Nearly 100 years after its founding, Cunard Cruise Lines lent several of its ships for use as British troop carriers during World War II. No less than Winston Churchill credited them with shortening the war in Europe by a year, as they were able to transport 10,000 troops each trip -- unescorted -- because of their speed.
The company went into decline in the 1960s, after more and more travelers opted to cross the Atlantic quickly, by jet, rather than elegantly and very much more slowly, by ocean liner - but not before its name had become synonymous with elegant transatlantic crossings, and not before the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, and Caronia, the line's first purpose-built cruise ship, had become the most famous vessels of their times.
By 1998, Cunard had been bought by the wealthy Carnival Corporation, and made part of its Seabourn Cruise Line division. As such, the line's ships either underwent extensive refurbishment or got sold. More recently, Cunard and Seabourn parted paths, and Carnival Corp decreed that Cunard should join forces with Princess Cruises based in California. This move actually made sense as Princess was formerly (before Carnival bought them) part of another esteemed British Shipping company, P&O LTD. Now P&O and Cunard are under the same umbrella, but in California.
Cunard's new flagship, the Queen Mary 2, christened by Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (or Her Maj, as she's known to her subjects) and launched in January 2004, emphatically restores much of the line's reputation. At $800 million, she was the most expensive vessel ever constructed, and, at 148,000 tons and 1,132 feet, she was the largest and longest for at least awhile. Despite her enormousness, QM 2 carries only 2,620 passengers and a crew of 1,300.
Her various passenger accommodations are large (between 194 to 5,000 square feet), her balconies numerous -- three-quarters of outside staterooms have one. The decor is exactly as you'd wish on a great liner -- sweeping staircases, domed public rooms, the largest grand ballroom at sea, the first planetarium at sea, lots of Cunard memorabilia, five swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), and a 360-degree Promenade Deck. To be fair, there are also such glaring anomalies as a long corridor of Art Deco wall panels made, quite unapologetically, of plastic.
There are many elegant bars and showrooms, a two-story theatre, a casino, boutiques, the only Canyon Ranch Spa Club at sea, a pet kennel, and a children's facility overseen by bona fide British nannies. There are no fewer than 10 dining venues, including the first shipboard restaurant to bear the imprimatur of celebrity chef Todd English.
The 85,000-ton, 1,968-passenger Queen Victoria joined the fleet in December, 2007, and is geared to British tastes, the onboard currency sterling. Exterior elevators on both sides of the vessel provide panoramic sea views for 10 decks. A wide range of spacious accommodation categories will include about 85 percent with an ocean view, and two-thirds of those will have a balcony. As QM 2, Queen Victoria has both a Queen's Grill and a Princess Grill, as well as the Britannia Restaurant for the majority of the guests.
The new QM2 has been designed to provide luxurious transatlantic crossings on the fastest passenger vessel afloat. As the first Cunard ship designed more for cruising than traditional transatlantic travel, the Queen Victoria boasts an appealing, intimate atmosphere, although still very British. On both ships, in keeping with the early 20th century tradition of two-class passenger status on ocean liners, those in higher categories dine in restaurants closed to passengers in regular stateroom categories, little realizing that the food is virtually identical but for the fact that the posh Grills commonly offer an additional entree. And the best food on the ship is in the signature Todd English restaurant, open to all by reservation.Dining
Food and the serving thereof have both improved almost beyond recognition since Queen Mary 2 entered service. In the lovely Britannia (minimum category) Restaurant, servers deliver consistently delicious Continental cuisine. Make a reservation the moment you board for celebrity chef Todd English's wonderful restaurant; his Mediterranean-style menu features such delights as lobster and baby corn soup and duck breasts in ginger sauce.
Those paying higher fares dine at a single seating in the intimate Queen's Grill and Princess Grill, where caviar, jumbo shrimp and smoked salmon are yours for the asking, as they're not in Britannia.
The King's Court Lido buffet area with separate food stations, will appeal to British tastes as well as American, but not both at the same time, unless you like beans and black pudding for breakfast.
Lotus features an excellent Asian sampler menu; The Carvery has prime rib, chicken and fish; and La Trattoria offers an Italian menu with a self-service antipasto course from the buffet. The Golden Lion Pub will do you some fish and chips, bangers and mash, or steak and mushroom pie. The Boardwalk Cafe on Deck 12 serves a grill menu. After a demonstration at the Chef's Galley ($35 per person) the 26 onlookers get to eat what they've just watched being prepared.
With its lighted dome arcing over a nearly three-deck-high space, the Britannia Restaurant feels like the dining room of a grand hotel. A huge vertical tapestry depicting a giant liner against the New York skyline is the richly colorful centerpiece. The dining room has two seatings for 1,350 each, at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and is rather more elegant than the single-sitting Caronia or two-sitting Mauretania on the Queen Elizabeth 2.
