What’s Next for Cunard’s New Ship, Fleet Renovation

Cunard Grand Lobby
For the first time in 20 years, Cunard will sail to Alaska in 2019 with Queen Elizabeth. Seen here is the ship’s Grand Lobby.

In 2022, Cunard Line will add another ship to its fleet, the 249th since its founding in 1839. Carrying up to 3,000 passengers, the 113,000-grt vessel will give the luxury brand a four-ship fleet for the first time since 1998. This will be Cunard’s first new vessel since Queen Elizabeth’s launch in 2010. 

“We’re seeing an incredible amount of demand for this new ship globally right now,” says Josh Leibowitz, senior vice president, Cunard, North America, and chief strategy office, Carnival Corporation, who believes the as-yet-to-be-named vessel will help the line both meet growing consumer demand and open new itineraries to far-flung destinations. 

Since Queen Mary 2 sails transatlantic much of the year, and the line’s other two ships, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, operate lengthy World Cruises during the first part of the year, “the fourth ship will provide better coverage where we can’t spend that much time,” says Leibowitz. Maritime sources say the new ship is expected to be a “stretched” version of Holland America Line’s Koningsdam, but not a copy. “We’ll leverage that platform but it’s actually a new version,” Leibowitz adds, noting that the stretch will allow the line to carve out space for the Queens Grill and Princess Grill spaces. 

To keep the existing fleet fresh, Cunard reinvested $172 million over the past two years to renovate both Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. The 2016 complete “remastering” of Queen Mary 2 involved everything from construction of new Britannia staterooms and updates to all staterooms and suites, as well as new soft goods, finishes and public spaces. Queen Victoria also was refurbished a few months ago. “The strategy has been to continue to invest to make the product distinctive,” emphasizes Leibowitz, who says Queen Elizabeth is set for a 2018 update. 

For the first time in 20 years, Cunard will sail to Alaska in 2019 with Queen Elizabeth. She’ll reposition from Tokyo to Vancouver with calls at Kodiak, Anchorage and Juneau, and then also sail four 10-night Alaska roundtrip voyages from Vancouver in May and June 2019. Cruises will comprise Inside Passage sailings, Alaska port visits and scenic cruising of Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord. Elsewhere, Cunard also will spend more time in Iceland, the Baltic, around the UK and on itineraries with such off-the-beaten-path calls as Bilbao, Spain. Among the line’s 2019 maiden calls are Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England; Leknes, Lofoten Islands, Norway; and Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland

Queens Grill Balmoral Suite

Queen Mary 2 was completely remastered in 2016. Seen here is the Queens Grill Balmoral Suite.

Queen Elizabeth sails a 14-night “British Isles” voyage roundtrip from Southampton on July 13, 2018. Calls include Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow, Scotland (from South Queensberry, Invergordon and Greenock, respectively); Dublin and Kilibegs, Ireland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Liverpool, England; and St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Separately, Queen Mary 2 sails a 14-night “Northern Atlantic Westbound Crossing and Iceland” voyage, departing July 14, 2019, from Southampton to New York, with calls at Liverpool; Reykjavik, Iceland; Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

While today’s Cunard fleet is young, the brand certainly isn’t. So how will it attract younger generations? Leibowitz doesn’t think Cunard needs to change a bit to attract Millennials and Generation Xers because he believes these travelers seek one-of-a-kind experiences, something his brand offers. “There is some unique aspect in dressing as a 1920s flapper,” he says, referring to the line’s onboard “Roaring 20s” party. “We celebrate the purpose of the travel and the purpose of improving your life through travel,” he says, noting that younger travelers seek activities that are both meaningful and unique. 

He also believes guests will continue to sail for Cunard’s luxury experience, sense of grandeur, gala events, expert speakers and “the ability to almost ‘take back time.’” Certainly, the transatlantic crossing (which no other line does in a “season” of sailings) is a throwback to the Golden Age of Cruising when celebrities and world leaders sailed the Atlantic in opulence. Today’s guests “feel” part of something grand, says Leibowitz: “It’s almost like you achieved something if you go.”  

Cruisers also won’t find water slides or basketball courts on Cunard’s ships, but they will find the Canyon Ranch SpaClub; a planetarium (on Queen Mary 2); a retro-cool afternoon tea (and other options, including champagne tea or “pubby” tea in the Golden Lion Pub); a fitness center; Wi-Fi and an onboard Internet center; Masquerade Ball; extensive library; and trendy “port tastings” in the Carinthia Lounge. There are also one-of-a-kind events, such as Cunard’s annual transatlantic Fashion Week cruise with top designers, fashion industry luminaries and runway shows displaying the latest fashions. 

Leibowitz also stresses that the Grills experience for those in the Queens Grill or Princess Grill suites provides guests with upscale accommodations, butler service and exclusive, private dining experiences at “your own dining table every night.”

“It’s your table, your space,” he says. 

Princess Grill Suite

One of the refurbished Princess Grill Suites on Cunard’s Queen Victoria

Plus, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is the only ship today in regular cruise service that has a kennel for dogs and cats. That service is offered only on the transatlantic, but it’s convenient for those who trade time between the U.S. and UK Cunard has an approved process for pet customs / health clearances in both the U.S. and UK so pets can embark and disembark with their owners; pets must have a reservation, proper documentation and required inoculations.

London is also a plus for many Americans, who often spend a few days there pre- or post-cruise, either on a transatlantic or European voyage. Cunard also sails out of New York, easily accessible for a sizable portion of the U.S. population. In North America, “you’ve seen our increased focus and time partnership with the trade,” Leibowitz says, noting that Steve Smotrys, director of sales, national accounts for Cunard North America, and his team, are now spending significantly more time with trade accounts than in the past – much of it to help agents get a better handle on the brand.

Biggest misperception? Leibowitz often hears, “My clients don’t want to dress up?” While guests are invited to the ship’s gala, Roaring Twenties party or a Black-and-White party, those are voluntary. In addition, four of seven nights on a typical weeklong Cunard cruise are “informal,” meaning a jacket but no tie for men and a smart looking top /slacks or dress for women, but not gowns or tuxes. Even on the other formal nights, casual dining is available in the King’s Court Buffet, which transforms during the evening into an alternative dining venue with tablecloths and mood lighting. Guests can also order room service. 

Cunard’s demand continues to grow in this modern era and more capacity is needed because, above all, “people are looking for experiences,” Leibowitz says. “People get that [Cunard is] not your ordinary vacation, so we’ll continue to invest and continue to expand the U.S. and global sourcing brand beyond the UK.”

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