Cunard Around-The-World Week Nine Highlights: Joining the Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong
This is the story and highlights of week nine of my around-the-world trip as we flew from Australia to join Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong. I travelled around the world in a 12-week trip that started in Southampton UK and ended in Hong Kong. Most of it on segments of Cunard World cruise, first on Queen Victoria and then Queen Elizabeth. This 12-part series covers the journey, experiences and tips – one for each week of the journey. This post covers week nine, you can read the previous week eight here
Australia to embark Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong
Day 57 (7 March) Noosa
Our final day in Noosa was spent back on Main Beach, where we experienced a cloudy and warm morning before the rain returned. It lashed down from lunchtime to late afternoon, so we spent time in the apartment relaxing and sorting out our packing for the next phase of the around-the-world adventure.
Day 58 (8 March) Brisbane to Hong Kong
Today marked the start of Part Three of my Around-the-World trip. It was swallowed up commuting. First we drove from Noosa to Brisbane Airport for our nine-hour Qantas flight to Hong Kong, and then had an hour-and-a-half transfer from the airport on Lantau Island into the city and the Harbour Grand Hotel.
As our entire day was taken up travelling it reminded me of a benefit of cruising over land-based travel: your commuting is leisure time done in comfort on the ship without the hassle of wrestling with traffic and airport rigmarole.
We had woken up at 4.30am to navigate Monday morning traffic between the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, hauled our four suitcases into the hire car and into the airport before lining up to check in and pass through security (with all that entails) and Immigration.
Flying Business Class on Qantas helped as we had a lounge, which was comfortable with free Wi-Fi and the airline cabin and seats were great. They were relatively new designs, having been rolled out onto the A330 in 2015 and were spacious, private with a great in-flight entertainment system. The lie-flat beds meant a few hours napping to overcome the horribly early start.
Day 59 (9 March) Hong Kong
We planned to spend the day exploring Kowloon Island on the Hop-on Hop-off bus, however it was a day of torrential rain from lunchtime and so we retreated back to our hotel at the Grand Harbour Hong Kong.
Day 60 (10 March) Embark Queen Elizabeth Hong Kong
I swept back the curtains of our room at the Grand Harbour Hong Kong and, although it was another foggy day with thick low clouds, I could see the funnel and stern of Queen Elizabeth jutting out from the buildings at the base of Kowloon in the distance. It looked tiny against the soaring skyline of Hong Kong.
We were embarking the Queen Elizabeth for a 20-night Hong Kong return leg that was visiting Shanghai, South Korea (Busan and JeJu Island), Japan (Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Yokohama for Tokyo, Osaka for Kyoto, Hiroshima, Okinawa and Taiwan (Keelung for Taipei).
We set off in a taxi around 11.15am to embark and the next few hours were chaotic and shambolic. Queen Elizabeth was docked at the Ocean Terminal, and not the newer and modern Kai Tak one on the site of the old airport. The traffic to get in was backed out onto the Canton Road as guests for our ship and a Star Cruise Line ship arrived. We shuffled down and into the drop off point. A number of guests preferring to abandon their transport and haul their own cases along the access road in frustration. The situation was tricky as the taxis and vehicles dropping off passengers ran along the narrow quay between the ship and the terminal where loading of supplies and luggage were also underway. This led to more delays as traffic was stopped to let forklift trucks shovel goods into the open doors of the ship.
This melee was nothing compared to what we encountered afterwards. We got out the taxi and passed our suitcases to men loading them into trollies and tried to find out where we checked in. There were no signs or instructions quayside and lines were forming that merged with disembarking passengers. We found a lady inside the Queens Terminal Mall telling people the check in area was where we had left our cases. This caused confusion and crowds built up, as she was wrong. The check in was a difficult to find and barely signposted area up on the second floor at the rear of all the shops. It was really badly organised and signposted. Tempers were getting frayed with frantic guests roaming the mall. There should have been instructions sent out with the eTickets on the process which was (1) drop your cases at one point on the quay and then (2) proceed to the check-in hall at the rear of the Queens Mall on the second floor.
Once we worked it all out, it was a simple walk right into the ship. However, I boarded stressed and frustrated. Though as I settled into the ship this soon subsided. Though I was dreading disembarkation, as it was clear that there was very little space to handle guests and suitcases.
There was a strange process for Immigration. Our passports were taken from us at check in (to be held by the ship) for this sector to process with the different authorities, however we then had to go to a face-to-face Immigration Clearance on the ship between 6.30 and 10pm with the Hong Kong authorities – where we first collected the passports. Surely this would have been easier to handle as part of the check in process?
The Same but Different
Boarding the Queen Elizabeth was strange as it felt like coming home but where the decorators had been in and changed and tweaked things in your absence. The layout of the ship was virtually the same as Queen Victoria, but the decor and detail was different. Externally the main difference is that the Elizabeth does not have a tiered stern and has a flat rear end (and so presumably more cabins). The main differences inside were no Chart Room, and in its place was a Britannia Club Restaurant. Like on the Queen Mary 2 this was premium Britannia class which has open-seated dining.
The other changes I noted were tweaks like what was in the shops (e.g. The shops extended into the space used by Claredon Fine Art Gallery on Victoria which was a walk-through space between the lobby and getting to the shops and the Cunard merchandise shop was in the general goods shop on Deck Two where the alcohol stores used to be sold). The Fitness centre had machines in different places and the entry into the Queens Room was in the centre rather than the top – and other small tweaks like this. Other small differences included the layout of the Daily Program and format used on the Port Talks.
All giving the feel of being the same but like someone had slightly messed with all your familiar things just to disturb you. It felt not as good as on the Queen Victoria at first, but (of course) within a day it all felt like home and familiar again.
