Captain Simon Love brings an upbeat approach to being captain of Cunard's Queen Elizabeth. His energetic announcements and his smiling face at passenger receptions show that he really enjoys his work. At the same time, he projects the confidence of a veteran mariner and business leader.
“I've had two careers at sea. I came to sea in 1977 and had 12 years then.” This period began with work on cargo vessels but shifted to passenger vessels including such legends of the P&O fleet as the Uganda and Canberra. He also spent two years with Princess Cruises, then a subsidiary of P&O, sailing on the original Pacific Princess, Island Princess and Sun Princess.
In 1987, Simon left the sea in order to focus on his family. He went to work for his family business, a timber and builders merchant firm in the southwest of England, which had been established in 1770. “For the 17 years, I had ashore, I was in senior management. We had a thousand employees and multiple sites.”
Although unforeseen at the time, this experience would later prove useful when Simon return to sea. “As the captain, you are the managing director of the ship. [My business experience] is quite useful as I understand the business side of the ship and the customer service side of it.”
His return to the sea came when his father, who had been a captain for P&O, took the family on a cruise to mark his retirement. On the ship, Simon encountered an officer who he had know from his time with P&O and he suggested that Simon consider returning.
“Things were changing in the office, change of directors. My kids at that time were teenagers. I had been at home while they were growing. I said why not?”
This decision brought Simon into Carnival UK, which now manages both of the traditional rivals P&O Cruises and Cunard. At first, Simon worked on P&O ships but for the last six years, he has worked for Cunard as an officer on all three Queens.
“When you have grown up with P&O and you have a father who worked only for P&O , I suppose you could say that my heart is with P&O. But my heart has been stretched the other way now that I work with Cunard. I think my father would be quite pleased if he knew that I was here because I think Cunard is very much what P&O used to be, the mixture of people, where they go and how they treat people.”
Simon was promoted to captain in 2018 and took command of the Queen Victoria. He then moved to the Queen Elizabeth in time for her sojourn in the Pacific, sailing out of Australia and Japan.
“I am very proud to be in charge of this ship. It is the people under me who are making it happen. There is a good senior team on here at the moment and that is part of what it takes to run a ship properly.”
Another part of what it takes is the morale of the crew. “I am quite impressed with the ship's company. I love working with the ship's company. To my mind it is all about making them feel that they are able to talk to senior people. I have meetings with every single person on the ship in small groups. You get a feel for what people are doing. I don't ask questions back, I just update them and thank them. I do believe we have a very happy ship at the moment.”
This is so even though Queen Elizabeth's schedule places great demands on the crew. In contrast to cruise ships that sail the same itinerary week after week, this year Queen Elizabeth has done cruises in Australia, Japan, Alaska, the Caribbean, the United States, and the U.K. Different cultures have different expectations and ideas about service “They have had great challenges on this ship, dealing with different cultures. Dealing with the Australians and New Zealanders is different than dealing with the Japanese, which is different than dealing with Europeans and Americans.”
The Cunard Difference
Having worked on other ships for other lines, Captain Love is very much aware that Queen Elizabeth is not just another cruise ship. Dignitaries come to visit and people come down just to look at her when she is in port because she is a Cunard ship - - the heir to almost two centuries of history and a worldwide reputation for elegance.
“Knowing that we have a lot of people looking at us all the time, we try to keep it at its best. I feel that I am on a smart ship and I want it to look smart. [But] steelwork and sea water don't mix. You'll see our deck crew around all the time catching [rust spots], chipping and re-painting. [While limited by environmental restrictions and weather conditions], we keep the ship looking as good as we can.”
It is inside, however, where Queen Elizabeth really shines. “You look through the atrium and the Queens Room, this is something you don't get on other ships. It is memorable and elegant. When you come aboard, it is there for you to see and feel. It lifts people when they come aboard.”
The international composition of the passengers is also something Captain Love sees as distinguishing Cunard. “One of the lovely things about working for Cunard is the mixed clientele we have. Everybody does talk to another nationality every day. That seems to calm everyone down a bit because you start to understand other people more. It does make a difference. If you have all the same nationality, people don't tend to do it as much.”
Like a growing number of modern cruise ships, Queen Elizabeth has separate luxury restaurants for guests staying in her suites. However, while such separate facilities are universally accepted without comment on other lines, some people shy away from Cunard because they fear that this arrangement is like the class segregation depicted in the Titanic movie.
“The Queens Grill, the Princess Grill [i.e. the suites' restaurants], yes we have special people up there but the people down below are also special. People look at Cunard from the outside and think 'I don't want to go to Cunard because they are too segregated.' But when you get here, you don't find that. The Grills are the best and you do feel the best. But you are still sharing the public rooms, still sharing the [experience]. Britannia Club and Britannia Restaurant are still stylish and you are not going to be disappointed if you come on this cruise as a Britannia Club or Britannia guest. You just get something more if you go [to the Grills].”
In 2020, Queen Elizabeth will be returning to the Pacific and will be staying there at least until 2022, again sailing to Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Alaska. It is unprecedented in modern times for a Cunard ship to be based so far away from the UK for such an extended period. Nonetheless, based on this year's experience, Captain Love is confident of Queen Elizabeth's success. “She will be the same Cunard ship with the same quality when she is out there that we see in Europe with much more different clientele aboard and quite different places to see.”
Cruise ship intervew - - Cunard Line - - Queen Elizabeth - - Captain Simon Love