Originally published Jan. 8, 2011; prices updated 2018
The 170-year-old Cunard line managed to resist the urge to add waterslides and rock climbing walls and ice skating rinks to its new Queen Elizabeth ship, which visits Miami for the first time on Jan. 16, 2011.
Instead, the 2,068-passenger ship wisely embraces nostalgia. From its classic black hull to interior spaces done up with elegant art deco details such as etched glass and wood paneling — and plenty of memorabilia — the golden age of ocean travel is well remembered on the 92,400-ton contemporary vessel.
The QE also maintains what may be Cunard’s best selling point — its British-ness.
At a naming ceremony in Southampton, England, in October, Cunard President Peter Shanks called the British-flagged ship “quintessentially British” — never mind the fact that Miami-based Carnival Corp. owns Cunard and the ship was built in Italy.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth did duty as the ship’s godmother in a ceremony that had all the pomp and circumstance one would expect of a royal occasion.
That the QE is designed to pay homage to its namesake predecessors — the very popular, now-retired 1969 QE2, and the original 1938 Queen Elizabeth — is something Cunard fans had sought. “QE2 was my girl,” one older British woman told me while previewing the ship, “and now I feel (with the Queen Elizabeth) like she’s back.”
For those uninitiated in Cunard-ness, like its sister ship Queen Victoria, and the larger Queen Mary 2, the Queen Elizabeth operates with a class system. Guests in the 127 Princess and Queens Grill suites get the most pampering, including access to intimate dining rooms, a lovely private lounge and rooftop terrace.
This doesn’t mean that commoners fare badly, but it does mean different levels of fanciness.
Everyone has access to traditional activities including ballroom dancing to a live band in a real ballroom and afternoon tea served by white-gloved waiters.
The Brit angle is played to the hilt on QE — including the intriguing addition of British lawn bowling in a park-like area (though with fake grass and bushes) on the ship’s top deck.
That said, everything on the ship is charged in U.S. dollars — those dollars are going back to Miami, after all.
QE is a little larger and has a few more staterooms than its sibling, the 90,000-ton, 2,014-passenger Queen Victoria, which debuted in 2007 and has 1,007 cabins compared to QE’s 1,034. But layout-wise, the ships are quite similar.
What distinguishes QE most is her décor. The new ship takes retro a step further and does it better than the earlier ship, and consequently feels more elegant.
There are other tweaks, of course. The staircase in the Britannia restaurant on QE has been moved to the center, to be more grand. The Lido buffet has been rearranged with a focus on eliminating lines. And a conservatory-like Garden Lounge, inspired by the glass houses at London’s Kew Gardens, and a Games Deck (with British lawn bowling, paddle tennis and croquet), have been added, both on top of the ship.
The line’s venerable past is on display in the Art Deco-influenced décor and the ship’s collection of artifacts and artwork — Cunard even put out word it was looking to purchase memorabilia from collectors.
The Midships Bar, named in homage to a space on the original Queen Elizabeth, displays a large white phone from a first-class cabin and other items from the 1930s and 1940s. The Yacht Club bar likewise pays tribute to the QE2, housing that ship’s silver ship model, builder’s plaque and bell.
There is original artwork too. The Grand Lobby has grand staircases leading to an impressive inlaid-wood art deco depiction of the original QE. When Her Majesty toured the ship, this was one of the art pieces she most wanted to see. The work was created by David Linley, a furniture-maker and the Queen’s only nephew (son of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon).
The Queen also paused outside The Verandah restaurant to see her own portrait, a painting specially commissioned for the ship and painted by Isobel Peachey, a 31-year-old British artist.
The main Britannia dining room is where most passengers have dinner, and boasts both art deco detailing and the kind of grand center staircase you expect on an ocean liner. The room feels like a special place. Dinner here is served at early and late seatings at assigned tables.
Passengers in AA category cabins have the option of the Britannia Club, a smaller dining room with open seating, anytime dining.
Those in the highest-end cabins and suites have more intimate, plush surrounds in the Princess or Queens Grills on the top of the ship, and can dine whenever they like from a la carte menus with truly top-end personalized service.
