During her 70-year reign, the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II has shown a fondness for the venerable British cruise line Cunard—and vice versa. The decades-long relationship dates back to 1938 when the young princess first attended the christening ceremony of the Queen Elizabeth ship with her mother serving as the vessel’s godmother.
After assuming the throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth herself served as godmother of the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1967. And in the current Cunard fleet of three vessels, the Queen is godmother of two of the ships—the 2,691-passenger Queen Mary 2, which was christened in 2004, and the 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth (technically the third Queen Elizabeth vessel to be built), christened in 2010.
Queen Elizabeth isn’t the only member of the British royal family to have ties to Cunard. The third ship in the current fleet, the 2,061-passenger Queen Victoria, was christened in 2007 by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with her husband, Prince Charles, in attendance. A new ship, the 3,000-passenger Queen Anne, will set sail in 2024 but no word on the ship’s godmother yet.
Given its long regal legacy, the upscale Cunard vessels offer its passengers ample opportunities to embrace British traditions and sail, dine, drink, and socialize like royalty.
Stay like royalty
Higher-class accommodations on Cunard ships come with exclusive dining privileges. The most luxurious accommodations are Queens Grill suites with access to a private dining room, lounge, and sunning area.
On Queen Mary 2, the world’s only transatlantic liner, passengers can choose from suites named after British queens: Victoria, Anne, Elizabeth, Mary. The most indulgent accommodations are duplex apartments named after Queen Elizabeth’s homes: Balmoral, Sandringham, Buckingham, Windsor, and Holyrood.
These apartments—the largest is a sprawling 2,249 square feet—are popular with Hollywood elite. When she came onboard to film scenes for Steven Soderbergh’s 2020 movie Let Them All Talk, actress Meryl Streep stayed in one of these lavish two-story accommodations with sweeping views of the sea and butler service included.
Princess Grill suite accommodations also come with private dining and some added perks, and at the Britannia Club level, passengers have access to a special restaurant. For everyone else staying in Britannia level accommodations, they will still have the ships’ ample public areas and dining venues to explore and choose from.
Dine like a royal
Those lucky enough to have reserved a Queens Grill suite will get to indulge in Cunard’s top-tier dining experience with a menu that includes a Devon Crab cannelloni, Onley Grounds chateaubriand, Grand Marnier soufflé, beef wellington, and rack of lamb. Princess Grill also offers an intimate dining experience, though with a bit less pomp and circumstance.
Even in the main Britannia Dining Room, there is a formality that harkens back to the Golden Age of travel. Passengers dress for dinner, most men in jackets, and women may feel like nobility as they are greeted at the entrance and escorted to their table on the arms of waiters dressed to the nines.
Drink like royalty
The Queen until recently, when her doctors reportedly advised otherwise, was known to enjoy a gin martini. Buckingham Palace produces its own brand, made from botanicals picked from the palace’s gardens. While that brand, Buckingham Palace Dry Gin, is not served on Cunard ships, the line does, in partnership with Pickering’s Gins, serve the 3 Queens Gin collection at all restaurants and bars. Bottles are also available for purchase at the shipboard Royal Arcade shopping area.
Attend a ball
A must-do on Cunard ships, even if just to observe the spectacle of it all, are the grand balls held in the high-ceilinged Queens Room ballroom. With themes such as the Black and White Ball, the Red and Gold Ball (where attendees are asked to dress in the designated colors), Roaring 20s, and the Masquerade Ball, these lavish events are the place to see and be seen. For some passengers, this is an opportunity to showcase a beautiful gown or classy tux, never mind the overweight baggage charge packing the additional formals could incur. This summer in Alaska, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth will host an Ice White Ball, an excuse for passenger to flaunt snowy dresses and suits.
During the galas, live orchestras play as passengers head to the dance floor to sway under crystal chandeliers. Those who have never taken ballroom dancing lessons can catch up with group dance classes onboard ahead of the balls. If anyone would like a partner, the ships have dance hosts on hand.
Indulge in afternoon tea
If there is a prized ritual on Cunard ships it is the afternoon tea, served on all three ships from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. daily. The event takes place in the Queens Room, where tables are covered in starched linens and fine china. White-gloved waiters serve warm scones with jelly and real clotted cream, pretty finger sandwiches made with salmon or cucumber, and gorgeous cakes and pastries. Guests sip Twinings fine leaf teas, while the ship’s orchestra or a string quartet provides background music. Queens Grill guests can opt to take their afternoon tea in the more intimate Grills Lounge, if they so choose.
Enjoy royal entertainment
On all three Cunard ships, the Royal Court Theatre is where passengers may watch a resident cast perform West End–caliber theater productions or attend educational lectures as part of Cunard’s renowned enrichment program.
On the Queen Mary 2, members of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) are onboard, too, celebrating the bard and other literary legends from past to present in theatrical performances. The RSC actors also lead workshops that explore the craft of acting, and present “Shakespeare Tales,” intimate and informal events where you may meet King Lear or Henry V or the Prince of Denmark, as the actors perform their personal favorite sonnets and speeches and take questions from the audience.
Learn to fence
Fencing has long been a sport of royalty, and for those who want to see what it takes to compete with swords, on all three Cunard ships fencing lessons are available with certified instructors. No previous experience is required for the introductory classes. On longer voyages, there may also be opportunity to take part in advanced classes, as passengers hone their skills. All professional equipment is provided, and the classes for up to 12 guests are held in the Queens Room.
Eat pub grub
While grabbing a lunch of bangers and mash or fish and chips and a pint of ale may seem like a less royal pursuit, on Cunard ships you will find these treats at the Golden Lion Pub, named for the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. At these surprisingly authentic pubs at sea, passengers may play darts and answer pub trivia, which often include questions about British royalty.