As I boarded the newest Cunard queen at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal, I overheard a very English lady saying, referring to our media group, “These must be the visitors.” I asked her how she was enjoying Queen Elizabeth’s maiden world voyage, 100 days in, and she laughed and said, “It’s absolutely wonderful – but I still miss the QE2, even though she was a bit of a rust bucket!”

Which the new ship most certainly isn’t – you can still smell the newness. However, the Cunard heritage is very much in evidence – stylish posters harking back to the White Star Line days adorn the walls, the impressive, two-tier Britannia Restaurant is a showpiece of interpretative 1930s Art Deco, and Viscount Linley’s superb marquetry panel in the Grand Lobby, depicting the bow of the original Queen Elizabeth (launched in 1938), brings together the history of the liners and their royal associations in a suitably grand gesture.

Afternoon tea in the airy Garden Lounge was a jolly British affair. Scrumptious savouries, scones with strawberry jam and cream, and rich chocolate cakes were served along with proper pots of black china tea (there’s even a ‘tea-timer’ on the table to ensure correct brewing time). Find sample menus and a full ship review here.

Peter Shanks, Cunard’s President and Managing Director, was happy to be back in Sydney (last time we met was in February 2010, on board QE’s nearly identical twin sister Queen Victoria), and his first comments were about the disastrous earthquake that had just struck New Zealand’s South Island. “Our thoughts are with all the people of Christchurch,” he said. Queen Mary 2 is due to depart for New Zealand today (Wednesday) but the itinerary will now change, while the cruise line will no doubt be doing all it can to support the devastated port city.

On a more optimistic note, Peter said that as he predicted this time last year, Cunard’s cruising business in this region has indeed grown by a healthy 25 to 30 per cent, and he looks forward to the day that all three queens can enjoy a royal rendezvous in Sydney Harbour. However, that will depend very much on our beautiful city having the necessary infrastructure and capacity to host the growing numbers of ships that would like to berth here – is the message getting through yet to the powers that be?

QM2 is holding a remembrance service later today for ‘Australia’s Finest Generation’, many of whom sailed on board the original Cunard ships in World War II. Regular Cruise Passenger contributor Caroline Gladstone will be sharing this special tribute as her parents are VIP guests for the occasion – watch this space!

Thanks John Pond for your photos today!