TRAVEL: Queenly cruise suitable for a King
SHE caused quite the stir when she sailed into Sydney Harbour a decade ago, almost bringing the city to a standstill as is only fitting for royalty.
Her visit last month was a more low-key affair as Queen Mary 2 sailed into the beautiful harbour in the dawn light, gliding past her sister Queen Elizabeth anchored near Taronga Zoo. Cunard's two most famous liners spent a day and evening in Sydney creating an historic event, with QM2 looking more splendid than ever after a $160million remastering.
We were on board QM2 to experience her expensive new look, along with about 2000 others, and no-one was holding back in their enthusiasm for the magnificent ship with its under-stated British elegance. The Englishness was most evident at afternoon tea where a harpist played as hundreds of pinkie fingers were raised over china cups, and white-gloved waiters proffered silver trays of cucumber sandwiches and scones with jam and cream.
While the ship is most definitely the Queen, food and wine are king on board. The Verandah Grill - a new speciality restaurant harking back to the refined atmosphere of Cunard's original Verandah Grills reserved for First Class passengers - is now available to all passengers (for extra cost). Contemporary French cuisine (slipper lobster, magret duck, prune and Armagnac tart, in our case) is served in grand tradition by discreet waiters who, after multi-courses, will wheel trolleys of dainty petit fours and dazzling liqueurs to your table.
In the Carinthia Lounge, a place of relaxed glamour with curved lounges and dining chairs and tables, we took morning coffee although light breakfast and lunch dishes were served. It is here you must ponder the collection of 46 different vintage ports dating back to 1840.
The Queens and Princess Grills, both with a la carte offerings and sophisticated service, work well, but the buffet in the Kings Court must be the most popular for breakfast and lunch and while it is, yes, a buffet, it didn't seem as frantic as others we've experienced. The English influence of patient queueing perhaps? You'll feel regal yourself as you enter the grand lobby, and definitely when you make a grand entrance down the steps of the curved staircase in the two-tiered Britannia Restaurant with its coloured-glass ceiling.
We particularly loved the Smokehouse restaurant (cost involved) with its classic American dishes - best ribs and blackened salmon we've had. QM2 can boast (if she was so inclined, she isn't) to have a number of 'world firsts' at sea. The library certainly qualifies with 8000 books. The wine cellar has the world's biggest-at-sea collection with 450 fine wines including a $4500 bottle of California Screaming Eagle, which you can have by the glass thanks to a new Coravin wine pouring system, which uses a fine needle to extract from a bottle without unsealing the cork. After food comes pleasure - and it is plentiful at the Canyon Ranch spa on two fragrant levels, the biggest and most luxe we've seen at sea (that's our boast) with a range of treatments fit for royalty (you).
New carpet laid during the remastering - six football pitches of it - adds to the elegance, and hectares of teak decks around the ship are home to rows of timber deck chairs lined like military soldiers and facing the sea. Terribly British.
If you can get past the wickedly seductive Godiva shop with its sinful chocolates, you'll make it into some of the world's big brand-name outlets including Michael Kors, luxury bags, shoes, accessories. Fifty new staterooms have been added, with the new Britannia Club Balcony staterooms paying tribute to the original QM iconic art deco heritage.
A number of new single staterooms have been included to meet the increasing demands of lone travellers. There are quirks on board too: kennels for four-legged guests.
QM2 is the only cruise liner in the world to offer dedicated kennels, and the pampered pooches even have a lamp post and a fire hydrant to enhance their walking experience on reserved decks during transatlantic cruises. Everything you expect from a cruise liner is available, but without the brash or the obvious: a casino, swimming pools, card, bingo and trivia games, dance classes, deck games, fitness classes, afternoon melodies.
And a bonus for the single ladies - nine professional dance partners who will lead you around the ballroom while an orchestra plays.
Could it be any more British? Details on Queen Mary 2's 2018 Australian itinerary, to www.cunard.com.
The writer was a guest on board Queen Mary 2.