Royal Engagement: Jennie Bond

Royal Engagement: Jennie Bond

By Jennie Bond | 24 Apr 2018

Jennie Bond joins a memorable Cunard cruise from the Seychelles to Port Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth Cruise

And… breathe. That’s exactly how I felt as my husband, Jim, and I finally stepped
on board into the cool luxury of Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.

We were joining one of our favourite liners in the steamy tropical heat of the Seychelles, and ahead lay a voyage of discovery, to Mauritius and Reunion (islands we had never visited before) and onwards to South Africa (where I had covered two royal tours some years ago, but which Jim had never seen).

I love the excitement of those first few hours on board. What will our stateroom be like? How big will the balcony be? Will there be Champagne on ice? And what’s for dinner?

This time, as we were conducted for what seemed like half a mile along the “aft” corridor on Deck 4, I recognised exactly where we were heading. To one of the glorious Queen’s Grill staterooms on the stern.

On the last occasion we’d had one of these, I’d been totally disorientated and, believing we had a starboard stateroom, as we set sail I asked Jim why we were going sideways. He
still laughs about my nautical stupidity to this day.

These top-grade suites are spacious and exude elegance and comfort. There’s a huge bed, a lounge area with settee and chairs, a desk which I use
as a dressing table, and a bar area with a built-in fridge which is kept stocked by your personal butler. The bathroom is a very clever configuration, with three doors which keep the huge bath and large shower cubicle separate from the loo and wash basins.

All this, though, is less important to me than the outside area, which offers privacy and lots of fresh air and sunshine. As soon as seemed polite, I excused myself from our butler’s guided tour of the accommodation to thrust open the door to our balcony.

Joy of joys, it was huge, with two full-length sun loungers and plenty of room to enjoy breakfasts, or indeed dinners, al fresco.

A clink of ice and pop of a cork signalled that Jim had discovered the Champagne and, with a delicious chocolate-dipped strawberry to further tickle our taste buds, we toasted the start of our holiday.

I never feel properly settled until I’ve unpacked. It’s such a relief to get everything ordered again after the chaos of shoving it all in a suitcase. Cunard suites have masses of storage space: quite frankly, there are more drawers, shelves and wardrobes than we can fill. So, as we sipped our bubbly, we quickly sorted out our temporary home. After which, it was time to explore the ship.

Queen Elizabeth is the newest of Cunard’s three Queens and can take up to 2,500 passengers. But there’s so much to do on board and so many places to be that Jim and I are always surprised by how uncrowded it feels and how alone we can seem. We are often among just a handful of people enjoying the harpist or pianist in one of the lounge areas where we play cards after dinner.

There are two good-sized pools, a spa and a wonderful games deck. “Look, there’s the croquet lawn,” I yelled to Jim, as memories came flooding back of our rather embarrassing attempts to master the game. There’s something quintessentially British about playing croquet on a luxury liner as you sail the high seas. But Jim and I are a bit better at shuffleboard and deck quoits, which are also on board along with a short tennis court and golf nets where you can practise your swing.

We also enjoy pretending we are fitter than we are by marching briskly, or even jogging, around Deck 3: three times round equals one mile. It’s perfect exercise before breakfast, which we like to have on our balcony, brought to us each morning by our wonderful butler.

Of course, you can also breakfast at your assigned table in the Grill or help yourself in the Lido.

If you are voyaging with Cunard, it probably means you enjoy a touch of elegance. And there are always two or three formal nights when the dress code is tuxedos and evening gowns. In recent years, this code has been relaxed somewhat and a lounge suit suffices for men and a bit of sparkle for the ladies. And if that’s still too much hassle, you can keep your shorts on and eat in the Lido.

But most people seem to enjoy dressing up, and these nights are great for people watching. Some of the men strut their stuff like the proudest peacocks, looking truly fabulous. And many women, like me, appreciate the chance to roll out those glam ball gowns that spend most of their lives hanging in a wardrobe.

Dinner in the Queen’s Grill is always a special affair. The menus are mouth-watering, but I particularly enjoy the fact that you can eat
“off-piste” if you give a bit of notice. So, if Jim and I fancy a Chateaubriand steak, cooked at our table by the maître d’, or one of his special seafood pastas, we only have to ask.

The portions are modest, which pleases me and means I don’t feel too full to go dancing in the ballroom, though trying to get Jim to join me is another story.

Even if we don’t hit the dance floor, watching other couples do their thing (and many of them are very talented) is fascinating.

The theatre is another very popular evening option. I always make a beeline for the comedy and magic acts. But don’t be late or sit in the front row if you want to avoid being singled out by the performer. Equally popular is the daytime entertainment, including lectures on a variety of topics by renowned historians, writers, celebrities and artists.

For me, the real joy of cruising is the fact that when you throw open your curtains in the morning, a new country, city or island is waiting right there to be explored. We have been wined, dined and entertained, had a peaceful night’s sleep – and, with no hassle, been transported to a new playground.

Mauritius was somewhere I had always wanted to visit. But I was rather disappointed to find it more built up and European than I’d imagined any Indian Ocean island to be. Our next stop was Reunion, 120 miles to the south west. It was also a surprise – boasting sophisticated infrastructure and French motorways. But Jim and I found this island more rewarding, with its rugged coastline and active volcano.

Our favourite destination, though, was Port Elizabeth in South Africa. I was last there with the Queen, more than 20 years ago. Jim and I decided to splash out on one of the excursions offered by Cunard and joined a group of fellow travellers on a visit to Addo Elephant Park. In spite of heavy rain, it offered a wonderful taste of Africa.

The elephants were shy and hard to spot, which made each sighting even more magical, especially the female and tiny calf who crossed our path.

We disembarked in Cape Town, sad to leave our splendid stateroom and life of luxury.

Next on the agenda? We shall be rejoining Queen Elizabeth in Singapore this spring, and cruising to Antarctica in November. Cruise addicts? I guess the answer to that is
a resounding yes.