I am comparing Cunard’s Queen Victoria vs. P&O’s Aurora in this review. Which ship is best? I have traveled on all the ships in both fleets, and I have chosen these two as they are comparable in size and age.
Generally, the itinerary is the most important factor when choosing between cruises, but your choice of ship may be just as important because each ship has its own specific features that may or may not fit with what you want from your cruise. This review shows each ship has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Queen Victoria is stylish with a black hull, a white superstructure, an iconic red funnel and has cruised since 2006. Aurora is all white with a blue funnel and a Union Jack on her bow, emphasizing her British-ness. She started cruising in 2001 and has had a recent re-fit in April 2019.
We outline the best way to get a discount on your next cruise separately. Our plan will help you get a discount, extra cruise credits, more invites to captain’s cocktails, or free offshore excursions on P&O, Cunard, or any other luxury cruise liner.
Cunard vs. P&O: Privilege
Cunard has a culture of privilege and “class” on their ships. The exclusive Queen and Princess Grills are only available to those who book suites and mini-suites. These restaurants serve the finest food on the Queen Victoria, and there is also a separate, private Grills lounge for suite guests along with private outdoor terraces to sit and sunbathe. In addition, there is a Grills courtyard to eat Al Fresco when the weather allows. All are situated on the top decks and have the best views.
I was once invited to tea in the Grills, but a concierge just inside the lift entrance wouldn’t let me in! The prices reflect all the status differences. You can pay up to 10x the price of an inside cabin to stay in a suite and eat in the Queen’s Grill. On P&O, you pay for the cabin you want, and then everyone is treated as equal.
Cunard vs. P&O: Cabin
I like a balcony cabin. Queen Victoria’s balcony cabin is small but tastefully decorated in beige with royal blue with a twin/ king-sized bed by Sealy and a notoriously small shower. Aurora’s standard balcony cabin is beige with sea-green decor with a twin/king-size bed and a small bath with a shower. The bathroom is more spacious than the bathroom on the Queen Victoria (Aurora’s de-Luxe balconies have an excellent full-size bath and shower). Both cabins have the usual facilities, including tea and coffee making facilities, mini-bar, flat-screen TV, and balcony with reclining chairs and table. Aurora’s balcony is slightly larger with a footrest.
Port guides are only provided the night before the port on Queen Victoria, which gives you little time to plan your day. P&O provides all of them toward the start of your cruise.
Cunard vs. P&O: Toiletries
Queen Victoria’s complimentary toiletries are Penhaligon. Aurora has complimentary toiletries from the White Company. Queen Victoria also provides a rather thin robe and slippers. Aurora has so much better storage, shelves, and drawers. Queen Victoria welcomes you with a half bottle of sparkling wine. P&O gives you 2 small bottles of water, ideal for excursions.
Cunard vs. P&O: Storage
Queen Victoria has rather limited storage with no drawers except in bedside tables. The extra items have to be stored in a box under the bed!
Cunard vs. P&O: Laundry
Launderettes are very poor on Queen Victoria with 3 washers and driers per deck and only one ironing board, but they do provide basic washing powder. Aurora provides ample washing machines and driers and plenty of ironing boards but no washing powder. These washing machines are essential if you are taking a longer cruise making it much more practical to cruise for months on the Aurora than Queen Victoria from the laundry perspective.
Cunard vs. P&O: Food In The Main Restaurants
The food on both ships is reasonable and plentiful, with good optional buffets and restaurants. Aurora gives you the choice of Freedom dining and Club dining. I like Freedom dining since you can choose to dine any time between 6:00 and 9:30 pm, which gives you the flexibility to dine when and with whom you want. I generally eat early, and in Freedom, there were always tables for two available. The waiters were generally very quick and efficient and let you eat as fast as you want. The food is good and warm, Aurora provides a better portion of vegetables and potatoes than Cunard’s Queen Victoria. I find the food on the Aurora was as described on the menu, and there are always steaks, grilled salmon, or grilled chicken when you don’t fancy the menu choice. This option is not available on Queen Victoria.
