There may have been some, but surely not many, who expected the new Cunarder, Queen Elizabeth, to be a replacement for the retired, venerable QE2. The company's advance literature made no such promises, but still there were those who held out hope. Maybe some of the 175 Japanese guests thought the new Queen would be like the QE2 they had come to love during her four-month-plus stay in Japan in 1990. (Note that Cunard does not have "passengers," only "guests" though I don't know why—we're people on a passage, after all, and, at Cunard prices, we certainly are not "guests.") There were many who boarded the new ship who were veterans of three, and some, of all five, of the other Cunard Queens (the original Mary and Elizabeth, QE2, as well as the two Carnival incarnations of the Queens—Mary 2, and Victoria.).
As all but 125 of the 2,000 guests had sailed previously with Cunard, and over half were Diamond members—the elite of the World Club, the line's "frequent-flier" organization. It took three separate cocktail parties in the massive Queens Room to show "appreciation" to the many repeat customers. Most everyone knew the new ship would be a sister to Queen Victoria (inaugurated 2007), which, itself, is one of many Italian-builtVista-class cruise ships, including five recent Holland American entries, and the likes of Costa Luminosa and Deliziosa.
This ship has a few more staterooms aft than does Victoria (get used to the company's lingo—there are no "cabins" on Cunarders, only "staterooms") which makes her look less like a liner than Victoria and more the floating bread loaf of so many cruise ships. Oh, Cunard does not have "cruise ships," only "ocean liners." This one looks a lot like a cruise ship to me. Cunard also has only "voyages," not "cruises." And please, though calling the retired Queen Elizabeth 2 the "QE2," is acceptable, NEVER use "QV" or "QM2" or "QE" as abbreviations for the ships in the current fleet—the "youngest fleet afloat" as you will be reminded several dozen times during your "voyage."
Magically transport yourself between Victoria and the new Elizabeth and you will be hard-pressed to guess which ship you are on. The Lido Decks with the main buffet—including the unchanging breakfast selections every morning—are virtually the same. Don't think you'll do better at breakfast in the dining room as the menu down there never changes, either. Have they never heard of "breakfast specials?" A lot of their lower-priced competitors have. The Britannia dining rooms on Victoria and Elizabeth are the same—same wood tones, same fabrics, same upholstery patterns, and very similar table configuration. On Victoria the dining room is supposed to remind us of a famous 1920's British railroad train, The Flying Scotsman. Advanced publicity made no reference to what the dining room on Elizabeth is inspired by, but I'd say, having sailed many times on Queen Victoria, Elizabeth's Britannia looks like the famous 1920's British railroad train, The Flying Scotsman. The difference one will note is that the large rotating globe centerpiece on Victoria has been replaced by a busy, vine-like sculpture on the wall behind the Captain's table. What on Victoria is the principal bar, the Chart room near the Deck 2 entrance to the Britannia Dining Room, has been eliminated on Elizabeth. The space is now taken by the Britannia Club (a feature also on Queen Mary 2), a smaller ancillary dining room with open seating instead of the first and second seatings of Britannia. This allows a small number of passengers in the more expensive balcony rooms to eat as they choose at their reserved table for all meals, but off the same menu as those in the bigger dining hall. With the Chart Room Bar gone, more pressure is put on the other saloons on Deck 2 to handle the trade. The fancy Grills Room Bar on other Cunarders is always undersubscribed, and, as a perq, Britannia Club diners aboard Queen Elizabeth are given privileges in the Grills Lounge if they are willing to trek up to Deck 12 for a drink. This eases the crowds a bit at Deck 2 bars and gives needed business to the Grills Bar. As the Britannia Club is adjacent to the Britannia Dining Room itself, the restrooms which are near the main entry to the dining room on Victoria have been uprooted and moved half a block farther away from aft toward midships. My recommendation for those in the habit excusing themselves to powder their noses during a meal is to get a table on the Deck 3 upper level of the Britannia where the restroom is still within a short walk from their table.
