June 14, 2010
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Queen Mary 2
Countdown to Queen Elizabeth – 124 days
I know I said I would be posting a Blog about Queen Victoria’s latest Star Of The Month, but that’ll now be later in the week because I have a special President’s Blog featuring our President and Managing Director, Peter Shanks, which speaks for itself, so I’ll hand over to Peter.
President and Managing Director, Cunard Line
Sounds terribly grand – but once a year we have a ‘Presidential Voyage’ – I travel on the voyage and take the opportunity to spend as much time as I can with our guests and the ship’s company. It’s an opportunity for our valued guests to let me know how things are going and just as importantly an opportunity for me to meet with as many of our people as I can. It was a remarkable voyage in many ways and I thought I would share it with you as a blog. It was a seven day voyage – but don’t worry, you will get through this in less than seven minutes.
New York, New York – never ceases to amaze me with its hustle and bustle. Having flown in the day before the voyage, I had a few hours in Manhattan. Of course I stayed at The Waldorf – well why not, it is the perfect warm up act to Cunard with oodles of heritage and grandeur. I went for a brief walk around the city. As I was standing waiting to cross Madison Avenue (en-route to the finest shop in the world – Brooks Brothers – for my regular supply of blue button-down shirts) I observed New York at its best. A chap in a suit hailed a cab; the cab driver saw him and slowed. Then, another chap in an even sharper suit hailed the same cab. The driver stayed loyal to his first hailer and he climbed in to the cab. The second chap shouted ‘Are you serious’, walked up and opened the door. ‘I was first already’ he yelled. There followed a fantastic argument and then the cab drove off. It was a cross between the film ‘Taxi Driver’ and John McEnroe screaming at an umpire at Wimbledon. So – that was New York at its best – and I retired looking forward to boarding Queen Mary 2 the next morning.
Sailing out of New York – is simply awesome. I often talk of the value for money of a transatlantic crossing – well I also think that whatever you pay you get your value in the sail away from this famous city. It is simply the only way to see New York. The Manhattan Skyline seen from deck 14 of Queen Mary 2 just can’t be bettered.
Ellis Island – where many millions stepped ashore from Cunard Liners in the past to start their new life in America. The sun glinting off the Statue of Liberty and then we headed towards the Verrazano Bridge. I was hosting a group of some of our travel agent partners in the Commodore Club and I politely said that I had to leave them to go up and make sure we got under the bridge – most of them came up with me. It is an awesome experience – you stand with your back to the bridge and watch the funnel. As we go under the bridge you hear screams of ‘we are not going to make it’ – and then right at the last second the perspective changes and the funnel glides silently under the bridge – to cheers and laughter.
We have left New York; ahead of us is seven days at sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a unique feeling, with the ocean ahead of us for seven days, how are we going to spend our days, what lies ahead of us, what are we going to do. There was a sense of intrigue and excitement around the ship – we were on a crossing and we were in for something very special indeed.
White Star Academy – my first task on day one was to spend the morning with 40 new recruits to Cunard. As we prepare for Queen Elizabeth we are recruiting new staff. Onboard Queen Mary 2 we have our White Star Training Academy and the new recruits had a full week of induction to White Star Service before joining their colleagues upstairs and looking after our guests. So I spent the morning with them on induction. Commodore Warner and other senior officers came down to the academy to introduce themselves to the new recruits and I was able to say a few words as well. They were certainly made to feel special, to feel welcome and already there was a sense of being part of the team; more later in the blog when I describe their graduation.
There was one amusing moment – for me at least – as we went through a typical ship’s daily programme a hand shot up and asked ‘Could you explain what does ‘Friends of Dorothy’ and ‘Friends of Bill W’ mean – I left it to one of my colleagues to explain……………….
Hosting our valued Guests – Ahead of me lay 6 nights of hosting our valued guests on the Captain’s Table. It was a bit of a daunting thought – but do you know it was a real pleasure. It was a privilege to meet so many interesting and delightful people. Many of them have special memories of having travelled with Cunard Line in the past and I always find it so interesting that we attract such lovely people from different corners of the globe. I have to say they were all great company and most nights we were so busy in conversation we were last to leave the restaurant. Many gave me some tips as to where we can improve further; many spoke highly of the staff that were looking after them. On the last but one night – a Cunard tradition – we bring all the Chefs out into the dining room to parade in front of our guests. There is something very special in seeing 165 Chefs on the glorious staircase in the Britannia Restaurant with rousing applause from our guests. As the Head Chef was introduced, Ray Rouse (Our Entertainment Director and the James Bond of Cruising) finished off the parade by saying ‘and that is because……’ and all 165 Chefs shouted ‘We are Cunard’. It was rather a special moment for me as ‘We are Cunard’ is the glue that holds us all together and our guests reacted with a very warm round of applause. Marvelous.
