As Cunard Line prepares for the new Queen Elizabeth’s inaugural voyage this week, top producing travel agents, VIP guests and international news media have descended on the new ship – checking out her public areas, accommodations, onboard services and dining options.
Docked at her home port of Southampton, England, the newest Cunarder awaits her big day today – the official christening by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. More than 1,600 guests are expected to attend the by-invitation-only event.
I’ll report on that christening later today. We’ll also be covering various aspects of the Queen Elizabeth’s product over the next few months, including a complete look at the ship's accommodations options, but here’s a quick snapshot look at some of the facts, figures and gleanings surrounding this newest Cunarder.
Size and Scope
Built at a cost of approximately 300 million British pounds, the equivalent of $478 million, Queen Elizabeth is 90,900 tons, serves 2,068 guests and has a crew of about 1,000.
The ship is 964.5 feet long, has a beam (width) of 104.8 feet, and soars to a height of 205 feet from keel to funnel. Looking at the ship another way, Queen Elizabeth towers 179 feet above the water line. Passengers are served by a crew of about 1,000.
Queen Elizabeth has 1,034 accommodations -- 127 of those are suites, 611 are balcony cabins and 20 "accessible" staterooms are designed for guests with special needs.
photos provided by Cunard and Susan J. Young
In Search of History
“We do have incredible links to history,” emphasizes Peter Shanks, the line’s president and managing director. But he also stresses “Cunard is not a museum.” Still, if your clients enjoy maritime history, they’ll certainly discover it onboard this ship.
“There’s a cache and I think it does revolve somewhat around history,” says Ginger Morrissey, travel consultant, Travelong of Summit, NJ. “This ship highlights that history and that’s what makes it special and sets it apart.”
One impressive piece of artwork is a huge metal bust of the Queen that was originally displayed on the QE2. It’s just one of multiple pieces of art onboard showcasing the British monarchy.
You’ll also much Cunard memorabilia throughout the ship. For example, the Midships Bar, inspired by the original Midships Lounge on the original Queen Elizabeth, features a selection of memorabilia displayed in glass cabinets.
Guests might peruse original first-class stateroom telephones. Shanks also likes the historic invoice from John Brown Shipbuilding for one week’s work building the original Queen Elizabeth – at a cost of 28,000 British pounds, or about $44,600.
The Verandah restaurant has vintage menus on the walls and whimsical artwork reflective of previous Cunard ships. The Yacht Club, named after a popular dancing venue on QE2, displays a large silver model of the QE2 created in the 1970s.
One artistic show element on the vessel is an 18.5-foot marquetry, essentially the focal decorative artwork within the Grand Lobby. Designed by the Queen’s nephew, David Linley, the Art Deco-style artwork dramatically reflects the port bow of the original Queen Elizabeth.
But today’s Cunard is far more than history and heritage. Shanks says that -- for the first time in several years -- the line is back to a three-ship fleet, This modern fleet provides a more consistent product for guests across the fleet. “This is today’s Cunard,” Shanks stresses.
As for the newest ship, “I think it’s beautiful,” says Haisley Smith, marketing director of Brownell Travel, the oldest travel agency in the nation based in Birmingham, AL. “It’s going to appeal to a much wider market than Cunard has typically appealed [to in the past].”
Micky Arison, Carnival Corporation’s chairman and CEO, told reporters that when Carnival Corp. acquired the Cunard brand, it was a bit difficult to envision what the brand could become for the future. While it had a magnificent heritage, Cunard Line in the early 2000s operated a hodgepodge of a fleet with everything from the QE2 to the Sea Goddess ships.
Today’s vision of Cunard is actually fairly new, Arison says. It began to emerge as the company prepared for the construction and the ultimate launch of the new Queen Mary 2. That evolution continued with the addition of Queen Victoria and now with Queen Elizabeth, considered a sister to Queen Victoria but with some new venues, and in Shank’s view, “with her own personality.”
Consistency and Itinerary Diversity
Now, Shanks said, one of the best perks of adding Queen Elizabeth is that the line has a product that’s consistent across the fleet. Plus, having three ships will widen the line’s deployment.
Yes, the line will continue to sail transAtlantic in the summertime – with bookings that Shanks describes as “incredibly robust” on that storied itinerary. Cunard will also continue to sail from Southampton, Cunard’s traditional British home port.
