So Many People Have The Wrong Idea About Cunard Cruise Line. Here’s Why.

So Many People Have The Wrong Idea About Cunard Cruise Line. Here's Why.

Do Regular Britannia Guests Miss Out on The Full Cunard Experience?

Cunard has the reputation of being the most class-based cruise line sailing today, keeping alive the tradition of grand old ocean liners like the Titanic. Where giving First-Class passengers – or what Cunard call “The Grills” – vastly superior treatment compared to all other guests.

But is that the reality?

On my last cruise on a Cunard ship (Queen Elizabeth) that fear of missing out on the full Cunard experience was clear. Many passengers not cruising in The Grills, knowing I’ve cruised Cunard often in all grades, asked me if they should upgrade to cruise Grill First Class next time. They heard they were missing out on added perks, exclusive areas, better dining, and were getting a second-class Cunard experience.

Before I tell you the answer that surprised them, let me talk about how Cunard works.

The Cunard Way

There are four broad grades you can book on Cunard ships, and each grade is named after, and determines, which of the four restaurants you dine in.

The top grade is Queens Grill. This is the old First-Class equivalent, and these guests dine in the Queens Grill Restaurant.

Next is Princess Grill, I guess kind of Second Class in the old liner days, with cabins more akin to mini suites on other cruise lines.

Then there is the Britannia Restaurant, where guests sailing in inside, ocean view and balcony cabins dine. Cunard also have Britannia Club, a more premium balcony experience which on most ships has its own restaurant too.

A more modern analogy I like to use is an airplane one. Queens Grill being First, Princess being Club, Britannia Club is Premium Economy and Britannia is Economy.

But what makes the Queens and Princess Grills experience different to Britannia? This often surprises people.

So Many People Have The Wrong Idea About Cunard Cruise Line. Here's Why.

The Grills Differences

Despite its reputation for expansive Grills segregated areas, Cunard is not as segregated as other cruise lines that also have a class-based system.

For example, I have cruised in MSC Yacht Club, Norwegian Haven, and Celebrity’s Retreat, all of which have segregated areas for their first-class suites, a kind of exclusive “ship-within-a-ship”.

These are a pass-controlled sections of the ship with lounge, bar, restaurant, decks, swimming pool, hot tubs, and concierge desk taking up a sizeable segment of the ship.

Cunard has nothing on this scale for their Grills First Class Guests. It is rather modest in comparison!

On Queen Mary 2, there are facilities dotted around the ship. The Grills lounge is opposite the Queens Grill Restaurant, a narrow and uninspiring Grills Deck is up on deck 11 overlooking the rear of the ship with one hot tub, no bar and often not even drinks service. It is a bit of a thoroughfare. There is no dedicated Grills pool, and no area is card-access controlled.

On Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, there is a dedicated area up on deck 11 and 12, with card-access by elevator. Here are the Princess and Queens Grill restaurants, small lounge with bar, and Concierge desk. There is also a shared al fresco dining area. Above is a deck for sunbathing but no bar, hot tub, or Grills pool.

The newest ship in the fleet, Queen Anne, has the same approach.

Grills cabins account for between 12 to 15% of cabins, and the areas of the ship only Grills guests can access is limited and probably not much more than that, certainly compared to what I had in MSC Yacht Club, Norwegian Haven, and Celebrity Retreat.

So Many People Have The Wrong Idea About Cunard Cruise Line. Here's Why.

Cunard Grills Added Perks?

Grills guests also do not get added perks like dedicated and reserved seating for the shows.

There is no Grills priority booking for activities, events, speciality dining or excursions like on those other lines.

Everyone has the same daily program, goes to the same balls, use the same swimming pools, play the same trivia, pay for drinks and so on.

So, are there any meaningful perks and benefits that Grills guests get that others don’t?

In theory, priority embarkation and disembarkation. However, I found the Grills embarkation line is as long as the general boarding one as the Grills line is also for Diamond and Platinum level loyalty guests, and Cunard has many.

Unlike those other cruise lines I mentioned, Grills guests are not fast tracked by an escort to the gangway on disembarkation.

When it comes to tender ports, only the highest Queens Grill passengers get priority tendering on any cruise I have been on, unlike all the suites on those other lines.

One perk I like is afternoon tea is served every day in the Grills Lounge on Queen Mary 2 or Princess Grill restaurant on the other ships.

While the iconic Cunard afternoon tea is served in the Queens Room, the ballroom, with all the drama of white-gloved waiters parading with the sandwiches, scones, and cakes, it is rather packed and a bit frantic. It’s more refined and intimate in the Grills Lounge.

So, as you can see the perks are not that huge. So, what is the point of going Grills then?

There are two stand out ones in my view.

So Many People Have The Wrong Idea About Cunard Cruise Line. Here's Why.

Cunard Grills Dining

Without any doubt in my mind, the dining experience and food in the two Grills Restaurants is way superior to that which Britannia guests get.

