This past February, I had the opportunity to take a voyage aboard the Cunard Line Queen Elizabeth cruise ship from Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia. This was the first time I'd stepped aboard a cruise ship in many years, and I'd never had the chance to cruise with a line anywhere near as luxurious as Cunard, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Honestly, I wasn't sure whether this cruise line - which majors on tradition, luxury and impeccable service - would be a good fit for me. But over the course of the five day journey, I discovered that while Cunard cruising met my expectations in some ways, in others it exceeded or completely dismantled them.
This is the third piece in a series of articles that explore what I learned during my time cruising with Cunard, with the first two covering the Cunard experience, and food and drink. This particular article serves as a guide to the different places and spaces onboard the Queen Elizabeth, and what you can expect to see and do in each. For restaurants and bars, see the food and drink link above.
This is one of the first things that most people look at when picking out a cruise experience and I was lucky enough to have a balcony stateroom at my disposal. Like most other cruise lines, Cunard cabins run the gamut from simple, no frills staterooms to expansive suites. The difference with Cunard is that even the most humble of cabins feel like they've been appointed with care and class. There are a couple important points about Cunard staterooms that are worth noting:
- The Britannia Club Balcony staterooms have a larger balcony than Britannia Balcony staterooms. I had one of the latter and felt I had plenty of room, although the outdoor space is more suited to sitting than lounging. This will also entitle you to eat at the Britannia Club dining room (very similar to the Britannia Restaurant but with some a la carte options).
- If you've opted for a Princess or Queens Grill suite, you'll get exclusive access to a part of the ship set aside for Cunard's most valued guests. The Grills Lounge will have you relaxing in utter comfort while The Courtyard provides an idyllic outdoor area so you can unwind amongst peaceful sea breezes. Best of all, you can dine at the Queens or Princess Grill restaurants (depending on your class of suite) which treat diners to an epicurean experience that will satisfy the most demanding of gourmands.
Located on Deck 10, the Commodore Club is the ideal place to catch up with friends for a drink or two while watching the world float by from the comfort of an armchair. Attentive wait staff will come around to check that you're well taken care of, and may even bring complimentary nibbles to go with your drinks. Offering panoramic views and a relaxed setting, Commodore Club is a versatile indoor venue for all kinds of casual social gatherings.
Teen Zone / Kids Zone / Play Zone
These are the spaces set aside for Cunard's youngest cruisers. Although Cunard isn't particularly well known as a family friendly cruise line, that doesn't mean they've neglected young ones. In fact, these rooms are kitted out with all kinds of things to keep kids entertained for hours on end. From DVDs and boardgames to air hockey and Playstations, the Teen Zone and Kid Zone is well equipped and well staffed with qualified Cunard personnel. The Play Zone, designed for toddlers, features multimedia entertainment as well as arts & crafts, toys and a playground.
Given the more mature age range of the majority of Cunard cruisers, I was a little surprised to find that the Queen Elizabeth has a nightclub venue. If you're still keen to keep the party going after dinner and a show, the Yacht Club is undoubtedly the place to be. In the evening a DJ will have the place pumping into the wee hours, while during the day the vibe is much more relaxing.
Churchill's Cigar Lounge
Now this is something you won't find on most cruise lines. While you can only smoke cigarettes (and their electronic equivalents) on designated areas of starboard decks 3 and 10, Churchill's Cigar Lounge is a tastefully decorated space reserved for cigar and pipe smokers. Gazing out at the open ocean with a glass of scotch in one hand and my pipe in the other was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my time aboard the Queen Elizabeth.
Cruising is all about relaxation and indulgence, and there's no better way to dive into both of these than treating yourself to some time at the spa. Whether you're soaking your cares away in the Hydrotherapy Pool, having your hair done in preparation for formal night, enjoying a luxurious massage or getting a mani-pedi, visiting Cunard's Royal Spa is the ultimate in holiday indulgence.
Of course, balance is important in all things, and occasionally you might want to take a break from food, cocktails and lounging by the pool to get that heart rate up. The Fitness Centre is located on Deck 9, and this is the place to come if you're looking to hop on an exercycle, have a go on the treadmill or sign up for one of the large range of exercise classes. Even just taking time for a gentle yoga class can be enough to leave you reinvigorated and ready get back into full vacation mode.
Pavilion Pool & Bar / Lido Pool and Bar
When most people think of cruising, the first image that comes to mind is sitting on a lounger by the pool, cocktail in hand. This is where you can do just that. I was fortunate enough to strike perfect weather for my entire journey, so I spent a good few hours whiling away the time with a drink and a book, taking a dip in the pool whenever the sun proved too much. I usually ended up opting for the Lido Pool as opposed to the Pavilion, mostly because it was right next to the Lido Grill where you can pick up burgers and other tasty snacks. The Pavilion Pool has a lovely setting though, and is an equally attractive option.
