November 14, 2014 | By Seta Kembikian
I was recently invited to come aboard Cunard Line’s cruise ship, Queen Elizabeth, for a ship inspection and lunch when the ship was in port in San Francisco during her 2014 World Cruise.
The Queen Elizabeth is Cunard Line’s newest (entered service in 2010), and second largest (2,068 passengers) ship. She is large, and feels quite spacious, but by present cruise ship standards (5,400 passengers currently being the largest cruise ship afloat), she’s still relatively mid-sized. As a comparison, she’s about twice the size of Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity. Part of Cunard’s cachet is its’ 170 year maritime history, and still being the only line in the world to offer regular trans-Atlantic crossings. It is also the only line to still have any hint of a “class” system aboard their ships and, nowadays, that only refers to the restaurant in which one dines while aboard, which is determined by how grand one’s accommodations are.
The Queen Elizabeth has cabin categories ranging from their smallest inside cabins measuring a modest 156 sq. ft., up to their grandest suites which are a staggering 2,249 sq. ft. Those in most cabin categories are assigned tables for dinner in the ship’s main dining room, The Britannia Restaurant, a huge two-story room with a choice of dining in one of two “seatings”; first seating (6:00 p.m.) or main seating (8:30 p.m.). Cunard offers a smaller, more intimate (for only 80 passengers), mid-range dining venue called the Britannia Club restaurant, which features open seating for dinner from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Only passengers in stateroom category AA may dine in Britannia Club, and those cabins are priced slightly higher than the top “outside balcony” cabin categories, but less than the “Grill Room” restaurants, which are reserved for those in the most expensive cabin categories, and the suites.
Being on her World Cruise, the ship was nearly full, so we were only shown two cabin categories; a P2 (Princess Grill suite), and a Q3 (Queen’s Grill suite). These are among the most deluxe accommodations, so they are not entirely representative of the “normal” accommodation aboard Queen Elizabeth. The P2 was nicely appointed, and just slightly larger than a Silversea or Seabourn veranda suite, but offered only a walk-in shower in the bathroom (though the next higher category, P1, has both). The Q3 was considerably larger, with ample seating area, large bathroom, and walk-in closet. Also, just to note; the Britannia Club cabins are about the size of a cabin on the original Seabourn Cruise Line ships.
For those who desire a higher level of formality (both in terms of dress and service) and are perhaps more demanding in terms of cuisine, there are the two “Grill Room” restaurants (The Queen’s Grill, and The Princess Grill). These two restaurants share the entire Deck 11 (the highest, and smallest deck with passenger venues on it….topped only by Deck 12, which is the private sun deck (called “The Grills Terrace”) whose use is restricted to “Grill Room” passengers only). These two world-class restaurants are of equal size (though, surprisingly, the lesser of the two, The Princess Grill, has slightly fewer tables and, therefore, a bit more spacious feel to it) and share a “Grill room passenger’s only” private cocktail lounge called The Grills Lounge for pre-dinner drinks and musical entertainment. This lounge faces forward, with floor to ceiling windows on three sides offering panoramic views ahead, and also has a very large private outside terrace on which drinks can be enjoyed in warmer weather. These “Grill Room” dining, cocktail, and sun decks are the only places on the ship that have restricted usage for only those with the most expensive accommodations; and hence, the last vestige of Cunard’s “class system”. Dining in either of the “Grill Room” restaurants permits occasional “off the menu” (whatever one’s little heart wants!) dining, for those rare occasions when nothing on the evening’s menu is appealing.
The public rooms, the staircases, and the hallways on the Queen Elizabeth are all particularly generous in size and scale, so there is no feeling of being crowded, as can be the case on the “mega-ships”. The overall décor scheme aboard this ship is Art Deco, done in a very warm, comfortable palette with abundant use of highly polished natural woods and Art Deco metalwork accents. It definitely gives the impression of being a “first class” ship. Upon entering the ship, in the “Grand Lobby”, one encounters the massive double staircase with its towering wood and metal inlaid fresco of the Cunard’s famous “original” Queen Elizabeth. It’s definitely a “Wow!” moment.
Also, there are so many public rooms and activities going on at any given time… not to mention the Queen Elizabeth’s large two-story spa, that no matter how short one’s attention span, there is always something to do, somewhere to go (be it somewhere lively, or somewhere quiet), and enough fellow passengers aboard that there’s always someone new to meet.
Queen Elizabeth is a tasteful, solid choice for those who appreciate things being done “the British way” (particularly afternoon tea), and who do not want to feel they are cruising in a shopping mall, as seems to be the case on the “mega-ships” these days.