Spending any significant amount of time on a floating hotel has never really taken my fancy. I’ve always been searching for adventures on terra firma. But, little did I know, this would all change after I got an exclusive opportunity to spend an afternoon meandering onboard the Cunard Queen Elizabeth Luxury Ocean Liner as she lay docked in Cape Town harbour, courtesy of Whitestar Cruise and Travel‘s media tour. Spoiler alert: I’m saving hard for my dream world cruise!
I get some weird and wonderful requests for reviews and experiences in my email inbox. But when this one crossed my virtual desk, I was just shy of totally gobsmacked. Me? On a cruise ship? Would my audience be interested in a tour of a luxury ocean liner? And how do I tie the content to food? I couldn’t quite fit all the pieces together, but then my curiosity got the better of me. And, after all, we were having lunch on-board, so there’s a very definite food aspect involved. To the sea!
For over a century and a half, the iconic ships of Cunard have been defining sophisticated ocean travel. From fabled vessels of the past to her present royal court — Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth — Cunard has carried guests across the great oceans and to the far points of the globe in unparalleled style.
As part of her world cruise, the very majestic Queen Elizabeth docked in Cape Town overnight, and I had one chance royal to take a peek onboard.
As a matter of facts; the Queen Elizabeth carries 2081 guests and 1005 crew members. She is just shy of 300 m long with 12 (yes 12!) decks.
After various rigorous security checks and slowly winding our way through the Cape Town Cruise Terminal, we were finally ready to board. Name tags clipped in place, the excitement was tangible as we bobbed up and down, eager to pull out our cameras and start snapping.
They say first impressions are the most important ones. Well. My first impression was that I was dreaming with my eyes wide open. The tiny, nondescript doorway into the grey hull of the ship opened up into a wonderland of spendour, winding wooden staircases, golden touches and plush carpets. The noisy hustle of the harbour was muted by soft classical music, permeating the grand foyer in elegance and sophistication.
I literally had to stand still for a couple of minutes to take it all in. Nothing could’ve prepared me for this. And nothing gave away the fact that we were, actually, on a giant ship!
We were welcomed to the incredibly Grand Lobby by our hostess for the day. She gracefully led us into a tour of the boat, highlighting the main features, facilities and amenities, before we would, at the end of our tour, sit down for lunch in one of the many restaurants. Not even the pouring rain could dampen our spirits, because, if time allowed, we would also be permitted to meet with the Captain and the First Officer for a chat! But more on that later.
The tour: highlights
There’s simply too much to fit into one blog, so I’m going to summarise a few of my highlights of the tour. The following few hours passed by at lightning speed, and several times I wished I could slow time down.
The library was one of our first stops. It’s submerged in dark wood furniture, a spiral staircase and beautiful couches facing the windows. It holds over 8 000 books and, if you’re a book-nerd like me, it guarantees endless hours of on-board pleasure. With a stained glass roof and accents, it really was a beautiful sight to behold.
The Queens Room
This stately venue (because “room” hardly begins to describe it!) lends itself to afternoon teas and ballroom dancing. It’s as beautifully royal as it’s named counterpart and perfectly captures the gracefulness of an bygone era.
If anything perfectly encapsulates Cunard’s service and sense of occasion, it is their prized daily ritual: afternoon tea, served by white-gloved waiters from 3.30 to 4.30 pm every day in the Queens Room. Indulgent finger sandwiches, scones and pastries accompany Twinings fine leaf teas, as the orchestra provides a melodic backdrop.
En-route to the next deck we walked through the Monte Carlo inspired Empire casino and entertainment area. Slot machines line the walls and full roulette tables wait patiently for an evening of games and play.
Royal Court Theatre
Probably the absolute highlight for me – a full sized theatre on board, complete with those little cuddly two-seater booths on the sides, it simply took my breath away. I was in awe at the size of the theatre, and just the thought that this is all included in your cruise! Never a dull moment, that’s for sure…
Every evening during the cruise you have an array of entertainment choices. So, whether you’re in the mood for music, dance performances or even magic shows, prepare to settle into your seat. Watch the resident Royal Court Singers & Dancers stage dazzling West-End style productions or abridged Shakespeare performances. They’ve also hand-picked a talented line-up of vocalists and instrumentalists, aerial performers and illusionists, stand-up comedians and variety entertainers.
