The roads leading to Southampton Docks were jammed, not surprising as five cruise ships setting sail that afternoon.
We had booked off-site parking through Holiday Extras but took advantage of the meet and greet service. Having handed over our car keys we had only to walk across the road to the cruise terminal. It couldn’t have been easier.
Three of the five ships, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, later left their moorings and, led by QM2, created an elegant procession as the sailed down the Solent and out into the Channel.
Bringing up the rear, our ship Queen Victoria, the smallest of the three, holds around 1800 passengers with 75% of cabins having balconies. She is small enough to be friendly but large enough to have a full range of facilities.
Our cabin was comfortable with the usual Queen-size bed, a small sofa, dressing table, TV and four hanging wardrobes. The bathroom was compact with a hand basin and fixed head shower with a shower curtain. For convenience there are self-service launderettes on each passenger deck, ideal for laundering clothes needed again, or ironing something that may have creased in packing.
Food is traditionally a feature of cruises. Most passengers eat in the two storey Britannia Restaurant which offers a choice of two sittings. Passengers in the mini-suites eat in a separate Princess Grill whilst suite passengers eat in the Queen’s Grill. These two Grills, together with their own indoor and outdoor lounge areas, are in an exclusive part of the ship.
The Lido buffet restaurant, open 24 hours, is split in two in the evenings, one part standard buffet, but themed, the other a speciality restaurant with waiter service for which there is a small supplement. There is also a top-class French restaurant, the Verandah, for which there is also a small supplement. Wherever you eat, however, the food is top class.
A feature on Cunard is traditional afternoon tea in the served in the Queen’s room, the ship’s beautiful lounge and ballroom. Precisely at 3.30pm, white gloved and jacketed waiters appear en masse, armed with pots of tea, sandwiches, cakes, and scones with the obligatory whipped cream and strawberry jam. A string quartet, pianist or harpist provides background music. It’s very British, loved by foreigners, and makes a relaxing interlude to the day.
Another popular venue is the Golden Lion Pub which serves draft ale and lager and provides a limited but attractive lunch menu. It also has darts competitions and perhaps somewhat corny pub games, but has an authentic pub atmosphere
With all that good food, it’s just as well there is an excellent and well-equipped gym, and a walking and jogging track on deck 3. Three laps of the ship is one mile. There is also a range of deck games such as paddle tennis.
As well as eating drinking and exercising there’s plenty to do on board. A magnificent two-storey library holds over 6,000 books, there’s a card room for bridge and cribbage enthusiasts, a jig-saw alcove, various board games and an internet cafe, although wifi is available throughout the ship. Internet at sea can be very slow and is quite expensive, so best to be used only if required.
The traditionally-styled theatre puts on evening shows and has its own troupe of actors, singers, dancers and musicians. A feature of the theatre is the boxes. Each holds two people and for a small fee, guests are treated to a pre-show glass of champagne, canapés or chocolate-covered strawberries, a photo of them in the box enjoying the show and a bell boy in a traditional red tunic to escort them to their box; ideal for that special event.
As for our cruise, we didn’t venture too far from home. The morning after leaving Southampton we found ourselves moored off St Peter Port in Guernsey where we tendered ashore. This picturesque port, with a great history, was occupied by Germany during World War Two. Our arrival coincided with their liberation celebrations and the narrow streets were decked with flags and bunting. Closer to France than England, the street signs are in French and English and the town has a unique Anglo/Continental feel.
After an enjoyable day ashore and a chance to witness some of the celebrations, we set sail for Le Havre. Rain soon gave way to sunshine and we were able to stretch our legs on land. Le Havre is the nearest ocean cruise port to Paris, where many of the guests made their way. Le Havre itself suffered heavily during the war. It has since been re-built but in a characterless and uniform way with boring rectangular buildings that is somehow reminiscent of an old Russian city.
That evening we headed out to Ireland and a visit to Cobh. Originally called Queenstown, this historic town is similar to St Peter Port in many ways although in this instance the ship docks within two hundred yards of the centre of town. Small and easily manageable on foot, it is hilly, picturesque, has delightful shops and, of course, pubs with nautical connections. Sitting outside watching people and small ships go by there can be no better place for a pint of Guinness.
On the day we visited the town was commemorating the sinking of the Lusitania, the first passenger ship to be sunk in military action and the subject of a recent Channel 5 documentary. Queen Victoria and her Commodore were central to the events which were hosted by the President of Ireland. Our strangest experience concerns a teddy bear. He was bought in New York by a passenger returning to Liverpool. His luggage was on the Cunard’s Lusitania but for some reason he sailed back on the Mauritania. The bear was eventually recovered from the deep and returned to the owner. One hundred years later we had the privilege of meeting the teddy bear, now called Maurice, and his current owner.
Next stop was Dublin. Rain dampened our stay and whilst we enjoyed our visit the weather limited what we could do and made photography almost impossible. Nevertheless we made the most of our time there, returned to Victoria for yet another afternoon tea and spent a little more time exploring this lovely ship and its fascinating shops.
After a day at sea and a chance to catch up on our notes and photos we arrived back in Southampton but at a different quay. However, as we had used the meet and great service our car had been driven to our arrivals location and was waiting for us just by the ship. A relaxing end to a great voyage.
For details of Cunard cruises on Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2, go to www.cunard.co.uk or call 0843 374 2224
Holiday Extras offers a choice of parking, including Meet and Greet parking at UK airports and ports. To book Southampton Port Meet & Greet from £44 for a week; visit www.holidayextras.co.uk
or call 0800 1313 777.
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3 Queens leave Southampton
Golden Lion Pub
Timelapse video of the three Queens in Liverpool courtesy of Cunard