Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Review: Cunard Queen Elizabeth cruise ship

‘Have you cruised with Cunard before?’ is a question I’ve been asked on several occasions over the last few days. It’s a common conversation starter, and I must admit that it’s my very first sailing with the historic line.
Currently steaming off the south west coast of Victoria, the Queen Elizabeth is on the final leg of her 34-day ‘Grand Voyage’ repositioning from Barcelona to Melbourne, where she officially begins her annual Australia and New Zealand summer residency.
Along the way, this monarch has visited exotic ports including Heraklion in Greece, Luxor in Egypt, and Salalah in Oman, with additional stops in Singapore, Bali and, most recently, Fremantle and Adelaide.
Of course, I haven’t been onboard the whole time. I joined in Adelaide, making my experience a mere drop in the ocean compared to the long journey passengers have undertaken from Europe. By all accounts, they have loved every minute, and it’s little surprise to learn many are repeat cruisers.
Vivian – a fellow ‘Queens Grill’ guest I meet at breakfast, lunch and dinner – is notching up an impressive tenth Cunard sailing with her husband. This time, they’re joined by their granddaughter who, like me, is experiencing a first taste of life onboard.
Queens Grill is the pinnacle of onboard service. You’ll find it across all of Cunard’s ships: Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and the Queen Mary 2, as well as the soon-to-debut Queen Anne, which joins the fleet in 2024.
“It’s our style of cruising,” Vivian remarks, adding the lavish Art Deco-infused decor is “just so beautiful, and the service really outstanding.”
By style, she means the ‘classic cruising’ Cunard is known for. Think more jazz trios, afternoon tea and spa time than roller coasters and waterparks. It is an older style, for sure, yet it’s one that still has a lot of fans.
I’m now one of them, with the refined aesthetic and what must be a small forest of timber that’s gone into the freshly-varnished wall panels, bars, lounges and staircases much like a grand London hotel. It’s cut from similar cloth to the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.
Guests checked into Queens Grill staterooms enjoy benefits such as butler service, Champagne and chocolates on arrival and, where I’ve just finished a light three-course lunch, access to an exclusive restaurant.
Unlike other dining options including Britannia, which spans decks two and three, Lido buffet on deck nine, or specialty venues such as The Verandah on deck three, you own your table for the duration of the cruise – it’s not shared by anyone else.
This creates great familiarity among passengers, with most engaging in cross-floor recaps about the daily experiences: the comedian who performed in the Royal Court Theatre last night, the art class, or the shore excursion they’ve just returned from.
However, the topic often inevitably comes back to cruises, from past sailings to future bookings, almost all on Cunard.
Queen Elizabeth is at full capacity of some 2,080 guests at present, yet it doesn’t feel overly crowded. I’d attribute this to venues and activities being spaced throughout the ship, rather than concentrated to only a few areas, like on some rivals.
As for hygiene, sanitiser stations are everywhere you look, and as long as you wash your hands and keep social distancing in mind, you’re unlikely to encounter issues. (Booking a Queens Grill cabin is another way to reduce mingling with the wider ship at meal times).
More thoughts on the Cunard Queen Elizabeth
Room
My cabin – 5108 – is a midship Queens Grill Q3 Penthouse Suite with a vast footprint containing a bar, work desk and lounge, alongside a mirrored dressing room and bathroom with walk-in shower and separate spa bath.
Adorned in blonde timber, marble and maritime artworks, it’s a spacious sanctuary to relax in, and there’s also ample storage to unpack once – one of the great benefits of cruising.
There’s a balcony too; two lounges with foot rests are ready for you to perch and enjoy the ever-changing sapphire views when out at sea, or witness harbour hubbub when arriving or departing ports along the way.
Complimentary mini bar plus a choice of two full-size bottles is included to help you get into the spirit. I opt for a Kiwi sauv blanc and souvenir bottle of Queen Elizabeth ‘3 Gin’.
A bountiful fruit bowl is provided in-room for grazing (room service is also included), and pre-dinner canapes delivered each night.
