The short list of beers included Budweiser, Corona, Heineken, Guinness Draught and Spitfire Real Ale for $5.50-$5.95. Only two wineries were represented on the room service list: Cunard Private Label and Wente Vineyards—$5.95 for 150ml, $9.95 for 250ml and $29.75 for a full bottle—but other labels were said to be available on request. Champagnes and sparkling wines included prosecco from Valdobbiadenne ($7.25 for 150ml and $35 for a full bottle), Delamotte brut NV ($12.75 and $59.50) and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and rosé ($17.50-$19 and $82-$95).
As with the ship’s bars, a 15 percent service charge was added to drinks ordered through in-room dining.
For those of us not parked in suites, there were four main dining options nightly. Although Queen Elizabeth does not have a large variety of dining venues, the diversity of food on offer was impressive. The lovely main dining room, Britannia Restaurant, had a menu with an ambitiously French bent, and though the food—from frogs legs to venison to fish curry—didn’t always live up to expectations, the variety on offer was surprising, with good options for vegetarians. Although the buffet Lido Restaurant was just average, each evening one corner of the venue was converted into one of four different ethnic menus, where we enjoyed pleasing food at a modest surcharge.
Queen Elizabeth’s alternative dining option, The Verandah, was excellent—a refined showcase for French cuisine with polished service and quiet surrounds. Our lunch and dinner here were among the best we’ve experienced at sea, well worth the a la carte surcharge.
But all was not perfect. The Britannia Restaurant suffered from a cacophony of noise and hustle-bustle, with uneven service from an under-trained wait staff. And the Lido Grill, an outdoor extension of the Lido buffet, was understaffed at peak hours. While these problems would not be unusual on a lower priced cruise ship, with Cunard positioning itself as a luxury cruise experience the line should deliver a higher, more consistent level of service.
Those staying in Britannia Club cabins were invited to dine in the Britannia Club dining room, at their leisure between 6:30 and 9 p.m. The menus appeared to be identical to that of the Britannia Restaurant, but the 84-seat Club dining room—located immediately next to the main dining room on Deck 2—was a quieter, more subdued space, and guests appeared to receive more personalized service. The Club was also open for breakfast and lunch daily.
Play Zone was designed for kids aged up to 6 years old, supervised by British registered nursery nurses and youth coordinators. There were Play Station 3 games, arts and crafts stations, toys, games and a private outdoor play area. Next door, the Zone was for older children and teens.
More than any other mainstream cruise line, a “class system” is still in effect aboard Cunard’s vessels. This anachronism dates to the early days of steamship travel, when guests of different cabin classes did not mingle together; the upper classes had their own dining rooms and entire decks of older ships might be off-limits to those in lower class, “steerage” cabins. On today’s Queen Elizabeth there are four “classes” of passengers, yet the vast majority of the ship is open to all.
Britannia Class represents the standard accommodations for Queen Elizabeth, in the usual assortment of Inside, Oceanview and Balcony cabins—in total they represent 84 percent of the ship’s 1034 cabins. We were comfortably lodged in a Balcony Cabin for our journey.
One step up is the Britannia Club level, 38 balcony cabins on Deck 8 that are essentially identical to balcony cabins on lower decks, but guests at the club level have a separate room adjoining the main dining room without set seating times (though sharing the same menu). Fares for Britannia Club cabins average about 40 percent higher than those for the least expensive balcony cabins—a steep up-charge for what is essentially just a more private and quiet main dining room.
Next level up is the Princess Grill category, which represent the entry-level suites. These start at 335 square feet (including balcony), and add in such extras as marble bathrooms with both tub and shower; guests here dine in a private restaurant on Deck 11 with an elevated menu. Top category is the Queens Grill suites, larger still, adding in butler service, nightly canapés and another private dining room on Deck 11. Both Princess Grill and Queens Grill share a lounge as well as a sun terrace on Deck 12 (where meals can be enjoyed when the weather suits).The newest member of the three-ship Cunard fleet, the Queen Elizabeth aims for a distinguished cruise experience glimmering with a touch of English royalty. Elegance is promised in Cunard literature, along with “spacious luxury and excellent service that attracts discerning travelers.” That kind of hyperbole is rampant in the travel industry, of course, but marketing push aside, the Cunard Line does indeed have a storied legacy to live up to. Although a number of the recreational pursuits were light, there was a great selection of activities. The entertainers aboard were excellent, and the main theatre was a classy venue for shows. Queen Elizabeth’s Internet Centre was located on Deck 1 and offered 21 Mac computers for checking email. While the equipment was good, we found access to be very clunky, with service not available for multi-hour periods. We didn’t find the attendant particularly knowledgeable about the service or the problems we had connecting; the venue was staffed two hours in the morning and 2½ hours in the afternoon on sea days, and 2 hours in the evening on port days. The pay-as-you-go rate for internet use (using the ship’s computer or our won laptop) was .75 cents per minute. Packages brought prices down: 120 minutes was a more-reasonable $47.95 (.40 cents per minute), for instance. Printing was charged at .50 cents per page. Next door, Connexions 1 was a learning facility with 19 Mac computers used for hands-on classes. Among the free options were 30-minute classes on iPads, iPods and iPhones and Tablets. “Next Step” worshops were $30 and included 60-minute sessions on Apple’s iPhoto (managing and editing images, creating books, calendars and slideshows), Adobe Photoshop Elements (basic repairs, effects, using layers), Apple’s iMovie. There was an advanced seminar called Using your iPad Efficiently, priced $10. All but one of the classes was offered only once, so it’s a good idea to check the schedule at the start of your cruise. Starting in 1840, Cunard was the first company to schedule regular trans-Atlantic crossings between Southampton, England and New York. Over the years the line established other seagoing firsts—the first ship to be lighted by electricity, the first “wireless” (radio) at sea, the first gym and health center, the first swimming pool, and more. In 1936 Cunard’s ocean liner the Queen Mary famously launched a new era in sea travel, and in 1940 the original Queen Elizabeth debuted as the largest passenger ship ever built (although this 83,650-ton Queen Elizabeth was destroyed by fire in 1972, it retained its title as the largest until 1996). At the end of WWII, Winston Churchill claimed the two ships—requisitioned by the British government to ferry 1.5 million troops around the world—had shortened the war in Europe by at least a year. There was also the legendary ocean liner QE2 launched in 1969—after 6 million miles the QE2 left the Cunard fleet in 2008; its ultimate fate is undecided. Acquired by Miami-based Carnival Corporation in 1998, the Cunard Line got a new lease on life with the arrival of the one-of-a-kind Queen Mary 2, in 2004—at the time the largest, tallest and most expensive ever built. This was followed in 2007 by Queen Victoria, and in 2010 a new incarnation of Queen Elizabeth went to sea, a 90,400-ton, 2068-passenger vessel that is virtually identical in size and layout to Queen Victoria—both considerably smaller than Queen Mary 2. The main differences between the younger “siblings” are in décor, a few venue name changes, and Lizzie boasts an additional 39 cabins. The Queen Mary 2, on the other hand, remains an outlier—not only for Cunard but for the industry as a whole; it’s a true ocean liner designed for speedy trans-Atlantic crossings, much like her predecessors in the Cunard Line. The new Queen Elizabeth gets around: In her first year alone, the vessel visited 108 