By Gareth Roberts
After sailing on Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2 in the last 6 months, we decided to complete the set with a mini-cruise on Queen Elizabeth in early January. We had heard many negative comments about short voyages, lower standards of food, mediocre entertainment and drunken antics. Thankfully this cruise did not disappoint and we were amazed with what we managed to pack into four nights and what turned out to be four full days at sea (thank you inclement weather). On paper our four night Roundtrip from Southampton to Hamburg, didn’t sound anywhere near as exciting as our two weeks in the Baltic or our 15 days back to back transatlantic crossing to New York. However with out spoiling too much I was very pleasantly surprised by the experience and wouldn’t hesitate to book a mini-cruise on Cunard again. The standard of food, service and behaviour of those on board was generally very good and the dress code was on the whole well respected.
Links to my other Cunard Review
The Lido Pool and Bar offers a very similar experience to Victoria, however due to the flatter stern of the ship the area is larger, although this doesn’t affect the size of the pool. After the May 2014 refit, tensile canopies were installed on deck, to provide more shaded areas. It also allows the Lido to offer Al Fresco alternative dining of an evening for a $15:00 cover charge. This is obviously much more beneficial in August in the Med, than it was in January on the North Sea. However it is most definitely a worthwhile addition. Victoria will have these tensile canopies added in her current refit (occurring as I write this review). As you can see from my pictures of the Grills terrace, tensile canopies have also been added to provide more shaded areas.
How the new area covered by the tensile canopies, looks in warmer climates when it is being used as an the Lido’s alternative dining option.
Pavilion Pool – Midships
Almost identical to the area on Victoria, this is an attractive and popular space, that provides comfortable seating and shelter on a windy day. One side of the upper terrace is a designated smoking area.
The Starboard side of the upper terrace, surrounding the Pavillion Pool is a designated smoking area.
Comfortable Rattan seating surrounding the Pavillion Pool
For the exclusive use of the Grill Passengers. These terraces provide an excellent vantage point from up high. I certainly believe it to be far superior than their equivalent terrace on QM2. It has a real premium and exclusive feel.
An outdoor area for Al Fresco dining at the Grills restaurants, not too much call for this in the North Sea in early January however.
One of the few features to significantly differ from Victoria. The Games Deck is a great addition, although in my opinion it spoils the exterior look of the vessel somewhat. It always makes Elizabeth look like she’s wearing an odd hat and coupled with her rather unfortunate stern makes her the ugly duckling of the fleet. I can however totally see why they decided to create this fantastic covered space.
The Chess Board
Always a good bit of fun, common to Victoria and Elizabeth
The Promenade deck – Deck 3
Not as impressive as the deck found on QM2, it does provide a complete circuit of the ship and a welcome walk or jog.
Although having an almost identical interior arrangement to Queen Victoria, the decor is different. The ship is a tribute to the two previous Queen Elizabeths: the original Queen Elizabeth and the QE2. She also evokes the era of the 1930s, in which Cunard’s first Queen Elizabeth was launched, with many Art Deco interior touches.The ship also features a Britannia Club section of the main restaurant, which is a feature popular on Queen Mary 2, but not available on Queen Victoria but results in the lack of a Chart Room Bar. This service allows passengers in the Britannia staterooms to have single seating dining arrangements, without having to upgrade to the more expensive Grills classes. The sliding roof over the Winter Garden featured on Queen Victoria is replaced with a simple glass roof (the space being renamed The Garden Lounge).
The Grand Lobby
My favourite space on the ship, I must admit I do personally prefer this space to the lobby area on QM2. I know that many however will disagree. The differences between the Grand lobby of Victoria and Elizabeth are subtle but evident.
