Even with just three ships, Cunard Line has a storied legacy. Starting in 1840 Cunard instituted regular trans-Atlantic crossings between Southampton, England, and New York. Two of Cunard’s most famous ships were the original Queen Mary (going to sea in 1936) and the much-loved QE2 (from 1969). Miami-based Carnival Corporation acquired Cunard in 1998, leading to the arrival of the Queen Mary 2 in 2004—at the time the largest, tallest and most expensive ever built, and the only true ocean liner cruising today. In 2007, the Queen Victoria debuted, followed by the Queen Elizabeth in 2010—two sisters considerably smaller than Queen Mary 2, with traditional cruise-ship hull designs.
Cunard is a bit of an anomaly, with distinctly upper class accommodations—Queens Grill and Princess Grill—complete with exclusive sun decks and dining areas, as well as the more standard Britannia Class. The latter actually represents more than 80 percent of the cabins on each ship, accommodations that tend to be fairly average in size and amenities. But common areas throughout all ships are beautifully designed, with great attention to detail, and there’s a strong emphasis on evening dress codes—many guests use a Cunard cruise as an opportunity to showcase their fanciest duds on both formal and semi-formal nights. While we’ve found food in the main dining room and buffet restaurants to be unexceptional, specialty restaurants can be outstanding. The Cunard fleet gets around, with annual round-the-world sailings and frequent trans-Atlantic crossings on the speedy Queen Mary 2.