different destinations. Upcoming sailings navigate Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia and the South Pacific, many of them starting or ending at Cunard’s home port, Southampton (70 miles southwest of London’s Heathrow Airport); itineraries primarily encompasses cruises longer than a week. With expectations high and our finest duds carefully packed, we boarded Queen Elizabeth with heightened anticipation. Managed by Steiner Leisure, the major player in cruise ship spas, the Royal Spa was properly elegant and subdued and featured a full-service salon. The ship’s gym was accessed through the spa, as was the Royal Bath House, a surcharge facility within the spa. Massages ranged from a back, neck and shoulder ($69 for 25 minutes, $109 for 50 minutes) to Swedish massage ($119 for 50 minutes) to sports or bamboo massage ($129 for 50 minutes, $179 for 75 minutes); the Royal Spa massage for two was $259 for 50 minutes, $355 for 75 minutes. Several Ayurvedic treatments were available, including Shirodhara ($99 for 25 minutes), Shirobhyanga massage ($130 for 50 minutes) or Chakra Rasul ($175 for 50 minutes). Fifty-minute facials included Elemis Skin Specific, Tri-Enzyme Resurfacing, Oxydermal, and Pro-Collagen Quartz Lift ($109 to $145). Men’s facials, barbering and grooming were available, along with hair, nail and waxing services for women. A 12.5 percent gratuity was added to the price of all treatments. The Royal Bath House was an extra-charge facility located within the spa, which could be accessed by the day or with a pass for the full voyage. The bathhouse included a thermal suite with heated ceramic loungers, sauna and steam grottos, a relaxation area, and an indoor hydrotherapy pool. The gym was stocked with the latest equipment, with treadmills, bikes, bench presses, cross-trainers by TechnoGym, along with rowing machines, weights, and more. In the aerobics room there were stretching and legs, bums and tums sessions at no charge, and available for $12 were Fab Abs and Pilates classes (there were also bikes for spinning, but no sessions scheduled on our cruise). Named for the RMS Carinthia, a beloved Cunard liner launched in 1925, this was the ship’s tea and coffee emporium, a classy space with overstuffed couches, potted orchids and art deco embellishments. In this age of java joints on every street corner we were a little surprised that Café Carinthia didn’t open until 7 a.m., when we found it struggling to wipe the sleep from its eyes (on many cruise ships the coffee venue is open 24 hours). A light menu was available through the day. In the mornings, this included some of the ship’s pastries, while from 12 noon till 2:30 p.m. there was a quiche Lorraine tartlet with mesclun salad, shrimp salad served on rye with roasted peppers and olives, smoked salmon in a lemon pepper bap, etc. At teatime (3 to 5 p.m.), a strawberry tartlet, black and white profiteroles, and Alsacian apple tart were offered. There was no additional charge for these items. The tea selection was from Jacksons of Piccadilly, tea emporium started in 1815 and now focused on Fairtrade registered growers around the world. Eleven options were availed, including Ceylon Earl Grey, Kenyan, Assam, Chinese white tea silver tips, and Sencha green tea, available infused with, mint, lemon, lime or elderflower. Prices were $2.50-$2.75, served with proper china and a teapot, with a biscuit (no tea bags!). The coffee selection included Americano, espresso, cappuccino, mocha, and latte (available with various syrups). Prices ranged $2.75-$4.25 for the regular size to $3.75-$5.25 for large. Iced iterations were available ($3-$4.50), along with hot chocolate, which could be spiked with Amaretto, Frangelico, Bailey’s or Grand Marnier ($7.25). Non-suite Balcony Cabins represent slightly more than half the accommodations on Queen Elizabeth, so this is the yardstick by which we’ll judge the ship. Our cabin was attractively appointed with plush bedding and great lighting, but it was not what we would call “luxury” in most other respects. The cabin measured 192 square feet inside (Cunard says Balcony Cabins start at 228 square feet, but this figure includes the balcony). While we’ve definitely stayed in smaller cabins on mainstream cruise lines, the cabins of true luxury lines are larger: The smallest cabins on the ships of Silversea are 240 square feet (not including balcony); the smallest of Seabourn Cruises’ cabins are 277 square feet (admittedly, their cruises are also quite a bit more expensive than those of Cunard Line). But size aside, we were generally happy with our quarters. Waiting for us in our cabin when we checked in was a bottle of Pol Acker sparkling wine, a French blanc de blanc we’d never heard of. While the wine is standard for all guests, there was also a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, gifted by our travel agent. **Bedroom** Tastefully appointed, the bedroom area of our cabin yielded no surprises, but the linens wrapping our mattress were upgraded, with a plush pillowtop concealing most of the seam between the two single mattresses, and a cushy duvet on top. The sleeping arrangements were very comfortable. We loved having ample light for reading in bed. Daylight from the balcony opening was well concealed behind a sheer, a blackout liner, and a decorative fabric curtain. **Bathroom** The compact bathroom for our cabin was interchangeable with bathrooms for most other mainstream cruise lines—that is, there was nothing special about it. The small shower (only) measured 30 inches wide and 27 inches deep, at its maximum, with a thin synthetic curtain that could be pulled around—not exactly a generous cubicle for showering. Towels were inconsistently replaced by our cabin steward, even when they were hung up to dry; two pools towels were left for us under the sink. The inclusion of Gilchrist & Soames amenities—shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body lotion—and a jar of cotton swabs were the only “extras” beyond what we usually find in typical cruise ship bathrooms. In all, we were disappointed that the bathroom was no better than ordinary. **Features** One of the best features of our cabin was abundant lighting. There were two main systems: One covered three ceiling lights in the entry hallway, a light on the wall opposite the bed and a light at the balcony door; the second illuminated two ceiling lights above the bed pillows. Both of these could be turned on at the cabin entry as well as switches on both sides of the bed. There were also three reading lights—two at the bed on nightstands and one next to the couch—plus an additional pair of lights over the desk. The TV in our room was a 22-inch Sharp monitor that pivoted, allowing decent viewing from the couch or bed pillows. The selection of entertainment was diverse. There were three channels dedicated to English-language movies—about 40 in all, each played on one or two days of the cruise, several times in a row (most of the films were from the previous year, with a few older classics thrown in the mix). There were also German-, Spanish- and French-language movies on other channels. One channel each was dedicated to reruns of popular UK and US television programs, along with the major news and sports networks, plus 10 music channels. At the desk were several outlets for different plugs, including two US. An additional plug in the bathroom, for “shavers only,” could be switched for either 120 or 230 volt. Under each bed was an under-dresser for storing clothes. There were three individual closets at the cabin entry—two measured slightly over 22 inches, the third was 25 inches wide. In the closets was a pair of bathrobes, slippers, and a safe. The cabin minibar fridge was stocked with Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and ginger ale ($2.65 each), Cunard-brand water, still or sparkling at $3.95 per 1.5 liter. The latter could be purchased in bulk—six for the price of five. Spirits and other drinks could be supplied through our cabin steward. The balcony measured about 54 square feet, which was sufficient for two chairs and a small table that we could use—just barely—for a simple meal. The front of our balcony was glass with a railing; some cabins had balconies with metal rather than glass fronting the space. Queen Elizabeth’s main dining room is one classy-looking venue, a two-story affair that straddles decks 2 and 3 aft. Awash in polished