Formal nights, grand ballrooms, high tea service and string quartets are just a few of the shipboard traditions Cunard Line started a century ago. Cunard has been continuously operating passenger vessels across the Atlantic since 1840, when Martin van Buren was president and shortly after Queen Victoria had commenced the longest reign in British history.

Speaking of Queen Victoria, in 1930 Cunard’s commodore, Arthur Rostron, asked Britain’s King George V if he had "any objections to naming the newest Cunard ocean liner after the greatest queen who ever lived." The king replied that his wife, Mary, would be delighted!  Queen Mary presided over the christening of her namesake ship in 1936, uttering the only 28 words she ever spoke in public.

A sister ship to the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, was christened in 1938, but both ships were conscripted as troop carriers for the duration of World War II before they could enter  passenger service. Escaping the Luftwaffe attack on Southampton by just one day, the Queen Elizabeth sailed to New York and served as a troop carrier until 1946, when she resumed regular passenger service. Both of Cunard's Queens, Elizabeth and Victoria, were replaced by the singular Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1968.

Today, Cunard is still held in high esteem in cruise circles -- and is still taking advantage of its royal connections. The currently reigning Queen Elizabeth II officially named Cunard's Queen Mary 2 in 2004, while Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, named the Queen Victoria in 2007. (That was Camilla’s first public address, and I had the privilege witnessing it. Unfortunately for her, the champagne bottle used in the traditional naming ceremony did not break when it hit the ship - much to the delight of the British press.)

On Oct. 11, Cunard will launch its newest ship -- the Queen Elizabeth. This will be the third vessel named Queen Elizabeth, but Cunard chose not to use the name Queen Elizabeth 3 so the new ship could pay homage to the original pair of queens from the 1930s. 

I just returned from the shipyard near Trieste, Italy, where the nearly complete Queen Elizabeth is receiving her final touches – and what an elegant ship she will be. Her 1930s Art Deco style features ornate staircases, a grand ballroom, and other classic liner flourishes from the carpet and drapes to the banisters and lampshades. Like its predecessors, the new Queen Elizabeth will use a passenger classification system that assigns guests in suite accommodations to exclusive dining rooms and lounges. The ship is a floating Cunard museum, including several pieces from the original 1930s ships.

Because her inaugural season is nearly sold out, the open cabins still available are somewhat pricey, but there are some bargains on her sister ship, the Queen Victoria, launched in 2007. We also have a classic Queen Mary 2 transatlantic bargain below:

Queen Elizabeth Inaugural Season

The Oct. 12 inaugural voyage is already sold out, but the Dec. 1 'Iberian Discovery' cruise offers almost the same itinerary and still has openings.  This 13-day voyage sails roundtrip from Southampton, U.K. to Spain, Portugal, Madeira and the Canary Islands. Prices start at $2,445 inside, $3,345 basic balcony, $5,945 Princess Suite, and $7,645 for the Queen’s Suite.

It costs a little more, but we prefer the Mediterranean Premiere cruise sailing Oct. 25. It sails roundtrip from Southampton to Barcelona; Monte Carlo; Livorno, Italy (for Florence and Pisa); Civitavecchia (for Rome); Naples; Cartagena (Spain); and Gibraltar. Prices start at $2,795 inside, $3,895 basic balcony, $7,095 Princess Suite, and $9,195 for the Queen’s Suite.

There is a short five-night cruise Nov.26 from Southampton to Amsterdam, Zeebrugge (Brussels) and Cherbourg (France).  Prices start at $1214 inside, $1609 basic balcony, $2809 Princess Suite, and $3434 for the Queen’s Suite.

The last Queen Elizabeth cruise before she starts her first World Cruise is an unusual roundtrip transatlantic journey sailing Dec. 14 from Southampton to the Caribbean and back. There are only seven ports of call in 22 days: first Madeira and then the Caribbean islands of Tortola, Dominica, Barbados, St Lucia and Antigua, with a stop at the Azores on the way home.  The cruise includes 14 days at sea. 

Queen Victoria Bargains

If you want to try Cunard but spend a bit less, here are the top bargains on the Queen Victoria:

On Jan. 13, there's a 17-night Panama Canal cruise from New York to Los Angeles. It visits Fort Lauderdale and Aruba, sails through the Panama Canal, and calls at Costa Rica, Huatulco, Acapulco and Manzanillo (Mexico). Prices start at $2,560 inside, $3,360 basic balcony, $6,260 Princess Suite, and $7,760 for the Queen’s Suite.

On Jan. 30 and Feb. 17, Queen Victoria sails on 14-day cruises to Hawaii, roundtrip from Los Angeles.  Spend four days at sea before reaching Hilo, Honolulu, Nawiliwili (Kauai) and La Haina (Maui).  Prices start at $2,048 inside, $2,648 basic balcony, $5,448 Princess Suite, and $6,948 for the Queen’s Suite.

 

The Classic Cunard: Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic

Finally, the classic Cunard experience is a transatlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2. This ocean liner is 148,000-tons and carries just over 3,000 passengers.  The eastbound journey from New York to Southampton takes seven days while the opposite direction takes only six, but is similarly priced. There are no stops, but you'll find plenty of onboard activities.  Prices start at $825 inside, $1,025 basic balcony, $2,525 Princess Suite, and $3,525 for the Queen’s Suite.

* Cruise prices are per person/ double occupancy and do not include taxes. Shore tours are not included in the cruise fare.

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CruiseMates Cruise Glossary

I started writing about stock market investing for Motley Fool in 1995, but previously I worked aboard cruise ships. I co-founded CruiseMates.com, the first cruise travel guide on the Internet in New York City in 1999. CruiseMates, one the Web’s top cruise travel guides was acquired by Internet Brands (NASD: INET) in 2006. Once CEO, I am now the editor of CruiseMates – Paul Motter.