So how about some Exercise – well on a Crossing you can relax as hard as you like. But it was interesting to see just how many people were active. Early each morning I walked right around our promenade deck – Deck 7. Now Queen Mary 2 is a rather large ship – and it’s three times round the deck to 1.1 miles. It is an excellent start to the day – and very popular. On this crossing we were blessed with good weather and the ship was as steady as a rock. After about three miles I must have said ‘Good Morning’ to at least a hundred people and importantly had burned off many of the calories from the night before. Our Canyon Ranch Spa is really very special. I did not have time for treatments or for the salon – but 30 minutes in the spa pool, sauna, steam room and power showers before dinner just has to be done. It is a fabulous experience. As you step out of the shower, one of the staff has already taken your trunks, rinsed and spun them and placed them in a bag for you. As you approach your locker, one of the staff places a mat on the floor for you. Canyon Ranch – trust me it does not come any better – anywhere.
Is there enough to do on a crossing? Blimey. It is non-stop for our guests. The 8,000 book Library was very popular. The Bridge Club up in the Atlantic Room was suitably competitive. I was really pleasantly surprised by RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), they were doing a matinee of ‘Taming of the Shrew’ on a few afternoons and there were over 700 guests at each session. Computer Classes were busy as was the ConneXions Internet Centre (Well sending your friends and family an email from the middle of the Atlantic on Queen Mary 2 is one of those things you just have to do). There was plenty more as well including – Feature Movies – Planetarium (Yes a full size one in our Illuminations Theatre showing four different galactic presentations – my favourite is the one narrated by Tom Hanks) – Lectures on really fascinating subjects – Watercolour Painting Lessons – Line Dancing – Whisky Tasting (Gave that one a miss as I was working) – Chef Demonstrations – Trivia Tournaments – Paddle Tennis – Golf Simulators – Book Club Discussions – Needlework Lessons – Fitness Lectures – Casino Lessons and Tournaments – Shopping – Cooking Demonstrations and a whole lot more. I must admit, as I left New York I thought that seven days was a long time. But something quite remarkable happens and the next thing you know its Southampton already.
He is 101 years old – We have a Cunard World Club Cocktail Party in the Queens Room. Imagine the scene. The finest ballroom at sea, a full jazz band in full flow, 1,000 guests resplendent in Black Tie and beautiful dresses. The Atlantic Ocean rushing past the windows at 23 knots, but not an inch of movement of the ship. Commodore greets the guests and introduces the senior officers. (He also tells his joke – it’s a very good one and works every time). We then recognize and thank our valued and most loyal guests. This evening’s honour was a lovely couple who have been travelling with us for many years – it was touching to recognize them. But not as touching as what came next. Ray had discovered that we had a gentleman travelling with us who was in his 101st year. George Lewis has travelled on many Cunard Liners including Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and QE2, and today is as fit as a fiddle and a marvel to behold – we all wanted to know what his secret was. We asked him up to the stage and presented him with a book on Cunard and OK – maybe when I said ‘We hope you will sail with us for many years to come’ I was pushing it a bit far. But you know, I bet he will.
Queen Mary Reunion – A very special 60 minutes – On each crossing we hold a reunion for those who travelled on the original Queen Mary. So I thought I should go along and listen.
Now if it was not for the fact that I played rugby for many years – I would admit that I was close to tears when listening to this remarkable event. Seated in our Board Room were 15 people – including George. I wrote down some of what I heard as each person told their story. Here we go, it was very moving;
‘I travelled on Queen Mary in 1946 when I was two years old. My mother was a war bride and we were travelling to Halifax where my father met me for the first time’
‘I first worked on Queen Mary as a telephonist in 1955. Whist I was on the ship I met and fell in love with the Chief Electrical Engineer. We were married, sadly my husband recently passed away. I am 88 years old now, but I have with me here today our daughter and we have been looking forward to this very special trip with so many memories’
‘I travelled on Queen Mary in 1936 when I was aged five. I have always wanted to come back and today I have. I remember running off during supper one evening an getting totally lost – a member of staff found me and reunited me with my parents .I remember being told off by mother, she had made me a lovely floral dress to where on formal nights and she caught me sliding down the wooden slide in the children’s den before supper’
An evening on the ocean – there is such a wide range of ways to enjoy the ship and the experience. People tend to find their own space, their own favourite spot. One option would be a pre-dinner drink in the Chart Room to the music of our Jazz Trio followed by dinner in the Britannia Restaurant and then on to a show in the Royal Court Theatre or dancing at Royal Ascot Ball in the Queens Room. Or – a more informal evening starting with a couple of drinks in the Golden Lion Pub, followed by an Asian meal at The Lotus up in Kings Court followed by a fling in the Casino. It is fascinating to stroll the ship during the evening and see so many activities and experiences – it’s like being in the coolest parts of a happening City – with many Bars, Restaurants and Shows to choose from.
