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Shore Excursions
Kenneth Eden

Age: 61

Occupation:retired high school teacher

Number of Cruises: 73

Cruise Line: Cunard

Ship: Queen Victoria

Sailing Date: 2009-08-3

Itinerary: Scandinavia Baltic

A long awaited consort to the Queen Mary 2 - five stars all around. In short, Cunard at its very best

The children's program looked to be first-rate; we can't wait to take our grandson!

Compared to other cruises and cruise lines, Cunards shore excursions were priced well and were a good value overall.

We set out for our 73rd cruise, and flew to Southampton via United Airlines. United did a superb job, we have no complaints at all with our flights or baggage handling. (NOTE: in the past we paid for over-weight luggage, but not any more, lessons well learned. We pack less now as compared to our overindulgant packing of the past, weigh our lugagge before leaving home, and use Travel Space Bags, the ones that you crush the air out of, or, in my case, sit on, to expell the air in the bags, and this arrangement has worked well on the last couple of cruises. Soft clothing items like underwear, jerseys, shorts and socks work best. Don't use dry cleaned or formal clothes, which would be wrinkled.) We had plenty of clothes options for this cruise, and we do send laundry out during our cruises. Still, 4 huge cases and two carry ons did the trick, at least for us.

We had two concerns before leaving for this cruise. One: the weather, which we tracked almost daily before travelling. The other: swine flu, or H1N1 virus. We had had upper 90's, as is the norm, hear in Virginia, for weeks, and looked forward to cooler weather in the Baltic area, and that is what we had, with only one day of drizzle during the 14 days of the cruise. Swine flu? The news media was hyping the flu for weeks before we left, and the Wall Street Journal put a near fear for travel to England. Nothing seemed wrong during the trip, and nothing seemed wrong, flu wise, when we we returned home. Cunard forced the hand sanitizer application to all passengers, in dining rooms, at Captains parties, you had to use it, and there were sanitizer stations EVERYWHERE on the ship. This was an excellent idea. It was funny seeing passengers lined up to get their dose of sanitizer, but oh so necesssary.

Cunard met our flight at Heathrow, and after an hour of waiting for other flights, took us to the Sheraton Heathrow for refreshments, while other flights arrived with passengers for the cruise. Refreshments were light, to say the least, cookies and cofffee or tea, canned juices - who cared, we were all jet-lagged. After an hours wait, off to Southampton, which was a sleepy ride, on a highway. The Victorias huge stack loomed ahead, resplendent in Cunard Red and black. We passed an old friend we knew as the Royal Viking Star, today Fred Olsens Black Watch. Grill passengers waited to board in a private area, and we shortly had express boarding, and express baggage delivery to our stateroom. We also had lunch in the Princess Grill, and had three hours on the ship before non-Grill passengers could board the ship.

We have sailed with Cunard Line since 1969, and have thoroughly enjoyed numerous sailings on the Queen Elizabeth 2, Cunard Ambassador, Cunard Countess, Sagafjord and Vistafjord, Cunard Dynasty. Our recognition with Cunard Line is one of Diamond, tops for the Cunard World Club, for repeat passengers. Now, here we were on the newest Cunarder, with fond memories of the spectacular Queen Mary 2 from which to compare to the Victoria. To give a size comparison, the Mary, at over 150,000 tonnes, and the Victoria, at 90,000 tonnes, the QE2 at about 60,000 tonnes, was the size diffferential, which I find fascinating. Almost like a tee shirt" extra, XX large, X large and large. Where the Mary is sleek and gorgeous, boasting her true ocean liner profile and superstructure, the Victoria is not as handsome on the outside, save for the gorgeous stack. Carnival has built many ships from the same blue print as the Victoria, with ships for Holland America, Costa and P & O, as well as for Carnival itself. The plan is a good one, and very adaptable to cabin and spaces inside, and is not at all cookie cutter. Being Cunard stands for pure luxury, and the Victorias layout and interior hold up to the Mary, which is unlike any other ship at sea. To say the Victoria is a smaller version of the Mary would be an unfair comparison, in my opinion, as both ships are divine in their own luxurious ways.

