by Mark Tre’
Cunard Line’s new Queen Elizabeth wowed the crowds that visited her last week, both before and after her official christening by Queen Elizabeth II on Monday, October 11. Many who visited her have indeed said that she could become their favourite Cunarder.
The new ship, now on her maiden voyage, is visibly different from her near sister ship Queen Victoria in two ways. First, there is a new greens area (tennis, bowls and croquet) atop the bridge that adds a sort of "crown" appearance to the superstructure and has been adopted from the Grand Princess class of ships. And at the stern, she is more built up by the addition of a few more cabins and a larger lido and aft pool area.
Queen Elizabeth is not only comfortable but also quite cosy, considering that she can carry more than 2,000 passengers. Although in many ways she is like Queen Victoria, her colours are more pleasing to the eye, with a completely different palette, more 1930s than 1890s, and she has her own set of innovations as well.
Teresa Anderson, the director of interior design for sister company Princess Cruises who has also worked on P&O ships, had become vice-president of interior design for Cunard Line for Queen Victoria and followed on with Queen Elizabeth too. She, along with Giacomo Mortola, president of GEM in Genoa, and a veteran from Sitmar days, and London’s SMC Design, have been responsible for the final product.
In Ms Anderson’s words, "Classical motifs along with Art Deco influences coalesce into a subtle continuity that captures the mystique of the ocean liner."
They have done a remarkable job especially so as occasionally in the past Ms Anderson has been criticised for being responsible for "Princess bland." That brand’s somewhat "safe" decor, inherited from the likes of Sea Venture and Sitmar, has until now had no obviously identifiable ethos of its own, unlike competitors Celebrity and Holland America.
But back to the new ship, the Queen’s Room forward on Deck 2 takes great advantage of its space while further aft the two-deck Britannia Restaurant on Decks 2 and 3 is also very striking. Her public rooms take advantage of height and colours throughout are lighter and warmer than in Queen Victoria. Furthermore, the use of sweeping staircases throughout this ship evoke her liner heritage, coming down the years from Queen Mary, the first Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth 2.
In fact, Peter Shanks, president of Cunard, drew the audience’s attention to the fact that Her Majesty was the only person at the ceremony who had been present at the namings of all thee ships – as a princess at the launching of Queen Elizabeth by her mother in 1938, launching the QE2 herself in 1967, and last week naming the new Queen Elizabeth. She also named the Queen Mary 2 in 2003.
On board again, forward of the Queen’s Room, one finds Golden Lion Pub to starboard and forward of that again, on Decks 1, 2 and 3, the two-deck Royal Court Theatre with its private boxes. Above the Golden Lion Pub are the shops, including the first seagoing branch of the famed Fortnum & Mason.
To followers of promenade decks, the new Queen Elizabeth is an advance on Queen Victoria as she has a completely wrap-around promenade on Deck 3, whereas Queen Victoria‘s stops at the forward end and does not connect across.
The public areas of the new ship flow very well, with each room having a drama of its own. At the same time, the lighter tones make the ship seem less Dickensian, giving off a warmer feeling than Queen Victoria (although Queen Victoria is a very comfortable ship in her own right, her colours are more Edwardian and more Art Nouveau than Art Deco).
One travel agent, Tina Bull, who travelled in the original Queen Elizabeth as a 16-year-old girl, was quoted in "Travel Weekly," saying the new Queen Elizabeth "has such a wonderful feel to it – as soon as you come onboard it is welcoming and very relaxing."
In terms of dining venues, the Britannia Club and the Verandah Restaurant on Deck 2 are a great advance on Todd English on the other Queens (Reviews of Todd English often seem to say that people came away disappointed) and the Grill restaurants atop the ship will be very popular, especially as Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria offer far better locations than in Queen Mary 2‘s hind quarters.
And the Grills, although they can be accessed only by Grill passengers with their key cards, are sufficiently out of the way on top of the ship that other passengers are not obviously offended by a seeming class system.
Queen Elizabeth‘s Garden Lounge is a departure from the Winter Garden on Queen Victoria. With its windowed ceiling, it looks like a large conservatory and while striking to look at (especially on a sunny day in Southampton) it will be interesting to see how it works when in service. This lounge looks out onto the midship pool area that leads in turn to that greens area under the crown dome forward.
The public thoroughfares on the lounge decks of the new ship are very comfortable and the choices of carpeting throughout the ship are striking – rich and comforting and not gimmicky as on some recent ships. The position of the Queen’s portrait is somewhat surprising though. One might have expected it to be installed in the centre of a main stairwell, but in fact it is hung off the starboard side of one of the stair landings.
On the same deck, the Cafe Carinthia is quite possibly the most comfortable lounge on the ship, and is much larger than the same space in Queen Victoria.
Both Lord Linley’s veneer marquetry Art Deco-style representation of the original Queen Elizabeth and the memorabilia and artwork throughout the ship have been well chosen. And the ship’s bell and building plaque from QE2 can be found outside the Yacht Club, as can the silver model of her, which was somehow repatriated from Dubai. As well as photos of passengers from the old Queens, there are paintings and works of art throughout, typically of say the Venice or Manhattan skylines. These touches make walking around the ship an interesting experience.
The aft pool area built up on Deck 9 aft has been extended right to the stern of the ship and is vastly larger than on Queen Victoria. In fact, it reminds one of the Orient Line’s original Oriana of 1960. Fifty years ago, that ship was the first to bring us the "build her right to the stern" look that is common to-day and can also be seen in Holland America’s Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam.
Although it changes the outboard profile from the more tiered Queen Victoria, this area on Queen Elizabeth is very effective as a lido and has much more outdoorsy feel than the enclosed, almost claustrophobic, feeling generated around the pools of many mass market ships with their waterslides and metallic palm trees. Queen Elizabeth is a great improvement on the Holland America ships as she does not have the clutter of those for-hire tents that HAL call cabanas.
The decks on Queen Elizabeth, however, are laid from artificial teak and one would hope that one day Cunard will see fit to lay proper teak, even it actually costs £300 to £400 per square metre for ship’s decking based on thickness.
All in all, it is hard to believe that Queen Elizabeth has been built on what is a lengthened version of the same platform that was used for Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam. The new Queens have no chrome decoration and their hard surfaces are more marble than metallic, more chandelier than shard or funny colours. Overhead lighting fixtures are quite spectacular, but still traditional.
In sum, Queen Elizabeth is a very comfortable ship. Shortcomings: lack of teak decks make the outside grill area look cheap and as for the buffet area, well a cafeteria is a cafeteria, but this area is more easily avoided than Queen Mary 2‘s King’s Cafeteria and now features individual food stations.
Attractions: The feel of the ship is very much like an ocean liner, even moreso than Queen Mary 2, and the lounge areas have a different, one might say smoother, flow. The overall effect is like being in a grand hotel.