Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2 has undergone a major refurbishment, involving a 25-day dry dock refurbishment at the Blohm+Voss Shipyard in Hamburg. Almost every part of the ship has been made over, with contemporary touches balanced by a deep reverence for the past. Just what do these changes involve and how are they being executed? We find out.
On June 23, Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2 set sail following an extensive refurbishment. The £90 million makeover – one of the farthest-reaching in Cunard’s history – has been billed less as a touch-up, and more as a ‘rebirth’.
While the ship itself is just 13 years old, its predecessor, the original Queen Mary, was launched in the 1930s. Many of the changes onboard take their cues from the golden age of seafaring, grounding the ship’s ‘next chapter of innovation’ within an almost mythic pedigree.
Paint us a picture
“Cunard’s passion for delivering a service and experience that both meets and exceeds guest’s expectations is transforming the way we travel by sea,” revealed Simon Palethorpe, senior vice president of Cunard. “Remastering Queen Mary 2 honours the heritage and iconic status of our magnificent ship to take our passengers forward into a new era of ocean travel.”
This is not the first time QM2 has been updated. It was last spruced up in 2011, when the existing 1,310 staterooms received new carpeting, curtains and bedding. In total, the contractors used some 20,000 litres of paint and laid down 10 miles of carpet.
This time round, however, the changes are far more significant, encompassing structural and technical aspects as well as just the furnishings. While most dry docks last under two weeks, QM2 was stationed in the Blomm + Voss Shipyard in Hamburg, Germany for a full 25 days, amounting to more than a million man-hours.
By the time it arrived back at Southampton, flanked by sister ships Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, the buzz was growing, with thousands of people lining the banks of the Solent to wave it off on its first transatlantic crossing. So what would the changes mean for Cunard’s passengers, many of whom are avid brand loyalists who wouldn’t dream of sailing with another line?
Whatever their impressions – delighted or underwhelmed – the changes will have been obvious to anyone who’s stepped aboard before. A number of areas, notionally those that didn’t work so well, have been stripped away, with new features in their place. There are new staterooms, a new lounge, some 594,000 square feet of new carpets, and 4,000 new pictures on the wall. Public areas and staterooms alike have been revamped, and the hull has received a significant lick (3,900 gallons to be precise) of paint.
Rooms for all
The changes were masterminded by Alison Clixby, Cunard’s director of Hotel Design and Projects, who collaborated with the London-based interior design firm SMC.
“This year is the original Queen Mary’s 80th anniversary so it’s only fitting that there are so many of her designs inspired and reflected back in Queen Mary 2 remastered,” she said. “With a wealth of Art Deco features and details the original ship was a true inspiration. As always with such an important and major project like this, we went through many iterations and designs during the development phase and getting the attention to detail was very important.”
The process got underway in 2014, when Cunard began trialling different ideas on thousands of guests around the world. The aim was simple: if you can reach the nub of what your passengers want, teasing out their motivations for cruising and the fantasy they’re buying into, you’re well-positioned to deliver on the details.
One of the key findings to emerge from the research was a change in guest demographics. While Cunard primarily targets the older generation (with the average age hovering between 55 and 60), millennials and Gen-Xers comprise a higher proportion of the guest makeup than before. In addition, there is a growing number of young families, many of them bringing grandparents onboard too and holidaying in multi-generational groups.
In response, Cunard has introduced 15 Single Staterooms, catering for those travelling in more complicated set-ups, or even those braving the seas alone. These are joined by 30 additional Britannia Club Balcony Staterooms, which replace the little-used Splash Pool and Regatta Bar and increase the ship’s capacity to 2,961 passengers.
The other staterooms and suites, meanwhile, are being updated, with half of them already completed and the others due for their turn by the end of the year. All have new furniture and linens and, for the first time, a kettle. In the top-tier suites, there have been savvy structural changes geared around maximising space.
At the less lavish end of the spectrum, Cunard has doubled the number of kennels available for passengers’ cats and dogs. The only long-distance passenger ship in the world to facilitate pet travel, QM2 previously hosted up to 12 four-legged guests, now rising to 24. The ship has also employed a dedicated ‘kennel master’, whose job it is to feed, pet and walk the animals.
While this was in part a response to passenger feedback (not to mention the fact that kennel spaces frequently sell out), it is also something of a throwback. The original Queen Mary was famously pet-friendly, with a number of Hollywood grandees bringing their dogs on-board. Going back further still, to 1840, the Britannia sailed with a resident cow to provide fresh milk for guests.
The lack of dairy farming aside, it is the public areas that most clearly convey the bid to channel Cunard’s past. When working on these areas, SMC abided by three principles: ensuring each section has a distinct feel, that each was intuitive to use, and that they tapped into the heritage of the line.
“Cunard has a unique rich heritage in both the nautical and design fields and we have researched into these and looked to incorporate aspects of pattern and design into our plans,” said Andrew Collier, the former (now retired) SMC managing director, during the development process. “Our aim is to enhance existing designs as well as implement a decorative overhaul, looking to emphasize the feeling of understated elegance.”
As a result, the designs are dominated by clean lines and Art Deco inspired graphics, without veering into ‘themed cruise ship’ territory. The settings are contemporary but the fittings are traditional, with the decor alluding to, rather than straight up copying, earlier styles. While the QM2 may lack the design budget of its famously opulent predecessor, which was created as recovery from the Great Depression, the terminology of ‘remastering’ is not too great an exaggeration.
The Grand Lobby, for example, has been made somewhat grander through the removal of two elevators, drawing the eye to a starburst carpet in regal reds and golds. The Todd English restaurant has been replaced by The Verandah – a formal a la carte dining room that pays homage to the original Queen Mary’s Verandah Grill – while the Princess and Queens Grills have reconfigured the space by swapping pillars with screens.
The ship’s buffet restaurant, Kings Court, has upped its user-friendly quotient through (once again) subtracting an elevator to open up the room. Widely panned in its previous incarnation as little more than a canteen, the space is now envisaged as somewhere guests would want to hang around a while.
Its adjoining Winter Garden, meanwhile, has been replaced with the airy Carinthia Lounge, a multipurpose area that serves a light breakfast in the morning, patisseries in the afternoon and refreshment and entertainment in the evenings. Speaking to the Telegraph, Alison Clixby commented that the demand for public spaces to be versatile – sometimes by way of moving parts – is the biggest recent change she has encountered in cruise ship design.
QM2 remains conservative in its innovations, preferring to tap into the nostalgia the name evokes than alienate its target demographic with waterslides. In fact, to modern eyes it looks almost conspicuously low-tech – with WiFi connection expensive to access, the ship is able to sell itself as the ideal place for a digital detox.
At the heart of the experience is a powerful sense of romance, a way to extricate oneself from the demands of modern life and channel a wistful kind of glamour rarely encountered elsewhere.
As David Noyes, CEO of Cunard explained: “The remastering of Queen Mary 2 continues the transatlantic tradition by the thoughtful contemporising of the product. The Remastering is a testament to Cunard’s attention to detail, incorporating inspiration from our past that continues to propel the powerful Cunard story, which we think will strongly resonate with today’s travelers.”
This article appears in the 2016 vol 2 edition of World Cruise Industry Review