Cruise like a movie star on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth: The original grand design

Now, Voyager; An Affair to Remember; Titanic, (before the, um, incident): onboard glamour seems irrevocably linked to the glory days of cruising, when no self-respecting woman would dare set foot on a cruise without a truckload of matching luggage and a hat box or three.

But the idea of Bette Davis being served a gin fizz by a robot barman, or Jack and Rose meeting up for a tryst in a skydiving simulator doesn't quite summon the same Hollywood magic as being feted with finesse on a true grand liner that once carried stars of the screen across the Atlantic.

So it's good to know that despite the wealth of attention that greets the biggest new cruise ships and the latest in on-deck wizardry, it is still possible to cruise like a movie star of the 1930s and 40s.

And Australians now have a unique chance to do this thanks to Cunard's recent announcement that its youngest ship, the Queen Elizabeth, will be based in Australia for 101 days over the 2019-20 summer. During her secondment she will sail on six round-trip cruises from Melbourne and two from Sydney, which will feature an array of itineraries to South Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

And to top this off, guests will be the first to sail on the luxury liner after it comes back from an extensive general refurbishment, where carpets, soft furnishings and interior panelling will be replaced – though there will, of course, be no toying with the classic 1930s feel.

So, what is it like to sail on the Queen Elizabeth, the second largest of the Cunard Queens? Well, it's a bit like sailing back in time, except with all mod cons, of course.

THE ROYAL DECOR

The ship's interior is classic art deco – clean lines with fun touches. There's light mahogany wood panelling, giant chandeliers, marble floors and rich textiles, all of which combine to incredible effect in the Grand Lobby – the focal point of the ship. Here, a two-deck-high original artwork dominates a showstopper staircase. This piece, which shows the port bow of the original Queen Elizabeth from sea level, was specially commissioned to the Queen's nephew, David Linley. Other standout areas include the large ballroom with orchestra; the library, spread over two decks linked by a spiral staircase; the garden lounge, inspired by the hothouses of London's Kew Gardens, and the Royal Court theatre with seating for 800 and its own private boxes. There's also the extra wide deck with its iconic red funnel and monogrammed deckchairs.Giant black and white photographs on each deck featuring Hollywood greats such as Gregory Peck sailing on the original Elizabeth; or scenes from the on-board casino and bars in the 1950s, are a nice touch.

FOOD FIT FOR A QUEEN

The Queen Elizabeth has several restaurants but the main go-to venue is the two-level Britannia, with striking art deco surroundings. The food is good, if a little on the bland side.

However, the main game on board is Elizabeth's signature French restaurant, The Verandah. Bette Davis famously borrowed a cape in Now, Voyager – a garment that packs glamour while hiding a multitude of sins. This should be regulation attire when dining here. A taste? How about lobster and shellfish salad with avocado and vine ripened tomato jelly or hot vanilla souffle infused with Edmond Briottet Peach Liqueur. The verdict, even among our table of seasoned travellers, was unanimous: this restaurant is exceptional. (And reasonable – dinner is $35 a head; lunch $25.)

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We also enjoyed modern, authentic Mexican dishes at Aztec, which alternates with Asian-inspired eateries Bamboo and Coriander in the ship's specialty cuisine restaurant. Other options include the more casual 24-hour Lido buffet and the Britannia Club and Grill restaurants which are off limits to all but those in the Grill and Britannia Club cabins.

Don't miss high tea in the Queen's Room, complete with champagne and teapots, cucumber sandwiches, tiny pastries, and, of course, scones, jam and cream, accompanied by a string quartet.

After dinner head to the recently rejigged Gin & Fizz bar where I'm pretty sure Bette and her cape would have been fixtures for one of her trademark bumpy nights. This concoction was a showstopper: Drumshanbo Gunpowder gin from Ireland with a "fresh citrus taste and spicy oriental botanicals". It comes with dehydrated lime, lemon twist and star anise garnish. Those seatbelts were fastened.

WE ARE AMUSED

There is plenty of entertainment on board the Queen Elizabeth at a standard no less than you'd expect from a Cunard queen. We attend the theatre to watch three tenors – no, not those three, but rather three from the Australian group of 10 tenors, Tenori. They perform a mix of opera, musical theatre and more contemporary pieces delivered with a dry banter that seems to leave some parts of the English audience confused. One overheard gem: "So cultured. Beautiful voices, yet they sound so Orstralian when they speak." The Queen Elizabeth has also entered into a partnership with the Australian Dance Theatre as part of its new collection of sailings from Sydney and Melbourne.

Elizabeth is also a dancing queen, with ballroom dancing classes held each night in, yes, the ballroom. Bands and DJs also party on in the ballroom and on deck each night. Trivia and karaoke at the onboard British pub is also popular but our favourites are the standards: playing paddle tennis, quoits and croquet on the deck in the middle of the ocean.

PUMP UP THE JAM – AND THE CREAM

Unlike cruises of yesterday there are many ways to work off the kilojoules – ranging from yoga to spin classes. There's a fully-equipped gym, pool and a spa with hydrotherapy pool.

A GREENER QUEEN

The Queen Elizabeth has recycling bins in all of its guest rooms and has also installed reactors that process waste water by biologically breaking down the mixture and pushing it through membrane filters. Effluent that is produced is clean water of an extremely high standard, Cunard says.

ROLL THOSE CREDITS

When the Queen Elizabeth sailed out of Sydney during her last visit the harbour city provided its best Cecil B. DeMille moment. It was a balmy evening with a full moon that that set off the Opera House at its shimmering best. As the giant red funnel pulled away from the quay – mimicking just about every coy love scene in moviedom – champagne glasses clinked on deck as pooling ice sculptures were being siphoned up by gloved bellhops.

Yep, good thing Bette wasn't on board. She always hated being upstaged.

CRUISE

Fares start from $679 a person twin share in a private balcony stateroom for a three-night voyage on Queen Elizabeth from Sydney to Melbourne, departing March 9, 2019. For more information and bookings, contact your travel consultant, call Cunard on 132 441 or visit cunardline.com.au 

Jane Richards travelled as a guest of Cunard.

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