January 17, 2011
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Updates
My first job in travel was in 1976 as a 17 year old, fresh out of school working in an airline reservation office in The Rockefeller Centre in New York City. As a young British chap in the rough tough business world of New York it made a lasting impression on me. So I love coming back to New York City.
Cunard’s first experience in New York was in 1845 when The Hibernia sailed into New York Harbor with 126 First Class passengers. New York clearly made a lasting impression on Cunard Line as since that day in 1845 we estimate that over 10 million people have sailed in to New York with Cunard. So Cunard love returning to New York.
The stage was set for our Three Queens Event. Boy was it cold when I arrived in the city – I flew out a day early as a major snow storm was due in the city. The storm duly arrived dumping 8 inches of snow overnight. Fair credit to the city though – the next morning most of the roads had been cleared and the city was open for business. Good job it was, we had Three Queens on the way.
Having arrived a day early, I decided to go and visit the original Cunard Line Building at 25 Broadway as I had not seen it before. I was amazed – it is an absolutely beautiful building, one of New York’s traditional buildings. ‘Cunard Line’ stands out proudly carved into the fascia of the building and in the polished brass doors.
Up early when the big day arrived. As we drove over Brooklyn Bridge I was greeted by the sight of Queen Mary 2 berthed in glorious sunshine. You know she is the most beautiful ship in the world – a true Ocean Liner and striking when seen across the New York City skyline. By 07:15 I was having a coffee with Captain Wright and Hotel Manager John Duffy. The ship had returned from the last voyage of her Caribbean season and there was a good feeling around the ship. Knowing how hard the ship’s company will have to work on the upcoming world voyage, whilst in the Caribbean the officers delivered a number of events and treats for our hard working ship’s company including some parties, Bridge Visits and massages given by the Canyon Ranch team. I hope this was well received – it was certainly well deserved. We had arranged for later in the day to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange and I was collecting the small original Queen Elizabeth Bell from Queen Mary 2 for the event. Overnight the ship’s carpenter had created a beautiful stand from which we could hang the bell. It was a very impressive wooden stand – perfectly finished, varnished and good enough to grace any furniture shop. It reminded me as to what a talented set of people we have in our company.
After rushing across the city, welcoming an Investors Event on Queen Elizabeth and saying hello to the team on Queen Victoria, it was time for our press conference. Well – we had over 60 media people turn up which was terrific. As I was giving a brief presentation on the Three Queens Event, I noticed out of the corner of my eye the gleaming British Airways tail fin of Concorde. Concorde sits on a barge next to the Aircraft Carrier Nimitz Exhibition. I could not resist mentioning to our American Colleagues and friends ‘How cool is that – to my right a past icon of British innovation in travel – Concorde, and alongside us here to our right – an enduring and modern icon of all that is best about British Travel, the third and latest Queen Elizabeth’.
I need to tell you about ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Firstly it is an honour for Cunard to be given such recognition. But they do it so well. After going through strict security (and explaining the Queen Elizabeth Bell and Wooden stand was a new quirk for them I am sure) we were warmly welcomed into the Stock Exchange Board Room. It is an enormous high ceiling room with a vast board table. We were in a very historic place and around the room were a number of video screens that they had set up with Cunard logos and a video of the Queen Elizabeth Naming Ceremony was playing. We were then taken down onto the trading floor and spent some time at one of the trading stations being shown how it works these days. Gone are the days of shouting, gesticulating and pieces of paper all over the floor – today it’s about technology. Up above us was the famous balcony from where every day the opening and closing bell is rung – with the Cunard Logo in fine evidence. Our group was then shown up to the balcony. And here is how it works;
First you decide who is going to play which role. Our Carnival Corporation Chairman Micky Arison was with us along with his wife Madeleine. Micky asked if I would like to push the button to ring the closing bell, Commodore Bernie Warner would ring our Queen Elizabeth Bell and then Madeleine would complete the fun by crashing down the famous wooden hammer.
