Scene: The world's waters - depends on time of year
Seen on Deck: Cunarders (seasoned Cunard lovers) in cruise casuals, maiden voyagers
I have just had tea with The Queen. Actually, technically speaking on The Queen; Cunard's newest ship Queen Elizabeth.
As it happens I have also had tea with The Queen at one of those official Royal Garden Party bunfights and I can report that a regal cuppa onboard Cunard's latest grand dame is much more relaxing. You don't have to elbow your way through OBEs to get a glimpse of Her Maj and you don't have to wear a hat.
On the white-clothed table a silver cake stand is piled satisfyingly high with creamy cakes and scones and jam. A Twinning tea-timer is on hand to help me judge the exact strength of my brew - apparently annual tea consumption onboard the Queen Elizabeth would almost fill an Olympic size swimming pool. Peter Shanks President & Managing Director of Cunard Line is on board and flits between tables to welcome guests.
Between sips of tea from my bone china cup I contemplate the stately progress of this new royal. Queen Elizabeth is half way through her maiden voyage and is greeted with the likes of fawning flotillas of boats, waving streamers, brass bands and crowds of loyal subjects lining the quayside whenever she docks.
The Italian-built, 92,000-tonne lady joins two other queens in the Cunard fleet - the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) and the Queen Victoria. She certainly hasn't missed her sibling ships on her maiden outing either; meeting up them on a number of occasions during her world cruise. In New York Harbour in January she was joined by Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria for a firework celebration in front of the Statue of Liberty. In Sydney in February she and QM2 made their stately way towards the sails of the Sydney Opera House to much fuss and fanfare.
The Queen officially christened her namesake in Southampton in October and the first leg of the ship's maiden voyage to the Canary Islands was fully booked less than 30 minutes after going on sale.
She's big, no doubt about it (294 metres long and 21storeys high); up a grand sweeping staircase, down a long wood-panelled corridor and I'm lost in her inner sanctum in minutes but it is her aura of tradition, not her size (after all QM2 is bigger) that distinguishes her. Full of art deco flourishes, the latest Queen Elizabeth recalls the era of the 1930s liners, when ships dominated travel before the fast and furious age of the jet-set.
The decor, the crew and, one suspects, all who sail in her revel in tradition and heritage. Cunard line is known for its adherence to certain standards. Not for Cunard the constant mingling between decks. Oh, no. There are places the hoi polo can't venture. Passengers staying in the ship's most exclusive suites (The Luxury Travel Bible readers of course) have their own dining areas in the Queens Grill and Princess Grill restaurants on deck 11 at the top of the ship. This restricted area also has alfresco dining, a private bar and a lounge with the best forward views aboard ship.
The latest Queen Elizabeth recalls the era of the 1930s liners, when ships dominated travel before the fast and furious age of the jet-set.
Formal nights on board are, well, formal and treated as special occasions with a special menu; think established favourites like Lobster thermidor and Beef Wellington. You don't have to pack a tiara but a decent little black number is a must. The dress code for the night is announced daily and varies from elegant casual to the aformentioned formal ("military or award decorations may be worn')
However, make no mistake if you are not in the top suites you won't get what TLTB readers would class as a true luxury experience. Even at the top end little luxuries such as the no tipping policy /complimentary cocktails we've come to expect from the smaller luxe cruise lines are not in evidence. Remember there could be around 2,000 passengers aboard and the bulk of those are in standard Britannia class. Not for nothing is there a Golden Lion pub at sea.
The new ship is the third Cunard liner to be named Queen Elizabeth. The first was launched in 1938 by the then Queen Elizabeth - who later became the Queen Mother - with the present Queen, who was then 12, looked on. The Queen launched the second Queen Elizabeth, the QE2 in 1967. She also named the QM2 at Southampton in 2004. So it is no surprise that royal memorabilia is all around. In the grand lobby is a recently-completed portrait of the Queen by artist Isobel Peachey. By the grand staircase is a wood panel, created by the Queen's nephew Viscount Linley, depicting the port bow of the original Queen Elizabeth. Black and white pictures of celebrities on earlier cruises also abound.
The Midships Bar also has a compelling collection of Cunard artefacts. And The Yacht Club, a popular lounge on QE2, is re-created here.
The Luxury Travel Bible likes the soaring ceilings, the 832-seater theatre with private boxes, the grand sweeping staircase, the Fortnum and Mason's goodies in the shopping arcade and the huge spa with stunning decor and two levels for treatment rooms plus fitness and pool facilities.
We are also partial to the new sports deck with artificial grass areas for croquet, paddle tennis and lawn bowling. and an entry way with a rose-covered trellis. Ok, the roses aren't real but why quibble? This is still another fine slice of good old English tradition.
"I say Algie, anyone for tennis?"
|Check in: The high seas
|Ultimate Luxury: Access to deck 11
|Most Indulgent Moment: Spending time in that oh-so spacious spa
|Insider Secrets: P.O.S.H - port out , starboard home, of course. On this ship these things might still count
|The Little Things: We love those Twinnings tea-timers
|Junior Luxies: Queen Elizabeth's designers duly incorporated kids' facilities into the ship but really it is a 'no'. Other cruise lines are more kid-centric.
|Dress code: Formally smart, smartly casual. Nothing too outrageous
|Perfect luggage: Break out the steamer trunk - once onboard you'll never have to carry it again.
|Dent in the platinum:
|Luxury Cruise Link: www.cunard.com
Hilary Doling 14/3/11