Cunard’s Great Legacy; Iconic Ships & Remarkable Voyages – A 1st Hand Retrospective

by Vanessa Lee

Vanessa Lee in 1967 sailing on the original Queen Elizabeth

Vanessa aboard the Carmania, October 1967

Cunard’s 3 Queens saluted by the RAF Red Arrows

Cunard’s 3 Queens in Liverpool

Cunard’s 3 Queens Setting Sail

Carinthia Lounge

Verandah Restaurant

I discovered my love for ships and cruising at an early age and the ship that changed my life and world forever was Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth.

My Mother, who only “crossed” and never “flew” the Atlantic, took me, as a young teenager, from Southampton to New York on this storied ocean liner a year or so before she was retired from service. We were to spend several months in Canada with a stop along the way to see the Big Apple and meet up with friends.

After having “met” an equally famous Cunard ship, the 1st Queen Mary, in mid-Atlantic as we headed westward and she eastward,  the Masters each blasting their horns and all of us waving madly at each other, we then sailed in the early dawn into New York. Quietly gliding  under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, past the Statue of Liberty into a cacophony of sound, and the world literally opening up for me. The voyage had taken 5 short days but it had been one of the most impactful periods of my young life.

Several months later we sailed back to jolly old from Montreal up the St Lawrence Seaway and across the ocean on an 8 day crossing on the Cunard ship the Carmania. Both experiences, book-ending an idyllic summer in Canada, are still  fresh in my mind and the sense of  wonder at these 2 journeys changed me forever and set me on a course from which I have rarely strayed.  

I have since sailed on Cunard on many occasions, each one a remarkable and enjoyable time. The QE2 was the ship I sailed the most with at least 6 sailings over the years. She was a bit past her “best by” date towards the end but nevertheless dearly loved by all. I will always recall the journey in November 1992 when we hit gale force winds and 60 foot seas – glasses and plates dropping all over the place, furniture crashing and we were basically “locked”  inside the ship for over a day. That was a wild time but we kept drinking, had fun and many a tale to tell. And the ship was remarkable although a bit creaky at times! I had a few fabulously funny stories to tell  from exchanges with our suite butlers – one of whom popped into my bathroom to deliver me a vodka tonic when I was actually in my bathtub (but with a few bubbles to cover the naughty bits!)

And of course I adore the Queen Mary 2 and was fortunate enough to be at her christening in Southampton in January 2004 in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. That was a culmination moment for sure, one worthy of a few tears and many goosebumps particularly when the Queen’s own Piper played Amazing Grace from the top forward deck.

And, in a way, to revisit my first crossing, I also sailed on Queen Mary 2’s first eastbound crossing in April 2004 when, in tandem with the QE2, we sailed out of New York, to much fanfare and many fireworks and made our way to Southampton. At all times, day and night, the 2 ships sailed side by side on this unforgettable journey. Truly another remarkable life experience for me.

And who would have thought, back in the 90’s when Cunard had the 2 Sea Goddess yachts,  the Cunard Princess and Countess, the Sagafjord and Vistafjord and the QE2, that they would sail forth into a whole new Cunard world of 3 utterly stunning ocean liners with Queen Victoria and the 3rd Queen Elizabeth joining their big sister, the fleet’s flagship, QM2. What an amazing journey.

And now, with Rick Meadows at the helm of Cunard Line, the 3 liners continue to enjoy a remarkable resurgence of the “Golden Age of Travel” and in 2015 helped Cunard celebrate its 175th anniversary. Another impressive achievement for a cruise line in this era.  

So the Queen Mary 2 – at 12 now – is being “remastered” and is evolving to ensure today’s audience, who may be 1st time Cunard guests, are experiencing a truly wonderful time at sea on any kind of Cunard voyage. In May and June of this year, the ship will undergo a multimillion dollar refurbishment and come out better than ever no doubt.

The launch of the Verandah, a new signature restaurant on QM2 is a contemporary dining experience offering French cuisine. Already on the other 2 ships, the Verandah will replace the Todd English Restaurant on QM2 and will reflect regional French food with seasonal influences. This space was always a favourite of mine and will continue to offer lunch and dinner for a surcharge but be remodeled after the iconic Verandah restaurants on the early ocean liners.

Then the Wintergarden will be replaced by the Carinthia Lounge which is described as a “stylish new space” which will offer an elegant and versatile setting during the day and into the evening. Light breakfasts and lunches will be served, along with afternoon tea (of course!) and then light bites and cocktails in the evening. I always felt the Wintergarden was underused so think this change will be an enhancement for guests.

Cunard is also very sensibly adding 15 new staterooms for single travellers as well as 30 additional balcony staterooms in the Britannia Club category. This also offers guests who sail in these accommodations, the option of open-seating dining in the dedicated Britannia Club restaurant. This spot, along with the Grill restaurants – Princess and Queens, are the perfect locations for superb cuisine and above and beyond service. I have sailed in Queens Grill on a number of occasions and adore it. This is the way to travel and if it can be afforded then by all means suggest it.

And in fact Cunard has an “ultimate upgrade” offer about to expire on February 29th which offers, for new bookings, a series of upgrades from Britannia to Princess and Princess to Queens along with free gratuities for 2 guests, free drinks in the Grill Suites and more for certain 2016 itineraries. Certainly worth checking out. And hopefully I will soon have the opportunity to check out the remastered QM2 and continue my lengthy and wonderful relationship with this remarkable brand.

Be sure to check out a couple of Cunard’s new video’s - TheButlers of Cunard and TheGrills.

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