Happy Birthday Queen Mary 2

| October 20, 2009

Today, Oct 20, is the fifth birthday of one of most important passenger vessels currently in service, the Cunard Queen Mary 2.

Today, Oct 20, is the fifth birthday of one of most important passenger vessels in service, the Cunard Queen Mary 2. To celebrate, she will sail up the River Mersey to Liverpool, city of origin for Cunard Line 170 years ago. Few companies can claim as significant a place in human history as Cunard; without the line many American immigrants from the 19th and 20th centuries would not have arrived.

Cunard merged with the White Star Line of Titanic fame in 1929, after the famous stock market crash created hard times worldwide. The merger was forced on Cunard by the British government even though the two lines had a different focus. White Star had survived the famous sinking of Titanic in 1912 and had become known for the highest quality service at sea, but profitability eluded them when the economy went south. Cunard adopted their slogan, however, for "White Star Service."

Without Cunard the Allies may not have won World War II. The company converted both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth into troop carriers to get US soldiers to Europe. At the time, the two ocean liners were painted dark grey and refitted with up to 10,000 bunks apiece to carry as many men as possible per trip.

The QE2 (Queen Elizabeth 2) replaced the two previously mentioned Queens in 1969. The market for ocean liners was starting to dwindle with the advent of transatlantic air travel. The last existing ocean liners were quietly converted to cruise ships, most famously the SS France, built by the nation of France, being acquired by NCL to become the SS Norway in the 1980s.

In 1998 Cunard Lines was acquired by Carnival Corp., parent company to many successful cruise lines including Carnival, Princess, Seabourn, Holland America, Costa and P&O Cruises. At the time Cunard still had just one ship; the QE2.

In 2002 Carnival Corp announced that they would build an Ocean Liner for the 21st Century for Cunard. The ship would be the Queen Mary 2, and unlike conventional cruise ships she would be built for speed and stability - two counter-purpose attributes for passenger ships. An extensive design process was undertaken and finally a plan emerged to build the fastest and largest passenger ship in the world. At about 148,000-tons the ships would compete for size with the new Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas vessels which carry about 35% more passengers.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Entering Southampton Harbor   Queen Mary Docked

Cunard spared no expense in building the perfect ocean liner. They gave her four powerful diesel turbines plus two gas turbines. The ship has 40% more steel than the average cruise ship. Wave-tunnel tests were exhausted until the team came up with an innovative bow design to reduce the effect of water resistance in a completely new way.

Cunard Lines has thrived since Queen Mary 2 was introduced October 20, 2004 - christened by the British Monarch Queen Elizabeth II herself. Since then, the Queen Elizabeth 2 (the ship) was sold to a company in Dubai for $100 million (one of the better prices ever for a used passenger ship), and the new Cunard ship Queen Victoria was introduced in 2007. Cunard soon announced a new ship; the Queen Elizabeth would join the fleet in 2010. She will not be named the QE 3, the company decided to merely give her the same name as the original vessel. In fact, Cunard uses many of its names over and over.

Queen Mary 2 was built in France - not in the River Clyde in Scotland as most of her predecessors had been built. The shipyard, Chantiers Du L'Atlantique, had built some of the last and most famous ocean liners in history including the Normandie and the SS France.

To put the size of Queen Mary 2 into perspective, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were both about 65,000-tons, two and a half times smaller. The QE2 was about 80,000-tons, so more than 40% smaller. Royal Caribbean did eventually build a slightly bigger ship, the Freedom of the Seas at 160,000 tons, but the new Royal Caribbean ship set to debut next month is 220,000-tons, almost one-third again larger than the current largest vessels in service.

But the thing to remember about Queen Mary 2 is that while she is big she has "scale." Her onboard ambience is a bit like Grand Central Station where you walk in and see a ten-story high ceiling bit no way to get up there. Its size represents grandeur, not business. It is not a crowded mega-ship. In fact she is one of the roomiest ships at sea with an astounding passenger/space ratio of 56 (square meters per guest) when the industry average is about 40.

The Cunard liners are among the last ships to have even a remnant of the "class system" once common on passenger ships. There is one main dining room, the Britannia, where 80% of the passengers eat, and then there are two special restaurants; The Princess Grill and the Queen's Grill. Passengers who eat in these special dining rooms also stay in special suites named after the dining rooms.

