Peter Shanks – former Managing Director, Cunard Line

Peter ShanksPeter Shanks seems like a modest man: when asked about the responsibilities of being MD of Cunard Line, with three of the world’s most iconic ships in his charge, he immediately refers to the thousands of members of the ships’ company who are on board daily, doing their duty.

Those ships are the Queen Mary 2, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Victoria. The Queen Mary 2, launched in 2004, was the longest, widest, and tallest passenger ship ever built, and with her gross tonnage of 148,528 also the largest carrying 2,600 guests. She since been surpassed by later cruise ships, however as an ocean going liner, she reigns supreme and is of a different construction.  The slightly smaller sister ships, the Queen Victoria, sailing since 2007 and the Queen Elizabeth, on the water since 2010, take around 2,000 guests each.    

The Queen Mary 2 makes between 20 and 24 transatlantic crossings a year, from Spring to Autumn, then in the winter she takes off around the world. Cunard Line may be nearly 175 years old, but the journey from Southampton to New York, and back again, is as popular as ever. On this very glamorous, highly modern ship: there is no question of sailing on a museum piece. Fabulous restaurants and luxurious bedrooms aside, facilities include a planetarium, two theatres, libraries, a state of the art spa and of course, amazing decks on which to while away the hours. The atmosphere is not stuffy: whilst there are formal nights, with a champagne reception to start, where everyone dresses for dinner, equally enjoyable are the more casual evenings, still with an air of sophistication. Peter likes to take a crossing each year if he is able and reflects that it is amazing how hard one can relax when on board.   

Queen Mary 2 in New YorkThe ultimate question needs to be asked – why go by ship when you could fly, considerably more quickly?  When Peter answers, it is not what I’m expecting. Totally different in fact. He says intrigue for the main part; people are fascinated by the idea of a transatlantic crossing, what goes on, who you meet, what the ship is actually like. The ship somehow becomes the destination, with an incredible mix of nationalities on board, passengers from all walks of life, with different stories to tell. Plus rather special activities are available, jazz from students at the Julliard, short plays performed by RADA and the opportunity to learn presentation skills and acting, with interesting guest lecturers as well. All this, once you’ve been to the gym, enjoyed the spa and partaken of the air on deck. 

One rather gentle, thoroughly pleasing aspect of the crossing is that time is quite literally managed for you: over the five days at sea, an hour is quietly added each day, so there is, quite marvellously, no jet lag on arrival. You dock in New York on time and in time. And that may just be what makes the entire idea worthwhile for me, the chronologically adjusted cherry on what sounds like a gloriously iced cake.     

Queen Mary 2 sailing the Norwegian fjordsFor a first cruise Peter recommends a week to the Norwegian fjords from Southampton, so you have a chance to really experience the ship and Cunard cruising as well as the glory of the landscape along the coast. There is, of course, the full blown option three months at sea on a world cruise, partaking of an entire circumnavigation of the globe. So every year at least two of the ships voyage around the world with around six hundred passengers doing the whole globe trot, whilst others join for a sector of fourteen to twenty three days, flying out to join the ship en route. Quite remarkably there are some regulars, people who have travelled round the world twenty five times. And then there are those for whom such a cruise is a lifetime’s dream, a ‘must do’. Travellers on this voyage tend to be aged sixty five to seventy, with a serious mix of nationalities. Peter tells me that the excitement of arriving into Sydney or Hong Kong never fails, and is always worth the wait. 

Legendary. Elegant. Memorable. These are the three words which explain the Cunard Line’s famous White Star Service and all staff are trained to deliver this way. Words that describe, for me at least, exactly what you’d expect from an iconic cruise line, steeped in history, long associated with glamour and excitement. Indeed, what more could you ask for?


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