woods, swooping curves and art deco angles, the restaurant should be a showcase for upscale cuisine in a soothing environment. Alas, that was not what we found. The food, somewhat ambitious and with a French accent, was okay, but it could have been better. But the real problem was the service and ambience. The first night of our cruise, meal service was disorganized, our waiter inattentive to detail, and the noisy bustle of diners and wait staff settling into their routines was clamorous; buckets of cleaning products sat a few feet from our table. On our second night here, our waiter was less distracted, but the noise level was still loud, capped off by a collision at the kitchen entrance that sent plates and food flying (at least once per meal there was the sound of crashing plates from somewhere). At breakfast, which was slow to arrive, we were asked if we wanted toast and, since we’d ordered French toast, we passed. When our French toast was delivered, we were asked again—white or wheat? Inattention to details like these was a recurring issue. There were two seatings nightly in the Britannia Restaurant, at 6 and 8:30 p.m., while next door open seating was provided in the Brittania Club, but only for those in that cabin category. A sign said there were no tables for two available in the main dining room, but we spotted several (no doubt in high demand). Breakfast and lunch were served daily. Each evening our first course was hit-and-miss. A bowl of beef consommé with barley and vegetables was delivered lukewarm. A salad of spinach, citrus, pecans and red onion had spry greens (a strong point throughout), but was delivered undressed. When we asked for dressing only one option was brought over—the menu had offered a choice—and then ladled on in excess (a recurring problem). Roasted butternut squash topped with apple and pecan salad and micro greens was beautifully presented, but the dish was bland—it needed spark. But avocado soup with salmon was silky and rich—a satisfying cold starter. Classic escargots à la Bourguignonne were properly redolent with garlic and butter. Other items on the appetizer menu included crispy Thai vegetable spring roll, shrimp and salmon cakes, frogs’ legs Provençale, wild mushroom and goat cheese risotto, and cheddar cheese soup. Entrées were a little more consistent, including a grilled sirloin, cooked right to order and served with hunky fried potatoes. On formal night a smallish broiled lobster tail was served with sesame-crusted fried shrimp and rich Newburg sauce, a tasty treat. There was a light Mediterranean vegetable tarte tatin, topped with a goat cheese bavarois—a nice find for vegetarians. But a fettucini with salmon was disappointing: Some of the pasta was dried out, as though the noodles had been sitting under a heat lamp. And chicken Kiev was distinctly unambitious, and we weren’t much impressed by the duck à l’orange. Other entrées included a free-range, mushroom-stuffed guinea fowl, braised venison, lamb shanks with root vegetables, and a baked salmon fillet and wild mushroom Wellington. Each night there were at least two appetizers and two entrées suited for vegetarians, and “spa” selections were available nightly. Desserts were generally decadent and fairly varied. We enjoyed the Bacardi Limon crème brûlée, a chocolate marquise, and a pavlova topped with fresh strawberries. And when our sweet tooth was sated the cheese plate was worth trying, with three selections that changed nightly, served with a few walnuts, dried apricots and a roll. Breakfasts were solid, with a range of cold and hot items. This included juices, a fruit smoothie of the day, sliced melon, a mixed fruit salad and compote of stewed fruits; regular and low-fat yogurts were offered, along with assorted cold cuts and cheeses. Cereals included packaged options, Swiss muesli, hot oatmeal and Cream of Wheat; baked goods were tasty (Danish, croissants, banana bread) and there were pancakes (blueberry or banana available), waffles and French toast. Eggs could be prepared to order (with low cholesterol available), along with omelets to order, eggs benedict, grilled Scottish kippers and poached haddock, with side orders of bacon (English or “streaky”), chicken sausages, Cumberland sausage, mushrooms, baked beans and grilled tomatoes. One complaint: The first morning our coffee was both weak and lukewarm, but on request it was quickly replaced with a hotter, slightly stronger batch. The mood at lunch was more relaxed and quiet, and service was much better (the room was less than half full). A salad of garden greens was pleasing, perky with horseradish and dill flavors. Cold cranberry soup was rich with yogurt, not too sweet (or sour). For entrées we tried the barramundi and found it to be tough and fishy-tasting; a dish of beef and wine ravioli was pretty boring. A broccoli quiche was just okay. Other entrées included gnocchi with confit of duck and shiitake mushrooms, a fish curry and vegetable moussaka. Dessert of crème caramel was fine, while mud pie—made with chocolate mousse—was only fair; a more bittersweet flavor and a silkier texture would have been welcome. This was our go-to spot for pre-prandial imbibing. The Commodore Club sprawled across the bow of the ship at Deck 11, creating an observation lounge that was ideal for watching the world go by, or the sun settling in for the night. It also had the most extensive cocktail list on board. However, at most hours Commodore Club suffered from very slow service. Over the course of multiple visits we found the venue either understaffed or the staff present to be poorly utilized staff. On one visit we waited more than 15 minutes for the cocktail waitress to get to our table—does Cunard realize they’re leaving money on table with all the drink orders not taken? Fortunately, when they eventually arrive, the drinks are very good. Hot canapés were served at cocktail hour. There wasn’t a lot of heart to them, but the odd good nibble was proffered. The Admiral’s Lounge is a small area off to the starboard side of Commodore Club. While typically seating only 10, it was used primarily for lectures and private cocktail parties (and as overflow one evening when all the tables were taken at Commodore Club). In the hallways outside the lounge were handsome models of the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. Immediately next to the Admiral’s Lounge is Churchill’s Cigar Lounge, a small room dedicated to cigar and pipe smokers, with black and white photos of Sir Winston Churchill disembarking the Queen Mary in 1943. The humidor offered a selection of cigars including Hoyo de Monterrey, Montecristo (and Montecristo 1 and 2), Ednundo and Petit Ednundo, Davidoff Soecial T and Short Perfecto, and the Cuban Hopmann Coronas Major. There was a small selection of port, as well. The Pavilion Pool was protected from the wind but still fairly open for sunning. There were two small Jacuzzi tubs and a pair of shower stalls for rinsing off, and in addition to sun loungers, sheltered outdoor furniture was available. A second pool area, the Lido Pool, was a popular spot for eating, sunning and swimming. There were two Jacuzzi tubs, a couple shower stalls and a good quantity of loungers. The pool depth was 4-feet, 9-inches at one end, 6-feet, 8-inches at the other. More than perhaps any other cruise line we’ve traveled with, Cunard believes in a dress code, and Queen Elizabeth is a dressy ship. While it’s not necessary to invest in a wardrobe overhaul to embark, many passengers use a Cunard cruise as an opportunity to show off their fanciest finery. The rules sound imposing, but after a day or two we felt very much at home. During the day, casual dress was encouraged, but bathrobes and bathing suits were “not suitable” for indoor public areas. After 6 p.m., evening attire fell into one of three categories, carefully detailed in ship literature before and during the voyage. On our seven-night cruise, two nights were designated as Elegant Casual: Jacket, no tie required for gentlemen; dress, skirt or trousers for ladies; no shorts or jeans. Two nights were Semi-Formal: Jacket and tie for gentlemen; cocktail dress or trouser suit for ladies. On the three Formal nights, black tie or formal dark suit was required for gentlemen, evening dress or other formal attire for ladies (gentlemen’s formal wear was available for hire or purchase onboard the ship). Note that the dress code for the Lido Restaurant