Cunard’s new luxury liner embraces her heritage. Words: Sue Bryant.
In sharp contrast to a string of big, flashy new ships launched this year, Cunard Line’s new Queen Elizabeth, named by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in Southampton in October, is a return to subtlety. The ship is beautiful, filled with light, the interior sumptuous, its warm marbles and rich woods lifting the spirits rather than assaulting the senses.
Cunard has delved deep into its 170-year history to create an image for this 2,092-passenger ship, drawing on the heritage of the original Queen Elizabeth, a once state-of-the-art liner that carried passengers across the Atlantic between 1946 and 1968.
The interiors of the original Queen Elizabeth were inspired by the Art Deco style that was so popular in the post-war years, and the new ship harks back to this era, too, with a stained-glass panel here and the twist of a railing or an intricate detail on a polished wood cabinet there.
Queen Elizabeth is almost, but not quite, a structural carbon copy of Queen Victoria, which was launched in 2007. The new ship has 38 extra cabins, which will bring in more revenue for Cunard but creates a boxy aft profile. The look and feel, too, are completely different from Queen Victoria: brighter and warmer.
Several established Cunard gems are present on the new ship, not least the Queens Room, a magnificent Art Deco ballroom for formal dances and themed balls, and the Golden Lion, a ‘real’ British pub featuring proper pub quizzes, draught beer and karaoke. Entertainment is always a big event with Cunard, and the Royal Court Theatre will stage Neil Simon and Shakespeare plays as well as the usual song-and-dance shows.
The big highlights of the new Queen Elizabeth, to me, included the Grand Lobby, which is going to be the perfect meeting place. After only a day on the ship, people were saying, “Meet me by the Linley,” by which they meant the marquetry panel dominating the curving staircase, depicting the bow of the original Queen Elizabeth and designed by master wood craftsman David Linley, nephew of the Queen.
An alternative restaurant, The Verandah, evokes the very chic dining rooms on the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, which back in their day were the most prestigious restaurants at sea. The 2010 version serves contemporary French cuisine; dishes are charged by the plate, from $6 for a starter to $16 for a main course. I imagine this will be the place to be seen: The Verandah is just off the Grand Lobby, opposite the Midships Bar, at the heart of the buzz.
Two old Cunard favourites, the Commodore Club and the Yacht Club, both on Deck 10, won’t disappoint, either. The spirit of the legendary Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) is palpable up here, thanks to some fantastic memorabilia that’s been rescued from the ship as she languishes in Dubai.
In the Commodore Club, a comfortable, forward-facing lounge, the walls are adorned with wonderfully evocative Robert Lloyd oils of Cunard vessels. But the pièce de résistance is the QE2 bell, sitting in state on a plinth at the entrance. No doubt it will have to be encased in glass soon, as everybody who walks past has a go at bonging it.
Some areas have not quite lived up to their hype. The outdoor Games Deck is supposed to hark back to the era of Brideshead Revisited; think croquet and bowls on the lawn. But the Astroturf seems cheap compared to the sumptuous grass on Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships, while the arch of plastic bougainvillea at the entrance is just plain tacky.
Accommodation ranges from standard inside, outside and balcony cabins to the last word in luxury. The Britannia-grade rooms (the lowest priced) are pleasant, with muted gold, green and brown décor and decent storage, although the small, beige bathrooms with tiny showers feel stingy. The real indulgence starts once you move from Britannia class up to Princess and Queens Grill, which have corner baths, big balconies and butlers.
Most passengers in Britannia-grade cabins eat in the Britannia Restaurant, an elegant, two-deck-high dining room. Guests in Princess Grill and Queens Grill cabins have their own bar and restaurants up on Deck 11, far away from the hoi polloi, as well as the al fresco dining option of the Courtyard.
But even though Cunard segregates passengers, you still feel special on this ship, whatever your cabin grade. Other new ships might be summed up as ‘glitzy’ or ‘innovative’, but for Queen Elizabeth, ‘elegant’ and ‘calming’ are more appropriate adjectives.
Cruise Line: Cunard
Vessel: Queen Elizabeth
Star rating: Not yet rated, but expect 4 stars for Britannia class, 5 stars for Grill class