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QUEEN VICTORIA trials image courtesy of Cunard.

December 7, 2007: The most anticipated cruise ship of 2007, Cunard’s 90,000 gt MV QUEEN VICTORIA, made her debut at Southampton today to great fanfare and numerous ship watchers gathered along the Southampton waterfront. With wind blowing the mist of her accompanying fire tugs, the newest Cunard QUEEN slid past Fred. Olsen’s BOUDICCA and exchanged salutes with P&O;’s AURORA before slipping into her berth.

Three views of the QUEEN VICTORIA’s maiden arrival at Southampton. Photos by and copyright Patricia Dempsey 2007.

Patricia Dempsey was on hand in the early morning freeze to document the event and has been kind enough to allow me to post a few photos here. Please go to the excellent Liner Lovers website to see all of the images and read Patricia’s rich commentary.

In a few short hours, I will be hurtling across the Atlantic to join in on the festivities and her naming ceremony by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, arriving Sunday, December 9 and returning on Tuesday, December 11. WiFi connections and schedule permitting, I look forward to reporting from the gala scene!

Monday, December 10, 2007:

I’m in the media room in the Southampton cruise terminal typing as quickly as my frigid fingers will allow, hoping that maybe I will have time to wander over to Mayflower Park for a fleeting view of Cunard’s new QUEEN VICTORIA from the waterfront that bore witness to her pedigreed ancestors and vanished fleets of Atlantic and Blue Water Liners.

I arrived at Heathrow yesterday, rather refreshed after a comfortable BA flight from LAX. My excitement at bearing witness to the introduction of a new Cunarder outweighed the usual sleep-deprivation that comes with any overseas flight. I joined a small throng of media people on a coach that would cross the rolling, pastoral farmlands through a blustery and cold rainscape to Southampton. Enroute, our driver received a call asking us to delay arrival by some 45 minutes, so we sought sanctuary at a petrol station and marketplace some 25 miles outside of Southampton. As we pulled up, Ted Scull (whose latest tome, OCEAN LINER TWILIGHT, is a must-read for any fan of point to point travel) and Tom Cassidy (editor of OCEAN AND CRUISE NEWS) were waving from the curbside. Their coach had already been diverted and they were about to re board to finish their journey to the ship.

This way, please! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Towering over the terminal. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Once our group got the OK, we piled back on the bus for the short ride to the port, passing a few mountains of containers and some moderate sized cargo ships. On the roadside, a number of special blue signs indicated the arrival of the new Cunarder, whose distinctive funnel loomed over the terminal and a small sea of billowing banners.

The QUEEN awaits! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Deck 3 in red carpet drag. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The Grand Lobby, facing aft from Deck 3 balcony. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

After quickly checking in and passing through security, I followed a series of ramps and escalators to the gangway and a red carpeted and white curtained walkway along port Deck 3, which hid the ship from view until we crossed the threshold to her interior. Our first glimpse was the impressive Grand Lobby with its looming gold medallion centerpiece and series of sweeping staircases.

8074, facing port. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Viva verandah! Facing port from stateroom 8074. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Lido restaurant, facing aft from starboard. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
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Forward Deck 11, facing starboard. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Billowing lion from the radio mast. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Aft from forward Deck 11. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Lovely livery in the Southampton sun. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The Queen’s Lounge, fleetingly facing port/aft. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I hopped into the lifts for a speedy ride to Deck 8 and my Category A1 stateroom, 8074, midships on the port side. Its comfortable queen bed looked most inviting and the balcony was large enough to run laps around. Since there really was little time to explore and document, I dropped off the luggage and beelined it to the Lido for a very quick bite (fresh salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and some sweet and sour chicken). Then off I spun, racing along the ship’s rain-soaked upper decks and public spaces, trying to capture all I could in the limited time and daylight.

