Is Cunard’s $120 “Behind the Scenes” Tour of Queen Elizabeth worth it, or just a waste of time and money?

This is a review of the $120 Behind The Scenes Tour of Cunard Queen Elizabeth Cruise Ship, which are run on sea days.
On Day 7 of our Norwegian Fjords Cruise we were again cruising through a very calm and relaxing North Sea. We spent the afternoon on a 3 hour “Behind the Scenes” Tour as one of the 16 people who were chosen to do this $120 activity.

Was Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth “Behind the Scenes” Tour worth the $120 Charge? Or just a waste of my money and time?

Behind The Scenes Tour
This fascinating tour is offered by Cunard now across all 3 of their ships, although it started as an initiative on Queen Victoria.
In the daily program they publicised it as follows: “Cunard’s exclusive behind the scenes tour offers a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into the complexities of running today’s most advanced ocean liners. This is a unique opportunity to explore areas of the ship normally unavailable to guests. Tours cost $120 per person and take place on sea days. Please note that spaces are limited”
They have 16 places on the tour. They run them only on sea days and usually only once in a day, as they are quite disruptive to the the departments and people working. They are, despite the price, usually over subscribed.

In addition to this full tour they charge for, on board during a cruise there are usually 2 other free tours that give some exposure to what goes on “behind the scenes”:
Kitchen Tour: This is open to as many people as want to do it. Really interesting. It takes about 30 – 40 minutes. I covered this in another posting
Backstage Pass: They billed this on our cruise as: “An exclusive opportunity to see behind the scenes of Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Court Theatre. Cruise Director, Amanda Reid introduces Senior Production Manager, Chris Knowles and is team, well as the entire cast of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Company”
Both of these are incorporated into the longer full “Behind the Scenes” Tour.

The tour includes
The Behind Scenes Tour that lasts 3 hours in all. Details of what you see I cover below).
Drink part way through and then Champagne and Canapes at the end
“Behind the Scenes” Enamel Pin
Signed Photograph by the Commodore of you sitting in his chair on the bridge with him
Cunard Branded Apron.

On the various cruise message boards, people complain that this tour costs $120 per person. And that it is limited to just 16 people. Cunard justify that but saying that it does require extra costs for them as they need to allocate 2 security personnel to escort the tour as you go to sensitive areas. They also need to allocate a member of the Entertainment Team who guides the tour. The CThey also have a Photographer as you cannot take your own photos for “security reasons”. Though I personally think it may be more for revenue generation opportunities!

What do you see on the Queen Elizabeth Behind the Scenes Tour?

Behind the Scenes Tour on Queen Elizabeth: Royal Court Theatre Dancers

Behind the Scenes Tour on Queen Elizabeth: Royal Court Theatre Dancers

You start on the stage and are shown how the stage works, you get a chance to meet some of the Theatre Company and have a photo taken. Then you go under the stage and see the changing rooms (which are tiny!), costumes (of which there are thousands!), sets they have stored for current and past shows. Under the stage are also some of the crew cabins. If you are an officer to senior staff member, like Entertainment Director, you have your own cabin. Otherwise you share.
Then you head up to the Control Box at the back of the Theatre and the expensive and impressive sound, lights and other equipment is shown and explained.

Bow of the Ship: Anchors Away
This was fascinating as it where they store the chains and the anchor. The Deputy Captain explained how the area works and how dangerous and lethal it can be. You have be highly trained to work in here as so risky when weighing to retrieving the anchor.
We learnt that the anchor itself is not important, it is the Chain and weight of the chain that holds the ship in place when anchored. So they talk in how much chain needs to be deployed to anchor the ship.
he also explained that the wooden boards they put at the end of the ropes when berthed are Rat Boards. They are required by law to stop rats leaving or going onto any ship. I always wondered what they were for.

Main Carriageway
You then head along A deck which is kind of known as Main Street as runs right along the ship and is the main thoroughfare. You work your way along this right to the back of the ship and then on another level all the way back to finally head up to the Bridge.
This was a really busy thoroughfare, with people heading to and fro. Off here were the various Staff Dining Rooms. There is one for the Officers and one for the Staff. 

