...Now it's a small ship...
· No wonder cruises do so well, itís an ace concept. We got to far more places than we would have done by travelling ourselves, and it was an amazing feeling to be able to unpack my stuff and leave it for a week. No switching hotels, no leaving bags at the belldesk, and no back injuries from shlumping suitcases between hotels, airports and train stations. Awesome.
· Rather than being the cattle car experience I was expecting, the cruise was actually one of the most personalized trips Iíve been on. We had the same waiter throughout the week, so he got to know all our preferences, from the herbal tea I liked, to the type of bread I drooled over, and even the fact that I like 15 times more pepper on my food than the average person. It was like a wee-long taste of royalty. Obviously don't expect this on some of the informal cruise lines, however.
· The food itself was awesome. I was expecting cruddy buffets, and the best I was hoping for was that I wouldnít get norovirus. What I got was full on, three-course (or more) gourmet meals. I tried the buffet twice and it was fine. Not spectacular, but perfectly edible, like a solid Vegas buffet. I had hopes of trying the Todd English restaurant because dinner was only about $20, but the food was so fantastic in our restaurant, the Princess Grill, that I never bothered.
· I expected the ship to be overwhelmingly huge, like the hulking things Iíve seen in ports before. And yes, from the outside, it was. What I didnít expect was that from the inside, itíd feel so manageable. You could walk from one end to the other in a matter of minutes. It was like being in an Old Spice commercial: Iím on a huge ship. Now Iím in a small ship. Now Iím out and itís huge again.
· Wow. Everything really was included...apart from the booze (which I avoided), the chocolate bar I bought in the shop, spa treatments and the cheesetastic photos that you could pose for every night. For someone used to flying budget airlines and stumping up for resort fees at hotel check in, this was revelatory.
The Flam Railway, which we nearly didnít get to go on
· Not having to pack up every time we switched cities was a godsend, but what wasnít was the final night, when we had to pack and leave our suitcases by midnight so we could pick them up the next morning. I hadnít known this, so hadnít brought an overnight bag, and made do with a plastic bag for my disembarkation clothes. Whatís worse, in the melee, I lost my favorite piece of gold jewelry.
· Most things were already included but those that werenít were phenomenally expensive. 85 cents for a chocolate bar isnít so bad, but $15 for a glass of wine will add up over a weeklong cruise, as will comedy photos at $25 a pop. And donít get me started on WiFi prices. You have to be prepared to cut off from the web if you do one of these.
· The entertainment was as gloriously poor as I expected from a cruise ship, with the least charismatic singers in Christendom and dancers dressed as Vegas showgirls. There was also a (deliberately - luckily) excruciating play/reading done by the staff on the last day. Having said that, when youíve the ballroom throwing shindigs that come straight out of a Jane Austen novel, and gentlemen hosts to woo, thereís no need to darken the doors of the theater. (Yes, there was a theater, the Royal Court. The actual Royal Court in London would die of shame.)
· As I said on Wednesday, the AA meeting I tried to attend was non-existent. Not Cunardís fault that there were no alkies on board, and I understand some AA people might not want cruise staff running the meetings. But it would have been nice for someone to check whether anyone was going, and, in the case that they werenít, either take it off the listings, or put a note on the door saying it had been cancelled.
· My biggest bugbear: I refused to book any of the on-shore excursions due to insane markups, but this meant missing out. It was fine in big towns like Stavanger and Bergen, where you can do your own thing, but in places like Flam and Geiranger, where there was only one thing to see, I got off the boat to find that all the tickets had already been booked up. I made it onto the Flam railway by queuing for a standby ticket, but I never got to see Geiranger from Mount Dalsnibba, the famous outlook, because the buses were all pre-booked.
Umm hi Kate n Leo
And the uglyÖ
· Did I mention the photos? Every night had a different dress code, and every night you could pose for pictures under ever-changing backdropsfrom the Titanic staircase to an absurdly cartoonish full moon. Awesome, if you appreciate kitsch. Taken seriously, it's 100 percent dreadful. I suggest finding the one ship's photographer who'll let you have fun and make your own poses. Those are the photos I ended up buying.
Disclosure: We traveled to Norway onboard the Queen Victoria, as a guest of Cunard Line, but all photos and opinion are our own (obviously).