Does Cunard require an introduction? The line has an illustrious history of operating express liner services between the UK and the Americas aboard ships like the Queen Mary and the original Queen Elizabeth. As airlines undermined the business of ocean liners, Cunard launched the QE2 in 1969 to operate both express service to New York and cruises.
Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s Cunard, under a variety of owners, operated QE2 alongside a motley selection of other cruise ships, varying dramatically in style and quality, until the business was bought by Carnival in 1998.
Carnival’s investment saw a complete replacement of the Cunard fleet with three new vessels - this is where some people become a bit sniffy.
The first new ship for Cunard was the Queen Mary 2, purpose-built to continue express service across the inhospitable seas of the North Atlantic. At launch, she was the first true ocean liner built in decades, the largest passenger ship afloat and cost Carnival Corporation a fortune.
There is, however, a limited market for week-long crossings between Southampton and New York, more than adequately served by a single ship. Therefore, the next two ships built for Cunard were based on Carnival’s “Vista Class” cruise platform - ideally suited to their roles shuffling around the Mediterranean, Caribbean and East Asia.
Purists are not amused. Online, all bemoan Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth for being “cruise ships pretending to be ocean liners”. I’m not sure what that means, neither are offering any sort of liner service, they are cruising. The interiors do lean towards art deco and reference illustrious predecessors (see above), but this is just the house style, or brand positioning, of Cunard within the Carnival group. Yes, personally, I’d prefer to see the modernist style that QE2 launched with (below), but it’s clearly not what the target market want and, frankly, I’m glad to see at least some notion of identity - it avoids the cavalcade of cheap horrors that is P&O - a railway pub on one floor and a Tuscan village above.
Today, Cunard offers semi-regular service between Southampton and New York aboard the Queen Mary 2, as well as a wide variety of cruises aboard Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2. All three ships complete an annual World Cruise, or Grand Voyage, but also offer short holidays, even 2 and three night sailings from Southampton.
It should be noted that Cunard has always maintained some semblance of class distinction on its ships, something that’s now being re-introduced by other lines as, increasingly, “suites class” guests enjoy access to dedicated restaurants and pool areas. On Cunard, “Grills Class” passengers have dedicated restaurants and a private deck area. Some cabins are also designated as “Britannia Club” and come with seating in a smaller dining room - everyone else uses the cavernous Britannia main dining room.