Starlink internet access is available ship-wide in ‘essential’ and ‘premium’ speeds:
Essential is $20/day ($15/day if purchased for the full voyage) and suitable for web browsing, email and music.
Premium will set you back $30/day ($20/day for the full voyage) and is more than adequate for streaming. I chose this option and didn’t experience any video lag.
Note: US and UK powerpoints are standard, so be sure to pack an international adapter.
Service
Having cruised many times on the likes of Celebrity Cruises, Costa and Holland America Line, I’d rate this similar to the latter in aesthetic, yet with a quintessentially-British style of service.
Cunard refers to this as ‘White Star’ service, with the cruise line putting all crew through their paces at a namesake academy to ensure a level of consistency flows throughout.
While some cruise lines are rather hard-sell with drinks, that isn’t the case here – and it’s incredibly refreshing. You don’t feel accosted every time you make eye contact. That said, the cocktails (try the Insta-worthy Chieftain of the Clan) and wine list are all top-notch.
It is worth noting however that all onboard payments are in US dollars. Given the exchange rate, cocktails and additional experiences (spa treatments, art classes and access to specialty dining) can end up rather pricey.
Dining
I stick to Queens Grill for most meals; all à la carte. Quality and variety of dining is excellent, as is service from waiters and sommeliers.
Highlights include goat’s cheese croquettes, ‘angry’ prawn pasta, beef carpaccio and seared monkfish (the offer of some drizzled lemon for the fish impressively involves a spoon and two forks).
Breakfast is also worth relishing, with classic eggs benedict (my go-to when travelling), Swiss Bircher muesli and a classic full English all hitting the spot.
Wanting to try another option I also visit Steakhouse at The Verandah; an extra US$40 per person for dinner. A great decision, with the 28-day dry-aged steak cooked to perfection – and a mountain of optional sides ensuring I don’t leave hungry.
Afternoon Tea is a daily ritual served at 3pm on the dot. This can be taken in the Queens Room on deck two, which is open to all passengers, or in the Queens Grill. I’d recommend the latter.
If you fancy a bit of variety throughout your sailing, Lido Restaurant plates up an extensive buffet spread, with self-serve and pre-plated options available.
Entertainment
A stacked daily activities list is supplied in a newsletter each evening. On it you’ll find everything from lectures (the economics of global counterfeiting was an unexpected addition) to croquet tournaments, dancing lessons and shuffleboard.
The fitness centre also offers scheduled yoga, pilates and spin classes for a fee, together with plenty of Technogym equipment (treadmills, weights machines etc). Free saunas with a full window out to sea are a must-do inside.
As for the live music and performances, there are plenty to choose from, be it an Irish folk duo in Golden Lion Pub, string quartet in the Commodore Club, or singing, dancing and fabulous costumes at the Royal Court Theatre.
(For the theatre, I’d recommend taking a seat in the lower auditorium rather than the West End-style box seats, as their curved glass safety screens can affect the view if you’re sitting at the perfect angle.)
In addition, there’s a small casino on the lower floor of an atrium, a sheltered games deck where you can play tennis, croquet or practice your golf swing, plus dedicated children and teen’s areas.
Verdict
With my first Cunard cruise now complete, it’s been a fantastic experience and one I’d happily repeat. Next time I’ll be able to say ‘yes’ to that initial icebreaker question too.
It’s very different to other ships and cruise lines I’ve sailed on, with a strong sense of style and character – there’s no generic ‘international aesthetic’ here. It’s British through and through, with a foot in the past yet still ticking plenty of boxes for modern cruisers.
Christened in 2010, Queen Elizabeth may not be for everyone (devotees of skydive or Flowrider sessions at sea will need to look elsewhere) but if you’re seeking a ship brimming in elegance with sensational food and sophisticated service, this is definitely one to choose.
Queen Elizabeth calls Australia home until late March 2024, before returning later in the year.
The writer travelled as a guest of Cunard.

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