Two signs are posted on every Cunard cruise, one at the Purser's Desk reading "All staterooms on this voyage are fully booked. We regret that no upgrades are available;" and, at the entry to the Britannia Dining Room, "We regret that the number of tables for two is limited, and no further bookings for tables for two can be made for this voyage." Both statements are de rigeur and usually not true. On this cruise, however, there were no spare rooms—the ship had sold out in 29 minutes as sparkling Entertainment Director Alastair Greener continued to remind us. (This is more Cunard-speak. Cunard has "Entertainment Directors." Every other line else has "Cruise Directors." Everybody knows what a "Cruise Director" is, nobody knows what an "Entertainment Director" is. However, since the line has only "voyages" and not "cruises," they can't very easily have a Director of the Cruise, can they? Maybe he should be "Voyage Director." Would that be snooty enough?) Anyway, back to the dining room. Cunard has learned that a lot of its clientele really do like tables for two and there seem to be more of them on Elizabeth than Victoria.
The Elizabeth hotel corridors are duplicates of those on Victoria—same paint tones, faux wood doors, even the glass mail rack outside each door is the same. The carpets no longer are blue (starboard) and red (port), but are beige with the corresponding red and blue trims to guide those wondering which side of the ship they are on. Stairwells have pictures of old Cunard ships, old Cunard captains, and old Cunard movie stars, many the same as on Victoria.
Cunard's publicists made much of this latest Queen Elizabeth being an homage and shrine to the two previous Queens of that name. This is mostly hype. There are some few artifacts from QE2 scattered about—the bust of the Queen-now-gloriously-reigning and the painting of a young Elizabeth and Philip from the QE2's Queen's room, the famous Asprey model of QE2, and that ship's bell. The assistant Entertainment Director told us the crucifix and chalice used at Mass on the new ship were inherited from QE2 (Cunard is one of the last cruise lines with regularly scheduled religious services on every voyage, all quite popular—Mass for the Catholics, Friday Sabbath for the Jews, and a grand interdenominational Sunday Morning Song presided over by the Captain). Relics from the original Queen Elizabeth are fewer—a small display case with a white stateroom dial telephone and a couple of other bits and pieces were among the only hard items. The other displayed memorabilia mainly are newspaper clippings. Up near the posh Commodore Club, the Deck 10 bar overlooking the bow, are two nice new plaques with the names of the masters of the two previous Elizabeth ships. Most all the good antiques either got away from Cunard (have you tried eBay?) or are on display on QM2 and Queen Victoria. For some unknown reason there are about thirty photographs of interiors of the Cunard ship Mauretania hung on the walls of Deck One and round about the corridors of the Royal Court Theatre. Mauretania was a Cunarder in service from 1905 to 1935, in no way associated with any Queen Elizabeth—either sovereign or ship by that name—and certainly not "art deco" in motif. That one's a real mystery.
Another advance publicity bit was the promise of occasional 1930's-style evening entertainments the likes that Ivar Novello or other aesthetes of the era performed for society doings. Cunard brochures told us there would be socials at which gentlemen could wear striped jackets and boaters (at a "nominal fee"—another Cunard term one needs to constantly watch out for—more on that later). All of this has been dropped either as impractical or just taking too much effort. The marketers promised from the beginning an art-deco themed ship, just as Victoria reflects the Victorian era. Victoria successfully gives a sense of Victorian style, but there is little sense of art deco on Queen Elizabeth. The Queen's Room, principal dance hall on a Cunarder that does duty as the tea room, bingo room, etc., was shown (and is still shown on Cunard's website) in tones of blue. The actual room, as completed, is all beige and browns, tasteful and elegant, but not deco and not blue. A nice addition is up on the Sports Deck overlooking the bow. What on Victoria is an open and wind-swept viewing point has been semi-enclosed with artificial turf croquet and lawn bowls fields available for those wanting a bit, but not too much, fresh air and exercise.
