Cunard: Tea with the Queen
A perfectly starched and lily-white glove places the precision cut sandwich neatly on my plate followed by a tuna bun and a sweet pastry. All are arranged meticulously around a Wedgwood teapot with a special blend of exotic, hand-picked Twinings leaves.
Moments later, another server arrives in an immaculate white jacket offering scones. Decent scones too. Proper doorstoppers with clotted cream and strawberry jam to match.
Every afternoon at 3.30pm, mother and I make a beeline for Queen Mary 2’s Queens Room on Deck 3 aft for the afternoon ritual of tea. The Queens Room is a delightful room, spacious and bright, doubling as both a venue for the venerable tea ceremony and the nightly big band and ballroom dancing events.
The Queens Room pays homage to the monarch who gave her title to this most regal of ships. Mary of Teck, consort of King George V, was the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. The previous Queen Mary ocean liner, now permanently docked at Long Beach, also bears her name.
In a world where ‘big and boisterous’ seem to be dominating our lives with everything from gargantuan, resort style cruise ships and gleaming skyscrapers to overblown politicians, it is refreshing when some respect for tradition and decorum can still flourish.
Not that Queen Mary 2 is any shrinking violet. When launched in 2004, she was (and still is), at 150,000 gross tons and 345 metres, the largest proper ocean liner ever built. I say ‘ocean liner’ very deliberately, to separate this magnificent example of naval architecture from the swill of common, garden variety ‘cruise ships’ dominating the world’s fleet.
Even though our sailing was completely full with 2,700 guests, there was never a feeling of ‘crush’ or crowd, with the exception perhaps of Kings Court buffet at peak times.
In order to make sure Queen Mary 2 stays absolutely current with demands from her many new and repeat passengers, a massive AU$150 million was spent in June last year and in just 25 days, an around-the-clock process transformed much of the vessel’s interior spaces to enhance guest comfort and address some areas that were just not working.
Included in the vessel’s updates were the introduction of single cabins as well as 30 Britannia Club Balcony cabins. The Grill restaurants have been transformed and the Kings Court Buffet has been completely redesigned. The Todd English restaurant is now The Verandah and the Winter Garden is the plush Carinthia Lounge.
I’m told the equivalent of six football pitches of carpet was laid during the refit which also included the addition of new retail space in Mayfair with brands like Michael Kors, Mont Blanc, H. Stern and Godiva chocolates. Return passengers will notice the removal of two elevator shafts resulting in more space in the lobby and Kings Court Buffet.
A Meal fit for a Monarch
Dining aboard Queen Mary 2 is a true gastronomic experience, even if you only eat in the included restaurants, Britannia and Kings Court. The Britannia is an imposing two-tier mega-restaurant, rather than a sprawling dining room and still preserves the dignity of premium dining with full table service, a 24-day cycle menu and extensive (450+) label wine list catering to all palates. While you are somewhat constrained to dining times with early (6pm) and late (8.30pm) dinner sittings in Britannia, Kings Court is virtually ‘all day’ with the last servings of pizza and hot snacks finishing at 2am.
Even with the redesigned space, the freedom of Kings Court makes it particularly popular with Aussies who eschew routine and schedules, so it can still get a bit hectic at peak times and especially so when crockery trolleys try and find a passage through the thronging diners.
You’d be short-changing yourself if you didn’t try one or two of the speciality (surcharge) restaurants at least once during your cruise. Mother and I managed to patronise Bamboo (pan-Asian), Smokehouse (American carnivore) and The Verandah, which delivered the closest you can get to a Michelin-star experience aboard Queen Mary 2.
Royal Tour Down Under
When Queen Mary 2 visits her Antipodean dominions each year, her subjects flock for space on one of the coastal cruises between our major ports like Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney.
This particular visit included maiden port calls to Kangaroo Island (Penneshaw) and Tasmania, but most days were spent at sea enjoying the more-than-ample facilities on board.
During this royal visit, Australians typically made up 50 per cent of all passengers with other dominating nationalities being predictably from the UK, USA, Canada and Europe, although there were 29 nations represented in total on our leg between Adelaide and Melbourne.
If you are planning to cruise this time next year, it would be wise to book early (read: now) and secure your preferred cabin type and sector. A ‘sector’ is a defined leg of a world cruise that is set aside for separate sale as a cruise on its own. Around Australia, these sectors can comprise anything from two to around 10 nights giving you the chance to experience anything from a ‘sampler’ to a decent cruise. In this writer’s opinion, two nights will leave you disappointed and when it came time for us to disembark after 10 days, we really could have easily sailed on for another 10 and enjoyed every minute.
Entertainment aboard, as you would expect, was plentiful and varied. Musical entertainment ranged from small troupes of jazz and classical artists in the bars and clubs like the Golden Lion pub, Carinthia Lounge and pool deck. But the main act was certainly the ship’s own nine-piece orchestra which backed up the singers and dancers in the stage shows performed in the Royal Court Theatre. Again, with a full ship, it is wise to sneak in a few minutes early to secure a seat as the venue regularly filled to its capacity of 1,100 (with a few stand-ups).
Otherwise, you can occupy yourself as we did with any number of amusements from trivia, cards, seminars and lectures, art classes, movies and fitness groups. Okay, we didn’t do the fitness, but you can.
Canyon Ranch provides the spa and treatment facilities aboard Queen Mary 2 and you can enjoy everything from simple massages and hydrotherapy baths, to saunas, chiropractic and acupuncture.
While families with children under 18 (or even 21) might be better served on some of the regular cruise ships, it still affords a great opportunity for family events, even if it is just a simple mother and son reunion such as ours.
The Queen Mary 2 is more than just a cruise experience, it’s a proper maritime experience that draws on 175 years of seafaring heritage and all that that entails. Bring your sequins, dance pumps and knitting needles for a dose of nostalgia that will leave you yearning for more. •
Photography by Cunard Line.
• Cunard Line: cunardline.com.au