Queen Victoria only has club dining at 6:00 or 8:30 pm. You choose your time to eat when you book. We found this very slow as everyone arrives at once. The waiters sometimes take 45 mins to bring your starter! There is a lot of fussing with the large pepper pot rather than getting your meals served when warm! We also found the food very tasteless, the lobster is meant to be from Maine, but it was sometimes too tough to eat!
The Victoria menu is very fancy and sounds delicious but is very meat-orientated and more suited to continental and American tastes. What arrives is a lump of meat or fish with a few ribbons of carrot. My husband occasionally resorts to French Fries when he is still hungry. Unfortunately, fries are delivered with bad grace, not 5-star service!
The Victoria restaurant food used to be so good but had gone downhill. We also now find that the waiters are not keen if you order anything outside the basic menu. We like to enjoy the theatre shows, but you risk missing them if you stay for dessert. We ended up using the buffet in the evening on Queen Victoria, which was very good, but not the ideal choice when you are the only ones in formal dress!
Breakfast and lunch in the main restaurant on Queen Victoria suffered again from slow service and cool food, but offers a good choice of food. On a port day, you want to get off and explore and not be stuck in the restaurant. Aurora has a good choice of food and scores higher than Queen Victoria, though lunch in the restaurant could be slow if you order three courses.
Cunard vs. P&O: Food In The Buffet
Queen Victoria had an excellent buffet in the evening, with a varied choice of menu and plenty of bread, salads, potatoes, vegetables, and Sushi. It has a pleasant ambiance in the evening with a pizzeria cooking to order and another cooking station cooking the night’s specialty to order. It was surprisingly busy most nights. Aurora has a very English buffet in the evening, but with themed nights, Indian, Tandoori, Spanish, Thai, TexMex, etc., which makes a good variety. There is usually a carvery for those who don’t like spicy food. There is a greater variety of fruit on Queen Victoria, but the desserts are lately ridiculously small, served on tiny dishes, so you end up taking two! The offerings tend to be over-sweet and/or stodgy. Aurora has a wider variety of cheese and nice soft rolls, and they have plenty of light desserts in sensible portions as well as bread and butter pudding! Breakfasts are good in the buffets on both ships.
Afternoon tea in the Queen’s Room on Queen Victoria
This is a luxurious tradition harking back to the old Queen Mary and is not offered on the Aurora. You are served by waiters in white jackets and gloves, and there is musical afternoon accompaniment. They bring dainty sandwiches, cakes, and best of all, warm jam and cream scones, accompanied by hot tea of your choice. A lovely experience to savor at least once on your cruise.
Alternative Restaurants for a fee
Queen Victoria has the “Steakhouse at the Verandah”, which has been altered from the French Restaurant which we loved, into a steakhouse. The Americans love it, but I miss the French ambiance, the charming French Maitre D, and the freshly baked Brioche rolls! In the evening, Queen Victoria also has part of the buffet, cordoned off as a themed pay-restaurant with alternating Italian, Indian, Pan Asian, Mexican and American smokehouse.
Aurora has the Glass House by Olly Smith, which is wine tasting complemented with small bites, hearty mains, and sharing plates. The Beach House, which is a restaurant also cordoned off in the evening in the buffet area, tends to be tasty and great value. Sindhu, which presents delicious authentic Indian cuisine with a British twist in an opulent restaurant, is highly recommended.
Cunard vs. P&O: Room Service
Both ships provide a varied free breakfast menu which you order late the previous evening, and you choose a time to suit your plans. I always enjoy this as it limits what I eat and lessens the weight gain. During the rest of the day, the room service menu on Aurora has a supplementary charge. The Queen Victoria has charges on certain items. Both ships are good, you need to allow as much as 20 minutes for delivery.
