A snapshot of Cruising QE2
Although QE2 has been retired from service since 2008, this review aims to give you a feel for what it was like to sail aboard the ship during the final World Cruise.
Cruise: 2008 Final World Cruise.
Itinerary: Sydney – Hobart – Melbourne – Adelaide – Albany – Fremantle – Singapore.
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 I first saw her as a kid in Auckland Harbour back in the mid 90s. I sailed aboard QE2 many times on a variety of cruises, including Pacific Ocean segments of her annual World Cruise, the Mediterranean and once through the Panama Canal (epic!!).
This snapshot of life aboard QE2 reflects what the ship was like at the end of her Cunard career in 2008. QE2 was on her final World Cruise, and I joined the ship in Sydney for a voyage to Singapore. This cruise included QE2’s final call at Sydney, and the ship shared the port with the (then) new Queen Victoria, which was making its first visit to the city.
It also included QE2’s farewell calls to Hobart, Melbourne and Adelaide. It featured a first (and only) call at Albany – the famous Australian port that saw so many WWI era Diggers set sail on trooping convoys to the middle east.
The ship also bid farewell to Fremantle before sailing north and crossing the Equator for the very last time. Finally we arrived in Singapore for the final call at that historic port.
Originally sold as the 2008 World Cruise, this voyage became reworked as QE2’s Farewell World Cruise when Cunard announced the ship’s retirement.
Late that afternoon, QV set sail for Brisbane, and QE2 moved across to Circular Quay, allowing spectators a chance to see the two ships together.
Embarkation at Sydney was a relatively simple process. The experience was much like airport check in, where photo id was checked, forms completed, security passed through and the next thing, we find ourselves stepping aboard the ship. Embarkation was via the Mid-Ships Lobby on Two Deck, and unlike modern cruises, on QE2 each guest was welcomed aboard by a crew member, who would escort to your stateroom. A very nice touch!
The ship sailed from Sydney in the late afternoon of 25 February, to huge crowds and cheers from onlookers. Helicopters, small boats and pleasure craft followed the ship out to sea. It was an emotional and memorable farewell.
Following a day at sea, the next port of call was Hobart. QE2 was welcomed by a pipe band who returned to farewell the ship. The ship docked in a working port, but the City put on bus services for the passengers and most people enjoyed a day exploring the Tasmanian capital.
Another day at sea and we arrived into Melbourne. QE2 was much loved in Melbourne, and her final call saw her berthed alongside Station Pier. As the day progressed, thousands of people started lining the shore to catch a glimpse of QE2 and by the nighttime departure, there were cheers from the crowds.
QE2 sailed for Adelaide where it seemed 1/2 of the city came out to see the ship. There were large crowds to welcome QE2 in, and helicopters representing all of the major TV news networks. We took a shore tour to the acclaimed wine region, but upon returning it was like arriving on a movie set – thousands of thousands of people watching, waving, looking at the ship. QE2 departed to huge cheers, with many, many whistle blasts – it was a fantastic event, but the best was yet to come.
After two days in the Great Australian Bight, we arrived in Albany. This was a maiden call to this historic coastal town. The arrival was marked by a ceremonial cannon salute, and hundreds of locals lining the shore. QE2 docked near the grain terminal and local busses brought us into the town where shop windows welcomes us with signs that said: “QE2 Passengers Welcome”.
The departure that evening saw a repeat of the morning’s festivities, and as night fell we made our way north towards Fremantle (Perth). This was a day we will not soon forget. As with Adelaide, it felt like 1/2 the city came to see QE2. There were large crowds to welcome the ship into the port, but as the afternoon turned to evening the crowds swelled to giant proportions.
We set sail at sunset and exchanged cheers and waves with the massive crowd that lined the North and South Mole entries to the port. QE2’s whistle was sounding over and over, which just added more excitement to those on board and ashore. As we turned north, we noticed the hundreds of small boats following us – and many of them kept up the chase for around an hour.