Cunard crest in Grand Lobby entryway, Deck 1. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The ship’s staff gathers in the Grand Lobby to rehearse for the arrival of the “Royals”. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Carol Marlow, center, manages the media in Cunard red and black. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Our media group had a question and answer session in Hemisphere’s with Cunard’s president, the very articulate and assured Carol Marlow, who stressed repeatedly that Cunard’s ships are “ocean liners” and not cruise ships and that they embark on “voyages”, not cruises. I was able to ask Ms. Marlow if the newly contracted QUEEN ELIZABETH will differ in any notable way from the VICTORIA and she said, while there will be some differences, they were still being considered and that it would be too early at this stage to make them public.

We continued to the Commodore Club with its marvelous vista over the ship’s bow (and the lights of Mayflower Park) and an assortment of paintings and models. Carnival CEO, Mickey Arison, was nearby, looking very approachable and pleased with the reception the new ship was getting. Cunard’s media rep, Brian O’Connor, brought the ship’s exuberant Captain Wright around to meet the group.

The Queen’s Grill, facing forward. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Out next stop was gala dinner in the Queen’s Grill, which is located in tandem with the Princess Grill, Grill Terrace and Grill Lounge in a complex at the base of the ship’s funnel. A full descriptive tour of QUEEN VICTORIA will be forthcoming on MaritimeMatters but suffice it to say that nearly everyone in our group was delighted with the location, layout, and decor of the grills.

A 2004 shiraz worked quickly to provoke my jet lag but our lively table and several dishes of delights were well worth the fight for consciousness. The evening’s courses consisted of a shrimp and crab starter with asparagus soup and a sea bass main course. Dessert was a highly caffeinated and delectable chocolate mousse.

Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Midships pool area facing aft. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Then it was off to the Queen’s Court Theater with its distinctive box seating to see “Victoriana”, a huge production with sixteen cast members, a spectacle of lighting and stage effects, and a selection of music that ranged from Kraftwerk-inspired electronica to “March of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. I ultimately made a quick round in the late night chill to get some views of the ship’s illuminated decks.

Although I had hoped to get ashore to the media center to report on the day, I was finally felled by “the lag” and climbed into my comfortable bed for a snooze just after midnight.

Sunrise over the Solent, sort of. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Carnival’s British Empire: Red Duster waves over AURORA. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The Royal Arcade, facing forward from Deck 3.

Lanterns aloft in the Royal Arcade! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Box seat in the Queen’s Court, facing starboard. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

This morning, I was up quite unnaturally at 6:00 AM. It was still dark outside, so I venturer down to the Britannia Restaurant for breakfast, ordering an omelete, yogurt and two cappuccinos to fortify a walk around the after decks at dawn. AURORA’s golden P&O; funnel beckoned from several berths behind us as the sun rose over the Solent. I had some time to wind myself through a plethora of passageways to capture more of the VICTORIA’s public domain before coming out here to post this report.

It is now time to get freshened up for lunch, followed by the ship’s gala naming ceremony by HRH Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. The trumpets are playing and the fanfare has begun!

Lunch menu cover from the Princess Grill on naming day. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The official Naming Ceremony program. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Naming ceremony day greeters. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Official welcoming (and, for some, “reboarding”) commitee. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

CONCLUSION (with apologies for the late posting but wireless access at Heathrow was not in the cards!)

Monday, December 10, 2007, ctd.:

Camilla comes aboard! Photo courtesy of Cunard.

Lunch today in the Princess Grill was the perfect precursor to the naming. Our table was by the window, facing a brilliant sun as it broke through the withering cloud cover and radiated off the silvery green ripples of Southampton harbor. Romanian waitress Denisa brought an array of delights, allowing all of us to divert from the menu with fresh green salads doused in parmesan, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. During our main course, the ship’s whistle blew, resembling a muted version of the QE2’s basso throttle. I learned later that Camilla was on the bridge sounding it.

Of the fifteen or so naming ceremonies I’ve witnessed, this one was the most spectacular — by a large measure. Unfortunately, no cameras were permitted, so I am including images provided by Cunard.