at dinner was Elegant Casual nightly, for those who didn’t care to put on the dog on Semi-Formal or Formal nights. Additionally, on each Formal Night a themed ball was scheduled, and themed attire was encouraged (though not required). The first of these was the Cunard Ball, with black and white dress and featuring the “Officer’s Gavotte” dance in the ballroom; the second was the London Ball, when appropriately decorated hats (with feathers for ladies) were suggested. Other themed nights on Queen Elizabeth included the Buccaneer Ball, the Elizabethan Ball, the Venetian Masked Ball, and the Starlight Ball. These sounded intimidating before we boarded, but the festivities were easy to enjoy from the sidelines (only a small percentage of the attendees wore themed attire). On most other cruise lines dress codes aren’t strictly enforced—not so on Queen Elizabeth. One gloriously sunny afternoon we were milling about the Lido Restaurant as it was opening for the evening; a few minutes after 6:00, managers gently reminded three separate men that shorts were not permitted after 6 p.m. Our advice: Don’t get stressed out with the dress code, but pack accordingly and then focus on enjoying the overall experience. _**Editor’s Note**: In March 2013, after our voyage, Cunard announced that it was loosening its dress code for its cruises going forward. Formal evenings remain, requiring “dinner jacket, tuxedo or dark suit with tie for gentlemen; evening or cocktail dress for ladies.” Other nights are now designated as Informal—"jacket required, tie optional for gentlemen; cocktail dress, stylish separates or equivalent for ladies."_ We did not stay in the rest of these cabins, but we have summaries here provided by Cunard Line. Note that any photos below may be provided directly by the cruise line and not our reviewer. **Inside** _Our Standard staterooms are anything but ordinary. The smallest is more like a “deluxe” guestroom on other cruise ships. And they’re beautifully decorated with fine prints on the walls, soft colours on the sofas and coverlets and turndown service when it’s time to retire. Guests dine in the Britannia Restaurant with a choice of an early or late sitting._ **Oceanview** _At any time of the day your luxury stateroom provides a welcome enclave of comfort and good taste. Wrap yourself in the soft bathrobe, ease into your slippers, then settle down to a film on your TV. Our turndown service sets the tone for a comfortable night’s sleep. Guests dine at a reserved table for either early or late dining in the Britannia Restaurant._ **Club Balcony** _Cherish the relaxing lounge area of your private balcony stateroom with direct access to the ocean breeze. Comfortable and stylish, your luxury Britannia Club Balcony stateroom shall be your inviting home from home throughout your memorable voyage. Guests in Britannia Club Balcony staterooms dine in the intimate Britannia Club restaurant._ **Princess Grill Suites** _For guests in our luxurious Princess Grill Suites, the delights of our Grills Experience are more pronounced than ever before. Your lavish suite occupies up to 513 square feet, with flourishes that include personalised stationery, a Bon Voyage bottle of wine, fresh fruit and concierge service. Guests dine at a reserved table in the single seating Princess Grill Restaurant._ **Queens Grill Suites** _Queens Grill takes everything that is so wonderfully indulgent about our Grills Experience and raises it to exalted new heights. Luxuriate in your own secluded haven of up to approximately 2,131 square feet featuring marble bathrooms and whirlpool baths. Guests dine at a reserved table in the single seating Queens Grill Restaurant._ The buffet restaurant took up most of the aft portion of Deck 9, and it was a busy spot, especially at breakfast. Fortunately we didn’t have too much trouble finding a table in the morning. Although the buffet offered a relatively good spread we found variety somewhat lacking from one day to the next—the four or five choices of prepared salads, for instance, did not change during our entire cruise. Just outside the main seating area on the outdoor aft deck was the Lido Grill, open for lunch daily. But the two times we visited we found just one person staffing the grill, and a line for burgers. The cook was doing his best to keep up, but a second person should have been assigned, particularly since the vats of condiments (lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.) were often virtually empty. Another frustration, back inside: Almost daily, the stack of plates marked “cold plates” was filled with plates that were warm or hot—yep, just what we like to load our salad greens onto! At breakfast we found a fairly predictable selection, with a few items added that catered to the English crowd. Cereals included Kellogg’s brand boxes and a few healthy choices, along with hot oatmeal. There was a good range of whole fruits—apples, pears, plums, peaches, oranges, kiwi, grapes and banana, along with sliced pineapple, grapefruit, melons, and strawberries. There were yogurts—flavored or plain—and we looked forward to fruit smoothies, freshly prepared each morning (a different flavor daily, such as watermelon, strawberry and banana). There was lox with bagels, onions, tomato, capers, plus various cold cuts and cheeses with crackers and walnuts. Various breads and pastries were available, along with small jars of Wilkin & Sons preserve—raspberry, strawberry, apricot, orange marmalade. Hot items included a pancake and waffle station (in addition to maple syrup there was chocolate and banana-butterscotch topping) and an omelet station. Sides included bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns, baked beans—all the makings for a traditional English breakfast. At lunch there was a modest salad bar including an unchanging array of five or six prepared salads, and we found a soup of the day—roasted shallot and butternut squash soup, cream of broccoli, stilton and spring onions, tomato soup. There was a pizza station, but the pies lacked spark and flavor. The carvery had a different selection daily, such as lemon and garlic chicken, prime rib and beef top round. Entrées included veal scaloppini with wild mushroom sauce, chicken schnitzel, vegetable moussaka, fillet of haddock, Somerset pork cider pot and a mixed vegetable quiche. Among the side dishes were steamed pesto new potatoes, cauliflower polonaise, steamed vegetables, creamed spinach with pine nuts, and pulao rice. The daily selection of desserts features puddings, cakes and cookies, and there was an ice cream station with vanilla and chocolate soft serve ice cream and cones. At dinner each night there was a theme buffet. This included nights dedicated to Italian, Scandinavian, American, English Carvery and Oriental. On the final night of the cruise there was a beautifully presented spread of seafood that came out, including prawns, mussels, salmon, tuna, fresh mahi mahi and cod, offered with various sauces. Also of note each evening was that one corner of the seating area each night was transformed into a specialty restaurant with a modest cover charge. The ship’s standard beer and wine list was available, along with cocktails from the Garden Lounge and Lido Bar, on either end of the restaurant. A station was set up for drinks on both sides of the buffet, with coffee, decaf, and about a dozen teas from Twinings available. Iced tea, cranberry juice cocktail and, in the morning, orange drink were available; we also noted Horlicks powder for malted milk. First things first: Queen Elizabeth is one of the most beautifully designed cruise ships we’ve had the pleasure of sailing. Structurally, the vessel has a lot in common with Signature Class ships built for Holland America—both Nieuw Amsterdam and Eurodam share the same hull design. But from there, physical similarities end, and the ship’s lavishly detailed art deco interior spaces are a loving tribute to 1930s design fads from when the original Queen Elizabeth first sailed. The main dining room, the Britannia Restaurant, is a stunner; the lobby atrium, flush with polished wood, gleams warmly. These and other common areas of the ship were transporting, as befits a vessel with a direct connection to royalty (HM The Queen named this ship in Southampton in 2010, as she did the QE2 in 1967; at the age of 12, Princess Elizabeth also attended the naming of the original Queen Elizabeth in 1938).
