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Cruise Ship Information

RMS Queen Elizabeth was an ocean liner operated by the Cunard Line. With her running mate Queen Mary, she provided luxury liner service between Southampton, UK and New York City, USA via Cherbourg, France. She was also contracted for over twenty years to carry the Royal Mail as the second half of the two ships' weekly express service.

While being constructed, in the mid-1930s by John Brown and Company at Clydebank, Scotland, she was known as Hull 552 but when launched, on 27 September 1938, she was named in honour of Queen Elizabeth, who was then Queen Consort to King George VI and in 1952 became the Queen Mother. With a design that improved upon that of the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth was a slightly larger ship, the largest passenger liner ever built at that time and for fifty-six years thereafter. She also has the distinction of being the largest ever riveted ship by Gross Tonnage. She first entered service in February 1940 as a troopship in World War II, and it was not until October 1946 that she served in her intended role as an ocean liner.

With the decline in the popularity of the transatlantic route, both ships were replaced by Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1969. Queen Mary was retired from service on 9 December 1967, and was sold to the city of Long Beach, California, USA. Queen Elizabeth was sold to a succession of buyers, most of whom had adventurous and unsuccessful plans for her. Finally she was sold to a Hong Kong businessmen Tung Chao Yung who intended to convert her into a floating University cruise ship. In 1972, while undergoing refurbishment in Hong Kong harbour, she caught fire under mysterious circumstances and was capsized by the water used to fight the fire. In 1973, her wreck was deemed an obstruction, and she was partially scrapped where she lay.

Atmosphere on board

Queen Elizabeth was launched in 2010 as the third ship in Cunard's fleet and a sister to Queen Victoria, which entered service in 2007. Both sisters' hulls are based on a blueprint shared with numerous other vessels in the Carnival Corporation family. Among them are Holland America's Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, P&O Cruises' Arcadia, several of the Costa ships and Carnival Cruise Lines' Spirit-class vessels. So, essentially, Queen Elizabeth is a cruise ship in design, not an ocean liner like Cunard's flagship, Queen Mary 2.

Queen Elizabeth is similar in many ways to its sibling, Queen Victoria -- in most of the layout, cabins and enrichment programs, for example -- but different in others. The decor somehow feels lighter, with chic, geometric Art Deco-inspired interiors, as opposed to the heavier Victoriana.

Everywhere you turn, there's beautiful artwork, rich Italian marble, polished wood and soft light, diffused by glittering chandeliers. The rippling sounds of a harp, mellow piano or string quartet throughout the public areas enhance the whole feeling of old-fashioned glamor.

There's no neon or glitz on this ship, and there are few gimmicks. Instead of capturing the public's imagination with waterslides and high-tech nightclubs, Cunard cashes in on its impressive heritage, a sense of occasion and old-fashioned pursuits like ballroom-dancing, lawn bowls or afternoon tea in the Garden Lounge.

Some spaces differ from those on the near carbon copy of Queen Victoria, partly as an evolution and partly to reflect the famous dining rooms and bars of the original Queens, Mary and Elizabeth.

The Britannia Club, one of four main dining rooms, replaces the Chart Room bar on Queen Victoria, while the Todd English specialty restaurant becomes The Verandah. This restaurant, helmed by Cunard's executive chef, is reminiscent of the glory days of the first Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, on which the Verandah Grill was regarded as the finest restaurant at sea. Also new is an AstroTurf-covered Games Deck, dedicated to traditional English garden pursuits. The Midships Bar, another much-loved Cunard feature, is back, as is the Yacht Club nightspot, a lounge fondly remembered by fans of QE2 for its late-night dancing. Despite the fact that Cunard is American-owned, there's no shortage of British icons like a Fortnum & Mason hamper ordering service, Harris Tweed for sale and a sunlit Garden Lounge that's inspired by the glass houses of Kew Gardens.

