GUEST BLOG: Tea on the high seas

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Tea Lynn SeldonAnother great story from our guest writer M. Lynn Seldon on afternoon tea at sea.  A wonderful tradition for cruises, and available on many lines.  Thanks, Lynn!

Back when a cruise meant a transatlantic crossing with classic lines like Cunard and Holland America, tea service was an integral part of every afternoon at sea. That was true for those traveling first class or down in steerage. Today, the tradition of tea on the high seas continues, and has even expanded, in many creative ways with a wide variety of cruise lines.

Cunard Line

It doesn’t get more traditional than high tea onboard an oh-so-British ship, and that’s as true for Cunard Line now as when they first started carrying passengers across the Atlantic in 1840 and Cunard ships became known as “The Only Way to Cross.”

The line offers a time-honored English afternoon tea service daily in the Queens Room onboard Queen Mary 2Queen Victoria, and the new Queen Elizabeth–which set sail this past October. A live stringed quartet, harpist, or pianist plays soft melodies while white-gloved waiters serve guests.

“This Cunard tradition is eagerly anticipated by our guests who time and again say that this leisurely pastime is a highlight of their voyage,” says Peter Shanks, president of Cunard Line.

Teas presented are Twinings and Wedgewood, including English Breakfast, Earl Grey, chamomile, mint, Darjeeling, Ceylon, black China, green, jasmine, and Orange Pekoe, as well as a variety of decaffeinated choices. Onboard Queen Mary 2, those booking upscale Queens Grill and Princess Grill accommodations can also enjoy separate service in the exclusive Queen’s Grill Lounge, where Wedgewood teas are on the menu.

The food offerings include freshly baked English scones with cream and jam, assorted finger sandwiches, and a selection of homemade cakes and pastries. The rotation of sandwiches includes smoked salmon, cucumber, beef, ham and cheese, tomato, tuna, and pastrami–served on a variety of breads. White-gloved staff also typically offer strawberry tarts, fruit cake, Madeira cake, banana bread, ginger cake, and more. Cunard chefs are said to make more than 3,000 tea sandwiches, 1,500+ tea pastries, and 1,100 or so tea scones each day.

In addition, on select sea days aboard Queen Elizabeth, Champagne Afternoon Tea features Veuve Clicquot Champagne and is offered in The Garden Lounge for a small surcharge. Queen Mary 2 also holds a Tea Dance once each voyage (which is often a transatlantic crossing, just like days of old). Orchestral music and dancing take high tea on the high seas to another level. At about 600,000 gallons, the annual tea consumption onboard this classic liner would fill an Olympic-size swimming pool!

Holland America Line

Offering cruises to passengers since 1872, Holland America Line also knows a thing or two about tea. Every afternoon around the world, tea is served onboard 15 Holland America ships. Service typically occurs between 3 and 4 o’clock, with eight varieties of Bigelow tea always available and other specialty teas available upon request.

Holland America also added daily afternoon tea in the Pinnacle Grill (a specialty restaurant) and Neptune Lounge, which features Harney and Sons tea and the typical food offerings. In addition, the specialty restaurant Tamarind (not on all ships) serves White Lion’s Teas in Bloom in large glass teapots. Guests enjoy watching the green tea leaves and flower buds unfurl.

Royal Dutch Tea is typically offered during a sea day on cruises of seven or more days (more often on the longer cruises for which Holland America is known). This takes place in the main dining room of each ship and includes a variety of typical tea-service foods served buffet-style.

Though traditional in many respects, Holland America is also quite innovative, thanks to two other tea time offerings. The line’s Indonesian Tea, a tribute to the many Indonesian crew members onboard, exposing passengers to Indonesian culture through a special tea service at least once during most cruises. Staff dressed in traditional Indonesian batik costumes welcome guests as angklung (an Indonesian bamboo instrument) music is played in the background. Special Indonesian teas (including Sir Aubrey’s White Lion) and coffees are featured, as well as typical afternoon-tea foods enhanced by Indonesian offerings of sweets like banana and mango fritters, sweet coconut rice balls, and chocolate rice sponge cakes.

Another more recent addition to Holland America’s lineup is the sea day Cupcake Tea, typically featured on cruises of seven days or more. Originating with the Eurodam in 2008 and now on all Holland America ships, this fun tea caters to kids and kids at heart with 10 different types of cupcakes (the bread pudding is particularly popular), the typical teas, and a selection of cold milk (from plain white to flavors like strawberry and chocolate).

The Yachts of Seabourn

Something special is always brewing on The Yachts of Seabourn, thanks to rare estate teas gathered from around the world for the line’s Seabourn to a Tea program. “I was raised in England, so I know the value of afternoon tea as a chance to relax, refresh yourself, and socialize,” says Pamela C. Conover, Seabourn’s president.

Lucky travelers enjoy more than a dozen specialty teas onboard Seabourn’s yachtlike ships, with worldwide cruise itineraries of seven to 111 days exploring landmark ports and lesser-known gems where larger ships can’t go. The teas are served loose brewed to order with a variety of creative foods. A descriptive printed menu details the characteristics and ingredients of each one, as well as the caffeine content, antioxidants, vitamins, and other elements.

