Cunard and Twinings Afternoon Tea On-Board. A Ritual And Institution.
All 3 of the current Cunard fleet offer afternoon tea as one of the events on their daily calendar of activities, as did their predecessors. The Queen Elizabeth 2, the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth all offered afternoon tea.
Other cruise lines do, of course, also offer various versions of afternoon tea. However, the ultimate and most authentic afternoon tea at sea is still the one served by Cunard.
Where is afternoon tea served on Cunard ships?
There are 3 venues on every Cunard ship that you can have the tea.
The main flagship venue is the ballroom which is called The Queens Room. This grand venue has always been the traditional venue for serving afternoon tea on Cunard.
The 3 options you have on-board to chose from are:
- Queens Room. This is where most people chose to be served afternoon tea. On the Queen Mary 2, the Queens Room is the largest ballroom at sea. It can hold 562 people. The Queens Room on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth can hold 275.
- Queens Grill Lounge/ Grills Lounge. If you are travelling in Queens or Princess Grill, you can be served in the dedicated lounge for these passengers.
- Self Service Lido. There is also a self service option in the lido restaurant on each of the ships. Though this, of course, lacks the ceremony and service aspects of the full event.
On many days, Cunard will also offer a Champagne Afternoon tea in partnership with Veuve Clicquot. For example, this is held in the Garden Lounge on Queen Elizabeth, though you can also buy a glass of champagne to go with your tea in the Queens Room and Grills Lounges as well.
When is afternoon tea served on Cunard?
Afternoon tea is served everyday, except embarkation days, at 3:30pm.
It usually runs for an hour to enable as many people as possible to experience it. Though based on my experience, most people will be lining up, or seated, well before the start time to ensure that they get a seat.
Bearing in mind that up to 2620 people could be looking for one of the 562 places on Queen Mary 2 when serving starts, it is not a surprise many people grab their place early.
How is afternoon tea served on Cunard?
Cunard serve tea as part of their White Star White Glove Service.
Both the Queens Room and Grills Lounges serve afternoon tea using white gloved waiters. Some will be carrying pots of tea in china pots, while others carrying silver platters with sandwiches, scones and cakes.
The White Star Service is named after after the White Star Line which Cunard merged with in the 1930s.
The line was merged into Cunard as part of a deal with the UK government at the time. The White Star Line had never recovered from the sinking of the Titanic and was struggling financially. The deal was that Cunard would take over the struggling White Star Line and, in return, the UK government would help finance the building of the Queen Mary.
White Star Service is the name of the training scheme, and service philosophy, that Cunard uses for all their staff. You will also see the white gloves being worn by the crew when you board, but more often at afternoon tea.
During afternoon tea service, waiters circulate through the room while a harpist or string quartet plays. Some waiters will be serving and taking the orders for tea. Others will be carrying silver platters with sandwiches. While others will be carrying platters of scones or delicate cakes and pastries.
Each day waiters from the Britannia, Princess and Queens Grill cover service at afternoon tea instead of doing the lunch service.
Why is afternoon tea served on Cunard?
The taking of afternoon tea became a popular event within English high society and royalty from the middle of the 19th Century.
It is a quintessentially English tradition that harks back to the era of grand country houses and sophisticated afternoon entertaining. Therefore, it is not a surprise that it is an activity that has been embraced by Cunard. It reinforces the English heritage that they are trying to project and constantly reinforce.
Origins of Afternoon Tea
The 7th Duchess of Bedford is attributed with creating the tradition of afternoon tea in the 1840s.
In those days grand families only had 2 main meals a day. These were a large breakfast and a large dinner in the evening around 8pm. She felt she had a terrible “sinking feeling” mid to late afternoon and needed something to sustain her. She started having a pot of tea and a snack, like a sandwich, in her room.
Later she started to invite her friends to join her in her rooms at her grand Woburn Abbey House. It proved very popular. Once Queen Victoria also started enjoying the habit, the fashion to take afternoon tea became enshrined into English society.
It is this tradition that Cunard maintains today.
What is afternoon tea?
A proper afternoon tea should consist of 4 key elements, which is the approach Cunard follows:
- Selection of freshly made “finger” sandwiches. Bread, usually white, with the crusts cut off and cut into finger sized sandwiches. The most common fillings that are used are: cucumber, egg mayonnaise with cress, smoked salmon with cream cheese, ham and mustard, coronation chicken.
- Warm scones with clotted cream and jam. Usually should be fruit scones and normal scones.
- Selection of small home made pastries or cakes.
- Selection of different types of teas. Cunard offers at least 20 different types of tea at every afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea should not be confused with other tea events like:
- High Tea: This is not a grand affair like afternoon tea. It is a more pragmatic event. It refers to the main meal that labourers and working class people would have at about 6pm after returning from a hard days work. The smart aristocracy used to often have high tea on a Sunday to enable their household staff to go to church.
- Low Tea: Afternoon Tea is sometimes called “low tea” as it was served in armchairs with side tables rather than seated at a table.
- Cream Tea: More simple that full afternoon tea with just scones, clotted cream and preserves.
- Elevenes: Morning coffee
History of the afternoon tea partners on Cunard
The tradition of afternoon tea is very important to Cunard. They see it as one of the things that reinforces its uniquely British heritage, along with things like having classic British stores represented on-board such as Harrods on the QE2 and QM2, and Fortnum and Mason on the Queen Elizabeth.
They have over the last decade always linked it to other classic and traditional British institutions associated with the afternoon tea experience. Companies such as Wedgwood and Twinings.
From 2006 until May 2010, afternoon tea was served in partnership with the famous Wedgwood China company who are based in Stoke-on-Trent England. Established in 1759, Wedgwood has made the signature Cunard china on the ships for decades.
At the time of the launch of this partnership Carol Marlow, President of Cunard at the time, said: “The introduction of this wide range of Wedgwood teas is a perfect complement to our extensive Wedgwood china collection and underscores the very British experience that passengers expect aboard a Cunard ocean liner. Whether enjoying afternoon tea, shopping at Harrod’s or posting letters in a traditional Royal Mail box, the contemporary Cunard experience continues to be defined by the Line’s rich British heritage.”
Twinings: Cunard’s Tea Partner May 2010 – present
The first sign I got that the partnership between Cunard and Wedgwood was about to change was when I was on a Queen Mary 2 short European voyage in 2010.
- Queen Elizabeth
- Queen Victoria