QUEEN MARY 2
Richard H. Wagner
Afternoon tea on Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 is a unique dining
experience. Several cruise lines including Holland America Line,
Celebrity Cruises, P&O Cruises, and surprising to some, Carnival
Cruise Lines, have very nice afternoon teas. However, there is
something special about experiencing afternoon tea on a traditional
British passgener line, on a unique and already historic ocean liner,
in a magnificent setting; particularly on a transatlantic crossing.
A British Tradition
At its most basic level, afternoon tea can be described as a
mid-afternoon meal during which a server offers sandwiches,
muffins and cakes to accompany the drinking of cups of tea.
However, afternoon tea is more than a culinary event. It has its
own etiquette, traditions and romantic associations. It evokes
images of cultured and civilized behavior.
Although people have been drinking tea in China since before
recorded history and elaborate tea ceremonies have existed in Asia
since ancient times, afternoon tea on Queen Mary 2 is distinctly
British in origin.
Tea first appeared in England during the Protectorate of Oliver
Cromwell as a medicine. But it did not become popular until after
the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. King Charles II married
a Portugese princess, Catherine of Braganza, whose dowry
included a chest of tea from Portugal's colony in India. This tea
was meant to be drunk for pleasure, which, of course, suited
Catherine's new husband who history remembers as Britain's
"Merry Monarch." Just as modern royal weddings trigger fashion
crazes, Catherine's new beverage quickly became popular with the
British public, rich and poor. Indeed, reformers bemoaned the fact
that working people spent a disproportionate amount of their
incomes on this frivolity.
The British passion for tea persisted after the reign of Charles
II and it became the nation's beverage of choice. But it was not
until early Victorian times that afternoon tea came into vogue.
Indeed, Queen Victoria's friend Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of
Bedford, is usually credited with inventing it. In those days, people
usually only had two meals a day: a large breakfast at mid-morning
and an even larger dinner in the evening. Moreover, in the upper
classes, dinner was becoming later and later. The Duchess found
that she felt fatigued at around four in the afternoon and decided that
a repast of sandwiches, muffins and cakes along with a pot of tea
was just the thing to carry her over to dinner. She soon began
inviting her friends to join her and inasmuch as the aristocracy
were the trend setters of the day, the idea spread throughout the
Afternoon tea remained a daily part of British life into the 20th
Century. Images of fashionably-dressed Edwardians meeting for
tea at the London Ritz and young aristocrats having tea in stately
country houses during the "Long Weekend" between the two world
wars have been romanticized in movies and novels. Today's busy
lifestyle, however, has pretty much relegated afternoon tea to
One place where afternoon tea has remained a daily part of life
is Cunard Line. Founded in 1840, Cunard honors both its traditions
and its British heritage. Even after the end of the ocean liner era in
the 1960s, afternoon tea was a daily feature on Queen Elizabeth 2
throughout the remainder of the 20th Century. That tradition has
now been passed on to Queen Mary 2, the only ship still making
regularly scheduled transatlantic crossings.
Occasionally one hears a passenger on QM2 refer to the
afternoon tea as a "high tea" - - the assumption being that an
upper-class style tea must be "high" in the same way that the rich in
America used to be called "high society." The Duchess of Bedford
and her friends, however, would never have had a high tea. High
tea refers to a meal, usually eaten around six in the evening by
farmers and working class families. It would include such things as
eggs, kippers, ham shepard's pie, and was a very substantial meal.
As we shall see, it bears no resemblance to the afternoon teas on
In fact, the teas on QM2 would be properly described as a "low
tea." The designations "high" and "low" are derived from the type
of table used for each type of tea. High tea was eaten at the dinner
table while a low tea was eaten at a drawing room table, which is
lower in height than a dinner table.
Tea In The Queens Room
The place to have afternoon tea on Queen Mary 2 is the Queens
Room. Yes, one can have tea in the King's Court buffet and
weather permitting on the open decks and passengers traveling in
the suites can have it in the Queens Grill Lounge but in all these
other locations, afternoon tea is just a meal, not an experience.
The Queens Room sets afternoon tea on Queen Mary 2 apart
from afternoon tea on all other ships. It is the largest ballroom at
sea. Two decks high, the room spans the width of this extra-wide
ship. Beyond its size, the room is elegantly designed with tables
surrounding the dance floor and a raised tier of tables running
around three sides. Tall windows on either side let in natural
light. Statues and portraits of British monarchs or their consorts
are tastefully blended into the décor. It is a grand room but not
overpowering. It is sophisticated yet comfortable and welcoming.
