Will Cunard cruises ever return to Liverpool?

Cunard boss Katie McCalister tells LBN Liverpool is its ‘spiritual home’ but with the cruise terminal getting a £25m revamp will the iconic cruise line make a firmer commitment to the city? Tony McDonough reports

Cunard cruise vessel Queen Victoria on the Mersey. Picture by Cunard


On November 24, 1966, RMS Sylvania left Princes Landing Stage on the Mersey and began its journey across the Atlantic to New York.

This was an historic voyage, but not for happy reasons. Cunard Line had announced a suspension of transatlantic services between Liverpool and the US after operating the route for 126 years.

A year later, in 1967, Cunard dealt the city an even bigger blow when it moved its headquarters from Liverpool, the city of its birth, to Southampton. This truly was the end of an era.

Liverpool maritime expert and journalist, Peter Elson, said regular passengers and crew knew the truth. Suspension was merely a euphemism for closure. RMS Sylvania received a big send-off at Liverpool. People had recognised this was an ending, not a pause.

And so it came to pass. In 2026 it will be 60 years since that voyage and for the whole of that time Cunard’s transatlantic services have operated out of Southampton.

Peter, who runs the Shipping Lines website, hopes Cunard will see the anniversary as an opportunity to make a firm commitment to Liverpool and bring back turnaround cruises to the city. A transatlantic service would be the icing on the cake, but far less likely.

At around 7am on Monday June 3, Cunard’s newest ship, the £470m Queen Anne, will call in at Liverpool for a spectacular naming ceremony. No expense is being spared.

Top Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, will join the “stellar” line-up for the event taking place at Liverpool Cruise Terminal.

Bocelli will be joined by some of Liverpool’s finest creative talent, including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and performers from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. This event will be hosted by musician Matt Willis and his wife, TV presenter Emma Willis.

At around 10.30pm Queen Anne will depart the cruise terminal to music and fireworks. An appropriate song to play as she sails could be The Three Degrees classic When Will I See You Again.


Queen Anne
Cunard cruise vessel Queen Anne will arrive in Liverpool on June 3
A trio of Cunard vessels on the Mersey and the Red Arrows during the Three Queens event in 2015. Picture by Cunard


Cunard ships have previously attracted more than a million spectators to the banks of the Mersey. For the maiden call of QE2 in July 1990, and in 2015 for the Three Queens event to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Cunard.

Following the Three Queens spectacular in 2015, Cunard laid on a special transatlantic crossing from Liverpool to Halifax Nova Scotia, Boston and New York on its ocean-going vessel Queen Mary 2.

It was a voyage that sparked huge demand with berths selling for as much as £15,500. Many people were left disappointed after places sold out within an hour of going on sale.

In 2019, Liverpool was again included on a 14-night Northern Atlantic westbound crossing on Queen Mary 2. This took in Iceland, Canada and New York. Cunard said it had introduced the Liverpool stop due to strong demand.

Most years one of Cunard’s four vessels will call in at Liverpool on a round-Britain voyage but there is still no commitment from the company to offer any regular transatlantic crossings or European turnaround cruises from Liverpool.

Speaking to LBN at the press launch for the naming event at the Royal Liver Building, Cunard president, Katie McAllster emphasised the strong historic links Cunard has with Liverpool.

She spoke about how the city is the company’s “spiritual home”. But she was more reticent when asked about the prospect of Cunard committing to turnaround cruises from Liverpool.

“It is really important we hold this event here in Liverpool. We have this fantastic shared history and culture. We are next door to the Cunard Building which was our original headquarters 184 years go,” she said.

“We have held a number of events here over the years. There was a time when everyone in Liverpool knew someone who was employed at Cunard. This is really our spiritual home and there was no other place to name the ship.

“We call at Liverpool every year at Liverpool, usually, as part of our round-Britain sailings which are super popular so we welcome any expansion of the cruise terminal in Liverpool

“We have no plans to move the transatlantic base from Southampton. At the moment the place for Liverpool is really on our British Isles cruises. It is always a highlight to visit Liverpool.”


Katie McAlister
Katie McAlister, president of cruise line Cunard. Picture by Cunard
Peter Elson
Local maritime expert and journalist Peter Elson. Picture by Tony McDonough
Angie Redhead
Liverpool City Council’s head of assets Angie Redhead. Picture by Tony McDonough


Southampton is Cunard’s home base. That isn’t going to change any time soon. In fact the south coast port has strengthened its hand. In September 2021 it opened its £55m Horizon Cruise Terminal, boasting it was the ‘greenest’ facility in the world.