Our journey enroute to Singapore included the last ever crossing of the Equator for QE2 – presided over by King Neptune and Captain McNaught. It was a bitter sweet experience – knowing that QE2’s long history of global cruising was coming to an end. The ship arrived in Singapore on 10 March to little fanfare – in Singapore she docked at a cargo terminal. But for those of us who sailed with QE2 – this was a cruise we would never forget.
Cabins and Restaurants
QE2 had a multitude of cabin categories to choose from, each of which were linked to a particular restaurant where you would have a lunch and dinner reservation aboard the ship. The ship had a vast array of different cabin styles and shapes – a throwback to her earlier days when she operated as a two class transatlantic liner. Since the 1987 refit, the ship ran as a single class ship year round – however there were distinct ‘classes’ within the cabin and restaurant categories – much like what we find on QM2 today.
Starting at the top end of town, QE2’s Queens Grill was the highest rated restaurant at sea for much of the ship’s career. It was added to the ship in 1972 and refurbished many times between then and 2008. Despite the social media stories shared these days – the Queen never ate a meal in the Queens Grill, but the restaurant was certainly designed in her honour – with portraits of HM. The Queen and HM. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in the room and adjacent lounge.
Boat Deck near the A Stairway is where you’d find the Queens Grill, though most people would actually enter the room through the private lounge just near the D Stairway. In the Queens Grill Lounge, pre dinner drinks could be enjoyed before progressing into the restaurant. By all accounts, service was like that expected at the best restaurants on land – no expense was spared – what you asked for you received, and passengers were encouraged to order off-menu should they so wish.
Queens Grill accommodation ranged from the gigantic Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary suites – with twin balconies and a split level design of over 1000 square feet – to smaller porthole style staterooms on One and Two Deck.
Second only to the Queens Grill, QE2’s Princess Grill and Britannia Grill were sister-restaurants located on the forward end of Quarter Deck. The Princess Grill on the Port side was actually the ship’s top restaurant from 1969-1972 and was decorated in red hues, with wood touches and silver offsets. Statues depicting the “Four Elements” adorned the room. These were considered iconic, and featured marine objects including mother-of-pearl.
The Britannia Grill was located on the starboard side. Decorated in deep purple and leather, it featured models of the RMS Britannia, the first ship built for Cunard Line. Service here was of an extremely high standard, with an open menu much like that in the Queens Grill.
Travellers in this grade had “P” class cabins (P for Princess) which were generally the more spacious rooms on One Deck and Two Deck, though there were some rooms also on Three Deck. All of the Queens, Princess and Britannia rooms had marble bathrooms with a bathtub!
Quarter Deck was also home to the Caronia Restaurant. This is actually the space where HM. Queen Elizabeth II dined aboard the ship in the 1980s. Back then it was called the Columbia Restaurant. It was reimagined in 1999 in a Edwardian (Titanic) style which saw wood paneling, crafted ceilings and chandeliers added. I sailed in this grade during a later cruise in 2008 and I must say, the service here was brilliant, with a menu that changed every night. Actually that is something unique about QE2 – each restaurant offered a different menu each day of the voyage on every day of QE2’s career – impressive!
Caronia grade passengers enjoyed a “C” grade cabin, which varied from large, spacious staterooms on Two Deck and Three Deck, to smaller cabins on Four Deck. The bigger cabins had baths, while all offered ensuites and showers. If you’re getting confused with all the Deck and Stairway references check out the QE2’s Deckplans.
The Mauretania Restaurant was located on Upper Deck, just aft of the A-Stairway. It was greatly remodeled in 1994 and for a brief time was called the Caronia Restaurant. The room featured a bold sculpture of the “White Horses of the Atlantic Ocean” as its centerpiece, which was an artistic depiction of the movement of water on the bow of a ship.
This was my restaurant for this cruise as we were travelling in a M grade cabin on Five Deck.
