Cunard is possibly the cruise industry’s most gilded brand. It’s one of the oldest, one of the most luxurious, and one of the most famous of all the cruise lines.
A Cunard Line cruise has become an iconic, bucket-list experience for many cruise enthusiasts.
Founded in 1840 as a simple royal mail steam packet company, the line relied on ferrying passengers across the Atlantic, along with British mail, to make money.
Canadian shipowner Samuel Cunard commissioned a wooden-hulled paddle steamer called Britannia – a model of which is now on display in the lobby to the floating hotel QE2 Dubai in Port Rashid.
She wasn’t the first steam ship to cross the Atlantic, or indeed to offer a regular trans-Atlantic service, but she (and her five sister ships) were the first to do so with a frequent and regular schedule.
Within five years Cunard dominated the Atlantic service, and the foundations for the great passenger shipping wars of the 19th and 20th centuries were laid.
Cunard has always liked big ships. Even Britannia, although not the largest passenger ship at the time of her launch, was a huge ship by common standards in those days, and set new standards for comfort and speed.
Cunard Line’s ships
These qualities can still be found now in the modern Cunard fleet. Queen Mary 2 with her 2,691 passenger capacity was the largest passenger ship ever built when she was launched in 2004 and remains the largest ocean liner ever to sail the seas.
Her fleet mates, the 1,988-passenger Queen Victoria and the 2,068-passenger Queen Elizabeth, are also both huge ships at more than 90,000-gross tons, but they’re purely cruise ships.
Queen Mary 2 is the last and only ocean liner offering a regular trans-Atlantic passenger service, which she does annually during the summer.
Cunard Line has ordered a fourth vessel, but this will also be a pure cruise ship and is expected to be an evolution of the successful designs of the Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.
It will be the second-largest ship in the fleet and is scheduled for delivery in 2022.
This expansion, and indeed the building of all three of ‘the Queens’, has been made possible by Carnival Corporation’s acquisition of Cunard in 1998.
Ironically, Cunard’s legendary status as a historic line evoking all that is good and British has been championed by its American owners.
Carnival Corporation’s ten separate cruise brands all cater to a different market, and Carnival wanted Cunard to become the go-to line for those seeking luxury rooted in British traditions.
None of this was fake, however, as Cunard had (for more than a century) stood apart as the leading passenger line on the Atlantic, and its close ties with the Royal Family helped underpin its status as a national symbol.
Cunard’s success was the country’s success, and even though it is now American-owned, many in the UK still feel that way.
Cunard has always emphasized its history and the elegance and mystique of ocean travel, and it has paid off handsomely.
Queen Mary 2 was built to ensure that Cunard would have a successor to the ageing QE2, so that trans-Atlantic services could be maintained.
These Southampton-New York sailings have become a hallmark of the Cunard experience, setting the cruise line apart from its premium and luxury competitors.
The tradition of offering liner voyages annually between Britain and her former colony goes to the heart of what makes Cunard, Cunard.
Queen Mary 2 is a true ocean liner. She has thick steel plating, a strengthened, long bow, and powerful engines.
Staterooms and suites aboard Cunard Line
There are 1,360 cabins, most of which are outside, and most of them have balconies – so Queen Mary 2 can also do service as a cruise ship, which she does with an annual World Cruise, visiting some of the most exotic and famous ports in the world, including Cape Town and Dubai.
There are also massive suites that are some of the largest in the world.
Dining aboard Cunard Line
During the ocean liner Golden Age on the Atlantic, when Cunard and her competitors began launching ever-larger and faster ships, the line started assigning restaurants based on cabin accommodations, and this tradition is continued aboard Queen Mary 2.
The Queens Grill suite categories are naturally the best aboard, with dining in the Queens Grill restaurant, while passengers booked in junior suites dine in the Princess Grill.
This is the closest any modern cruise line comes to having a first and second-class. Both dining rooms offer single-seating service with table-side preparation.
All other passengers dine in the three-story Britannia Restaurant, the largest aboard.
It offers two sittings for dinner and open sitting for breakfast and lunch. There is also the Britannia Club restaurant, which offers open dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Following Queen Mary 2’s extensive renovation, there are seven other dining venues, including the new Verandah restaurant, which replaced Todd English restaurant, open to all passengers by reservation for lunch and dinner.