Extensive use has been made of cream and chocolate marble, as well as polished wood in the public spaces. Every bar or lounge has something beautiful in it, whether it's a piece of intricate wooden marquetry or an evocative painting of a maritime scene. Everywhere you look, there's Cunard memorabilia: a Christmas card from Queen Elizabeth II displayed in a glass case, a solid silver model of QE2 made by the famed London jeweller Asprey and the original bell of the first Queen Elizabeth.

Add these genuinely beautiful surroundings to the glamorous history on which Cunard trades, and you might think you're in for a luxury cruise. But you're not, necessarily. Queen Elizabeth, like the other Cunard ships, operates a class system in which the cabin grade you choose dictates where you eat. Queens Grill and Princess Grill do represent some of the loveliest accommodations and most exclusive dining at sea, which is reflected in the price. But the vast majority of passengers -- 83 percent of them -- are in Britannia-grade cabins, dining in the Britannia Restaurant or the slightly more posh Britannia Club. And what they experience is essentially a product of the Carnival family: food that's OK but not spectacular and the same nickel-and-diming that you'd find on any other big ship (charging for water in cabins and on shore excursions, for example), just in a very smart setting.

Some niggles, for example: In the Lido buffet, at breakfast, the waiters do not help you find a seat or carry your tray or even pour water or fetch tea and coffee. You have to line up at a machine for that. While the Britannia Restaurant is beautiful to look at, we found service to be hurried. And, while some things look very chi-chi and elegant, they're not, particularly. Afternoon tea in the Queens Room was the same scones, sandwiches and not-very-exciting cakes that were on offer in the Lido buffet. There's a fee for the extra posh afternoon tea.

In some areas, the service lacked finesse. We were struggling with a heavy bag, watched by several crewmembers, none of whom offered to help. The ID card scanner broke down as several shore excursions were returning to the ship, but nothing was done to speed up the re-embarkation process; passengers were getting flustered, and the crew didn't seem to care. However fancy the top suites on this ship, and however attentive the service in the Grills, there are still elements of the service in the main public areas of the ship that doesn't meet expectations. If you're looking for top-notch service, you might find you only get that real extra touch in certain areas of the ship.

Family with Kids/Teens

Queen Elizabeth is perfectly family-friendly in terms of facilities, but it does have the look and feel of a really "grown up" ship, and families might be happier on lines like P&O or Princess. Having said that, there's a colourful children's playroom with toys on the starboard side of Deck 10. The Zone, a teenagers' room with computer games, Wii, Xbox and air hockey, is on the opposite side of the youngsters' domain. Both areas feature outdoor deck space, as well. The facility operates on port days, but you have to book for younger kids in advance. The few youngsters spotted on our cruise seemed perfectly happy and at ease in the surroundings and clearly loved dressing up on the formal nights, but you get the impression that if any children started letting off steam and running around, there'd be "looks" and tut-tutting from old-school cruisers.

Past Passenger Programs

Queen Elizabeth's public rooms are located all along decks 2 and 3, as well as on the upper decks. The heart of the ship is the three-deck Grand Lobby, which has to be one of the most beautiful at sea with its curving staircases, ravishing marquetry panel by master craftsman David Linley -- nephew of the Queen -- and the extensive use of marble. People pause to look every time they come by this lovely spot.

The 6,000-plus-volume library is there, too, and it's slightly "Hogwarts" with its old-fashioned polished-wood panels and quirky spiral staircase linking the two levels. It's, without doubt, a superb library; the reference section is really impressive. However, you can only take out two books at a time and only when the librarian is present. A focal point is a large geographic globe, and the library's collection includes books in large print.

Deck 3 houses the Royal Arcade, a smarter version of the shops you'll find on other cruise ships, with Fortnum & Mason, Harris Tweed and Anya Hindmarch alongside the jewellery, logowear and duty-free merchandise. We loved the Cunard bookshop, tucked away next to the Midships Bar; it's perfect for gift-shopping, with fun vintage cards, some wonderful nautical books, calendars and memorabilia, as well as a more comical array of titles that include carb-counters, bridge tips and puzzle books.

