December 2, 2014
We took a team from our creative agency, StartJG, for a short break on the Queen Elizabeth this summer. All were first-time cruisers. Copywriter Grainne Jordan kept a blog of their four nights aboard. Read her experiences for a good insight into what pleasures await you on a Mediterranean cruise with Cunard.
DAY ONE – Was Venice ever lovelier?
My first ever Cunard sail-away, aboard the elegant Queen Elizabeth. I’m worried this might set the bar a little too high.
A balmy evening, chilled Prosecco in hand, and our excitable group gathers at the back of the ship on Deck 9 to discuss a blazing day spent exploring Venice. As the sun sets, and Queen Elizabeth makes her magisterial way past the Santa Maria Della Salute and Piazza San Marco, we wave down at the vaporetti and swap preferences in superyatchs from our lofty vantage. “That one’s perfect.” “With the helipad? No, too Bond villain….” “OK, I’ll have the smaller one with the plunge pool.”
Then supper in Britannia. We’re given a lively table for eight at the foot of the Art Deco staircase. (Was Hollywood glamour ever so instantly evoked?). It’s clear we’re never going to agree on our itinerary for tomorrow, or for any part of this trip. There’s just too much on offer.
There’s more agreement over the menu. Sirloin steak hits the spot with many and the chocolate parfait slays half of us for dessert. The food in general? There’s only one word for it – dangerous.
If this sets standard for the next four days, my taste buds won’t ever want to go home.
DAY TWO – Stop hopping!
Wandering and marveling after breakfast – discovering the pools, the decks, the thousand-and-one perfect spots for photos – followed by a lovely cooling Aperol Spritz in the near-deserted Commodore Club. The Adriatic shimmers around us, like cobalt crushed velvet – it’s difficult to believe we’re moving at all.
Midday, and I run back to my cabin for a pair of sensible heels – I’m off to a dance class. The Cha-cha-cha. I find myself being guided by Jeff, a gentleman dancer with patience and poise. “Stop hopping!” he suggests. (In a chivalrous fashion, naturally.) He’s right – this dance is all about the side-to-side. Small steps help, too. We’ll see if what I’ve learned stands me in good sway at the Ball this evening.
Afternoon Tea is the next Must Do. It’s not been oversold – this is a little slice of perfection. At three-thirty – to the second – the string quartet begins to play and the waiters sweep into the Queen’s Room like a corps de ballet, bearing silver salvers of finger sandwiches, cakes and melt-in-your-mouth scones. According to legend, Afternoon Tea was invented by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840; about the same time Samuel Cunard’s Britannia began crossing the Atlantic. I feel part of a grand tradition.
Tonight calls for formal attire. Is it just me, or isn’t it fun dressing to the nines? I can’t get my head round why anyone would find it a chore. We queue to meet the captain and get papped by the ship’s photographers. We all do our best supermodel poses – one foot forward, drop the hip, elongate the body. It’s tricky when one or another of us keeps getting the giggles. The cocktail party is a real throng – the busiest I’ve seen any part of the ship. It kind of ups the anticipation for the Ball to come.
We decide to hit the deck for a pre-dinner breath of fresh air. At the horizon, a soft purple sky brushes against a mint-green sea, while a coppery orange sun bids everyone goodnight. And, suddenly, in the lovely light and our best bib and tucker, we’re not just a bunch of mates. We all look pretty darn Hollywood! We swank down the promenade, which has become our very own film set. We laugh, pose, take more snaps and generally camp it up – a twenty-first century Rat Pack.
The Ball is adorable – I am amazed at the talent of other passengers on the dance floor. The older couples are the most impressive. One particularly cute pair – seventy or so, I’d guess – transform from Mr and Mrs Portly into Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in each other’s arms.
As dance is obviously the sole purpose of the evening, there seems no better use of our remaining energy than throwing shapes at the Yacht Club. It’s ABBA night, and if that’s not enough reason to shake a tail feather, I dunno what is.
Bed at crazy o’clock. Feet hurt like hell.