Cunard vs. P&O: Bars
Both ships have a good assortment of bars and deck bars. On the Aurora, the Crow’s Nest is a beautiful room with huge windows all around the front of the ship. I once watched a sea eagle fly all the way down the fjord with us, a magic moment. It’s also my favorite bar in the evening, the Captain’s cocktails are usually held here, and there is often live music with a small dance floor.
The Commodore club on Queen Victoria is in a similar position, but it is smaller, and the seating is often inward-looking rather than taking advantage of the views.
Queen Victoria has a wonderful “Victorian pub”, which serves the best fish, chips, and mushy peas on the high seas at lunchtime as well, as other gastro-pub items. Aurora has Tiffany’s, this is situated at the top of the atrium with a delightful Tiffany glass central light. Here you can get bar snacks and cakes at appropriate times.
The bar prices seem rather expensive on Queen Victoria, where everything is priced in dollars.
Cunard vs. P&O: Entertainment
Both ships have beautiful theatres for West End caliber shows and cabaret acts. Queen Victoria has the most stylish Royal Court Theatre, where you can have your own private box (the first of their kind at sea), and on show nights with the Royal Cunard singers and dancers, you can have champagne served in your box – for a fee. Aurora has the Pacific Lounge, in addition to the theatre, where you can also watch alternative shows and cabaret acts at night, which gives you a choice of show, or you can even go to both shows if you dine early. Aurora also has a dedicated cinema every evening, something which is sadly lacking on Queen Victoria – which only has the theatre for evening entertainment.
Queen Victoria has the Queen’s Room which is a grand ballroom with a balcony, where they hold themed balls. You can look down at the dancers kicking up their heels on the beautiful dance floor. However, Cunard always has gentlemen hosts to dance with the available single ladies. This sadly means that the dance floor is always rather busy, and for this reason, I have never actually danced on a Cunard ship. Aurora has Harlequins for dancing every evening and a small dance floor in the Pacific Lounge where people can dance during the cabaret acts. Here you can enjoy dancing on a less crowded floor.
Aurora has many more rooms for day and evening entertainment, a card room, cinema, nightclub, the Pacific Lounge, etc. so there is much more choice of venues for classical music concerts, lectures, quizzes, art classes, and exercise classes. Queen Victoria is more limited, though also with a very nice card room, nevertheless there seems much less choice, they do provide fencing lessons in the Queen’s room! Queen Victoria has an excellent airy garden room with a glass roof. This is a lovely place to sit with a coffee, this year, on the world cruise, it was spoilt by being divided in half so that the world cruisers could have an exclusive area for coffee.
Both ships have excellent libraries, Queen Victoria has a wood-paneled two-floor library which is very attractive with an American bias, but Aurora’s library has DVDs which are nice for a night in, you have to bring your own DVD player unless you are in a suite.
Both ships have promenade decks, and 3 circuits equate a mile. This is nice for an evening stroll or for some exercise on a sea day.
Cunard vs. P&O: Pools
Queen Victoria has 2 outdoor pools, each with 2 jacuzzis. Aurora has 3 pools with 4 jacuzzis. The pools on Queen Victoria are very shallow. I much prefer Aurora’s pools, especially the terrace pool on Aurora, which is deep enough to swim properly. Aurora has beautiful stern decks, curved like an amphitheater which gives plenty of room for sun-loungers. This is a lovely place to sit and watch the wake or a beautiful sunset. Sadly Queen Victoria has a vertical stern, so it has limited sun space except for the prom and the top decks, where there is inevitably much bagging of sun-loungers on nice days as there is not enough space for everybody.