The staterooms are outfitted with the same furniture, wood and wall tones, handles, bathroom fixtures (thank goodness with a couple of added glass shelves in the bathroom, but still the stingy, tiny indented tray for soaps in the shower) as Victoria. They've dumped the heavy and awkward bedspreads of Victoria, settling for duvets with a simple border pattern on them. I, for one, will be happy when the duvet craze has passed and we can get back to a bed covered with a set of sheets, two light blankets, and a spread, allowing the sleeper to layer on as much—or little—as he wishes. With the duvet it's all or nothing, which means either too hot or too cold. The special Sealy hand-tufted mattresses exclusive to this ship are very comfortable. Somewhere I read they can be purchased for a "nominal fee." In order to get the lights in the stateroom to work, guests must put their cruise card in a slot near the door. This inconvenience, understandable in hotels in countries where electricity is extremely expensive, is nothing more than a nuisance on ship. Passengers constantly were bothering stewards to open their doors as they habitually left the room forgetting to take the keycard with them. Pestering the help stopped after a couple of days not because guests became better at remembering to pull the card from the slot before leaving, but because word got around that to get the gimmick to work it was not necessary to have your guest card, but any card—a Canadian Auto Club membership card worked just fine—to do the trick. Just as you no longer can leave a light on, so too the TV goes off upon leaving the room. Cunard, in a cost-cutting measure, quit printing several years ago little cards for your pillow as a reminder that tomorrow the time will change forward or back an hour. They instructed room stewards to turn on the TV to a channel with the time-change notice on the screen. Of course now you come back to a dark room with the television off and the little time-change reminder card has not been brought back. So you better remember on your own to change your clock.
Time changes and other important shipboard news are in the Cunard Daily Programme with a new format on Elizabeth. It is pleasing to look at, and, after one gets used to it, reasonably ease to use. It also has some real problems. The date is printed at the top, but not the day of the week, something easy to lose track of on a cruise, uh, "voyage." The time of events is put in one column on the conventional A.M and P.M. twelve-hour clock, but events then are listed in twenty-four hour timings. Thus you see "5 P.M." on the left and read what's happening during that hour only to find that an event will begin at 1700, the next at 1715, etc. If you don't follow what I've just told you, don't worry. No one on board could figure it out, either
There is a daily insert in the Programme called Discoverer, which condenses the plethora of inserts about casino contests, tee-shirt sales, massage specials and the like and puts these pitches on one sheet. At least it reduces the clutter of several huckster sheets one finds on most ships. Besides not telling us what day it is, the Daily Programme no longer has what most people use the daily program for: The hours things are open. That information was given to us on a separate sheet the first day of the cruise, which quite promptly we all lost by the first evening. Thus the Purser's Office was plagued by those wanting another copy so they know what time meals are served, when the tour desk will be open, which bars serve midday cocktails and which don't open until evening, when photos or a new battery for a camera can be purchased, and the like. None of this is in the Daily Programme, but they did find space to include a crossword puzzle on the back! Just what we needed, another crossword puzzle—one is already printed in the at-sea newspaper with news and sports stories in it that comes to the stateroom door each evening, and another crossword is available in the Library each day (don't consult the Daily Programme to find out when the Library is open, however, as it will not be in there). Old Cunarders know that lunch is served (gratis) in the Golden Lion Pub on some days—but no one knows which days. Neither the Daily Programme nor the supplementary handout tells you which days or the hours of operation. Talk about an inside secret. The information sheet inserted in the Daily Programme before arrival in port in more extensive than similar on QM2 and Victoria, but still pales alongside similar guides on other high-end cruises such as Crystal.
Cunard staff and crew are rightly recognized for their courtesy, professionalism and helpfulness and this carries over onto the new ship. Wisely the company moved a number of the best personnel from all departments of QM2 and Victoria onto Elizabeth a good six weeks and more before the maiden voyage. They not only oversaw the outfitting and provisioning of Queen Elizabeth, but practiced on one another as dry runs in the dining rooms and staterooms. The luckier ones enjoyed staying in Queens and Princess Grill Suites and trying out the passenger restaurants. Some even got to be guinea pigs at the posh (and extra charge "nominal fee") eaterie, "The Verandah" which replaces the surcharge Todd English restaurants found on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. On the maiden voyage Diamond class Cunarders got a coupon for free lunch in The Verandah, others not so lucky, pay from twenty to thirty-five dollars per person for fixed menus and sky's-the-limit for à la carte selections. I tried the prix fixe dinner at thirty-five bucks and found it to be an outstanding dining experience of seven varied and impeccably prepared courses. As annoying as the idea of surcharge restaurants is, especially as you've already paid for a meal you're not eating in your regular restaurant, The Verandah, on its own merits, is a winner and well worth the splurge for a special occasion. The room's team seemed to have it pretty well down by the time I got there. One crew member who had sampled it during the shake-down phase the week before the maiden voyage said it took 90 minutes to get the first course and a full four hours plus for the meal. My seven-course meal was carried out in a leisurely two-hours-plus. The food in the Britannia restaurant is of the same very good quality as found on the other Cunard liners and the menu selections are nearly identical. Passengers who have been happy with meals on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria will do quite well on Queen Elizabeth.
