Priceless Experiences On Board
''Is it huge? Yes. Is it awesome? Yes,'' said Cunard's president, Pam
Conover. But it's much more than that, she added. "This is a ship of the
She means the Queens Grill Mary 2 is not simply a vessel to transport passengers
across the Atlantic. It is a sophisticated, state-of-the-art ship with many
features never seen on its distinguished royal predecessors, the Queens Grill Mary,
Queens Grill Elizabeth 1 and Queens Grill Elizabeth 2.
Its passengers will see stars in the first planetarium at sea. They'll tone
their bods in the first seagoing Canyon Ranch spa, quaff a glass of bubbly
in a Veuve Clicquot champagne bar, dine in a Todd English restaurant and
browse in the first shipboard Chanel and Dunhill shops.
The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts will give seminars and presentations,
University of Oxford scholars will conduct lectures and seminars.
That's not all.
''You'll be able to send and receive e-mails in your cabin, look up photos
and order wines on television,'' said Conover.
Not to mention dancing under one-ton crystal chandeliers in the largest
''We want to build on traditions, but [with] modern amenities,'' Conover
said. So, to achieve that goal, the Queens Grill Mary 2 will offer a mix of
Cunard's traditional elegance along with new concepts and choices.
Thus, while the new ship retains the traditional Queen's Grill and Princess
Grill restaurants found on the earlier Queens, it will also offer dining
alternatives for those who may prefer more contemporary styles.
And while many passengers will gather for entertainment and dancing in the
Queens Room, a traditional ballroom patterned after a similarly named one on
the QE2, others may gravitate to a room never found on the earlier Queens:
the silvery walled, late-night G-32 disco.
Those are indications of the kind of passengers the QM2 hopes to attract
along with traditional transatlantic crossers: the now-aging baby boomers.
''We've done market research and focus groups, and these people want fine
dining, entertainment, culture,'' said Conover. ``Yes, we'll compete [for
them] with land resorts, but all in one place. We'll have different things
for different people.''
That approach finds favor with Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise
Critic. ''They're creating the ship as a destination. I think it will
attract people who see it as a great way to get to Europe, but it doesn't
matter where it goes. People will just want to get on the ship,'' she said.
``I think it could really work.''
Ron Kurtz, former president of Sea Goddess Cruises and now a travel industry
consultant, agrees -- to a point.
''I'm sure the ship will have a lot of appeal. My feeling is the
transatlantic market is very solid, because of the maturing of the baby
boomers. They're a good market, have an appreciation for tradition and a
feeling for nostalgia. There's also the possibility of people having second
thoughts about flying,'' Ron Kurtz said. ``But can they [the cruise line]
get the [business] the rest of the year?''
In winter months, Kurtz explained, the QM2 will cruise in the Caribbean,
where the competition is strong.
''Historically, people are not willing to pay a high premium to cruise in
the Caribbean,'' he said. ``There, you're not only competing against other
luxury products, but also ships in the premium category.''
Cunard's Conover said sales so far show that the QM2 has wider appeal than
some observers have believed. ''Sixty percent of the 30,000 bookings to Queens Grill
are new to Cunard. They've never sailed on Cunard before,'' she said.
There's a message there, and the cruise line is latching on to it. To catch
the attention of those who have not sailed before on the line, or who
haven't even considered a cruise, the QM2 has brought on board such brand
operations such as Harrod's, Dunhill, Veuve Clicquot and Chanel.
''It's the recognition factor,'' Conover said. ``Cunard is not a household
name, but the brands are. By association, they [passengers] recognize
Some of these thoughts were tossed around in 1998 when executives of
Carnival Corp. sat down with chairman Micky Arison to discuss the possible
purchase of Cunard Line, which at that time was a floundering brand. ''We
decided that if we bought Cunard , we had to build a new ship,'' related
Conover, who at that time was vice president of strategic planning for the
company. ``The whole point of acquiring the line was to build the
That was the genesis of the Queens Grill Mary 2. At first, after Carnival bought
the line, plans for the new vessel were modest. But as the designers
proceeded, their goals expanded. ''We did not set out to build the largest
ship in the world. It just grew,'' Conover said. Its price tag also grew, to
about $780 million, roughly twice the going rate these days for large new
Now those blueprints are about to become reality here at the shipyard.
The Cunard name is painted in red on the white superstructure of the ship,
its rich interiors are beginning to appear amid a forest of scaffoldings and
layers of protective floor and wall coverings, and visitors touring this
work in progress can begin to visualize how the finished ship will look.
Throughout the ship, what impressed me most was the scale of the vessel.
Its great size allows larger public rooms and higher ceilings than on other
It also can allot space to new features like the ConneXions complex of seven
classrooms used for enrichment programs, and the unique Illuminations
When passengers board the QM2, they'll step into a six-deck-high atrium with
two glass-walled elevators and a pair of staircases sweeping down to the
Grand Lobby. ''It's the heart of the ship,'' said Andy Collier, the ship's
interior designer, pointing out that most of the public rooms branch off
The atrium is topped with a transparent glass dome upon which fearless
passengers can stand.
Less venturesome folks can use a bridge that crosses the dome.
A unique touch: You can book one of 12 staterooms that overlook the atrium.
''They're selling well,'' Conover noted.
Stemming off from the Grand Lobby is a feature that Collier says is one of
his favorites, a broad central corridor on two levels called the Grand
Promenade. Higher and wider than most such passages, and hence creating a
grander aspect, they lead directly to the Britannia Dining Room.
DINING IN TIERS
This is the ship's main dining room, a two-tiered salon that Cunard says may
reflect more than any other room the lavish traditions of the earlier
Queens. White columns stretch three stories to an overhead glass dome.
Walnut paneling and glass balustrades, together with a large tapestry of a
Cunard liner, give the room a rich decor. With a capacity of 1,351 guests,
the Britannia will have two seatings.
Guests in upscale accommodations will dine in the Princess or Queen's
Grills, as they do on the QE2. Four-star chef Daniel Boulud, Cunard's
culinary advisor, is creating signature menus for the Grills, including
selections from his celebrated New York City restaurant, Daniel, which has
received top ratings from The New York Times, Gourmet Magazine, the Zagat
Survey and International Herald Tribune. Both restaurants have single
seatings and are open only to such guests.
All passengers, however, will have access to the QM2's alternative dining
Perhaps the most sought-after of these will be the Todd English restaurant,
the first at sea for the celebrity chef. Known for his Olives restaurants in
Boston -- now with offshoots in such Tony locales as the W Hotel in New York
and the Bellagio in Las Vegas -- English's 156-seat facility will serve
casual Mediterranean cuisine prepared by a dedicated team of chefs.
Then there's the Chef's Galley, a 36-seat space in the casual Kings Court
dining complex where guests can watch the chef prepare food in an open
kitchen. It's the only venue for which an additional charge will be made
($25-$35 per person). Three other distinct cuisines will be offered in Kings
Court -- Italian in the La Piazza sector, seven-course Asian food in Lotus,
roasts and potatoes in the English Carvery.
Another space steeped in tradition is the spacious Queens Room, patterned
after the renowned and similarly named lounge on the QE2. This one is longer
and wider, however, making it the largest ballroom afloat.
It is an elegant space. Two chandeliers of cut crystal and 24-karat gold,
each weighing a ton, hover over the room. Three kinds of woods are inlaid in
the dance floor, and each side of the 134-foot-wide room has raised levels,
as on the QE2, to provide better sight lines and quiet spaces at the
Just aft of the Queens Room lies the G32 night club, where workmen are
starting to install a glittering metallic finish on the walls. A bank of
television screens will wrap around the bar, and the late-night action there
undoubtedly will eclipse anything seen on the earlier Queens.
Likely popular, too, will be a pair of boites familiar to those who have
sailed on the QE2. Piano and harp melodies will emanate from The Chart Room,
long a popular predinner cocktail venue on the QE2. The Golden Lion Pub's
karaoke nights will probably draw the same standing-room-only crowds as they
do on the QE2.
But several new watering holes promise to attract a fair share of guests as
well. Just off the Grand Lobby, the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar will
feature the bubbly of that prestigious company. Opposite the Chart Room is a
wine bar, Sir Samuel's, and overlooking the bow is the 180-degree Commodore
Club, which Cunard's Conover expects to become very popular. ''It has sea
views, and jazz and soft music at night,'' she said.
Sure to generate a lot of interest is the Illuminations planetarium. Unlike
shore-based spheres, which usually have one central projector, this one has
six scattered around the perimeter of 64-foot-high facility. The sky dome is
built so it can tilt and the 500 seats below can incline. The space also
will be used for lectures, movie screenings and other presentations.
Movies will also be projected on a bulkhead wall on the open deck on
pleasant evenings. Conover calls these ''movies under the stars,'' and
popcorn will be available.
More active passengers won't be neglected.
There are basketball and paddle tennis courts on the top deck, along with a
golf putting green and golf driving simulators.
Joggers can circle the ship on the 360-degree teak-deck Promenade (three
laps equals a mile), and the ship has five pools.
Children (yes, the QM2 expects to carry quite a few of them) have their own
area at the stern with a pool, sun deck, nursery and separate playrooms for
toddlers and older children.
For serious exercise, guests can work out in the large gymnasium/fitness
center facing the bow inside the Canyon Ranch Spa. Afterward, they can take
a massage, a seaweed wrap or any other procedure in one of the renowned
spa's 26 treatment rooms, download in the Thermal Suite or take a dip in the
Another pleasant place to wind down is the Winter Garden, whose decor was
inspired by England's Kew Gardens. The lounge has a waterfall, plantings and
a Trompe L'Oeil ceiling that replicates a sky view at Kew.
Ultimately, of course, guests will return to their staterooms, and the QM2's
are a cut above the norm. Almost 80 percent of the cabins have ocean views
and 94 percent of those have balconies.
For a high-end ship, QM2 fares start at a relatively affordable level --
$1,499 per person, double occupancy, for a six-night crossing, including
one-way transatlantic air travel.
Of course, that's for a inside cabin, but those are quite roomy at 194
square feet. Standard outside cabins, which have the same square footage,
start at $2,139, and Luxury Cruises offers Balcony Accommodations for
approximately the same price as most others ask for staterooms without
At the other end of the accommodation spectrum, a two-story grand duplex
runs $21,799 per person for the crossing; each of the four large Queens Grill
suites are priced at $19,799 (less from Luxury Cruises, of course).
No matter what kind of stateroom one has, though, one thing is priceless:
The experience of crossing the ocean by ship. And the QM2 will be the only
ship doing that on a regular basis.
(Above excerpted largely from Miami Herald travel section article by Jay
Clarke, Sept. 7, 2003. References to Luxury Cruises' lower prices are not in
the original article.)