But the additional ship allows Queen Victoria to become more of a world explorer, venturing to the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Hawaii, and giving North American clients a chance to sail on Cunard to more places in the world.
Shanks made it clear to reporters that the line will not sail in Alaska, leaving that market to sister lines Holland America and Princess Cruises, both well-entrenched there.
Shanks says that his message to travel agents is “don’t rule us out” when suggesting a vacation for clients. He says the line is evolving in its itinerary offerings and that it now offers a more consistent product for clients.
The look of the new Queen Elizabeth is all that one might expect from a ship from a storied line. “I think it's fabulous,” says Dorothy Reminick of Travel Resource of Jupiter and Palm Beach, FL. She likes the woods and other materials used to construct the public areas as well as the carpeting. “In essence, it’s a class act,” she says of the ship.
Mary Jean Tully, founder, chairman and CEO, The Cruise Professionals, likes the flow of the ship, its elegance and its timeliness. “It has a sense of grandeur,” she says.
Most agents and industry VIPs we interviewed has similar comments. While the new Queen Elizabeth reflects Cunard’s heritage, at the same time, it’s not a museum. This modern ship boasts such elegant touches as marble, earth tone colors, rich woods, impressive artwork, and Art Deco styling with a comfortable feel.
Nationally known cruise expert Stewart Chiron, founder of The Leisure Pros, and @cruiseguy on Twitter, stresses that the “beauty of cruising is there is a ship for everyone no matter your walk in life. This is definitely in the luxury category for people who want a large ship. It’s for people looking for a refined elegance.”
Mark Kammerer, Virtuoso’s vice president of cruise, Seattle, says “the way they have created the environment…it has all the touches of class, yet it’s still done in a way that’s modern.” He likes the colors which he says reflect class. While the new ship has such new choices for guests as the Verandah alternative restaurant and a new Game Deck, as well as more flexibility in dining within the Lido restaurant, don’t expect a huge change in the onboard atmosphere.
“We won’t change our formality,” Shanks says emphatically. “If anything, as the world gets informal, people value our formality.”
Premium or Luxury?
Clearly fielding a passion for his product, Shanks declined to characterize Cunard as either premium or luxury. Instead, he called it “unique,” saying that it worked for guests on varying levels, depending on their accommodations choices.
Kammerer agrees, telling Travel Agent that the ship’s multiple levels of accommodations will allow agents to place clients in staterooms or suites that make good sense for them.
Most agents tell Travel Agent that the Grills suite accommodations and their related exclusive dining venues offer the best of luxury, while the other accommodations onboard are more in the premium category.
Shanks says that overall about one-third of Cunard’s guests are North Americans, one-third are from the UK, and one-third hail from other international markets including Germany, Australia, Japan, France and other countries.
On the transatlantic route, though, the complement of North Americans is higher. Jan Swartz, Cunard’s executive vice president, customer relations and sales, told us that the highest percentage of Grill-suite guests on that transatlantic route are North Americans.
While the signature Golden Lion Club is a great place for Pub Grub (and at no added charge, another nice perk), other dining venues onboard generally are more cerebral and refined.
The new 90-seat Verandah is the line’s new alternative dining venue onboard Queen Elizabeth, while the other two vessels have a Todd English restaurant. Cunard officials say there are no plans to replace the Todd English venues on those ships; instead, the menus are being refreshed.
Inspired by The Verandah Grills onboard the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, the Verandah features the French inspired cuisine of Chef Jean Marie Zimmermann. We dined at this restaurant for lunch yesterday.
The white glove service by wait staff was impeccable, and the cuisine savory. The sizing of dishes is just right – not too much and not too little. Fresh ingredients and a creative kitchen will give your clients choices to salivate over; my sea bass entrée was the best I’ve had anywhere, anytime, an opinion shared by a fellow journalist at my table.
The Verandah is open for lunch and dinner; a tasting menu is $35, a large carte pricing charged per plate ranges from $5-$9.
The main dining room, the Britannia Restaurant, features a la carte menus and serves all guests in Britannia accommodations including inside, oceanview and balcony staterooms. Breakfast and dinner are open seatings; set dinner seatings are at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
The Queens and Princess Grills Restaurants, with a capacity of 126 and 122 respectively, are reserved for guests in Queens & Princess Grill suites. With this ship-within-a-ship concept, Cunard gives the top suite guests their own intimate dining venues.
