Lots has happened with Cunard since we sailed on the first leg of the Queen Victoria world cruise in January 2023. It’s all good.
Our next trip is months away, so how do we know about life onboard today? We have a group of contacts we call our “Cunard Friends.” These are people we have met on various voyages over the past 15+ years. Before the pandemic, we would e-mail once a quarter. When Covid imposed lockdowns, we upped the frequency to every other week. We talk about our recent travels and they share details of theirs.
Here is what we have learned about Cunard today.
- The boarding process: Back in January 2023, embarkation took about an hour. Even though we hold Diamond World Club status, it involved standing in long lines, showing Covid testing documentation and having your ticket stamped, ticketed and checked about a dozen times.
Today: Friends sailed from Southampton to the Mediterranean onboard Queen Mary 2. They also hold World Club status allowing them to use the priority line. Check in and boarding took only a few minutes.
- The return of large tables in Britannia. Larger tables were gradually returning back in January. We sailed in Princess Grill and were seated at a table for eight. When we were planning on Britannia earlier, we wanted to be seated with other friends. Arranging it beforehand was tougher than we thought.
Today: Large tables are back in Britannia! If you want to meet new people and get to know them over several days, simply request to be seated at a big table. This might mean the Captain’s Table has returned to the Britannia Dining Room too. (I don’t have a firsthand report yet.)
- The large parties are back. Back in January 2023, there was no Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party. There was no World Club Party or Officer’s Cocktail Party. Their return was still under consideration as Covid restrictions were gradually relaxed. There was talk of these large gatherings becoming outdoor events for better ventilation.
Today: The “Big Three” parties are back! The top sailor is awarded their bouquet of flowers at the World Club party. These are indoor events, held in the Queens Room.
- Still staying with two formal nights. My wife and I are used to three black tie evenings on a seven-night crossing. (In the Golden Age, it has been said every night you were not in a port was a formal night!) When we sailed across the Atlantic in January, there were two black tie evenings.
Today: I understand it is the same today. A future trip we have booked only includes two formal nights. The passenger composition is dynamic, always changing. Although lots of us want to dress up, a growing percentage do not.
- Food is great in Britannia. We have heard this reported from several of our Cunard friends. This goes back to the time Cunard resumed sailing when pandemic restrictions were lifted, but inflation had not arrived yet.
Today: We have heard this from numerous sources among our Cunard friends. A couple recently returning from the Med said the food was spectacular. They referenced a courtesy we had never heard about: A Britannia class passenger with a restricted diet would get the dinner menu delivered to their cabin the night before, so they could alert the kitchen regarding their choices and the dietary restrictions observed. (This was hearsay, but it sounds great!)
- Demand is strong, yet values can be found. When Cunard resumed sailing, no one knew exactly what to expect. Would Covid testing still be required? What happens to passengers who test positive? Ships had quarantine and isolation cabins. Would the general public return to cruising?
Today: Demand is back. Earlier this year, UK friends (back from their World Cruise) decided to take one of the Cunard voyages visiting Iceland. They could not get a booking! Technically, there was one inside cabin left, but they did not like the location and one Queens Grill suite. The ship was basically sold out! On the other hand, there were plenty of “sailing soon savings” in areas like the Med for travelers ready to go in the summer or fall.
- Freedom seating has been embraced. Cunard was known for having two seatings in the Britannia Dining Room. You dined at either 6:00 PM or 8:30 PM. Your table was assigned, although you could choose the table size and request your table be changed if necessary.
Today: Freedom seating is the ability to show up when you choose within a defined time frame and ask to be seated. You can arrive as a group and get a larger table. What you gain in dining flexibility, you lose in the relationship you might develop if you had the same waitstaff team for a week, two weeks or three months. Freedom seating is accessed via a different Britannia Dining Room entrance. It might have been starting to be introduced in January 2023, but it is in place now.
- The Queen Anne is the big story. Cunard is adding it’s fourth ship to the fleet in Spring 2024. There is huge excitement, for obvious reasons. I believe the inaugural voyage sold out almost instantly. The ship brings together the latest technology with the traditional features loyal passengers come to expect. (All Cunard vessels have certain venues like the Chart Room, Commodore Club and the Golden Lion Pub aboard every ship.
Cunard faces the challenges of both moving with the times while retaining the features that bring its loyal following back year after year. In my opinion, it has managed to succeed at both in a competitive market.
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Cover photo: Cunard Queen Anne, credit Cunard