Cruising with Cunard harks back to the golden age of cruising, with traditions such as different restaurants for different classes of passengers, dressing up for dinner, and high tea served by white-gloved waiters. If you're not sure whether the formality of Cunard's Queen Elizabeth is for you, a two-night 'taster' cruise is the perfect way to test the waters. Here are 10 things you need to know before you go.
1. Boarding can be chaotic.
If you're boarding in Sydney, brace yourself for the mad melee of excited passengers with everyone trying to get on the ship as soon as possible to make the most of their 48 hours onboard. In hindsight, we should have delayed our arrival for an hour or two instead of joining the throng.
2. The Golden Lion Pub serves food.
Dining on classic pub fare at The Golden Lion is complimentary, the atmosphere is satisfyingly British and the food is good. Our fish and chips with mushy peas was a hit and the hearty ploughman's lunch on the next table looked equally good. This 'secret lunch spot' is a particularly good option on boarding day.
3. It's not as dressy as you might expect.
Short Australia cruises on Queen Elizabeth are a surprisingly casual affair. On our sailing from Melbourne to Sydney, boarding day outfits ranged from country club chic to shorts teamed with T-shirts and thongs. Her Majesty The Queen, who launched the ship in October 2010, would likely raise an eyebrow at the latter but the charming staff went out of their way to make everyone feel welcome.
4. Gala Night lives up to its name.
Gala Night is a different story when it comes to what people wear. Casual is out, and glamour is most certainly in. Bring your dressiest look or you'll feel decidedly out of place. Women wearing 'cruise casual' gear and gents without a jacket are politely directed to the Lido buffet for dinner on Gala Night. On our cruise, ladies wore evening dresses, a cocktail frock or smart little black dress. Even the blokes rocking their best T-shirts on boarding day went all out with a tux or smart trousers with a jacket.
5. The best photo is by the grand staircase.
No cruise on this elegant ship is complete without a photo taken on the Grand Staircase using the striking 5-metre high marquetry mural of Cunard's first Queen Elizabeth as a backdrop. This iconic artwork showcases the ship's elegant lines and was created by Viscount David Linley, the nephew of Queen Elizabeth II. Stop by early on Gala Night to have your photo taken here before it gets busy.
6. Room service breakfast is an essential treat.
This elegant in-room dining experience is complimentary and should not be missed on your first morning. Remember to fill out your breakfast order and hang it on your door knob on your first night onboard as room service breakfast is not available on disembarkation day. Your breakfast's arrival is preceded by a courtesy phone call, delivered by a dapper waiter and, most importantly, the cooked breakfast is piping hot.
7. Your cabin determines where you dine.
Passengers staying in Queens Grill and Princess Grill suites dine in the 120-seat Queen or 120-seat Princess Grill restaurants. Britannia Club cabins have their own intimate Britannia Club restaurant with free seating available anytime from 6.30 pm and 9.00pm each evening. Everyone else dines at the 800-seat two-deck Britannia Restaurant at either 5.45pm or 8.00pm.
8. It's worth paying for the specialty restaurant.
Perhaps we were just unlucky, but service was patchy in the Britannia Restaurant on the night we visited and our tablemate struggled to flag down a waiter and sommelier. The food was fine but much the same as you'll find in the main dining room on any quality mainstream line. If you don't mind spending a little extra, it's worth booking a table at the specialty steak and seafood restaurant, Steakhouse at The Verandah, on your second night. At US$39 per person, this fine dining experience was exceptional and a steal for the price. Don't leave before the dainty petit fours arrive; they're superb.
9. The guest lectures are excellent.
Even if you wouldn't normally go, don't miss the onboard lectures in the Royal Court Theatre on sea days. The quality of the speakers is impressive and well-known raconteurs often appear on the program. On our sailing, Peter FitzSimons OAM regaled the crowd with tales of the derring-do sailors onboard the Batavia and yarns about famous football legends. Maritime historian Chris Frame gave an equally entertaining talk on the history of the ocean liner, featuring beautiful photos and fascinating facts.
10. Anyone can dance in the ballroom.
Travelling solo or cruising with a partner who doesn't like to dance? No problem. Queen Elizabeth has male and female dance hosts who take passengers for a twirl around the elegant Queens Room dance floor. A brief moment of eye contact with any of the ladies or gents wearing a name tag is all it takes for one of these charming dancers to invite you to join them on the floor. If you have two left feet, it's still worth getting up for at least one song. These experts will somehow manage to make you look like Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire.