Complete 1,000 word article. Sorry- photography in crew accommodation is forbidden, so these pictures illustrate the working environment.

Upstairs and Downstair with the Queen

By Michael Algar

A recent cruise aboard Queen Mary 2 convinced me that she deserves every word of the lavish praise already heaped upon her. Basically her majesty is a grand hotel with a capacity for up to 3,000 passengers in fully-serviced accommodation ranging from single rooms to multi-level apartments. But, she has more to offer than any hotel: guests also find a of variety of restaurants, bars, shops, theatres, spa, swimming pools, planetarium, and very much more. All of this moulded into the streamlined hull of the world's largest passenger ship, capable of moving effortlessly at 50 km per hour for days at a time.

Latest of a long succession of Cunard ocean liners, she still maintains the policies laid down by Samuel Cunard, the line's founder in the 1840's - "Speed, comfort and safety," provided by "the best ships, the best officers and the best men."

As Cunard's services increased from those times, so did the variety of accommodation. Upstairs, to quote the famous tv series about Edwardian times, comprised first-class, the social elite - or those aspirants willing and able to pay the price. Still above stairs, second class included a modest middle class willing to pay for a modicum of comfort, while those in third class just wanted to get to and from the New World for fares they could afford. With an increase in migration to the New world, they were joined upstairs, grudgingly perhaps, by a new profitable (for the shipping companies) steerage class.

Downstairs, most of the crew lived in cramped fo'csles - dormitories with three-tiered bunks at the extreme ends of the ship where pitching, tossing and vibration were greatest, or close by the boilers and thundering engines they tended most of their waking hours. Those stoke-hold scenes in the movie Titanic well illustrated working conditions in trans-Atlantic liners at the turn of the 20th century.

Times have much changed since the Titanic. Gone are the huge engine-rooms and the space-consuming shaft tunnels between engines and the four propellers. Gone, too are the two, three or four funnels, which may have looked impressive but took up a lot of space vertically all the way between the boilers and the upper deck.

Stoke-hold gangs have been replaced by engineers and technicians who tend rubber-mounted diesel generators and gas turbines, which drive multi-directional external power pods at the ship's after end and three thruster propellers in the bow. No need for a rudder, nor the steering wheel, centre-piece to a ship's bridge in so many old movies. Aircraft-inspired computer systems control the ship's direction, leaving the captain to use a small joystick for manoeuvring his ship in port, even moving it bodily sideways if he chooses. All of this makes for a more comfortable voyage. More unobstructed space means restaurants and other public spaces stretch the entire 40m width of the ship. And, the crew is no longer crammed into the least desirable spaces.

Upstairs, social changes since Cunard's early days have brought an end to first, second, third and steerage classes. Along with virtually every other modern ship, Queen Mary 2 is a one-class ship, offering luxury for all, but with a few price-based quality differentials. The change downstairs for Mary's crew is even more dramatic.

Now, many of old Samuel's "best men" are women - perhaps Queen Mary 2's next Captain will be a woman. Advanced engineering systems and computers are as common-place here as in any medium-sized enterprise ashore and highly technical jobs among the ship's require advanced training. Also, because an ocean liner is a self-contained community, it needs its own hospital, police force, waste disposal system, while the hotel has to be more self-sufficient than rivals ashore, providing its own laundry and dry cleaner, even tailor's shop.

This means Mary needs all the deck officers, engineers and seamen who man any ocean-going ship, plus hotel, hospitality and entertainment workers at every level, along with such community workers as doctors and nurses, security officers, laundry workers. Filling all these needs, Queen Mary 2 has a crew of 1,250, comprises about 40 different nationalities at any one time, including many from Britain as well as hundreds from other countries including the Phillippines, China, and Indonesia. The huge Carnival conglomerate which now owns Cunard and other famous cruise lines within its brands, recognizes the importance high morale among its staffs. Well-served people will pass the same attitude on to their passenger clients.


Today's crew's quarters are something that Titanic's second class passengers would have envied, while those in third and steerage classes could never have imagined. Most of Queen Mary 2's crew live downstairs on Deck A., where they have single or double cabins complete with shower and toilet, prefabricated by the same supplier that built the upstairs cabins. Others have similar cabins above on Deck 1, site of the well-equipped and fully-staffed medical centre as well as lounges used as passengers' meeting rooms while at sea and gathering places for tenders in ports where Mary anchors off-shore. In their section, the crew have their own messes providing similar food to that served upstairs but with greater variety to recognize the crew's huge ethnic mix. The "Pig and Whistle" is Cunard's traditional crew pub, while the well-appointed officers' wardroom is proud to host favoured guests among the passengers upstairs. Add a gym, movie theatre and internet centre, and downstairs offers many of the amenities available upstairs. One difference though, they must be prepared to negotiate industrial-sized corridors and stairs instead of those ever-present elevators and grand sweeping staircases above.

Want to join them? Queen Mary 2's career officers and other key personnel come from a group of British Cunard staffers, while most others are recruited by the employment agencies which service many shipping lines. One third of Mary's hotel staff gained their experience with the line's older Queen Elizabeth 2 and Caronia. That should mean there's surely room for more downstairs on all three ships.

For hotel-type jobs, try: Berkeley Scott Selection ( in Britain and for other trades: Columbia Ship Management Ltd of Limassol, Cyprus (