From the Sunday Mirror Homes & Holidays, published 20 February 2011
EVER wondered what it would take to get The Queen to a casino? I have the answer – because she recently stepped inside the “gaming salon” on a certain cruise ship, welcomed by an honour guard of waistcoated croupiers.
The ship in question is, of course, the Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty was there to do the honours in naming Cunard’s latest liner.
While on board she inspected an 18-foot high marquetry mural created by her nephew Viscount Linley, which is the centrepiece of the three-deck Grand Lobby, and came face to face with a portrait painted by the award-winning Isobel Peachey.
Taking the captain Chris Wells by surprise, The Queen asked to see one of the passenger suites – it was not on the itinerary – then visited the bridge, where she appeared to make herself jump by giving a loud blast of the ship’s whistle.
Not many passengers will get the chance to emulate that moment but they can enjoy more of the ship than Her Majesty did. She had no time, for example, to play bowls high up on Deck 11, take high tea in the Kewinspired Garden Lounge or tuck into fish and chips in the Golden Lion pub.
Wherever they are on the ship, travellers are never far from a reminder of its Royal heritage. Apart from the Peachey portrait, there’s a bust of the Queen sculpted by Oscar Nemon for the retired QE2 and now on display – appropriately – in the Queens Room.
The two top restaurants on the ship are the Queen’s Grill and the Princess Grill, the theatre is the Royal Court, and one of the shops has the name of the Queen’s grocer – Fortnum & Mason – over the door.
There are other reminders of the Queen’s reign throughout the ship: pictures of palaces on the walls and photographs and memorabilia crammed into cabinets. Not quite a shrine, but not far short, either.
This is a cruise ship for traditionalists rather than adventure-seekers hoping to find rock-climbing walls, surf simulators, ice rinks, giant cinema screens or tenpin bowling alleys. And the tradition is emphasised by more memorabilia from the QE2, which is currently laid up in Dubai, waiting to be converted into a luxury hotel.
A solid silver Asprey model of the vessel takes pride of place in the Yacht Club bar, surrounded by maritime signal flags which spell out – if you know the code – “Queen Elizabeth 2 Triumph of a great tradition 1969-2008”. The QE2’s bell sits at the entrance to the Commodore Club, tempting passers-by to give it a ring.
The Queen Elizabeth is not quite identical to her sister ship Queen Victoria – extra cabins give the stern a boxier look and provide an extended pool deck area aft of the casual buffet restaurant.
“Casual” is a relative term, of course – passengers on Cunard ships don’t tend to take their meals in shorts and flip-flops, and they expect to dress up in dinner jackets and ballgowns two or three times a week.
I had to dust off my bow-tie three times during a week-long run from Southampton to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. The dress code on other evenings was described as “elegant casual,” which most men interpreted as requiring jacket or tie, and gave the women a chance to show off a succession of party frocks.
On the journey, there was time to step ashore. While some passengers paid $126 (about £80) to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela from Vigo, north-west Spain, others got little further than the quayside shopping mall, with one of the largest electrical and photographic stores in Europe.
In Lisbon I visited the excellent Oceanarium (admission €12/£10 for adults, €6/£5 for children, family tickets €29/£24), and then on to the Bica do Sapato restaurant part-owned by actor John Malkovich. Perhaps the softshelled crab and the stewed octopus were not the most tactful choices after a morning at the aquarium, but they were delicious, nonetheless.
It was a sleepy Sunday by the time we reached Cadiz and for those not taking a Cunard excursion, a hop-on, hop-off tour of the city was available on the ubiquitous open-topped red buses parked right by the docks (€15/£12 adults, €7/£6 children).
The main entertainment should have been on the ship, but Cunard have some catching up to do if they want to match Broadway shows such as Hairspray and Chicago on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, or The Blue Man Group on Norwegian Epic. If you’re going to boast about a 23-strong company of singers and dancers, perhaps it would be best if they performed something more exciting than a tired selection of showtunes.
The cruise’s celebrity of the week was not exactly a big draw, either. Talking about his double life at the BBC and signing copies of his book about bee-keeping, breakfast TV presenter Bill Turnbull was an interesting diversion on a sea-day morning and deserved to pull a bigger crowd.
It seemed the passengers preferred to browse for bargains in the Royal Arcade’s sale of clothing carrying the Cunard logo, or perhaps they were diverted by a demonstration of fruit and vegetable carving, a “seminar” (or sales pitch) on Tanzanite gemstones, or a class on film-making with iMovie. They could have been spending a quiet moment in the ship’s two-storey library, puzzling over a jigsaw, or perhaps even sleeping on a sunlounger on the promenade deck, or by the pool.
Elsewhere, throughout each day there were competitions for bowls and darts players, whist drives and knitting groups. None of which were allowed to interrupt the live Premier League football on the Golden Lion’s big TV screens. Even at sea, there’s no escape from Sky Sports.
There were also several chances a day for pub quiz fans to show off their knowledge. If you’re one of them, you might like a few facts and figures about this £365million vessel…
First, the statistics: it’s 964.5ft long, 179ft high and has a beam of 106ft. It is capable of 23.7 knots (27.3 mph), caters for 2,068 passengers, and carries a crew of about 1,000. Every year, passengers will drink their way through 119,400 bottles of champagne, 119,600 bottles of white wine and 109,000 bottles of red wine – not to mention 955,000 tea bags and nearly 60,000lbs of coffee. There are 1,046 cabins, of which 85 per cent are outside, and almost three-quarters of those have balconies.
Aside from the tradition and the decor, this is a cruise ship which will be familiar in lay-out to anyone who has travelled on P&O’s Arcadia, Holland America’s Eurodam, or Costa’s Luminosa – to use a motoring analogy, they are all built on the same chassis. But if you want to sail in the wake of royalty, the Queen Elizabeth wears the crown.
What’s the deal?
A five-night cruise on Queen Elizabeth leaving Southampton on May 26 visits Amsterdam, Zeebrugge and Le Havre. Fares from £679 per person (www.cunard.co.uk, 0845 071 0300).
The ship’s maiden round-Britain voyage leaves Southampton on September 2 for a 10-night cruise to Edinburgh, Invergordon, Greenock, Liverpool, Dublin, Cobh and St Peter Port. Fares from £1,330pp, including $100 on-board spend (www.cruisethomascook.com, 0800 916 6070).
From the Sunday Mirror Homes & Holidays, published 20 February 2011