Juilliard Jazz Masterclass – now that was something special. We have just started our relationship with Juilliard School in New York – one of the top music schools in the world. On this voyage we had Rodney Jones performing. He plays jazz guitar and in his time has played with Peggy Lee, Petula Clark, Stevie Wonder, James Brown. He was described by George Benson as ‘a legend among musicians, especially guitarists’.
He played to a packed theatre for an hour and it was spellbinding and just the sort of unique experience our guests expect. More than that – before his final piece – he held a Q+A session for the audience which was fascinating. When a guest asked; ‘Who do you think is the best rock guitarist? – he paused. I thought to myself – well there is only one person for that honour and that is Eric Clapton. After a few seconds he said – ‘Eric Clapton and Jimmy Hendrix’ – well I was half right. Off to bed with a real sense of our guests having had a special experience. There was also Jazz Trombonist, James Burton III, and here he is in his master class with the Chart Room Jazz Trio, Bass, Steve Riddle, Piano, Simon Galfe and on Drums, Andrew Hugget
A special thank you – One morning I was having breakfast when an American guest came up to speak to me. He said he had always wanted to meet somebody senior from Cunard to thank them. He explained that his father had travelled to the 2nd World War in Europe on Queen Mary in 1941. More importantly, after the war, Queen Elizabeth took him safely home back across the Atlantic. He was on this voyage for that reason and to experience the crossing on Queen Mary 2 as his father had on Queen Mary. It is very humbling to hear such stories but at the same time very uplifting. At Cunard we often talk about our heritage and how special it is – well now I was really starting to understand just how special a crossing really is.
Graduation Time – On the last afternoon, along with Commodore and his Senior Officers we attended the graduation ceremony for the 40 new joiners who had been at the White Star Academy all week. They were each handed their certificate. It is very important that our Senior Officers do this, and I was really pleased to be able to wish them well in their careers with Cunard. Also shaking their hand was our Hotel Manager John Duffy. John has been with Cunard for over 40 years – it was indeed apt that he should be welcoming our new White Star Members into the fold – and no better example for them than what John has achieved.
Last night of the Cunard Proms – We had Conductor Anthony Inglis and his 26 strong National Symphony on this voyage. Earlier in the voyage they played an American Evening – the highlight of which was Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. But on the last night it was the good old British Proms. He had pulled together a 60 strong choir from the guests.
I joined the choir – we had three rehearsals and were ready to go (Well- sort of).
Commodore Warner also took the baton to conduct under the guidance of course of Anthony Inglis who had also exchanged jackets!.
The Royal Court Theatre was packed for the two shows. The Orchestra played some wonderful pieces including ‘The Dambuster March’ and Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’. As a choir we sang quite a tricky Handel piece and just about got away with it. Then for the fun – Rule Britannia, Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory. The audience loved it – flags everywhere – and three encores.
This was very special – this was a crossing – this was Cunard. (Not sure if I have forgiven the Conductor for asking Commodore and I to have a go at conducting the orchestra – but it was jolly good fun.)
And so it was to be Southampton the following morning – time had flown by and it had been a truly interesting and enjoyable crossing for all. As I left the stage after the concert, one of my fellow singers approached me to say ‘A magnificent concert to end a perfect day and a perfect week – thank you so much’. Works for me – and as I left the ship the next morning I was so proud of each and every one of the 1,250 strong ship’s company and hopeful that our guests had enjoyed their crossing experience as much as I had.
We do more than 20 crossings a year – come and join us on one – you will be most welcome and we would love you to experience all that is special about Cunard and Queen Mary 2 – the most famous liner in the world…………………
President and Managing Director
Thanks Peter for a great Guest Blog; it sounds like yet another wonderful Crossing on our flagship. I’ll be back on Thursday with some fantastic new pictures of Queen Elizabeth in Italy. Cheers, Alastair.