This light, airy space exudes serenity. With windows all around and a glass ceiling letting in the sun's rays, the Garden Lounge feels more than a little like a conservatory. If the sun on deck proves a little too much or rain sets in, this is a fantastic place to sit indoors and read a book or savour some afternoon tea. This is also one of the only spaces on Queen Elizabeth (aside from the Lido Restaurant buffet and the Yacht Club nightlife venue) where you are welcome to dress casually on formal night after 6:00 PM.
Royal Court Theatre
It's fair to say that I was pretty impressed by the Royal Court Theatre. Most of the theatrical venues I've been to on shore weren't half as impressive as this multistoried venue which seats 850 people. There are usually two show times per night, one at 8:30pm and one at 10:30pm, so no matter what time you choose to have dinner, it's easy to see a show afterward. Just make sure to arrive a little early to secure yourself a seat. There's even the option of enjoying the show from a private box while being served finger desserts and champagne cocktails. Reservations are generally required for a private box, and there is an extra charge.
The Queens Room
If you've brought your dancing shoes, chances are you'll be spending a bit of time here. The Queens Room serves as the ship's main ballroom, so this is the place to be for anyone keen to show off their waltz, foxtrot or line dancing. This is also where Cunard's signature Afternoon Tea takes place.
Casinos are pretty much the same wherever you go, and Queen Elizabeth's example isn't much different. Roulette, poker and blackjack are all on the cards, and there are plenty of pokie machines for those who want to have a quick flutter without putting too much effort in. Don't forget, the casino is only up and running while the Queen Elizabeth is at sea.
Royal Arcade Shops
Duty free isn't just for airports. Although the shops are closed on shore days, when the Queen Elizabeth is at sea cruisers can browse the Royal Arcade for all kinds of bargains on premium products, from watches and jewelery to clothes, souvenirs and alcohol. Any duty free alcohol you purchase onboard will be available for you to take home but can't be consumed onboard. If you're looking to enjoy a bottle of something special in the comfort of your stateroom, room service is the way to go.
Clarendon Art Gallery
I really did not expect to spend as much time as I did in the art gallery. It isn't a large space, but it's carefully arranged to feel spacious nevertheless. The most impressive thing about the Clarendon is the variety of art on display. All kinds of art styles are represented, and they even introduced some new pieces over the course of my trans-Tasman trip. The gallery mainly features original art, and you can purchase any of it - there were certainly one or two pieces I was tempted to bring home.
Sometimes it's just not possible to completely escape from the world while you're on a cruise. Emails have to be sent, reports need to be looked over, and so on. ConneXions is the place to take care of all this. Located in three different spaces on both Deck 3 and Deck 1, these rooms are kitted out with a bunch of computers set up for internet browsing. In order to use the internet at sea, you'll have to sign up for one of Cunard's internet plans. This is a pretty painless process, but all of their plans are time based, with no special email or social media deals.
I brought a couple books along with me, but I would have left them at home if I'd known how magnificently well-stocked Queen Elizabeth's library was. The library covers two stories with a spiral staircase descending through the centre - non-fiction is on the lower story, fiction on the upper. With nearly 8000 books to choose from, ranging from science fiction, to biographies, to the Encyclopedia Britannica, you'll never be at a loss for a good read.
If borrowing a book isn't quite good enough, you can always buy it. The book shop aboard the Queen Elizabeth is stocked with a variety of popular titles, kids novels and books featuring the ships and history of Cunard line. Like the Royal Arcade, the book shop is closed when the ship leaves international waters, and the books are duty free which brings the price down.
Card Room / The Alcove
If it's raining outside and you want to enjoy some quiet recreational activities, try heading down to Deck 3 and paying a visit to the Card Room or Alcove. The Alcove will have you flexing your jigsaw puzzle muscles, while in the Card Room you can get together with your mates for a few rounds of whatever card game takes your fancy. Conveniently located across from the Midships Bar, you can even enjoy a few beverages while showing your friends who's the real card king.
Purser's Office / Tour Office
Both located on Deck 1, the Purser's Office and Tour Office aren't rooms so much as help desks, but they're excellent places to go when you have questions. Head to the Purser's if you have any questions about your onboard account - they'll also do their best to answer any general questions you might have about your time onboard. The Tour Office is where you'll want to head if you're booking a shore excursion or have any questions about your options when the ship comes into port.
Never once during my time aboard the Cunard Line Queen Elizabeth was I at a loss for someplace to go. I could always find the perfect space to spend time in, no matter what was going on or how I was feeling. When you're spending several days in a row at sea, this is extremely important, and as far as I'm concerned, Queen Elizabeth nails it.
Lucky for Down Under cruisers, Cunard's Queen Elizabeth will be homeporting in Australia in 2019 for two months - these itineraries can be booked from March 2017 onward, and there are many more exciting Cunard cruises that range further afield. The Aussie sailings in particular are likely to sell out soon, so make sure to take a look at the places Cunard could take you.