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Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth leaving Southampton for the last time with Southampton as her home port

There are many rumblings in Cunard land this week. On the 19th, Cunard management made this announcement:

Cunard Line, one of the oldest names in passenger shipping operating the youngest fleet at sea, will offer its guests the opportunity to be married on board for the first time in its 171-year history.  Beginning Spring 2012, a luxury cruise aboard Queen Mary 2Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth will offer a selection of wedding packages, commencing after the World Voyages have been completed.  The Weddings programme will go on sale in December 2011, with expanded details available soon.

Sound innocuous enough, doesn’t it? Good, even: here’s another service that they are offering to their customers. But there’s a sting in the tail. As British law stands it’s not possible for the captain of a ship registered in the UK to perform marriages at sea. They can be done on board while in port, but even then only by someone certified to do them e.g. a registrar. So this requires the Cunard liners to be re-flagged, and this is what is being done: from now on the three liners will fly the Bermudan flag, and will have Hamilton as their home port. Queen Elizabeth is being reflagged and re-labelled on her current cruise; the picture above (which is copyright Pam Massey, to whom I’m grateful for letting me use it) shows QE leaving Southampton for the last time with ‘Southampton’ on her stern.

This re-flagging has caused uproar amongst Cunard fans. Comments on their Facebook page about it all on their Facebook page (yes, Cunard has a Facebook page….) include the following: “What a tragedy- Cunard cutting last ties with Britain. I think I’ve made my last voyage with Cunard” and “It is a disgrace, the port of registry matters to a lot of people. It seems that the might Carnival doesnt get the Tradition or ‘class’ of Cunard”.

On the 21st Cunard posted a comment in response:

Dear Cunarders – We hear you. We appreciate everyone’s passion on this subject because we too are very passionate about Cunard. We value tradition and history and take our responsibility as stewards of our 171 year old brand seriously. 

We remain quintessentially British in all that we do. Our Head Office remains in Southampton, England. We will continue to fly the Red Ensign with pride and we will continue to serve our very diverse mix of international guests with the British signatures you all rightly expect. 

In our history we have flown many flags – of the 250 ships in our fleet only eight have carried the name Southampton on the stern. The name on the stern will not change the experience we deliver. 

We firmly believe offering weddings at sea will be very popular and support our continued success.

We understand people’s concern but we remain the Cunard that so many of you, as valued guests, have enjoyed over many years. We will never forget our proud British Heritage and we will continue to deliver our British signatures to our guests each and every day. 

We Are Cunard!

Which again is fair enough, until I started thinking about that statement in the second paragraph: “We remain quintessentially British in all that we do…” Really? Let’s see: the Cunard line is owned by an american corporation; the ships cater to a very mixed clientele, principally British, UK, and Canadian; and the currency on board is the US dollar. I’m not seeing anything ‘quintessentially British’ in that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about Cunard’s actions;  in fact, never having cruised with Cunard it would be wrong of me to do so. No, it’s that statement, that assumption, that they are British because they are Cunard; almost, in fact, that Cunard could not possibly be anything else. Well, actually it could. I have a sneaky feeling (again, without having actually cruised with them) that they offer an american idea of ‘British’. I mean, a branch of Fortnum & Mason’s on board?

All of which raises the question as to what “quintessential British-ness” is. Is it the Union Jack, the Queen, and Buckingham Palace? Or is it the Premier League, Tescos, and Tracey Emin? Would any reader like to offer their definition of ‘quintessential British-ness’?

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