October 11, 2011
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Queen Elizabeth
It is hard to believe that today we celebrate the first birthday of our new liner Queen Elizabeth – and celebrate it we will. This time last year there was enormous anticipation for the new ship amongst all of our valued Cunarders and she was generating very significant interest in many parts of the world.
At precisely 1530 a year ago today, I was standing at the forward gangway waiting for Her Majesty to arrive. To my right – Queen Elizabeth. To my left – 2,000 guests, a Symphony Orchestra and Marching Bands – and around us – the world’s media. Exactly to time the burgundy Rolls Royce turned the corner and I could see Her Majesty. From the moment she arrived she put everybody at ease and we were blessed with a marvellous event and launch. The sun shone, Her Majesty smiled, the bottle broke and we all felt proud to be British.
This was just the launch that Queen Elizabeth deserved and the start of a very eventful first year. I thought you might find it interesting to hear my own perspective on how her first year has gone. But first, take a look at this short video of highlights from that wonderful day a year ago and her first year in the fleet:
Let’s look at where she has been. After a series of inaugural voyages and her Maiden Christmas voyage, she set off on her Maiden Round the World voyage. That was a magnificent experience for those who came with us as she was given a marvellous welcome in many famous ports – big and small – around the world. Since returning to Southampton she has spent her first summer sailing from Southampton on a series of Northern and Mediterranean voyages. She had a terrific Maiden Round Britain voyage with a very special event in Liverpool, followed by a crossing to North America and Maiden visits to Boston and Halifax. She has carried over 50,000 guests and travelled over 125,000 nautical miles.
Quite rightly, all of our guests had very high expectations prior to joining Queen Elizabeth. That has meant that our primary focus at Cunard has been in ensuring we work closely with the ship’s company to meet or exceed those expectations and to ensure that the ship ends her first year with a fine reputation.
Queen Elizabeth introduced a number of new features to Cunard Line – some have been successful right from the start and others we have had to tweak and further develop to make sure our guests enjoy their experience. Here is a flavour of how she is doing:
The main Britannia dining room has been a great hit. The design, look and feel of this awesome room recreates the golden days of ocean liner travel. It creates a wonderful ambience for dinner. With quite a few new members to the ship’s company, there has been a real team effort to make sure we get the consistency of our service right in the main dining room. We used our White Star Academy and White Star Training programme to make sure all those new to the team were given as much support as possible. We also supported those who had been promoted into supervisory and management positions to help them develop their leadership skills. The team performed right from the very first voyage and today we are receiving very positive feedback from our guests. The menus and quality of food have been very well appreciated by our guests and up to the expected high standard. Whether guests are having breakfast, lunch or dinner we are now getting excellent feedback and can safely say that the main dining room experience in the Britannia is really up to scratch.
Well, let me bring you into a little secret – Britannia Club is fast becoming one of the most popular features of Cunard Line. The ability to have your own private dining room and eat whenever you wish, whilst staying in one of the Premium Balcony staterooms in the current tough economy is proving to be the best value for money that Cunard offer. We have a very successful Britannia Club on Queen Mary 2 – but on Queen Elizabeth we took the extra step of creating a distinctly separate and beautiful dining room. Yes – Britannia Club is an absolute success and is selling extremely well.
Well, if I am honest this was seen by some commentators as quite a risk for Cunard Line. Many other lines in the cruise industry feature external well known chefs to front their alternative dining venues. In fact we too, through Todd English have such a relationship on both Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. However, our plan was to deliver something very special, unique and very Cunard through the Verandah. It has turned out to be one of the most successful features of Queen Elizabeth. Having dinner in the Verandah is, in fact, an event all in itself. Through our wonderful Maitre D’, the beautiful French “farm to plate” dishes designed by our culinary ambassador Jean-Marie Zimmerman, have proved to be a real hit. It is interesting for Cunard in looking at our alternative dining venues. One of the challenges we have is that we pride ourselves on a very high level of cuisine in every restaurant on board our ships. Therefore, it can sometimes be difficult for us to tempt our guests to try something different. For example, if you are lucky enough to have 7 nights dining in the Queens Grill – why would you forsake a night of absolute excellence to go to a different dining venue? Well of course our guests have the choice and they really do see Verandah as a ‘night out’
We have managed to give a softer tone to the Lido on Queen Elizabeth, such that in the evening when we turn it into various alternative dining venues it becomes a very comfortable and relaxing venue. The alternative dining options in the evening are proving to be very popular. When we introduced the $10 charge for the alternative restaurants in the Lido we came under a little bit of scrutiny and criticism from our guests and industry commentators. We were in fact accused of being a bit sharp in terms of asking people to pay extra. However our experience on both Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria had shown that these venues were becoming so popular that it was proving very difficult for guests to get a reservation. Those guests that discovered the venues were going time and time again and we needed to introduce a level of democracy to the situation. We therefore decided to put a nominal $10 charge for eating at our alternative venues on all three ships. This has been well accepted by our guests – not least when they consider the quality of the experience that $10 buys them – and as people do not go time and time again, it has meant that the venues have been more available to more people. In these days of formality – which remains a real Cunard strength – it has also proved a venue which can be more relaxing for guests who, particularly on longer voyages, want to try a more relaxed evening than our main dining rooms.
