In Travel

Cunard’s Melbourne To Sydney Cruise Is A Step Back In Time

If you’ve been wondering whether Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth is worth the hype, you’ll know as soon as you get onboard.

It’s the phones that give it away. They’re everywhere as passengers stroll around the ship, photographing the art deco splendour of the triple-height Grand Lobby, videoing the Queens Room ballroom and peeking into the two-tier library with its historic world globe and more than 6,000 books.

Cruising Melbourne to Sydney on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth is a grand occasion and harks back to the Golden Age of cruising. Traditions such as different restaurants for different classes of passengers, dressing for dinner, and high tea served by white-gloved waiters are a quintessential part of the experience.

But it’s not all English pomp and splendour. In a nod to the ship’s Australian season, Cunard’s bellboys wear jaunty Akubra hats and a red and black uniform designed by R.M. Williams.

On short Australia cruises, boarding day is a surprisingly casual affair. Outfits are eclectic and range from country club chic to shorts, t-shirts and thongs. Gala night is a different story. Everyone makes an effort to dress up with pretty frocks and elegant gowns for the ladies and tuxes, suits, and sports jackets teamed with smart slacks for the gents.

Passengers pose for photos on the Grand Staircase with the striking artwork depicting Cunard’s first Queen Elizabeth serving as a backdrop. Watching the passing parade of passengers wearing their finest from the comfort of one of the elegant bars, a glass of champagne in hand, is one of many cruise highlights.

There are nine types of accommodation on Queen Elizabeth, including half a dozen Queens Grill suites named after the six Cunard Commodores who have been knighted. Your cabin category determines which restaurant you dine in. Passengers staying in Queens Grill and Princess Grill suites dine in the 120-seat Queen or Princess Grill restaurants respectively.

Britannia Club cabins have their own restaurant with free seating available anytime from 6:30pm and 9:00pm each evening. Everyone else dines at the 800-seat two-deck Britannia Restaurant at either 5:45pm or 8:00pm. Bring the printed card in your room with your assigned seating time to dinner on the first night as this has your table number printed on it.

I’m perfectly content in my standard balcony cabin which comes with crisp white sheets, royal blue velvet cushions emblazoned with a gilded crown and divine smelling bath products from British perfume house Penhaligon’s. Room service breakfast delivered by a white-gloved waiter on my first morning is a highlight and arrives piping hot, alongside a glass of chilled grapefruit juice and a pot of coffee.

Sail away drinks are best enjoyed in the Commodore Club where a pianist tickles the ivories and passengers sip cocktails inspired by Cunard’s most decorated Commodores.

Cunard queen elizabeth

I opt for The Commodore’s Cure which is named after Commodore Sir James Bisset’s legendary passenger seasickness remedy which involved a glass of chilled Champagne. A personal friend of Sir Winston Churchill, Commodore Bisset stowed the Magna Carta under his bed to ensure its safe delivery.

The cocktail featuring Pol Roger Cuvee, Plymouth gin and sweet Fraise de Bois is a reminder of Cunard’s history which began in the mid-1800s.

Dinner in the Britannia Restaurant features a mix of international and British dishes such as rack of lamb, pepper-crusted duck breast, and white chocolate mousse or lemon pudding for dessert. With only two nights onboard, it’s worth booking a table at the specialty steak and seafood restaurant Steakhouse at The Verandah (US$39 per person) for a dining experience with more of a wow factor on your final night.

Be warned you’ll have a right royal time trying to fit everything in on a 48-hour cruise.

Cunard queen elizabeth

On sea days, there are lectures in the Royal Court Theatre featuring guest speakers such as Peter FitzSimons and maritime historians who specialise in grand ocean liners or Australia’s discovery by ship. You could order a pint and cosy up in the British surrounds of the Golden Lion Pub which also serves classic English pub meals.

Each evening, male and female dance hosts whisk guests around the floor in the elegant two-tier Queens Room. You don’t need to be a good dancer to enjoy this beautiful ballroom and there’s no pressure to participate. Queen Elizabeth offers a tantalising glimpse of cruising’s more elegant days gone by and leaves me feeling nostalgic for a time when passengers truly ‘dressed for dinner’.

However, I can’t help but feel relieved there is only one formal night on my sailing. I don’t exactly have a wardrobe filled with floor-length ballgowns, elegant dresses and diamond necklaces at home. Yet another reason a short cruise on Queen Elizabeth is the perfect trip.

The writer sailed as a guest of Cunard.

(All images: Cunard / supplied)

Published 26 February, 2020