Cunard Line

Company Overview: Nearly 100 years after its founding, Cunard Cruise Lines lent several of its ships for use as British troop carriers during World War II. No less than Winston Churchill credited them with shortening the war in Europe by a year, as they were able to transport 10,000 troops each trip -- unescorted -- because of their speed.

The company went into decline in the 1960s, after more and more travelers opted to cross the Atlantic quickly, by jet, rather than elegantly and very much more slowly, by ocean liner - but not before its name had become synonymous with elegant transatlantic crossings, and not before the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, and Caronia, the line's first purpose-built cruise ship, had become the most famous vessels of their times.

By 1998, Cunard had been bought by the wealthy Carnival Corporation, and made part of its Seabourn Cruise Line division. As such, the line's ships either underwent extensive refurbishment or got sold. More recently, Cunard and Seabourn parted paths, and Carnival Corp decreed that Cunard should join forces with Princess Cruises based in California. This move actually made sense as Princess was formerly (before Carnival bought them) part of another esteemed British Shipping company, P&O LTD. Now P&O and Cunard are under the same umbrella, but in California.

Cunard's new flagship, the Queen Mary 2, christened by Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (or Her Maj, as she's known to her subjects) and launched in January 2004, emphatically restores much of the line's reputation. At $800 million, she was the most expensive vessel ever constructed, and, at 148,000 tons and 1,132 feet, she was the largest and longest for at least awhile. Despite her enormousness, QM 2 carries only 2,620 passengers and a crew of 1,300.

Her various passenger accommodations are large (between 194 to 5,000 square feet), her balconies numerous -- three-quarters of outside staterooms have one. The decor is exactly as you'd wish on a great liner -- sweeping staircases, domed public rooms, the largest grand ballroom at sea, the first planetarium at sea, lots of Cunard memorabilia, five swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), and a 360-degree Promenade Deck. To be fair, there are also such glaring anomalies as a long corridor of Art Deco wall panels made, quite unapologetically, of…plastic.

There are many elegant bars and showrooms, a two-story theatre, a casino, boutiques, the only Canyon Ranch Spa Club at sea, a pet kennel, and a children's facility overseen by bona fide British nannies. There are no fewer than 10 dining venues, including the first shipboard restaurant to bear the imprimatur of celebrity chef Todd English.

The 85,000-ton, 1,968-passenger Queen Victoria joined the fleet in December, 2007, and is geared to British tastes, the onboard currency sterling. Exterior elevators on both sides of the vessel provide panoramic sea views for 10 decks. A wide range of spacious accommodation categories will include about 85 percent with an ocean view, and two-thirds of those will have a balcony. As QM 2, Queen Victoria has both a Queen's Grill and a Princess Grill, as well as the Britannia Restaurant for the majority of the guests.

The Cunard Experience: The new QM2 has been designed to provide luxurious transatlantic crossings on the fastest passenger vessel afloat. As the first Cunard ship designed more for cruising than traditional transatlantic travel, the Queen Victoria boasts an appealing, intimate atmosphere, although still very British. On both ships, in keeping with the early 20th century tradition of two-class passenger status on ocean liners, those in higher categories dine in restaurants closed to passengers in regular stateroom categories, little realizing that the food is virtually identical but for the fact that the posh Grills commonly offer an additional entree. And the best food on the ship is in the signature Todd English restaurant, open to all by reservation.

Fellow Passengers: The lines former flagship, QE II, just left service is May, 2008. Still, the guests on the newer ships still enjoy the stateliness of an older "Liner-style" cruise ship. Queen Mary 2's transatlantic passengers are usually experienced cruisers who want to try a transatlantic voyage, and the occasional person who just doesn't like to fly.

Shore Excursions: Excursions are fairly priced, even on the world cruise (which is available is segments). There are plenty of coach tours for the more senior folks.

Past Passenger Program: Cunard's "World Club" members accumulate points just as frequent flyers do. Benefits include onboard "Repeater's Parties" occasional shipboard credit and 25% savings off brochure rates.

Taking The Kids: QE2 and QM2 boast have full nurseries with cinematic British nannies, managed children's activities, and baby sitting. These are the only ships where you can take not only the kids, but the dog, too! Onboard kennels are available.

Theme Cruises & Special Programs: QM2's program known as Cunard ConneXions, focuses on foreign languages, wine appreciation, culinary, photography, filmmaking and even explaining British comedy. Classes are presented in QM2's planetarium. "Oxford Discovery" classes are offered in partnership with the famous university. Frustrated or aspiring hams can attend acting workshops with students from Britain's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Tipping: Gratuities are automatically charged to your shipboard account for dining room waiter, cabin steward, and other personnel. The per person (including children) per day rates are $13 for Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2 accommodation with Grill dining, $11 for QE2 and QM2 passengers who dine in the restaurants. Talk to the front desk about adjustments.

A 15% gratuity is automatically added to your bar or salon services. Award other gratuities as you deem appropriate.

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