She may not be the biggest ship to drop anchor in Tenerife this year, or even this month, but when it comes to regal splendour the newly launched Queen Elizabeth sits crown and shoulders above her rivals. Cruise holidays are no longer about regimented timetables and starched jackets for dinner. A queue of T shirts, shorts and summer dresses lined up for the shuttle bus from the quayside into Santa Cruz and a Union Jack was draped casually over one of the 71 balconied cabins. I had to crane my neck to gaze up the 16 decks as the early morning lifeboat drill was practised. Then checked, scanned and photographed the media guests were welcomed aboard, through the plush carpets and super cooled lift area up to the ninth floor for the exchanging of plaques and Canarian wine between the Captain and the Tenerife port authority.
Captain Chris Wells has always loved the ocean, from fishing trips near his Bournemouth birthplace to meeting German wife Hedda while both served on the Queen Elizabeth 2. I felt a small sneaky swell of local pride as the Captain commented on the previous day’s cooler, cloudier weather at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, part way through a 13 day trip that started with a lavish launch ceremony in Southampton.
Formalities over, we went off on a tour starting with the pool area below the meeting room and night club. Occupants of the Jacuzzi and sun beds quickly grabbed towels, well would you want to be caught belly up by the press pack? Moving down to The Garden Lounge (above) we were again enveloped by cool air as we admired the paintings of Kew Gardens around the walls. I chatted to a British couple reading Daily News, an internal morning update from Blighty, which is left outside each cabin along with a programme of the day’s choice of events and excursions. Scanning the menu I found all the prices in US dollars and was pleasantly surprised to find bottles of real ale Spitfire for sale at 5.75. I was later told by a passenger that a 15% service charge is added to all the menu orders and bills are charged to an on board swipe card to be settled at the journeys end.
Moving down to the third floor Grand Lobby, the style and elegance was stunning. Stairways circled down past small trees to a piano lounge and the brass trimmings were being polished as we passed, the chandeliers and coloured glass décor looked like another never ending job on the cleaning schedule. It was almost eerily quiet on board as 600 of the 2092 passengers had been whisked off to Teide National Park, others had opted for a jeep tour and the bars and shops of Santa Cruz had attracted many more.
Attention to detail is vital on this 90,400 ton Cunard ship, the library had a pile of sheets with crosswords and sudoku to pass those quieter moments as well as the day’s British newspapers. Tradition is another strong theme on the ship with display cases of old news clippings and memorabilia from the previous vessels to bear Queen Elizabeth’s name. The Verandah restaurant was one of my favourites, finished in shimmering white and tingling with fine crystal glasses. Even here at the entrance a Healthy Hands wet wipe vender was a reminder of the dedication to clean habits in a notoriously difficult environment.
Passing through the Queens room with a respectful nod to the HRH’s bust and portrait, we found the Royal Arcade with jewellery, watches and fashion on the upper level and access to the games machines and the Golden Lion pub, where you can enjoy fish, chips and mushy peas with the finest cocktails.
So what do the passengers think. Alison and Duncan McMenemie (left) from Greenock, Scotland were on their third cruise and I caught them popping back for lunch after visiting Santa Cruz. “It’s been very relaxing, drinks and spa etc are extra but we haven’t really spent much,” said Alison. “Santa Cruz was good value too, we bought some kids” presents. We found it interesting to see how all the ports we called at made a fuss of us when we left, the big cruise ships call in Greenock and they do a good send off.”
Charmaine Attwood and Perry Millward were spared a long train journey to Southampton as they live in Salisbury. “We went on the QE2 three years ago and were lucky that an online cruise site got us tickets for this trip, we heard they all sold out within 29 minutes of going on sale,” said Charmaine. “The ship looks like an apartment block on the outside but inside it is a lovely old style and the entertainment is wonderful.”
For up to 16,000 pounds for luxury suites, the Queen Elizabeth is not a cheap option but with 7 European stop offs and a wealth of ways to relax and soak up some unrivalled style and service, it should float most peoples boat.