Our Penthouse was typical of most staterooms found on the new cruise ships today. Not as ga-ga fancy as the ones on the Mary, yet, comfortable and elegant. The usual L shape, with a bath on one side as you enter the stateroom, closet alcove (superb closet space), then king bed, two flat screen TV's, sofa, easy chair and coffee table, large balcony with real chaises, excelent sound proofing - elegant decor, fine linens and towels - granite topped mini-bar,with fridge, bath with tub/shower, granite counter and tiled floor, and luxury toiletries.

I had made appointments with the Cunard Royal Spa weeks before the cruise, with a toll free number Cunard gave me, directly to the ship - how impressive is that?! We checked out the spa, and were given the grand tour. What a beautiful spa it is. We met the masseurs, and all spa personnel. We had signed up for three massages each, and added a fourth each while on board. We also used the salons stylist. (Note: during our cruise at least, there were no half-price massages offered, or two for ones, which kept the spa experience professional, not "cut rate".)

We had booked our shore excursions before leaving home, and were not charged for them until we were on board the ship, with ample time to change any before hand while on board. English and French were widely spoken in the ports, and while some ports took Euros, or Kroner, credit and debit cards were accepted.

The Victoria set for Zeebrugge, Belgium. We like Belgium, and enjoyed Zeebrugge. Swans glide majestically on the many canals in this pretty town. Many of the buildings are gilded, and the architecture is unique on the old buildings. We had a canal tour and walking tour, the excursion booked with Cunard. Don't take a taxi from ship to town, was $100.00 ONE WAY! There was no free shuttle. There were several excursions from which to choose. We wish we had more time in beautiful Zeebrugge. Chocolates, linens and lace and mussels were all there to buy, and we had no time. That was a pity for us.

The first production show was held the night of Zeebrugge. The Royal Court Theatre seats 830 with no support columns to block any view of the stage. It is a two level affair, similar to a Broadway theatre, complete with side boxes for two each. I have not seen a theatre at sea set up so professionally since the SS France, whose theatre in her day, held 650. I will dare to say, the Victorias theatre has it all over the Marys. This show, making good use of the rising platform in the stages floor, and the wide spanse for the ships large orchestra, lent itself well to the talented and beautifully costumed ships ensemble. Such talent, especially the dancers. The show was almost a combination of Celtic meets West Side Story. More on the theatres boxes later.

Bremerhaven ws bombed out severly during WWII. The city today is rather blah, a few moderate-low rise modern buildings making up a sparse skyline. The tides are amazing here, massive clam flats at low tide, as we entered, led way for a full tide upon sailing out. We toured the maritime museaum, which was nice, and had a snack on a 1919 coastal steamer, built in Mississippi! Some of the sandwiches were herrring, with a large pickled whole fish hanging out of the roll (not our cup of tea), with other options, more to our taste available. Other exhibits included a warship and U-boat, oddly, without Hitlers markings. The inside exhibits were quite interesting, mainly, passenger and cargo ships models. We have been to Hamburg, and there were excursions available from the ship.

One city we love is Copenhagen. We have stayed in Copenhagen, and have rainy cruises that called there. This visit was on a very warm summer day, and we once again enjoyed the city. We took a canal boat trip, and then spent thje balance of the day at Tivoli Garden, having a long lunch in the best restaurant there. Note: the excursion includes admission to Tivoli, no amusement rides are included.

Stockholm is a big city, and a beauty. The city itself, however large, is well planned for sightseeing, with time on our own after to canal, we had a fine half day, our first of two calls in Sweden. There are hop-on-hop-off buses at the dock and a free Cunard shuttle to the city, as well as many excursions. We took the shuttle, booked our own canal ride while ashore, and toured on our own. Sailing into and out of Stockholm is a delight, with beautiful homes, islands and friedndly people waving as the ship glides by.