I just love to take a book, listen to some music, watching the world go by in the Grand lobby. It’s an even more magical space when it receives a visit from the Harpist or String Quartet. I just find the lobby area on QM2 to be less open. It’s so much easier to find a lovely seat and great vantage point on board Elizabeth or Victoria. It’s fantastic to be able to look across all three decks at once and I just love the wonderful centre piece of the intricate wood marquetry panel created by the Queens nephew, Viscount Linley of the original Queen Elizabeth. It was produced from nine different natural woods and measures 18.5 ft (5.6m).
An excellent portrait of Queen Elizabeth by fellow Lancastrian Isobel Peachey, who incidently was the youngest person (31) to paint a portrait of the Queen.
It may seem one of the least exciting aspect of my review to many! I have decided to feature some images of the corridors of this fine ship. Whilst by no means as large and impressive as the huge central corridors that run through QM2, I really like the way that they help to connect the ship from a design stand point. The Art Deco features are evident throughout and there is more continuity to the design of the ship than there is on QM2. Whilst in some ways this can make the ship more “Samey”, in my opinion it works well. The ship is in immaculate condition throughout, you would really struggle to find a blemish, it really does feel totally luxiourious throughout.
Some of the great memorabilia found onboard
Identical to its equivalent on Victoria, the library is of a stunning two-deck high wood panelled design, complete with attractive spiral staircase. Compared with the QM2 library it does lack in terms of its overall collection (only 6,000 books) and the views out to sea are nowhere near as impressive, with the seating somewhat limited.
The best Lido on any of the Cunard ships, the table served Coffee and Tea is a really good addition, if somewhat inconsistent. The views are excellent, with very few poorly positioned tables. Chairs and tables are large and comfortable and give a restaurant like feel to the self-service facility. As with the Lido on Victoria, the choice of food is excellent and the permanent Pizza bar, makes me extremely happy and slightly fatter. These are really good stonebaked pizza’s, cooked to your requirements in 5-8 minutes. Let’s just say the Pizza Bar staff knew exactly how to make up my perfect pizza by the end of the voyage. The Lido is one area in which the Baby Queens are light years ahead of QM2, I just hope that Kings Court can be brought up to the standards found here.
Lido – Alternative Dining
Of an evening the Lido, as well as offering a free Buffett, an alternative dining experience is offered at a small additional cost of $15 pp. On Elizabeth these are, Corriander (Indian Bistro), Asado (a taste of South America), Aztec (Interpretations of Mexican classics), Jasmine (Asian) and Prime (Seafood and Steak)
The main dining room onboard is an attractive space two level space, seating 878 people and provides a good standard of food. The name is taken from the former Cunard ocean liner of 1914-50. I must admit after dining in the magnificent Britannia on QM2, I missed the shear scale and spectacle. Food wise it was just as good however. Classics like Chateaubriand were on offer on formal nights and it was hard to be disappointed by anything I consumed, apart from one average Sirloin Steak meal.
I would say if you are choosing your location, then my preferences would be the central area as you walk in on deck 2, as you benefit from the double height and views of the balcony above. The Deck 3 balcony seats or the very rear of Deck 2/3 by the large rear windows are also good locations. The Middle of the Deck 2 restaurant area is a bit disappointing, with lots of service areas and low ceilings. I would always recommend politely asking the Maitre D’, if you are unlucky with your table. They can often be flexible with table locations, as guests can often move sittings or tables during the course of the Voyage. The Maitre D’s I’ve encountered on Cunard have always been charming and helpful.
Tables at the rear of Deck 3, the large windows offer an excellent vantage in daylight hours.
The menu in the Britannia offers a good choice of Starters, Mains courses and Desserts. I would say that in my experience the menu offers more variety at Lunchtime than it does for dinner and it’s definitely worth a visit for breakfast as well. The menu rotates every three weeks, although the combination of dishes may change. Having been on all three Queens in the last few months we have seen many of the dishes on all three ships. Due to the presence of different Head Chefs, we have noticed each dish being interpreted slightly differently however.