Also on Deck 3 are two galleries: The Cunarders' Gallery, where you can buy vintage Cunard posters and prints, and the Clarendon Fine Art Gallery, which has changing displays; on our cruise, there was an exhibition of sensuous Latin prints by Fabian Perez and associated talks comparing and contrasting his work with that of U.K. artist Jack Vettriano. It's a nice idea having a proper art gallery instead of a tacky auction display, and artists whose work is featured there join some cruises to give talks. There's a huge photo gallery outside the Britannia dining room. The ship's photographers seemed to be everywhere, but photos were expensive. For example, an 8x10 print cost $24.95.

The Internet centre is on Deck 1, and there are Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the public areas. Internet packages are available from $47.95 for 120 minutes, and pay-as-you-go is $0.75 per minute. Other facilities include a medical centre, three meeting rooms and five passenger launderettes.

Fitness And Spa

The Royal Spa on Deck 9 is run by the ubiquitous Steiner Leisure. It's an extensive and peaceful space, if something of a rabbit warren. An area called the Royal Bath House includes the Thermal Suite and a proper indoor thalassotherapy pool; it costs $35 for a day-pass. There are also various other facilities, including three couples' treatment rooms, a beauty salon and a Wellness Centre for seminars, of which there were many, geared to selling treatments in the spa.

The gym itself is state-of-the-art, and there's a studio area for classes -- about four a day, half of them free. We did "Tour de Cycle," aka spinning, which cost $12 for 40 minutes, but it was a fun and satisfying workout. We also had two treatments and were pleasantly surprised by the lack of sales-speak from the therapists; they couldn't have been nicer, in fact. Prices are pretty much in line with other ships' spas: $125 for a 50-minute facial and $119 for a full-body Swedish massage. There are quite a few shorter treatments, too, which are a good idea for spa virgins: a 30-minute facial for $80, a 30-minute massage for $90 or a taster session of three mini-treatments for $129. A gratuity of 12.5 percent is added to all bills. Incidentally, it's made quite clear that there will be discounts on port days, so if you're wavering about what to try, hang out for the price reductions.

Queen Elizabeth offers some unusual and enjoyable fitness pursuits. Fencing lessons are held in the Queens Room at no charge, while there's a fine wraparound promenade deck for jogging and walking. The covered Games Deck is high up on Deck 11, with paddle tennis, short bowls and croquet. There are two pools on Deck 9: the Pavilion Pool, midship, and the aft Lido Pool, which is surrounded by a huge sunbathing area and serves as the venue for sailaway parties. Each pool has its own bar and two Jacuzzis.

Food & Dining

Queen Elizabeth has four main dining rooms, an alternative restaurant (The Verandah), a buffet (the Lido) and a speciality option, the theme of which changes every few nights.

The main dining room is the lofty, two-tier Britannia Restaurant, where everybody -- except those in Grill cabins and Britannia Club cabins -- dines. Lots of gorgeous Art Deco touches stand out in the curved panels and lavish sconces, as well as a sweeping staircase. There are two seatings, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Tables are allocated in twos, fours, sixes and eights. Britannia is also open for a full, cooked, waiter-served breakfast (including pancakes, waffles, omelettes and eggs Benedict) from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on sea days (7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. on port days) and lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., with open seating at both.

There's a wide choice on the dinner menu, including five appetizers, two salads, six entrees (two of which are vegetarian choices) and six desserts, including cheese. Typical dishes include jumbo shrimp with Waldorf salad to start, as well as some adventurous soups. (We tried cheddar cheese soup, which was very tasty.) For mains, favourable options are penne with shrimp and Limoncello, Norwegian salmon, roast turkey or steak Diane. Vegetarian courses are imaginative; millefeuille of leek and asparagus with a Champagne sauce were offered on the night we dined there. Portions aren't huge, though, and some people at our table said their food wasn't piping hot.

