Although it is part of the American-owned Carnival Corporation, Cunard is quintessentially British. Its three ships, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and the flagship, Queen Mary 2, are all Southampton-based. All embrace the concept of formal dressing, maritime traditions like the captain’s midday announcement, and elegant surroundings that evoke the glamour of the golden age of cruising.
The 2,691-passenger Queen Mary 2 is the world’s only true ocean liner, built for regular Atlantic crossings between Southampton and New York as well as an annual world cruise. As such, the ship has all kinds of unique attributes: the only kennel at sea that can carry dogs and cats (and strangely, ferrets); and some of the grandest suites at sea, as QM2 is favoured by celebrities and royalty. Entertainment includes the only planetarium at sea, a top-notch lecture programme and ballroom dancing in the grand Queens Room.
Her smaller sisters, the 2,081-passenger Queen Victoria and 2,068-passenger Queen Elizabeth, include many of the same features in their opulent cabins, fine dining and entertainment, but instead of transatlantic crossings, offer no-fly sailings from Southampton and a series of fly-cruises in the Mediterranean. All three ships sail long, exotic voyages in winter that can be booked in total or in sectors, covering the whole world, from South America to Australia and Asia.
Cunard’s ships have maintained a traditional class system in that the cabin grade you book dictates where you eat. The two smartest restaurants, Princess Grill and Queens Grill, for the occupants of the most expensive cabins, offer cuisine to rival the finest restaurants ashore. But while Cunard’s ships are traditional and, on some nights, formal, they aren’t necessarily expensive; a week won’t cost any more than it would on, say, P&O Cruises, or Holland America Line.
Fellow passengers come from all walks of life. Mainly Brits, but a lot of Americans on the transatlantic crossings, as well as Australians and Germans. Most passengers are couples, gay or straight, and plenty of families travel in the school holidays – the ships have excellent, if understated children’s clubs.
There is a sense of privilege among passengers, in the shared knowledge that wherever they are in the world, heads will turn at the sight of a beautiful Cunard Queen. And with a brand new ship on the horizon, Cunard’s influence doesn’t look set to wan anytime soon.