THE BASICS, BACK THEN Cunard Line ships first set sail in 1840, when the steamship Britanniaembarked from England to America with the Royal Mail commission. Samuel Cunard, the son of a master carpenter, was a go-getter from Halifax, Nova Scotia, with big plans. A successful entrepreneur, he launched his own shipping line when he was 52 years old, primarily to get folk across the Atlantic.
THE BASICS, NOW The Cunard fleet is the prestigious branch of Carnival UK, the cruise industry monolith. The line consists of three queens: the Queen Elizabeth (the third ship to hold the name), the Queen Victoria and the flagship launched in 2004 to the tune of US$800 million (Dh2.94 billion), the Queen Mary 2.
SIGNATURE STATEMENTS From the beginning, Cunard had an early eye for brand management. His ships became known for their distinctive red funnel with two or three narrow black bands and a black top. Other hallmarks include grand ballrooms, elegant sweeping staircases and one staff member per couple. Budget this ain't.
BLESS HER AND ALL WHO SAIL IN HER A 108-day cruise in a suite on one of the Queens will set you back a cool $100,000 (Dh367,000), although a standard cabin comes in at just under a quarter of the price. However, by splashing a bit more cash on your ticket, you buy yourself exclusivity and the right to eat at two of the 15 restaurants, the Princess and the Queen's grills, without any fear of mixing with the hoi polloi. One can still have standards, my dear.
SPEED DEMON From the early 1800s through the Second World War, ocean liners were the fastest way to travel the Atlantic. They zipped between Europe and America, contributing to the large-scale emigration effort. Competing for the Blue Riband, the accolade held by vessels for completing the fastest transatlantic crossing, Cunard had 13 of the 35 fastest ships, including the Mauretania, which held the title for 20 years by notching a top average speed of 26.06 knots.
MAYDAY A day before Cunard's RMS Lusitania departed on her final voyage, the Imperial German embassy placed an advertisement in 50 US newspapers warning that she was fair game if she entered the waters of Germany's enemies, despite being a passenger ship and not a ship of war. On May 7, 1915, the ship was struck by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat just off Ireland's shore. A series of explosions sank the stricken vessel in 18 minutes, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. It caused international outrage and the United States was prompted to join the First World War.
HEYDAY During the Second World War, both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth as well as numerous smaller Cunard ships served with distinction as troop carriers. Winston Churchill credited the two Queens with shortening the war in Europe by a year, due to the ability to transport 10,000 troops each trip without escort, because of their speed. Sadly, the advance of the Jet Age meant a decline in demand in using ocean liners for transatlantic crossings and many were converted into modern cruise ships, for those who now fancy a more leisurely route.
THE GREAT LADIES TODAY After glorious careers the fate of these magnificent liners can be mixed. The poor old Queen Mary is slowly fading as a hotel in Long Beach, California, though compared to the second Queen Elizabeth she has got off lightly. Elizabeth lies at the bottom of Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour after attempts to snuff a curious fire capsized the ship in 1972. Dubai - a regular Cunard port of call from which the QM2 sails tomorrow - is hoping to fulfil its ambition of developing the Queen Elizabeth 2 into a hotel off the Palm Jumeirah after purchasing her in 2008.
Five famous films set on cruise ships
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957) A weeper of a shipboard romance, with lovers (Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr) kept apart by a tragic accident.
THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) Filmed on the original Queen Mary, this is now a cult disaster movie due in part to its so-bad-it's-good dialogue. Only a handful of people who were prepared to fight for their survival make it to the end.
SHIP OF FOOLS (1965) A liner sails from Mexico to Germany in 1933 and provides a social commentary on class and politics against the backdrop of impending Nazi power. Vivien Leigh and Lee Marvin star.
SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL (1997) The incredulous sequel to the original action romp features a speeding cruise liner set on a grievous path, with Sandra Bullock trying to thwart a cackling Willem Dafoe.
TITANIC (1997) Most holiday romances are doomed but not usually by an iceberg. Sigh. The love story, the attention to detail, the costumes, the set - this sumptuous Oscar-winning movie shows the glamour and the potential horror of ocean travel.