The other alternative dining option is in the Lido up on Deck 9 where, at dinner hours, a section is converted into a sit-down restaurant with rotating themed menus of South American, Mexican and Asian dishes. I sampled the alternate dining on the maiden voyage and found the meals to be tasty, authentic, and well-presented. This concept is familiar to those who have sailed on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria and is every bit as successful as the Lido options on those two ships. The difference is that on Mary and Victoria these alternative dining options are free. On Elizabeth they are another example of a "nominal fee," in this case ten dollars per passenger, being applied. Carnivalization and the pressure to keep brochure cruise prices low has resulted in squeezing every nickel possible out of the passengers once they are on board. Some, such as the new alternative dining optional fee, are simply annoying, others angering, and yet others, silly. Computer lectures, one-hour classes on a particular computer application such as Powerpoint or Excel, always have been free on Cunard. An outrageous charge of thirty dollars now applies if you wish to attend such a class on Queen Elizabeth (exception: the sales-pitch lecture on Apple products, now conveniently sold in the computer lab, is free). By the same measure, across the way in the email room, there no longer is an attendant on duty at posted hours to assist guests. Befuddled would-be users therefore rush the nearby Purser's desk for help, adding a burden to what is already one of the busiest operations on the ship. What a mess. Veteran Graham "Mitch" Mitchell, known to passengers on four Queens, and one of the most competent computer guys at sea, is pressed into extra duty to deal with a situation created by shoreside beancounting. This is an example of penny-wise and pound-foolishness that is apparent on so many cruise lines. On sailaway from Southampton a glass of champagne was available at a "nominal fee." How petty—an experience once in a ship's life and charging people for a short flute of bubbly. Yet, later on at each of the ports, in addition to travel agents and important public officials, Cunard brought on dozens, sometimes a hundred, minor civic officials and the like for a free three-course lunch with all the trimmings. At one port the assistant fire chief of the town was so honored, someone, I'm sure, who never will take a cruise in his life. He gets the royal treatment courtesy of the company while faithful repeat guests are carded for a glass of champagne ordinaire.
You like afternoon tea? It's as lovely as ever on Cunard though about half-way through those famous white gloves start coming off and one sees bare hands touching the tea cups. Tsk, tsk! By the end of teatime the waiters are indulging in an almost a total bare-knuckled affair. Also, a couple of days at the beginning of the voyage, they were a little short on tea napkins, and sometimes paper appeared during the tea service, a real no-no. Speaking of paper, there no longer are cloth hand towels in any of the public restrooms. When QM2 came out, both men's and women's facilities had cloth in addition to paper. On Victoria, cloth towels were provided only for the ladies, now it's paper for everybody—just like Mother Carnival's ships. Looking for cloth hand towels? May I suggest Oceania or Princess. Anyway, for those who choose not to put up with such tackiness at teatime, there is now a "nominal fee" tea served up in the Deck 9 Garden Lounge (known as the Winter Garden for Victoria and QM2 habituEes). The Garden Lounge is a beautifully appointed space, adjacent to the Lido, and more homey and inviting than the corresponding rooms on the other Queens. For a mere $26.50 per person—yes, we were all asking where they came up with that figure, and if an additional fifteen per cent gratuity is tacked on "for your convenience"—you can have a "special" teatime, complete with champagne. I presume somebody forked over for it, but, having looked at the display of the special tea that was set up in the Grand Lobby for us to oogle over, it didn't look like $26.50 worth to me. Same scones, same sandwiches with maybe a couple of fancier ones thrown in. There is supposed to be some special tea available (Twining's has a deal with Cunard on this ship, and the tea purveyor's names is everywhere—including a printed advertisement on your table!). We almost didn't have teatime. Only after sailing from England was it discovered that the huge tea boilers had not gotten on board, and, even if they had, there were no outlets in the pantry to plug them in. Fortunately they made do for the first couple of days—the passengers barely noticed—and boilers were flown in to Vigo where electricians properly installed them.
