CRUISE: There is something about Mary
THE mellifluous sounds of the strings as harpist Lara Szabo played were a suitable match for the tinkling of silver spoons in china cups. Then there were the white-gloved waiters coming at us with silver trays of cucumber sandwiches and scones with jam and cream.
Welcome to afternoon tea on board Queen Mary 2, the most elegant of cruiseliners with an air of regal Britishness that takes you into a world of royal indulgences. QM2 sailed into Sydney Harbour on February 25, gliding past her sister Queen Elizabeth anchored outside the harbour.
Cunard's two most famous liners spent a day and evening in Sydney, with Queen Mary 2 even upstaging the Sydney Opera House after a $160million remastering. We were on board to experience this extravagant refurb on a three-day cruise from Melbourne to Sydney.
Fifty new staterooms have been added, with the new Britannia Club Balcony staterooms paying tribute to the original QM art deco heritage. A number of new single staterooms have been included to meet the increasing demand of lone travellers.
We attempted to cram in everything, and there was much, even though we spent too much time enchanted by the men dancers - senior men who know the difference between a cha cha and a tango - employed by Cunard to glide the ladies around the ballroom. Nine of these gentlemen sail the world on QM2 giving mature single ladies a chance to enjoy an old-fashioned foxtrot. Strict etiquette applies and no activity by the men other than dancing is permitted.
Dancing in the old-fashioned way is one thing, food and wine is another.
Queen of them all is The Verandah Grill - reminiscent of Cunard's original Verandah Grills for first class passengers only. Contemporary French cuisine (slipper lobster, magret duck, prune and Armagnac tart in our case) is served in grand tradition by formally dressed waiters who, at the end of a voluptuous dinner, will wheel trolleys of dainty petit fours and dazzling liqueurs to your table.
Much of our time was spent in The Carinthia Lounge, a place of elegance with curved lounges to sit in and be served coffee or light meals while admiring the collection of 46 vintage ports dating back to 1840. The Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar is a siren-call to lovers of the bubbly stuff, especially when it's served in Waterford crystal flutes.
The Queens and Princess grills with a la carte menus work well, and the Kings Court buffet has a less frantic pace than most other ship-board buffets (in our experience).
Britannia Restaurant on two tiers gives you a chance to make a royal entrance down its curved staircase, and the Smokehouse restaurant with its classic American dishes serves the best ribs and blackened salmon we've ever had.
In the Golden Lion Pub, the fish and chips and cottage pie go down a treat after a game of darts.
There are many "world-firsts", and "world-biggests" on board QM2. Her library has 8000 books as well as a bookshop, and the wine cellar houses 450 fine wines. We loved the stylish wine room where two of the ship's sommeliers took us through tastings of unusual wines from Austria, Greece and Germany.
Spa indulgences are essential on luxe cruising and QM2s Canyon Ranch spa delivers a breathtaking menu.
If we are ever lucky enough to make a transatlantic crossing we can take our dog. Ten new kennels have been built and kennel attendees take pooches for a walk on reserved decks where a lamp post (for English dogs, if you don't mind) and a fire hydrant (Americans, of course) enhance their daily walk.
Evidence of the large amount of money spent on this royal lady is everywhere - from the hectares of new carpet to the expansive shopping area where Godiva chocolates call and Michael Kors luxury goods make you yearn.
The writer was a guest on board Queen Mary 2.