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CRUISING: Accessibility plus Queen Anne

This month's cruising review takes a look at seaborne holidays for those less mobile and the most exciting new ship for 2024, Cunard's Queen Anne.

Saga Cruise Lines was founded in 1997 as an offspring of the Saga insurance and holiday company which can trace its history back to 1951.  Saga Cruises exclusively markets to people aged 50 upwards and currently operates two near identical 50,000-tonne, 998-passenger sister ships, Spirit of Adventure (2022) and Spirit of Discovery (2020).

Travel News Update has reported extensively on both fine ships since attending the naming of Spirit of Discovery at Dover by the then Duchess of Cornwall, now Queen Camilla.
www.btnews.co.uk/article/16433

Saga prides itself with what it offers to those less able, including the wheelchair bound.  There is always plenty of help available and particularly when either boarding or departing the ship.

From a marketing perspective in 1951 the UK average life expectancy was 72 for women and men 66. By 1997 the figures were 77 years for males and 81 years for females.  For last year the numbers came in at 80 for men and 83 for women.  The population has grown from 50m in 1951 to nearly 68m this year.  

The success of these two ships, operating at 88% capacity according to the last company accounts acknowledges this growing market.  On a recent cruise into the Baltic with a virtually full ship the average age was 77, a passenger survey giving a very high satisfaction rating. There is plenty of business for Saga.  Don’t be surprised when a third ship is announced.

Saga has recognised that those with a disability require special care.  

During a recent trip TNU’s Editor-in-Chief looked at what is available on the two ships in more detail.

From being collected from your home, arrival at the embarkation port and boarding there is always help at hand.  A typical item of good planning is the flat decking allowing easy entry to the tenders at ports where they are used.  Those wheelchair bound do not want to miss out!  Do not be put off if a tender call is planned on the itinerary.  For typical passengers access is very easy.

The ships are very easy for passengers to move around and flow nicely, not being too big, but if you require special assistance both offer eight de-luxe wheelchair cabins and two suites.  All are by the elevators.  They all have wider (90mm v 70mm) power operated doors, with two viewing holes.  You can sit in your wheelchair and take a peek at whoever is knocking.   When the doorbell rings or an important announcement is made lights flash to assist those hard of hearing.  It would be interesting to know the percentage of passengers wearing hearing aids.

Saga allows passage for two guide dogs per voyage but all ports of call must be within EU Pet Passport Scheme Qualifying Countries and Territories. You will need to ensure that the assistance dog complies with the Pet Passport Scheme.

It is recommended that clients check ahead as some ports may not allow the assistance dog to go ashore.

Each of the disability cabins have flat access to the balcony and the shower suites offer power assisted doors, and a non-slip floor in a wet room style en-suite.  There are grab rails for shower and toilet, a fold-down shower bench, hand-held showerhead, wheelchair accessible sink, and a low level washing line for drying items. 

A very neat touch is pull-down wardrobe rails for easy access.  The special cabins are fitted with  emergency pull cords in the bathroom and by the bedside tables.

The cabins are spacious allowing plenty of room for wheelchair use, and offer intercommunicating with next door if this is required, including the two balconies.

Practically all the doors in the public areas are either electronically sensitive or with push buttons.  There is a special wheelchair viewing area in the Playhouse Theatre.  Most entertainment rooms have hearing loop systems installed. This will improve sound volume and clarity with hearing aids switched to the 'T' position.

The vessel can provide all its daily publications (eg. The TODAY Saga's information sheet and Britain Today newsletter) in large print upon request; Braille playing cards are also available.

Although not a requirement, it is recommended that a blind or visually impaired guest travels with a fare-paying companion. This recommendation is made purely based on personal safety.

Raised in the East End of London, the late Sidney De Haan, would be proud of the way the company he created has evolved.  His son Roger, now Chairman, was knighted in the 2014 New Year's Honours List for services to education and to charity in Kent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.saga.co.uk

 

QUEEN ANNE INTRODUCED

Monday 3 June saw the somewhat low-profile naming of Cunard’s latest Queen, Queen Anne.  No Royal turnout for this one.  The Team was depleted at the time.  Perhaps a visit later on.  The Princess Royal did manage Hebridean Princess last March.  www.travelnewsupdate.co.uk/article/630

At 113,000 gross register tonnage (grt) Queen Anne has a maximum passenger capacity of 2,996, more than the larger Queen Mary 2 (150,000 grt and 2,691 guests).  Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria come in at 90,000 grt and 2,000 cruisers.

