Tuesday: nine meals a day


Passengers either rang their bell for breakfast in bed. From the mid 1930s they could also pick up the telephone at their bedside. Slipped under their cabin door, the daily Programme of Activities helped passengers to plan the day ahead.

Film stars usually breakfasted in bed. On one of her eight honeymoons, Lana Turner ordered raw minced beef with raw eggs beaten into it, washed down with champagne.

Life on board was a tug of war between eating and keeping fit. Passengers worked off the excesses of the night before in the gym or Turkish baths. They also exercised by strolling along decks, 'as long as a village street'. Four turns around the Queen Mary's Sun Deck equalled one mile.

Passengers could hire their deck chair and rug from the deck steward at the start of the crossing. From the late 1940s, steamer chairs had thin cushions for added comfort.

Stewards serving meal

Stewards serving meal © University of Liverpool

Afternoon tea

American passengers loved the British tradition of cucumber sandwiches and fancy cakes. Tea was often taken in the Verandah Café to the sound of the ship's orchestra. A concert in the mid 1950s might include 'Lady of Spain', 'Evensong', Russian dance music and a violin solo.


Fashionable passengers sipped cocktails before lunch. The privileged few joined the captain for drinks. Some captains toasted their guests' health in gin and water, the traditional Navy tipple.

The cocktail hour

This was the hour to see and be seen. Early 20th century passengers gathered before dinner in the grand reception rooms with their mirrors and tapestries. By the 1930s the smart set were sipping Bloody Marys and Mint Juleps in the cocktail bars.

Beer was the most popular drink in third class. During Prohibition (1920-1933) alcohol was banned in the USA. On westbound crossings, bars were not allowed to sell spirits in case passengers became too drunk to disembark in New York.

When in 1974 engine trouble at sea left the QE2 without water, Cunard solved the problem with unlimited champagne. Some passengers even shaved in it.

Dressing for dinner

Those passengers not already sipping champagne were in their cabin putting the final touches to their finery.

An invitation to the Captain’s Table was an honour much sought after by passengers. Guests were selected with care. Captain Grattidge claimed that in the late 1940s his only bedtime reading was 'Who's Who'. Etiquette demanded that passengers never asked for an invitation but waited to be chosen.

After dinner

After dinner, passengers settled down to the serious business of enjoying themselves. From 1911 Cunard created a new room on its liners called 'The Lounge'. 'Here ladies may join the gentlemen for their after-dinner coffee and cigars.' From the 1920s women could even enter the Smoking Room.

Many passengers enjoyed 'a flutter'. Betting included card games, horse racing and an auction based on the distance the liner had travelled. Passengers were warned to look out for card sharps and cheats. They usually worked the liners in pairs, taking on wealthy young men at cards.

From 1927 Cunard liners showed films on board. Cinema-goers gathered in the first class lounge, with those from other classes slipping in after the lights went down. The Queen Mary had three cinemas, one for each class of passenger. On smaller liners the same film was shown at different times of day - Third Class in the late morning, Second Class in the afternoon and First Class after dinner.

From the 1920s fancy dress parties were all the rage. Captain Bisset advised passengers on how to beg, borrow or steal materials to make costumes. Drinking straws could be obtained from the Chief Steward and silver paint from the deck hands. 'A round tray with a flag makes an excellent shield. Curtain rings make splendid Oriental earrings.'

A crossing was an ideal time for a brief encounter. From the 1930s romantics could dance the night away. The orchestra did not stop playing until the last couple had left the dance floor. Dancing could be difficult in rough weather.

By midnight most passengers had retired to their cabins.

Due to the time difference between Liverpool and New York, passengers gained an hour each day on the westbound crossing. They lost an hour a day when homeward bound.

'Seasick all day'

Shipping lines kept quiet about the fact that, until effective ship stabilisers in the early 1950s, a fifth of passengers on an average crossing would be seasick. Some never left their cabin throughout the voyage.

In the 1920s Captain James Bisset recommended seasick passengers to lie down, preferably in the fresh air and as near the centre of the ship as possible. They should eat nothing for 24 hours, after which iced champagne often did the trick. Wearing silk underwear also helped.


Listen to Amy de Joia as she reminisces about travelling to England on an Atlantic liner as a little girl.

Read a transcript of the audio clip