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Queen Elizabeth

Itinerary

Hamburg, Germany's foremost port and one of its most handsome cities, may also be one of Europe's most underrated destinations. Many Americans -- and even Europeans -- have yet to discover its charms, including its beautiful situation on the banks of the River Elbe and around the Alster lake, the loveliness of its mostly traditional architecture, its premier museums, and its long history and association with the powerful Hanseatic League. The city is also more sophisticated and walkable than Germany's capital, Berlin, a huge plus for visitors.

Founded back in 800 by Charlemagne, the city initially took off as a trading center, given its proximity to the rest of Northern Europe and its location on the Elbe River, which links the North Sea to inland Europe. While Hamburg was largely destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, much of it was rebuilt in the traditional style, resulting in a powerful sense of continuity with the past. Few intrusive modern structures upset the skyline, so the churches and the lovely Rathaus (City Hall) dominate the cityscape. The notable exception is HafenCity, a separate district of brand-new housing, offices and cultural centers.

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  • Day 2

According to a recent World Happiness Report, the Danes are the happiest people in the world. Whether it's the high wages and low unemployment rate or something magical in Copenhagen's salty sea air, a cruising visitor will feel the positive vibe -- and no doubt bring a little extra "happy" back to the ship.

Sitting on the east coast of Denmark, Copenhagen has been the country's capital for 600 years, and it's the largest city in Scandinavia, with a population of 1.9 million people. It's home to the world's oldest monarchy (King Erik VII set up permanent residence in 1417), and its present Queen, Margrethe II, currently lives at Amalienborg Palace.

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  • Day 4

Named in this century as both Europe's Cultural Capital and also the continent's first Green Capital, Stockholm is the largest city in Scandinavia, with about 1.8 million residents in the metropolitan area -- about one-fifth of Sweden's total population. The city, founded in 1252, comprises 14 islands, and is a popular port of call and turnaround port on Northern Europe cruises.

Stockholm's premier tourist attraction is Gamla Stan (literally, Old Town), one of the largest neighborhoods of 16th-century buildings in Europe. Block after block of these four- and five-story structures are painted in vivid colors typical of Mediterranean villages and occasionally feature wrought-iron signs symbolizing ancient craftworkers' guilds or faces of religious figures. Cobblestone streets and arms-width alleys criss-cross Gamla Stan. There, you'll also find the 18th-century Royal Palace atop the crown of the hill upon which Gamla Stan is located. (Sweden is a constitutional monarchy and has a one-house parliament).

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Estonia's capital city is only 53 miles across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki, but for nearly 50 years, as part of the Soviet Union, it was ideologically a world away. That ended in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and Estonia became the Baltic's smallest independent nation.

Today, thanks to its strategic position on the Gulf, Estonia's largest city is thriving. Tallinn, with a population of 410,000, is not only a major port but also a major industrial center. Timber, chemicals, electronics and information technology are all booming industries. Voice-over-Internet calling service Skype, of all things, was developed in Estonia. One of its creators: Jaan Tallinn.

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There's something eerily fascinating about coming to St. Petersburg. It's probably a combination of Cold War remembrances (this was, after all, once an Evil Empire) and all sorts of warnings from ship personnel about pickpockets and black marketers. It doesn't help that you have to walk past stern-faced, uniformed customs officials at the pier before you can experience the city itself.

Once in the city, though, you'll likely find St. Petersburg a wonderful place, particularly if you're lucky enough to come during White Nights, when the sun barely sets and the entire city seems to be up all night. It's not entirely without hassles: The key museums and attractions are not air-conditioned and rarely have special facilities for the disabled. Very few signs are in English, and understanding what you are seeing -- whether it's a street sign, a shop name or a painting description -- can be impossible. And the Hermitage is typically packed to the gills; you may have to do a lot of jostling to see the art highlights if you aren't on a tour that specifically avoids the crowds.

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There's something eerily fascinating about coming to St. Petersburg. It's probably a combination of Cold War remembrances (this was, after all, once an Evil Empire) and all sorts of warnings from ship personnel about pickpockets and black marketers. It doesn't help that you have to walk past stern-faced, uniformed customs officials at the pier before you can experience the city itself.

Once in the city, though, you'll likely find St. Petersburg a wonderful place, particularly if you're lucky enough to come during White Nights, when the sun barely sets and the entire city seems to be up all night. It's not entirely without hassles: The key museums and attractions are not air-conditioned and rarely have special facilities for the disabled. Very few signs are in English, and understanding what you are seeing -- whether it's a street sign, a shop name or a painting description -- can be impossible. And the Hermitage is typically packed to the gills; you may have to do a lot of jostling to see the art highlights if you aren't on a tour that specifically avoids the crowds.

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  • Day 9

Kiel is a portside university town in Germany boasting a namesake fjord and a bustling, modern city center. Visitors will find an array of diversions from sailing excursions to historic buildings and landmarks, as well as trendy shops and restaurants. The city also hosts a number of interesting annual events, including a sailing regatta and a music festival.