As beautuful a sail as we had into Stockholm, Helsinkis approach was less so. We had Helsinki canceled as a port on a previous cruise, on cruise line that is no longer around, and we booked this cruise with Helsinki as our prime objective. The scenery was colorful, dotted with camps and fishing villages. Urban living was not as spread out as it is in Stockholm. Oh what a city Helsinki proved to be, in fact, the city was the highlight for us over the others on this cruise. We toured, sailed, shopped and delighted in the city, and felt unusually at home there. One thing, in fact the only purchase of substance during the cruise, was the iitalla china we bought in the iitalla store in Helsinki. The main shopping street is called Esplanade, with a treelined boulevard, and shops and cafes dotting each side of the long street. The better stores refund the duty and vat tax on the spot. As wonderful and summery the day was there, winter was around the corner, as we noted in the winter clothes being sold. There were many excursions available, and we enjoyed the one we took. The Finns were delightful, eagrer to show off their beautiful capital city with pride.

We booked the Sedestal Railroad trip in Krisiansand, Norway, an old vintage, well preserved train, with steamcoal engine, and a nice, restful trip. It is one way, either up, or back, with one way on a motor coach. There is really nothing but the train and the scenery, no shopping. Lovers of trains will enjoy this peaceful trip. I left the ship after lunch and went in to the town, which was clean, full of parks and gardens but not much else.

One city we love is Copenhagen. We have stayed in Copenhagen, and have rainy cruises that called there. This visit was on a very warm summer day, and we once again enjoyed the city. We took a canal boat trip, and then spent thje balance of the day at Tivoli Garden, having a long lunch in the best restaurant there. Note: the excursion includes admission to Tivoli, no amusement rides are included.

I will only review the Lido once, for breakfast and for lunch. The Lido on the Victoria ia a vast space, occupyng port and starboard sides, with more than ample seating and a more than generous selection of food items. We prefer to have all of our meals in our assigned dining room, however, with shore excursions often early, we used the Lido for breakfast, and with some that interfered with Princess Grill times for lunch, we had lunch in the Lido. Breakfast was wonderful, as was lunch. The pizza deserves extra special attention here, as it was perfectly suited to our tastes. Made with real fresh, soft dough, cooked in a genuine pizza oven, and most importantly, made to order, either the special of the day, or a conconction of ones own, this was the best pizza on any ship we have ever had, bar none. Another area, one I have found fault with on many a ships Lido breakfast, smoked salmon, which was abundant and another, the regional cuisine areas, such as "pasta" or "Asian" et al, whereby the food is usually precooked and sitting under heat lamps, not so on this cruise - again, these foods were cooked to our order.

We had three gala cocktail parties during the cruise, the first the Captains Welcome. Sure, the line to meet the captain, the photographers, and the migling of passengers in the vast Queens Room. The drinks were pre-made, with wine and so forth, however, I ordered what I wanted from the bar without any problem. The second party was invitation only, for Grill passengers, and was open bar, the third, ivitation only, for Diamond, Platinum and gold repeaters, with open bar and very lavish hors 'd ourves. Not here, nor anywhere, were the photographers in your face, a plus.

The second big show, and our "night in the box". The show was 'A stroke of Genius', and we booked a Royal Box for the evening. The box costs $50.00 per couple, provides cocktails, pre-show, with desserts, and chocolates and a half of Veuve Cliquot, in the privacy of the box. How decadent! As for the show, it was truly a stroke of genius, with characters from the famous patings by the masters come to life in song, dance and dazzling costumes. The sight line to the stage is awesome.

Cunard has three spectacles: Apassionatta, that debuted on the Mary, Dance Passion, that debuted on the Victoria, which we saw and loved, and a third to debut on the new Queen Elizabeth, the show is yet unnamed. The the "passion" themed shows, along with the lavish shows we enjoyed on our cruise, are truly professional. No canned music, or "click-track" and no worn costumes. The kids are top rate dancers and singers,

Some ships have what some call a "soul". Many ships we have sailed certainly exude a warmth, and feels comfortable, however, a ship with a "soul" is not that common. The Mary has that feeling of a "soul" and boy does the Victoria. It is a welcoming feeling, a sense of comfort and overall contentment. The ship seems to wrap you in a security blanket of wel being. Of course, the crew and captain have a lot to do with this, as does the passenger that sails on the ship. It is earned by the ship, not something that can be bought or copied. Crazy as it may seem, passengers that know what I am refering to, they know what a ship with "soul" is.