We continue to learn and adapt to the changing nature of Lido dining on board our ships. You know as people become more conscious of health and wellbeing, the amount of food being consumed in the Lido is declining and I personally think will decline further in years to come. I often think it strange that on some cruise lines people tend to “eat for England” a number of times during the day. In many other fine hotel venues around the world you simply do not have the ability to have a substantial meal partway through the afternoon, in advance of a beautiful dinner. And therefore whilst we do and will continue to offer the full breakfast, lunch and evening service in the Lido, we are working hard to adapt to our changing guests’ needs during the day. One little secret which is going really well on board Queen Elizabeth is the pizza and pasta station within the Lido. Do try it if you have not already. You can pop up to the counter and choose your own fresh pasta as well as your own sauce and they will make it there fresh for you. If you like a pizza – and I have to admit I have a liking for a pizza whilst travelling on board our ships – then you can order your own pizza, leave your name and our wonderful staff will ask you to come back in 7 minutes. Yes – it’s the 7 minute pizza and if you go up in 6 minutes it won’t be ready and if you leave it more than 7 minutes they will come and find you. But the pizzas are excellent on board Queen Elizabeth.
Queens Grill and Princess Grill
Well this on Queen Elizabeth, like Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2, is simply cuisine at its best. On both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria the position of the two Grill restaurants at the top of the ship is in fact a real wow. Not only do our guests enjoy the very best in cuisine at sea, but the views from these restaurants are quite stunning. There is also a tremendous sense of privacy as the two restaurants have both an outdoor grill terrace and of course are adjacent to the Queens Grill Lounge, which is a wonderfully quiet and relaxing venue, both during the day and for pre and post dinner drinks. On Queen Elizabeth both Princess Grill and Queens Grill, from a cuisine and service perspective, are receiving great accolades from our guests.
Generally around the ship the reaction to the main public rooms has been terrific. I was recently in Santa Clarita in California where our designer Teresa Anderson is based. I was able to congratulate her almost a year on as to the reaction our guests have given us over the overall designs of Queen Elizabeth. I have a sneaking suspicion that of all the many ships Teresa has so ably designed in her long and illustrious career– Queen Elizabeth is her favourite. I was really pleased to be able to introduce her personally to Her Majesty the Queen at the time of the ship’s naming and Teresa I know is very proud of her achievements. Credit too must go to Giacomo Mortola, who partnered Teresa on the design of Queen Elizabeth. Some of the areas that have been well received include:
Royal Court Theatre – it is difficult for your jaw not to drop when you see this room on Queen Elizabeth for the first time. It is quite a magnificent room and the private boxes are proving to be very, very popular. As you may know we have introduced something quite different on Queen Elizabeth with the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Company. The approach here was to be able to offer a far more varied entertainment programme to our guests. As well as offering traditional production shows we introduced a range of different entertainments, including some Shakespeare plays and some Neil Simon plays.
Commodore Club – this signature Cunard room has a wonderful location right at the top and front of Queen Elizabeth. What makes the Commodore Club on Queen Elizabeth special are the beautiful murals of our ships. Guests love to just sit and relax in the Commodore Club either during the day or during the evening.
Queens Room – this has proved to be just as successful as it is on our other two ships. We did change the design slightly over Queen Victoria in moving the main entrance once you are in the Queens Room to the centre of the room. On Queen Victoria the entrance was at the beginning of the room and that led to some congestion particularly on the formal nights where so many guests would like to meet with the Captain. By moving it to the centre of the room, it has opened the room up and the guest flow is much more comfortable. Listening to the wonderful band and watching so many of our guests enjoying their dancing, is a sight to behold in the Queens Room. And of course this is the venue for the Afternoon Tea which continues to be a real hit (and yes it is fine to have Cunard jam and cream with your scones every now and then – why not).
Cafe Carinthia – those of you who know our ship designs well will know that in creating the Britannia Club on Queen Elizabeth, it meant we had to forsake the popular Chart Room Bar that we have in the same area on Queen Victoria. We were a little bit worried at the time as to whether this would create a lack of available bar space, particularly for pre-dinner drinks. So in order to alleviate that, we created more space in Cafe Carinthia. Cafe Carinthia on Queen Elizabeth is a beautiful room. We also introduced a new way of serving our coffee. Coffee has become much more popular now for all of us in our everyday lives. The difference on Queen Elizabeth is that when you order a coffee – be it a cappuccino, a latte or a macchiato – it arrives on a small silver tray with a glass of chilled water and a little biscotti. This has created an experience out of having a cup of coffee and with the beautifully comfortable sofas and chairs the Cafe Carinthia has become a place where guests simply love to dwell. And in the evenings, either before or after dinner, Cafe Carinthia continues to be a lovely meeting place for our guests.
