Posted on Monday, October 18, 2010 by Peter Knego
Saturday, October 9, 2010
After a splendid flight from Los Angeles (aside from the two screaming toddlers whose mother was the only one in my section of the plane to get a full night’s sleep), London Heathrow’s early morning sky was, as the French would say, “Gris.” My tired eyes welcomed the absence of sunshine as our comfortable shuttle sped effortlessly along the M3 toward Southampton for the QUEEN ELIZABETH’s inaugural pierside stay and naming. Our driver was friendly and very chatty, although it was hard to fully decipher his thick West London accent. Were my earplugs still in? More conversation, mostly one-ended, met with smiles and the bobbing of my confused head, all the while passing through that alluring landscape of rolling farms and dense forest. And then, finally, we reached the turnoff to Southampton.
Passports were required as we pulled up to the Ocean Cruise Terminal. As the guard checked our identities, I snapped a quick photo of the new QUEEN through the green-tinted windshield, too dogged to realize that perhaps I should have quickly rolled down the window and done it right.
Well done to the event planners at Cunard for the lofty posters hung throughout the terminal celebrating the three QUEEN ELIZABETHs!
Having just watched a few episodes of “Absolutely Fabulous” on DVD a few days prior, I couldn’t help but think the lady who greeted us inside was a bit like Edina’s sweet but often marvelously confused mother. Although our small group came with suitcases in tow, she directed us to the waiting area where local travel agents were queueing up for day tours. Instead, we veered toward the check-in desks and after a short process, were given our embarkation cards and pointed toward the gangway.
Perhaps because of recent terrorist threats and the extra added security cachet of the upcoming royal naming, I was admonished after taking a shot of the welcome mat at the entrance to the gangway.
I was assigned a very comfortable outside verandah stateroom on the aft/port side of Deck 5. It had a duvet-topped queen sized bed, a separate sitting area, plenty of storage space and a soothing color scheme of brown, white and beige, which I surmised would make a nice contrast with the anticipated “cruising blues” of sea and sky. From the verandah, there was a view over the neighboring dock that I believe once was home to the original Odeon-style Ocean Terminal, built to accommodate the first QUEEN MARY and QUEEN ELIZABETH after World War Two. Sadly, it was demolished decades ago, taking with it much of Southampton’s maritime allure.
The cabin featured a nice modular WC with Gilchrist and Soames amenities (soap, shampoo, bath gel, lotion).
For the next six or so hours, I was unleashed to systematically document the new Cunarder from botton to top. I began on Deck 1 of the Grand Lobby, projecting my camera lenses through angled bows as a quartet of stately ladies strung through a classical concerto. The swelling queue of agents I encountered in the terminal would soon be embarking and this area would be overrun with traffic. The vast amount of images taken will appear in accompanying Decked! features but I was happy to see the much-heralded Viscount David Linley marquetry panel of the first QUEEN ELIZABETH in person.
Three hours later, I stopped in the Lido for a very quick lunch (lettuce and tomatoes doused in olive oil and balsamic vinegar with parmesan borrowed from the pasta area), soup and some nice tandoori chicken. I took in the view of the pavilion on the starboard side of the ship as workers scurried back and forth. The red carpets and velvet bunting were yet to come.
On the port side, I eavesdropped as a television crew fussed over a distinguished elderly gentleman. Apparently, he was a veteran Cunard officer who had been on the first QUEEN ELIZABETH during her war service. My jaw dropped when I overheard him mentioning serving aboard AQUITANIA in her twilight years. There was also a word or two about IVERNIA — I wanted to jump in and say that her stairtower, Library, captain’s cabin and quite a few other spaces are now part of my home. Had he not been so engaged, I would have loved to ask him some questions….
As the rest of the media arrived from all across the U.S. and Canada, I continued documenting and exploring. The Royal Court Theater was off limits due to rehearsals and certain places like the Lido, Midships Bar and Cafe Carinthia were so highly trafficked that I would never actually get the perfect shot.
Several ranges of accommodation were opened up for viewing between 3:00 and 5:00 PM. I did my best to shoot between bouts of visitors but in the posh Masters Suite, a clump of agents decided to take residence in the sitting area, chatting away, glasses of champagne in hand. After ten or so minutes of my waiting for them to take flight, the sympathetic cabin attendant pulled me aside and told me to come back just before she locked it up so I could finish getting photos.
I moved onward to some neighboring cabins, then headed back to the most opulent quarters, the Grand Suites, which overlook the stern. Just before I arrived, the same “clump” had entered and bee-lined it to the sitting area. As fellow visitors groaned, politely waited and awkwardly tried to shoot around them, they laughed and cackled away. Enough already…
“Did he just take our picture?” one of the outraged ladies asked? “Why, yes!”, another clucked. “You didn’t ask our PERMISSION”, one of the men admonished. When I returned an hour later, they had finally found another roost and I was able to finish up the accommodation.
With most of the ship documented, I spent a few hours sorting and sizing hundreds of images, then headed over to the press room in the terminal to spend another couple hours uploading them to the site. It was all worth the effort as the “Preview” enjoyed a huge amount of traffic with some of the very first photos of the new ship to be published.
After meeting for cocktails in the Commodore Club with the press group, it was off to dinner in the Princess Grill with CruiseMates’ Paul Motter, New York One’s Valerie and a handful of other journalists. Before long, the jet lag kicked in and I retired for a very full night’s sleep.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
There was just enough time to shower before running off to the Verandah Restaurant for lunch with the press group. Its light and airy decor, unlike most of the Art Deco inspired stylings of the QUEEN ELIZABETH, is a sort of Regency Modern. Especially nice are the circus murals inspired by the Doris Zinkheisen paintings in the first QUEEN MARY’s Verandah Grill.