Cruisers looking for a well-polished, everything-perfect trip should avoid a maiden voyage. Part of the adventure and fun of a first-ever voyage on a new ship is experiencing the burps and hiccoughs that are inevitable. Most passengers on this trip were good-natured and understanding when some minor things went wrong. Remarkably, glitches were few, especially given that the ship wasn't finished yet! Numerous contractors from the Italian shipyard and elsewhere were on board working feverishly on areas of the ship that had not yet been turned over to Cunard. Among these were the audio and video installation crews. The TV system on board barely worked the first few days; it got better as time went on. A schedule of TV shows finally appeared and having movies in the cabin was welcome as the traditional Cunard matinee film shown in the Royal Court Theatre was not scheduled as they needed the showroom for every moment of rehearsal time possible for the new production shows. There were a couple of minor floods in guest rooms on deck 5, and some cabins were getting only hot, others only cold, water. Most of this was fixed by the time we left the first port, Vigo, only two days after sailing away from Southampton.
At each port, supplies continued to come aboard. The after-dinner mints for passengers leaving the dining room showed up on day three. The ginger that always shares to compotes at the dining room door with the mints came a few days later. Cotton balls and Q-Tips arrived in our rooms about day five. There were real problems in the printing department for the first few days, and the newspaper, Daily Programme and other publications arrived in rooms hours late at first. Meal service in the Britannia was slow, especially early on, but improved. A couple of times my harried waiter forgot to deliver a course and one night I was served the wrong entrEe—something unheard of in my 20-plus cruises on Cunard. The polished and professional Britannia Dining Room managers Oliver and Patu were aware of this and plugged the holes quickly. Extra assistant waiters were posted near problem tables when necessary, and the head waiters and sommeliers often did double-duty by busing tables and pouring water. Some of the extra help were trainees from the White Star Academy, a floating hotel school located down below on Deck A. ("White Star" is part of the former name of Cunard—it was the was the line that owned Titanic, among others and "White Star Service" is the name Cunard gives its exceptional service. All employees wear "White Star" buttons.)
If the Diamond- and other frequent-Cunarders have one complaint about the line since its purchase by Carnival it is that there are few new ports in the itineraries. In Europe's warm waters it is always Lisbon, never Porto, Barcelona never Valencia, Livorno never Genoa, Messina never Palermo. No Eastern Med voyage fails to stop at Ephesus which most Cunarders have visited several times by now. Black Sea cruises stop only in Odessa and Yalta bypassing the fascinating cities in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. Trans-Atlantic crossings never include the northern arc route where new ports in the Shetlands, Iceland, Greenland, Labrador, New Foundland add some variety—and days—to the simple six-day crossing. The great Line Voyages of the QE2 between London and Cape Town with exotic ports on the West Coast of Africa are no more.
The maiden voyage of Queen Elizabeth went smoothly. She is an extremely quiet vessel with much less engine noise and vibration than most ships, even when the thrusters were propelling us in and out of a mooring. Calm waters and warm, sunny days—for October—made for ideal sailing conditions. The itinerary for this voyage paid homage to QE2, following in the wake of the famous ship's maiden voyage of 1969. The first port was Vigo, in Spain, where large numbers went to visit the shrine of Santiago de Compostela, about an hour inland. 2010 is a special holy year, so the town and shrine were mobbed, and as the Pope was due to visit soon so much of the basilica was obscured by scaffolding set up for the TV cameras covering his pilgrimage. Some on tour could not even get inside the church. Next was a pleasant day in Lisbon followed by a stop at Cadiz, Spain. Then came three Canary Island ports—Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and Las Palmas. The good weather gave out the next day in Madeira when heavy rains caused most tours to be canceled. The rain was so heavy that local authorities closed the main city streets for several hours in the afternoon and forbade persons to leave the ship. It eased up in the evening, and, as this was our only late-night port call, some were able to go ashore after dark.
Most guests, however, stayed aboard for the Royal Court Theatre performances by Lulu, the ageless (b. 1948) Scottish pop star who Americans may remember from the film To Sir, With Love. The Brits—fully half the passenger manifest—knew her, and it was SRO at both noisy shows. The mostly septuagenarian and octogenarian crowd went gaga over Lulu as if she were of their own generation. My suspicion is that they knew of her and her songs from putting up with them in the 60's when their boomer kids were listening to her music. She brought a company of fifteen with her to the ship, including Kiki D, another Brit singer of the era best known for her duet with Elton John, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart."
