There's something almost aristocratic about afternoon tea. It's a long-standing tradition in Britain (where the practice was born in the mid-1800s) and it's a treat just about everywhere else—including on today's cruise ships. In the old days, the grande dame ocean liners took afternoon tea very seriously and, happily, made sure the art of tea service was preserved for future generations to enjoy.
While the cruise industry may have changed a lot since the days of ocean crossings, one thing has remained consistent: the time-honored tradition of afternoon tea. Here's a rundown of teatimes on several luxury lines, so you can best decide on your own cup of tea at sea.
Complimentary afternoon tea is a highlight onboard all three of Cunard's vessels: Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2, and Queen Victoria. Head to the Queens Room ballroom at 3:30pm, where tea is served daily (except on embarkation day). Each table is beautifully set with Wedgewood china, and a string quartet, pianist, or harpist perform, while white-gloved waiters pour a blend by Twinings of Ceylon, Kenyan, and Assam teas (or try Darjeeling, Earl Grey, or a number of other options). Teacup in hand, waiters soon descend with a variety of treats, starting with crustless sandwiches of egg, cucumber, ham, and roast beef; scones, clotted cream, and jams; and, finally, a seemingly never-ending supply of cakes, éclairs, and fruit tarts.
Plush line Crystal Cruises offers several themes of complimentary afternoon tea throughout its voyages. Whether you're sailing aboard Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony, Palm Court is the place to enjoy English Colonial Tea, with waiters in white tails, or the ever-popular Mozart Tea, which features waitstaff in period costumes of lush brocade, lace, and velvet, while musicians play some of the composer's most-loved works. A lengthy list of teas is available for sipping as you sample savory sandwiches, scones, cheese and fruit, and pastries. Those events lead up to the decadent Chocolate Tea that features more sweets than savory items.
Afternoon tea connoisseurs will enthusiastically cite Champagne High Tea on Celebrity Cruises. Usually served in one of the specialty restaurants, it's one of the most impressive tea events at sea ($25 per person, advance reservations recommended). Tables are topped with sparkling Riedel crystal and Wedgewood china and a string quartet plays in the background, as you're seated and handed a glass of champagne. The tea menu, from Tea Forte, is reinforced with Lavazza coffee, espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos. Once you've settled on your beverages, the snacks arrive in a stream of scones, cakes, and other pastries, as well as fruit jellies and chocolate truffles.
Holland America Line
The Royal Dutch Tea on Holland America is similar to traditional British tea service, though sandwiches and pastries are laid out buffet-style, while waiters bring tea directly to your table. Another interesting option is the line's Indonesian Tea, where waiters dress in traditional batik cloth and recorded Indonesian music plays throughout the dining room. Black tea and jasmine tea are standard, but Sumatra coffee is also available, while desserts include sweet coconut rice balls, mango and banana fritters, and chocolate rice sponge cake. The pièce de résistance, however, is Holland America's famous Cupcake Tea. Kids and adults love sampling the 10 varieties of cupcakes paired with tea, coffee, or milk (plain, strawberry, or chocolate).
Disney Cruise Line
The priciest tea on this list is the Royal Tea aboard Disney Cruise Line's Disney Fantasy. This afternoon princess-themed character meet-and-greet costs $279 for one adult and one child ($210 per each additional child and $69 for additional adults). It's expensive, but memorable. The Royal Tea hostess, appropriately named Lady Chamomile, welcome guests and crowns each young lady as a princess and each young man as a royal knight. Lady Chamomile and her sidekick Chef Brule then sing classic Disney songs and dance as servers offer sandwiches, éclairs, fruit tarts, cookies, cupcakes, and tea. The high point comes when the Disney Princesses—Cinderella, Belle, and Tiana—burst through the door and visit with guests at every table. Gifts are also part of tea service with girls receiving a My Disney Girl princess doll, plus a jewelry box, memory book, and more, while boys get a royal shield and sword, as well as a Duffy the Bear.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
On each of Regent Seven Seas's luxury ships—Mariner, Navigator, and Voyager—the lounge stages teatime, where, in addition to the usual finger sandwiches, are extras like crepe or cupcake buffets. Plus, the line also stages a decadent chocolate tea at least once during its 7-night voyages.
Offered daily in the Horizons observation lounge, a dramatic high-deck setting with floor-to-ceiling windows sets the stage for Oceania Cruises's traditional teatime. Classical musicians entertain while refined waiters pour tea into dainty china cups and serve up a variety of sandwiches, scones, and desserts.
Seabourn Cruise Line
Served daily (except on embarkation day), Seabourn's complimentary afternoon tea unfolds in the Observation Lounge. Here, Seabourn chefs put equal emphasis on the savory and the sweet, with sandwich options like hand-carved roast beef on focaccia bread or shrimp salad on croissants. Sweets include items like chocolate tortes, fruit tarts, cheesecake, and more. The Mighty Leaf Tea Company provides an extensive list of teas with options like mandarin rose petal, Darjeeling , Acai black tea, and more.
Enjoy afternoon tea in the comfort of your own cabin aboard Silversea vessels, where each stateroom is looked after by formally trained butlers. Simply ask your butler to prepare afternoon tea for a personalized teatime setting in your own room or on your private balcony. Tailor it to your taste buds with pairings like foie gras, shrimp cocktail, caviar and blinis, or traditional finger sandwiches and pastries. Or, if you wish to enjoy tea with the rest of the ship, head to the Panorama Lounge, La Terrazza, or The Bar, where Ronnefeldt provides tea of all types and Silversea chefs do the rest.
Andrea M. Rotondo is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers cruise news and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com and writes for a variety of outlets, including her website Luxury Travel Mavens. Follow her on Twitter: @luxtravelmavens.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Cunard Line