Queen Victoria – Cunard Cruising – France & Ireland

Queen Victoria - CunardWith five ships leaving Southampton on Sunday afternoon, the roads into the Docks were jammed with vehicles full of people anticipating their exciting upcoming cruises.

Fortunately 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.

Later that afternoon, as part of Cunard’s 175th Anniversary celebrations, all three Queens left in line astern, a great sight for the on the shore.

Bringing up the tail, 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 - Queen Victoria - CunardOur 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. On each of the passenger decks there is a self-service launderette, ideal for washing out clothes needed again or ironing something that may have creased in packing.

Princess Grill - Queen Victoria - CunardMost passengers eat in the Britannia Restaurant which offers two sittings, the first starting at 6.00pm and the second around 8.00 – 8.30pm. 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 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. We tested the standard buffet one evening for the Yorkshire Night which included tender roast beef carved to order with, of course, Yorkshire Puddings.  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.

Afternoon tea in the Queen's Room - Queen Victoria - CunardA feature on Cunard is afternoon tea in the Queen’s room. 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 delicious and makes a relaxing interlude to the day.

Another popular venue is the Red Lion Pub which serves draft ale and lager and provides a limited but attractive lunch menu. It also has darts competitions and pub games.

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.

Show in the theatre - Queen Victoria - CunardFor on-board entertainment there is a magnificent two-storey library holding over 6,000 books, a  card room, jig-saw alcove, various board games and an internet cafe, although WiFi is available throughout the ship.

The theatre puts on evening shows and has its own troupe of highly professional actors, singers, dancers and musicians. A feature of the theatre is the boxes. Each holds two people and must be booked in advance. 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.

St Peter Port, GuernseyAs for our cruise, it was a relatively local experience. After leaving Southampton we headed out into the English Channel and the following morning 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.

Le Havre, FranceAfter a great day walking around and soaking up the celebratory atmosphere we set sail for Le Havre. The rain that greeted us on arrival soon gave way to sunshine and we were able to stretch our legs ashore. The port is probably best known as the gateway to Paris, where many of the guests made their way. Le Havre itself was heavily bombed during the war. It has since been re-built but in a characterless and uniform way 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. The locals are welcoming and friendly and we were sorry to leave.

Cobh, IrelandNext stop was Dublin. Sadly it rained the whole day and whilst we enjoyed our visit the weather dampened our experience, limited what we could do and made photography almost impossible. Nevertheless we made the most of our time there and spent a little more time exploring this lovely ship.

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 greet 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.

More information

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 at UK airports and ports, including a ‘Meet & Greet’ Service. Visit www.holidayextras.co.uk or call 0800 1313 777.

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Mike Pickup

Award-winning travel writer & photographer

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