Vegetarians should note that there's also a dedicated veggie menu available on request with a choice of five appetizers and soups and eight entrees, so coupled with the options on the main menu, it's easy to have a varied and meat-free vacation. Passengers are requested to place orders 24 hours in advance, but it was never a problem when our vegetarian friend placed her order at breakfast. Dishes are well thought out and presented, so much so that several carnivores at the table liked the look of them. Dishes included a Japanese vegetable sushi selection and forest mushroom turnover with Swiss cheese fondue.

Desserts include classics like creme brulee, chocolate parfaits and a sugar-free option, as well as some English classics like rhubarb pie. Waiters bring around petits fours after dinner, which is a nice touch. In all the main restaurants, the more healthful dishes are marked "Royal Spa Selections."

One step up from Britannia is the Britannia Club, a separate room for the inhabitants of the top-grade Britannia cabins. Small and intimate with a cream and teal colour scheme, this pretty room has windows all along one side and tables for two, four and six. The menu is a tweaked version of what's found in Britannia, and you get a more exclusive atmosphere, with a team of ultra-professional staff who quickly remember your name and personal likes and dislikes. Dinner is open seating from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Breakfast and lunch are served there, as well.

High up on Deck 10 are the two Grill restaurants, in an area accessible only with a special keycard or up a staircase marked "Grill guests only beyond this point." The stairs open onto a landing, off of which are both dining rooms and a cocktail lounge with views down over the pool. Both dining rooms have a chocolate and gold colour scheme and are adorned with ornate, backlit glass panels and flooded with light early evening from windows all along one side. The two Grills share a pretty outdoor terrace, decked out with Italian tiles and a splashing fountain, partly sheltered from the wind by high walls. This terrace, the maitre d' told me, is more popular for lunch than for dinner; being so high on the ship, it is somewhat exposed, and food can chill quickly if the outside temperature is not suitably high.

Princess Grill offers a similar menu to the Britannia Restaurant but with more items and a long, always-available a la carte menu. We had double-baked goat cheese souffle and Provencal prawns from the a la carte menu, as well as some excellent cheeses from the trolley. Queens Grill has an even bigger a la carte menu -- essentially, you can have what you like. We saw a succulent-looking beef Wellington whizzing past, as well as lamb being flambeed tableside. This tableside cooking is a real feature of the restaurant, and we succumbed to some superb crepes Suzette for dessert, prepared with incredible panache and confidence.

But for really outstanding food, it has to be The Verandah, open 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and for lunch on sea days from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Located on Deck 2 and available to all cruisers, The Verandah is really special. If you want to turn an ordinary cruise into a luxury cruise, dine in there. And check out the coveted white leather chairs, too. You won't believe your eyes with some of the little touches. When a couple of people at the table said they were finding it hard to read the menu under the low lighting, a waiter was at the table within seconds with an elegant wooden box. Inside were neatly stacked pairs of reading glasses of varying strengths, and he also offered an illuminated magnifying glass.

Everything on the menu is individually priced at $6 or $7 for starters and desserts and around $18 for mains, all designed by Jean-Marie Zimmerman, Cunard's corporate executive chef. We had a crabmeat starter on a seafood foam sauce with tomato caviar and little cubes of feta cheese, which was exquisite. Our main was sea bass with a mushroom crust on a watercress sauce, one of the most melt-in-the-mouth pieces of bass I've ever tasted. An amuse bouche and a sharp lemon sorbet also arrived, and the cheese trolley had some fine French cheeses. There's a five-course tasting menu, too, designed to be taken by the whole table, priced at $35. Service was attentive and unobtrusive -- and gratuities are included in the price of each dish, so there is no need to budget for an additional tip.

There's an extensive and impressive wine list in all dining venues, featuring a decent range of wines in the $30 to $40 bracket, right up to the big hitters like Chateau Lafite Rothschild for $1,350 and Petrus Pomerol at $2,500. A soft-drink package is available for $4.95 per day, but it only includes sodas and some juices -- not mineral water.