The Chefs rotate between the ships, so the quality, although very consistent between ships, will vary slightly dependent upon the Chef and the team in residence on your voyage. Here are some examples of the menus we have enjoyed over the last few months in Britannia. I’ve included the Spa selections which are the lighter choices available. I’ve also included all of the Starters, Main courses and Desserts, that were on offer. Of course freshly baked bread is always on offer, which is always delicious.
Britannia Lunch Menus
Britannia Dinner Menus
The Britannia club provides guests with a single-seating venue. In order to use this facility it requires you to select a slightly more expensive stateroom. The menu offers dishes from the Britannia menu that day, with a little more flexibility to order off menu. While the restaurant looks excellent, personally I miss the Chart Room you find in it’s position on Victoria and hope they continue to maintain it.
The Grill restaurants are reserved for the Grills guests. The equivalent of first class on the ship, the restaurants are attractively located on the high decks of the ship and benefit from the added privacy that the Grills restaurant lacks on QM2. The food I believe is excellent, guests are encouraged to order off menu and the classics of Lobster Thermidor, Chateaubriand and Beef Wellington are always on offer. The Queens Grill is reserved for those guests with suites and the highest grade accommodation, while the Princess Grill is reserved for the next highest grade of accommodation. The Queens Grill restaurant seats 142, with single seating arrangement, providing a more intimate and exclusive dining experience. There is a courtyard terrace, pictured earlier in the review that allows for Al fresco dining in warmer climates.
Some sample menus from the Queens Grill
The single-seating dining room seats 132 passengers in an intimate setting, which differs only slightly in appearance to the more exclusive Queens Grill. Passengers also benefit from the use of the courtyard terrace for Al fresco dining in the summer months.
Some sample menus from the Princess Grill
For exclusive use of the Grills customers, this is an attractive and private lounge, with a pleasant outlook and access to the Grills Terrace.
The Verandah Restaurant
The Verandah is the alternative dining venue open to all guests for a relatively small additional fee. The Verandah is well worth the extra money. The food really is on a different level to the food found in the Main dining room. Many Cunard staff say they believe the standards of cuisine are even higher than those found in the Grills restaurants.
You really are missing out on a fantastic dining experience if you don’t pay it a visit. The Verandah on Victoria is a light version of the Verandah restaurant found on Elizabeth, it is still very good but doesn’t offer the same quality of menu of service.
There are two options available, the degustation (tasting) menu, which is supreme value for money but offers little flexibility and the A la carte menu. We are allergic to shell fish and not huge seafood fans, so decided to order off the A la carte menu but if you are not go for the Degustation menu. The portion sizes are indentical to those on the A la carte menu. Be warned however, even though the whole experience lasts around 2 and a half hours, you will struggle to eat all of the food.
Despite the fact it’s fine dining, portions are extremely generous. The food on the whole was beautiful, stand outs included the Duck foie gras with pears, cooked “au torchon” served with a nougat brûlée and the snails with a parsley and garlic cream, the freshly cooked bread I must add was to die for. For main course the Bresse chicken truffle cooked in a cocotte, cream with bourgogne aligote wine and soft polenta and the organic beef fillet sautéed with morel mushrooms with black truffle, soufflé potatoes and Madeira glaze were both excellent.
For dessert we opted for a baba au rhum that came with a fantastic and elaborate presentation, delicious but not one for the none drinkers. We also received a beautiful Champage sorbet and beautiful chocolates to accompony our coffee. It’s thoroughly recommended, such an experience would cost over $150 per person on land.
Duck Foie Gras with pears, cooked “au torchon”, served with nougat brûlée
Speciality from Alsace, snails with a parsley and garlic cream
Homemade Ravioli stuffed with parsnips and “parmigiano reggiano”, fried Quail Eggs slightly incrusted with Guerande Salt, in a light watercress jus.
Organic Beef fillet sautéed with morel mushrooms with black truffle, soufflé potatoes and Madeira glaze
Baba au rhum “tradition”
Which rum should I choose?
