Charlie Wexham is already a veteran Cunarder, taking her first cruise as a toddler. Now at nine, she’s back on the Queen Elizabeth. Does the adventure still hold the same?
Like any good idea, it started with a glass of wine. Sitting on our balcony in Byron Bay, accompanied by the pure vocals of Frank Sinatra belting out “New York, New York” evoked memories of sunny skies and a Cunard cruise we took to the Caribbean from the Big Apple before Covid.
“Why not do another cruise?” came the cry, as the rain drizzled outside. When we took our last Cunard holiday, our daughter Charlotte (Charlie) was just about to turn two years old. She was by far the youngest passenger on the Queen Mary 2. As we journeyed from Hong Kong to Singapore, she called any female passenger with grey hair “Nana”.
So as the wine continued to be consumed in generous quantities, the investigation into cruise itineraries, dates, and destinations soon began to resemble a crime scene. After a couple of hours debating and rejecting a myriad of options, it was decided the standout was Cunard. The Queens Grill in September 2023, eating and drinking our way throughout the Mediterranean.
Up until this point there had been little consideration given to Charlie, our now nine-year-old daughter. That’s OK. She enjoyed Kids Club last time and although she is much older now and with many opinions, we decided she’ll be fine. And she was just that.
We joined the Queen Elizabeth with Charlie in Barcelona. We spent several days enjoying the Picasso Museum, flamenco dancers, live music and all that Barcelona offers. This also included a tour of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral. This incredible piece of architecture, now in its final stages of completion after 150 years, resembles one of those discarded Mateus wine bottles covered in dripping wax you used to find in cheap suburban restaurants. It needs to be seen to be believed.
After 18 months of waiting, it was time to embark Queen Elizabeth with Charlie. It was to be our home for 14 days cruising from Spain to France, Italy, and back.
The anticipation from Charlie to board Queen Elizabeth was like a child going to the circus for the first time. We have always admired the way Cunard does things. The uniforms, the welcome, the attention to detail, such as the complimentary bottles of champagne and spirits languishing in your cabin.
The cabins associated with the Queens Grill booking are generous and easily accommodate a child on the pull-out sofa bed. And it was tended to by staff daily so as not to inhibit our enjoyment of the space. Anyone who has a young daughter would know they are prone to increasing levels of mess. What a joy it was to return after any meal to find neatly stacked items and clean spaces.
The Kids Club and Teen Zone were Charlie’s go-to places. They operate every day with four or five staff members always on hand and genuinely interested in entertaining the children. The Kids Club tended to the younger children and was separated from the Teen Zone. The facilities are impressive, consisting of air hockey (Charlie’s favourite on Queen Elizabeth), Bling my Ride, a game based on a television program, and various theme nights including Casino Night, Movie Night, Making Mocktails and Carnival Games. In addition, there were 20 PlayStations.
Staff members Anna, Carol and Becky in the Teen Zone were active and caring. All would have qualified for a role on Play School, which was just as well as Charlie’s godfather is Don Spencer of Play School fame in both the UK and Australia. Don was also with us on the cruise with his daughter Danielle. One evening when he dropped off Charlie at Teen Zone. Charlie approached the jukebox and selected “Fireball”, one of Don’s early hits from the 1960s. And much to the enjoyment of Carol, who turned out to be a long-standing fan.
The onboard activities
The greatest difficulty was often deciding what to do. There was so much to choose from. If you had finished your book, there was an extensive library enabling you to find another good read plus a notable reference section featuring books on the various destinations you were likely to visit. Deck games are always popular. We played a lot of table tennis; in addition, there was deck tennis, croquet, bowls, and even some golf nets to practice your swing.
For fitness addicts, there was a well-equipped gym. Although I’m not sure why you’d need treadmills: we were much happier doing laps around the ship.
Other daytime activities included bridge lessons, watercolour classes and dance lessons. The Daily Program delivered to our cabin every evening provided a potpourri of fun and inclusions changing daily. And if you ever got bored, you could always go shopping in the Royal Arcade on Deck 3, which includes various designer stores, boutiques, an art gallery, and a spot to pick up essentials at the Port Shop.
As you would expect, many guests spend time around the pools. There are two excellent pool facilities on Deck 9 for sunbathing, both have Jacuzzis, bars and casual food offerings. And for those wanting a more refined experience, the Mareel spa offers a variety of body treatments, manicures, pedicures, massages and facials, plus steam rooms, heated ceramic loungers and a sauna.
The food on Queen Elizabeth
On the food front, the Queens Grill is outstanding. It provides a level of quality and service seldom found these days. For our party was one of the deciding factors for choosing Cunard.
The Queens Grill is exclusively for guests staying in the Queens Grill Suites. The menu embraces some of those traditional British culinary delights such as kippers and poached eggs for breakfast, turbot, or a grilled fillet of Loch Duart salmon with chive-and-butter sauce. Lobster thermidor was always a favourite among our party.
The wine list is also extensive, and our sommelier was well informed to assist with our tastes and his recommendations were always within budget.
There are other stylish and comfortable lounges to eat and drink – we tried them all, depending on our mood.
One aspect we all appreciated was the quality of live music, which could be found all over the Queen Elizabeth. It catered for all tastes, from jazz to pop, orchestral to a DJ and, of course, the mellow Piano Man to accompany those early evening drinks.
Charlie’s rating of Queen Mary 2 in 2014
In 2014, Charlie, then 18 months, reviewed Queen Mary 2:
On arrival at our Queen’s Grill Suite – for some reason adults call these rooms a “sweet” when there aren’t any, and there wasn’t a grill either – I was met by a very tall man from some foreign land called India. Nicholas and I became firm friends and he soon learnt of my love for bananas and replenished the fruit bowl daily.
There weren’t many of us little people on the ship, so I was somewhat of a minor celebrity. I discovered the joy of riding in lifts and would jump at any chance, pressing all the buttons at once.
There was most wonderful playground – much better than at home – books, toys, puzzles, music, games, a pool and fun staff just waiting to play. I was thrilled when we received formal invitations to cocktails with the Captain – I too, had my own invitation.
I decided this was the life for me. Forget running away to the circus – when anyone asks me what I want to be when I grow up, I’m going to be saying: “A passenger on an ocean liner!”
Highs: My first taste of ice cream. Yummy. I had so much rum ’n’ raisin, the man with the scoop would say “The usual, Miss Charlie?” as soon as I appeared.
Low: When Mummy and Daddy said it was time to go home – I want to live in a sweet on a big ship for ever and ever.
Charlie’s rating of Queen Elizabeth in 2023
I really enjoyed the destinations and beaches we visited. I loved the markets in the villages, so much good stuff to choose from.
Pompeii was a bit disappointing – it was really busy, and our tour guide referred to us all as her little ducklings, which was kind of creepy and funny at the same time. I loved the food in Italy and France, especially the ice cream and virgin pina coladas!
There is really great food on the ship – the Lido Buffet was a favourite for me as that’s where I met my new friends before heading to the pool. It has ice cream on tap all day.
For breakfast and dinner, I joined Mum and Dad along with our friends in the Queens Grill restaurant.
The waiters were great fun and had daily jokes to share with me. I enjoyed the smoothies, fresh pastries and berries at breakfast – but best of all, on my birthday, all the waiters joined in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me, followed by a super delicious cake.