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Update: Carnival Corporation has issued a statement saying “There is no truth to this rumour”. So that’s that… still, it was an interesting thought, and I still think that there must be a significant difference between the Cunard experience on Queen Mary 2 on the one hand, and on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on the other.

There are rumours today about the future of Cunard. The line is presently owned by Carnival Corporation (and has been since the early 90s), but there are suggestions today that Carnival may want to divest themselves of the line, the brand and all of its ships (or maybe just two of them? – see below) to a dedicated operator. There is a suggestion that Carnival have had difficulty competing Cunard with the truly luxury lines.

Of course, it’s also true that, at the present time, Carnival Corporation would welcome some cash liquidity, and selling Cunard line would be a small, discrete package that might generate some cash. It might be that in normal times the sale would not have been contemplated (if, indeed, it is being contemplated now – these are just rumours), but these are not normal times.

Cunard operate three ships – Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria. The first of these is markedly different from the others. Queen Mary 2 is regarded as the last true ocean liner, even though she only went into service in 2004. When she did so she was the largest passenger ship ever built at 148,528 GT. The other two ships, however, are very different. They are modified ‘Vista’ class ships, with a GT figure of just over 90,000, and there are a number of these. Holland-America line has, I think, six similar ships, from the original Vista class ships onwards; P&O has one, the Arcadia (which was intended at one point to be a Cunard ship); and Costa cruises has a couple that are very similar to the two Cunarders. All these other lines are also owned by Carnival Corporation, of course.

There is one other characteristic of Cunard which is unusual, and that is the existence of what in practice is a continuation of old-style First Class. This is the ‘Grills’ class (actually, two classes, Queens’ Grills for those few passengers in the very best suites, and Princess Grill for passengers in other suites). The menus in the Grills restaurants are definitely better than in the Britannia restaurant (for non-suite passengers). It’s also the case that meals in the two Grills restaurants are cooked to order whereas meals in the Britannia are not. All of this contrasts with what generally happens in other cruise lines, in that passengers in suites share the same dining room and menu, etc, as all other passengers.

I’ve always wondered about Cunard’s policy in this regard. I can’t help feeling that passengers in the Grills classes must indeed be having a luxury experience, while other all other passengers must feel a little like second-class citizens – there are parts of the ship, and experiences on-board, that they simply don’t have access to, and that’s an odd situation today. Perhaps that’s why Cunard have found difficulty in selling their cruises as luxury cruises – for most passengers, they simply aren’t. This would be even more the case on board Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, where the environment is distinctly more ordinary than on Queen Mary 2. At least on that ship there is space and, I gather, a feeling of grandeur regardless of what class your cabin is.

But this is all speculation – we must wait to see if there’s any substance to it.

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