Cunard started doing regular trans-Atlantic crossings way back in 1840. Although it only has three ships today, far fewer than in the glory days of sea travel, it remains the right choice for anyone looking for that traditional experience. The line's flagship, Queen Mary 2, is the largest ocean liner ever built to ply the Atlantic, and she still sails regular crossings between New York (out of Brooklyn's Red Hook terminal) and either Southampton, England (a couple hours outside of London) or Hamburg, Germany.
So what makes this an ocean liner rather than a regular cruise ship? The extra strengthening and sleek hull design allow the vessel to handle rough seas more nimbly than any other ship at sea right now, which is not a small thing — especially during those cold winter months.
What We Love
Truly Formal Nights: Cunard has the most formal evening dress code (two or three nights of the sailing) on the high seas, a delight for those who like to dress up for an evening of dancing to a big band. It isn't white tie or black tie; it's black tie optional, which means (at minimum) dark suits and cocktail-length dresses. But, unlike on other lines, about 90 percent of the passengers comply, creating an unusually elegant atmosphere.
The Best Libraries: Queen Mary 2 has the largest book collection at sea, with professional librarians in attendance, and the space affords wonderful views of the ocean from comfy reading chairs. Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria both have two-level libraries.
Best Known For
Crossing the Atlantic: Cunard has preserved the option of bridging continents by sea, and “Getting There is Half the Fun” lives on in style. Long-held traditions include sipping broth on the deck with a good book and a wool blanket.
Afternoon Tea: A daily ritual takes place in the Queens Room on all three ships, with a choice of teas plus crustless sandwiches, fresh pastries, and scones with clotted cream served in multiple courses, all to musical accompaniment.
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Who It's Best For
Those Who Like Crossings: For some, this is a bucket list experience, but Cunard also has many regular passengers who cross every year and like the rhythm of days at sea.
Traditionalists: Even on sailings that aren’t crossings, the refined atmosphere remains.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Dress Code Is Adhered To: Some will cringe at the formality; if you don’t like to follow rules, this probably isn’t the best choice for you.
Theodore W. Scull is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has written several books on crossings.