Our stateroom was the same grade as on Queen Victoria (Q4 Penthouse) and was in the exact same position but on the Starboard rather than Port side. It was, though, a slightly smaller cabin although the layout was the same. It felt less spacious (although still large and luxurious) and I noted that things like the drawers were smaller (as items I could fit sideways before no longer fitted).
The decor was from the same school and palette (and as comfortable).
Watch my video tour of Queen Elizabeth Q4 Penthouse we stayed in: https://youtu.be/DfSRR1TDpbE
Queens Grill Restaurant
This is as gorgeous. We were initially on table 43, which was at the rear, and so completely different part of the restaurant than that we had on Queen Victoria. Our waiter was Luciano from Columbia, who has been serving on Cunard ships for over 33 years starting with the Coronia and had many interesting and often amusing stories to tell, and our Junior Waiter was a suave and charming Filipino called Billy.
All-aboard time was 11.30 giving us time to enjoy the striking Hong Kong skyline, lights and the famous 8pm Laser and Light Show on the buildings (which I found underwhelming). All this was aided by having a Starboard Cabin that faced Hong Kong Island.
I made a time-lapse video of night falling and the lights coming up: https://youtu.be/M6Pu-OUgD4M
However, we went to bed before we set sail but captured it on video: https://youtu.be/UbvZ8gPb4hs
Day 61 (11 March) En route to Shanghai (Day One)
We soon got back into the rhythm and pace on board as our first day at sea greeted us. It was great to get back into the cocoon of life on board, with the gym down the hall, no difficult decisions to make on where to eat and even being able to get laundry done.
The ship even started to feel familiar as the differences from Queen Victoria started to feel less jarring. The only negative was around our position in the Queens Grill restaurant. Our location felt out of the way and there was a very strong and intrusive vibration that became annoying. Finally we spoke to the Maître D after dinner and he agreed that we could move. He found us a fantastic table (29) that is against one of the dividers on the opposite side to where we were on the Victoria. It transformed our outlook on the restaurant, as not only did we feel back in the centre of action but was a great table as we had no one directly next to us on the other side, but we can see who is coming and going and what is happening. Our new waiter (Mel) and junior waiter (Thambo a fun and uplifting lady from South Africa) were great.
This was one of the six Formal nights on the twenty-night cruise, and so the Black and White Ball was held.
Day 62 (12 March) En route to Shanghai (Day two)
It was a sunny and chilly day, with the temperature hovering around 10 degrees. There was little wind and the sea was calm but the chill kept people off the decks. This leg was a colder trip than the sectors we had done on the Queen Victoria that had taken us into the Southern Hemisphere. We were sailing around the Northern Hemisphere in the tail end of winter (March) and were fairly far north.
Around 1,000 people disembarked and the same number embarked in Hong Kong. The mix on board was interesting as the biggest group of the 1,833 passengers was Australian (508), followed by British (452) and American (195). There were then 193 Japanese, 89 Hong Kong and 94 Germans. Talking to crew it appears that only around 300 people are doing the full World Voyage on Queen Elizabeth, which some said was well down on around 800 the year before.
The daily program on the two sea days had a lot for craft lovers. This included a “Heirloom Woollen Teddy Bear Workshop”, “Pom Pom Panda Hands-on Workshop”, “Patchwork Animals” and Napkin Folding.
Day 63 (13 March) Shanghai
Today we had a full day until midnight in the vast city of Shanghai. The Pilot embarked last night at 9pm and we made the 60-mile transit up the river to Shanghai. We docked at 3am. The reason for these times was due to the tides and traffic in the river to enable the ship to enter at the optimal time.
Immigration had been handled on board as Chinese officials had travelled with the ship. We were given a photocopy of our passport, which had been stamped and had a bar code on it. This was scanned as we left and returned to the ship. It was great not having each passenger go through a face-to-face process.
The shuttle bus started at 7am and ran until 10.30pm, and most of the tours had gone by 8.30am, which must have meant that the Lido and Room Service must have been frantic as the restaurants were open from 7.30 to 9am. When we went there were only three other tables occupied. All aboard time was 1.30am and at some point during the night we left as when I woke up the next morning I saw the pilot boat coming to collect him around 6:45am.
We ventured into the city on the shuttle bus and, as it was a Sunday, the trip took just 40 minutes instead of the 75 projected on weekdays. We were at the Bund and exploring by half past nine. The drop off point was at the Northern end of it and it was fairly quiet. The clouds were low and it was hard to tell if the haze was the clouds or poor air pollution. The hop-on bus companies had a key stop for their routes close to the drop off point, but we decided to explore by foot and Metro. This was easy to navigate, as English signage was everywhere. All children in Shanghai learn English and so most of the people we encountered across the city spoke or understood some.
First we strolled up the Nanjing Road, with the shops starting to open from 10am and ventured to People’s Square, on the site of the old racecourse. Here we visited the National Planning Museum dedicated to the past, present and future of the city. It is part museum and part propaganda showcase spread over five floors giving great insight into the planning to make the city the vast powerhouse it has become – with over 23 million people living in it.
From here we took the Metro across to the modern Pudong side, which looks and feels quite a lot like Battery Park area development in New York. We went up the vast Shanghai World Financial Centre building (which looks like a bottle opener). The gap at the top was going to be a circle, but it was felt was felt to be too close to the Japanese flag (which Chinese have lots of animosity towards from World War II) it changed. The Observation Floor is on the 100th floor and runs across the top of the gap and, despite the shifting clouds, gave a stunning view of the city.
From here we strolled down to the iconic symbol of the city, the Pearl TV Tower before catching the Metro again back to Nanking road and a stroll along the Bund before heading back to the ship. Tired after lots of walking.
On return to the ship we had to have back the copy of our passport that was stamped and with the bar code.