It’s been 13 years since Cunard Line last unveiled a new ship — an eternity in the cruise world.
But after a sneak peek Thursday at the three-ship brand’s soon-to-debut fourth vessel, Queen Anne, I can confidently say it was worth the wait.
As a top executive at Cunard walked me through the still-very-much-under-construction, 3,000-passenger ship at a shipyard in Italy, I quickly grasped that it was a vessel that would usher in a new era for the line.
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Queen Anne is a ship that holds true to the core of what Cunard vessels are all about — a nod to tradition and an elegance that harks back to the grand old days of ocean liner travel. However, it also embraces the latest trends of travel and cruising in a way that Cunard ships haven’t done before, including a new focus on choice in dining and entertainment, wellness and onboard celebrations.
In short, it’s a Cunard ship unlike any Cunard ship you’ve ever seen, and as my guide, Cunard Brand Manager Francis Fred, explained, it’s a ship that will serve as a model for changes that will soon take place across the Cunard fleet.
“What we’re doing on board Queen Anne not only is going to put Queen Anne out into the future, but during refits [of other Cunard ships], a lot of the work we’re doing here … will all filter back” to the other vessels, Fred explained.
With seven months of construction to go before Queen Anne is ready to sail, there is much still unfinished on the vessel. As is typical at this stage of construction, the exterior of the ship and the framing for its interior spaces is mostly complete. But lots of finishing work remains. Many spaces were empty shells with just roughed-in wires and plumbing.
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Still, the outlines of what Cunard executives hope will be a transformative vessel for the brand are already starting to take shape.
Here are the most notable new things I saw in the works after I stepped aboard Queen Anne at the Fincantieri shipyard near Venice, Italy.
Superbly designed top decks
As I saw during the sneak peek, the open-air top decks of Queen Anne are shaping up to be more spectacular than anything we’ve ever seen in the Cunard fleet.
For starters, the vessel’s main pool area, The Pavilion, is topped with a retractable glass roof designed to be as much a showpiece as a functional structure to keep poolgoers dry on rainy days.
It was created, notably, by Martin Francis, the United Kingdom-based design wizard who figured out how to make the glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum stay up, and it soars higher and feels airier than what you usually see on ships with such roofs.
“He really helped us lift the dome up another deck in height to give it a sense of scale … [and] increase the amount of glass we’re using and reduce the amount of steel,” Fred noted.
Underneath the dome, in addition to a pool, there will be three whirlpools, lounge chairs, a bar, a grill for food by the pool, a gelateria and a stage for entertainment — all of which I saw coming together.
Also, one deck up overlooking the pool (and still under the dome), there will be a juice bar and a cafe serving healthy dishes — part of a bigger wellness focus at Cunard.
It’s a “something for everyone” approach that is part of Cunard’s wanting to offer more options and more “activations” on its top decks.
Among other standout areas of Queen Anne’s top decks will be a forward observation deck with more lounge chairs, a paddle tennis court, a putting green and table tennis, and an open-air bar with soaring views to be called the Sky Bar.
The observation deck will be more of a destination for passengers than the much smaller games decks that have occupied the top fronts of Cunard’s last two ships — in part because of the inclusion of the outdoor bar, which is something Cunard traditionally hasn’t built into forward deck-top areas.
Fred said the bar would serve cocktails from sunrise to sunset.
He also said the paddle tennis court in the area would double as a pickleball court, something no Cunard ship has ever had. As Fred noted, “Pickleball is taking the world by storm.”
Both The Pavilion pool area and observation deck will be open to all passengers, as will a second pool area — the Panorama Pool Club — at the back of the ship. There will also be an open-air deck area toward the middle back of the ship that will be exclusive to passengers staying in top Queens Grill and Princess Grill cabins (more on that in a moment).