The other special guest on the voyage was 1970's TV interviewer Sir David Frost, familiar to a new generation thanks to the 2008 film "Frost/Nixon." He moved into the Queens Grill suite vacated at Cadiz by Cunard President Peter Shanks who had sailed out with us from Southampton. Frost gave one talk to a packed late morning audience, mostly old jokes told well in which he placed himself or some celebrity as a character. He took a few questions from the audience before disappearing, seen only again in The Verandah restaurant two nights running before leaving the ship mid-cruise. His lecture—once the TV system got working—was shown round-the-clock until disembarkation in Southampton. Another program with continuous showing was a seven-minute repeating loop of the launching ceremony that had taken place the day before QE's maiden voyage with Her Majesty the Queen pressing a wooden button—to be preserved in some trophy case on board—releasing a champagne bottle that cracked against the hull.
There were other "Cunard Insight" lecturers including the old crowd-pleaser Barry Brown, one-time BBC interviewer, who gave three film biographies of movie stars he has known: Bette Davis, Clint Eastwood, and David Niven. The sea dog and retired harbor pilot William Wells (no relation I know of to Queen Elizabeth's first and current master, the delightful Chris Wells), impressed us all with his bloviations about the ins-and-outs of seafaring. Martyn Green, possibly the most dynamic and informative port/destination lecturer at sea today, gave only one talk (on Lisbon) as the theater was tied up for rehearsals and the lack of at-sea days. He videoed a second talk on Madeira that was supposed to play on cabin televisions, but, owing to "technical difficulties" incurred with the audio/video system, few were able to see it. As it turned out, because of the inclement weather, not many got ashore at Funchal anyway.
Lulu was not the only entertainment brought to the ship. Most of the other nights were filled with cruise ship gypsies who jump from ship to ship—a flautist, a couple of comedians, a soprano. Pretty solid stuff, but nothing out of the ordinary and all are artists familiar to Cunarders. The Queen's Room hosted some afternoon classical concerts featuring the retired principal clarinetist of the BBC Scottish Orchestra with his wife at piano. These were pleasant, well-attended and well-received.
The ship has an able harpist, a string quartet (Ukrainian, of course), and pianists dappled around various bars, atria, and dining rooms. This is Cunard at its most elegant and one of the things that makes the line a bit special—less canned, and more live, music. Atrium pianist Carlo Nuschi, a 26-year-old from Boston, had played up to now in Cunard and Princess stage bands. On Queen Elizabeth he has been given a solo gig for the first time and is a real find, handling old standards and light classical pieces with apolomb in a manner of a performer well-beyond his years. Unheard of on any Cunard ship I have been on, an audience gathered at the three levels of the grand lobby when he played. They listened to, and applauded, his varied numbers.
Evening dancing is a mainstay of the Queen's Room with a good sounding band and vocals by crooner Michelle who has a perfect voice for singing Big Band era favorites. On formal nights Cunard has themed balls. For some reason the famous Black and White and Costume balls were dropped, replaced by oddball-balls with names such as "The Cunard Ball" and "The London Ball." Most everyone had brought the simple clothes and accessories for the Black and White Ball, but needn't have bothered.
Queen Elizabeth has her own permanent entertainers, a huge (for a ship) twenty-nine member troupe of singers, dancers, actors. This is a venture not without risks, and only some months from now when all the production shows are up-and-running will the advisability of the concept be known. The idea is to allow the performers to be in rep for musicals, plays and production shows. I attended the premieres of two shows, a musical that once played London's West End and an adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
The musical, A Slice of Saturday Night had some success twenty years ago when it bounced around between London's Strand and Arts Theatres. The setting is a Go-Go nightclub in the mid-1960's, and the music is a pastiche of rock-n-roll of the era, none of it very good, all of it loud. The plot unravels as predictable dialog-song-dialog-song for about an hour. There is no subtlety, coloring or finesse. Just talk, sing, talk sing. There is not a single costume or set change, even when the action moves outdoors. Listening to adult actors portraying wiseass surly cockney teenagers from a generation most of us would like to forget is tedious. The choreography is dull, unimaginative and endlessly repetitive, a waste of the talented dancers. I think the show is meant to be a comedy. Note to those who may see it—do not read the following if you don't want the plot spoiled. Now that you've been warned, I must tell you that the dramatic highlight of the show is when one of the female characters boldly flips the finger in the face of her would-be suitor. The great comic moment comes when same female gropes the genitals of this guy through his open fly. OK—simulated. I think. No, I'm not making this up. This on board Cunard, of all places. I went back to my stateroom to check the Daily Programme fully expecting that, after this, next would be a brassiere-snapping contest in the Golden Lion Pub. Belinda King Productions, producer of so many beautiful and dynamic shows for Cunard over the years, has come up with a stink bomb best tossed overboard.