--By Shayne Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor

Cruise Critic Editor Rating:
4.0
420 reviews
Why Choose Queen Elizabeth?

Elegant with plenty of opportunities for formal dressing

Elegant with plenty of opportunities for formal dressing

Varied enrichment program

Varied enrichment program

Sense of occasion on every cruise

Sense of occasion on every cruise

Queen Elizabeth Overview

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.

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Cruise Reviews

Sail Date: December 2017
I had heard about Cunard for a few years but figured it was out of reach for me. Finally, after 45 cruises, we did the 15 night Canary Islands cruise over Christmas and New Years. I cannot believe how amazing it was! We could tell ... Read More
I had heard about Cunard for a few years but figured it was out of reach for me. Finally, after 45 cruises, we did the 15 night Canary Islands cruise over Christmas and New Years. I cannot believe how amazing it was! We could tell immediately that this wasn't Princess or Royal Caribbean! We were blown away by the elegance of the ship and the feeling that this was a step back in time to how cruising is meant to be. We absolutely loved dressing for dinner each evening - what a wonderful change to see all the men in their suit coats each evening and women dressed so elegantly. And fornal nights were in a totally different league than any other cruise we've been on! The guests were just stunning. The food in the Britannia restaurant was delicious - hot, varied, just the right portion size. We also really liked Cunard's afternoon tea service - we never missed one! I know there have been some unflattering reviews about QE and Cunard and I was a bit nervous. How fantastic it was that we didn't experience any of these. We had the best cruise ever and it exceeded our expectations in every way. Embarkation and debarkation out of Southamption was a breeze. We were on the ship enjoyng lunch in the Golden Lion Pub by noon. We purchased a couple future cruise certificates so we are now excitedly looking for our next adventures. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2017
Embarked smoothly on previous cruise at Ocean terminal and disembarked this one at Mayflower - so anyone who had parked at the port had to have their cars transferred. We had used Airlynx who shuttled us to their car park after we ... Read More
Embarked smoothly on previous cruise at Ocean terminal and disembarked this one at Mayflower - so anyone who had parked at the port had to have their cars transferred. We had used Airlynx who shuttled us to their car park after we disembarked. The guests on this cruise were of quite an older average-age (we are early 50's) and so it was quite a subdued atmosphere relative to others, but still very pleasant, and probably due to the fact that is was the pre-Christmas cruise so extremely good value for 12 days and with generous on-board credit that virtually covered our drinks bill. Dining was excellent, although there were a couple of hiccups with time and table selection. We also ate in the Lido a couple of times and were invited to dine with a couple of the officers one evening. Very entertaining learning about life on the ship. Cafe Carinthia was a nice place to have coffee in the day and pre-dinner drinks/canapes in the evening. Daytime activities were average. Hard to please everyone I suppose but there could always be more to do. We went to every dance lesson with the excellent Dan & Alyona. There were lectures and movies in the theatre approximately every sea day and similar with art lectures, painting classes etc. The shops on board are very good if you have the spare cash for those high-end brands. Football was shown most days in the Garden lounge. Evenings in the Queens room were aimed mostly at ballroom and sequence dancing. We are learning to join in with this but had hoped to enjoy the Yacht Club on the top deck. Unfortunately despite the very brave efforts of the excellent lead singer of the house band 'Synergy', the atmosphere was spoiled completely by DJ Michael, who I'm afraid is simply not cut out to do that job. The dancefloor was never full and his insistence on playing requests betrayed his inability to judge the crowd and keep things going. More than any other thing, this detracted from our enjoyment of this particular cruise. On Queen Victoria last summer, we had some great party nights, but this time, we just went to bed early to escape the pain. Cunard really need to give the man a different role. Photos: average Casino: good, if smaller than some Library: good Pools: both heated, if a little small Loungers: easy and light to move, and towels very nice and clean Promenade deck: narrow but goes all the way around the ship for good walks in bad weather! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2017
After travelling on the many cruise lines, celebrity x 13 cruises and P O for 12 cruises......Royal Caribbean x 5, Princess, NCL and MSC.....we now prefer Cunard, excellent around except the price of the drinks.... Really lovely team ... Read More
After travelling on the many cruise lines, celebrity x 13 cruises and P O for 12 cruises......Royal Caribbean x 5, Princess, NCL and MSC.....we now prefer Cunard, excellent around except the price of the drinks.... Really lovely team onboard and lovely passengers made the experience even more charming. The Internal Decor is the style to suite Cunard, and the Brand. The dining experience excellent and the lido had good choices.....they do not push you towards the other dining ( extra cost ) restaurants......P O food in the dining rooms and buffet has dropped in quality and this was mentioned by other passengers when comparing with Cunard. So we have book Queen Victoria for next December 13 ......due to being so delighted with this cruise.......well done to all the staff and the team at Cunard. They are building a new ship and have promised.....not to let their brand slip and keep the the standards.... Read Less