The seats at the table were comfortable and had high backs, which gave good support. There was a mural of a pond during an autumn sunset on the forward wall, which accentuated the colours of the carpeting. Opposite the mural on the aft wall is a model of the RMS. Mauretania of 1907.
The tables were all laid nicely, with great care. Fresh flowers were on each table (there was a Greenery on Three Deck) and each table had were two dedicated waiters. Tables could seat 2, 4, 6 or 8 people. The menu was varied and dynamic, with a different selection each day. There were regular theme nights with nations of the world providing inspiration for the chefs. In fact, over 100 chefs worked behind the scenes on QE2, to ensure that each meal was memorable.
Mauretania Grade cabins were the more basic of those aboard QE2, starting with modest inside rooms like mine (see pic) through to larger rooms with a porthole. All rooms had ensuite and showers.
In addition to the formal dining options there were some alfresco choices too. Found at the aft of Quarter Deck, the Lido was a popular breakfast alternative, serving a variety of food including waffles, pancakes, eggs cooked to order and porridge. There was a wide range of fruits and cereals. Waiters will assist the elderly to tables and drinks are provided upon request. The Lido also offered a buffet lunch and dinner, as well as a regular midnight buffet! Unlike modern cruise ships whose Buffets seem to cause mass traffic flow confusion, QE2’s Lido had a logical entry and exit point meaning there was no pushing and shoving to access the food. Human centric design at its best!
Just below the Lido on One Deck was the tiny Pavilion. Busy all day long, it served burgers, pizza and minute steak. It was home to the seemingly endless supply of soft serve ice cream and its location near the One Deck pool meant it was popular with sunbathers during our summer cruise.
Additionally, all cabins had access to 24/7 room service – complementary – and the food here was great too. I had one of the best cheese burgers ever from QE2’s room-service.
Life Aboard QE2
By 2008, everyone who travelled on QE2 could enjoy all the amenities of QE2, with the exception of the Queens Grill Lounge and Penthouse Decks (Signal and Sun) which were the exclusive domain of Queens Grill travellers.
That said, QE2 was a fairly large ship, and there was a plenty to do aboard.
The Crystal Bar on Upper Deck was one of my favorite locations, and was the entry way for most Mauretania, Princess Grill and Britannia Grill diners. The service here was attentive and the atmosphere was friendly. The design was a nod to the theming used aboard the original RMS. Queen Elizabeth.
Further aft, on the starboard side of Upper Deck, opposite the Casino was the Golden Lion Pub. The first Cunard Pub, it was added during the 1994 refit and decorated in dark woods and leather clad chairs, with a dance floor and live music. Plasma screens (yes, this was the top tech at the time) allowed you to keep track of your favourite sport, and beer was available on tap day and night. The Golden Lion was so popular it has been recreated aboard all of the current Queens.
Quarter Deck was home to the QE2’s Chart Room Bar. Also created in 1994, this was a beautifully decorated bar with a map of the North Atlantic Route as its centerpiece. This bar housed a chestnut grand piano that once was used aboard the original RMS. Queen Mary and was popular in the evening with people headed to the nearby Caronia Restaurant.
The Queens Room was QE2’s ballroom. By 2008 it was a unique blend of 1960s futuristic design, and Art Deco style. In 1999 the ships ’60s inspired “trumpet” columns and beehive ceiling were blended with wood paneling, luxurious blue high backed chairs and subtle lighting. Despite the blend of styles, somehow it worked – and the space had a great atmosphere.
This was the setting for the unforgettable QE2 Afternoon Tea experience, each day at 3pm. There was tea and coffee, sandwiches (egg, salmon, tuna, cucumber) and cakes as well as scones with jam and cream (in that order!!).
The Queens Room was also the venue for the Captain’s Cocktail Party, a chance for everyone to meet the ship’s Captain. Being a farewell voyage, on this particular cruise the party was packed, with Captain Ian McNaught shaking hands for what must have felt like an eternity! The queue went all around from the Queens Room, past the Caronia Restaurant and back down the starboard side of the ship towards the Lido (again, if you’re lost check out the deck plans).