We also did site visits to the gym, the full spa (oh, yes!) and several other eating spaces on board before we continued the grand tour.
Meeting the Captain
Inger Klein Thorhauge is a Faroese cruise ship captain for Cunard Lines. After obtaining her Master’s Licence in 1994, she became interested in working in the cruise industry, joining Cunard Lines as a deck officer in 1997. Over the next 13 years, she worked her way up through the ranks. In 2010, she was named as the Captain of Cunard Lines’ MS Queen Victoria. This was the first time a woman had been made captain of a Cunard Lines vessel. She was subsequently made Captain of the MS Queen Elizabeth in 2011.
We met up with Captain Inger Klein Thorhauge and her First Officer in the vastly impressive Commodore Club, literally situated in the bow of the boat, with stretching glass windows all around for a panoramic first person view of the seas. We had a lovely informal chat about their time at sea, about the vessel, and about the challenges and adventures they face every day.
The foodie in me honed in when we started talking about the chefs and general food stats on board. With a staggering 130 chefs plus 70 utility personnel, it’s still a giant job to feed almost 3000 mouths every day. On any given day, the kitchen can prepare and serve around 1200 pounds (that’s almost 600kg!) of sirloin, beef tenderloin or lobster!
Environmental responsibilities and food waste
So the next question – how do they deal with food waste? This is something Cunard takes very seriously, as it became apparent through our chat with the Captain.
By carefully logging detailed consumption reports over time, they are able to map out a history of consumption figures, which guides the menus and purchases for future cruises. By drawing up demographic profiles of the passengers, they can also quite accurately dictate, based on these historical consumption reports, which food to load and how much.
The Captain assured us that there are very strict controls in place; so much so that they deal with very little food waste in general. Another effort to minimise the environmental impact and the amount of food waste generated, is that they’ve replaced food trays with plates in their restaurants, meaning the portions can be more easily controlled and anticipated. They have garbage separation policies on board and try to compact and “land” as much garbage as possible, meaning the compressed bricks of waste gets offloaded where they dock next. All very impressive!
After a quick tour of the top deck and recreational area, it was time for lunch. By now we were all ready to sit down, enjoy the views and sip a glass of wine.
Lunch was beautifully and promptly served, with a wide variety of dishes to choose from. I opted for the chicken and leek terrine to start with, followed by grilled beef medallions for mains and a dark chocolate mousse for dessert. Lunch was accompanied by the most beautiful private label, Cunard branded wine; a delightful blend of Chardonnay and Viognier. I so badly wanted to get my hands on a bottle for my own collection – it was simply sublime!
A mere few hours on-board a luxurious ocean liner definitely opened my eyes to a different way of travelling; a different way of seeing and experiencing the world. I can see that a cruise on an luxury ship could provide the ultimate escape from the real world, where we’re often burdened by responsibilities, chores and all the other nitty-gritties of life. A few weeks on-board this ship will feel like a complete reset of the senses, body and mind, where the only thing you have to think about, is what time you want to have lunch. Cunard will cover the rest for you.
Other than that – I was incredibly grateful to be granted a few hours on board this incredibly lush ocean liner. I’ve always loved architecture and the Queen Elizabeth is a floating wonder of the world. I can’t begin to comprehend the amount of hours of work that goes into constructing something of such epic proportions. I appreciated every fine detail on this ship, which has been rigged for the ultimate indulgence and pure pleasure.
Personally, I’ll probably always prefer a low-key, bush-veld holiday (because that’s just me) but I do feel this is something one should experience at least once in their lifetime. I must admit; I have started a “cruise fund” piggy bank, believe it or not. Someday my ship will (literally and figuratively!) come in. And when it does, it will be Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, where they sure know how to make you feel just like royalty.
The Little Hedonist has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, I do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, menu changes, opening times, and contact details.
Disclaimer: I was invited to this event in my personal capacity. There was no expectation for platform coverage in the form of a blog, or social media posts. This is my honest and truthful opinion and review thereof. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely those of The Little Hedonist, given in good faith and in no way influenced by the company or its affiliates. All images, unless otherwise stated/credited, are also my own.