One of the world’s most distinguished names in ocean travel since 1840, the Cunard Line has a long history of deluxe transatlantic crossings and worldwide cruising. The line’s ships are legendary for their comfortable accommodations, excellent cuisine, and personal service. After a series of owners tried with little success to revive the company’s flagging passenger shipping business, Carnival Corporation offered an infusion of ready cash and the know-how to turn the line around in 1998. Exciting new ships have followed.
Entertainment has a decidedly English flavor, with nightly production shows or cabaret-style performances and even plays. An authentic pub gives the liners an even more British air, while music for dancing and listening is played in other bars and lounges. In Queen Mary 2’s first-ever shipboard planetarium, high-tech presentations and virtual-reality shows offer a virtual ride through space.
Cunard’s fine enrichment programs include lectures by experts in their fields, including top designers, master chefs, and artists. Even seamanship and navigation courses are offered to novice mariners. Passengers can plan their activities prior to departure by consulting the syllabus of courses available online at Cunard Line’s Web site.
Delightful daily events include afternoon tea and the maritime tradition of sounding the ship’s bell at noon. The line offers North Atlantic crossings and seasonal shorter cruises, including some Caribbean itineraries.
Dining aboard a Cunard ship is by class, so dining-room assignments are made according to the accommodation category booked. You can get as much luxury as you are willing to pay for on Cunard liners, where passengers in Junior Suites are assigned to the single-seating Princess Grill; the posh Queen’s Grill serves passengers booked in duplex apartments and the most lavish suites. All other passengers are assigned to one of two seatings in the dramatic, multideck-high Britannia Restaurant or Britannia Club Restaurant on Queen Elizabeth.
Although fare in Britannia is reasonably traditional and often outstanding, off-menu requests by Grill passengers are commonly granted—provided the galley has the ingredients. Menus also include vegetarian and low-calorie selections.
The most coveted table reservations are those on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria in the restaurants named for Todd English, the celebrity American chef and restaurateur noted for his innovative Mediterranean cuisine and sumptuous desserts. Both dinner ($30 per-person cover charge) and lunch ($20 per person) are offered in the intimate restaurant.
Aboard Queen Mary 2, the Chef’s Galley is a small reservations-required restaurant, where diners look on as their food is prepared in an open galley setting; the only charge here is for wine. The King’s Court buffet is transformed each evening into three no-charge casual alternative dining spots: the Carvery specializes in carved meats; La Piazza is dedicated to pasta, pizza, and Italian dishes; and Lotus offers Asian regional specialties.
Fitness and Recreation
Swimming pools, golf driving ranges, table tennis, paddle tennis court, shuffleboard, and jogging tracks barely scratch the surface of shipboard facilities dedicated to recreation. Top-quality fitness centers offer high-tech workout equipment, a separate weight room, and classes ranging from aerobics to healthy living workshops.
Queen Mary 2’s Canyon Ranch Spa Club is a one-of-a-kind facility at sea offering salon services for women and men, including the famous land-based spa’s signature 80-minute Canyon Stone Massage. A huge 30- by 15-foot thalassotherapy pool offers a deluge waterfall, air tub, neck fountains, and massage-jet benches and recliner lounges located in the pool. The thermal suite has an herbal sauna, Finnish sauna, aromatic steam room, and reflexology basins. Use of these special features is complimentary with a massage or body treatment; otherwise, there’s a per-day charge.
The daily SpaClub Passport includes use of the fitness center, thermal suite, aquatherapy center, locker rooms, and a choice of fitness classes. Robes, sandals, and beverages are also available for spa-goers and SpaClub Passport holders in the relaxation lounge. Steiner Leisure operates the more pedestrian spas on the rest of the fleet.
Discerning, well-traveled American and British couples from their late-thirties to retirees are drawn to Cunard’s traditional style and the notion of a cruise aboard an ocean liner. The availability of spacious accommodations and complimentary self-service laundry facilities makes Cunard liners a good option for families, although there may be fewer children on board than on similarly sized ships.
Glamorous evenings are typical of Cunard cruises, and specified attire includes formal, informal, and casual. Although resort casual clothing prevails throughout the day, Cunard vessels are ocean liners at heart and, as expected, are dressier than most cruise ships at night. To maintain their high standards, the cruise line requests passengers to dress as they would for dining in fine restaurants.
The Kid Zone has a dedicated play area and a splash pool for children ages one to six. Separate programs are reserved for older children ages 7 to 12 and teens up to age 17. Toys and activities range from simple games to more educational computer classes. Children can practice their social graces when they’re served their own afternoon teatime goodies. Toddlers are supervised by English nannies. Facilities are operated only until midnight; group babysitting is complimentary. Infants under one year are not allowed; children ages one to two sail free (except for government fees).
Although most crew members are international rather than British, service is formal and sophisticated.
Suggested gratuities of $13 per person per day (for Grill Restaurant accommodations) or $11 per person per day (all other accommodations) are automatically charged to shipboard accounts for distribution to stewards and waitstaff. An automatic 15% gratuity is added to beverage tabs for bar service. Passengers can still tip individual crew members directly in cash for any special services.
After one sailing aboard a Cunard liner, passengers are automatically enrolled as members of Cunard World Club; they are accorded Silver status on their second cruise. Silver-level members receive discounts of up to 50% off Early Booking Savings on all sailings, access to the shipboard World Club Representative and World Club Desk, and a quarterly newsletter, The Cunarder.
After completing two Cunard cruises or 20 days on board, members are accorded Gold status and are additionally invited to shipboard World Club cocktail receptions, two hours of Internet service, and receive a Gold Cunarder pin. Passengers who complete seven sailings or sail for 48 consecutive days or more, achieve the Platinum status. Additional benefits to Platinum members include a shipboard World Club cocktail reception, priority check-in and boarding in certain embarkation ports, an invitation to the Senior Officers’ party, four hours of Internet service, and a Platinum Cunarder pin.
Diamond membership is for guests who have completed 15 voyages or 150 days on board. In addition to the above, they receive priority luggage delivery, complimentary lunch in Todd English, eight hours of Internet service, and a Diamond Cunarder pin.
Choose This Line If
You want to boast that you have sailed on the world’s largest ocean liner, though larger cruise ships are already plying the waves.
You enjoy a brisk walk. Queen Mary 2 is massive, and you’ll find yourself walking a great deal.
A posh English pub is your ideal of the perfect place to hang out.
Don’t Choose This Line If
You prefer informality. Cunard ships are traditional formal liners.
You want real luxury with no add-on costs.
Your sense of direction is really bad. Nearly everyone gets lost on board QM2 at least once.
Queen Mary 2 uses an Arabic 2 rather than the Roman numeral used by monarchs because it’s a sequel to the original ship.
The captains steer the Cunard liners with a single lever or joystick on the bridge.
The sound of Queen Mary 2’s whistle carries for 10 mi but doesn’t disturb passengers on deck.
Romantic sunset at sea
Top: Cunard White Star service
Bottom: Illuminations planetarium
Good to Know
The idea of a multiple-class ship offends some people’s sense of democracy, and Cunard ships are ocean liners that adhere in not-so-subtle fashion to the tradition of class distinctions. This is the 21st century, though, so you won’t find steerage class, and even regular folks in the cheaper cabins will enjoy the superior surroundings. However, certain areas, including the Queen’s Grill Lounge, a private sun terrace, and even a private elevator, are reserved for occupants of privileged accommodations. So luxury on a Cunard ship is a relative experience and certainly more luxurious for some.
Top: Fine dining
Middle: Royal Court Theater
Bottom: Junior suite