The 24-hour casual dining venue is the Lido on Deck 9. Breakfast is from 4 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., followed immediately by lunch until 3 p.m., afternoon tea until 6 p.m. and dinner from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., with snacks available through the night. The Lido was our least-favourite space on the ship. We didn't find the layout particularly user-friendly; it took a while to work out where everything was and to note the fact that some counters are duplicated. The waiters didn't seem to do much. They certainly weren't helping passengers or fetching drinks. Long queues form at breakfast for the hot choices as people shuffle along with trays. Putting the ketchup at the end of the line, rather than on the tables, slows things down further. The variety, however, is wide -- eggs (to order if you want), bacon (English and crispy American), sausages, baked beans, fried potatoes and mushrooms are available every day. There's a big pastry section, as well as cereals. Coffee and juice come out of machines, which also attract long queues.

Lunchtime has a pizza and pasta station, a sandwich station, a salad bar, a dessert bar and hot choices like grilled sole, steak, French fries and traditional English dishes. Roasts, hotpots and meat pies are also options. The salad bar wasn't extensive, although the selection of cheese and cold cuts was reasonable. When we got back late from a foray ashore, everything had closed down, except for the most basic of salad offerings, but the sandwich station chef obligingly boosted our dull lettuce-and-tomato combo with smoked salmon and chicken mayonnaise. On the last day, despite everything on offer, we really craved a simple baked potato but couldn't find one. Within minutes, the chef duly produced one.

In the evenings, one side of the Lido becomes waiter-service with a theme, which changes every three days or so (open 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.). Current themes include Aztec (Mexican), Jasmine (pan-Asian) and Indian. The cover charge is $10. Several passengers questioned the point of paying extra to dine in the Lido, but the sectioned-off area takes on a completely different guise for these themed evenings. Aztec was on during our mini-cruise and turned out to be a superb meal and an amazing value. The tables had been done out with candles and little cactus decorations. Margarita shots arrived, followed by a nicely presented platter of four spicy starters. There's a choice of mains -- we had pancakes stuffed with spicy shrimp -- and another platter of desserts, including Mexican doughnuts with different sweet and spicy dips. We could barely move afterward. There's an option with each theme to pay $25 (including the $10 cover charge) for a wine pairing, and our travel companion chose this, which, for Aztec, included an excellent white, a red and a dessert wine.

There are other dining venues dotted around, too. The pretty Cafe Carinthia on Deck 3, open from 7 a.m., serves pastries for breakfast, quiches and salads at lunchtime and afternoon tea. Speciality coffees and teas cost from $2, and there are liqueur coffees and some coffee-themed cocktails.

Afternoon tea is served in the Lido and the Queens Room -- waiter-served tea and crustless sandwiches, as well as a selection of cakes and hot scones with whipped cream (not clotted cream, note) and jam -- the same in both venues. Once a week, a full-scale Champagne tea is served in the Garden Lounge for a "nominal charge" of $26.50 per person (including gratuity), for which you get a glass of Veuve Cliquot and Twinings tea, as well as a more tempting array of cakes.

The British-themed Golden Lion pub also serves pub lunches, featuring staples like bangers (sausages) and mash, fish and chips, cottage pie and ploughman's lunches (a platter of cold meats and cheese served with bread and pickles).

Room service has the usual comfort food: club sandwiches, pasta, burgers and so on, as well as the menu from the dining rooms if you want to dine in your cabin in the evening. There's no charge. We had hot room service breakfast, which arrived promptly and was nicely presented, and for lunch the balcony table and chairs were adequate for outdoor dining.

It's also worth noting that passengers can bring one bottle of wine or Champagne onboard, but don't expect to start bringing on larger quantities unless it's approved by Cunard prior to the voyage. A $20-per-bottle corkage fee applies for wine brought onboard and consumed in the restaurants.

