Reporting from aboard the Queen Elizabeth—Let the other ships have their rock climbing walls and their water slides, their come as-you-are and do-as-you-please ambience. On the new Queen Elizabeth, it's lawn bowling and croquet, formal nights and afternoon teas, assigned seating and fixed dining hours.
Indeed, Cunard's elegant Queen Elizabeth is the very embodiment of British civility.
I was onboard in late November for its Gallic Debut, a five-night round trip from Southampton, England, with calls at Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, Belgium, and Cherbourg, France. Sleet and snow greeted us on the way as the big chill descended over Northern Europe.
Embarkation at Southampton's Ocean Terminal was a tedious 75-minute process and included mandatory shoe removal as we passed through metal detectors. I had not experienced this on any of my 10 or so post- 9/11 cruises.
By the time I got to my stateroom, my luggage was already there. The cabin was light and cheerful with blond wood and burgundy and gold accents. A 242 square feet , it felt spacious, with a king bed, desk-dressing table, mini-fridge and flat-screen TV. But what was with the hair dryer tethered to the dressing table with a cord so short I couldn't look in the mirror while drying? (I'm told the matter has been addressed with the designers.)
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Fares for Queen Elizabeth cruises range from $1,195 for an inside stateroom on a five-night voyage to $199,995 for the top Queens Grill suite on the 107-night world voyage that will depart Jan. 10, 2012, from Southampton, England. These fares are per person, based on double occupancy, and do not include taxes and fuel supplements.
The ship, which left Jan. 5 from Southampton on its maiden world voyage, will call at San Pedro on Saturday, embarking on a 24-night voyage to Sydney, Australia, with ports of call including Hawaii, and on to Southeast Asia, India, Egypt and southern Europe, returning to Southampton on April 19.
The Queen Elizabeth will sail in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean during the year and will make a maiden voyage to the Holy Land, from Southampton on Oct. 28, calling at Jerusalem and Galilee/Nazareth as well as Gibraltar, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece.
Info: (800) 728-6273, http://www.cunard.com.
Unlike the Queen Victoria, which was woefully short of drawer space when it first sailed, I found storage aplenty, including night tables with drawers. I counted 43 wooden hangers among the 21/2 closets. Although the bath was small, with a barely adequate prefab shower, it too had good storage.
There was much to like, starting with the Art Deco public rooms. The Victoria incorporated bright red and blue into its décor, but Queen Elizabeth's softer color palette of blue, gold and burgundy flowed more smoothly from space to space. These sister ships are essentially alike, but Queen Elizabeth has 35 more cabins aft and a larger games deck. Some Cunarders had hoped for radical changes, but, said ship's Capt. Christopher Wells, radical change is costly, and "at the end of the day it's all about pounds and pence."
There are no singles cabins. "Cunard doesn't feel obligated" to do that, Capt. Wells said, noting that most luxury hotels don't offer this option. Although he acknowledged the demand — Cunard is popular with single, older women — he said, "You could never build enough. You can never win."
The ship was built in Italy, and Cunard is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., but Cunard hasn't forgotten its British roots, to the delight of its many British passengers. (Baked beans at breakfast and all.) Formal nights are a must. We had one on our cruise, and it was lovely to see women in real evening gowns, not cobbled together make-do outfits. As I watched from the mezzanine, women of a certain age were being led around the ballroom floor by Cunard's gentlemen hosts. As elegantly turned out couples danced to "The Anniversary Waltz," a silver-haired man next to me said, "Now that's what I call ballroom dancing. That stuff on TV? That's acrobatics."
Traditional didn't mean stuffy. In the Yacht Club disco one night, couples were dancing under strobe lights to the strains of "Hound Dog." In the Queens Room ballroom, a quartet of Beatles imitators always packed the house. I was horrified to realize that this was a trip down memory lane.
On karaoke night in the Golden Lion Pub, I caught Londoner Vicki Adams-Salmon, a building surveyor whose hobby is costume-making, belting out "Lipstick on Your Collar" à la Connie Francis. Adams-Salmon sported a strapless red gown and a screamingly bright red wig. She smiled and said, "It's pink underneath," as she lifted the wig and showed her hair. She was celebrating her 30th birthday with boyfriend Clive Cheer and thought the ship was "brilliant."
Other things that floated my boat: The casino amidships is not overwhelmingly intrusive. The two-level, wood-paneled library has a spiral staircase and leaded skylight. The multiple bars and lounges and variety of entertainers, including pianists, a harpist and a string quartet, seemed to suit nearly every taste.
A new concept for the 800-seat, tri-level Royal Court Theater is the Queen Elizabeth Theater Company, a resident troupe presenting shows in repertory as varied as Neil Simon and Shakespeare. Ours was "Hotel Royale," a thinly plotted musical set in a faded hostelry.