The fancy alternative venue, Steakhouse at the Verandah,replaces the Todd English restaurant found on QM2 and QV. Cover charge: $25 lunch, $39 dinner.
The QE’s Lido buffet, open for three meals a day, is well designed with separate stations eliminating long lines. At night, there’s the added option of casual areas serving regional cuisines — Aztec for Mexican, Bamboo for pan-Asian, Coriander for Indian, La Piazza for Italian and Smokehouse for American cuisine — all with waiter service and for a cover charge of $19.50 per person.
My favorite lunch spot is the Golden Lion Pub where you can indulge in classics like fish & chips. But light fare at the Café Carinthia, which overlooks the Grand Lobby, comes with the added attraction of people watching.
Traditional afternoon tea is served in the exquisite Queens Room ballroom, where musicians play while you dip into scones and cream. .
The QE’s 1,034 staterooms represent nine categories; 738 (71 percent) are equipped with balconies. Plush linens in white and gold in my balcony cabin added a layer of elegance. Storage space was sufficient, but the small bathroom was a disappointment with its plastic shower and dull beige color scheme.
For those who like more room, the 127 Queens Grill and Princess Grill Suites range from 325 to 1,493 square-feet.
The new standout feature on QE is the Games Deck, with greens for croquet and British lawn bowling, paddle tennis courts and wooden benches. The bushes and grass are pretend, but the ocean views and breezes are real, and this is a perfect spot for a respite even if you don’t know how to lawn bowl.
The Royal Spa’s large hydrotherapy pool, with its shooting jets and waterfalls, is so relaxing I had trouble pulling myself away. But there’s also the allure of the adjacent Thermal Suite including heated ceramic beds facing the sea. A day pass gets you access.
The ship also has two outdoor swimming pools and four whirlpools.
The ship’s beautiful 832-seat Royal Court Theatre is done up in blue and gold and so classic London West End it even has royal boxes.
The QE introduces an original concept in onboard entertainment — its own resident theater company, doing a repertoire of shows with 29 singers, dancers, actors and musicians.
Cunard knows its audience includes ballroom fans, and it shows in the Queens Room ballroom, a gorgeous space with a dramatic high ceiling, spectacular chandeliers, 1,000-foot dance floor and band stand. Dancers can also hit the dance floor in The Yacht Club and the late-night disco.
For those seeking cerebral pursuits, the “Insights” enrichment program brings onboard experts who lecture on history, world affairs, science, arts and literature. New for the QE is “Professional Insights,” a series of workshops on antiques and auctions, sculpture, movie reviews, performance poetry, and even weather forecasting.
The QE’s two-deck Royal Arcade highlights famous British brands. Shopaholics can indulge for the first time at sea on QE in teas and jams from London’s Fortnum & Mason, Hackett menswear and Harris Tweed.
The Play Zone is the venue for those ages 1 to 6 and The Zone for those ages 7 to 17 — divided into age-appropriate groups. Both are equipped with a variety of fun stuff — toys, games, a sand and water play area, bikes and climbing equipment for the little kids; and X-boxes, PS3’s, Nintendo Wii’s, air-hockey, table football, DJ booth, arts & crafts activities and games for the older kids. A permanent staff including trained British nannies leads indoor and outdoor activities, depending on how many kids are onboard.
Passenger capacity: 2,092
Length: 964.5 feet
Beam: 106 feet
Staterooms: 1,034 (85 percent are outside staterooms, 71 percent have balconies.)
Class: Queen Elizabeth is a Vista-class ship, based on a design originally used by Holland America and later by Costa, which like Cunard both come under Carnival’s corporate umbrella. The ship’s predecessor, Queen Victoria, is also based on the Vista design, but the two ships are not identical.
Itineraries: In May 2019, Queen Elizabeth is on its way from Japan to Alaska, where it will stay til late June before heading down the West Coast. It will slowly make its way around the world: through the Panama Canal, north to New York, then across the Atlantic to Southampton. After sailing the British Isles and northern Europe, in November the ship will depart for Australia and New Zealand and stay there until March, when it will move to Asia. In May 2020, the ship will set out for Alaska, where it will spend the summer, before returning to Asia in September and Australia/New Zealand in November for the winter.
Information: 800-7-CUNARD or www.cunard.com