Dark Chocolate Parfait filled with caramelised praline, espresso cream
The Verandah Head Chef with his happy guests
The Chocolate trolley with our friendly and charming waiter
The Garden Lounge
An attractive space that lacks the retractable roof found on Victoria, the champagne afternoon tea (additional cost) is served here and it often hosts live sports on the TV screens. This is usually a quiet venue to relax and enjoy a good book, when the weather isn’t good enough to be out on deck.
The Queens Room is the ballroom on board, with a large wooden dancefloor measuring about 1000 sq ft (93 sq m). While not as impressive as the huge Queens Room on QM2, it’s still a very nice space. It is also home to the gold bust of the Queen by Oscar Nemon from QE2. As well as being used for the Captain’s cocktail parties and dancing, it is also used for the white gloved afternoon tea service. It’s always worth a visit, if you can manage to squeeze in all those delicious scones, cakes and sandwiches between lunch and dinner!
Enjoying the company of Entertainment Director Leon de Ste Croix
Royal Court Theatre
The 830-seat, three deck high Royal Court theatre is designed in the style of a classic opera house. It has 20 private boxes that can be reserved by anyone for special nights, and a package includes, Champagne, chocolates, your reserved box and the use of a lounge before the show. It’s a beautiful theatre; In my opinion the Theatres on Elizabeth and Victoria are vastly superior to the one found on QM2. There are far fewer obstructed views and the theatres are much more reminiscent of West End theatres. On our voyage we enjoyed an excellent performance from the Royal Court Cunard Singers and Dancers. This happened to betheir last performance, before they were replaced by a new cast. The show included some excellent singing and the choreography was very good. Sound as always in a Cunard theatre was excellent, as were the lighting effects.
We had the added bonus of the Beatles Experience on our trip. They performed two shows on the voyage. The first one focused on their early years, with the second focusing on the albums from Sgt. Pepper onwards. They were absolutely brilliant and the audience loved them. We also had the comedian David Copperfield, a “seasoned” cruise ship, one man act. Comedian, opera singer, magician and impressionist!
Meeting the Insight speaker and the extremely charming Michael Barratt of Nationwide fame. Can you believe that in it’s day it got up to 11 million viewers, much more than Strictly come dancing or the X Factor do today. He also provided a very interesting lecture onboard, which was well received by all.
Bars and Nightlife
Now this is an area in which I feel QM2 truly excels, when compared with the Baby Queens. There is a rather limited selection of bars on Elizabeth, especially with the loss of the Chart Room. Don’t get me wrong the bars are lovely but just don’t have the scale of grandness of those found on QM2. Likewise the Yacht club, the onboard nightclub is a lovely room but doesn’t feel like a proper nightclub, unlike G32 on QM2.
Cafe Carinthia – Deck 2
Coffee bar by day and a very pleasant bar for a pre-dinner drink by night, although ceiling heights are low compared with the high ceilings of the bars on QM2.
On Queen Victoria this area is the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar and acts as Cafe Carintha during the daytime. The lack of the Champagne bar facilitates more seating space but takes away a little from the sophistication. Unlike the Veuve Clicquot bar on QM2 however, I found this bar on Victoria to be a little under utilised. With no Chart Room bar on Elizabeth, Cafe Carinthia is a busy and vibrant bar/cafe area as a result of it’s increased patronage.
Midships Bar – Deck 3
Attractive decor in a small, yet perfectly presented and well located bar. This bar acts as the ships Veuve Clicquot champagne bar. The bar proved popular and in my opinion is more attractive in design than the mid-ships bar on Victoria, this is probably due to it’s status as the Champagne bar onboard. Attractive details such as a reproduction of the map from the original Queens, which chartered their locations to those on board. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have something similar today!
