The legendary Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 on the Hudson River in New York City, October 16, 2008, as she departs for the final time.

24 October, 2011

Goodbye QM2

Here's a video compilation of the the QM2 bridgecam, showing her sailing off into the sunset, along with my enthusiasm for Cunard at this moment.  This whole reflagging mess that has been created by Carnival/Cunard has me re-evaluating where to spend my cruise dollars next.  With this one move, I am now seeing the future of Cunard in a different light.  I am deeply saddened to say that I have no desire to sail on Cunard now.  The reality of what they're really about is now staring me straight in the face.
In the past, I've been willing to accept higher prices for a bit of that so called "Cunard 171 years of tradition", knowing all along that there was a bit of trickery going on behind the scenes, but I justified it all as necessary to remain profitable.  Now, with the move to reflag the entire Cunard fleet to Bermuda to skirt paying higher wages to crew disguised around the trumped up issue of needing need to have weddings on Cunarders to remain profitable, suddenly, the line has lost its polish.  All the marketing prose I have lapped up for years is ringing a bit hollow.

What most irritates me is how disingenuous the excuse has been on the part of Cunard and taking loyal cruisers, which I count myself as previously one, for granted.  This line exists solely on its history and now they've sold out on that.  What other cruise line do people take because of the lines history or the port displayed on the stern or even the flag flown?  Only one; Cunard.  I highly doubt a single soul is booking an NCL cruise for their Norwegian heritage or even Holland America for their Dutch ties.  Cunard touts their history with various versions of QE2's Heritage Trail on their ships.  A Heritage Trail on a NCL ship is a laughable thought.  Would they highlight their disposal of their own flagship, the Norway?

Cunard beards have screwed with the very thing that attracts people to the line, the British Maritime History.  Shame on them.  This obviously company written press release is absolute rubbish.  Just as I was getting over Mr. Shank's comments uttered at QE2's farewell in Southampton that QE2 was holding the brand back, he come's out with this marrage excuse to further water down the brand.  Then, as an insult to injury, Cunard posts this utterly ridiculous response to the growing discontent among Cunard fans on the their Facebook page.  It's been all quiet since this one response on their part. 
The loyal fans have not been quiet though, as long list of negative comments demonstrates.  Reading that this very process is not new, having previously been  done on another Carnival owed line, P & O in the not to distant past wrapped around the same wedding excuse, I cynically feel this is all calculated.  If the Carnival beards could not foresee the backlash, then they have no clue what they've got with CUNARD.

I am insulted.  Only eight ships with the Southampton name?  What about Liverpool?  The real question is how many Cunard passenger ships were NOT flagged in the UK?  In all fairness to Mr Shanks, I have no idea what ultimately was his role as President of the line is in this.  Did he personally write this lame attempt at damage control?  One has to wonder whether it goes farther up the command.  With all his recent comments about QE2 and the history of Cunard, I was really thinking he finally "got it" regarding why so many fans still long for QE2 and the rich history of the line.  Mr. Shanks, show us your real passion for this line and how you fought to the bitter end to preserve its heritage.  I suspect most of us Cunarders would be more willing to accept this change if we were told the truth and shown how far the company went to keep Southampton on the sterns of the fleet.

Going back to 1998, Micky Arison, President of Carnival Corporation, bought the line and inherited a rich maritime history along with the most famous ship in the world, QE2.  He built his dream of an ocean liner, yet compromised it with the additional decks, a stubby funnel, and unreliable pod propulsion.  Not that I like it, I get all that actually.  It had to be financially feasible to put that amount of money into a ship and those tough decisions had to be made.  Later Micky goes on to sell QE2 for a cool 100 million and washes his hands of her, deftly avoiding the whole messy disposal question.  It is obvious that Cunard was not going to repeat NCL's mistakes with the Norway. 

Now I've consistently touted the fact that if it wasn't for Carnival, QE2 would have never had the lavish care right up to her retirement, nor would there have even been a replacement built. Carnival saved Cunard, but now it seemed like the brand has become homogenized as it has been brought under the umbrella of the "World's Leading Cruise Lines."

Ultimately, the goal of the line is to turn a profit, and as as a shareholder myself, I am in complete agreement there.  Sadly, there appears to be a perceptibly slow, drip, drip like, erosion of the Cunard brand.  I have seen it and I am by far not a frequent passenger (Gold World Club status for fellow Cunarders), yet  I still notice.  With this move to reflag the fleet, the Flagship of the fleet, QM2 will no longer be the pride of the British Merchant Marine, nor will the new plastic Lizzy be able to continue to use the radio call sign "GBTT", with it's long history with the great Clyde-built Queens.  Wasn't there much fanfare over the transfer of this call sign from QE2 to QE(3) by Cunard only a short time ago?  Cunard has messed with it's history and tradition.  That is a recipe for disaster for that was the one thing that set the line apart from all the rest.  What is next?  Rock climbing walls and water slides?  Hairy chest contests at the pool?  So much for tradition. 

In a way, this decision has been liberating, freeing me up to look at other ways to spend our limited vacation dollars.  Perhaps a trip to see the original Mary and the fine Scottish craftsmanship in  authentic Art Deco style is what I need.  At least Liverpool is still displayed on her stern.

16 October, 2011

Three Years Ago

October 16, 2008, Queen Elizabeth 2, left New York under command of  Captain Ian McNaught, for her final transatlantic crossing of her career.  This would be a tandem crossing with Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2, the purpose built flagship of Cunard and replacement for QE2.  I watched her departure from a chartered NY Watertaxi on the Hudson River.  Captain McNaught, QE2's final Master and biggest fan, with her paying out pennant flying (the long thin one at the top)  from the foremast, gave us a wave from the iconic open bridge wing as she passed us on her way down the Hudson for the rendevous with Queen Mary 2.  Here is a video compilation of the event. 

As we made one final pass around the ship, we all noted that it appeared that almost every porthole and cabin window were lit up for this final departure.  Were the cabin stewards all instructed to turn on all cabin lights and pull back curtains?  We'll never know, but nevertheless, it made for a spectacular site for QE2 fans, marking the end to an era.  The boat ride back to the dock was a quiet one, with those onboard seemly all quietly reflecting on the event that just transpired.

07 October, 2011

So Far From Home

Three years ago today, I was onboard QE2, anchored off the Forth Rail Bridge in Queensferry, Scotland.  This day would be the last day she would fly the St. Andrews Flag of Scotland.  As with dinner each night, we were presented with another special menu, commemorating the day, as shown above.  Obsessed QE2 fans will easily spot when this photo was originally taken by the so called "speed stripe" visible on her hull below the Cunard logo and running aft.  By the time I saw her in 2000, this stripe had been removed.  I did not notice this since my true obsession had not yet fully blossomed until I had experienced the ship for the first time.

Reflecting on the past three years, it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride; witnessing the sad farewell in NYC, staying up all night watching her run aground on the AIS website on her final approach to Southampton, catching all the coverage of her final departure from Southampton,  barely stomaching the arrival in Dubai, scouring the internet for any news of the conversion plans, finding and connecting with fans suffering with the same sense of loss and fustration over the lack of news, utter joy in seeing her in drydock for a cleaning and mainenance work for a planned sailing to Capetown for the World Cup, devastation when the Capetown deal is scuttled for whatever reason, worrying over her condition after seeing rumors posted on various boards, relief and utter sadness watching Rob Lightbody's videos of his exclusive visit to the ship, and most currently, more worries after seeing the reports that the plan to put her in the planned Dubai development have been scuttled. 

I think these words written on the back of one of the commemorative dinner menus still ring true today, three years later........