Travel Story Majestic Cunard voyage an affair to remember

Photo of Suzanne Morphet

Glamming up for a taste of the luxe life on the Queen Mary 2.

On my recent Cunard cruise, I packed with extra care. 

Three nights out of the seven would be gala evenings and a chance to wear something a little out of the ordinary. Well, make that A  LOT out of the ordinary.

Many cruise lines have given up on formal flings, but not Cunard, the company that pioneered the concept of world cruising in 1922 and continues to give guests plenty of opportunities to celebrate in style. For my 24-year-old daughter and me, these evenings would prove to be one of the highlights of our voyage.

For our first Cunard cruise, Alanna and I chose a Transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York on Queen Mary 2, one of three Queens in the Cunard fleet. When she was launched in 2004, she was the largest, longest, widest and most expensive passenger liner ever built. And unlike cruise ships designed for shallow waters, her long, slender lines combined with the power of her engines allows her to slice gracefully through wild Atlantic waves that can — and one day on our cruise DID — reach 8.5m. 

Queen Mary’s two sister ships, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, are smaller but equally regal looking with their jet-black hulls and distinctive red-and-black funnels. 

Inside, they’re just as glamorous as Queen Mary. Imagine, for instance, a big theatre with seating for 1000 people, including private boxes where you can sip champagne and eat chocolates while enjoying a lavish production worthy of London’s West End.

That’s the Royal Court Theatre on Queen Elizabeth, which, by the way, will be making five new ports of call in south-western Australia in early 2019 ( Busselton, Kangaroo Island, Hobart, Burnie and Port Arthur) as part of Cunard’s emphasis on more regionally focused itineraries. 

As well, Queen Elizabeth will once again do a transoceanic crossing from Southampton to Fremantle in late 2019.

So how did our cruise go?

I’ve experienced my share of cruises and cruise companies, from sleek Viking river vessels with 100 passengers, to mid-size ships including Holland America’s Rotterdam with 1400 guests. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve also enjoyed a couple of super casual cruises with UnCruise Adventures, where pretty much all I needed to pack was my bathing suit and a pair of shorts and was soon calling many of the 60 or so other guests by first name.

Queen Mary 2 is a different creature altogether, with room for about 2600 guests.

Wandering through the ship after boarding in Southampton, Alanna and I are dazzled by the elegant public spaces — the sweeping staircase in the Grand Lobby with its shiny black piano and striking floral arrangement; the Queens Room with the biggest dance floor at sea; and the Commodore Club overlooking the ship’s bow, where fabulous cocktails are concocted to celebrate some of Cunard’s most decorated commodores. The Punch Romaine a la Carpathia, for instance, recalls the last libation thought to have been served on the Titanic and celebrates Sir Arthur Rostron, the captain of Cunard’s Carpathia, which rescued all 705 Titanic survivors.

Then there’s the library. Remember when we all read books printed on real paper? This is the biggest library at sea with more than 10,000 books and a good selection of  magazines. I love my iPad too, but I could easily spend many quiet hours here immersed in words while ensconced on a leather sofa and surrounded by gleaming glass-panelled shelves filled with books. Alanna finds one she thinks I’ll enjoy — Finding Gobi — about a stray dog that befriends an ultramarathon runner (she’s right; it’s a must-read for any dog lover) and off we go to explore some more.

Because Cunard has been in business for so long — the company was started by Canadian entrepreneur Samuel Cunard in 1839 — and because it has a stellar reputation to maintain, Cunard can claim a lot of industry firsts, such as having the first ship with hot and cold water in every cabin. Of course, we all take hot water for granted these days, but how about the first planetarium at sea? The first cultural academy operated by the University of Oxford? Or the first Canyon Ranch SpaClub at sea?

One afternoon, Alanna and I lean back in our chairs in the domed and darkened planetarium to watch National Geographic’s documentary Asteroid: Mission Extreme. In visually riveting detail, it explains how asteroids are both a threat and an opportunity to humankind.

Another day, we learn about the more down-to-earth science of DNA testing that’s revolutionising genealogy research. Four experts from Ancestry.com are on this particular cruise, including Jennifer Utley, who oversees research for the television shows Who Do You Think You Are? and Long Lost Family. There’s a daily “reveal”, where they share what they’ve learned about six crew and six guests, based on DNA analysis from samples of saliva. (These lectures are so popular that Cunard and Ancestry.com plan to team up again on future cruises.)

And, not surprisingly, the spa becomes a much-anticipated part of our daily routine, especially on days when Deck 7 — where you can walk or run laps outdoors — is closed due to the weather. (It’s November, so it’s wet and windy.) Our visits usually begin in the aqua therapy pool, where warm water pummels heads and bodies and we can float on a bed of bubbles. 

A sweat-inducing session in the Finnish sauna comes next, followed by aromatherapy in the steam room. One day, we treat ourselves to a facial and massage and let all the problems of the world slip away.

You might think that putting in time on a cruise with no ports of call would be a bit of a problem in itself, but not on this ship. Before we know it, each day is done and it’s time to dress for dinner and an evening of entertainment. One night, it’s the Black and White Ball, where the dance floor soon fills with couples dressed in their finest, twirling to tunes from the seven-piece Queens Room Orchestra. Other nights, it’s a Masquerade Ball, with guests wearing Venetian-style Mardi Gras masks, or taking in a musical show in the Royal Theatre. (Live music isn’t just reserved for evenings; pianists, harpists, string quartets and others play throughout the day.)

With so much fun to be had, it’s midnight before we even think of turning in most nights. As an  early riser, that might be a challenge for me until I realise that five nights out of seven we’ll be turning back our clocks one hour as we travel ever westward. The luxury of a little more time to appreciate the finer things in life has never been more welcome.

Fact File

For information about Cunard’s Australian and other itineraries, contact your travel agent, call Cunard toll-free at 1800 728 6273, or visit cunard.com.

Disclaimer

Suzanne Morphet was a guest of Cunard. They have not seen or approved this story.

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