The Grand Lobby on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth is pictured on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

The Grand Lobby on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth is pictured on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Lavish British ship makes maiden voyage to Alaska

Luxury cruise line returns to Alaska after 20 years, plans regular runs

This past Saturday, the Queen Elizabeth was quiet.

The croquet court was empty. The heated relaxation beds were vacant. The Midships Bar, which serves more than 13,000 combinations of gin and fizz, was closed up. There were hardly any attendees for afternoon tea.

The passengers of the luxury ship, from the Cunard cruise line, enjoy the lavish amenities on board but also wanted to get out and see Juneau, where the ship was in port for the day.

The Queen Elizabeth, commissioned in 2010, is the third and newest ship in the British cruise line’s fleet, and made its first ever trip to Alaska last week. Cunard, a cruise line that has been an innovator in comfortable cruising, hasn’t sent a ship to Alaska in 20 years, but Cunard Public Relations Manager Meryl Press said management started looking to Alaska due in part to popular demand.

“We thought this would be a great opportunity to bring the Queen Elizabeth over from Japan and do Alaska here,” Press said while giving media members a tour of the ship. “It was something that our guests really wanted, so that’s why we will be in Alaska this year, and next year and hopefully for many years to come.”

Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth prepares to leave Juneau on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth prepares to leave Juneau on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

The Queen Elizabeth will make a few runs to Alaska this year (starting in Vancouver) and has already scheduled 10 trips to the state in 2020, Press said. The cruise line isn’t alone in its interest in Alaska, as a record number of cruise passengers (about 1.3 million) is expected to come to Juneau this summer.

Hardly any of those visitors will arrive in comparable style to the Queen Elizabeth. The ship includes a spa, a variety of gaming areas (including a large open-air chess set), two pools, a gym, a large theater, multiple luxury restaurants and more.

A chessboard sits atop Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

A chessboard sits atop Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

There’s particular care put into the alcohol. Each of the three ships in Cunard’s fleet has its own personalized gin, which is made of ingredients from places each ship visits. The Queen Elizabeth’s gin, for example, includes ingredients from Australia and Asia.

For this maiden voyage to Alaska, the Queen Elizabeth sailed straight from Japan, filled with tourists from Australia and Japan. Press said most trips to Alaska, based on who has booked trips this summer, will primarily include visitors from the United States, Great Britain and Canada.

Tickets go for $1,600 and up for a spot on the ship, and some services on board require additional payment. The ship carries 2,081 passengers and 1,005 crewmembers.

Captain Inger Klein Thorhauge speaks to reporters aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Captain Inger Klein Thorhauge speaks to reporters aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Captain Inger Klein Thorhauge told reporters on board that she used to sail in Alaska waters about 15 years ago, and it’s much easier now than it was then. She said the tides and the current are still a little different and challenging than most places, but ports including Juneau have made the going much easier on her.

Juneau has made significant improvements to its waterfront in the time since Thorhauge last came here — thanks in part to collecting fees from cruise passengers and using them to build better docks and facilities.

[Opinion: Cruise ship tourism is damaging our way of life]

She said that Juneau’s floating docks are a “huge improvement” from how things used to be, saying that it was difficult to get passengers off the ship. Now, because of the investment in the waterfront, that problem is a thing of the past in Juneau.

“Here we don’t even have to think about it, everybody can go in and out of the ship all day long without any issues,” Thorhauge said. “It’s phenomenal.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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