As Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 sailed out of New York harbor Saturday en route to Southampton, she was feted in grand style, in honor of the 10th anniversary of her launch.
Onboard was the ship’s first captain, Commodore Ron Warwick, and one of its designers, Stephen Payne. During the trans-Atlantic crossing, they’ll lecture onboard and mingle with guests.
Cunard is renowned for special events with its “Queens.” Marni Becker, director of cruise sales, Protravel International (www.protravelinc.com) sailed on QM2 during October 2008 as the ship sailed in tandem with QE2. “It made the experience both exciting and poignant,” says Becker.
Why do people sail on QM2? “Most clients sail on the QM2 to say they’ve done it,” Becker says. “With the history that Cunard has for transatlantic service it’s something one says they have to do.”
And she says when they do sail, often they're hooked. From her own cruise, “I personally liked the excuse to get dressed up almost every night,” she notes, adding that “while that can be tiresome on any other voyage, on a transatlantic sailing it’s all part of the glamour and history.”
Her favorite part of the ship was Illuminations, the planetarium. “No one else has this,” Becker emphasizes. In addition, “the Golden Lion Pub is a great place to hang out during the day and grab some fabulous fish and chips, and there is also nothing like having English tea in the Queen’s Room.”
Prior to sailing, Becker was definitely concerned about being bored, but the reality of the cruise experience was far different. “Between Illuminations, the lectures, tea time and just talking with my fellow cruisers, I was never bored," Becker notes. "I brought four books with me and never read one.”
As a sales director for a major agency group, she’s often asked what clients are best for a transatlantic. In her mind, it’s a good trip for everyone -- families, family reunions, couples wanting to fulfill that bucket list item and people just needing to get to Europe but preferring not to fly. She also cites having a Canyon Ranch Spa onboard and a well-equipped gym as pluses.
Interestingly, while Cunard is a major oceangoing line, Becker views it also as a niche line. Why? “No other cruise line has the history that this line has and everything aboard is imbued with this history,” Becker notes. “It’s a step back in time.” Yet, she says people can still sail in some of the finest accommodations at sea.
In addition, those who sail on QM2 generally “don’t stop,” Becker says. “It usually gives the agent an opportunity to cross sell on the Queen Elizabeth or Queen Victoria for another cruise to other ports than what the QM2 normally services."
Travel Agent's Susan Young is onboard the ship today and sends these initial original shots of the ship's spaces. She'll have future coverage about the ship as well.
Another agent who has both “sold” and “sailed on” QM2 is Eileen O'Donnell Schlichting, president, Transatlantic Travel (www.transatlantic.travel), an affiliate of Travel Experts, Gaithersburg, MD. She finds the suites easier to sell than regular cabins because of the butler service and single seat fine dining in the Queens Grill and Princess Grill. In addition, “afternoon tea in the lounges is divine,” she says.
Schlichting's clients who sail on QM2 are typically drawn by the one-of-a-kind ocean experience. She describes that as traveling in a classic style, unrushed and with excellent service, first-rate entertainment, fine cuisine and so on. Another hook is to point out to clients that they’re crossing the Atlantic in the only true ocean liner afloat; the ship was purpose-built for the Atlantic crossing.
Her clients also like dressing up in the evening, they like the relaxation of afternoon tea, and make use of the classes and lecturers onboard. Many are celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary. Some are relocating to Europe for awhile and bring their pets and extensive baggage.
“Travelers who hate to fly can be transported in style, and fans of Downton Abbey can find out what it’s like to have their own butler for a week,” Schlichting says, adding that maritime buffs appreciate the ship’s iconic design and power.
Her husband is one of those; his passion is classic ocean liners. The duo thus sailed during Queen Mary 2's inaugural season, taking along their 11- and 13-year-old sons. “Everyone had a blast,” she says. Like Becker, she acknowledges: “I was the stereotypical first-time traveler on the Queen Mary 2 – I brought along a stack of books that I never opened because there were so many wonderful activities onboard.”
She points to a poetry class she took with Billy Collins as the experience of a lifetime. “My husband and I love to dance, so we took daily dance classes and tried out new steps in the evening. He brought his tuxedo and we dressed up at night – I felt as though I was in a Cary Grant movie with a Cole Porter score.”
On a transatlantic, rather than a port-a-day itinerary, “we developed our own routine – activities during the day, then afternoon tea, followed by time in the thalassotherapy spa, then dressing for dinner, dinner, a show and dancing,” Schlichting says.
What do people not understand about the ship? She says few people understand it's multi-faceted with a wealth of activities onboard for all ages. “The Queen Mary 2 is one of the few ships that caters to children one year plus, with night nursery for tots between 1 and 2, activities for ages 2-17, and a special children’s dinner.” She also says pets travel in style, as the ship has 12 kennels.
“The QM2 also has great appeal for LGBT travelers who come onboard looking for a classic travel experience, and enjoy meeting others at the Friends of Dorothy gatherings,” she notes.
Like Becker, she says the biggest misperception is that there is nothing to do onboard, when she says her own experience showed it’s just the opposite. And because guests are onboard for a week, she feels it’s more a more social aura than a traditional cruise with port calls in the Caribbean or Europe.
Schlicting points to these types of clients as good potential prospects:
- Well-read, avid travelers.
- People who want to relax and unwind.
- Those celebrating a honeymoon, anniversary, birthday or family celebration.
- Travelers beginning a European journey who may not want to fly over the pond.
- Special interest cruisers such as book club members, avid sailors, or lovers of old movies.
- Fashion buffs and people who like dressing up.
- Busy parents who rarely have a moment to relax with their kids
- Fitness enthusiasts and spa goers
- Theater buffs who will likely enjoy the theatrical performances as well as classes with the RADA students.
- And for ballroom dance fans, devoted pet owners, and, according to Schlicting, “anyone who would love to feel that they are in a wonderful cocoon of style and glamour.”
All that said, “I think the key is being able to really explain the lure of a transatlantic crossing,” she stresses. “For me, sailing out of New York harbor was a powerful emotional experience.”
Both Schlicting and her husband both have relatives who emigrated from other countries, arriving into the U.S. on ships. “It was moving to think of their journeys, and what it must have been like for them to finally arrive in New York, to see the Statue of Liberty and to begin their new lives.”
From Schlicting's perspective: “A flight is transportation. An ocean crossing is an experience.. and there’s no jet lag.”