What’s Wrong with Cunard Cruise Line? Tips on surviving past their 175 year anniversary!

What’s Wrong with Cunard? My tips on what they need to do  to survive past their 175 year anniversary in 2015

Cunard Queen Elizabeth Bergen

Cunard Queen Elizabeth Bergen

Seated on either side of us on our Caribbean Christmas cruise on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, were two charming couples. Mike and Barbara (a couple in their late 60s and early 70) representing the present, and Simon and Melissa (a newly-wed couple in their late 30s and early 40s with a two-year old son) representing the future. And here lies the problem and challenge that Cunard are facing.

Throughout the cruise we came across many people like Simon and Melissa. Younger couples and families just getting into cruising and who had been attracted to the romance, heritage and up-market perception of Cunard. And during the trip becoming increasingly disappointed by the dated experience, facilities and entertainment that serves the past and present so well – but does not meet the needs of the future cruiser. The probability of couples and families like them returning is small.

Cunard face a real problem and an increasingly urgent need to contemporise and evolve their on-board offer if they want to be relevant and appealing to the new and emerging generation of travellers. Even the core audience has changed beyond the confines of the current product. It now looks increasingly dated as it is failing to run with the change in digital, connectivity and tastes for diversity of dining and in entertainment.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth Grand Lobby

Cunard Queen Elizabeth Grand Lobby

I am a very loyal Cunard traveller, and have close to 100 nights cruising with them, with extended voyages done and more booked. There are aspects of what they do that I adore like the suites and restaurant, but I wish desperately that they would rise to the needs of today’s traveller and adapt.

Specifically I think they need to address the following:

Connectivity

The internet is one of the poorest I have experienced on any of the luxury and ultra-luxury lines. It is expensive and the reliability and service poor. There is no option to have an unlimited package to stay connected. Even the value lines within the extended Carnival family have better and more attractive packages and connectivity. It is a challenge to do decent surfing, download things like podcasts, digital subscription to newspapers, watch YouTube videos, post images  or video clips to social media or Skype and FaceTime. All of which modern travellers, of all ages, want to be able to do. If guests were posting more about their experience it would ultimately benefit Cunard as social media is becoming very influential in driving travel choices.

Staying connected is important to modern travellers as they are used to constantly engaging for pleasure and also keeping attached to work. This has to be improved to be relevant to these future guests.

Interactive Digital

The TV system is outdated and has no interactivity. You cannot book excursions, view and order photographs taken of you, check your account balance, watch films and shows on demand or make dining reservations or order room service. This makes it cumbersome and inefficient for both guests and customer-facing crew who should be liberated to spend more quality time advising and building service with guests than processing simple requests like copies of statements. Modern consumers are used to doing things interactively, and at a time that they want, rather than having to go and and perform tasks like these in person.

Photographs

Photographs are still printed out and displayed. This is costly and a poor environmental process. No doubt also leading to the high cost of buying them. You should be able to view and order them off your in-room TV or via iPads in the photographic centre. You should also be able to receive them as digital files to post immediately onto social media.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth Britannia Restaurant

Cunard Queen Elizabeth Britannia Restaurant

Dining Choices

People are more adventurous and want choice. This has improved with the addition of themed dining evenings such as Chinese and Indian. But these are in the rather uninspiring Kings Court buffet restaurant which places table cloths on the tables to make it a restaurant – rather than the more refined and designed alternatives on other cruise lines. Modern travellers need more diversity of speciality dining and providing places like a sushi bar, tapas and other food trends is needed. This is where the lines attracting younger and more modern travellers excel. Perhaps Cunard could start using some of the space in places like the Winter Garden, an uninspiring and under used venue.

Fitness

The gym on Queen Mary 2 is too small, dated and does not provide a modern workout venue. The classes are held in a meeting room down in the lower decks of the ship. On Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth the facilities are slightly better, but still under developed and under sized. On modern lines attracting the new wave of younger and more active young-at-heart traveller have large and modern facilities with a good range of classes in accessible studios. This is needed.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth Queens Room

Cunard Queen Elizabeth Queens Room

Entertainment

This is one of the weakest areas in the overall Cunard experience. The production shows are uninspired, dated and hail from a previous era. The stodgy song and dance shows are past their sell-by date. The guest artists are largely names and individuals in the sunset of their careers with the repertoire and routines to match. The shows all look backwards. There needs to be a total rethink and a need to bring younger and more dynamic acts, focused on emerging talent perhaps performing highlights from shows on the West End and Broadway today and following trends.