Our media preview dinner at the Princess Grills dinner featured a lovely appetizer of either Tuscan chicken confit and baby spinach salad or orange and dill infused salmon gravlax. The entrée choices were Lobster Thermidor or Grilled Steak au Poivre with wild mushrooms and baby vegetable feuillantine.
Adjacent to the Grills, the new Courtyard area features al fresco dining for up to 28 guests who are staying in the Grills accommodations; seating is on a first-come, first served basis.
The Lido Restaurant is the informal self-service buffet style restaurant. It features three specialty evening dining options with waiter service, bookable at $10 per person. These include Asado, a South American option; Aztec with regional Mexican food; and Jasmine, a Pan-Asian offering. The regular buffet is open without charge on evenings as well. I tried the late-night pizza and found it tasty.
Also, Café Carinthia is a coffee bar in the day, a drinks venue in the evening. It offers pastries, gourmet sandwiches and specialty teas and coffees, for an added charge.
From my perspective, the loveliest venue on the ship is the Garden Lounge, inspired by the glass architecture of Kew Gardens. Clients may enjoy afternoon tea service for $35 per person. In addition, the venue will be used as an occasional supper club, live entertainment and tapas style dining option.
But with its glass roof, comfortable seating, plants, and a massive wall mural, the Garden Lounge is a serene place to simply settle down with a cozy book during the day – often while listening to live harp music.
Yes, there are children’s facilities onboard, but from my perspective, this ship is really a playground for adults. The Royal Arcade’s lower level features a Dent & Company clock; Dent is the same company that constructed London’s famed Big Ben. On the arcade’s upper level, clients may shop ‘till they drop at the first Fortnum & Mason at sea, Harris Tweed, Chopard and Rotary.
Book lovers will adore the ship’s Library, a two-level extravaganza of reading options. In fact, there are 6,000 books here. The separate bookstore offers a wide selection of books and merchandise reflecting Cunard’s heritage and maritime history.
If a pampering spa treatment is of interest, the Cunard Royal Spa offers Remede and Elemis treatments. I personally liked the Royal Bath House, a relaxation area consisting of a thermal suite and hydrotherapy pool. Clients might also take an acupuncture treatment, enjoy a couple’s massage or work out with a personal trainer in the fitness center.
The exterior Games Deck, which Shanks describes as “something a bit quirky,” features some decidedly British games including croquet, paddle tennis and short mat “bowls.” This area is unique to Queen Elizabeth within the Cunard fleet. There is no charge for play.
The gold and blue décor of the Royal Court Theater is classy, and reflects the upscale level of entertainment options here. The theater is home to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Company, boasting 21 singers, dancers, actors and musicians.
Your clients might take in a performance of “A Slice of Saturday Night,” the largest production show Cunard has ever staged, as well as some shows created specifically for the line.
Traditional upscale theater boxes line the sides of the theater. For something special clients might dress up in their best finery and book the “Theatre Box Package,” which includes champagne and canapés served in an exclusive lounge, after which guests are escorted to their box by a bellman; guests also receive a cast photo when the performance is over. This special night at the theater costs $50.
Agents who wish to grow their business with Cunard and wonder where to begin should go to www.onesourcecruises.com, according to Swartz. The site includes a slew of online courses about how to market and sell Cunard.
Julian Menkin of Cruise Market, is one trade executive who believes the new ship is the perfect venue for high-end choral, orchestra and opera productions. He hopes Cunard will do more to focus on this audience, bringing together classically minded people throughout the world to enjoy onboard entertainment and conversation.
With a wry sense of humor, Menkin related his history with Cunard. Speaking to a VIP agent group in a trade meeting onboard, he said that in January 1942, he was in the U.S. Third Army, sailing on Cunard’s Aquitania (built in 1913) to Britain.
He recalled the wartime menu of hard boiled eggs, bread and tea, which he said was served every day for 10 days as the ship zig-zagged on a 10-day crossing across the Atlantic to avoid detection. So what does he think of the cuisine on Cunard’s newest queen? “It’s improved considerably,” he quipped, drawing laughter from the agent audience.