We disembarked the ship via a red carpet and under a protective awning until reaching the staged area. The housing structure, itself, was a marvel in shape, dimension (imagine an elongated and flattened Hershey’s Kiss the size of Carnegie Hall decked in maroon and gold with tiered seating for 2000 guests, a large stage and orchestra pit) and good acoustics.

As we filed in, we were handed a program and a small Union Jack before being led to our seats. Once everyone was situated, the Royal Marines Fanfare Trumpeters gathered on stage to perform “Cunard Fanfare”. We stood as HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, (poised in
periwinkle), HRH The Prince Of Wales and Carnival CEO Mickey Arison were escorted to their seating area and the band played the National Anthem. Carol Marlow welcomed the Royals and guests and then the curtains parted to Bizet’s Carmen “Prelude”, performed by the ship’s dance company and, from under the proscenium, the London Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Grammy-nominated Anthony Inglis). Magnificently, the rear stage curtains were unfurled to reveal the bow of the QUEEN VICTORIA floodlit and bedazzled with swirling lasers in a surreal sunset backdrop and a furious frenzy of fireworks.

Sir Derek Jacobi becomes Phileas Fogg. Photo courtesy of Cunard.

Red songbird, Katherine Jenkins. Photo courtesy of Cunard.

And so the “official” naming ceremony began in a most unusual fashion with the appearance of Sir Derek Jacobi portraying Phileas Fogg at his Burlington Gardens home library circa 1872, recalling Samuel Cunard and the birth of the great steamship line, taking us well ahead of Fogg’s own time to the launch of the first QUEEN MARY, underneath a projection of film and still images . Mezzo sopranist Katherine Jenkins (opera’s answer to Kylie Minogue) next took the stage to perform “Gypsy Dance” from Carmen. This was followed by the appropriately dramatic descent of the Winchester Cathedral Choirs, donned in gold fringed red robes with candles and music books in hand, as they trekked from the rafters to a grand formation on stage whilst chanting Fauvre’s “In Paradisum”. The curtains again parted, to reveal a gathering of the QUEEN VICTORIA’s officers and crew under the ship’s prow, now even more dramatically lit in a darkening, purplish twilight sky, a row of Klieg lights shining off her port flanks into the heavens.

Blessings from the Lord. Photo courtesy of Cunard Line.

Fresh out of a Cecil B. DeMille epic, the Right Reverend Michael Scott-Joynt, Lord Bishop of Winchester, appeared with wooden staff and bellowing voice to offer the Prayers of Blessing. Thus far, we had been treated to a flawless deus ex machina of horns, lights, orchestra, choir, beknighted thespian, bishop, celebrated sopranist, fireworks and dramatic sunset — all leading to one brief but defining moment. From a fleeting distance, I observed Mickey Arison, the beaming host of this event, who was seated next to the Prince and Duchess. From the early and tenuous startup of Carnival Cruises’ lovely old MARDI GRAS to his becoming “king” of the biggest passenger shipping empire the world has ever seen, his has been a quite a personal journey!

A Royal christening. Photo courtesy of Cunard.

We were instructed to stand as Captain Paul Wright escorted Camilla and Charles to a podium where HRH dutifully announced, “I Name This Ship QUEEN VICTORIA. May God bless her and all who sail in her.” She pressed the button and all looked on as the giant bottle of champagne swung from its harness into the ship’s bow, failing to shatter. It was a glitch in an otherwise awesome spectacle that will go down as one of the most elaborate and beautifully staged passenger ship christenings ever. Red and gold confetti rained down upon us as more fireworks went off near the ship.

Three tenors for three Cunard QUEENs. Photo courtesy Cunard.