Britannia menus are good and match other premium line main dining rooms that Cunard competes with like Holland America, Princess, and Celebrity.

The Queens and Princess Grills restaurants are mirror images of each other in shape and design, with some décor differences. Both are open-seated dining, meaning you can go whenever you want during opening times.

And as you have the same table and waiters for all meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I found I can build huge rapport and get a highly personalised service.

So Many People Have The Wrong Idea About Cunard Cruise Line. Here's Why.

Fixed And Anytime Dining

In Britannia guests must choose between fixed dining (early or late) or Anytime Dining. If fixed you may not get the table size you request (as tables for two are fewer than demand I found), but you will have the same table and staff – but unlike in Grills only for dinner. So, for every other meal you will be sat wherever there is space.

If on Anytime dining, it is more potluck on table size and how long you may have to wait, and it means different servers each time.

In the Grills you usually get whatever table size you want, with many tables for two. They are though quite close to each other.

So, for example, on the Queen Elizabeth trip I mentioned, I was travelling solo, and they had allocated me at a table for six because that’s what most solos want. I didn’t! No problem, they sat me a great table solo.

The core menu is the same for both Grills, and the food is amazing. I do find the Cunard Grills food is some of the best I have at sea. The menus are enormous. The breakfast one is four pages, Lunch is two pages and Dinner is vast.

Dinner has an a la carte menu which changes daily, a long list of standards on every day, like chicken breast, steak, pheasant, and mushroom ravioli, and then a selection of more exotic items you pre-order at either breakfast or lunch.

I found a big difference between cruising Princess and Queens Grill here though.

Grills Dining Differences

In Queens Grill, I can ask for caviar with all the trimmings as often as I want, which I love. In Princess Grill I was told it would be a $60 charge per order. It was on the main menu once, but wasn’t served as in Queens Grill, with the beautiful silver pots and serving utensils.

Also, in Princess Grill there were only three items for pre-order (Dover Sole, Duck a l’Orange and Rack of Lamb) but in Queens Grill there were those plus Beef Wellington, Chateaubriand and Lobster Thermidor.

I also found in Princess Grill the Maître D’ tried to talk me out of making the special orders.

I wanted to order Dover sole, but every day he would keep talking about how there was a better thing on the regular menu that day, whereas in Queens Grill, the maître d always comes round asking for special orders.

And in Queens Grill I can order almost anything, even if not listed.

For example, when I travel with my partner, Mark, as he is sensitive to dairy, he asks them to make a sorbet Baked Alaska. The table next to us, on our recent Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic. ordered off-menu every day. Things like steak tartar, roast chicken, and various curries.

Also, in the Grills items like Dover sole or crepe Suzettes and Cherries Flambe are prepared table side by one of the Maire D’s with grand performances. This does not happen in Britannia Restaurant.

Cabin Options

The second and most obvious perk is having a bigger cabin which are mostly in the best locations, like midships on Queen Mary 2 to have least movement on those sometime rocky Transatlantic Crossings.

Let me talk about the cabins in more detail.

I’ve stayed in a range of Grills suites, ranging from the more entry level Q6 grade on Queen Mary 2, to Penthouse Q3/ Q4 on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth to a vast Master Suite on a short 3-night cruise on Queen Victoria. The décor is pretty similar to Britannia cabins.

I’ve also stayed in Princess Grill cabins, which felt very similar to a mini-suite I had on Princess Cruises Majestic Princess in terms of size.

So Many People Have The Wrong Idea About Cunard Cruise Line. Here's Why.

Grills Cabin Differences

There are some big differences that Queens Grill suites get that Princess Grill and Britannia do not get.

Things like a butler, two bottles of alcohol of your choice, a mini-bar stocked with beers and soft drinks, embarkation champagne, chocolates, chocolate-covered strawberries, fruit basket and stationary printed with your name and suite number.

The thing I said to those guests asking if they should upgrade and spend more to go in The Grills was, they will not get back in perks the large premium they paid.

But they will get a bigger cabin, probably in a better location, with a much better dining experience and menu. And a feeling in the limited Grills areas an elevated feeling of pampering and personalisation.

But the crew around the ship will treat them no different to any other guest.

The Cunard experience of the Britishness, dressing up for formal nights, Ballroom dancing, themed balls to an orchestra in the Queens Room, in-depth enrichment talks from four speakers, daily afternoon tea, the traditional British Golden Lion Pub and sense of stepping slightly back in time to a more glamorous age of cruising will be the same in or out of the Grills.

While I don’t think non-Grills guests miss out on the Cunard experience, I know why some feel they are. The advertising for Cunard makes it look a very luxurious experience. It is not quite that. It is more like other premium lines like Holland America, Princess, and Celebrity who they compete closest with than people expect from the advertising and image – with the Grills providing an elevated experience but mostly in the dining.




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