There are cruise ships, and there’s Queen Mary 2—the only ocean liner in service today. Since being named by Queen Elizabeth in 2004, it has become the most famous passenger ship afloat. Queen Mary 2 draws crowds in every harbor. It is the largest, longest, tallest, widest, and most expensive ocean liner ever built, and the fastest passenger vessel sailing today.
That’s a lot of superlatives, but there are more. Queen Mary 2 houses the only seagoing planetarium and the largest dance floor, library, and wine cellar on the oceans. Plus, the only kennels—complete with a lamppost from Liverpool and a fire hydrant from New York City, so pets can feel at home no matter which side of the pond they’re from.
What’s more, Queen Mary 2 operates the only regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic liner service (typically Southampton-New York) and continues the legacy of world cruising that Cunard began in 1922. Think wooden deck chairs, bellmen in red uniforms and white gloves, afternoon tea, and the occasional grand ball with women in gowns and men in black tie. All live on, although the vessel really isn’t stuffy and formal. It draws a wide range of travelers, many celebrating special occasions.
This is no mere cruise ship. What makes Queen Mary 2 an ocean liner is great size, a thick hull, a deep draft (the distance from the waterline to the keel), a high freeboard (the distance from the waterline to the upper deck), and tremendous stability that all combine for superior sea-keeping. “No other passenger ship is as much at home on the North Atlantic as Queen Mary 2,” according to Stephen Payne, the British naval architect who was largely responsible for the liner’s overall design (and who received a knighthood for his service to the maritime sector).
THE NEW AND IMPROVED
Queen Mary 2 is in the news for just having emerged from a $132-million spruce-up, one of the biggest projects in Cunard’s 176-year history. We had the chance to see this “remastering” upon its arrival in New York a few weeks ago.
Some of the changes were inspired by the original Queen Mary, launched in 1936 during the art deco era. That vessel introduced the Verandah Grill, exclusively for first-class passengers. Cunard’s Verandah Grills were considered the most exclusive dining spots at sea, and they afforded extra privacy for celebrities like Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, and Elizabeth Taylor.
The new Verandah on Queen Mary 2, which replaced the Todd English restaurant, offers French regional cooking with seasonal influences and à la carte menu options. It’s open to passengers in any class, by reservation.
Ocean liners were distinguished for their different classes of service, a tradition Queen Mary 2 continues with its Grills. Travelers who book suites designated Princess Grill or Queens Grill dine in special restaurants, and these were restyled in the recent refurbishment with many more tables for two and subtle references to Cunard’s history, including muted tones and carpet designs inspired by the original Queen Mary. Accommodations like the upstairs-downstairs duplex suites were made more luscious with rich, new carpets and updated furnishings.
Plus, 30 Britannia Club balcony staterooms were added. These are larger rooms in prime locations, and passengers dine at the time of their choice in the single-seating Britannia Club Restaurant. For the first time, Queen Mary 2 offers accommodations for solo travelers. Fifteen staterooms were created for singles, including several with oversized round windows and window seat cushions.
In another change, the liner’s casual Winter Garden was transformed into the elegant Carinthia Lounge, after the name of a famous Cunard liner. The room now features a patisserie and afternoon tea service, accompanied by a harpist. Sir Samuel’s, the specialty coffee bar, gained a menu of fondues, ice-cream sundaes, and pastries, all made with Godiva chocolates.
Queen Mary 2’s already ample wine cellar was bulked up to offer more than 450 different wines and a collection of 46 vintage ports, each produced in a key year of Cunard’s history. One is from 1840, the year Sir Samuel Cunard began trans-Atlantic service with the steamship Britannia. The Commodore Club, overlooking the ship’s bow, gained a new cocktail menu with drinks themed after Cunard’s 12 knighted commodores.
And because of high demand for pets on trans-Atlantic crossings, Queen Mary 2 added a dozen more kennels.
Some things didn’t change. The liner still has spectacular planetarium shows, the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar, and the Golden Lion Pub, serving beers, ales, and pub fare like bangers ’n’ mash.
Anne Kalosh doesn’t count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she’s on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.