Cunard marks 175 years as Queen Mary 2 cruises toward New York

Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force fly over Queen Mary 2 in Liverpool, England
Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force fly over Queen Mary 2 in Liverpool, England

Aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2-Queen Mary 2 sailed from Liverpool toward North America on July 4, exactly 175 years (and about 8 hours) after the first passenger voyage across the Atlantic by the line that became known as Cunard.

The company was the first to offer a scheduled transatlantic service, and now, 175 years later, it is the last, without competition.

This Queen Mary 2 cruise, ending in New York on July 14, is a celebration of those 175 years, with pomp, pageantry, and some 2,600 passengers caught up in the moment, waving flags, cheering, and toasting an anniversary that has sparked interest throughout the United Kingdom. In May, an estimated 1.3 million people turned out in Liverpool for graceful maneuvers on the river Mersey by Cunard’s three ships, the Queens Victoria, Elizabeth and Mary 2.

Cunard’s first steamship, Britannia, made its maiden voyage starting from Liverpool on July 4, 1840. She arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in about days (depending on who is counting), continuing on to Boston. She carried 115 passengers, 3 cats and a cow.

Today’s Queen Mary 2 is much bigger and faster. Typically, Cunard’s flagship, needs about 5-6 days at sea between Southampton, England, which is south of London, and New York.

Our cruise will take a total of 11 days – festivities began at the docks in Southampton – because the schedule calls for a day’s dawdle in Liverpool, Halifax and Boston.

Getaway day covered with clouds and fog

During the first afternoon, a Thursday in Southampton, the Band of the Irish Guards turned out for a special performance on deck. It was to be followed by an acrobatic display in the sky by the famed Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force.

As rain fell, clouds of various shades of gray swirled above us. Sea fog built and ebbed. “Keep your fingers crossed,” we were instructed. Alas visibility made visual flight unsafe, and eventually the celebratory air display was called off until a fly-by on Saturday in Liverpool.

Queen Mary 2 passengers do their own fly-by of the Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force as weather grounds the real planes off Southampton, England (photo by Fran Golden, TheTravelMavens.com)
Queen Mary 2 passengers do their own fly-by of the Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force as weather grounds the real planes off Southampton, England (photo by Fran Golden, TheTravelMavens.com)

While we had waited, I was reminded of history’s reports about these same skies and weather conditions during the time of D-Day invasion hopes in June 1944. That June, nations waited for the skies to clear, which made our entertainment disappointment feel like very small potatoes.

Liverpool greeted us on Saturday, July 4, and passengers gathered at Liverpool Cathedral for a commemorative concert.

Cunard celebrated with music from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, choir and guests. Stirring words flowed about tradition, from the days of founder Samuel Cunard, through two world wars and several others, when Cunard ships became the carriers of materials, troops and horses, losing 27 ships.

Queen Mary 2 passengers do their own fly-by of the Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force as weather grounds the real planes off Southampton, England (photo by Fran Golden, TheTravelMavens.com)
Queen Mary 2 passengers do their own fly-by of the Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force as weather grounds the real planes off Southampton, England (photo by Fran Golden, TheTravelMavens.com)

Americans who are passengers on Queen Mary 2 for this historic occasion found themselves in a sea of waiving, handheld British flags. The folks in my row of seats waived with the mass.

So, there we were, as pointed out by writer Fran Golden on Facebook, sitting in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, celebrating a Canadian, Samuel Cunard, who launched a British line 175 years ago — the line now owned by Americans (Carnival Corp.)

Interesting 4th of July. Happy Independence Day.

David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column is published regularly in U.S. newspapers and on other Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise  He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com 

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