We had three days at sea during this cruise, less than we like, but three welcome ones to explore the ship in depth and enjoy our massages as well as the hydro pool. The ship offered seemingly endlless activites and enrichment lectures. Cunard has long been associated with providing a series of heralded guest speakers during cruises. We have long avaided the casinos during a cruise, and we nerver even looked inside the casino on the Victoria. We did admire the Golden Lion Pub, a hallmark on a Cunarder, although time did not allow for lunch there. One of the priviledges of Diamond status is a complimentary lunch at the only reservations dining venue aboard, Todd English, which we had no time for as well. We have always enjoyed Todd English on our Mary sailings. Todd English had an exquisite menu and the room is beautifully decorated.

Two days in St. Petersburg Russia were enough fo me. We had been there before, and I have a gray feeling for the place. The Hermitage and Peter Hof museums are painted and well maintained, however, the city in general is drab, to put it mildly, lacks the little things that we in the western world enjoy, like restaurants and stores, and an atmosphere that lacked freedom. Only passengers with booked shore excursions are allowed off the ship, by Russian rules. There were 85 excursions offered, many in private cars. We took the Peter Hof tour, and had a wonderful guide, and enjoyed the palace and beautiful grounds. We took this on the second day of the visit, having canceled the first days excursion due to exhaustion. There were 9 cruise ships in St, Petersburg. Grim, overgrown with weeds, the Soviet spirit lives on in St. Petersburg. In the future, maybe we'll stay on board if we ever book another cruise that calls there.

Another highlight for us, the third reason for booking this particular cruise, was Tallinn, Estonia. I say this was the third, because the first reason was the Queen Victoria, the second Helsinki. Tallinn was wonderful. We had P & O's Arkadia, a near twin to the Victoria, and a long missed old friend the MS Mermoz, of Paquet French Cruises fame, now sailing for Louis Cruises, and looking a fresh as when we loved her as the Mermoz, docked nearby. Rumors had the Mermoz at the scrappers in Alang India, however, that was not true.

Tiring, is the word for the Tallinn tour. We walked for 4 hours, then visited a maritime museaum (no ships, no water), set in a Medievil Tower of 16 floors, no elevator. After two floors, we all voted to leave. On to the ships and boats, an hours drive away. This part of the tour was very nice, touring 1910 Baltic ice breaker, 1940's naval cruiser and got to tour the inside of a WWII submarine. Still, the day was very tiring. Tallinn itself was fascinating, and a vibrant old world city.

Gothenberg, our second Swedish port, and last port, and only rainy port of the cruise, proved to be a let down. Two things, the city was all too serious, not a relaxed place, and second, our guides were duds. The motorcoach guide was stern and lacked a sense of humor, and the guide on the canal trp was a Britany Spears wannabe, and she seemed more interested in her nails. The fact that it was drizzly and he fact that this was the last port of what was a wonderful cruise also played havoc with our emotions. At least we had a day at sea before the end.

The day at sea saw a sunny, cool, fall day, with a fair sea, 12 foot waves, of which the Victoria sailed like a knife through butter. We had our forth massage, last of the big parties, booked another cruise while aboard, packed, and reveled in all that is what makes us love Cunard Line and why we are so loyal to the true British cruise experience at sea.

What made this cruise so special for us? The Queen Victoria, nobody calls her Vicky, not yet at least. The Princess Grill, and the two private elevators to the Grills, the Princess staff, Luciano, whom we knew as a waiter on Royal Viking Line, his charming assistant Marli, Philip, a true sommelier, Patu, maitre 'd hotel, and other staff who made our dining there so pleasurable. The staff at the spa, Chestan Michal and Miron, Daniel in the salon.

Our cruise in the lands of Santa, Trolls, swans, fairytales, herring and old soviets was all too soon coming to an end. Cunard had an old slogan used in advertising in the 1960's, which I say displayed on the Victoria. I will affectionately call her Vicky.

The slogan: "getting there is half the fun". How very true.

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