Flipping through Harper’s Bazaar , I turned the glossy page to an advertisement for the world’s last remaining ocean liner, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.
The sheer scale of the vessel is something to behold. It towers 23 stories, is longer than the Eiffel tower is high, and weighs 3 times that of the Titanic. Her engines produce enough force to power all of South Hampton, England. The Queen Mary 2 is so spectacular an engineering feat, that Modern Marvels did a feature on the building of her. She is one of the grandest ocean liners in maritime history! (and here is another documentary about the QM2)
Photo above : Cunard celebrated the company’s 175th Anniversary (25 May 2015) with the Thee Queens sailing together : Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, and the newest most grand ever built, Queen Mary 2.
photos: Cunard instagram
In an age where ocean liner travel has become nearly extinct, few believed another ocean liner would have ever been built after the retirement of Cunard’s previous vessel, the Queen Elizabeth 2. Yet, in was the late 1990’s a billionaire, Micky Arison, with a romantic view of the Cunard history of transatlantic crossings, couldn’t bare the idea of the end of the traditional fine ocean liner crossings.
Arison tapped into the zeitgeist of the time…the movie Titanic had just come out, and a renaissance of interest was pulling for the building of another grand ocean liner. The largest, tallest, broadest, and most expensive ( at over 900 million dollars) ocean liner EVER conceived, was built!
1997 movie, Titanic spurred an interest in luxury ocean liner travel, helping to make the building of QM2 a possible notion
Micky Arison, and Queen Elizabeth at the dedication of the QM2. Eight Cunard liners have been named by senior members of the Royal Family, 4 of which by Queen Elizabeth.
photos: Cunard instagram
My fiance is a maritime man, and he had decided quite a while ago, that crossing the Atlantic on the QM2 was something he had to do.
Let me get to the point! I am taking this adventure along with him!
If you know me at all, you know I am a bonafide “Old Soul”, so the QM2 speaks to my love of vintage, tradition, and old world luxury. But there is something else about this particular voyage. It is not only fine transportation from New York City to South Hampton, England, it so happens to be Cunard’s 4th annual Transatlantic Fashion Week! I am sure you can imagine my thrill!
photos Cunard Instagram
I feel like this is an unusual chance to, somewhat, time travel to a vintage classy world that exists only in my imagination. A bit of escapism. A world where denim is not welcome after 6 pm, and ballroom dancing in frothy gowns and debonair men in suits happens three nights out of seven. A week of afternoon tea served in the “Queen’s Room”, planetarium shows at sea, and fencing lessons. I will report more on the experience after I return, but based on what I already know about it, I am certain it will be a little slice of heaven for this walking anachronism of a lady!
photos: Cunard instagram
A Brief History of Cunard
Cunard was the first ocean liner company to provide regularly scheduled transatlantic service, since the year 1840.
Essentially, Samual Cunard applied for, and was able to obtain a Royal Mail contract for delivering mail between America and Europe, and began the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. From there is where the company took off and grew, officially starting in 1840.
Prior to the official start of the Cunard line, passengers would voyage on mail packet ships. A 32 year old female writer named Harriet Martineau, wrote a forgiving and full account of her experience on an 1834 packet voyage (forgiving, because many others complained a great deal more of the adventure than she).
Here is a list she made of her aggravations, and how to in turn deal with them. (Source, p.14-15)
However in these early days, people such as Martineau, were more or less “catching a ride” across the ocean. Soon the demand for passenger travel opened the world to Cunard to develop an ocean liner empire!
In 1881, the Servia was the first steel ship to shine electric light at sea. Around this time we see the beggining of 5.2 million immigrants embark aboard Cunard ships to start a new life.
In 1901, the first wireless transmission at sea happened on a Cunard vessel.
In 1907 The Mauretania came onto the scene, setting new standards in luxury and speed for transatlantic service. The goal, according to tv travel personality, Burt Wolf, “was to make guests feel as if they were living the life of luxury in the home of a wealthy British relative“. ( See photos of inside the Mauretania, and many other historic Cunard photos here).
Guests disembarking the Mauritania in 1938 — photo Uk Daily Mail
In 1912 The Cunard Carpathia rescued the survivors of the White Star line’s famous Titanic. Captain Arthur Rostron, was the captain of the 9 year old ship that night, and managed 19 knots that night, far surpassing her quoted speed ( the current Queen Mary 2 does 30 knots/ 35 mph). As soon as he received the distress call, the crew began setting up first aid stations, got ready to deploy life boats, and prepared hot beverages to aid in the rescue of the survivors. The Captain only had the last known coordinates of the Titanic to work with, but upon arrival to his dismay, there was no sign of the Titanic. He then ordered the Carpathia’s engines to be shut off and they desperately looked for a sign, finally seeing a flare from a Titanic life boat. 705 lives were saved that night from the icy water. Captain Rostron received many high honors for his bravery, including, he was knighted by King George V in 1926 for his service. Later Cunard and White Star merged. (Cunard-White Star Ld 1934- 1947), and turned back into simply the Cunard line (1947 – present).
During WWI 20 ships were lost in service. (1914-1918). In 1922 the Cunard Laconia provided the first “Around the World cruise.
In 1936 Queen Mary’s maiden voyage took place. This is the ship, along with Queen Elizabeth ( launched in 1938), which many “Old Hollywood” stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Calrk Gable and Rita Hayworth took, along with Winston Churchill, Jessie Owens, a young JFk, Frank Sinatra, Walt Disney, etc. For a good amount of the time of the Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, ocean travel was the only option for traveling to Europe. It was a golden age until airplanes slowly took over.
Elizabeth Taylor on board the original Cunard Queen Mary vessel in 1947
My own grandfather on my Lee side returned from WWII on the original Queen Mary.
In 1969 the Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 was launched, and that brings us up to…
2004 the Queen Mary 2 took the torch over from the QE2.
all of the following vintage photos from UK Daily Mail unless otherwise stated
I have been so excited about my trip, I have been reading some books including Transatlantic: Samual Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships, and also Queen Mary 2 : The Birth of a Legend
I look forward to being able to share my adventure with you! I will reporting in several posts, this being the first in a series. Track the Queen Mary 2’s location here!