Regal voyaging: onboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth

Cunard Bell Boy carrying luggage
Cunard Bell Boy carrying luggage

During a cruise staying in the Q1 suites on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth ship, expect a touch of old-world glamour and classic hospitality at sea.

It’s early morning but I wake to step onto my spacious, wrap-around balcony at the aft of the ship. I’m on board the 2081-guest Queen Elizabeth ship, from Cunard, and she’s about to pull into what is surely one of the most spectacular sail-in and sail-away destinations in the world: Sydney Harbour.

The tugboats are there, guiding us safely into port. To the right are the white, mosaic-tiled sails of the Sydney Opera House and, as the ship turns, to our left in full, glorious view from every room of our suite is the arching Sydney Harbour Bridge, already with people at its peak for a sunrise Bridge Climb, appearing like grey ants beneath the billowing Australian and Aboriginal flags.

I’ve taken a brief, two-day sail from Melbourne to Sydney on board Queen Elizabeth. The sea-day-only cruise has been enough, however, to provide a snapshot of life on board Queen Elizabeth for luxury travellers taking longer voyages.

I’m staying in the Rostron Suite, one of four Queen’s Grill Grand Suites on the ship, that serves as a private residence, at 127-138 square metres, for me and my travel companion for the duration of our cruise. Waiting for us is a bottle of Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Champagne on ice, a bunch of flowers with a personalised note, fresh fruit, and chocolate-coated strawberries.

I’ve already arranged with our butler, Manny, to have breakfast on our balcony — why waste one of the best views in the world? Manny kindly sets it up for us on the deck where we sip on Champagne, tea and coffee poured from bone China pots, and feast on our pre-ordered hot breakfast watching Sydney’s ferries pull into Circular Quay, and joggers running along the concourse of the Opera House. The sky is grey, but nothing can detract from this special moment.

When we arrived at our Rostron Suite, accompanied by the Queens Grill Guest Services Manager, we were immediately struck by its spacious surrounds. Aside from a generously sized bedroom, featuring a Sealy Cunarder king-sized bed, there’s also a full-sized spa bath; a walk-in, marble shower; a separate washroom and parlour room with British Penhaligon’s full-sized amenity bottles and a fragrance kit; a walk-in wardrobe; working desk station; full dining table with seating for six; a lounge room and kitchen — plus, the huge balcony with internal access from three separate doorways.

Housekeeping Manager, Olga Loos, with Cunard for 17 years, later explains there are eight butlers and eight assistant butlers servicing a total of 66 Queens Grill category suites, with each butler servicing between eight to nine suites.

The Rostron suite is named in honour of Sir Arthur Henry Rostron, a Commodore of the Cunard fleet who retired in 1931.  Rostron was the captain of the ocean liner RMS Carpathia when it rescued survivors from the RMS Titanic in 1912 in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress, and in 1926, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. As guests of the Grand Suites, we can personalise our stay. From a ‘Bed Concierge’ menu, there are seven pillow types to choose from, five types of duvets, and four types of mattress toppers — the memory foam mattress topper that moulds to your shape is simply heavenly for a solid night’s sleep. We can also choose our preference for daily fruit, the wording for our personalised stationery and the items we’d like in the minibar.

Our meals are taken in the exclusive Queens Grill restaurant, where both the service standards and the cuisine are exceptional. From the à la carte menu, we can order ahead special dishes such as lobster thermidor, beef Wellington or, our choice, the roast duck a l’orange for two, carved at our table. Our sommelier David is on hand to discuss options from the extensive wine list featuring 480 wines from 27 countries. No matter what your vinous tastes, the list will have something to suit, including selections from some of the world’s best Maisons: perhaps the 2002 Château Lafite Rothschild; a 1998 Château Margaux; a 1996 Château Latour or a 1996 Petrus will beckon.

Speaking with the Food & Beverage Manager, Glenn Milway, who has been with Cunard for 12 years, I gain a greater understanding of the operation behind the 120-seat Queens Grill and the 110-seat Princess Grill.

“We’re doing around 800 meals a day in that area,” said Glenn, who leads an F&B team of 480 staff.

“At Queens Grill, you can have pretty much anything you want. If we haven’t got it on board, and we’ve got time to source it locally, we try and do that. If a guest wants oysters in a few days’ time, we can try and get them. Formal nights are our benchmark, and the formal afternoon tea has always been a standard of Cunard. We’ve never dropped that as we want to stay a premium brand.”

The gala night is a highlight. I stroll to the Grand Lobby on deck two, where there’s an enormous inlay timber wall feature, above a marble staircase, of the Queen Elizabeth ship, reflective of the Art Deco aesthetic featured throughout. I enjoy seeing the effort guests have made in dressing up — including one fabulous male guest in the Queens Grill restaurant who had worn an incredible gold lamé jacket the evening before and tonight is wearing a long, silver Japanese coat over his tuxedo.

For guests on longer voyages, there are endless activities to occupy your time between destinations. Live musicians perform at several bars and lounges — anything from folk, jazz, and harpists — you can even take singing lessons. At night, performances are hosted in the Royal Court Theatre — my tip is to get there early and secure a private box seat where I felt like Queen Elizabeth herself. Browse the onboard shops and art gallery or head outdoors to take part in the classic cruise activity of croquet; play shuffleboard, practice your swing in the golfing nets, or take a dip in one of two swimming pools

We enjoy a cocktail from the Cunard Classic Martini Collection in the Grills Lounge on Deck 11, overlooking another private outdoor relaxation lounging area for Queens Grill guests, before retreating to our room where daily complimentary afternoon canapes await. We pour Champagne, finding comfort in our deck chairs in total privacy, with nothing but the blue seas and the wake of the ship at the aft gliding through the deep blue Pacific Ocean below.

Journey notes

Indicative rates in one of the highest suite categories (Grand Suite, Q1) during, for example, the 14-Night Christmas and New Year sailing to NZ departing 22 December 2023, start from AUD$2250 per person, per day.

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