But soon after embarkation, a nagging thought emerged: Was this Queen Elizabeth providing a luxury cruise experience, as Cunard advertises, or was that level of service and amenities limited only to those who signed up for the pricey Princess Grill or Queens Grill suites? While those guests had their private dining room and private sun deck, suites represent just 12 percent of the ship’s accommodations. Most of us were lodged in simpler digs and, from our perspective, we disembarked feeling that Cunard’s luxury angle was oversold, particularly when it came to service, which was sometimes clunky or nonexistent. Some crewmembers went overboard adopting a stiff-upper-lip attitude and, frankly, overly prim formalities aren’t a turn-on for us (except from a bemused distance). Fortunately, our fellow cruisers—who were primarily British—were easy-going and not condescending at all; we felt quite at home.
Set on Deck 10, this was effectively the ship’s disco. On some evenings there was recorded ballroom music for dancing early, then the DJ would emerge at 9:30 p.m. or after to shake our grove things, usually with a different theme nightly (50s and 60s Night, 80s Night, etc.). On our voyage we didn’t see many guests using the disco most nights.
Named after the QE2’s original Yacht Club, note the silver Asprey’s yacht from the QE2 as well.
We were pleasantly surprised by this “alternative dining” venue. These days, it’s not unusual for cruises to devote a section of their buffet to a surcharge restaurant at night. But often these seem like little more than the buffet with window dressing, with minimal improvement on food or ambience. But Queen Elizabeth got it right, with not one but four alternating restaurants serving distinct meals for two or three nights in a row.
There’s Asado, with grilled meats and side dishes served South American style. Jasmine offered a pan-Asian menu, and Indian Bistro offered a panoply of curries. The fourth option, Aztec, with Mexican fare, wasn't provided on our cruise (but usually is on cruises longer than a week). Menus were short, but portions were huge, and with a modest cover charge of $10 we found all of them to be a good value, the setting relaxed and not crowded.
For Asado, an appetizer combo delivered a spicy beef empanada, coriander and coconut crab cake, and ceviche of lobster and halibut. For mains we were invited to order two items from either the rotisserie—pulled pork marinated in chili paste and Argentinean spices or chimichurri chicken marinated in olive oil and garlic—or the grill. The latter option included rump of lamb in oregano, garlic and ancho chilies, beef short rib marinated in beer and lemon, a chicken skewer, grilled chorizo sausage, or prawns marinated in Serrano chili and citrus zest. There wasn’t one of the four we tried that we didn’t like. With by side dishes (avocado and sweet potato fritters were fabulous), and dessert (chocolate banana cheesecake, caramel flan or a donut with lime-pineapple-coconut ice cream), we were stuffed when we left and still had food on our plates.
We returned the following night for Jasmine, and again, food was plentiful. The meal started with a pot of jasmine tea, with an hourglass-style timer. A tasting platter came with Korean barbecue pork spare ribs, shrimp toast, a chicken lollipop coated in sesame seeds, California style maki rolls, and wakame, pickled ginger and sour cucumber. There was a choice of two soups: Vietnamese phở, or Thai tom kha gai with crab, chicken and coconut milk—both were flavorful and spicy, but salt overwhelmed the tom kha gai. Dim sum was delivered—fried shumai and seafood Rangoon—and then off to our choice of one of three entrées: crispy duck with pancake, Mandarin-style crispy chili beef, and kropeck-crusted shrimp with sweet and sour sauce. Again, there wasn’t one we didn’t like, but the shrimp was most tantalizing. Dessert was another combo plate—a glass of mango lassi, coconut-caramel cheesecake, and a dish new to us called Wattalapam, a cinnamon and cashew caramel custard which seemed like a variation on Mexican flan.
On a roll, we signed up for Indian Bistro, and again it reached well beyond the typical cruise menu. We'd caution that spices weren’t particularly watered down for non-Indian palates. Starters to share included tandoori chicken, lasoon wali macchli (garlic fried sole in yogurt and ginger), onion bhajis (fritters), sheikh kebab (minced lamb skewers) and aloo chana chaat. The latter was the winner here—greens, potatoes and chick peas with tamarind, dates and pomegranate. The quantity of food that followed was truly overwhelming. Sides of dal, aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower) and makai saagwalla (corn and spinach), mains like Malabar fish and shrimp curry, lamb Jalfrezi and chicken tikka masala, with naan bread and basmati rice. Desserts were equally memorable: fried bread pudding with cardamom, pistachio, and saffron-spiked condensed milk; rice and coconut pudding served atop pineapple carpaccio; and a cappuccino crème brûlée.
There’s also Aztec, which wasn’t offered on our cruise, but we hope to try in the future. The Mexican menu featured starters of guacamole and chips, tamales, chile relleno and tacquitos, with entrées ranging from chicken with pecan-prune mole, a port and chorizo skewer, crepes with shrimp, and beef tenderloin.
Vegetarians should note that, at all four of the options, entrées were strictly meat, chicken or seafood based. But there were plenty of starters that were vegetarian, and we suspect a fairly diverse meat-free dinner could be composed on request.
In addition to the ship’s standard wine and cocktail list, there were themed drinks and wine to accompany each of the menus. And instead of an amuse-bouche a small cocktail sample was offered at the start of the meal. At Asado it was a mini caiprinha—cachaça, lime and passion fruit puree. With Jasmine, we enjoyed a sake taster.
Each venue was open for only two or three nights—the schedule was posted in the Lido Restaurant. While the space seated only a few dozen, it wasn't full on any night we ate here, though reservations are still advised.
Complimentary washers and dryers were available on all of the decks with cabins, except Deck 1. Each had an ironing board and iron, and laundry detergent packets were provided. The machines got a real workout during our cruise, and in the laundry room on our deck two of the three dryers and one of the three washers were out of order. Full laundry and dry cleaning services were also available.
Deck 11 forward served as the Games Deck, and we found a nifty collection of outdoor activities with an English bent. There was Short Mat Bowling (like lawn bowling), Croquet and Paddle Tennis. There were instructions for each, and tournaments were announced in the Daily Programme.
There was also an informal and inviting Card Room. Beginning and intermediate Bridge lessons were offered on the first full day of the cruise, and unhosted Social Bridge sessions were scheduled on remaining days. There were also several Scrabble box sets available for play (along with an Oxford English dictionary).