But I am a Dancing Queeeee-eeeen! Young and sweet, only seventeeeee-eeeen!
DAY THREE – Seven Women (and one Man) Versus Food
I love this bit. I pull back my curtains to find – hey presto! Someone has installed the Perfect Mediterranean Landscape during the night. Mountains flecked with elegant cypress trees, a walled medieval town nestled into the shoreline, church towers, sail boats and islands, islands and more islands – stretching out to the hazy horizon.
This is Korcula – a first look at Croatia for most of us. These straights are so sheltered that they’re perfect for watersports. Wind-surfers, water-skiers and sailboats run playful arcs around our tender as we make the short hop to shore. The town is lovely – we wander, have lunch and soak up the atmosphere.
Now, two days ago, I said the food was dangerous on board this ship. I didn’t know the half of it. This evening we’ve decided to dine in the Verandah, overlooking the Grand Lobby, and most of us plump for the Degustation (Tasting) Menu. Only six courses – pah! We’re ready for the challenge.
But it’s a physical assault of the most incredible kind. Everything is Almost Too Much. For a start, the décor of the restaurant is heart-stoppingly lovely. The service – especially from our waiter, Marco – is just what I’ve come to expect. Attentive, sincere, but also such fun.
And the food? Oh, man, the food….
It’s like being seduced by a ruthless genius. By course three, I’m beginning to feel a bit delirious. By course four, we’re
begging for mercy. (“Stop! But don’t stop!”) But the plates keep coming. Exquisite lobster in a truffle oil jus. Pigeon breast and chocolate, (trust me, it’s Out There – but it’s divine.) Only Our Token Guy can manage all six courses. (Where do boys put it all?)
In the night, I dream I am in New York, but no restaurant will give me a table. “You need to go home, lady. We can’t let you in.”
I think my subconscious is trying to save me from myself.
DAY FOUR – Remind me who I am, again?
Busy, busy, busy. This is our last day on lovely Queen Elizabeth, so we are all up early to make the most of things. Stretch and tone class, followed by breakfast, then a fascinating lecture in the Royal Court Theatre, by Christine Roussel, an expert in all things classically Greek. She brings the Parthenon vibrantly to life with equal measures of information and anecdote.
Then to the Spa. This is where my sense of self begins to unravel a bit. I am sitting on one of the hot stone recliners, facing the picture windows. After a while I realize I’ve relaxed to such a degree that, if you asked me who I am, where I live, what I do for a living etc., I might have to think for a full minute or so. All I am really sure of is the colour of the ocean, the quality of the light and my own breathing.
But this is to be our last night, and we don’t want to miss a thing. So we have decided to split up and sample as much as possible. I take a few turns round the ship on Deck 3, along with various promenaders and sprightly power walkers. Somewhere around lap four I become aware of excitement up ahead. Two ladies are squealing and pointing into the waves. It’s dolphins! Two pairs, cavorting in the ship’s wake. As sleek and beautiful as they are impossible to catch on camera mid-leap.
We have all arranged to meet up again in the Golden Lion. Two of the gang return from the behind-the-scenes tour of the ship, which gets a fabulous review – especially the bit where they got to visit the bridge. The Blue Peter badge-winner in me is immensely jealous. But I’m able to unleash my inner train-spotter to the full with the Pub Quiz. We score pretty respectably, but in the end we’re outclassed by some serious eggheads.
Our final meal in Britannia is a bittersweet affair. We’re seated near the windows on the lower level – so get to watch another peachy sun setting into the ship’s wake. We nominate our favourite bits of the trip – for some it’s been certain dishes, for others a particular view, for another learning the rhumba.
We finish the evening with the Roaring 20s Ball. I take a farewell turn on the floor with Jeff. I can’t bear to tell him that we’re disembarking and flying home tomorrow – because I don’t want to believe it myself.
The last four days have been like floating along in a lovely bubble. I don’t want anyone or anything to pop it. This much is certain – I’ll have to come back.
If only to apologise to Jeff.
Next year, Queen Victoria will be spending the summer in the Mediterranean – find out more about her itineraries and book by clicking here.