A model of the original Queen Elizabeth in Cafe Carinthia
Commodore Club – Deck 10
When I first travelled on QM2, I initially felt that I preferred the larger Commodore club you find on Elizabeth and Victoria. There is no doubt they both offer magnificent panoramic views and they don’t have to put the blinds down after sunset. Then I fell in love with Commodore on QM2, it’s sophistication, it’s atmosphere, the decor, and that amazing model of QM2 behind the bar! So now all I can say is that this is a lovely bar, identical to that found on Victoria but the Commodore club on QM2 will forever have my heart. My favourite bar at sea! Still I enjoyed many a drink in this excellent bar.
A model of QM2 sits in the Commodore Club
The bell from QE2
The Yacht Club – Deck 10
The onboard nightclub, on our short voyage it was lively and had a good atmosphere, with music from the resident band and DJ.
The original Asprey silver model of QE2 in the Yacht Club
The Golden Lion – Deck 2
The traditional pub onboard. Not as impressive as it’s equivalent on QM2, identical to the one on Victoria. It serves good pub meals of a lunchtime, Chicken Tikka Masala, Pies and fish and chips. It’s very pleasant but living in Lancashire we are fortunate to have better pubs so I much prefer the other bars, which make a good change. If you are from Tokyo I’m sure it’s more of a novelty.
Churchills Cigar Lounge – Deck 10
Cigar lounge, only cigars and pipes can be smoked in this extremly well presented room. Cigarettes are prohibited!
Royal Arcade Shops – Decks 2/3
A lot of the work during the refit (May 2014) went into improving the shops. While they certainly have its a shame the bookshop has relocated and is smaller (my favourite shop). The Art Gallery has become more open plan and looks quite good in my opinion.
The Photo Centre
The new photo centre with it’s big glossy screens looks good and it’s quite fun, as you can now nose through everyone’s pictures, without being so obvious (you all know you’ve done it!)
Some of the original Casino area was used to create 9 single rooms during the refit. This has resulted in the Casino shifting out slightly into the Royal Arcade. I’m not a Casino person so not sure if it’s better or worse but it doesn’t really affect the appearance of the Royal arcade too much and the single staterooms I’m sure will prove a popular addition.
Cunard Royal Health Club and Spa
The Spa and gym looks to include all you would expect of a high quality facility at sea; I haven’t had the benefit of using it but on my tour it looked well equipped, with a wide range of treatments on offer.
The Staterooms on Elizabeth are obviously of varying standards from huge suites to insides. The balcony rooms are a good size and are very well maintained by the Cabin stewards. The addition of the 32″ flatscreen TV’s make a big difference and give extra space on the dressing table. They add to the premium feel. The mattresses were all replaced in May 2014 and are excellent as is the bedding. The bathrooms are kept spotless and the shower is powerful and maintains a good temperature.
Arrival in Southampton – Meeting of two of the Queens
As many of you will be aware, bad weather delayed our return to Southampton. Elizabeth was around 9 hours late. A brilliant bonus for us but an inconvenience for some on board and of course those departing on the World Cruise. We got some brilliant views as we passed the beautiful lady that is QM2. A great end to a brilliant voyage.
In conclusion, Queen Elizabeth is looking brilliant, she is a beautiful ship inside and really maintains the reputation of Cunard. The differences between Elizabeth and Victoria are subtle and I would choose which of the two to sail based upon their voyage itineries. Mary is very different, larger, more striking, a one off, but she does have a more inconsistent standard of decor and if you are someone who uses self-service restaurants, I could see how the Kings Court could prove an annoyance.
I will split my Cunard time 50/50 between Mary and Victoria/Elizabeth. Mary and the Baby Queens offer quite different products and have quite different strengths and weaknesses. Some will remain staunchly loyal to one over the others but I believe that you cant go wrong with any of these 3 magnificent ships.
Which one would I cross the Atlantic on mid-winter, well Mary of course. As we were travelling at 6 knots, she was gliding along at 24 knots. Mary has attitude and is special but Elizabeth and Victoria are luxiourious, more consistent and more intimate. It’s your choice but as I said you won’t go wrong sailing on any of the fleet!