The recently refurbished and fully transformed Kings Court Buffet restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snacks.
In the evening it also offers a ‘Kings Court Specialty A La Carte’ serving pan-Asian, Indian, Mexican, Italian and American fare, plus the galley section for made-to-order pizza. It’s a nice alternative to the main dining rooms on a longer voyage.
High Tea is served by white-gloved stewards in several venues and there is a British pub (serving grub like cottage pie and bangers and mash at lunchtime), a champagne bar, stylish (and expensive) shops and a heritage trail that tells the history of Cunard Line.
The two-story spa is run by Canyon Ranch and there is Wi-Fi available ship-wide.
Cruise experience with Cunard Line
Unlike any other cruise line, and again emphasising Cunard’s very British nature, QM2 has the first planetarium at sea, carries Oxford dons for classroom learning and offers workshops with students from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA).
Reflecting the older demographic that Cunard caters to, there is a computer learning centre. Perhaps most unique of all are the ship’s kennels.
QM2 is the only ship at sea to carry cats and dogs and it’s another legacy of the Trans-Atlantic tradition, when the cream of society would cross between the old world and new with their pets in tow.
Unlike Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth are essentially mutton dressed as lamb, they capitalise heavily on the rich heritage of Cunard, but are cruise ships through and through, with little to set them apart from other premium cruise ships apart from the value of the Cunard brand.
As newer cruise ships, however, they offer all the modern amenities expected and have lavish suites of some 2,000 square feet overlooking the stern — and even standard accommodations are spacious and very elegantly furnished.
As with Queen Mary 2, aboard Victoria and Elizabeth, the passengers in the best cabins dine in the single sitting Queens Grill and Princess Grill restaurants and share a lounge and an outer deck area, where the meals can be taken al fresco in good weather.
Other dining options include the Lido buffet, which serves breakfast and lunch, and The Verandah. There are also additional for-fee venues for lunch and dinner. And like QM2, High Tea is served with white gloves in the Queens Room.
Cunard is all about tradition and its heritage, but it isn’t afraid of evolution either. In a major break with its more than a century of history, the line in November re-flagged the entire fleet from Southampton to Hamilton, Bermuda.
The Bermuda flag of convenience allows Cunard Line greater leeway with some regulations, enabling greater flexibility with operating costs, but also brings back the tradition of shipboard weddings.
The wedding program began in 2012 after the world cruise season and because of the qualities discussed above, Cunard Line is now an extremely popular marriage and honeymoon option among British cruise passengers.
Types of passengers on a Cunard Line voyage
With Cunard Line, the fellow passengers on-board depend entirely on the cruise itineraries.
Queen Mary 2’s Atlantic crossings are popular with American and British passengers in almost equal measure, while a remaining 20% or so are made up of European passengers.
These crossings also see a higher proportion of retirees and a scattering of younger family members cruising with them.
The American cruise itineraries on the other hand, naturally attract a very high proportion of Americans, while on European cruises, British passengers are the majority aboard all three ships, with a sizeable number of Europeans and Americans as well.
On-board announcements are made in English, German, French, and sometimes Spanish.
In the same way that many incorrectly assume that Disney Cruise Line is purely for children (it has amazing adults-only areas), Cunard Line is a great option for families, the children’s facilities are some of the best in the premium cruising space.
The dress code rotates between casual, informal and formal in about equal proportion, but you will find that there are more formal nights than on the average mass market cruise line.
Cunard Line cruises all over the world on its famous World Cruises, but its roundtrip itineraries predominantly operate in Northern Europe (from Southampton), the Mediterranean (from Southampton, Barcelona and Rome) and North America from New York – it also cruises the Caribbean from New York, with 13 scheduled cruises for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Cunard Line Middle East and South African cruises
Cunard cruises extensively from South Africa and Dubai every year. In October, 2018, Queen Mary 2 took part in the celebrations for the official launch of the QE2 Dubai floating hotel, during her port call at Dubai Cruise Terminal.
In 2022, Queen Elizabeth will cruise from Dubai to Singapore on a 15-night voyage departing March 12th.
Cruise ships in the Cunard fleet:
Due in 2021: Unnamed new ship
Categories: Cruise Line Focus