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Queens Room - for tea and night dancing   Beautiful Lalique Vases throughout   Bronze and copper 3-d sculpture
beautiful chandeliers in Queens Room at night   magnificent hallway with murals   mural of NY City inside Britannia

Near-term Itineraries for Queen Mary 2 If you now feel like trying out the Queen Mary 2, after calling in Liverpool she will do a few short "sample" cruises from the British Isles of two to four days.

In November the liner will do what she is most famous for: 6-night Atlantic crossings between New York and Southampton. The cost for these crossings is very reasonable - standard balcony $995, Princess Grill $1995, Queens Grill $2495.

15-day Christmas & New Years Cruise: The Holiday cruise departs December 20th from New York City and sails to the Caribbean for a total of 15 days. The cruise spans both the Christmas and New Years holidays. The cost: standard balcony $1995, Princess Grill $4595, Queens Grill $5295.

World Cruise: 108-days Departing January 5, 2010: Queen Mary 2 sails a world cruise every year. This year it will go from New York City to South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, China, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Dubai, Egypt, through the Suez Canal, through the Mediterranean and back to New York City. The cost for this cruise starts at just: $25,000 standard inside; $33,000 standard balcony, $74,000 Princess Grill, and $90,000 Queens Grill.

The Queen Mary Experience I have been on a Queen Mary 2 crossing and she is a beautiful ship with extensive onboard activities. I have to say it was one of the most active cruises I have ever been on - especially considering the entire voyage is six days at sea with no ports of call.

The line offers great guest speakers about Ocean Liner history; on our cruise it was former CruiseMates contributor Ted Scull. Another former CruiseMates contributor is now the ship's Chief Officer, Ben Lyons, at only 29 years old he is the number three in command onboard, and one of the highest ranking passenger ship officers of American citizenry anywhere in the industry.

Attractions onboard include a Planetarium with a projection screen dome that lowers as the seats set back, offering a full surround projection experience of informative "space" documentaries. RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, is onboard for classes and special shows in the theater. This London-based drama school is regarded as one of the best in the world, counting Peter O'Toole, Diana Rigg and Judi Dench among its graduates.

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RADA day training - drama classes   RADA Poster   dramatic license

There is a computer learning center and an amazing library where they actually fax in daily newspapers. The favorite meeting place is the "Golden Lion Pub" where the Brits may start drinking at 10:00 am; which I believe they must do before they can stomach the blood pudding or kidney pie they serve there.

Canyon Ranch is the Spa onboard - one of the few ships to have Canyon Ranch as its spa service.

Nighttime Activities on Queen Mary 2 Famous Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud created the original menus for the Queen's Grill and Princess Grill dining rooms. Alternative restaurant "Todd English" is offered by the well-known East Coast chef on all Cunard ships. There are several formal nights onboard, three out of six days on our crossing - the Captains Reception, the Black & White Ball and the Ascot Ball. Tuxedoes are "mandatory." For the Ascot Ball the ladies make hats from bits and pieces offered onboard and prizes are given to " winners" of various distinction.

Ascot Ball: Click for Close-up


The big finale of a transatlantic crossing is sailing into New York Harbor at dawn - past the Statue of Liberty, under the Verrazano Bridge and into Brooklyn - not Manhattan because the ship is too big to make the turn from the Hudson River into the Manhattan docks. She just fits under the Verrazano Bridge - she must pass under exactly the highest point or disaster would ensue.

Entering New York Harbor: Click for Close-up

Approaching the Verrazano Bridge   The antennae go under   The smokestack barely clears

Summing Up Queen Mary 2 Queen Mary 2 is a class act with all the trimmings of an authentic world-class ocean liner. The ship is something of a Cunard museum and one becomes ensconced in the experience of living the golden age of ocean liners while onboard.

At night the ship rivals some of the great dance ballrooms of the golden age of big bands. With one of the largest orchestras at sea and a huge dance floor, the band plays dance standards and the crooner croons like he was born in 1920. The dress is tres elegante and of course there are gentlemen hosts to make sure every lady gets a chance to dance. Go to www.cunard.com to see more about the great Cunard ships.

Entering New York Harbor: Click for Close-up

Looking Up the Hudson River   Downtown Manhattan   Statue of Liberty Aglow

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