Cunard Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, has a long and illustrious history. The line was founded in 1840 by Samuel Cunard, a businessman from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Cunard applied for and received a contract from the British government to carry the Royal Mail from Britain to North America on a fleet of steamships that would maintain a weekly service. The first route was from Liverpool to Boston via Halifax, but the western terminus was soon moved to New York.
Throughout the 19th century, Cunard Line produced larger, faster and more luxurious ships. Their ships never pushed technological boundaries, but when a new technology was proved by other lines, Cunard adopted it. The line also could boast never having lost a life at sea due to failure of ship or seamanship.
In 1998, Cunard was acquired by Carnival Cruises, which merged the management of Cunard with Seabourn, their other luxury brand. Carnival’s chairman, Mickey Arison, had big plans for Cunard. With the deep pockets of Carnival Cruises behind them Cunard commissioned a new liner, one which would be superlative in every way.
The year 2004 was a momentous year in Cunard’s history. In January, Queen Mary 2 (the largest, longest, highest, and most expensive ship ever built) was christened by Queen Elizabeth II and made her maiden voyage attended by worldwide media coverage. In May, Queen Mary 2 took over the North Atlantic liner service between Southampton and New York and became the flagship of Cunard Line. In that month QE2 was repositioned to make cruises out of Southampton for the British market.
Cunard only operates large ships that are British in feel and that fly the British flag. In design, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and the new Queen Elizabeth capitalize on the long history of the company. Queen Mary 2 was built to carry on Cunard’s tradition of offering liner voyages year-round between Southampton and New York. She has 1,300 cabins, most of which are outside, and most of them have balconies. There are eye-popping suites that top out at 2,250 square feet.
QM2 maintains the custom of assigning restaurants based on cabin accommodations. In addition to the regular restaurants, there are seven other venues for meals, including the signature Todd English restaurant, open to all passengers by reservation for lunch and dinner. The large Lido Restaurant that serves buffet-style breakfasts and lunches becomes four intimate venues for dinner serving Italian, Asian and English fare, as well as a restaurant with a demonstration galley.
QM2 has the first planetarium at sea, carries Oxford dons for classroom learning and offers acting workshops with students from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. A new addition to its top-notch enrichment programs is Science at Sea, a speaker series featuring prominent science writers.
Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth capitalize heavily on the rich heritage of Cunard. Both have lavish suites of some 2,000 square feet overlooking the stern. Even standard accommodations are spacious and pleasantly furnished.
Continuing a well-established Cunard tradition, the passengers in the best cabins dine in the single sitting Queens Grill and Princess Grill restaurants.
For those in standard accommodations, the two-deck-high Britannia restaurant can serve up to 800 diners at once. Here you have the choice of first or second seating for dinner, but lunch and breakfast are open seating.
On the sister ships, afternoon tea is a white-glove affair served in the lovely two-deck-high Queens Room. The ceremony is a throwback to an altogether grander age of travel and represents Cunard’s commitment to its heritage.
Queen Mary 2′s Atlantic crossings attract American and British passengers in equal proportions with a significant number of continental Europeans and smaller numbers of other nationalities. Passengers on crossings represent all age groups.
American cruises attract mostly Americans, while on European cruises, QM2, QV and QE sail with mostly British passengers with Continental Europeans and Americans. Passengers on cruises tend to be older than those on crossings, but there’s enough buzz about Cunard as to attract significant numbers of young passengers and families. The dress code rotates among casual, informal and formal.