Queen Elizabeth cruise ship: On board the successor to the QE2 that now calls Melbourne home

The sign says "Party Cruise" though it's not the sort of party you might expect.

This is, after all, the Queen Elizabeth, one of the Cunard line's three queens of the seas (the others are the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria) – cruise ships better known for their old-world charm and traditions, rather than raging booze cruises.

The sign is pinned up in the Queen Elizabeth's giant main galley and the kitchen crew's definition of "party" means they will have to double their production for this three-day trip from Melbourne to Sydney.

As the ship's executive chef, Roland Sargunan, explains, a short cruise means passengers want to make the most of what's on board, consuming twice the amount at the numerous on-board restaurants that passengers would on a longer journey.

Early in 2019, Queen Elizabeth had its inaugural season with Melbourne as its home port. As Sydney struggles to fit in any more ships, cruise lines are increasingly looking to Melbourne as an alternative port to base ships in – particularly given it's a relatively underdeveloped market compared to Sydney and Brisbane.

I was on board the Queen Elizabeth's second trip from Melbourne, part of a 54-day residency. From December 2019, the  ship will spend almost twice as much time here, with six round trips from Melbourne, along with two trips from Sydney. Itineraries will include cruises to South Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Cunard's ships keep things classic and classy – there are no gimmicks on board the Queen Elizabeth, no waterslides or abseiling. While children are welcome on board, I spot very few among the passengers and there are several areas where they are not allowed, including the Lido deck and pool at the rear of the ship.

This classic style harkening back to the golden age of ocean travel is particularly apparent on the Queen Elizabeth, being, as it is, the successor to one of the most famous ships of all time, the Queen Elizabeth II. After retiring from service in 2008, the QE2 is now permanently docked in Dubai, converted into a hotel for those wishing to relive the ship's glory days without actually sailing.

See also: Iconic QE2 ship reopens as a hotel


But for those of us wanting a taste of what the QE2 offered, the Queen Elizabeth is the closest modern day equivalent. Built at a cost of more than $870 million and launched in 2010, the ship features 1074 staterooms (700 with private balconies) across 12 decks.

The ship's interiors are a deliberate homage to the style of the QE2, with art deco furnishings throughout – wood panelling, mosaics, chandeliers and marble (most evident in the floors of the impressive grand lobby).

A new addition to the ship is the Mareel spa, a large wellness facility offering massage rooms, several types of saunas and an aquatherapy zone including a hot indoor pool. There have also been a few tweaks made for the Australian market, with the ship's famous bell boys now fitted out in striking red R. M. Williams uniforms and Akubra hats.

Back in the galley, Roland is taking us on a tour and explaining the logistics behind feeding more than 2000 passengers across the ship's 10 restaurants and cafes every day. The stats are mind-boggling, even though, by global standards, the Queen Elizabeth is not among the largest ships on the seas.

On a typical 14-day cruise, Sargunan tells us, the ship's 150 chefs will serve more than 90,000 meals, with passengers consuming more than 70 tonnes of fruit and vegetables, 30 tonnes of red meat and poultry and 70,000 cups of tea.

Before we head north to Sydney, our cruise takes us south overnight across Bass Strait to Tasmania, where the Queen Elizabeth makes its first ever visit to Burnie.

As if there's not enough eating to be done on board, I opt for a shore excursion exploring the region's produce, which entails visits to some of the region's key spots on the tasting trail: Ashgrove cheese factory, 41 South salmon farm, Anvers chocolate factory and cider-makers Spreyton. After we enjoy a cider tasting, it's back to the ship where a local band of pipers farewells us as we depart for Sydney.

Cunard's ships have a reputation for formality and elegance. That's one of the main attractions for passengers who choose to travel on this line, though in Australia the rules are a little more relaxed. Dinner still requires a shirt and jacket for men (and no denim) though the days of requiring a tuxedo are gone, even on the formal nights (fortunate for me since I don't own a tuxedo and even manage to forget to pack a tie).

That's not to say the environment is stuffy – there is plenty of fun to be had. The top deck overlooking the bow is the games area, but the games are, of course, of English tradition – bowls, croquet and tennis. At night passengers pack into the Golden Lion pub to dance and sing along with a live band knocking out classic hits, while others take a more low-key evening in the top deck Commodore's Lounge with live jazz.

The three-level theatre hosts two live performances every night with modern dance, comedy and a Beatles tribute band (who nail the sound, if not the looks, of the original's early hits).

Once the other bars close, those wanting to kick on head to the Yacht Club bar, where a DJ spins tracks until the small hours. We're there watching a group of Americans dance to '80s favourites until well past 1am, when I'm forced to retire and leave them to it. For some passengers, this has been a party cruise in every sense of the word.


Queen Elizabeth

Launched: 2010

Size: 90,901 gross tonnes

Length: 294 metres

Passenger capacity: 2081

Crew: 1005

Where does it travel? Japan and east Asia, Alaska, Australia. The ship is home porting in Melbourne until March 30 and will return to the city in November this year for a 103-day season.

Queen Mary 2

Launched: 2004

Size: 149,215 gross tonnes

Length: 345 metres

Passenger capacity: 2691

Crew: 1292

Where does it travel? The Cunard flagship is most famous for its trans-Atlantic crossings. It will next visit Australia in 2020 as part of a world voyage. The Queen Mary 2 is the only true ocean liner (as opposed to a cruise ship) still in service – designed for traversing oceans with a heavy steel hull and powerful engines that allow it to travel at high speed.

Queen Victoria

Launched: 2007

Size: 90,049 gross tonnes

Length: 294 metres

Passenger capacity: 2061

Crew: 981

Where does it travel? Europe's Atlantic coast, the Norwegian fiords, the Mediterranean and South America.



Queen Elizabeth will cruise Australia and New Zealand until March 30 before heading to Asia. It will return to Melbourne as its home port in December.




The writer travelled as a guest of Cunard.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Queen Elizabeth would return to Melbourne in November 2019.

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