A transatlantic crossing is unlike a cruise and a transatlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2 is unlike a crossing on any other passenger ship. We asked David Shepard, Hotel Manager on QM2, to talk about what makes a crossing on QM2 unique.
A famous image
Queen Mary 2 is the world's most famous passenger ship. She is the heir to the style and tradition of a line of great ships including Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) and the original Queen Mary. She is an icon of luxury and elegance. This image creates a special aura and a framework for the voyage.
“Every day on here something occurs which is out of the ordinary and it is Queen Mary 2. [Cunard] is rich in heritage. At Cunard it is that tradition, elegance, the formality, the focus on dancing in the beautiful Queens Room, the string quartets, the dance bands, the pianist, the lovely floral arrangements around the ship, our White Star service, our white glove embarkation, the traditional afternoon tea is regal, unobtrusive service - - they are all key attributes with Cunard.”
However, along with this image comes added responsibility. “I think with the iconic-ness of Queen Mary 2, the expectation is very high. We attract hundreds of different people from all different backgrounds, expecting all different things. You have to be on top of the game every day, every minute of every day. One of the key things is never to become complacent, never to become blinkered. We always have to have our eyes open and be listening to our guests. It is meeting the demand, meeting the expectations moving forward.”
Handling the North Atlantic
Queen Mary 2 was specifically designed to cross the Atlantic, a vast and sometimes turbulent sea, and to do so safely and comfortably. Her hull has a deeper draft than most cruise ships, there is more steel in her hull and her superstructure, and her bow is designed to cut through the waves rather than bounce over them. She has more power and speed than cruise ships, which gives her more ability to handle storms when she cannot maneuver to avoid them.
“I think my most incredible moment on here was coming out of New York last year in Hurricane Sandy. Within 15 to 20 minutes of leaving we were in some rough seas - - 25 foot waves - - and we were doing 24 knots. She just cut through like a hot knife through butter. Some of the other ships around were doing three or four knots and really struggling.”
“In a storm like that you can appreciate what she was built and designed for. You know you are safe, in very, very safe hands - - gliding through 25 foot waves in gale force/hurricane winds. She handled it so well. People just couldn't believe it. All along Deck 2 and Deck 3, everybody was sitting at the windows with their cameras.”
Room for all
Queen Mary 2 is a big ship - - 151,400 gross tons. Indeed, she was the largest passenger ship when she entered service in 2004. However, whereas similar size cruise ships carry over 4,000 passengers, QM2 carries 2,618 passengers. Thus, there is much more space per passenger on QM2 which translates into less crowding and more privacy.
Something to do
A typical crossing on Queen Mary 2 is seven nights, non-stop across the Atlantic. The voyages go between New York City and Southampton, England without any port calls. (On some voyages, the ship goes on to Hamburg, Germany).
Travelers used to sea days on cruises are often skeptical about doing so many sea days in a row. But once again that was what QM2 was designed to do.
“On a cruise ship, it is the ports, visiting a port every day or every other day. It is a mode of transport for visiting a lot of different places. The transatlantic route is very different. People are coming for the onboard entertainment and the enrichment program and the facilities on the ship that they can enjoy.”
“We have a huge variety, we have a huge number of choices. The program we offer and the variety of topics and coverage we deliver, there is always something there for everybody. It is another key attribute to the Cunard brand.”
For example, on a recent crossing, Queen Mary 2 had visiting lecturers who spoke on Chinese foreign relations, the Arab world, ocean liner history, and U.K. intelligence and espionage. These speakers, were not people who had just read about these topics but rather published authors, ambassadors, and professors. In addition, Cunard has ongoing programs with the Royal Astronomical Society, the Julliard School of Jazz and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) who provide speakers and/or performers. There are also programs and events that may only be offered on one or two crossings such as a song/writing program or art classes with established artists such as Phillip Gray.
The ship has two large theaters. The forward one is a cinema and lecture hall that also houses the only planetarium at sea. The other theater is a Broadway/West End style theater which is the home of the ship's production cast as well as a venue for visiting entertainers and for the ship's troupe of actors from RADA.
Further aft is the ship's ballroom with the largest dance floor at sea. Each afternoon, this elegant room is the scene for white-glove afternoon tea. In the evenings, it is used for receptions and for formal balls.
Other facilities include a large, comfortable library overlooking the ship's bow, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a Canyon Ranch spa, a European-inspired casino, a series of up-market shops, a specialty restaurant developed by celebrity chef Todd English, as well as a variety of bars and lounges.
“I have never met anybody on a transatlantic crossing who hasn't had enough to do. Like minded people traveling together enjoying an appreciating the same things. Whether it is a classical concert, a lecture it just never stops.”
Although passengers on QM2 may have a common interest in things cultural and sophisticated, they are not homogenous in their backgrounds. Most guests are from the U.K., North America and Germany. However, “we carry over 30 different nationalities at times and 50 nationalities in the crew. We are very international, very cosmopolitan. We have a good mix of nationalities and a good international mix generally.”
Guests include average people on vacation as well as the rich and famous. “You never know who you have onboard as a guest. You come across some very interesting people. People from all walks of life. It may be the holiday that they saved 20 years - - the holiday of a lifetime or it may be their regular route to the U.S. from the U.K. or vice versa. The most famous person recently was George Bush senior.”
The Queen Mary 2 is more formal than most cruise ships. During the day, passengers wear typical cruise attire. However, in the evening the dress code echoes the elegance of the days when ocean liners were the only way to cross the Atlantic. On a seven day crossing, there are three formal nights where tuxedos (dinner jackets) and gowns are the norm. The remaining evenings are casual but that still means a jacket and collared shirt at dinner. Also, the dress code applies throughout the ship (except in the buffet restaurant) and thus includes the entertainment venues, bars and lounges as well as the main dining rooms and specialty restaurants.
“Formality is what people come for and come back time and time again and it is important to keep that in focus. Our loyal Cunard guests, I would say that is what they enjoy about Cunard.”
Cunard has, however, recently reduced the number of formal nights per voyage - - it used to be that every night except the first and the last night was formal. As noted above, the number of formal evenings has been reduced to three.
“As Mr. [Peter] Shanks [Cunard's Managing Director] said, we listened to our North American guests who don't like putting a tie on. When we focus on the international market, we have to listen as well as maintain some of the formality.”
The class question
Cunard has a reputation as having two class ships like the ocean liners of yesteryear. However, this reputation is erroneous. On Queen Mary 2, the guests staying in the top suites dine in the Queens Grill while guests in the smaller suites dine in the Princess Grill. One lounge is also set aside for guests staying in the suites. This is essentially the same arrangement as on cruise ships like Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Breakaway where the guests in the suites have their own exclusive restaurants and lounge. Other cruise ships give their suite guests exclusive access to one of their specialty restaurants for breakfast and lunch. No one would call those ships two class.
Indeed, unlike some cruise ships where there are sections of the theater set aside for the guests staying in the suites and/or priority access to entertainment venues for suite guests, the entertainment venues on Queen Mary 2 are open to all on a first come, first served basis.
Furthermore, there is nothing second class about the Britannia Restaurant where most guests dine. It is a grand and elegant room reminiscent of the great liners. The food is top quality and the service is attentive without being intrusive.
“ I am fortunate in that I have a strong team. People are here because they want to be here. People are passionate. People are proud to work onboard. We are here to deliver one thing and that is to build a series of memories for our guests to take away.”
Cruise ship interview - - Cunard Line - - Queen Mary 2 - - Hotel Manager David Shepard