The Grand Lounge on Upper Deck was the showroom aboard QE2. It sported red velvet chairs and modest stage, and hosted a variety of shows. It was also a multi-purpose auditorium and was used for games such as bingo, some lectures and hosted the popular passenger talent show. Each evening the room would host the after dinner show, which varied from local comedy acts and musicians to production shows (which were a bit stunted due to the room’s layout but none the less did a good job).
Just aft of the Grand Lounge you’d find the ships nightclub: The Yacht Club. It was created with an Americas Cup theme. The bar was fantastic to look at with a sailing-boat inspired design. The whole room had a welcoming and informal ambiance, with a view aft and large windows looking over the side QE2 in a raised “hide away” area. The service here was very friendly and the live band and DJ played late every night.
Back on Quarter Deck, QE2 had one of the largest libraries at sea, with over 6,000 books. The ship also had a fully trained librarian, who could assist you in all librarian matters. The popular Ocean Bookshop was adjacent to the library and, with a large number of ocean liner related books, was one of my favorite places aboard.
QE2 also had a two level movie Cinema; named The Theatre. It was located on Upper Deck with the balcony level accessible from Boat Deck. The Theatre offered various screenings of both new release and classic movies and also hosted the Cunard Insights (lecture) programme (I gave some lectures here in late 2008!!)
On the aft of Boat Deck passengers could find designer label clothes, gift items and Harrods at the Royal Promenade. This was the ship’s international shopping arcade and, well, by 2008 it was pretty limited in its size and scale but it did the job. The space was always busy and the crew here were great.
All the way down on Six Deck you’d find the Cunard Royal Spa. Operated by Steiner’s of London, it consisted of a large thalassotherapy pool as well as private treatment rooms. It was paired with the beauty salon on One Deck – again the strange layout is a throwback to QE2’s heritage as a two class ship.
QE2’s Gym was located on Seven Deck. It was quite small and had a number of equipment pieces as well as full time instructors. It was coupled with a heated indoor pool which was popular when we were sailing in the chilly waters of the Southern Ocean.
Actually, as a side note – this space has been renovated aboard the Hotel QE2 in 2018 and from pictures it is one of the few areas they’ve improved upon since QE2 became a hotel ship, mainly thanks to the removal of the original low ceilings.
Other Things To Do
During the day, there were many different activities aboard QE2. One of the most interesting had to be the Heritage Trail tours, 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 and memorabilia from older Cunard ships, as well as historical artifacts dating back to Cunard’s origins in 1840. On our cruise, “Thomas” was giving the Heritage Trail tours and he was a genius in his delivery and flair.
In the Queens Room, ballroom dancing lessons were held on the large floating dance floor (before QM2 came along it was the largest dance floor at sea). Some of us enjoyed watching the dancing, while other people liked finding a quiet spot in the room to read.
You could also venture out to the wonderful teakwood boat deck and sit on a traditional wooden deck chair and relax as the sea went by.
The outdoor sports centre as small, but still had a full-sized paddle tennis court that was put to good use. There was also a basketball hoop, shuffle board, a golf driving range, putt-putt and the more traditional shipboard games of deck quoits.
By night QE2 came alive with shows in the Grand Lounge, parties in the Yacht Club, karaoke in the Golden Lion Pub, a midnight buffet in the Lido, dancing in the Queens Room, movies at The Theatre, and even late night parties on the Funnel Bar deck, at the aft end of Sun Deck.
QE2 was a very special experience. She was a true Ocean Liner with a unique atmosphere I’ve never experienced on any other ship. She has a few little quirks that came with her age, but they made her special. She was a fairly big ship, yet provided a personal and friendly experience thanks largely to her committed and engaged crew who overwhelmingly appeared proud to work aboard the ship.