Captain Ian McNaught is most often associated with the legendary Queen Elizabeth 2. He was the youngest Cunard captain ever to command her and was her last captain before she left Cunard in 2008. However, Captain McNaught has been with Cunard Line since 1987. During his career he served on other Cunard ships besides QE2 and was a witness to this transformational period in the 170 year history of the line. The flagship of Cunard Line during the last part of the 20th Century was QE2. “QE2 was a unique ship of the 60s, a spectacular ship, a fantastic ship with a huge following.” For most of the year during the period 1969 to 2004, she did transatlantic crossings interspersed with cruises out of New York or Southampton. Most winters, she did a world cruise of three months duration.
While QE2 was indisputably what kept Cunard alive during this period, there was also another side of Cunard that is often overlooked. On the premise that there was only enough demand for one ship to do regularly scheduled transatlantic crossings, Cunard moved to branch out into cruising. Its first foray bore no relation to Cunard’s traditional service or to QE2.
“The Countess, the Princess and the Adventurer - - they were real cruise ships. They were very small ships that made no claims whatsoever to be luxurious in any way shape or form. They were, in their day, the British package holiday at sea. That was their purpose and they were fun ships. People went there and had a fun time. They were fairly inexpensive holidays. It got people into cruising and after that, a lot of those people said ‘Oh, I’m going to go and try the QE2’ It got the younger market into cruising. So, they served their purpose very well. And here we are 2009, and the Cunard Countess and the Cunard Princess are still going in their respective areas. Yes, with different funnel colors on but there they are, they are still going around. Good little ships.”
At the other end of the spectrum were two yacht-like ships, the Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II. “They were wonderful, super little ships. One hundred passengers, 94 crew, the level of service was amazing. I think what made them popular was they were very relaxed ships. We didn’t have Bingo at three o’clock and you didn’t have bridge sessions and all this sort of thing. It was a very relaxed, easy-going sort of product for very wealthy people who basically wanted to come and switch off for a week and just chill out for a week.”
“Very high quality service, very high quality food - - if you wanted to have caviar and chips at three o’clock in the morning, you could have caviar and chips at three o’clock in the morning. It was that sort of market. It was an all-inclusive product so people never came on and worried about paying for things - - it took that undignified experience away, you never had to sign a check. You just came on and relaxed and enjoyed the product.”
“We spent the summer working out of Monte Carlo, St. Tropez, the little Greek islands that the big ships can’t go to. Everywhere you went, you felt quite exclusive. In the winter months, when I was on Sea Goddess II, we used to go out through Suez, out through all the little islands in the Indian Ocean, down through Java and then we spent our winter working up and down the Australian bite into the Great Barrier Reef. In a little ship, just 99 meters long, you could go to some places that are just out of this world where nobody else can go.”
“It was a very relaxed product, a very unique product and I really enjoyed. Of course, those ships are still going in the shape of Seadream I and Sea Dream II - - still being very successful.”
While the individual component parts of Cunard were good, there was no unifying theme or concept underlying the brand. “When you think about it, we had: NAL [i.e. Norwegian American Line] in the shape of the Vistafjord Above: Sea Dream I, the former Sea Goddess I. Cunard Countess and the Sagafjord; then we had QE2; then we had the two little Sea Goddesses; [the various mass market cruise ships] and then of course, the Royal Viking Sun came along, so we had this very eclectic group of ships.”
At the same time, there were a series of management changes that resulted in the line moving in one direction one year and then reversing course shortly thereafter. “I think for many years, to be honest, that ship [i. e, QE2] sailed because of the crew onboard and despite the management.”
In 1998, it was announced that Cunard was being purchased by Carnival Corporation, which had had its early roots in the mass market end of the industry. “I remember when Carnival came along, there were a lot of people who said ‘oh, this is the end’ but actually, Carnival coming along was the best thing that ever happened to us because it re-focused the product. Here, we are now, we had QE2, then Queen Mary 2 came along as the new transatlantic superliner, and here we are now with Queen Victoria and a sister ship coming along, Queen Elizabeth. The product is very focused now. You step on a Cunard ship and you know exactly what you are going to get. So, I think Carnival coming along, having the right vision for us from [Carnival CEO] Micky Arison and through Pam Conover [the first President of Cunard after the acquisition] was one of the best things that ever happened to us in Cunard, definitely. The proof of it is here, we are sitting in it [referring to his current command, Queen Victoria]. It has worked so we have a lot to thank Micky Arison and Pam Conover for I think for sewing the seeds and setting it all off.”
Today, Cunard Line is within the management structure of Carnival U.K. under the overall Carnival Corporation umbrella. Sharing this structure with Cunard is sister company, P&O Cruises. Captain McNaught has also commanded P&O's Artemis. “They like us, have a very long history and a very huge sense of tradition. But, of course, their market and from day one was very different than our market from day one. They were providing a service to take [British people] out to the Far East and eventually out to Australia. Their route and their type of passenger carry required a different type of service to our service which was predominantly a transatlantic service.”
“Very different beasts doing very different jobs Cunard did one job and they did it very well, catering very much to an international market, predominantly British and American, and providing a means of transport from getting from A to B. The P&O fleet provided a means of transport for military, civil service type people, business people who were working out on that route out to Australia. Then, after World War II, in the 50s and into the 60s, they provided carriage for British emigrants who were going out to Australia and New Zealand. As those days changed they sort of moved into the cruise market, if you like. If you look through the history, you see the nature of their ships change to provide those different types of services.”
“But they have kept their traditions such as the Pakistani and Indian crew that they have onboard. Their uniforms are different than ours. All these little things are defined by tradition. When you look around the décor in their ships, it is a very different décor than the type of décor that we have. So, all those traditions are still there and quite rightly so. As we are they should be very proud of their heritage and what has given us the wherewithal to make us what we are today.” Both lines remain distinctly British. But because of the difference in heritage, with P&O have served predominantly British passengers over the years and Cunard having served a mix of international passengers, the style of each line is different. “You look at the way their ships are decorated and laid out, it is very much British for the British whereas this is international Britain if you like.”
Captain McNaught sees Carnival U.K. maintaining the distinction between the two lines. “P&O and Cunard, although they are under the same management umbrella will still carry very different identities. The identity of the ships will be very different because Cunard is one product and P&O is another product and they want to keep that difference because that does sell better” inasmuch as the two lines appeal to different segments of the market. “They are covering the whole of the UK market within the Carnival UK brand.”
Cruise ship intervew - - Historic Ships (Originally Cunard)- - Queen Elizabeth 2 - - Captain Ian McNaught