Passengers in the higher category cabins and suites have access to the 180-seat Princess Grill and 206-seat Queen's Grill, two identical single-level rooms aft on Deck 7 somehow lacking the distinctiveness of the Queen's, Princess and Britannia Grills on the QE2. The big name restaurant, Todd English, levies a charge of $20 for lunch and $30 for dinner.
For informal dining, the multi-sectioned King's Court offers several serving stations, with minimal queuing, for breakfast and lunch. The four different dining areas all have linen tablecloths and waiter service, with the same menus throughout the voyage. The many bay window tables facing the side promenades provide the best seating and are well out of the main traffic flow.
At night the King's Court is divided into four dining sections that require reservations. The Carvery caters to carnivores; Lotus offers an Asian sampler menu; La Piazza's is, as you've probably divined, Italian; the 26-seat demonstration kitchen Chef's Galley charges $35 a head. The Golden Lion Pub is popular with British passengers for its pub grub, while the Boardwalk Cafe serves grills, salads and light desserts to those who want to remain out on deck. Featuring spicy lobster wonton, crab cakes, duck spring roll, stir-fried king prawn and chicken with Singapore noodles, the Lotus menu is of particular note.
Of the 1,310 cabins, 78 per cent have ocean views and 94 per cent of these balconies. The smallest (categories C1-C4 and D1-D5) are uniformly 194 sq. ft., with light wood-grained paneling and furnishings, adequate storage space, a small sitting area with pop-up table, a chair and a vanity cum desk. Bathrooms have a shower, good counter and limited shelf space. QM2 Interactive Television allows you to order room service, review your on-board account, and order pay-per-view movies; very handy indeed!
The standard outside cabin is considerably larger than the indoor portion of the cabins, with balconies enclosed in the hull. Above the lifeboats, the balcony cabins (B1-B7, 248 sq. ft.) are more typical, with Plexiglas instead of steel on the outer side, and larger interior sitting areas. Cabin sizes then increase to junior suites (P1-P2, 381 sq. ft.) with the largest (Q1-Q6, 506 to 2, 249sq.ft.) including aft-facing duplexes. Those on Deck 8 have access to a concierge lounge.
A dozen cabins look out onto the atrium. All suites and junior suites feature Frette linens, flat screen TVs with Xbox game systems, personalized stationery, pre-dinner canapes, concierge service, and a bottle of champagne on embarkation.
The lines former flagship, QE II, just left service is May, 2008. Still, the guests on the newer ships still enjoy the stateliness of an older "Liner-style" cruise ship. Queen Mary 2's transatlantic passengers are usually experienced cruisers who want to try a transatlantic voyage, and the occasional person who just doesn't like to fly.Shore Excursions
Excursions are fairly priced, even on the world cruise (which is available is segments). There are plenty of coach tours for the more senior folks.Kid's Excursions
QE2 and QM2 boast have full nurseries with cinematic British nannies, managed children's activities, and baby sitting. These are the only ships where you can take not only the kids, but the dog, too! Onboard kennels are available.Past Passenger Programs
Cunard's "World Club" members accumulate points just as frequent flyers do. Benefits include onboard "Repeater's Parties" occasional shipboard credit and 25% savings off brochure rates.Special Programs
QM2's program known as Cunard ConneXions, focuses on foreign languages, wine appreciation, culinary, photography, filmmaking and even explaining British comedy. Classes are presented in QM2's planetarium. "Oxford Discovery" classes are offered in partnership with the famous university. Frustrated or aspiring hams can attend acting workshops with students from Britain's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.Attire
During a six-night Atlantic crossing or a week's cruise, two formal nights will be the norm, and most men, especially on a crossing, will wear tuxedos rather than dark suits; other nights designated either informal (jacket for men) or casual; casual is always appropriate during the day.
Gratuities are automatically charged to your shipboard account for dining room waiter, cabin steward, and other personnel. The per person (including children) per day rates are $13 for Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2 accommodation with Grill dining, $11 for QE2 and QM2 passengers who dine in the restaurants. Talk to the front desk about adjustments.
A 15% gratuity is automatically added to your bar or salon services. Award other gratuities as you deem appropriate.
The noon report said that we had cleared the Grand Banks of Newfoundland at 8:00 AM this morning. We were skirting the Flemish Cap and were 100 miles E of the Grand Banks. It was Monday, July 9 and we were on West Greenland Summer Time.
But the night before had been like nothing I'd ever experienced in my life. I wrote in my trip journal: "The noise in this cabin is incredible. The wind is howling outside, rattling the glass, and whistling. It's enough to drive you crazy. I wasn't anticipating something like this in July at all. I thought this was the best weather of the year. If it isn't, when is?"
The whole experience of being out in the North Atlantic with fog closing in on you can't be compared to land. Neither can being thrown forward on your toes when the ship rolls. But for us it was transportation to Europe since we don't like jets. That single consideration made it well worth it, especially the Cunard shore excursion in Southampton to Stonehenge, Salisbury, and the New Forest which turned out to be the most Gothic placeon earth (the ship itself sounded a little Gothic and spooky, didn't it?)