In April it was confirmed that Global Ports Holding (GPH), the world’s largest independent cruise port operator, would take over the running of the terminal on the Mersey from Liverpool City Council.

LBN first exclusively revealed GPH’s involvement in December 2023. However, it was also confirmed the deal meant plans for an £88m new cruise terminal on the Mersey would not go ahead.

GPH has said it will instead spend £25m on a new floating pontoon that will increase capacity and allow for the simultaneous berthing of two 300-metre ships and up to 7,000 passengers a day. It will also build a new passenger terminal.

Peter Elson told LBN the new investment may eventually see a change of heart from Cunard on Liverpool sailings but added the cruise line would have to see a clear commercial rationale.

“I would say the chance of the  return of transatlantic crossings is zero,” said Peter. “Southampton is very firmly the base for that service as far as Cunard is concerned.

“Many people fly into Heathrow and then get onto the ship and sail back to New York, and vice-versa. It is a well-oiled machine.

“Cunard does not have a big fleet, just four vessels. Southampton has been its home since 1967 and that will remain so. I think it is more likely that they would embark passengers on European cruises in Liverpool.

“I would say there is a market for that and I’m sure the new investment from Global Ports Holding into the Liverpool Cruise terminal will make it a more attractive proposition.

“Fred Olsen Cruise Lines is quite canny. Over the past 10 years they have built up a very healthy cruise business out of Liverpool. People from all over the north of England and Scotland come to Liverpool to get on board the vessels.

“Cunard is part of the giant Carnival corporation and what Americans are very good at is doing their market research. All I can assume is they don’t think it is worthwhile at the moment to base a ship in Liverpool for the summer. That is what Fred Olsen does.

“Maybe with the new investment into the Liverpool terminal Cunard may start to look at the market and take a different view. We shall see.”

READ MORE: Cruise terminal hotel WILL still go ahead

Also at the Royal Liver press briefing was Angie Redhead. She is head of assets at Liverpool City Council. Previously she was head of Cruise Liverpool and played a pivotal role in the growth of the Liverpool terminal since its launch in 2007.

She too is optimistic that the new investment by GPH into the terminal may change thinking at Cunard about Liverpool as a viable location for turnaround cruises.

“The agreement with Global Ports Holding was signed on Easter Sunday. The arrangement that we have in place with them is that the existing Cruise Liverpool team would continue the service delivery for the next 12 months,” Angie told LBN.

“We would love to see Cunard transatlantic cruises from Liverpool. Everybody will know the infrastructure we currently have in place doesn’t allow for that to happen on any mass volume scale.

“But certainly the aspirations of GPH is that it is a market they want to develop. They want to do turnaround cruises and they want to do it in a really great way. Of course they would want to work with Cunard, so who knows?”

Timetable for the naming ceremony:


Queen Anne arrives at Liverpool Waterfront, escorted by fire tugs.

9am to 2.30pm:

Queen Anne is berthed alongside the Cruise Terminal. All guests (up to 3,000) on board will be able to leave the ship and explore the city.

4pm to 4.45pm: 

At Liverpool waterside the official naming of Queen Anne will take place. The performers and celebrities will be joined on stage by guests from Cunard and the official Godparent in the lead up to the moment a bottle of champagne is smashed against the ship. 

This  event is free and open for all to come along and watch. There will be a small seating area reserved for invited VIPs, and a dedicated viewing area for guests on board Queen Anne.

6pm to 8.30pm:

At Liverpool waterside local performers will be keeping the waterfront crowds entertained on the ground. 


Queen Anne’s gangways will be closed at 8.30pm, with all guests required to re-join the ship before this time. 

8.30pm 10.30pm:

Evening celebrations at Liverpool waterside Evening celebrations. At around 8.30pm there will be a further piece from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

Liverpudlian TV personality and DJ, Craig Charles will join the orchestra on stage for a “unique collaboration”. Craig will keep the party going and everyone on their feet until the grand finale.

Queen Anne will set sail around 10.15pm. A fireworks finale is set to take place (weather permitting) for guests ashore and on board.

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