The truly special menu of teas and blends includes Bleu Peacock (a blend of Chinese and fancy Formosa oolong); Jasmine Mint (tender young green tea buds blended with fresh jasmine blossoms); Green Tea Passion (a blend of teas from Japan, China, and Taiwan, accented by tropical fruits); and Himalayan Peak Darjeeling Organic (selected single estate leaves). There are also varied tisanes with appealing ingredients and flavors.

Crystal Cruises

Along with traditional afternoon English tea every day, Crystal Cruises features several unique themed teas unlike anything else afloat. These include Mozart Tea Time, English Colonial High Tea, Chocolate Tea Time, and American Summer Tea.

The Mozart-themed tea is typically held once per cruise and features serving personnel in period costumes of hand-sewn silk brocade and velvet. Passengers are also greeted by a chocolate bust of Mozart, as well as a life-size chocolate centerpiece of the composer playing the violin.

Along with a wide array of Mighty Leaf teas, as well as specialty coffee drinks and more, the over-the-top menu features classic sandwiches and desserts from the Hapsburg Empire. There are Black Forest cakes, strudels, streusels, brioches, fondue dip, and dozens of other possibilities.

The English Colonial service features unique organic teas and creative foods from across the pond–like Stilton cheese, pear, and walnuts in pita pockets.  As expected, Chocolate Teatime takes the fabled treat to a new level (there’s even an ice cream bar). The American Summer offering is lighter, including Mighty Leaf iced teas along with fun additions like peanut butter and jelly sandwichs. All of Crystal’s teas are served in the line’s elegant Palm Court lounges.

Disney Cruise Line

It’s not surprising that Disney does tea the right way for families–as well as couples looking for tea for two. On each cruise of seven nights or longer, Disney features Family Tea with the Disney Characters. This special tea includes visits from the likes of Alice and the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland and Wendy Darling from Peter Pan.

For adults, the Disney Magic ship also features High Tea at Palo, the ship’s specialty restaurant. With typical teas and food choices, this tea is limited to passengers 18 and older and is only offered when the cruise features a day at sea. In addition, both Disney Magic and Disney Wonder (as well as the upcoming Disney Dream) feature Cove Café, an adults-only area offering assorted teas and coffees, canapés, cocktails–and quiet.

Given all of these options (and more following), traditional–and quite nontraditional–tea on the high seas is better than ever. Bon Voyage!


Carnival Cruise Lines– The Fun Ships offer daily tea service either in the dining room or one of the lounges, with a choice of traditional black teas, herbal teas, and green tea accompanied by a selection of cakes, pastries, and triangle sandwiches, along with tasty cream and chocolate delights and a live piano music.

Celebrity Cruises- At least once per cruise, Celebrity offers an Elegant Tea in the main dining room. The food-focused line serves a wide variety of culinary treats from roaming trolleys, with select teas presented from a box. Members of Celebrity’s loyalty program are also offered an invitation-only tea during most cruises. Depending on the ship, the café will also offer Tea Forte or Harney & Sons teas, with sandwiches, pastries, and more typically available throughout the day.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines– With a loyal following of British passengers, it’s only logical that Fred. Olsen offer traditional afternoon tea every day on its four ships. However, the line also recently added an already-popular “enhanced” afternoon tea for less than $10. It includes live music and an expansive offering of tea and foods served on bone china by white-gloved waiters.

MSC Cruises – Daily English High Tea service features a fine selection of teas, cakes, pastries, and sandwiches served in the Top Sail Lounge by butlers.

Oceania Cruises– As a classical string quartet plays softly in the background, freshly-made finger sandwiches, colorful petit fours, richly textured scones, and wonderfully sinful desserts are presented on bountiful tiered pastry carts.

Princess Cruises – Tea service is available onboard all ships in one of the main dining rooms each afternoon, featuring a wide selection of teas and time-honored accompaniments like finger sandwiches and scones.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection – Traditional afternoon tea is served at least once a week on all ships in the Uniworld fleet, long a river-cruising leader in China, Egypt, Europe, and Russia. In addition to a wide selection of black, herbal, and green teas, Uniworld offers tasty treats often indigenous to the regions of the itineraries. To top off the atmosphere, there’s live classical music in the background.

Victoria Cruises–  Specializing in five-star Yangtze River cruises in China, this eight-ship fleet has tea time every afternoon on the river. Local Chinese teas and delicacies figure prominently on the menu.

Viking River Cruises– Also specializing in river cruises in China, Egypt, Europe, Russia, and beyond, Viking is the largest river-ship operator. Along with the typical tea offerings, Viking also offers regional tea experiences on certain cruises–like Russian Tea Time onboard and ashore and a family-hosted tea followed by dinner at a local restaurant in Tibet.

Windstar– Teatime is celebrated in the Compass Rose lounges onboard the line’s famed sailing vessels. For guests in Wind Surf’s new Spa Suites, three unique tea collections by Tea Forté are offered to guests through 24-hour in-suite tea service.

Story and Image Courtesy of  Lynn Seldon.

To find out more information on any of the above lines, or to book your next cruise, please visit Cruises-n-More.


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