A snapshot of life aboard the iconic QE2
Although QE2 has been retired from service, this review aims to give the reader a feel for what it was like to sail aboard the most magnificent Ocean Liner of our time, and has been left live online for that purpose.
Cruise – World Cruise Segment. February 2002.
Itinerary – Sydney (Australia) – Melbourne (Australia) – Adelaide (Australia) – Fremantle (Australia).
Queen Elizabeth 2, Cunard Line’s famous liner, and probably the most famous ship in the world has had a powerful effect on my life since 1995 when I first met this great vessel. She was docked in Auckland Harbour and I was in my element.
Since that day I have been back aboard QE2 many times on a variety of voyages including Pacific segments of her annual World Cruise, the Mediterranean and once through the Panama Canal.
Transiting the Panama Canal on the QE2 was the most amazing experience! She is 963 ft by 105 ft, which leaves very little room on either side of the ship in the locks. It’s wonderful to be sitting on the deck as a mountain passes by, while QE2 makes her way through the canal.
This review was written after a cruise I took aboard QE2 in 2002. The vessel was on her annual World Cruise and I joined her in Sydney and cruised to Fremantle – Australia. Queen Elizabeth 2 and Sydney Harbour are like soul-mates. When QE2 is berthed in Circular Quay, there are three world icons in one place – QE2 herself, the Sydney Opera House and of course, the Harbour Bridge. This is one of the most amazing places to meet QE2 as she suits her surroundings so very well.
QE2 is, externally, the most beautiful ship in recent memory. She is magnificent in design, perfectly proportioned and looked stunning in her traditional Cunard dress of matt black hull and white superstructure. Boarding in Sydney was a simple and hassle-free process. The experience is much like an airport – check in, photo id, security, customs and departure lounge. Once cleared to board, you are escorted to your stateroom by a member of the staff who will carry your hand held luggage aboard for you – a very nice touch!
Cabins and Restaurants
There are various cabin categories that are linked to where you ate dinner aboard QE2. At the top end there is the Queens, Britannia and Princess Grills. A step down from the Grill would have found you dining in the Caronia Restaurant. Finally, the Mauretania Restaurant provided an extremely pleasant dining experience for the more modest budget. The Grill’s were constantly rated the best at sea, and had extensive menus. Diners could opt to order off-the-menu if they so wished. Patrons were rarely refused a dish despite how unique the request may be. Caronia was a “class” above Mauretania, with more attention to detail in the restaurant. (Caronia cabins were also larger and better appointed than Mauretania accommodation – some Caronia cabins had baths.)
Boat Deck housed the Queens Grill. Entering through the private lounge, pre dinner drinks could be enjoyed before progressing into the intimate restaurant, with its palm tree centrepiece and cozy ‘club house’ feel. Service was like that expected at the best restaurants on land – no expense was spared – what you asked for you received.
Progressing down a grade, the Princess and Britannia Grill were ‘sister’ restaurants, catering for the same cabin category in different culinary surroundings. Princess Grill was decorated in reds and silvers with statues (of the elements made from marine objects including mother-of-pearl) that were created when the vessel was commissioned. Britannia Grill on the other hand, was decorated in purple and leather with models of the RMS Britannia – its namesake. Service here is also of an extremely high standard – with an “open” menu much like that in the Queens Grill.
The Caronia Restaurant was re-born in late 1999 in a period style which incorporated wood paneling, crafted ceilings and chandeliers. It was, the most visually pleasing restaurant aboard QE2 – it was truly superb. One felt a need to dress up to feel ‘at home’ in this dining room. Service here was superb with a menu that changed every night.
The Mauretania Restaurant was located on Upper Deck off the A-Stairway. It was graced with a light colour-palate and housed a superb sculpture of the “White Horses of the Atlantic Ocean” – created to depict the movement of water on the bow of a ship. The seats were comfortable and had high backs allowing for tall people to sit comfortably. There is a mural of a pond during an autumn sunset on the forward wall, which complimented the colours of the carpeting. Opposite the mural on the aft wall is a model of the restaurant’s namesake – Mauretania of 1907.
The tables were all laid wonderfully, with magnificent precision. Fresh flowers every day complemented the freshly folded napkins. There were two to three service persons per table depending on its size. Tables could seat 2, 4, 6 or 8.
The menu’s aboard QE2 represented the best of world cuisine. There were regular theme nights with nations of the world providing gastronomic inspiration. Over 100 chefs worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that each dish was a masterpiece.
The ship’s accommodations vary widely, from the lavish Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Grand Duplex Suites, with two balconies and over 1000 sq feet of living space, to small, twin share interior cabins on 5 Deck. Caronia grade accommodation was been seen as the best value for money, however after Carnival Corporation took control of Cunard Line in 1998, discounting of the Mauretania Grade aboard QE2 meant there were good value bargains to be had. All staterooms on QE2 had 24 hour room service regardless of the grade. Each room was equipped with an en-suite bathroom (cabins from C3 grade and above had actual bath tubs).
On the higher end of the spectrum, the traditional Queens, Princess and Britannia Grill cabins were stunning, some of the best at sea. They were extremely classic in their design, with large portholes, marble bathrooms and had comfortable chairs (or couches) and thick carpeting. There were 32 balcony suites aboard, located on Signal and Sun deck – some of these even included the extra luxury of a private butler.
