meandering river and half naked boys trying to sure up a stone dam, is what was happening there. The Maui Plantation was truly creepy. An odd atmosphere prevailed. The plantation is a working farm and is very run down, and honestly, I was waiting for a jug of poisoned Kool-Aid to be passed around. Lahaina looked like Key West, only less laid back, and filled with shops and restaurants
Hilo looked more like a small Alaska port in summer. There was a free shuttle again, with malls and the like. Hilo was not the last port, it was to be, but, another cruise ship needed Lahaina, and Cunard reversed the order of the ports. We did stop at a real touristy souvenir trap, bought bottled water. Highlights of this excursion included Akaka Falls, more porta-potties, and the luxury resort area, which was devoid of shops, restaurants, and was exceedingly run-down. This was a drizzly day.
The last port was Ensenada Mexico – what a dive. We stayed in the secure port area, and bought junk in the shops.
Ok, so why did we take this cruise, with such blah ports? For us the ship is always the destination. Perhaps I should have visited Hawaii before I was born to see what it was really like. No lei greeting in any port, no hula girls dancing their way to slim waists, no ukuleles on the pier – not another day in paradise, either. This is not the Caribbean; I did not expect it to be. It is a bonafide US State, and like all US States, it is similar. The TSA security on the dock is unlike any you will experience anyplace else.
I wanted to experience Hawaii, for all of the hoopla and culture. To experience what one wants to see in Hawaii, stay at a hotel, better yet, stay in a resort, but, to see it by cruise ship, be content with the few port diversions, and don’t complain. Since seeing Hawaii before I was born was not an option, we opted for Cunard and the Queen Victoria, which combined two iconic ocean pleasures. Firstly, the pomp and posh ness of a Cunard voyage, the second, recreating the long ago and once popular trans-Pacific crossing from the mainland to Hawaii, popularized by the ships of the famed Matson line. This was tradition at its best, with a British twist.
The pluses of this cruise were many; mainly on board. The cocktail parties, ordering from an open bar, the fancy hors d’oeuvres, galas, opulent shows, and grand dinners, with a host of pleasures at each hour while sailing the Queen Victoria. To stay in a hotel or at a resort, even all-inclusive, cannot offer the cruise experience, and nobody offers it like Cunard.
About The Author
Kenneth Eden has been on 76 cruises, starting in 1970 aboard QE2. Not a bad way to start one’s cruising career! Kenneth’s favorite cruises lines from days past include Paquet French Cruises, Sun Line, Royal Viking Line, Home Lines, Italian Lines, French Lines, and Chandris Fantasy Cruises.
He reflects on how he caught the cruise bug: “In 1969 I was in San Juan and saw the Sagafjord arriving at her berth. I will never forget that sight and knew I had to sail her. And I did, many times, with Norwegian America Line, and then with Cunard/NAC. Since then my cruise travels have taken me to many close and far corners of the world. I have visited over 150 ships, including the ones that I have cruised in. My motto: there is a ship for everyone, and a cruise for everyone.”