Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth is coming to Australia for the longest stay ever. Teresa Ooi was granted an audience.
When Queen Elizabeth – the ship, not the monarch – returns to Australian waters in February 2019, she will have undergone a refit.
Her famous red-and-black Cunard bellboys will be decked out in a new uniform designed by R.M. Williams and wearing Akubra hats – both well-established, proudly Australian brands.
Cunard has long been popular with Australians, who have vied to become the line’s third biggest market – not exactly a blow to the republican movement, but certainly testimony to our love of most things Brit.
She will spend an unprecedented 54 days cruising in Australia this year followed by 101 days in the summer of 2019-20.
Built in 2010, the youngest of the three Queens in Cunard’s fleet including Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth is designed as a cruise ship rather than an ocean liner.
Queen Elizabeth was here recently on a 122-night world cruise and Cruise Passenger spent three days on board from Sydney to Brisbane – and it was a real cruising experience.
She is grand, but in an understated way. Curved staircases, geometric patterns and spectacular artwork grace the soaring Grand Lobby. There is a two-level, wooden-panelled library with a spiral staircase and leaded glass ceiling, housing 6,000 books.
The ship’s interior echoes nautical charm. Her memorabilia has a maritime theme that harks back to the art deco days of cruising.
The popular authentic British pub called the Golden Lion Pub on deck two hosts afternoon Trivial Pursuit games in a packed house, and you can savour 43 gins from all over the world at Gin & Fizz, formerly the Midships Bar, which specialises in gin cocktails and champagne – a lethal combination.
Here’s what Queen Elizabeth has to offer:
There are more than 10 restaurants and cafes including the two-deck main dining Britannia Restaurant which can accommodate 800 people with a first dinner sitting at 6 pm and a second sitting at 8.30 pm. There’s an exclusive Queens Grill and Princess Grill restaurant reserved for guests staying in either the Queens Grill or Princess Grill suites.
For a more casual buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner, there’s the 464-seat Lido restaurant on deck nine, where late-night snacks are offered till 2am.
My pick is the fine French dining at The Verandah restaurant where we had such a sumptuous meal. We dined on a degustation dinner menu with duck foie gras or pan-roasted pigeon breast covered in bitter chocolate with Grand Veneur sauce, pan-seared scallops with langoustines for mains or organic beef fillet with mushrooms, truffle and Madeira sauce. Verandah diners have to pay an additional charge of $47 per guest for dinner and $34 for lunch.
Mexican cuisine is offered at Aztec at an extra charge of $26 per person. We had a fun meal starting with a tasting plate of shredded pork tortillas, taco shells stuffed with pulled beef, jalapenos and salsa verde, and main courses of shrimp and swordfish crepes, chicken and beef chimichangas, and sizzling chicken, beef and prawn fajitas.
The much talked-about afternoon tea is served at the Queens Room (where else?) and starts with cucumber, chicken and smoked salmon sandwiches, followed by pastries and ending with the traditional warm scones served with cream and strawberry jam, to the accompaniment of harpist Lara Szabo.
Light snacks are offered throughout the day at Café Carinthia.
There are 1074 staterooms, including 700 with private balconies. At the top end are the luxurious Queens Grill suites – with the grandest offering up to 138 sq metres of space – then Princess Grill suites, Britannia Club balcony staterooms and standard staterooms of various sizes and configurations. I stayed in stateroom 4171 which is roomy and has a balcony, sufficient cupboard space and an adequate bathroom.
Like most ships on a world cruise, Queen Elizabeth has a plethora of activities, especially on sea days. You can try your hand at needlework and knitting, play social croquet on deck 11 or deck quoits on deck 10, take part in a golf putting tournament or attend ballroom dance classes for beginners.
For more active guests, there are fitness stretch classes, yoga and indoor cycling. You can challenge fellow cruisers to a game of ping pong on deck nine, or swim at the two pools nearby, or enter a shuffleboard tournament on deck 10. The Royal Arcade has seven boutiques selling Fortnum & Mason products and Harris Tweed jackets. How English is that?
Guests are spoilt for choice, with the luxurious Royal Court Theatre playing host to lavish musicals and high-tech productions, the resident band striking up at each sailaway party, and regular guest entertainers including Tenori: The Three Tenors and ventriloquist Dean Atkinson. There’s always ballroom dancing at the Queens Room, party night with an international band and karaoke for aspiring singers.
For the more serious cruiser, there are lectures from invited celebrities, bridge tournaments and an afternoon movie is screened at 2pm at the Royal Court Theatre.
The Royal Spa on deck nine offers a range of facials, massages and acupuncture using Remede products. Sign up for a soothing, hot-stone body massage or a seaweed facial wrap. The spa also holds lectures on healthy feet and make-up classes. There is also a hydro pool and sauna rooms. I had an aromatherapy massage which was blissful and spent some time resting on the heated stone bed with panoramic views of the ocean.
Highs: One of the best meals experienced is at The Verandah which serves fine French cuisine with impeccable service. The competitive game of Trivial Pursuit every afternoon at the Golden Lion Pub.
Lows: The buffet dining at Lido Restaurant was ordinary.
Best Suited to: Seasoned cruisers who want to see the world at a gentle pace.
Cruise Line: Cunard
Vessel: Queen Elizabeth
Star Rating: 4.5
Passenger capacity: 2081
Total Crew: 1005
Entered Service: 2010
Facilities: Walking promenade with Cunard deck chairs, two pools, The Verandah Restaurant, Royal Court Theatre, two-level library, games deck featuring paddle tennis, croquet and bowls.
Bookings: A 10-night Alaska cruise visiting the capitals of Juneau and British Columbia’s Victoria before a return to the vibrant Vancouver from A$2,299 per person, inside cabin from 10 June to 20 June 2019. See the Cunard deals page for details.