A few days later came the single matinee performance in the Royal Court Theatre of an abbreviated version of Twelfth Night before a fairly full house. I had peeked at a couple of rehearsals and thought they had another troubled show on their hands. But practice, if not making perfect, as least makes better. The set was simple—a large series of floral-painted sails in the wings. This production sets the action in the 1920's with bright costumes right out of The Great Gatsby. In fact, this show is the most "art deco" thing about this supposedly "art deco" ship. The acting was smart, fluid and fun to watch. The players were easy to understand, considering it was Shakespearean English, and was aided by amplification in the 843-seat theater. A brilliant touch was having the ship's string quartet mounted high above the back of the stage playing incidental music. All made for a most pleasant afternoon, not too long, full of laughter and a general good time. For those of us who have not studied or seen the play in recent years, as well as those whose English may be good but not a first language, I would recommend providing a printed program listing the cast of characters in this comedy of intertwined love triangles and switched identities so the audience would know who's who and their relationship to one another, as well as a paragraph or two that gives the audience some background on the play and the action.
Classical concerts, formal nights, white-gloved teas and Shakespeare give a patina of sophistication on Cunard Queens, however there is plenty to remind one that, Cunarders, like other cruisers, can be boorish philistines. The Brits, especially Diamond-class Brits, were particularly difficult with impatience and demands. Why were there no fireworks when we left Madeira? (Answer: No one ever said there would be fireworks, but plenty passed the rumor around). Why aren't Diamond members being served here first? (Answer: Because most everybody on board is a Diamond member so giving them preference would do nothing but create chaos). The ship had a sales bazaar on Queen Elizabeth maiden voyage souvenirs. The queue had over 300 in it before the sale opened. Shoppers were given oral instruction up and down the line that there would be limits on how much of this stuff one could by. There was much grumbling when word came that no more than two Maiden Voyage Baseball Caps would be sold to any one shopper. A couple of days later the captain signed any books purchased from the ship's bookstore. This created another queue of hundreds and passengers stood, some for over two hours, books in hand awaiting an autograph. The "art auction" has been dropped on Queen Elizabeth replaced by an "art gallery" with rotating offerings. You like those pictures hanging all over the ship of depression-era movie stars on board the old Queens? You can have your own three-by-five foot Abbott and Costello black and white for a mere $660. No one seemed to be looking, let alone buying. Business picked up a bit when an artist on board did a portrait of Captain Wells then hung it with some of her other wares for sale in the gallery.
The captain, madly signing away, was not the lone sailor bound to his desk. On all ships there are some open-air decks reserved for the crew. This allows them get out in the sea breeze away from the passengers, have a smoke, and socialize. About three days before the end of the cruise there was a late night crew party below decks. No ashtrays or garbage bins were provided on the open decks, and some cigarette butts and litter was scattered about. This, Cunard could not abide. Until further notice all crew were confined indoors and none allowed out on deck. Word of the lockdown spread through the ship and many passengers were outraged. One Royal Navy veteran wondered if bringing out the lash could be far behind. Maybe, if it's a throwback to the good old days. Or, in the new Carnival atmosphere, the lash of today may be a chat with "Human Resources." It's a metaphor of what this ship is, heir to the 170 year-old traditions of Cunard, but also the youngest fleet afloat. The new Queen Elizabeth is a mix of Cunard/White Star and of Carnival, of liner and cruise ship, of tradition and innovation, of formality and the contemporary. Despite all the publicity department's efforts, she will never be another "great Cunarder" in the tradition of the original Queen Mary or QE2 or even the grand Queen Mary 2. She is however, splendid in her own way, if not in her architecture and fittings, then in her gracious service, formal but able-to-be-laid-back feeling, and genial atmosphere. Read Less