We take an in-depth look at the luxury line that has been crossing the Atlantic since 1840
Cunard has been carrying guests across the Atlantic since July 1840 when its first ship, Britannia, set sail from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia. But even as commercial airlines turned the journey from days to hours, Cunard has maintained an unbroken link between the two continents for 176 years.
While much has changed since the ‘golden era’ of ocean liners, Cunard keeps one foot firmly in the past, from its décor to black-tie dress code and jazz-themed nights — even in an age when its luxury cruises serve destinations all over the world.
Here, Cunard’s own historian, Michael Gallagher, chats to cruise adviser about why the line’s past continues to inform its future.
Cruise Adviser: What sets Cunard apart from the pack?
Michael Gallagher: I do think the company has a unique history — it has been around for so long. Cunard has had such an impact on people’s lives over the century. The lives and aspirations of millions of people around the world have depended on Cunard since 1840, including the two and half million immigrants who went off to America for a new life. War records show that the company has answered the country’s call in every war from the Crimea all the way up to the first Gulf war. The ports of Liverpool and Boston and New York grew substantially because of Cunard, and it was a Cunard ship that rescued all the survivors from the Titanic. Also, since 1840, this transatlantic link between England and America has never broken.
Cunard has managed to retain a ‘golden era’ feel, but how important has its ability to adapt been?
We’ve had to adapt many times. The ships themselves are ocean liner in design, look and feel, although we’ve had to tweak the dress code over the years to appeal to a younger market. Everything changes; food changes, and the entertainment has had to change over the years. The fact that aeroplanes took over the transatlantic routes meant the company had to adapt to cruising. The company has changed according to circumstance and made those transitions ever so successfully [and at the same time innovated]. It was Cunard that invented the world cruise in 1972, Cunard cruised to Cuba in the 1920s; during prohibition we had booze cruises.
Tell us about Cunard’s transatlantic cruises.
The Atlantic is ours, really. No one else offers this regular transatlantic service, it’s seen as uniquely Cunard and it remains Cunard’s birthright. [The entertainment] is incredibly important and it’s what people come to expect, as well. That’s why we put an emphasis on our masquerade and Royal Ascot balls [among others]. Our signature ballroom on each of the ships is called the Queen’s Room, and has the biggest dancefloor at sea. There are still people who won’t fly across the Atlantic or people who want this a grand experience, a lot of people like the sea days. We get a lot of people who go from Southampton to New York and back, people who will only spend a few hours in New York. Others stay and come back much later or fly back.
Sailing into New York, it’s always first thing in the morning as the city is just coming alive. It’s unusual because for seven days you’ve been in this cocoon on a ship and haven’t had to deal with transport or the general hecticness of life, within an hour of leaving the ship, you can be in the middle of Times Square.
What does this year hold for 2016?
It’s very exciting year because we’re refurbishing the Queen Mary 2, we’re calling it Queen Mary 2 Remastered. We’re investing in the Cunard Grills and accommodation and several of the public rooms. Come June we will have a new Queen Mary 2 to be proud about – it is the world’s most famous ship.