The Enrichment talks are retreads of the same faces and, while they know how to deliver a talk, many admit to have 10, 20 and 30 years history of talking on the ships. Modern and relevant talks that are important to the contemporary traveller are needed.

The digital workshops  are all about the basics of using iPhones and iPads. This is crazy. Even the older generation have embraced these tools – and there should be workshops on new skills and building new talents to challenge and stretch an increasingly connected and social media active generation.

Differentiation by Grade

Cunard is proud of offering a three tier option to travellers with Britannia, Princess and Queens Grill. However, if they want to attract the range of travellers that this system needs, they have to review differentiation across them. At present the key difference is the size and location of staterooms and the restaurant. However, even the value lines like MSC Cruises and Norwegian have introduced a premium suites option and built in greater differentiation by creating ship-within-ship areas where the facilities are grouped and the service therefore is better targeted and delivered. They have proper decks for the premium suites with stand alone pool, bars and hot tubs. Cunard have them scattered about the ship and no dedicated pool. Some lines even try and offer tours for the premium suites to provide a different experience.

The cost is much greater with the Grills and while clearly that is due to the size of the suites and restaurants, both of which are excellent, they need to create clearer differentiation and features for each to make them more unique products.

Conclusion

I am a Cunard fan and regular traveller, but feel they need to better address me as a contemporary traveller – and make sure they are relevant to the up and coming audience. They are not there and have a way to go. The changes required are becoming more important as each month goes by if they want to keep sailing proudly past their 175 anniversary and into the future secure. I hope they do as I love the brand…

Read more of my Cunard articles, watch my videos and listen to my audio podcasts at tipsfortravellers.com/cunard. Buy my book “Cruising With Cunard

Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 2 million video views per month.

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4 Responses

  1. RBW says:

    Gary ,

    I read your article with great interest …… And some would say, perhaps, that this is part of the charm of the Cunard Line. Remembering Cunard has survived 175 years albeit with a brief tenureship under Trafalgar House and now Carnival.

    Whilst I fully appreciate your comments – may be the technology you suggest , as in interactive TV etc, is what some people/passengers yearn to just forget, briefly, whilst aboard any of the Queens enjoying their holiday relaxing and may be running away from it all? Having to communicate with real people and not just a faceless computer….

    I personally believe the facilities aboard the Queens are just perfect and who minds a bit of nostalgia ? Including the fantastic foods on offer. As for entertainment……….

    I mean Cunard have embraced weddings onboard… Now isn’t that bang up to date (at great expense of losing their association with their home port of Southampton , proudly once on their sterns)

    Cunard is not NCL and it is not MSC ( I say thank The Lord )

    When the QE2 came into service her slogan (Cunard’s) was ‘ships have been boring long enough’ and then many refits later we couldn’t get enough of the Art Deco period returning to the earlier Queens and the QE2 latterly resembled this period. A relaxed make your own entertainment era. Enjoying the whole experience.

    Now I’m only in my forties and when I go on any of the Queens I like to settle into the friendly homely familiar surroundings which represent Cunard! And I will only ever travel Queens grill grade. Lol!

    I know we all wish Cunard happy anniversary and indeed here’s to the next 175!

    And remember this is only my opinion , a satisfied cunard traveller .

    In the meantime thank you for your colourful and very interesting articles and write ups. Keep up the good work – always a delight to read!

    Thanks again!

    • Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! Much appreciated. I agree the style, dress code etc are what makes them different (and these are things I fear they are chipping away at as they think it is dress code that keeping people away). I think by improving and offering the ability to be interactive etc they will be able to improve service and the ability of crew to spend time with passengers (and especially those that want it) as they have more time to do it. I agree and hope that they keep focused on what makes them different and reinforce those aspects while quietly reinventing and reinterpreting for the future. My biggest fear is they are going to start dropping the dress code or number of formal nights etc…

  2. Navy boy says:

    With a view to Cunard offering a more eclectic choice of dining styles I would like to state that they should give great consideration to how this is to be offered and where these extra venues may be sited.
    My experience of P&O changes is that their ships are been steadily ruined by the stealthy creep of extra pay venues been crammed into venues which were always provided free for passengers. An example of this is the Library on Aurora which on the last refit was taken over by another pay extra restaurant. [email protected] state they are providing extra choice for the customer, but are actually using this answer as a cover to charge extra and gain revenue.
    I agree with extra choice but not at extra cost if the initial fare has to rise a little so be it

    • I agree totally! I am hearing they are thinking of converting the Winter Garden into more of an area with a series of specialist places like coffee shop, sushi bar etc which could work if more niche and specialist places that appeal to a sizeable group but do not get in way of the overall offer

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