Cunard and Twinings Afternoon Tea On-Board. A Ritual And Institution.


Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth via

Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth

One of the must-do events on every Cunard ship is Afternoon Tea. Cunard and Twinings combine to do Afternoon Tea On-Board. It is a Ritual And Institution, and has been for decades.

It is more than just a great British Tradition, it is has also become a Cunard tradition. Cunard see it as one of the signatures that makes a Cunard voyage a very British experience.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.

Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth: White Star Service

Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth: White Star 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?

People often use the wrong term, or do not fully understand what afternoon tea is. And why it is different to “high tea” or “cream tea”.

A proper afternoon tea should consist of 4 key elements, which is the approach Cunard follows: 

  1. 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.
  2. Warm scones with clotted cream and jam. Usually should be fruit scones and normal scones.
  3. Selection of small home made pastries or cakes.
  4. 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.

Wedgwood: Cunard’s AfternoonTea Partner 2006 – 2010

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. 

The Wedgwood Afternoon Tea Partnership was introduced on the QE2 and QM2 at the end of 2006. It was billed as offering 23 varieties of tea which were a combination of established Wedgwood blends that they were already selling along with some bends they had developed for Cunard. Some of the teas included: Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling Pure teas, Earl Grey, English Afternoon, English Breakfast, Japanese Green Tea, Jasmine, Lapsang Souchong, Queen Ann, Orange Pekoe, Wedgwood Original,  Camomile, Forrest Berries, Lemon Grass and Peppermint

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.”

Lord Piers Wedgwood, descended from the original founder of Wedgwood said at the time: “The new Wedgwood tea menu stylishly brings together Cunard’s elegant service and classic luxury with Wedgwood’s finely crafted china and carefully selected premium teas. The venture truly epitomises the essence of England in an unforgettable onboard setting”.
Despite all this positivity and promise, Wedgwood went into administration in 2009. It was eventually bought by a Private Equity firm that combined other classic companies like Waterford Crystal with it. They also much reduced the operations of the company. Wedgwood still provide china to Cunard in the dining rooms, and they still sell their brand of tea and offer afternoon tea at their Wedgwood Visitor Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. However, the partnership with Cunard for Afternoon Tea ended in 2010.

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.

In the Queens Grill Lounge one afternoon while having afternoon tea, there were eager and smartly dressed observers. They were explained to us as “being from shore side”,  and were representatives from Cunard and Twinings observing a trial of their new tea menu and service.
In May 2010 Cunard officially changed to Twinings as their on-board afternoon tea partner. 
Twinings has a very long association with tea in Britain. It was one of the pioneers in bringing tea to England. In1706 they opened their teashop at 216 The Strand in London. They still sell tea from there today. 
The Autumn 2010 Cunarder Magazine announced the change as follows: “Always an anticipated event and an immense pleasure, white-gloved afternoon tea service now offers even more extensive choice to our discerning guests. That’s because since May, we’ve been serving the Twinings Rituals Collection on board our ships. Presented on special Twinings crockery, it is a range that both reflects 300 years of tea-producing expertise and is designed to match your mood at any moment. After all, with six varieties of British Afternoon Tea, six herbal infusions and seven oriental blends, you really will be spoilt for choice”.
As part of the Twinings Rituals Afternoon Tea, the table is set with a wooden timer (see photos below) with 3 glass timers in the frame.  You use the one relevant to the type of tea you have ordered to time how long to leave the tea to enfuse before pouring.
Most people, however, tend to have the standard tea that one of the waiters brings round and pours for you from the beautiful china tea pot.
To view/ download a PDF copy of the 11 page Cunard/ Twinings Rituals Menu with all the full teas range: click here 

Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth: Sandwiches

Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth: Sandwiches

Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth: Cakes

Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth: Sandwiches

Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth: Scones

Cunard & Twinings Tea Rituals Afternoon Tea on the Queen Elizabeth: Sandwiches

Videos of Afternoon Tea on Cunard

Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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5 Responses

  1. Wow! This really appeals to my British tea-drinking self. Plus I LOVE a good cake. I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did this would be on it for sure!

  2. Rob says:

    I never went to afternoon tea on my last TA. I saw the line ups and turned away. Afraid I’d wait and not even get a seat! Should I wait next time?!

  3. It is worth doing once! Either be one of the eager ones and get there really early while it is still being set up – although if you head there about half way into it you can usually get a place and still lots of yummy stuff going!

  4. A.G.Macleod says:

    What a complete waste of time and effort , the majority of people turning up in flipflops and t. Shirts. Totally disrespectful to the white gloved staff. Use the kingscourt if you want to be scruffy. As an ex Cunard line officer I was most disappapointed at the decline in standards , even on Cunard cargo ships standards were higher than this.singapore to dubai april16

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