Entertainment

There's live music all over the ship. Evenings kick off with either a harpist or a pianist in the Grand Lobby, which is lovely if you're enjoying a pre-dinner drink in the Cafe Carinthia or the Midships Bar, both of which overlook the area. A singing pianist entertains in the Golden Lion pub, interspersed with quizzes and karaoke, while there's mellow piano up in the Commodore Club, another great pre-dinner and late-night-drink spot.

The heart and soul of Queen Elizabeth is dancing, and there is dancing every day, morning, noon and night. Most of it is in the Queens Room, a lavish ballroom built for this very purpose, blue and gold in colour and lit by a huge Swarovski chandelier. A large, wooden dance floor, a stage for the band and a series of murals of English country houses complete the picture. Every night, there's ballroom and Latin dancing before and after dinner, usually to a live band, as well as dancing at afternoon tea and classes in the mornings. Single ladies are kept on their toes by gentleman hosts. The Queens Room is also the venue for jazz concerts and classical piano recitals. Formal Royal Balls take place every few nights ("black and white" and "Ascot" being two of the themes). The dance teachers were performers from the onboard shows, and some dance enthusiasts said they felt slightly short changed that there were no resident dance instructors.

The other big evening events are shows in the stunning theatre, complete with 20 V.I.P. boxes. A dedicated Royal Cunard Company of singers and dancers stages variety and dance spectaculars, which are interspersed throughout the week with guest acts -- a comedian and Dean Martin sound-alike on our sailing.

For $50 (plus 15 percent) per couple, you can book one of the boxes. This package includes a Champagne cocktail and a tray of petits fours in a private lounge, attended by Cunard's scarlet-uniformed White Star Bell Boys, and a half-bottle of Veuve Cliquot in the box. It's a lovely idea, and there's a real sense of excitement when the ticket, like a proper theatre ticket, is delivered to your stateroom. Our only criticism is the structure of the boxes; a Perspex-style screen in front of the seats means everything on the stage is slightly distorted.

Evenings bring plenty of other diversions. Forward of the Queens Room is the Empire Casino with the Golden Lion pub running along the starboard side. The pub, modelled after a British pub, is cosy enough, with British beers like Boddington's, Green King IPA and Marston Pedigree on offer, but compared to the fun-packed Golden Lion on Queen Mary 2, it feels a bit long and straggly; you can't see one end from the other, so late-night quizzes lost a bit of atmosphere.

In the casino are roulette, blackjack and Texas Hold'em, as well as numerous slots. The dealers seemed good-humoured with a very mixed crowd of first-time gamblers and some more hardcore customers. Blackjack bets range from $5 minimum to $200 maximum, or $25 to $500 on a high-rollers' table.

The casino, incidentally, is nonsmoking; the only places smokers can light up is on their balconies, on the starboard side of Decks 3 and 10 and in Churchill's Cigar Lounge on Deck 10 (and that's cigars only).

Golden Lion aside, the bars on the main entertainment decks are small and spread out. Although the Cafe Carinthia serves cocktails, and both the Casino and The Verandah have their own small bar areas, the graceful Midships Bar is the main venue. It offers seating around a crescent-shaped marble bar, as well as comfortable armchairs and some wonderful memorabilia like a model of the original Queen Elizabeth and a highly stylized mural of a map of the Atlantic Ocean. Waiters serve drinks in the Queens Room, too, which is where a lot of people gather in the early evening.

Otherwise, the bigger bars and lounges are on decks 9 and 10. On Deck 9, the Garden Lounge is inspired by the glass houses at Kew Gardens in London, with a huge glass semidome flooding the tiled floor and potted lilies below with light. It's a wonderful spot for snoozing in one of the squashy cane chairs or sitting quietly with a book. On cruises longer than our five-day outing, supper club dinners and dancing are held up there.