All passengers enjoyed the whole of QE2 (with the exception of the Grill Lounge). QE2 was a big ship, and there was a lot to do aboard her. The Crystal Bar on Upper Deck was a wonderful location. The service here was extremely attentive and the atmosphere was cozy despite the bar’s large size.
The design arches back to that of the original Queen Elizabeth. The bar offered pre-dinner drinks and was a popular meeting place. While on the topic of bars, on the starboard side of Upper Deck, opposite the Casino was the wonderful Golden Lion Pub, which was decorated, in dark woods and leather chairs, with a dance floor and live music. Plasma screens allowed you to keep track of your favourite sport, and beer was available “on tap”.
One deck down, on Quarter Deck was the QE2’s Chart Room Bar. This was a beautifully decorated bar with a map of the North Atlantic Route as its centrepiece This bar housed a grand piano that once was used aboard the original Queen Mary.
The Grand Lounge was the showroom aboard QE2, with its red decor and large stage it is also a multi-purpose auditorium which is used for Bingo, lectures and the popular passenger talent show. Its best use was at night during the evening show which varied from world class productions to local comedy acts. Just aft of the Grand Lounge was yet another bar – the ships nightclub. Named “Yacht Club” due to its Americas Cup theme, this bar was fantastic to look at, and pleasant to drink in. It had an informal atmosphere with a view aft and large windows looking over the side of the vessel in a raised “hide away” area. The service here was very friendly and the live band and DJ played every night (until the last passenger left the dance floor).
QE2 had one of the largest libraries at sea – with over 6,000 books, and a fully trained librarian, who could assist you in borrowing books. The Ocean Bookshop was located adjacent to the library and, with a large number of ocean liner related books, proved a popular location aboard QE2. QE2 also had a purpose built Cinema, called The Theatre. It was located on Upper Deck with a balcony level on Boat Deck. The Theatre offered various screenings of both new release and classic movies and also acted as a lecture theatre for the Cunard enrichment programme.
The Queens Room was the ship’s ballroom and was a unique blend of 1960’s futuristic design, and 19th century style. In 1999 the hallmark QE2 “trumpet” columns and bee-hive ceiling in this room were merged with wood paneling, luxurious blue and crème chairs and subtle lighting to create a room that looked very elegant, despite its clash of cultures. This was the setting for the fantastic British tradition of Afternoon Tea. The Queens Room was also the venue for the extremely popular Captain’s Cocktail Party, where each and every passenger (who wished to) could meet the ship’s Master. On this particular cruise this room was the setting for the Valentines Day Ball – which was beautiful as it took place on the night we departed Sydney. The room was decorated in a love theme with large heart shaped arches created out of red balloons. Each passenger was presented with a heart shaped badge which illuminated in the dark – it made for a very romantic atmosphere.
For the more informal passenger, the Lido was QE2’s casual eatery. It worked well as there were two entrances and two buffet lines, thus there was no congestion. Situated at the aft of Quarter Deck, the Lido was a popular breakfast alternative, serving a variety of food including waffles, bacon and eggs, or oatmeal. There was a wide range of fruits and domestic cereals. Waiters will assist the elderly to tables and drinks are provided upon request.
Just below the Lido on One Deck was the Pavilion Cafe. Very popular all day long, it served burgers, pizza and steak. It also housed the self-serve ice cream parlor (which was a favourite snack aboard).
On Boat Deck passengers could find designer label clothes, gift items and Harrods at the Royal Promenade. Somewhat disjointed in its layout, the shopping promenade had been eclipsed by those aboard more modern ships at the time of QE2’s retirement.
However, despite this, it was always busy with window shoppers (and the more serious spenders).
If the shopping had worn you out, many decks below on Six Deck was the Cunard Royal Spa. Operated by Steiner’s of London, it consisted of a large thalasotherapy pool as well as private treatment rooms. The Gym on QE2 was located on Seven Deck. It was quite small and did not compete to that seen on any modern ship. It was coupled with a heated indoor pool which was popular when we were sailing in the chilly waters of the Southern Ocean.
During the day, there were many different activities. This included the Heritage Trail, where a member of the cruise staff took passengers through the ship, pointing out all the historic artifacts that QE2 held. QE2 was full of models of older Cunard ships, as well as historical artifacts dating back to Cunard’s inception in 1840.
In the Queens Room, ballroom dancing lessons were held on the dance floor, and gentlemen hosts were at hand for any ladies wanting a dance partner. Some enjoy
ed watching the dancing, while other people liked finding a quiet spot in the ship to read, or sit on the deck (in a traditional wooden deck chair) and relax as the sea went by.
The outdoor sports centre as small, but adequate for QE2’s typical clientele. It had a full-sized paddle tennis court that was put to good use, and a basketball hoop which the crew enjoyed using after dark. There was also a golf driving range, putt-putt and the more traditional shipboard games of shuffleboard and quoits.
By night QE2 came alive with shows in the Grand Lounge, disco in the Yacht Club, dancing or karaoke in the Golden Lion Pub, a midnight buffet in the Lido (as if there was not enough eating during the day), and much, much more. If you were bored aboard QE2, then you are very hard to please indeed!
QE2 was a very special experience. She was a true Ocean Liner with a unique atmosphere I’ve never experienced else where. She has a few little quirks that came with her age, but they made her very special. She was a large ship, yet provided an intimate experience. QE2 was not a ship for those wanting a sporty youth filled voyage, but rather for those wanting a relaxing, high class experience in regal yet comfortable (and unpretentious) surroundings.