TNU at a later date will be reviewing this new Cunarder, but we did have a regular contributor on board whose comments follow.

In essence our reporter loved the ship with its welcoming atmosphere and ease of getting around. Smaller than QM2, a famously graceful ship but launched 20 years ago, Queen Anne shows how cruise innovation has moved on.

Cunard has for the most part abandoned around the UK itineraries, although they are very popular with cruisers, particularly from the US and a way of showcasing the ships to its British market and QM2 will be cruising around the UK later this summer. The public turnout at host ports was outstanding.

Firstly the positives. An excellent crew proud of their new residence and only too willing to help and this goes for the Captain and her bridge team and engineers to all the various teams - entertainment, restaurant, hotel, deck and housekeeping. Everyone was exceptionally friendly and helpful.

The food in the main Britannia restaurant was pretty good, our correspondent not able to put it to a full test due to dietary restrictions, but confirms nice fish! Open seating worked very well… “whatever time we wanted to eat even as ‘just turning-up guests’ we were accommodated – a big plus to the trip and allowed for us to dine when it suited us”. In addition any quirky requests were always fulfilled and with a smile.

The Bright Lights Society, is a new innovation, a small cabaret space, also used for discos and non-Insight talks.  It was well received and proved a welcome addition to the entertainment programme.

Sam, the senior Clarendon Art Gallery Manager, gave a talk every sea day.  They were excellent and for many passengers one of the highlights of the trip. The selection of art works around the ship and on the stairwells, commissioned by Cunard, was fabulous. The Royal Court Theatre is very different to the theatres on the other Queens – more of a regular theatre space. It lacked atmosphere but the seats were very comfortable and there was ample legroom. Holding around 800 people, it was standing room only for the VIP speakers and special events.

The pre-show (or dining) cocktails on Cunard remain some of the best at sea with the Commodore Club remaining a favourite for many but our correspondent’s favourite was the Chart Room which is very different to that on QM2 and more like Gin n Fizz on Queen Victoria.

However, it was noticed that the nuts and crisps in all the bars seemed soft and stale but this should be something that is easily remedied.

The Pavilion Deck and its swimming pool is under a retractable roof and a great space used for sunbathing, relaxing, enjoying light bites at the poolside eateries, silent discos, live music and film screenings.

As for the Library, our seasoned reporter says it was nice and quiet but small and without the atmosphere of the other Queen libraries.

Afternoon tea clearly remains the best at sea with White Star Service (as per Titanic!) with sumptuous scones. The Queen’s Room is smaller than on the other Queens and fills up quickly so everyone had to arrive early to claim their favourite table but the overspill was given their tea in the Britannia Club restaurant which was very pleasant allowing tea to be enjoyed while watching the sea go by.

Our spy played Bingo and came out $70 plus. Everything is in Dollars, not to our advantage at the moment but it is always great to win!!

The Scavenger Hunt was difficult but great fun and ensured passengers really explored nooks and crannies around the ship which otherwise might have gone undiscovered.

Cabin wise, the space seems to be smaller mainly due it seems to the larger bathrooms as the shower units are larger than on the other Queens.  At the top end the Grand Suite is a massive 1,440 sq ft with a separate whirlpool tub so plenty of space there.  Everyone is offered Penhaligan’s Quercus lotions and gels. A real plus point.

Our passenger was very positive about the ship and many of the problems noted here will no doubt be resolved before the Editor-in-Chief steps on board.

Reporting in, our regular Cunarder says the ship is lovely but it is not a Cunard Queen-style ship and this clearly disappointed many returning passengers, Cunard regulars, but not perhaps newcomers to the Cunard ships and service.

The Artisan Food Hall was a disappointment both with the design and atmosphere. Everything is served to the passengers on request, even a pat of butter!! It was very time consuming for the crew. Curiously, the only things that were serve yourself were smoked salmon, cream cheese and all the things that go with it like capers and cold meats, etc. Hand washing on entry to the dining rooms was hit and miss we are told, unlike Saga who post “food security” at all entrances. There were both hand sanitiser and sinks with running water providing a choice.

