Cunard's youngest queen, Queen Elizabeth, will set off from Southampton on January 3 for its longest-ever trip away from its home, one that takes it to Africa, Australia, Japan and Alaska before it heads back to Britain in August. The nearly nine-year-old ship, which carries 2080 passengers and 1005 crew, has just been revamped to the tune of several million dollars and will be spending a record two-month season Down Under in February and March.
Queen Elizabeth is the first ship in the fleet to be fitted with a new spa and beauty salon, replacing the existing Royal Spa. Called Mareel, after the Norse words for phosphorescence ("sea" and "fire"), it will be equipped with new gym equipment, day beds and spa pool and will offer an extended range of treatments. Other changes include upgrades to staterooms; a more contemporary look for the Royal Arcade; technical upgrades to the Royal Court Theatre; a new colour scheme for the always popular Golden Lion pub; and more shaded areas on the sun deck. The ship's engines have also been overhauled, with new scrubbers installed to reduce exhaust emissions.
When QE arrives in Fremantle on February 4 for its extended season of cruises out of Sydney and Melbourne, the ship will be showcasing some of Australia's best-loved brands. Cunard has partnered with clothing label R.M. Williams, Akubra hats, Port Melbourne boutique whisky distillery Starward and the highly acclaimed Australian Dance Theatre (ADT). Cunard's bellboys will swap their traditional red-and-black uniforms for new outfits designed by R.M. Williams and Akubra; a 225-litre barrel of Starward single malt has been maturing onboard for a year; and the ADT will stage a special performance of its latest work, The Beginning of Nature, and dancers will lead workshops and classes for guests.
If you haven't booked any of QE's cruises this summer, the ship is returning to Australia in December for an even longer season – 101 days, when it will sail to South Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea between December 2019 and March 2020. It will spend Christmas in local waters – a first for Cunard – and New Year's Eve in Auckland Harbour, in time to celebrate the start of a new decade.
In other news from Cunard, its fourth ship is due to launch in 2022. The 3000-passenger ship will be bigger than its three fleetmates and the 249th ship to fly the Cunard flag since the line was founded in 1839. There is already lots of speculation about its name but that won't be revealed until late next year.
THE PORT Langkawi, Malaysia
WHO GOES THERE Costa, CMV, Cunard, HAL, Hapag-Lloyd, Marella, NCL, Oceania, P&O, P&O UK, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Star Clippers, Windstar.
WHY WE LOVE IT Pulau Langkawi is the largest of the 99 Langkawi islands (covering about 400 square kilometres), located off the north-west coast of Malaysia. It is a UNESCO World Geopark and its year-round tropical climate make it a favourite holiday destination for cruisers and Malaysia mainlanders. As well as being famous for its beaches, Langkawi has a wealth of natural attractions to explore.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Most ships dock at the Star Cruises jetty, about 16 kilometres from the island's main town of Kuah. Hiring a car to see the sights or spending the day lazing on the beautiful Datai Bay, Pantai Cenang and Tanjung Rhu beaches are among the options but it's easier to hire a taxi for the day or take a ship-organised tour. Half-day tours include those that take in boat trips in mangrove forests to see diving eagles, a fish farm and the bat cave; an island overview that visits the Rice Garden, Underwater World, Harbour Park and the Handicraft Studio; guided treks through the rainforest, home to monkeys, flying squirrels and hundreds of bird and butterfly species; and tours that include the Oriental Village, cable car and spectacular Sky Bridge.
MUST SEE Views from the 610-metre-high Langkawi Sky Bridge, reached by cable car from Oriental Village; Eagle Square in Kuah, to see the 12-metre eagle sculpture; Underwater World in Pantai Cenang; and Langkawi Wildlife Park & Bird Paradise, which has animal feeding sessions.
MUST EAT Malaysian cuisine is a blend of Muslim Malay food, Hokkien Chinese cuisine and Indian influences. Dishes to try include nasi lemak (aromatic coconut rice accompanied by deep-fried fish or chicken, fish paste, peanuts, eggs, cucumber and chilli sambal) and char kway teow (spicy stir-fried rice cakes topped with prawns and bean sprouts). Treat yourself to lunch or dinner at Nam Restaurant at Bon Ton Resort, Pantai Cenang.
NEED TO KNOW Malaysia's currency is the ringgit (RM). A few Langkawi tourist shops accept US dollars, but it's best to stock up on ringgit before leaving the mainland or at the airport ATM on arrival.
At 6.4 kilometres long, the Corinth Canal is one of the world's smallest canals. It links mainland Greece to the Peloponnese Peninsula and is only navigable by ships narrower than 17.6 metres.
Star Clippers themed cruises
Star Clippers is running 10 themed itineraries on its three tall ships in 2019, on cruises in the Mediterranean, South Asia and the Caribbean. Five cruises offer yoga classes held twice daily on the open decks, led by professional instructors on select ships. Other themed cruises include a fitness-focused cruise with personal trainer Joel Harper, whose clients include Olympic medallists, on Star Flyer's sailing from St Maarten on March 23; two cruises from Athens to the Greek Cyclades islands accompanied by historian and author Renata Scheiper in May; Royal Clipper's June sailing from Cannes with celebrity stylist Samantha Brown, who has worked with the world's top fashion media; and Royal Clipper's round-trip cruise from Rome on September 7, which will be joined by renowned Neapolitan chef Armando Bisceglia. See starclippers.com/au
Take a musical break
The decade of big hair, fluoro shirts and electronic music will live on with P&O Cruises' new 1980s Tribute Cruise – and guests can also rock out on the cruise line's first Country Music Festival at Sea. The inaugural Country Music Festival at Sea departs Brisbane on December 7, 2019, and two three-day 1980s music cruises depart from Brisbane on February 1, 2020, and from Sydney on April 3, 2020. The Country Music Festival at Sea will celebrate all genres of country music from rockabilly and country rock to folk and bluegrass, with live performances, while the 1980s Tribute cruise will feature 1980s bands, tribute bands and themed parties, fancy dress and screenings of the best TV shows and films from the decade. See pocruises.com.au