An observation lounge that wows
If you’re already a Cunard fan, you know that the ship’s forward-facing observation lounge — the Commodore Club — is a hot spot on all its ships. So you’ll surely be excited to know that Cunard is really blowing things out for the Commodore Club on Queen Anne.
As I saw during the tour, it’ll be by far the biggest Commodore Club on any Cunard ship, including Queen Mary 2 (which is a much bigger ship than Queen Anne).
Notable features of the Commodore Club on Queen Anne will include a curvy “bar in the round” at its back that is designed to be a place to meet new friends; a stage for live entertainment that will include band music, string instrument performers and pianists; and a seemingly endless, 270-degree wall of glass offering views of the sea.
“We’re working right now on developing a martini trolley that will work the room and bring those perfect serves to you as you sit and observe the scenery,” Fred noted, as he described a Commodore Club that would be like nothing you’ve seen before on a Cunard ship.
In addition, Queen Anne’s Commodore Club will be part of a larger complex of adult venues at the top of the ship that also include the ship’s cigar lounge, known as Churchill’s; its library; and an expanded area for onboard weddings and other shipboard celebrations (see more on this below).
An enlarged celebrations area
The arrival of Queen Anne comes as Cunard makes a bigger push into the celebrations market — travelers looking to celebrate weddings, vow renewals and other milestones — and the ship will have a much bigger and more sophisticated celebrations area than we’ve seen before at the line.
During the tour, Fred took us into the still-heavily-under-construction shell of a new Admiral’s Lounge that will serve as the ship’s central celebration space for events like weddings.
Cunard has had Admiral’s Lounges on ships before, but never one quite like this that was specifically designed for weddings. Fred showed off walls of glass that would flood it with natural light, and he said the venue would have a secret entrance at its rear for the captain of the ship to enter to officiate over weddings and vow renewals.
At the back of the room, double doors will open up onto the Boardroom, which can be booked for receptions. Just beyond that, the spaces lead to a private rooftop terrace overlooking the sea that will be the ultimate wedding and vow renewal reception venue. It’s something Cunard has never had before on a ship.
“We can do up to three weddings a day, so this space will be very busy bringing people’s dreams to reality,” Fred said as he stood on one end of the open-air area.
Any passenger can book the private terrace for events, Fred added.
“You can have your family up here for cocktails,” he said.
New wellness spaces
Cunard is leaning into the wellness trend with a new-for-the-line, glass-enclosed Wellness Studio that is just past The Pavilion Pool (it sits under the same soaring glass dome that covers that venue).
While it was far from done when we toured it, Fred described a space that will have a wood-finished wall with green plantings on one end “coming down like a cascade,” sun sails crossing the air above under the glass dome and — depending on the time of day — yoga mats laid out across the floor.
The space will be used for yoga classes, Pilates, Zumba classes and line dancing classes during the day, among other things. Plus, there are plans to offer ballroom dancing classes at sunset, Fred said.
The Wellness Studio is part of an expansion of wellness areas that also includes the healthy-eats cafe and juice bar in The Pavilion area mentioned above.
The idea, in part, is to get all of the fitness classes that the line normally offers in its fitness area out of the inside of the ship and up to the top deck, where they can take place under the natural light of the outdoors and with views of the sea all around.
That said, the ship still has a good-sized fitness center and a spa with a thermal pool complex that includes eight heated loungers, four experiential showers, a reflexology footpath with textured stones flowing with hot water, a cold room (a first for Cunard), a large steam room, a Himalayan salt sauna and a traditional sauna. There’s also a relaxation room and a wellness suite.
“We’re offering a lot more choice. There are more experiences in the space,” Fred shared.
The ultimate grills zones
If you’re a Cunard regular, you know about the grills. They’re the two exclusive restaurants on every Cunard ship for passengers staying in the very best suites.