We went on a short 5-night cruise out of Southampton round Europe on the newest of the Cunard Fleet, the Queen Elizabeth. The trip went to Amsterdam, Zeebrugge and Le Havre, and was one of a series of identical trips that they did to let people try out and see the new ship.
I had mixed views about the ship before going on her, as we had been on the Queen Victoria and this ship is pretty much the same ship and layout - and we had thought the Queen Victoria was okay - but had not blown us away.
I had also read very mixed reviews about the Queen Elizabeth, mostly related to the food and the service. It is always exciting though to go on a new ship, and of course even more so when one of the famous Cunard ones.
In the end, we loved the ship. It has great looking decor, very stylish and very Cunard. The service was outstanding across all areas of the ship. The food we had in Queens Grill was amazing. The ship, although has a stern like a block of apartments ratherthan the staggered back of the Queen Victoria and looks a bit blocky, looks great overall. Though, of course, it is a Vista Class style ship and so looks like many other ships. This is such a pity that no longer Cunard ships are one off and unique.
The ship was launched in October 2010, and has 1034 cabins and takes 2068 passengers in total, with a crew of 1005. On our trip there were 2009 passengers, and almost all from the UK as one would expect.
Here are my other observations and thoughts on the ship:
1: As mentioned, the design and look of the ship is very classy. It has an art deco feel, and is classy and rich looking. It is done with style. The grand lobby, for example, is very grand and has a "wow" factor. The Royal Arcade with the shops, grand staircase and casino is also grand. The carpets through out are very striking and worth paying some attention to! I do not usually note carpets but these are worth checking out!
2: Some of the other rooms and areas that were good include:
The Royal Court Theatre. This is a large room on 2 levels, and they have boxes along the side that for the production shows can be booked for $50 and you get finger desserts, champagne and a signed photograph of the cast.
Royal Arcade Shops. There is a good selection and the addition of a Fortnum and Masons is a nice touch. You can make and order hampers that they will deliver to your home address if you want. There is a large art shop and exhibition ares run by Claredon Art. There is a large casino with machines, including popular 1c and 2c ones.
Garden Lounge. This was not one of the areas I was impressed with, but the large room with glass roof was popular with many and was always busy. I thought it lacked some class and style, but clearly others liked it!
Apple iRange/ iStudy. Throughout the ship they use Apple, and they have a shop where they sell various Apple PCs, iPads and iPods and all the internet computers are Apple.
Commodore Lounge. This is a great bar and room right at the front of the ship with panoramic views. This is a great place to sit during the day, and great for evening drinks. In here are also the old QE2 bell and the bell from the original QE, as well as models of the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. Opposite is also the Yacht Club where they have a disco and band at night.
We made a video of much of the interior rooms, and another one of the exterior and decks, both of which can be watched below or on my YouTube Channel.
3: Queens Grill. We stayed in Queens Grill. On Cunard the type of cabin you stay in determines the restaurant that you eat in. There is the Brittannia Grill, the largest and on 2 levels. There there are the "Grills" with Princess and Queens. For those in Grills, the 2 restaurants are on 11 deck which is accessed via a card in the elevator. On the Grills area there is a lounge, the 2 restaurants and then an alfresco dining area and 2 large decks with very comfortable loungers.
We were in a very nice suite which was a Q3 Penthouse Suite. It is an unusual shape, as the video I made shows. It had a very comfortable Sealey bed, seating area, bar area, bathroom and shower and separate basin and toilet. There are huge amounts of storage space. You get canapes each evening and a bar with soft drinks, and the choice of 2 bottles of spirits.
As mentioned, the food in Queens Grill is excellent and there is huge choice, including both a set menu choice and an a la carte at dinner.
See all my photos of the ship: http://www.bembridge.co.uk/a/My_Albums/Pages/1105_Queen_Elizabeth_May_2011.html
I have just returned from the Christmas Canaries cruise onboard The Victoria- what a shambles. Deck 2 and 3 were cold for much of the time, adjacent to the ballroom when you walk through that area the smell of sewage was diabolical. If you want to exchange sterling for dollars Cunard would give you .70 to the pound- hows that for a rip off! I paid by credit card and the exchange rate on my statement said £1.51- their duty free shop was asking 81 dollars for an Estee Laudea product that can be purchased in any Boots in Bristol!
The food was served luke warm for most of the time and as this is supposed to be a 5 star ship why was the vegetables served on the plate with the meal, lastly on two sperate ocassions, once when the menu said stilton and there was none on the plate when we asked for some we were served danish blue and on another ocassion when the menu said Roquefort the waiter pointed to a fromage and said that was it- when we pointed out that this was not thecase the waiter dissappeared and came back to say that there was not any Roquefort on board this was a "Peinting Error"- sorry this is not and should not be classed as a 5 star liner.