IT'S A return to the golden era of cruising. Refined yet combined with a beautiful display of design and art.
Cunard's newest ocean liner Queen Elizabeth, or QE as she is affectionately known, graced the waters of Brisbane recently.
It was her maiden call and came just two weeks after her big sister Queen Mary 2 made her inaugural visit to the state capital.
She is the third Cunard liner to carry the name and, like the two grand ladies before her, sees passengers immediately warm to the unmistakable comfort and style.
Having been aboard QEII on her final visit in 2008, it was wonderful to see over this latest addition to the Cunard fleet which has captured the imagination of generations of cruise lovers since the 19th century.
Originally known as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, the line was founded in 1839 by Samuel Cunard, principally to carry the Royal Mail between Britain and North America.
QE's Brisbane visit was midway through her second world voyage and coincided with the completion of Queen Mary 2's history-making circumnavigation of Australia.
While similar to her predecessor QEII in many ways, this newest ship weighs 90,900 tonnes compared to 70,000, accommodates more passengers and offers more features.
At 294m long, Queen Elizabeth is 103m shorter than the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and almost twice as long as the Gabba cricket ground.
She features 12 guest decks and towers about 56 metres above the waterline, almost equal to the height of a 21-storey building.
Carrying 2000-plus passengers and 1000 crew, on this voyage, QE is home to clientele from all over the world. There are 30-plus nationalities aboard with 860 passengers travelling all the way around the world. More than 100 on board in Brisbane were from New Zealand and 800 were on the Australia-Singapore leg.
Between them, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth made five visits to Queensland ports over three weeks, underlining the state's popularity as a cruise destination.
Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia which represents Cunard, said the Queens' visits were evidence that Queensland's cruise industry was going from strength to strength.
Ms Sherry said a new study, undertaken by Deloitte Access Economics for Carnival Australia and released this month, showed that the cruise industry contributed $166.4million to the Queensland economy in 2010-11 - second only in size to New South Wales ($370.9million).
"With cruising's economic contribution in Queensland forecast to rise to $340.8 million in 2019-20, it's clear that the cruise industry has a long-term role to play in the state's economy," Ms Sherry said.
But back to the liner and the stunning centrepiece for the Grand Lobby is a marquetry impression of the original Queen Elizabeth, completed in a range of fine timbers by David Linley, son of the late Princess Margaret and the internationally famous photographer Lord Snowdon. Viscount Linley is the Queen's only nephew and his magnificent work shows the port bow of the ship seen dramatically from sea level.
The liner has 1046 staterooms, including 738 private balcony cabins. There are more than 10 restaurants and cafes, including the decorative 800-seat, two-deck Britannia Restaurant, 12 bars and clubs, and seven different retail outlets including boutiques from Fortnum & Mason, Hackett, Harris Tweed and Anya Hindmarch.
A two-storey library comes complete with a unique leaded glass ceiling and about 6000 books.
Other features include a two-storey Queen's Room ballroom and a three-deck Royal Court Theatre seating 800 guests and offering private boxes.
There are two outdoor swimming pools and two whirlpool spas plus a state-of-the-art spa, hydro pool and thermal suite.
Deck 10 is the games area where passengers even play lawn bowls and croquet at sea.
Apparently the British and Australian passengers love educating the Americans on the art of the game of bowls as they try and play it like 10-pin bowling.
Queen Elizabeth offers sailings to the Caribbean, Northern Europe, Mediterranean and round world voyages.
In 2013, she will spend 91 nights travelling from the UK to New Zealand via America and the South Pacific.
A retreat, a resort, a rejuvenation … QE is its own city and a world unto itself.
It must be the perfect place to revitalise the senses.
Stylish and timeless, this is one grand lady who will never go out of style.
Entered Service: 2010
Home Port: Southampton, UK
Port of Registry: Hamilton, Bermuda
Speed: 23.7 knots
Gross Tonnage: 90,900 GRT
Guest Capacity: 2068
No. of Crew: 1005