Cunard vs. P&O: Spas
Queen Victoria has a spa, salon, and a nice, hot hydrotherapy pool with strong jets. This is complemented by 5 heated, tiled loungers with a lovely starboard view of the ocean. There are also 2 saunas and an aromatherapy steam room (sadly the aromatherapy reservoir is often empty!). You pay per day, or it’s cheaper to book for 5 days and just go when it suits you. Sadly Aurora just has spa treatments and a salon. The Spa treatment costs are quite expensive on both ships. On Aurora, you can get discounts by attending health lectures or the Hair show where one passenger (once me) has their hair cut or blow-dried. On Queen Victoria, the discounts are less unless you have multiple treatments, and the charges are higher. In their hair show, they used crew rather than passengers!
Cunard vs. P&O: Staff
Cabin staff are always the hardest working staff on all the ships. P&O wins here, as their staff are younger and fitter, mainly Philippino and Indian, and always helpful and friendly. Cunard cabin staff are older, not so fluent in English, and often not so obliging if you need your cabin serviced early, etc.
The waiters are better on the Aurora, apparently younger and more helpful, and in Freedom, dining want to serve you as quickly as possible. One of the problems with the waiters on Queen Victoria is they come from many countries, and the junior waiter sometimes brings the wrong item from the kitchen because he doesn’t understand the order.
Cunard prides itself on its “White star service”, but my experience on Queen Victoria was of staff who didn’t want to do more than they were obliged to do!
The officers and entertainment officers on both ships are helpful and pleasant.
Cunard vs. P&O: Price & When To Book
P&O seems to have the cheaper cabin prices as soon as their new brochures come out. This is the best time to book! We booked onboard the Britannia on the first day: we booked an Aurora cruise no-fly to the Caribbean in Nov 2020 and paid £6800 GBP for two. Three days later, we were told our cabin, a deluxe balcony, had gone up by some £1,000 GBP!
It seems that P&O can fill all their eight ships quite well. Last-minute bookings may be cheap, but there is no guarantee of this, maybe just for the unpopular cruises. Aurora is clearly still a very popular ship.
Cunard is quickly booked up by their loyal customers who “only cruise Cunard”. With only three ships, there is always good demand. The prices on Cunard tend to be slightly higher than P&O, but I think the product is comparative. Sometimes there are last-minute bargains on Cunard.
Balcony cabins (unobstructed and unsheltered) sell very quickly on the Queen Mary 2. Again, the best prices and cabins are found when the new brochures come out.
When you book, you should take advantage of extra free benefits and discounts delivered by luxury travel agents rather than book directly online as they can almost always offer a much better deal.
Both companies’ ships do good and similar type excursions in the ports, Queen Victoria’s seemed more costly, perhaps because they were priced in dollars? On your first cruise to a new destination, it is always nice to take a ship’s tour to get a feel for the place, but we now mainly do our own thing in foreign places and get closer to the local population and geography.
Cunard vs. P&O: Tipping
P&O has removed all tipping from all their ships from April 2019, which saves you a lot of money, and you can just tip those who really make a difference to you personally. Cunard charges a hotel and dining service charge (adjustable) of $11.50 USD per person per day ($13.50 USD for the Grills).
Cunard vs. P&O: Loyalty
Both ships have a loyalty program which is well worthwhile. Cunard has a 4 tier World Club, silver, gold, platinum, and diamond. The best benefits are free internet, priority embarkation and disembarkation, and lots of parties depending on your tier. You only need to have done 15 voyages or 150 nights to be in the top tier, and this means the cocktail parties are very crowded so go early!
P&O has a more select top tier, for this, you get priority booking for 2 days when the brochure comes out, priority embarkation and disembarkation, and lots of parties and lunches. P&O charges £12.50 GBP per day just for Internet access to emails – which is dreadful. Cruisers are seen vying with the crew for any free Internet access at the ports along the way.
Cunard vs. P&O: Conclusion
Do you want a ship with a cosmopolitan atmosphere, with many foreign nationalities, and which deals on-board in dollars, then choose Cunard – or do you prefer a British ship with mainly British passengers and more space and entertainment options – then that would be P&O.
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