Hotel General Manager Naomi McFerran began her career working in a five-star hotel in her native Northern Ireland. A lifelong desire to go to sea led her to join P&O Cruises. She rose through the ranks working both on ships and in the company's shoreside office. Along the way, she completed a Master of Business Administration degree. Eventually, she accepted an offer to join Cunard where she heads the largest department aboard the Queen Elizabeth.
The Cunard cruise experience
The Hotel General Manager is in charge of most of the things that affect a passenger's cruise experience - - the dining, the accommodations, the activities and entertainment. Therefore, we asked Ms. McFerran to discuss the type of cruise experience that guests have on the Queen Elizabeth.
“When you come with us, it is like staying in a world class hotel. You don't have to worry that [things are] going to be slightly off; everything is going to be as it should be to a high standard.”
“The single most important reason that people go on a Cunard voyage is the service. And I believe that is what separates us from anyone else. I always feel we can have the most beautiful ships - - which we do - - but the icing on the cake is really our staff and how they make our guests feel.”
The staff is able to make the gusts feel special because the staff feels special. “Our staff take a great deal of pride in what they do. Whether they are very long serving or whether they have only been with the company a short time, in terms of the [cruise] industry, they know they have arrived.”
“You are only ever as good as your team. You have to trust and have confidence that the people are going to be charming, they are going to have flair in what they do and [give them] the freedom to be slightly creative and entertaining to the guests and be able to take pride in what they do.”
Although Cunard is part of Carnival Corporation, it is still managed from the U.K. This invites comparison to Carnival's other British-based line P&O Cruises. Having worked for both Cunard and P&O Cruises, we asked Ms. Ferran to give her impression of the difference between the two lines.
Coming from P&O Cruises' Aurora, which was almost all British passengers, to Cunard's Queen Victoria, Ms. McFerran was struck by “the nationality mix. For me this lent a slight air of sophistication, it was not just one group of people - - it was a mixture of Australians, Canadians, Americans and Japanese. [At] the Welcome Party at the beginning of a sector on the world voyage, you have Japanese kimonos, you've got Scottish Highland dress. I just remember thinking this is just a totally different experience. It just brings a different mixture of guests, a different cultural experience with different interests and therefore, what we are presenting to the guests reflects that in terms of the entertainment offering, the different languages you hear around the ship.“
“Of course, Cunard does have a slightly more formal air to it. That is something that guests really feel strongly about that we maintain. I think it is one of the things that sets us apart. As other lines become more casual, we will try and maintain [the formality]. Where do you get the opportunity to dress up anymore? This is one of the few things left where you can go all out.”
Yet, in the summer of 2018, Cunard changed its dress code. While the requirements did not change, the term “formal” was replaced with “gala” and “informal” was replaced with “smart attire.” This was not meant, however to be a sign that Cunard is weakening in its commitment to formality.
“One of the things that [Cunard] understood from the feedback [it receives from guests] was that guests would like to have their holiday on their own terms. They want a feeling of freedom when they are here and although we want to maintain the formality and we will never lose that, the terminology we use is quite key. For someone who has never been on a Cunard ship before, the word formal has connotations. Gala is a more abstract word where you are not dictating what you must wear.”
In 2019, Queen Elizabeth will depart from her past schedule and explore some new waters. “Queen Elizabeth has an interesting journey ahead We are starting to move further afield Next year, for example, we are going to be spending more time in Australia and in Asia and Japan and then Alaska, which is a very new thing for us. Cunard has not been going to Alaska for a long time.”
Before embarking on this journey, the ship will undergo a refit in November 2018. “There will be quite a lot of overhauling of the public spaces, furnishings, fittings. Nothing major, major.. Hopefully, she will come out looking beautiful. Also, we are re-positioning to Alaska and so one also has technical things that they have to be mindful of because of the environmental constraints when we are out there. Exciting times for this ship.”
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Cruise ship intervew - - Cunard Line - - Queen Elizabeth - - Hotel General Manager Naomi McFerran