Our balcony cabin measured 192 square feet inside (when comparing cruise lines note that Cunard’s advertised cabin sizes include the balcony square footage; most others do not). While this size was hardly cramped for two guests, by comparison, starting sizes for standard cabins on the ships of Seabourn and Silversea cruise lines are almost 50 percent larger. The bathroom was particularly unimpressive. Nonetheless our Queen Elizabeth cabin was attractively appointed, with more lighting and décor than is typical on mainstream cruise lines; fine bedding and quality bath products were another plus.
Meals should have been a standout on Queen Elizabeth, but they weren’t consistent. For all its sumptuous design, the Britannia Restaurant, was the biggest disappointment, with spotty service and middling food, especially at dinner, which was also noisy. The Lido Restaurant, the ship’s buffet, was just average. But lunch and dinner at The Verandah, the ship’s most upscale venue, was excellent and the wait staff shined. We think The Verandah is one of the best specialty restaurants at sea, well worth the surcharge. And the corner of the Lido that was converted into one of four different ethnic venues nightly was a very appealing alternative to the Britannia, also involving only a modest up-charge.
There were lots of smaller attributes to Queen Elizabeth we appreciated, such as the near absence of printed literature plugging the spa, art sales and other marketing that typically litters our cabin mailbox on other ships. There were none of those annoying art auctions to trip over, and ship photographers were not overly aggressive about making their quota for the day. We loved the well-stocked library, and the ship’s retail outlets had a much broader range of wares than most of the mainstream cruise lines. The shows in the Royal Court Theatre were well executed, and the live music percolating through various areas of the ship was welcome. And the daily list of activities was noteworthy: From white glove tea service to bridge lessons, and ballroom dance class to watercolor art lessons, there was plenty to keep us occupied while at sea.
This splendid, two-story ballroom served a number of purposes during our cruise. Chief among them was dancing, of course—nightly and with a live orchestra. Other entertainments were scheduled here, along with afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea was served here from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., daily except embarkation day. The sandwiches were unexceptional, but the scones, warm from the oven and topped with strawberry jam and clotted cream, were terrific. The event was very popular—rather than wait in line we found it best to arrive towards the end of the hour as tables started to open up. (Afternoon tea was also offered at the Lido Restaurant, though we much preferred the ambience at the Queens Room.)
Nightly music offerings included Big Band Concerts, with a smooth, polished 13-piece band, along with Ballroom and Latin dancing. There was dozens of couples on board with all the right moves, including a few that were knocks-outs. Tip: If you’re not fleet on your feet (as we aren’t) don’t miss the ballroom dance lessons offered early in the cruise itinerary. Wish we’d attended.
On Formal Nights a themed ball was scheduled for the Queens Room, and themed attire was encouraged (though not required). The first of these was the Cunard Ball, with black and white dress; the second was the London Ball, when appropriately decorated hats (with feathers for ladies) were suggested. Other themed nights on Queen Elizabeth included the Buccaneer Ball, the Elizabethan Ball, the Venetian Masked Ball, and the Starlight Ball.
On one sea day, a classical piano concert was held here—Rachmaninoff, Chopin and the like were featured.
We felt safe and secure aboard the Queen Elizabeth, and sanitation practices seemed well in order. The Muster Drill was conducted in an orderly, efficient manner. We were required to bring life vests from our cabin, for instructions in wearing them. Our room keys were not scanned, and names were not taken during a roll call.
The Medical Centre was located on Deck A (forward) and a doctor was available for routine, non-emergency consultations. Hours were generally 8 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. daily. Seasickness tablets were available at the Purser’s Desk.
Smoking was not allowed in any public areas except for the Churchill’s Cigar Lounge (located next door to the Commodore Club) and in designated areas of the open decks. Smoking was not permitted in the casino. Smoking was allowed on cabin balconies.
The Promenade Deck was the one deck that circuited the entire ship. Jogging and power walks were permitted only from 8 a.m, to 8 p.m. (three laps equaled 0.9 mile). There were a deck chairs lining the corridor at midship. Deck 10 was the uppermost deck straddling the ship’s mid-section. There were plentiful loungers, four shuffleboard courts, and the Ping Pong tables were much in use. There was also a netted area for golf practice.
Styled after the original Queen Elizabeth’s Verandah Grill, a favorite of the cruising elite in the 30s, this is the modern-day vessel’s top dining room. Seating only about 60, with a surcharge for dinner and (on sea days) lunch, the menu focuses on French cuisine. Not only was the food exceptional, but service was spot on—proper and deferential, but not stuffy or condescending. The room is plush and inviting, with lots of space between tables, allowing for quiet, intimate meals. The wine list is heady, but the sommelier was knowledgeable, and didn’t push us towards pricier wines (of which there were many).
This is truly Queen Elizabeth’s special occasion spot, but—relative to specialty dining on other ships—we found the charge fair. Instead of a set price for the entire meal, items are priced a la carte. At dinner, appetizers were $6-$7, entrées $17-$18, desserts $6-$7—so budget about $30 for dinner, not including drinks or tip. At lunch, appetizers were $5-$7, entrées $11-$12. Only quibble: We experienced a fair amount of engine vibration here at lunch.
For dinner there was a choice of cold and hot appetizers, every one of them mouth-watering. There was a lobster and shellfish salad, nuzzled against avocado and tomato jelly. For another, a lump of crab bathed in chilled asparagus and feta cream, lathered in crustacean foam. We loved the presentation of the homemade ravioli, plumped with fresh peas and parmigiano reggiano set against a pair of fried quail eggs encrusted with Guérande salt and floating in watercress jus—packed with flavor and not overly rich.
Hearty entrées included a rack of lamb for two, roasted in a salt crust dough and served with shallot potato cake and “stuffed” courgette. Beef fillet was accompanied by morels, baby vegetables and black truffle. The filet of sea bass was baked with a wild mushroom crust, topped with a dollop of onion-fennel marmalade, and floating on a ying-and-yang sea of sorrel sauce and chicken jus.
Perkiest dessert, in taste and presentation, was lemon tart, topped with peaks of braised meringue; the winged creature to its side was an almond wafer with a raspberry sorbet torso. We also liked the dark chocolate parfait filled with caramelized praline and topped with espresso semifreddo. Vanilla soufflé was infused with Edmond Briottet peach liqueur, and the cheese trolley was laden with fine options from England and France, followed close by a trolley with after-dinner drinks—aged rums and cognacs.
Again at lunch the appetizers sparkled, including a chilled green apple and cucumber soup with lobster salpicon and blackberry sorbet. Also lovely to look at (and eat) was the scallop mousse framed with chunks of langoustine and served atop of a green bean risotto. For mains, the supreme of guinea fowl was accompanied by a potato parcel, the fillet of beef was served with an orange-cognac sauce and parmesan bistro fries, and the roast rack of pork—Noir de Bigorre—perched atop puy lentils and Morteau sausage.