There are entrances to the Queens Room on both the port and
starboard sides. The doors open at 3:30 but it is wise to arrive
early as this is a very popular activity. On cruises where there are
port days, it is usually less crowded on port days
Do not come to afternoon tea thinking that it will be just a light
snack. Waiters will tempt you with tray after tray of tasty items.
They look small and innocent and only those with the firmest
resolve are able to resist the invitation to have another. Keep in
mind that when the Duchess of Bedford invented this repast, people
did not eat lunch. Thus, if you are planning on going to afternoon
tea, it is best to dine lightly at lunch or skip it altogether.
When the doors open, the guests enter and seat themselves. The
tables at the forward end of the room are nearer to the galley from
which the waiters emerge with their trays. The tables next to the
dance floor are closer to the entertainment, which depending on the
day may be a string quartet or a pianist.
The tables are small cocktail tables and are set with white
Wedgewood china for four people. Again, this is a popular activity
and it is a social occasion so other passengers may ask to join you
if there is an empty space at the table.
People dress casually. There is a complete absence of tea
gowns and blazers with ties.
The waiters, on the other hand, are dressed impeccably down to
their white gloves. In the Queens Room, the staff of the Britannia
Restaurant handles the afternoon tea. Although the Britannia is the
ship's main dining room, it has some of the best waiters aboard
because a server needs considerable skill in order to handle the
rigors associated with two seatings for dinner each night. In any
event, the same contingent of waiters normally handles the
afternoon teas throughout a voyage with another contingent rotating
in for the next voyage.
The waiters are assigned to a section of the room rather than to
a specific table. Thus, during the course of afternoon tea you will
be served by several different waiters. Each specializes in a
particular item (e.g. sandwiches) but they are usually happy to
carry a message to their appropriate colleague if you are craving
another item (e.g, cakes).
The first waiter to approach will be the one carrying a large pot
of tea. He or she will ask whether you would like to have tea and
if you limit your answer to "yes", he or she will pour a cup of tea
from the pot. Cunard has a relationship with Twinings and the
default tea is a special blend of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas
called "Traditional Afternoon". One can, however, ask for another
type of tea. The cards placed on each table list Darjeeling and Earl
Grey teas as alternatives but peppermint tea, green tea and various
herbal blends are also usually available. If you request one of the
alternative teas, you will receive your own personal pot of tea but,
of course, it will take time to prepare it.
Proper etiquette calls for the guest to served sandwiches before
any sweets. Knowing this, the waiters with the trays of scones and
the trays of cakes will generally wait until their colleague with the
sandwiches has visited the table. However, if you indicate that you
are willing to go out of order, the servers will accommodate you.
The sandwiches served are traditional tea sandwiches - -
dainty, narrow strips of crustless white or brown bread with a
filling in between. These are not meant to be a main course but
rather a light, opening round that leaves space for the heavier items
to come. QM2 offers most of the traditional varieties including egg,
tomato, ham and the quintessential tea sandwich, cucumber.
Disappointingly absent from the selection on a recent voyage was
the delightful smoked salmon of years past.
Next is my favorite course. The scones on QM2 are excellent.
They are freshly baked and neither overcooked nor undercooked.
They are not too moist but not at all dry. Most importantly, they are
served with a dollop of cream and strawberry preserves on a
separate plate. You then slice the scone horizontally and add the
amount of cream and preserves to each half that suits your taste.
The final course is the tray of cakes and pastries. The selection
differs somewhat from day-to-day but includes such things as slices
of fruit cake, chocolate cake, banana cake, profiteroles, eclairs and
Afternoon tea does not end with the serving of the final course.
Waiters continue to appear with their trays and silver serving tongs
asking whether you would care for seconds, thirds and even
fourths. Additional pots of tea are also presented. Meanwhile, the
string quartet continues to play and the conversation flows. When
you look around, you are reminded of the magnificence of the
setting - - a grand room on a historic ship - - and you realize that
you are part of it as well.
The Adagio Strings playing in the
Queens Room during afternoon tea.
Cruise ship dining review - - Cunard - - Queen Mary 2 - - Afternoon Tea
The scones arrive.
Tea sandwiches to begin.
A tray of cakes and pastries.