One of the most prestigious names in cruising, the Cunard Line is a brand synonymous with quality and elegance.
To board a vessel operated by the Cunard Line is to step back in time to the golden era of ocean travel, where age old traditions are still observed and a journey across the Atlantic is much more than a hop across the pond.
Established in 1840, the Cunard Line has come a long way from its days as a Royal Mail steam packet company to become one of the most recognised and respected British brands.
Blast from the past
In 1839, Her Majesty Queen Victoria, spurred on by the industrial revolution and the need for dependable transatlantic postal deliveries, invited interested parties to bid for the opportunity to provide a regular service.
Samuel Cunard of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was awarded the contract and together with four other men he founded the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which would later become the Cunard Line.
The first ships operated by the line were the paddle steamer Britannia, which became the first ship to regularly transport passengers across the Atlantic, and her three sister ships, Arcadia, Caledonia and Colombia.
Throughout the 19th century, the cruise line continued to acquire new vessels, including the Persia, which was built in 1856 and became the company's first iron-hulled transatlantic liner.
In 1881 the Cunard Line made history when the Servia became the first ship in the world to be lighted with electricity and rely solely on revenue from passengers.
1906 and 1907 saw the introduction of the Lusitania and Mauretania, which were powered by a new technology at the time - turbine steam engines.
The Cunard Line went on to make the headlines in 1912, when on April 15th, the Carpathia rescued the survivors of the White Star Line's Titanic ship and made history again when one year later it installed an indoor swimming pool on the Aquitania.
The 20s and 30s saw the heyday of transatlantic shipping and the Cunard Line launched its famous slogan - "getting there is half the fun".
An important phase in the history of the Cunard Line was to follow and in 1934 the Cunard Line launched the 80,744-tonne Queen Mary, which entered service two years later and gained the Blue Riband for its fast transatlantic crossing times.
The Queen Elizabeth - the largest liner ever built - entered service two years later. However, when war broke out in 1939 both the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were requisitioned by the government. Some years later Churchill remarked that the vessels had helped to shorten the war in Europe by at least a year.
As the 40s gave way to the 50s air travel began to gain popularity but, undeterred by this new threat, the Cunard Line continued to expand and in 1967 the iconic Queen Elizabeth 2 was launched by Her Majesty the Queen, with the vessel embarking on her first world cruise in 1975.
Other ships which graced the Cunard fleet during the 80s include the Sea Goddess I, Sea Goddess II and the Sagafjord and Vistafjord, which were formerly operated by Norwegian American Cruises.
The Cunard Line celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1990 by sending the QE2 on a special voyage around the UK, with festivities culminating in a Spithead review with Her majesty the Queen and Prince Philip.
In 1998 the Cunard Line was snapped up by the Carnival Corporation for around $500 million. That same year the cruise line announced plans to launch 'Project Queen Mary' - an attempt to build the largest, longest and most expensive ship in history.
Queen Mary 2 was christened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004, with the ship taking over the north Atlantic service between Southampton and New York. Although the QE2 relinquished her flagship title to the Queen Mary 2, she made history herself in 2004 by becoming Cunard's longest-serving liner, following 35 years, six months and three days of service.
In 2007 the QE2 was sold to developers in Dubai and last month the iconic vessel sailed east for the last time to begin her new life as a floating hotel.
A third Queen Elizabeth vessel - a sister to the Cunard Line's Queen Victoria - is due to enter service in 2010.
Cruising into the future
The Cunard Line may have said goodbye to the QE2 last month, but it still retains its place as one of the world's most iconic and prestigious cruise lines and, in 2010, it will enter a new era with the launch of the new 92,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth will combine modern luxury with the Cunard Line's values and traditions and, according to the company, it will reflect the grandeur that has been associated with the cruise line since it launched the magnificent Mauretania in 1907.
It is clear that while there may be 'fun' cruises on the market, 'cruises for people who don't do cruises', 'mini-cruises' and 'theme cruises' and every other type of cruise offering imaginable, there will always be a place for a cruise line which offers excellent service, timeless elegance and a taste of a bygone era.