Midships Bar – the fascination of this little bar is that it is surrounded with wonderful memorabilia. If you do travel with us then make sure you look at the detail of the memorabilia we have in this area. My favourite – and I have seen many guests stop and look with interest – is we have an invoice from John Brown Shipyard for the construction of the first Queen Elizabeth. If only the charges for building this Queen Elizabeth were the same as they were in those days. Guests are also fascinated by the first class white telephone that we have that originally sat in one of the staterooms on the first Queen Elizabeth.
Royal Spa – We have had very favourable feedback for the Royal Spa. All modern ships have such extensive space these days for guests, either for those people who are really into their fitness or those who are just looking to relax with a massage or indeed use the facilities of the salon. The Royal Spa on Queen Elizabeth has proved to be very popular – especially the Spa pool.
Garden Lounge – This room is working very nicely. In the afternoon we serve our new ‘Champagne Tea Service’. We are also using the room for Jazz evenings and other events. The bar here is also proving to be a popular meeting place both during the day and in the evenings. The Garden Lounge is becoming a room where we are able to introduce more variety of entertainment.
Outdoor areas – we have a hit on our hands with our games court. You may know that up there we have Short Mat Garden Bowls, Croquet and of course our famous Paddle Tennis court. It was always going to be fun watching our British guests teach our American guests how to play English garden bowls. And fun it has turned out to be. It is quirky and it is something different and very British. I was also a little concerned as to how you keep a Garden Bowl level on the 12th deck of a ship at sea. But overall this area has proved to be tremendously popular and very relaxing for our guests either if they want to partake in the quirky English sports or simply sit, relax and watch others perform. The deck space on board Queen Elizabeth is more than sufficient for our guests.
There was a lot of chatter about whether you could promenade right the way around the ship. Well, to those who have been on board Queen Elizabeth – you certainly can on this ship – you can go right the way around 360 degrees and it is proving to be a very popular pastime. One of the things that Cunard do best is to provide a wonderful ambience for guests who like to promenade around the ship – particularly first thing in the morning – and you simply cannot beat the experience – it is very Cunard. The Queens Grill and Princess Grill private deck space has proved to be popular and there is ample space and chairs for all. The aft deck is considerably bigger on Queen Elizabeth than on Queen Victoria as we extended more cabins aft on Queen Elizabeth. As we approached the final stages of the building of Queen Elizabeth, I did think that we had missed a trick in not building a substantial canopy on the main aft deck. I think these days more and more people are keen to find shaded areas – particularly as we have such an extensive deck. Hands up – I personally think I made a mistake here and we will look at whether we can install a canopy when Queen Elizabeth comes in for her first refit. I think this would also further enhance the ability for people to relax and have lunch or even dinner outside under that canopy area.
I have been on the ship many times and often to listen to guests as they walk around for the first time. I can honestly say that in Queen Elizabeth we have a beautiful ship that is being very well received by our guests. She is very homely and has a lot of memories of QE2 and of our special links to the Royal Family. It is more than anything a beautiful ship and one where our guests feel right at home from the minute they arrive. She has also become a wonderful younger sister to Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria.
So proud of our Ship’s Company - I can’t speak highly enough of the people who work on board Queen Elizabeth. In particular there are many who joined the ship at the early stage of the ship’s construction. I can assure you that building a ship is not easy and does not come without challenges. Our Senior Officers, led by Captain Chris Wells, showed enormous leadership to every member of the ship’s company right through the build process, whilst the ship came into service, and every single day over the last ten months. It is their passion and the passion of every member of the ship’s company that has really been the success of Queen Elizabeth. Right from the moment when you walk on board and see our wonderful staff in their crisp Cunard uniforms, you can sense White Star Service and you can sense that each and every one of them knows the passion of “We Are Cunard”. In the early days it was quite challenging for many of our staff. Challenging for those who were with Cunard for the first time and challenging for those of our loyal and more senior staff who had to support and nurture those newcomers into the Cunard White Star Service. And they have done magnificently well.
On a recent 14 day voyage – through the customer service questionnaires – our guests scored the overall voyage above 93%. They scored the dining room service at 97%. They scored the service they received in their staterooms at 95%. When asked “Would you recommend Cunard Line to a friend?” 98.5% said “Yes”. When asked if they would sail with Cunard and Queen Elizabeth again – over 97% said “Yes”. These are some of the highest scores we have seen on a Cunard ship for some time. And those scores simply reflect the pride and passion of every member of the ship’s company. Importantly, they also reflect the feelings of our guests.
So on the first birthday of Queen Elizabeth we have real a sense of achievement, but at the same time a realism that we have to continue to work our socks off to deliver to the expectations of our guests.
We have ourselves a wonderful ship, a fine sister to Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria and one that we are proud to have in the Cunard fleet.
I hope you have enjoyed my own personal reflections of Queen Elizabeth – and I hope you are able to sail on her soon. In particular – if it was down to me – I would be choosing to sail on her during her Maiden Mediterranean season in 2012. There won’t be a finer ship in the Mediterranean.
I hope you are all keeping well and Best Regards.