Arguably the most formal and quintessentially British of any cruise line, Cunard proudly holds its heritage high – even though its founder Samuel Cunard was Canadian and the line is now American-owned.
Yet, from the smartly painted black hulls and distinctive red funnels to elegant interiors that include impressively expansive libraries complete with requisite hush, there is no escaping the genteel air on its three – soon to be four – classically-styled ships.
This is where afternoon tea is served by white-gloved waiters each afternoon to the lilting accompaniment of classical musicians; where gala black-tie dinners are lavish affairs with passengers revelling in the glamour of dressing up in their finery; and where at midday the traditional toll of the bell heralds the daily progress report delivered in the perfectly clipped vowels of the ship’s captain.
Such time-honoured traditions perfectly evoke the Golden Age of ocean travel that Cunard is renowned for.
Where does it cruise?
Cunard stands out for transatlantic crossings and world cruises that are the bedrock of its programme of departures from Southampton.
Its regular sailings between the UK and New York, linking the Old World with the New World, run virtually year-round; they take seven nights, or two weeks and up if you choose a voyage that also incorporates the Caribbean or New England and Canada.
The start of each year heralds the departure of its ships on world cruises, either traditional circumnavigations to Australia or long voyages featuring regions such as South America or Africa. Lasting from January to April, these can be booked in their entirety or as shorter sectors.
This summer and autumn sees Cunard ships sailing in the Mediterranean, with fly-cruises from Civitavecchia and Barcelona, and the Norwegian fjords. Queen Elizabeth will also be based in Alaska for departures from Vancouver between June and August.
Short-break cruises ranging from two to five nights to the likes of Hamburg, Rotterdam, Zeebrugge and Amsterdam also feature throughout the year.
Who does it appeal to?
Cunard ships carry a refined air and hints of a bygone age that attract more traditional sophisticates drawn by elegant surroundings and high-brow activities like its renowned series of lectures by distinguished speakers.
The Insights Enrichment programme features talks by explorers, historians, politicians and scientists – this year they include adventurer Bear Grylls and polar explorer Felicity Aston – while special Event Voyages focus on themes as diverse as the Beatles and ballet.
Afternoon tea amid the grand surroundings of the ballroom-like Queens Room is something of an indulgent ritual and adds a sweet flourish to other diversions, ranging from theatrical productions and classical concerts to art classes and al-fresco fitness sessions on deck.
A key attraction on Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2 is the Planetarium, where guests lie back on reclining seats while 3D galactic-themed shows explode into life across the domed screen above them.
In addition to a regular line-up of cabins, the line is known for its expensive Queens Grill and Princess Grill suites which, with their own private restaurants, lounge and deck area, attract a moneyed crowd and keep the class system well and truly alive.
Yet you’ll find a mix of passengers aboard, from guests ticking off their bucket lists on round-the-world and transatlantic voyages to families with children of all ages as Cunard takes youngsters from six months upwards, catering for them with kids’ clubs and babysitting.
The ships attract mainly UK and US guests, particularly on transatlantic sailings. The cultural divide between these two nations becomes evident as the bright lights of the onboard casino draws American high-rollers, while Britons can be found propping up the bar in the Golden Lion Pub. Fish and chips with mushy peas, anyone?
The Cunard fleet
Queen Mary 2
Cunard’s stately flagship Queen Mary 2 is the world’s only ocean liner, built to withstand the capricious moods of the Atlantic and with a different look and feel to regular cruise ships. Upon its launch in 2003, it was the world’s largest ship and a spacious feel persists with sweeping decks, lofty walkways and grand lounges. A designated RMS (Royal Mail Ship), its grand Art Deco-styled interiors underpin the feeling of heritage and history that has attracted so many famous names to its passenger list over the years.
Named by the Queen Consort in December 2007 when she was Duchess of Cornwall, Queen Victoria shares Cunard’s elegant style, but with shades of Victoriana that come from the ship’s lavish chandeliers, grand staircase and sweeping atrium.
Its grand Royal Court Theatre, resplendent in red velvet, was the first at sea to have private boxes while other notable features include the Mediterranean-inspired Winter Garden lounge and a beautiful library on two levels, with its own spiral staircase.
Named by the late Queen in 2010, this ship has similar standout features and an expansive three-deck atrium with a centrepiece Art Deco marquetry mural designed by Lord Linley (now the Earl of Snowdon). The aristocratic ambience is heightened by gala evenings, afternoon tea and croquet on the garden-like games deck, while there’s al-fresco dining on deck or you can even splash out on an in-cabin champagne breakfast.
This upcoming ship looks to continue the genre of the Cunard Queens by blending traditional features with contemporary flavours. Due to join the fleet in May 2024, it will be the largest yet in terms of guest capacity and promises a greater choice of dining and entertainment venues. A new notable feature is The Pavilion, with a retractable glass-domed roof over the swimming pool, that transforms into an entertainment space with a large LED screen for open-air theatre, cinema screenings and live performances.
Only with Cunard
Fencing classes are held in the Queens Room on all three ships and acting workshops with the Royal Shakespeare Company are offered on the QM2.
24 kennels on the QM2 for transatlantic crossings that accommodate dogs and cats. The four-legged passengers even have their own deck area, decorated with a lamppost from the Cunard building in Liverpool and, in the interests of balance, a New York City fire hydrant.
Cunard bellboys in their smart scarlet and black uniforms, topped with distinctive pillbox hats and white gloves.
Three classic Cunard cruises to book now
A classic seven-night westbound transatlantic sailing from Southampton to New York on the QM2, departing September 4, costs from £819pp. Return flight not included.
A 14-night Mediterranean Highlights round-trip voyage from Southampton to Civitavecchia on QM2 departs June 9 and costs from £1,199pp. Stops include Barcelona, Marseille and Livorno.
A 107-night Full World Voyage on Queen Victoria, departing Southampton on January 11, 2024, and returning April 28, 2024, starts at £12,119pp, visiting the South Pacific, Australasia, Asia and South Africa.
See cunard.com or call 0344 338 8641.