May 24, 2024

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is a regal beauty

QM2 image

The Queen Mary 2 retains the look and feel of a traditional ocean liner.

The English novelist Charles Dickens described his Cunard cabin as a “profoundly preposterous box” and likened it to a “hearse with windows” when he embarked on a transatlantic crossingin 1842. He was travelling on one of Cunard’s earliest ships, which were built principally for delivering mail between Liverpool, Halifax and Boston. Passengers were an afterthought, and a standard cabin consisted of a cubicle with a straw mattress and chair. By the end of the century, things had changed. The Golden Era of ocean travel was in full swing and a fleet of luxury liners offered spacious suites with marble baths. Public spaces featured grand staircases, crystal chandeliers and white-gloved service in the dining room.

Jet airplanes nearly brought an end to transatlantic ship travel, yet a small segment of travellers continued the seagoing tradition aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2. When Carnival Corporation purchased Cunard from Norway’s Kvaerner Group in 1998, the new owners announced they would be launching a new ocean liner – the first to be built since QE2‘s launch in 1967. “Our goal,” stated Carnival chairman and CEO Micky Arison, “is to create a new Golden Age of sea travel for those who missed the first.”

Queen Mary 2’s itineraries include cruises in Europe and other parts of the world, but she is first and foremost an ocean liner designed for regular transatlantic crossings between Southampton and New York. The ship’s hull is long and lean, able to slice through a rough sea, and its steel is extra thick. The naval architects who designed QM2 had to merge the needs of a classic liner with those of a cruise ship. Although 94 percent of the outside staterooms have a balcony, those on the lower decks are recessed into the steel of the hull to provide protection from inclement weather. The promenade deck is sheltered at the bow with a wall of solid steel, its large doors left open in fair weather to allow a full outdoor circuit (3 laps = 1 mile) but closed if the weather turns harsh.

QM2’s immense size (nearly four football fields in length and as tall as a 23-storey building) makes her too wide to transit the Panama Canal, but allows for palatial public areas, such as the Royal Court Theatre where West End-style musical reviews are staged. Themed balls are held in the Queens Room – the largest dance floor at sea – and the spacious ship also features a planetarium and a library holding 8,500 books. Self-improvement and personal enrichment are an important aspect of Cunard’s transatlantic experience, with lectures offered by Oxford professors and workshops hosted by actors from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (who stage onboard productions) and by musicians from the Juilliard School of Jazz. Special guest lecturers are featured on select sailings, and the famous actors, musicians and explorers who have shared their insights with fellow passengers include the British comedian John Cleese and the Byrds founder Roger McGuinn.

Passengers dine at one of three main dining rooms – the Queens Grill, Princess Grill or Britannia Restaurant – depending on which category of cabin they have booked. Casual fare can be enjoyed in the buffet-style Kings Court, the Boardwalk Grill and the Golden Lion Pub where fish and chips and other pub grub is served. Asian, Italian and traditional British cuisine can be enjoyed at other dining venues, and the celebrated chef Todd English has a specialty restaurant on board.

Children are welcome on QM2. The ship’s nursery is staffed by British nannies, and youngsters can enjoy organized activities in the Play Zone. Dogs can also book passage on QM2 and they are offered two classes of kennel accommodation – a standard bed or a large bed. All canine passengers receive a fleece blanket, a selection of premium foods, a complimentary photo, and nightly turndown service with a freshly baked dog biscuit.

Christened by Queen Elizabeth in January 2004, QM2 offers a unique blend of tradition and innovation. Steamer chairs line the teak promenade and afternoon tea is served on Wedgewood china, but passengers can opt to spend time in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub or at one of four outside pools, one of which has a retractable glass roof. Accommodations range from a standard oceanview stateroom to a lavish two-deck suite with floor-to-ceiling windows and butler service. The cost of a seven-day crossing between Southampton and New York varies depending on the month of travel and the category of accommodation.

What doesn’t vary is Cunard’s devotion to preserving its British heritage despite the company announcing in 2011 that its ships would no longer be registered in the United Kingdom but in Bermuda to enable weddings to be held on board. British law disallows marriages at sea except by a notary or minister, but with Cunard’s change of registry couples can now be married by the ship’s captain. On April 30th, 2012, QM2’s first wedding took place on a transatlantic crossing. Fittingly, the American groom and his British bride had decided to get married halfway between their respective countries.

Avatar photo About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.