Transatlantic Crossing Observations on the QM2: The Passengers. Rich? Famous? Fabulous?
This is another in a series of articles of observations that I wrote while on-board the Cunard Queen Mary 2 on a winter transatlantic crossing. For a list of the others in the series, see the end of this article.
As I write this I am sitting in one of the public areas having a coffee. It is quite early in the morning and I am enjoying the peace and pace of the Crossing. It amuses me that over the sound system the theme song “My Heart Will Go On” from “The Titanic” is playing. Maybe someone with a sense of humour is having some fun today? I always thought that maybe the film and song would be avoided, a bit like not showing airplane disaster movies on planes! The theme playing though is apt for this article, as I reflect and give observations about the passengers on-board the Queen Mary 2 Crossing.
The Titanic theme conjures up contrasting images of the passengers on that glamorous ship. One image is of fabulous, rich and classy First Class passengers dressed in grand fine clothes. The other is of rough, ready but good hearted tourist class passengers up for a good time and making the most of their lot. Is this what you find on-board the Queen Mary 2 today?
When you see commercials and posters for cruising and crossings, Cunard focuses on the heritage and image of the grand voyages of the glory days of Transatlantic Crossings. They focus on The Rich, The Famous and The Celebrities that made the Crossing in years gone by. In the heritage halls around the ship there are massive posters that celebrate, with beautiful black and white images, the famous that have travelled on Cunard and their crossings. They are images were all taken on board on past Cunard Ships, like the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. One of the brochures sitting on the table in the medical centre while people were waiting to see the nurse to get anti-seasickness jabs on the first day at sea (when we were passing through a storm) read “Feel Famous, Travel on Cunard”. Though most of them felt ill – were they famous or feeling famous at being on board?
The reality of modern cruising is that there are a lot of ships, a lot of competition and a lot of berths to fill. So the reality is that the mix of passengers is very diverse. They are not as easily classified, and they are all seeking a diverse range of experiences. This article gives my observations of who they are, and what they are like, on a Crossing
The Winter Crossing in the Queen Mary 2 provides Cunard with a really big challenge, and the passengers reflect this. Crossing the Atlantic in Winter can be a hard sell. It is going to be cold at sea during the day and night, and so people are not going to be able to sit around on the decks taking in the air and sunshine. It is almost certainly going to be stormy at some point (or even for long periods), as that is the reality of nature. It is a tough economy and people, while still travelling, are looking for amazing bargains before paying out to travel.
And yet, Cunard need to find up to 2600 passengers to fill the ship to get the ship to New York. Getting to New York before Christmas is very important as the Queen Mary 2 has an established, and popular, tradition of travelling from New York to the Caribbean for Christmas and New Year. A trip that I know they had very little problems selling, and it is a lucrative 2 weeks with premium fares on the berths.
Unlike the images that the “Titanic” theme throws up of the ship packed with the rich and fabulous, or the brochures of youthful beautiful people, most people I speak to still think of cruising being about little old ladies, grey haired “fuddy duddy” couples and unadventurous travellers that need “moddly coddling”. While there are undoubtedly some elements of these amount the 2400 passengers on-board a Cunard Queen Mary 2 Crossing, it only tells part of the story.
The following are some aspects to the diversity of passengers you will find on the Queen Mary 2 on a crossing:
Not really. You hear of names like George Bush Senior, Rod Stewart, John Cleese, and famous band members that fear flying using the Queen Mary 2 to cross the Atlantic. But the reality is that most celebrities fly. The best you are likely to get is a celebrity guest speaker on your crossing. On this one we had Celia Imrie, who UK people know. In the Summer Sir David Frost and Michael Winner were speakers.
I have spoken to some people on-board right now who are crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 in inside cabins and smallish cabins with portholes for 7 nights (with all their food and entertainment) for less than the cost of a 2 hour return business class flight to Barcelona. People can be paying as little as £500 – £600 ($750 – $1000) per person for 7 nights! At the same time people are travelling in some 2 storey deluxe apartment style suites for around £25000 / $35000 per person. With the price for the vast range of staterooms being so diverse, you have a mix of people reflecting that.
Unlike the days of the segregated class based ships, like “The Titanic” or even the ships like “Queen Elizabeth” or “Queen Mary”, on-board the Queen Mary 2 the passengers and the ship is not segregated. The only nod to segregation by class is that the dining room you eat in is based on your cabin grade (Queens Grill which is kind of like “First Class” on the plane; “Princess Grill” which you could argue is like Business on the plane; and Britannia which would be coach / economy). There is then one lounge and a concierge lounge for Grills passengers, along with a deck area. But other than that it is integrated, and other than the dining rooms not very much enforced and regulated. So the person next to you in the theatre may be the $35,000 suite resident…. or a £100/ $150 a night bargain hunter!
While the crossing of the Atlantic attracts and appeals to a broader type of traveller, the average age of passengers is still quite high. I am guessing probably in the 50s to early 60s age range. Mostly are couples who are now of an age where their children are grown up and have left home. People who now have the money, and time, to enjoy their retirement or are soon to retire. Unlike some more sedate cruises like those to the Fjords though, you do not see as many very elderly people on a Crossing – as I think the potential movement and boisterous seas put off those who are less steady on their feet.
British and Americans
On this crossing, as with others I have been on, 65% of passengers are British. Around 20% are American. If you are doing a Western Crossing from New York to Southampton then the American mix will rise. But it still seems that a Cunard Crossing is very much a US – UK activity. Canadians, Australians and Germans are usually well represented with between 50 and 100 passengers each.
Most people tend to be those who have done cruising before. This is because they know they love the experience – and will enjoy the 7 days at sea. They know there will be a lot to do. They also know how they handle the movement if the sea gets rough. There are people that are first time cruisers, but they seem very much the minority – and usually are here for come significant event like a milestone birthday or anniversary
Every crossing I have ever done always has a large amount of gay men couples on-board. I have no idea why, though there are a number of gay travel agents that promote and run group bookings for Crossings. But there always will be a surprisingly large cross section of gay couples of all ages on-board. The “Friends of Dorothy” informal gay meetings on-board at 5pm every day seem quite popular, though there are enough gay men about that one could easily meet other gay couples without that meeting. It seems that passengers on a crossing and the crew create an environment that is welcoming and non threatening.
There are also a large amount of solo travellers. Cunard is used to catering for solo women travellers, especially on World Cruises. However, on every crossing – and the Winter ones especially – there seem to be a fair amount of solo travellers. This could be because fares tend to be discounted a great deal to attract people to the winter crossing, and so even with the premium for taking a cabin for just one, it is more affordable.
There is always a fair smattering of people who are commuting to New York and the USA for Christmas and New Year, usually to see family. They then join the ship after its 2 weeks Caribbean trip to return to Europe. I have spoke to quite a few people, including the couple on the table next to us.
There is a fair amount of families, but as the crossing starts before the school holidays it is not massive. The kids clubs and groups we have seen look like there are only maybe 30 or so kids on-board, though there are almost 150. Kids seem to be kept well hidden and busy by the Kids Clubs!
A Crossing has a huge range of fares. And so the passengers will reflect that. It is very UK usually, with a good representation of Americans. It is clearly though a welcoming place and so solo travellers and gay couples feel comfortable enough to come on a Crossing without feeling left out or isolated. Interesting jumble of people. Though it would be nice to have just more of those rich, famous and celebrity of the days of old too to bring that romance and glamour back!
Read the other articles in my series of QM2 Crossing Observations:
Ocean in Motion and dealing with seasickness.
Keeping the Norovirus at bay
Enlightenment at Sea