From Auckland to America, it's party time for Cunard
Cunard ships have been gracing the seas for 175 years, and as the cruise line celebrates this extra-special birthday around the world, cruisesalefinder.co.nz is paying tribute to Cunard cruises and their glorious triumvirate: Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2.
Often gracing New Zealand on global itineraries, these cruising giants of the water retain a traditional feel, refusing to compromise on style, service and glamour in an increasingly competitive industry. So we sent one of our own to the Queen Elizabeth to get the inside track.
A birthday like no other
In recognition of such a historically significant birthday, Cunard is bringing the party to the people during spring and summer of 2015. All three ships will be enjoying group rendezvous in Sydney in March and Liverpool (UK) in May. Also on the schedule is an Original Transatlantic Crossing from Southampton to New York in July, with special festivities, guest speakers, gala menus and so much more.
But why have Cunard ships retained their status as the ultimate in cruising for nearly two centuries? Well, these holidays pay tribute to the bygone era of cruising. Presentation, style, class and exceptional customer service are the watch-words, as Queens Elizabeth, Victoria and Mary 2 embark on voyages that incorporate transatlantic journeys, Baltic adventures, the warmth of the Caribbean and Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, New Zealand and Australia and the exotic Far East. And while so many destinations and shore excursions are an attraction, the main draw-cards are always the ships themselves.
Cruising 2015, Cunard style
Cruisesalefinder.co.nz consultant Amy McMillan gave us a unique insight into the Queen Elizabeth, spending four days on board from Auckland to Sydney, with a stopover at the gorgeous Bay of Islands.
CSF: What are your first memories of Cunard?
Amy: Well the Queen Elizabeth was my first time on holiday on board a Cunard ship, but I recall going on the Queen Elizabeth for the day, back when I was a teen â€“ it was wonderful and really sparked my interest in cruising.
CSF: Can you define what Cunard cruises are all about?
Amy: I would say tradition is a key emphasis, with style and class at the very forefront of all that they do. Look out for Waterford glass while eating your dinner off Royal Doulton crockery. You are also very well looked after, with crew outnumbering passengers two to one. It's just a nostalgic taste of the past, which is always something special.
CSF: The dining experience is often raved about â€“ is this justified?
Amy: I have to say that the food was of the very highest standard. The Britannia Restaurant had so much choice, I didn't even get a chance to try everything. This was our evening selection for food in general, as we sat in the 800-seat environment across two decks â€“ it was a wonderful venue. As expected, the waiters and sommelier had fantastic recommendations, while lunch and breakfast were also top-drawer.
The Verandah Restaurant is another 'must-do'. While the seven-course degustation menu was only an extra $35, that was too much for me. I just had some simpler dishes that were still lovely. Try breakfast at the Lido, with the simply irresistible pancake station. For an English pint, the Golden Lion Pub will satisfy anyone's cravings, while there were six options for lunch â€“ and this is all part of the package and no extra cost.
You can't really travel on a Cunard ship and not take advantage of the Afternoon Tea in the ballroom. Totally relaxing, you need to get in the queue and arrive early â€“ seats are nearly always full to the brim. Just sip tea, lounge away with some piano music and relax.
CSF: What about those seeking a vibrant nightlife?
Amy: The 12 bars are all accessible and fun, while the Commodore Club is highly recommended. Canapes and cocktails are popular, and it's ideal for a pre-dinner sweetener. If you want to hit the dance floor then Yacht Club Nightclub caters for everyone, with a live band and DJ, depending on what you're into. Those of us who embarked in Auckland also enjoyed a welcome-aboard party with sparkling wine to get us in the holiday mood.
Other activities included karaoke, bingo, quizzes, games, movies and so much more. You really won't have time to pack it all in. If you fancy some exercise, the sports deck has old school lawn bowls and tennis. The Guest Speaker Programmes, Book Club and educational activities combine to make a comprehensive selection of entertainment options.
CSF: Did the rooms live up to expectations?
Amy: The look of the ship was spectacular and really made you feel like you were somewhere special. DÃ©cor was timeless and elegant and you could always find space on the ship, whenever you needed it. Our Balcony Twin Share cabin was positioned midship/aft and was well-maintained with a slightly smaller bathroom than I expected. Two bottles of French sparkling wine were there when we arrived, which was another nice touch.
CSF: What does the future hold for Cunard?
Amy: I have no doubt that they will continue to be successful for another 175 years. There is still a huge demand for this style of cruising, and while it's viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, many passengers are going back for more.