At exactly 15:59 and 20 seconds we all started to applaud.
At exactly 15:59 and 45 seconds I pushed the button and the closing bell rang
At the same moment Bernie started to ring his bell rather vigorously.
At exactly 16:00 Madeleine crashed the hammer down with some style and we were done.
Marvelous – and fun as well. We are so lucky to get to do these exciting things.
We were then presented with commemorative medals to mark the occasion and we presented the Stock Exchange with a model of Queen Elizabeth.
Now – before you watch the video of what happened on the link below – two rather amusing things. The first was our Chairman’s comment seconds before I pushed the button that he was not too impressed that the our share price had not gone up today and maybe we should keep the market open a bit longer. Secondly – if you watch the video closely you will see that Commodore was so excited in ringing the bell that the rope came off the bell. We shall dine out on that one.
So next it was off to watch the main event, the meeting of the Three Queens. As darkness fell, I caught a glimpse of the Empire State Building – the city had turned it Cunard red for the night in our honour. Imagine that – a small British Business honoured by the giant New York City. Today was turning out to be very special indeed.
We gathered along with 120 of our travel agent partners, media guests and dignitaries at a reception on the 14th floor of the Ritz Carlton. We had a panoramic view of where history was about to be made with the meeting of our Queens. Now we do like to set ourselves these challenges at Cunard. Those of you who may have read my blog of the Queen Elizabeth Naming Ceremony may remember me describing what it felt like to stand alongside Her Majesty in front of 2,000 people with the world’s media watching and all thinking the same thing – will the bottle break. Thankfully (actually it was never in doubt) it did – but now I had a familiar feeling but the question this time was – where are the Three Queens and will they all be in position at 18:45 for the fireworks?
It sounds pretty simple – just get the ships in position and off we go. Well in order to do that we had to;
- Make sure all three ships arrived at 06:30 that morning
- Safely Disembark 6,600 guests
- Make sure the ships were spotless and conduct US Coast Guard Inspections
- Conduct travel agent press visits around Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth
- Welcome around 300 rejoining crew across the three ships
- Embark provisions and stores for world voyages
- Load more luggage than you could possibly imagine
- Safely embark 6,600 guests
- Ensure all three ships let go their lines at 18:00 and move to position
- Co-ordinate the three ships line up in the River between Battery Park and Statue of Liberty
- Ensure guests on all three ships are kept informed of where to watch the show from
- Co-ordinate the music to start on the three ships and at our venue at the same time as they are timed to the famous Grucci Firework show.
- And start the fireworks at exactly 18:45
Well clearly it would be a miracle if all that worked. It didn’t of course, we failed in one regard – it was not 18:45 it was 19:00. Well I hope everybody will forgive us 15 minutes even though it was cold. It is hard to describe my feelings and those of my friends and colleagues from our US sales Team as we huddled in the freezing cold on the balcony of the Ritz Carlton. In front of us were our Three Queens, the New York Skyline, surrounded by music in time to the sensational fireworks bursting above the Statue of Liberty. At that moment we could have said – ‘We are Cunard’. But tonight the thought that was going through my mind was ‘Only Cunard’. I was thinking of the experience our guests on the three ships must be having at that moment, thinking of us as a small modest British Company being honoured throughout the day by the giant New York City – you just don’t get these special experiences anywhere else – you only experience them with Cunard – and today will go down as a very special experience indeed. We will be posting a video we are producing soon, but in the meantime – below is a fantastic video created by one of our blog readers, Karl Junkersfeld.
Forgive the length of the blog but on writing up the day I guess I got a little carried away. I hope it helped share with you what was a unique and remarkable event for Cunard and New York City. If you have not experienced that special partnership – then please do take a Transatlantic Crossing on Queen Mary 2 this year – it’s simply the only way to arrive or leave New York City.
(A very Proud)President and Managing Director