On Queen Anne, the grills — the Queens Grill and Princess Grill — will come with access to what is the ultimate exclusive retreat area ever conceived for a Cunard ship. Known as the Grills Terrace, it’ll be a sprawling private outdoor lounge area that stretches the width of the ship and has lots of plush lounge chairs, two stunning infinity whirlpools overlooking the sides of the vessel and waiter service for your every need.
The Grills Terrace sits just above the Queens Grill and Princess Grill restaurants, which — as was explained during the tour — will be loaded with tables for two, in a response to customer demand. That’s a big change from the designs of earlier Grills on Cunard ships that often had lots of bigger tables where passengers sometimes were assigned seating with strangers.
“Across all our dining rooms [on the ship], we’ve increased our tables for two to cater to the increased demand,” Fred explained.
An explosion of dining
Cunard has never been known for ships that offered oodles of dining options. However, that’s changing with Queen Anne — and in a big way.
Queen Anne will boast 15 different places where you can grab a bite, more than double the number on the line’s other ships.
The options include Aji Wa, a new restaurant concept for Cunard that will serve Japanese cuisine influenced by the seasons of the year. Also new for Cunard will be Aranya, an Indian eatery.
Both are extra-charge specialty restaurants, as will be Queen Anne’s high-end steakhouse, Sir Samuel’s — another new concept. A fourth specialty eatery that is new for Cunard, Tramonto, will serve Mediterranean dishes.
These four specialty restaurants, which we saw under construction at the shipyard, will complement the traditional Queens Grill, Princess Grill, Britannia and Britannia Club restaurants that are the main eateries for passengers (assigned based on cabin category).
Other places to dine will include the Golden Lion pub, a mainstay of Cunard ships. On Queen Anne, it will feature a new pub menu designed by renowned chef Michel Roux. The menu eventually will be rolled out to Golden Lion pubs across the Cunard fleet.
The Golden Lion pub on Queen Anne also will be notably bigger than sister venues on other Cunard ships.
Roux is also creating an exclusive gala menu for the Queens Grill restaurant.
In addition, Queen Anne passengers will be able to eat in casual comfort at the Artisan’s Food Hall, a new take on the traditional buffet eatery on Cunard ships. As Fred showed off during the tour, it’ll feature active food stations instead of traditional self-serve buffet lines.
“As you move through the space, every station will be manned by a chef who on one side will have pre-portioned dishes for you to grab and go, and the other side will have all the ingredients to make a dish just for you,” Fred said.
Walking through the space, Fred pointed out the foundations for a curved cooking-and-serving area that would feature an oven for making and serving fresh pizzas and bread for guests.
The Artisan’s Food Hall will also be the first casual buffet eatery on a Cunard ship with its own bar, located right in the middle of the room.
And plenty that is familiar
As is typical for Cunard ships, Queen Anne will feature a soaring Grand Lobby with a cascading staircase that will make you feel like royalty as you descend into the ship’s interior areas for the evening.
It’ll also have a grand ballroom, a staple of Cunard ships. Called the Queens Room — as they all are — the ballroom will be a spacious venue for big-band music and ballroom dancing that evokes the golden age of ocean liner travel. Which is to say, it’ll be everything Cunard fans love.
“The message to us as a brand [from customers] was, ‘Do not ruin the Queens Room,'” quipped Fred.
The Queens Room may not change much. However, other interior areas of the ship have been notably tweaked. Passengers will notice a lot more curves in walls and fewer straight lines, with bars often built in a circular motif, for instance. It was a deliberate change, Fred said.
“We don’t want a bunch of people sitting in a straight line [at a bar] with their drink looking at a bartender and a mirror,” he said. “We want people to start conversations and connect.”
Queen Anne will usher in a new era for Cunard with a broader array of dining choices than earlier Cunard ships, more wellness offerings and a greater focus on onboard celebrations. It will also offer reimagined top-deck spaces, and interior lounging and entertainment spaces that take the brand to a new level. If you’re a longtime Cunard fan — or someone eyeing your first cruise with the brand — this is a vessel you’ll want to try.
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