Three tenors, Alfie Boe, Jon Christos and Gardar Thor Cortes were accompanied by The Choirs as they performed “I Saw Three Ships” (QM2, QE2 and QV) and Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma”. Each of the tenors soloed one of the three verses of “Rule Britannia”, with audience chiming in on the chorus, Union Jacks waving in the air. We remained on our feet as the Prince and Duchess were led out before a rousing “Come All Ye Faithful” and a dousing of seasonal snow atop those gathered on the stage, including the Choirs, officers, and tenors. Scooping up a few bits of confetti to slip into the pages of my program, I joined the throng of guests as we shuffled back along the red carpet and into the glamorous sanctuary of the officially christened QUEEN.

The Library from Deck 2. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

For the next two hours, guests were treated to Veuve Clicquot champagne, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the public areas. I passed the Maxtone-Grahams as they held court in the double deck library and maneuvered through a veritable who’s who of past and present officers, Lord Jacobi, Carnival, Cunard and Princess executives as I head to the press room to post my earlier report. The press room was filled with frenzied media types editing and uploading images (those who were able to secure camera passes) and filing reports.

Britannia Restaurant, facing aft from Deck Two. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I returned just in time for dinner in the Britannia Restaurant, joining three lively and fun journalists at table 559 toward the back of the room. The Gala Dinner menu featured a Portland Lobster Tail starter with caviar in a citrus vinaigrette, a garden green pea bisque with sour cream foam and my main course choice, a magnificent woodland porcini stuffed rigatoni with caramelized onions and parmesan mushroom broth. A choice of wines was offered (a 2004 Trimbach Gewurtzaminer or a 2000 Graves de Vayres Chateau Bel Air) and dessert was a splendidly rich but not too sweet chocolate trilogy, including a b
itter chocolate tart, dark chocolate terrine and white chocolate tiramisu.

The Queen’s Lounge, decked out for the naming night’s masquerade ball and Christmas, facing forward from Deck 3. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007..

It’s no wonder that despite exhaustion, there was no way I could sleep, so I wandered around the ship until running into my friends Tom Cassidy and Pauline Power, who were having cocktails in the Chart Room with Maureen Ryan, the legendary Cunard hostess who has served on all the QUEENs and a number of classic “IA’s”. This most elegant lady shared memories of storm-tossed crossings to Canada on board IVERNIA in the 1950s when she was employed in the first class purser’s office. Among those passing through the bar were celebrity chef, Todd English and the official Royal Correspondent, a blonde lady in vibrant red.

Pavillion perishing. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Finally, at 1:30, I was ready for some shut eye. From my balcony, I could hear hammering and ripping as the pierside pavillion was being disassembled.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007:

I was up again at 06:00, despite a growing sleep deficit, so I headed up to the Lido for breakfast and a last look around the QUEEN VICTORIA. It was cold enough to form ice on the decks, so outer access was circumvented. AURORA was still at her berth behind us, undergoing a brief wet dock and preparing for her next cruise, departing on the 14th.

At 9:15, I stepped off the gangway and into the terminal, where nails and other detritus were being swept up from the stricken pavilion. It was a fine day in Southampton under a bright blue sky and a sprinkling of silky clouds as the coach began its journey to Heathrow. The new QUEEN was now officially “in service” and ready to receive her first true passengers.

While at Heathrow, I was fascinated to read a smarmy, sniveling review of the christening in the Daily Mail. Despite the grandeur and beauty of the spectacle, the reporter chose to dwell on the unbroken bottle, took a few cheap shots at the Duchess and manipulated facts for the sake of selling his tabloid.

At 4:00 PM, somewhere beneath the gray clouds beyond the port wing of my ascending BA 747-400, the QUEEN VICTORIA was preparing to depart on her maiden voyage. At 5:00 PM as we left the last lights of Ireland behind, all QV passengers were advised to be up on deck for a spectacular fireworks display and a send off from the Hampshire Police Band on the quay. The first evening’s dress code was “Elegant Casual”.

A full tour of QUEEN VICTORIA’S public rooms and decks is coming soon to Maritime Matters!

With special thanks and kudos to: Jackie Chase, Michelle Colligan, Martin Cox, Chris Hodek, Caroline Klein, Doug Newman (thanks for the link!) and Brian O’Connor

The End

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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