In addition to the standard cocktail selection, the Verandah had the most extensive wine list, a collection notable for its breadth of both Old World and newer wineries from more than 15 countries, with an emphasis on France. Despite some headier selections (Château Lafite-Rothschild First Growth—$895 for 1981, $1650 for 1999), the bulk of the list was below $100. The menu also feature the “Collection de Rothschild,” the ship’s selection from the Bordeaux and New World vineyards of the storied winemaking family, including Opus One from Napa, Caro in Argentina, plus Cunard-label wines produced by Rothschild and available by the glass. Five different wine flights—three glasses each and perfect to accompany a number of the dishes—were available for $25-$45.
The Verandah was open nightly, and on sea days for lunch. Reservations were essential, but we found plenty of openings available on the first day of our cruise.
What stuck with us well after we returned home was the accessible elegance of the Queen Elizabeth. The vast majority of passengers dressed to the nines for Formal (and even Semi-Formal) nights, and we enjoyed doing our best to keep up. While the ship’s British lineage is often experienced through an American veneer—Cunard is owned by Carnival Corp. and the ship’s tender is the Yankee dollar—for the average American, the Queen Elizabeth won’t feel like a mass-market experience. It’s a fine option for anyone who loves the monarchy and all things English; couples who want a showcase for their evening wear or to show off their (ballroom) dance moves will also feel right at home.
With itineraries that reach for the four corners of the globe, Queen Elizabeth is a ship we look forward to boarding on a future cruise—but we’ll hope that the service issues we encountered on this voyage will have been smoothed out.
Editor’s Note: In March 2013, after our voyage, Cunard announced that it was loosening its dress code for its cruises going forward. Formal evenings remain, requiring “dinner jacket, tuxedo or dark suit with tie for gentlemen; evening or cocktail dress for ladies.” Other nights are now designated as Informal—"jacket required, tie optional for gentlemen; cocktail dress, stylish separates or equivalent for ladies."
Editor’s Note: In May 2014, Queen Elizabeth entered dry dock for its first refurbishment. According to Travel Weekly changes include nine new single cabins occupying part of the space dedicated to the casino, 32-inch flat screens, and other enhancements.
A hotel and dining service charge is added to the checkout bill for all guests, divided between waitstaff, cabin stewards, buffet stewards and others. The amount is $11 per day, per guest (including children); for those staying in Grill accommodations the service charge is $13 per day, per guest. Additionally, a 15-percent gratuity is automatically added to every drink order, including minibar purchases.
The ship’s alcohol policies are somewhat vague, and leeway seems to be granted to individual embarkation ports. Cunard states: “There is no restriction to the amount of that can be carried onboard.” But the line also warns that Cunard “reserves the right to remove alcohol at the gangway should the need arise. It is not our intention to invoke this policy as a matter of course and we will only implement on occasions where we consider it likely that the health, comfort, safety and enjoyment of guests may otherwise be compromised. Should you wish to take wine or champagne onboard to celebrate an event, the number of bottles you take on will be at the port authorities discretion.” For wine consumed in restaurants the corkage fee was $20.
We did not find Cunard’s frequent sailor program, Cunard World Club, to be exactly flush with benefits. Cruisers are automatically enrolled after their first voyage. At the entry level, the Silver tier, starting with their second cruise members receive up to 5 percent off early bookings on select voyages and other perks. After a second cruise (or 20 nights), members attain Gold status, availing two hours of complimentary internet access, a cocktail party, and “preferred” reservations in the specialty restaurants.
After 7 cruises (or 70 nights) members are elevated to Platinum status, which adds an additional two hours of complimentary internet, a 20 percent discount on laundry and dry cleaning, and a complimentary wine tasting and Senior Officers’ Party. With 15 voyages (or 150 nights) comes Diamond status, with further benefits.
Queen Elizabeth’s handsome theatre was modeled after the Gaiety Theatre on Isle of Man, a classic opera house still in operation. With seating for 800-plus, sightlines were excellent owing to the Royal Court’s steep rake and minimum of obstructions (we loved the box seats flanking the main seating area); portable headsets were provided for hearing-impaired guests.
The theatre was used for several different types of performances, best of which was La Danza, a dance review that showcased various styles from around the world. It wasn’t the type of show we’d normally jump for but we were impressed. The 55-minute performance utilized both backing tracks and a live band—there were great costumes and fine choreography to showcase the energetic 12-member team of hoofers. Also worth seeing was Vanity Fair, an English-style review, with songs from Mad Dogs and Englishman and Crazy for You. Again, the costumes were snazzy, though no real sets were involved (for this or any of the shows we saw). Other live shows included a comedian, a pickpocket act, and a classical vocalist.
In the Queens Room nightly music offerings included Big Band Concerts, with a smooth, polished 13-piece band, along with Ballroom and Latin dancing. There were dozens of couples on board with all the right moves, including a few that were knocks-outs. Tip: If you’re not fleet on your feet (as we aren’t) don’t miss the ballroom dance lessons offered early in the cruise itinerary. Wish we’d attended.
On Formal Nights a themed ball was scheduled for the Queens Room, and themed attire was encouraged (though not required). The first of these was the Cunard Ball, with black and white dress; the second was the London Ball, when appropriately decorated hats (with feathers for ladies) were suggested. Other themed nights on Queen Elizabeth included the Buccaneer Ball, the Elizabethan Ball, the Venetian Masked Ball, and the Starlight Ball.
On one sea day, a classical piano concert was held here—Rachmaninoff, Chopin and the like were featured.
Queen Elizabeth’s pub doesn’t quite feature the creaky, lived-in ambience of our favorite watering holes in England (that’s an American’s opinion), but it kept the British cruisers happy. International sporting events were played on the telly, while karaoke, a pianist for sing-along sessions, trivia contests, and board games were also available.
A short list of food items were available for lunch, with no surcharge added, such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and cottage pie. While the food was nothing special, and we didn’t much care for the presentation of plastic packets of ketchup and malt vinegar on the side, it was sufficient for a change of pace.
In addition to the ship’s standard cocktail list, several draft ales were available, including Boddingtons, Guinness, Old Speckled Hen, Stella Artois and Becks; there was also Aspall cider on tap.
The Golden Lion was open from 10 a.m. till late in the evening.
Styled after London’s Kew Gardens, this Deck 9 lounge had a conservatory-style glass half-domed roof, making it an appealing hangout when the weather was chilly. It was a good place to stock up on drinks when the nearby Pavilion Bar was not staffed. A pianist played here after 9 p.m. each evening.
The ship’s standard bar menu was available at the Garden Lounge, as well as a selection of fresh squeezed juices and smoothies. Fresh juices and presses included orange, grapefruit, apple, pineapple, celery and carrot ($4.25 each) with non-alcoholic cocktails also offered, such as watermelon and ginger cooler, and the apple and mint Collins ($4.75), also available with mineral boosters like gingko biloba. We ordered a smoothie one morning ($5.50) and were disappointed to see that the principal ingredient was ice, something we don’t bother with at home; among the flavors were mixed fruit, Berry Bliss, Tropical Paradise, Pineapple Blast and Pommeberry.
There were two room service menus available. The first, for breakfast, was on a door hanger to be placed outside the night before; delivery times were in 15-minute blocks between 7 and 10 a.m. Selection included hot and cold cereals, toast, pastries and muffins served with various preserves, yogurt (plain or fruit), fresh fruit plates and a selection of juices. Hot options included eggs (scrambled, sunny side up, over easy) accompanied by bacon, sausage, baked beans, hash browns or grilled tomato. Coffee, tea, milk and hot chocolate were offered.
