I’m on a luxury cruise that’s one of the first to leave from the UK since the pandemic. Here are my impressions so far.

Mikhaila cruise
Mikhaila Friel on the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
  • I’m one of 1,248 passengers on Cunard’s first cruise ship to leave the UK since January 2020.
  • The sold-out, five-night Western Europe cruise will port in Amsterdam for two days.
  • Owned by Carnival Cruise Line, Cunard is more formal than its American counterpart.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

I’m currently on board Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, which sailed out of Southampton, England, on October 13.
Cunard QE ship
Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth ship pictured at Southampton, England. Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images
In July 2021, my colleague Monica Humphries embarked on Carnival Cruise Line’s first voyage to leave the US since the pandemic and documented the experience for Insider.

So when Cunard (the popular British cruise line owned by Carnival) followed suit and announced its return to international cruising, I couldn’t wait to purchase a ticket.

The sold-out five-night Western Europe voyage on the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship will port in Amsterdam for two nights.

It not only marks the cruise line’s first international voyage since January 2020, but it’s also my first experience on a cruise.

 

 

One month before the cruise, I purchased my ticket. A standard inside stateroom cost £628, or around $US856 ($AU1,160).
Cunard stateroom
A Standard Inside Stateroom. Cunard
All passengers on this cruise are required to be double-vaccinated and the ship is operating at 60% capacity, a spokesperson informed me via email.

The Queen Elizabeth cruise ship usually has a capacity for 2,081 passengers, according to the Cunard website, which means there are around 1,248 people on this voyage.

The various health checks required before boarding were a stark reminder of how much the travel industry has changed.
Passport, paperwork
My passport and vaccination letter. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
There was more paperwork than I had anticipated due to both Cunard and the UK government’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Cunard asks passengers to fill out a health declaration form before boarding and to provide proof of their vaccination status.

I also had to fill out the UK Government’s Passenger Locator Form with details of my vaccination status and my pre-booked PCR test upon my return to the UK.

When I arrived at Southampton port, I was directed to the COVID-19 testing center.
COVID test centre southampton
The COVID-19 test centre at Southampton. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
All guests are required to do a rapid antigen test at Southampton before embarkation. 

My passport and vaccination letter were checked by two different staff members before I went into a private booth to do the test.

I didn’t realize how nervous I was until one of the employees told me to have a nice cruise, and I replied: “You too!” 

 

The rest of the check-in process went smoothly.
Cruise check in
The check-in desk. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
After the COVID test, I was directed to a waiting area where I stayed for around 20 minutes before I received a text message informing me of my negative result. 

The rest of the check-in process went smoothly, and I was impressed by how thorough the staff were. For example, my passport was checked four times in total, and I had to complete a verbal health declaration despite already filling out the same form manually at home.

 

Then it was time to embark the ship.
Embarkation
Embarkation. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
The check-in terminal was connected to the Queen Elizabeth ship, so the embarkation process was short. After going through security checks, I was led down a narrow hallway which led me to the ship’s entrance.
The first thing I saw – and heard – upon stepping onto the ship was live music.
The Queen Elizabeth reception area
The Queen Elizabeth reception area. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
Guests fluttered around the reception lounge, trying to figure out where their rooms were located as the cellist and violinists played calming music. 

 

The reception staff left guests to find their rooms themselves.
Mikhaila at reception
At the reception area. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
I asked a member of staff what I was supposed to do next. They simply told me to “find your room,” the number of which was printed on my boarding pass. 

For someone who had never been on a cruise ship before, the lack of guidance I was given felt a little intimidating. 

My 152-square-foot room is small but luxurious.
Mikhaila room cruise
My room. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
My room has a king-sized bed, a TV, a tea and coffee station, a mini-fridge, a desk, and two sets of drawers. There’s also a telephone which you can use to order room service. 

There was also a complimentary bottle of Champagne and a bouquet of flowers in the room from Cunard’s press team. (For full disclosure, Insider paid for the cruise ticket, per our reporting standards.)

My TV was already switched on when I arrived and was playing a safety instruction video.
Emergency instructions video
The safety instructions video. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
The instruction video informed me where to locate my life jacket (the closet) and where to go if there was an emergency. 

Just a few moments later, I met Bert, a housekeeping assistant, who instantly made me feel welcome. He showed me around the room and said he would be there to get anything I need throughout the voyage.

Then it was time to explore the ship.
Mikhaila
At the Queen’s Room on Deck 2. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
The Queen Elizabeth ship is 964.5 feet (293.98m) long and has the capacity for 2,081 guests and 980 crew members, according to Cunard’s website.

I felt a little overwhelmed, but I knew the only way to tackle it was to start exploring right away.

The ship has 12 decks, and luckily there were maps around to help me find my way.
QE ship map
A map of the ship. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
There are maps of the ship posted by the elevators of each deck, however, I would have appreciated a paper copy to keep myself from getting lost. At one point, I accidentally stumbled into the staff kitchen. 
I was surprised by how empty some parts of the ship felt on my first evening.
Empty ship
I asked the only other person in the Queen’s Room to take my photo. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
I decided to explore the Queen’s Room on Deck 2, which had a seating area and a stage for evening performances. It was almost completely vacant of people. 

As I explored other areas of the ship, I noticed more people in the bar and restaurant areas — but due to the ship’s 60% capacity, these areas weren’t as busy as they likely could have been before the pandemic. 

Cunard is known as one of the most formal cruise lines, and it’s not hard to see why.
QE staircase
A grand staircase. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
Cunard is known as one of Britain’s most formal cruise lines due to its traditional decor and smart dress code. 

This might be a surprise to some, since the cruise line is owned by Carnival in the US.

But Cunard couldn’t be more different from its American counterpart, according to the YouTuber and cruise expert Emma Cruises.

“Carnival is the spring break crowd, whereas Cunard is the afternoon tea crowd,” she told me over the phone before I set sail.

There are various references to royalty throughout the ship.
Cunard queen elizabeth portrait
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
Launched in 2010, the Queen Elizabeth is Cunard’s newest luxury cruise ship and was named after the Queen.

I found plenty of tributes to the royals, including portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, as well as the Cunard logo which features a crown symbol. 

As the ship prepared to depart Southampton, I was surprised by how many people relaxed into cruise life right away.
Outer deck
The outer deck. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
While exploring the ship, I encountered couples sitting on tables and looking out at the sunset, while others sat in the hot tub, and one man was even jogging. I imagine that these people must have been on the Queen Elizabeth ship at some point before and know the layout well.
I’m one of the youngest people on the ship, but thankfully not the only solo traveler.
Mikhaila friends cruise
I met two new friends on board. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
I haven’t spotted any children on board, and that’s likely due to Cunard’s new vaccination policy, which states that all passengers must be double-vaccinated.

Children aged between 12 and 17 in the UK can only get a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine if they have a serious health problem, according to The Sun.

I’m 25 and am yet to meet many passengers in my age group — but that hasn’t stopped me from making friends. 

I met Jannet Russell, 70, and Celia Steel, 78, at a solo traveler meet-up organized by Cunard on Thursday morning. 

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store.
Mikhaila at the pool
By the pool and hot tub area. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
So far, I’ve enjoyed my cruise experience, and I found the thorough health checks impressive during the embarkation process.

Now that I’m on the ship, there doesn’t seem to be a strict mask-wearing rule in place (or at least I haven’t been told of one), however, I’ve noticed most people still wear them while walking around. 

One night in, the voyage has exceeded expectations — and there are still four nights left.