Staff training has seemingly been hurried  Many passengers felt quite sorry for the restaurant and bar staff.  The waiters often did not know where the tables were in the Britannia, nor aware what the dishes on  the menu consisted of.  At tea there was confusion over sandwich fillings with the egg sandwich chosen  actually being cheese and pickle. That could have been a problem should the passenger have been dairy intolerant. The management had also not explained fully to the staff which cakes were being served, the name nor whether they were dairy free or gluten free and such like.

There are not enough lifts and the lift lobbies seem quite cramped although there is a welcome upholstered bench for each lobby allowing passengers to sit if required. For a newly designed ship this seems to be a considerable oversight. Neither is there a large service lift for luggage. On embarkation and disembarkation days the lift lobbies were packed with cases – it looked very untidy and was very stressful for the crew. The lift doors closed far too quickly which was commented on each and every day. Even the able bodied had to jump in swiftly and then press the ‘open doors’ button allowing time for everyone else to enter.

As noted the Queen’s Room is much much smaller – not so bad in itself but due to lack of public spaces it is really a dance floor in the middle of a corridor so not a restful place and it lacks the atmosphere of the other Queen’s Rooms.

The shops provided a minimum offering of goods which was a disappointment to many. The ‘corner shop’ was actually in a corner (!!) and sold very little, not even birthday cards which often come in handy when aboard. Stocking different and additional merchandise is likely to be easily remedied. The Cunard merching shop did good business but a wider choice, particularly additional ’budget’ items, would be welcomed.

The Three Queens Gins pack of miniatures is now a Four Queen pack and that did a roaring trade.

The Café Carinthia was disappointing if passengers are used to the wonderful Café Carinthia Lounge on QM2, The layout and positioning on Queen Anne seemed not to work and the food offering did not match that on QM2.

Another new innovation was the Gelateria on the Pavilion Deck. The home-made (ship-made!) artisan ice cream provided interesting flavours but at an extra cost. There were no sauces to pour on top or toppings to decorate the gelati and Cunard seemed to have missed a trick here. Maybe they should have gone all out and offered an ice cream parlour for passengers offering custom designed ice cream sundaes with sauces, toppings etc and charging a premium price which would seem appropriate. The Gelateria is a great idea but they do not seem to have got it completely right yet!! They will!!

The cinema screen on the pavilion desk is a fabulous idea – watching a film en plein while lying on a sun bed. However, when watching a film the dialogue was inaudible due to the acoustics and when sunny the glare affected the view of the film. But such things are easily rectified for future screenings.

The popular Golden Lion Pub is now a large rectangular space with no nooks and crannies as with QM2 but while it is very non-descript decor wise it did not seem to matter. It was packed for the FA Cup Final and for many quizzes it was full too. It was also the bingo venue. In addition lunch at the Golden Lion proved to be very popular as it is on the other Queens.

Also disappointing was the lack of history and information panels around the ship linked to Cunard and the new Queen. If there was anything profiling Queen Anne it was very well hidden.  If the next Queen is Alexandra there should be plenty of memorabilia available for the wife of Edward VII, who was immensely popular with pubs and streets named after her around the UK and the Nursing Corps and flag day she founded still bearing her name.

The signage for the public loos provided much mirth. The men’s sign looks like it is for ladies and several women ended up going through the wrong door. If the two signs are next to each other ie men and women loos side by side you can work it out but when a men’s loo is by itself it really looks like it is for women. Cunard are already planning to change them apparently!!

The entertainment was non-stop and varied. During the day there was something for everyone  - the passenger choir, art classes, art lectures, bridge, celebrity guests - the UK cruise treated passengers to Frank Bruno, Celia Imrie with her colleague Fidelis Morgan and Midge Ure - and five very different Insight Lecturers.

The evening and afternoon fun was also varied with highlights being The Beatles Experience, Worbey & Farrell and Rachel Tucker. The playlets were hit and miss with everyone enjoying Brief Encounter but the ‘alternative’  Pride and Prejudice was not so warmly received. There were also special events including celebrations of Scottish and Irish music and for D-Day a moving commemorative service was arranged. With fascinating ports to enjoy too, this trip was an absolute delight for all the senses.


SO FINALLY:  Would this passenger do it all again.  In an instant. YES. Cunard sails on!

Malcom Ginsberg comments.  “This was very much a shakedown cruise and Cunard will I am sure be working on many of the above comments.  I wait eagerly  to step on board”

www.cunard.com/en-gb/cruise-ships/queen-anne/0

 

 

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