Our breakfast one morning was ordered for 8 to 8:15 a.m.; the knock came at 7:54, and food arrived on a large tray with plastic lids on each plate. There was ketchup for hash browns, and a slice of lemon (perhaps for the fruit plate?). Toast was wrapped in a linen napkin. Salt and pepper was in paper packets along with plastic packets of ketchup, mustard and mayo (we found this tacky—glass jars or ramekins would have been more appropriate). Linen napkins wrapped silverware.
Breakfast was pretty much as expected. Eggs over easy and sunny side up arrived as ordered. We also ordered toast, a single small slice came—we'd have liked more, if it weren't barely lukewarm. The fruit plate was a bit flavorless, and comparable to what was on the buffet. Juices were fine, the coffee was watery.
A second menu was available 24 hours. This included salad, cold and hot sandwiches, fajitas, a Mediterranean quesadilla, penne Bolognese, grilled sirloin steak, and various burgers, including turkey. Dessert options included warm apple pie with custard sauce, vanilla cheesecake with cherries, a frozen chocolate bombe and crème caramel. There was no surcharge for late-night orders.
When we called for lunch, we were on hold for 1 minute before placing our order; no estimated delivery time was provided, but the food arrived 27 minutes later. We asked for the Caprese salad, nicely presented with a mound of arugula and dressed with basil infused olive oil; the menu called it balsamic dressing, but we couldn’t taste much vinegar. The mozzarella was good—not the rubbery American kind—but the tomatoes were bland. A toasted York ham and English cheddar panini sounded better than it tasted; the sandwich was warm, but the fries cool; a limp spinach salad sat alongside. Chicken Thai curry (also available with shrimp) was great—a mound of jasmine rice surrounded with a flavorful green curry; the dish packed lots of heat (more than some might like) but hit the spot for us. For dessert we had the chocolate fudge cake and it was about as expected, satisfying if unexceptional.
In addition to the soft drinks and water in our minibar, the in-room beverage menu had a good selection of 1.5-ounce “nip” bottles, starting at $5.95 up to 7.95, with 1-liter bottles available for $55 to $75, accompanied by six sodas of our choice. The short list of beers included Budweiser, Corona, Heineken, Guinness Draught and Spitfire Real Ale ($5.50-$5.95) but only two wineries were represented on the room service list: Cunard Private Label, and Wente Vineyards—other labels were available on request. Champagnes and sparkling wines included prosecco from Valdobbiadenne ($7.25 for 150ml and $35 for a full bottle), Delamotte brut NV ($12.75 and $59.50) and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and rosé ($17.50-$19 and $82-$95).
As with the ship’s bars, a 15 percent service charge was added to drinks ordered through in-room dining.
This swell-looking bar served as the ship’s Champagne bar, with various Veueve Clicquot on offer, by the glass $17.50 for yellow label, $19 for rosé), by the half-bottle ($46), or full bottle ($82, or $96 for 2004 Reserve). It’s one of the areas of Queen Elizabeth we wished we had utilized more during our journey.
The ship’s resident pianist and (separately) harpist played recitals here at various occasions during our cruise.
Compared to the big-name brands catering to the U.S. market, Queen Elizabeth had a smallish casino, with 54 slot machines. But this appeared to be sufficient on our cruise—we never observed the facility heavily used. Table games included Blackjack, Face Up Blackjack, Roulette, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Poker and Three Stud Poker.
The casino was the only place on the ship where cash was accepted, and U.S. dollars only. There was a full bar here, serving the ship’s standard cocktail menu.
The Royal Arcade was a gallery of interconnected stores on Deck 3 offering good shopping opportunities—in fact, we found a somewhat broader selection of merchandize than is availed on most mainstream cruise lines. Products from Chopard, Fabergé, Anya Hindmarch, Zandra Rhodes, Emporio Armani, Molton Brown and Gina Bacconi were among the more unique finds showcased at the Royal Arcade, in addition to the usual suspects for watches, jewelry, clothing and duty-free cigarettes and alcohol. Merchandize was priced in U.S. dollars throughout.
Near the shopping arcade, but easy to overlook was the Emporium, a cubbyhole boutique with a few specialty items. This included Cunard-brand chocolates and Queen Elizabeth-logo products, Fortnum and Mason teas, as well as sundries such as deodorant, toothpaste, insect repellant, shaving products, sun block and over-the-counter remedies.
A gallery of photos taken by the ship’s photographers was available for purchase at the Images Photo Gallery. Individual prints were $24.95 each. Photos could be ordered as prints or on CDs—a package of 10 was $149.95, 15 was $199.95 or an unlimited number was $299.95. Ship photographers were not overly aggressive, which was refreshing. A video of the voyage was also available for purchase at the end of the trip. We reviewed one but we were pretty unimpressed with the quality—it made our overall journey look like a bore.
Managed by Clarendon Fine Art, we found a lot of nice artwork hanging in this gallery, with a good deal more subtlety and nuance than is common in the art showcased on mass-market ships. Though most of it was not pieces that we’d jump to buy, we enjoyed perusing the canvases. Another thing we liked: There were no hard-sell art auctions on our voyage.
While most cruise ships have just a small collection of paperbacks for sale, Queen Elizabeth’s had a genuine Book Shop with a selection of several hundred titles for purchase. This included fiction and nonfiction (mostly paperbacks), a few travel guides, a particularly good selection of children’s books, plus lots of books about the ship and the Cunard Line. Also offered were diaries, pens and notecards.
Just outside the Book Shop, don’t miss the display cases with royal memorabilia—Christmas cards from Charles and Diana, photos and newspaper clips about Queen Elizabeth and Cunard Line through the years.
Guests staying in Princess Grill or Queens Grill suites had exclusive access to this area of Queen Elizabeth, located at midship on Deck 11. It included a cushy private lounge, a private dining room for Princess Grill guests as well as separate room for Queens Grill guests (with additional menu items available), and a private sun terrace on Deck 12, the highest public area of the ship.
As we were housed in a more humble cabin, maybe next time we’ll upgrade and gain entry.
The ship's excellent Library is among the finest at sea, with more than 6000 books covering a range of stories, styles and subjects, including a large collection of travel guides for the areas Queen Elizabeth commonly sails. The latter were not available for check-out (they could be read in the comfy chairs here), but other titles could be borrowed. There was also a small collection of jigsaw puzzles, plus Chess, Checkers and Yahtzee sets.
The intimate yet stunning Grand Lobby atrium occupied three levels starting from Deck 1, accented by a striking wood mural of the Queen Elizabeth as a backdrop to the curved staircase. At the lowest level was the Purser’s Office, the Shore Excursion desk and the future cruise sales desk. Wrapping around the upper decks of the lobby were The Verandah restaurant, Café Corinthia and the Midships Bar. A couple events took place here during the cruise, such as a pastry demo one day, but otherwise this beautiful space was under-utilized.
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