In light of Queen Elizabeth’s upcoming arrival in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in April, 2014 when she will commence her 20-night voyage from Dubai to Portugal (part of her 2014 World Cruise), Cruise Arabia decided to undertake the second-best tour de force to a World Cruise aboard the Cunard flagship the Queen Mary 2: a Trans-Atlantic crossing.
Cunard Line is today the world’s most distinguished name in ocean travel, with a pedigree that dates back to the 1840s when Samuel Cunard initiated the first regular steamship service across the North Atlantic carrying British mail from the UK to North America. Through the late 19th century the line rose to benchmark prominence, before suffering a decline of fortunes in the second half of the 20th century when passenger shipping on the North Atlantic was superseded by airlines. Despite this, the launch of the Queen Elizabeth II (QE2) in 1969 secured Cunard’s reputation as the world’s last operator of ocean liners on the Atlantic, and indeed the QE2 became widely known as ‘the greatest ocean liner in the world’.
QE2 leads new flagship Queen Mary 2 to sea on final tandem Atlantic crossing
Cunard’s ships are legendary for their comfortable accommodations, excellent cuisine, and attentive, personalised service. In 1998 Cunard was purchased by Carnival Corporation, the largest cruise company in the world, and a large chunk of cash and know-how was injected into the line to ensure that it would be able to meet the demands of the modern cruise industry. The line’s current flagship and one of the largest passenger ships in the world, the Queen Mary 2, is testament to Carnival’s plans for this renowned British line, as are the exciting new ships that have been launched in recent years, such as the Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth. While many cruise traditionalists decry the oh-so modern top-heavy apartment block-style exteriors of these new ships, it is what the modern cruise passenger demands – ocean views and balconies are in, cabins in the hull with a porthole are out.
With Queen Mary 2 Cunard have struck a delicate balance between ocean liner and cruise ship
However, Cunard has remained true to its roots with the Queen Mary 2, a true ocean liner, and the cruise line remains the only shipping line in the world with a regular passenger service across the North Atlantic. The Queen Mary 2 was therefore a natural choice for Cruise Arabia when we decided to embark on a journey back in time into the golden age of travel. A few thoughts: entertainment aboard the Queen Mary 2, and indeed all the Cunard liners, has a decidedly English flare, with nightly production shows, cabarets and even plays. An authentic pub gives the liners an even more British atmosphere (the ‘public house’ after all, remains a focal point in the British social scene), while music for dancing and listening is played in other bars and lounges. In Queen Mary 2’s shipboard planetarium, the first of its kind at sea, high-tech presentations and virtual-reality shows offer a ride through space that will enthuse all who witness it, even a seasick wife who has never been particularly keen on joining her husband on voyages at sea.
Queen Mary 2 Grand Lobby
A Cunard cruise is not just a holiday, it is a once in a lifetime experience, and can also be used as an opportunity to enrich one’s life in a multitude of ways. Attending one of the many lectures on a range of interesting topics in the mid-afternoon and watching the ragged North Atlantic (tempestuous on this afternoon with white spray being lashed from the top of each swell by a shrieking gale) I was reminded of the quote on good living: that the greatest luxury in the world is space and time. On a trans-Atlantic cruise with Cunard there is both and filling my time with lectures by experts in their fields, including top designers, master chefs, and artists, proved highly rewarding. At sea aboard a Cunard liner, even seamanship and navigation courses are offered. The Cunard website lists the various courses available for those wishing to partake in them, but it should be noted that these seamanship programs are better suited to a longer cruise than an Atlantic crossing.
Ballroom aboard Queen Mary 2
Two daily traditions that all will no doubt find particularly delightful are afternoon tea and the tradition of sounding the ship’s bell at noon – a practice that dates back to the Royal Navy of the 19th century when noon marked the start of the new day, rather than midnight. Cunard Line is famous for operating North Atlantic crossings, but also offers shorter seasonal cruises and world cruises that can be divided into shorter segments, allowing one to cruise for ten days to two weeks in a certain region, from the Middle East, to Asia, the Baltic and the Caribbean. As a final note, it should be noted that, just as Cunard Line is steeped in tradition and a respect for its history, so to are its ships and the atmosphere aboard them, therefore this line is not suitable for those who prefer a casual, laid-back cruise experience as smart casual and formal attire are usually the expected dress code aboard all three ships. Similarly, in a subtle reference to the three-class passenger ships of yesteryear, Cunard maintains a system whereby passengers booked in certain cabin categories can only eat in certain restaurants, which many American cruisers find offensive.
Cunard does things its own way though. It takes a certain ‘swim against the tide’ attitude to launch the world’s great ocean liner at massive expense in the midst of an economic downturn and the British labour unrest of the 1960s, while also knowing full well that the airline industry is making passenger travel by ship on the Atlantic unfeasible. Yes despite these setbacks the QE2 became the most famous ship in the world. You have to set aboard a Cunard liner, and undertake this historic Atlantic crossing yourself to understand why.