Cunard brings with a reputation of class, elegance and luxury.
Founded in 1840, the company’s ocean liners are famous for their pioneering transatlantic crossings delivered with authentic British charm.
Australian travellers are now set to experience it more than ever before, with the Queen Elizabeth set to visit our shores for 101 days from this December.
There’ll also be visits from Cunard’s flagship the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria during their world voyages.
9Honey Travel stepped onboard the Queen Elizabeth for a cruise from Melbourne to Sydney, via the Tasmanian foodie hub of Burnie.
Built at an estimated cost of more than $870 million and launched in 2010, the Queen Elizabeth is the second largest ocean liner in Cunard’s fleet.
The 90,900-tonne vessel can hold more than 2000 passengers in its 1074 staterooms – including more than 700 with their own private balcony.
On board, it feels like you’re in a floating, art deco city: the freshly-refurbished, plush finishes and dim lighting offer a feeling of opulence.
Especially impressive is the Grand Lobby, resplendent with a marble staircase, mahogany touches, a grand piano and chandeliers.
This is not your average party cruise.
An air of formality is everywhere, from the white-gloved tea waiters to the after-dark dress code of a shirt and jacket for men or blouses, skirts, “stylish trousers” and dresses for women.
It’s also the sheer size of the liner that’s truly mind-boggling, even if the Queen Elizabeth isn’t among the largest ships worldwide.
Still, at 294 metres it’s twice the length as the ‘Gabba and nearly as long as Melbourne’s Eureka Tower is tall.
There’s a shopping arcade with retail spaces by Max Mara, Chanel, Tom Ford and Longines among others; a gym; a two-storey ballroom; a 6000-book library, two pools and two spas; an 800-seat theatre; and a games deck for tennis, croquet and bowls.
A packed daily schedule offers everything from dance classes, string performances, a Beatles tribute act, paddle tennis competitions and trivia games.
And during the dry-dock refurbishment of the ship late last year, Cunard added Mareel – what they call a “holistic spa concept”.
Guests can indulge in a massage, seaweed bathing rituals, steam rooms and spa treatments.
Check-in is a breeze, with your bags dropped off and delivered to your door by RM Williams-wearing bellboys.
A bottle of Champagne awaits guests in their room. I’m assigned a balcony suite with views of the rolling seas. The balcony is big enough for a table and two chairs – a perfect spot on warmer nights for a drink or to read a book before dinner.
The ship is Wi-Fi enabled, with guests able to purchase plans – although they are expensive and not suited to constant surfing or video streaming.
The room is spacious with ample storage room, a small couch and a coffee table. There’s also basic cable television.
Dining and drinking
The Golden Lion offers a range of ales in a dark, English-style pub, while the elegant Commodore Club has lounge entertainment and decent cocktails.
The serene mood changes after-dark at the Yacht Club bar, where DJs spin classic hits on a dancefloor with 270-degree views.
On my trip, passengers ranging from 30-somethings to the older crowd throw shapes until (very) late on all our nights at sea – think ABBA, Hall and Oates, the Bee Gees and all your wedding singalongs.
Seafaring is hungry work and to eat, there’s more than 10 restaurants and cafes on board.
The casual Lido, which hosts a buffet breakfast and lunch each day, transforms nightly into one of three restaurants: South American, Mexican or Asian.
Headlining the restaurant options is the new Steakhouse at the Verandah, a fine-dining concept with name-checking produce from around the world: Australian wagyu, Maine lobster and Alaskan king crab all feature.
Feeding more than 2000 passengers and another 1000 crew is a feat in itself and the man in charge of the operation is executive chef Roland Sargunan.
He started as a commis and worked his way to the top over 20 years.
On an average 14-day voyage, Roland’s team serve more than 90,000 meals and clean more than 1 million pieces of china.
The galley is set up as a production line, with waiters forming a queue and filing past stations to collect meals for hungry passengers.
“If they’re doing a roast, for example, they’ll be plating a meal every five or six seconds,” Roland says.
These short cruises are sometimes more taxing for staff than extended journeys.
“They eat and eat and drink! It’s almost double the production every day compared to a 12-day cruise,” Roland says.
We pick up the ship at Melbourne’s Station Pier before we head overnight to Burnie, an industrial hub on Tasmania’s northwestern coast.
Cunard offers day trips on land and I opt for a tour of the local food trail.
At the Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm, visitors can sample an assortment of dairy products including cheese, milk, cream and butter.
I also snap up a bottle of McHenry’s Barrel Aged Gin, distilled in Tasmania’s historic Port Arthur region.
Then it’s off to 41 South, an environmentally friendly salmon producer run by eccentric German Ziggy Pyka.
Over a lunch of the farm’s famous hot-smoked salmon in a spicy wrap – washed down with a Tasmanian pale ale – I get talking to Ziggy.
He’s a fascinating character, an electrical engineer who left his life in his homeland 32 years ago to start anew in Australia.
Using his trade skill, he built all the infrastructure on his 36-acre farm – including a hydroelectricity system that powers everything on site without the need to be connected to the grid.
Ziggy has a brusque way of speaking but you get a real sense of his pride when he tells me the water that enters his farm leaves it cleaner than it came in.
It’s a commendable effort, considering around 10,000 salmon are farmed on site every year.
And how often does he eat his own salmon?
“Five times a week, sometimes six times,” he laughs.
From there it’s to Anvers chocolate for cake then Spreyton’s cider for a tour of the local orchards and afternoon drink in the sun before heading back to the ship.
Cunard prides itself on offering a more sophisticated travel experience.
Queen Elizabeth’s refurbished soft furnishings and the general finish around the ship add a genuine feel of class, while the new additions to the dining and treatment offerings allow guests to properly splurge.
As you might expect, the clientele is on the older side of things so there’s less on offer for kids and younger passengers than other cruise brands – in fact, I barely spy a single child on board the whole time we’re at sea.
Nevertheless it’s an elegant, quintessentially British way to cruise the high seas.
The writer travelled as a guest of Cunard on the Queen Elizabeth three-night Australia Short Break itinerary, from $819pp including afternoon tea, some meals and excursions, and onboard entertainment.