There are two evening venues on Deck 10 forward: the Yacht Club, a re-creation of the legendary nightspot on QE2, and the Commodore Club observation lounge. There's lots of wonderful Cunard memorabilia up there, too, including the bell and plaque of QE2 and the bell of the original Queen Elizabeth, as well as artwork by Robert Lloyd, the renowned marine artist. The plush gold and red Commodore Club has sweeping views of the horizon and a magnificent cocktail menu, with signature martinis from $9.95, as well as a huge array of other spirits and liqueurs. You can even book a mixology lesson up there ($20) or a malt whisky or vodka tasting ($25). We loved the spot early evening, when there's a pianist, complimentary hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and fellow passengers swapping stories of their days. There are two smaller rooms off the Commodore Club, the Admiral's Lounge, used for meetings and private parties, and Churchill's, a tiny cigar lounge.

Late at night, once the casino has died down and last orders have been called in the Golden Lion, the Yacht Club keeps going, with a live band and a DJ. This is another attractive lounge, with an inlaid-wood dance floor, more cream marble, and blue and gold soft furnishings.

During the day, there are plenty of activities (and more were added on the mini-cruise, as so many of the passengers stayed onboard all day), but a lot are unhosted -- paddle tennis, bridge, chess, solo travellers' gatherings, deck quoits and so on.

Cunard is well known for its enrichment program, which wasn't shown off to its full extent on our shorter sailing. There were several computer, iPad, Facebook and Photoshop seminars in the Internet centre (which also sells Apple products), as well as art talks -- proper ones, not just attempts to sell the art in the Clarendon Fine Art Gallery onboard. But normally, there would be guest lecturers as part of the Cunard Insights program, providing in-depth talks on the arts, architecture and politics. On a return cruise, there were insightful lectures on the Cunard line and a commentary on Crimean history linked to passing sights.

An interesting behind-the-scenes tour is the free galley visit, which provides an understanding of the logistics involved in the ship's catering operation, with an army of chefs providing food virtually round the clock. A behind-the-scenes ship tour was also on offer for $120 and, despite the price, over-subscribed. Only available to 16 people at a time, the three-hour tour includes the theatre back stage, medical centre, engine control room, foods stores, galley and bridge, all rounded off with a commemorative pin to say you've been there and done that.

Whilst all entertainment leans towards the tasteful, there was a fun Elizabethan Ball preceded by the opportunity to join a free crown-making workshop, with materials provided. Participants paraded their creations at the evening dance.

There are also daily Friends of Bill W and Friends of Dorothy meetings.

Shore excursions are previewed in the pre-voyage documents and graded into three levels, depending on the amount of walking involved. As with all cruises, if there are trips that catch your attention, it pays to book in advance to avoid finding them full when you embark. On the Black Sea itinerary, they ranged in price from $37 to $121, and private tours for small groups were also available. The excursions we joined were extremely well run, and the tendering operation, when needed, went smoothly with numbered tickets given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Fellow Passengers

Who sails on Queen Elizabeth depends on where the ship is going. Ex-Southampton cruises inevitably attract a lot of Brits. The handful of mini-cruises that operate every year are a big chance for first-timers to try Cunard and attract a more economically diverse crowd than usual. The annual world cruise draws a mixture from all over the globe, although there are large numbers of well-heeled Americans and Brits. Shorter voyages also attract Americans and Brits, but Cunard's ships are very successful in the Japanese and German markets, as well. Everybody who sails has a fascination with the great Cunard name, whether they're die-hard Cunard regulars (and this brand inspires a lot of loyalty) or those who have heard about the ships and are curious to try them. It can lead to a nice cosmopolitan mix; on a two-week Black Sea itinerary, 43 different nationalities were onboard.

Our recommendation

The Queen Elizabeth Park Private Care Home is a Guildford facility that is part of the growing and respected portfolio of providers and experts called Carebase.

The service welcomes residents for residential, nursing and dementia care, with staff skilled in taking care of the needs of the elderly, as well as those with mental health complications.

Residents are encouraged to practice their personal freedoms, treating Queen Elizabeth Park as their own home and inviting their family and friends to visit regularly.