We were shown the High Dependency Room (their Intensive Care Unit) which has all the equipment you can imagine. They also have 2 rooms that act as hospital ward rooms for passengers and then 2 which are used for staff. Usually for isolation if there is expected disease like TB which can be infectious. 
They can also take X-rays, which they send electronically to Texas to confirm diagnosis. 
There also is a morgue, which we were not shown not surprisingly. The Doctor told us that much fewer people die on a cruse than one would expect. Maybe 1 or 2 a year at most. This is a combination of people not going on a trip if they are that ill, and they also will generally get people off the ship and into hospital even if means diverting if needed. The only challenge will be if they are well into a Transatlantic and is too far for even helicopters to hop from oil rig to oil rig to get to the ship. 

Photo and Print Shops
These are tiny rooms with very modern equipment.
Over 10000 photos are taken in a 2 week cruise by the on-board photographers that are printed. They try and make that as environmentally friendly as they can. Though it did strike me that it would eb better if they only printed on demand, and use technology more. Interestingly, they showed us some software they use which has face recognition and classifies all photos based on the photo taken when you check in for your Cruise Card. They also have in the photo shop sales area booths we her you can now check photos based on your cabin, and order a CD of them all. Maybe next step will be you only access and order photos that way. It does seem crazy to print that when well less than 50% are bought.
The print operation is 24 hours and prints everything pretty much on the ship from menus to daily programs. 

Fire and Safety Office
Here we saw the fire fighting suits and equipment, including heat sensitive cameras and were explained the drill if there was a fire. Fire is the thing most feared on a cruse ship.

You do not get to see the actual engines unfortunately. But after some explanations about how powerful they are, you go into the Control Room and see how they Engineers monitor and control engines, fuel and all the other monitoring devices like fire etc. Many are replicated in the Bridge so they can see the data.

Kitchen Preparation Area, including Bakery
This is below the main kitchens, and we had not seen this on the free Kitchen Tour. Here you see the 24 Hour Bakery where all the bread and rolls are made. The showed us the large mixing machines, ovens for accelerating the yeast action in bread and a nifty machine that took the dough flat and turned it into the balls for rolls
We also saw the area they prepare all the meat, fish and poultry. What a task these guys have!

We saw the area where all the stores come into the ship, and then taken off to storage. Stores are taken in roughly 24 day cycles and almost always at Southampton. The logistics are impressive. They rider 6 – 8 weeks in advance.

Enironmental and Recycling
The Officer in Charge explained and showed us how they recycle everything and what they have to do. From grinding glass into fine powder, to crushing plastics and cans and how they turn food waste into a liquid to be able to offload it into the sea. Everything has to be sorted and carefully prepared to meet the requirements of the various recycling people they sell it to. The volume of stuff they deal with is just staggering.

We replicated the tour that was down for free, and covered in another post

We headed up to the bridge and met Commodre of the Cunard Fleet Christopher Rynd, who was captaining the ship, and his bridge crew. This was fantastic. One of the officers explained the equipment and who did what and who the ship was steered and taken in and out of ports. Really fascinating. We then posed one by one with a Captain’s Cap in the Commodre’s Chair with him. This was the signed photo we were given later along with a letter from him

The “Rat” Boards at end of the mooring ropes. required by law to stop rats leaving or going on a ship

The Behind the Scenes Badge/ Pin Given once you done the Tour

We did not get to see the Laundry. I would love to have seen that operation!

This was a fantastic 3 hours. I really enjoyed the personal attention and the effort that everyone we came across put into this tour. It is very intrusive to people’s daily work life. I am suer they get asked the same questions over and over. But they were charming, amusing and helpful.
It is costly, but as much as other excursions we did that took less time on land. I did not begrudge the cost. It was a highlight for me.

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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3 Responses

  1. John says:

    A very nice revue but is that the captain’s hat or just a hat worn by a junior officer? I ask as there appears to be a lack of ‘scrambled egg’ on the peak which tells me it does not belong to the Commodore. Hopefully you were not told any woopsies regarding it being the hat of either the captain or commodore?

    Thanks again,

    • John. My guess at the time was that they have a hat they use for occasions when people on the bridge and getting the pic taken in the Captain’s chair. There were 2 hats siting on a shelf in 2 different sizes….. I am guessing the Captain does not want greasy hair hat moments……. So as you suggest am sure there is a “for show” hat option……. Gary

  2. Helen says:

    Thanks for sharing your review! It has certainly helped me to decide that I will definitely try to book this tour.

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