Fortified with several cappuccinos, I worked my way through a number of delicious courses. The general consensus with the press attendees was that the QUEEN ELIZABETH is a splendid new ship.
Executive Chef Jean-Marie Zimmermann dropped by the table to see how we were enjoying his signature “farm to plate” French cuisine.
From there, it was off to the press conference for all the latest on Cunard and the QUEEN ELIZABETH. Cunard President Peter Shanks did a fine job of fielding questions. After Shanks elaborated on the novelty of the “English Garden” style games deck atop the ship (see Decked! for images and details), Carnival Chairman and CEO, Mickey Arison turned from his front row seat to add that no deck chair space had been lost as the enlarged lido on aft Deck 9 more than compensated for the space it claimed.
Q and A tidbits:
Would Cunard soon be announcing a fourth ship?
Shanks: “Three is right for now and we will need to prove the brand before considering a fourth.”
Will the QUEEN VICTORIA be retrofitted with a full wraparound promenade like the QUEEN ELIZABETH’s and will she get the additional accommodation in the stern and the English Garden feature?
Shanks: “For now, no, but we will consider them for QUEEN VICTORIA and future ships if these features prove popular.”
Regarding the artifacts recently rescued from the QE2 in Dubai (bell, builder’s plate and silver model — see Decked!), Shanks gave a provocatively coy response, “I will not reveal how I did the deal (with the ship’s current Dubai owners).”
And, then, the there was the inevitable question about the passenger who was recently booted off the QM2 for poor decorum. Before Shanks could answer, Mickey Arison stood, turned to the crowd and interjected, “She would have been kicked off any of our (Carnival Corporation) ships. Her behavior was outrageous and what she told the media was a total fabrication.”
After the conference, I joined Ocean and Cruise News’ Tom Cassidy in Cafe Carinthia to say a quick hello to visiting former Cunard Commodore Ron Warwick and his wife, Kim. Commodore Warwick’s father introduced the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 and Commodore Warwick, himself, introduced the QUEEN MARY 2 before retiring a few years ago.
Unlike the prior day, the sun was brilliant, so I took a short walk outside the terminal to get a shot of the QUEEN ELIZABETH’s deep orange funnel overhead, then headed to the press room to add yet more photos of the ship. Great to see the usual cabal of writers posting reports, including USA Today’s Gene Sloan, Travel Weekly’s Johanna Jainchill, CruiseMates’ Paul Motter and The Avid Cruiser’s Ralph Grizzle.
While we fumbled away at our laptops, the orchestra and chorale began to rehearse. When a bagpiper played his first note, I joked that I never wanted to hear “Amazing Grace” again. With each passing moment, I regretted my cynicism. This mere “rehearsal” was the most amazing “Amazing Grace” I had ever heard! The music, even with the challenged accoustics of the press room trailer, was just spectacular. I began to get chills and a bit of a lump in my throat.
I hurried to the gym for a very quick workout, then dressed “casually” (as noted in the program) for dinner in the Princess Grill. While queueing with the others, I duly noted Cunard’s “casual” is the equivalent of any other cruise line’s “informal”. Overdressed is always better than underdressed, especially in a Grill and my judgement was appalling. But dinner was lovely, nonetheless, as our host, Amy Lucena, shared how she acquired and displayed much of the artwork on the ship in conjunction with Princess/Cunard designer Teresa Anderson.
I veered into the Commodore Club for a rather stately bottle of water to take to the stateroom. After several hours of not being able to sleep (the duvet was incinerating), I headed out to the press room for a surreal but high speed 3:00 AM experience posting yet more photos.
Monday, October 11, 2010
As a mere attendee, I was feeling quite a rush of anticipation when I awoke after a restless three hour sleep. I could only imagine what it was like for those responsible for staging the day that lay ahead. Were it a “mere” ship naming, the stakes would be high enough but today’s event would be so much more.
I joined Tom Cassidy and Uncommon Journey’s Christopher Kyte in the Princess Grill for breakfast for some poached eggs and then returned to the cabin to work on more images before donning “business attire” and heading to the Queens Room. There were a few speeches, including a brief impromptu from Sir Ben Kingsley, an avid Cunard passenger, on behalf of the Prince’s Trust. Meanwhile, a stream of elegant and occasionally outrageous hats paraded by as cute little terriers sniffed their way through every corner of the room. We tried to linger a bit to avoid the crunch of humanity heading into the Britannia Restaurant for the Gala Lunch, but a security agent politely indicated that it was time to go. The space was being prepared for a visit by HM the Queen.
To my surprise, the food and service was the best I had thus far enjoyed on the ship and that’s not to say things weren’t exemplary in the Princess Grill and Verandah Restaurant. But the fish..and the dessert…oooh la la!
We soon realized we weren’t alone in wanting to secure good seats for the naming. A huge queue clogged the gangway at Deck 2 as the security officer implored guests to head down to the Deck 1 exit. As we were pressed into the stanchions, it was a “Poseidon Adventure” dilemma — which way do we go? We stuck to our plan and disembarked on Deck 2, which must have held the record for longest, zig-zaggiest gangway, and watched as the Deck 1 crowd exited the ship and walked directly into the pavilion. Our routing took us back into the terminal and down another series of meandering ramps that finally delivered us to the pavilion ten minutes later. An adorable lineup of children handed out programs, guest list booklets and seat cushions at the entrance. Under brilliant blue skies and billowy clouds, the QUEEN ELIZABETH loomed over the terminal, sparkling in the afternoon sun, affirming Cunard’s handsome livery in this era of perpetual navy blue-trimmed, white cruise ships.
The Bournemouth Symphony and Chorus played a swirling, powerful playlist as the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Irish Guards marched in unison across the stage. Soprano Lesley Garrett lent her dulcet pipes along with those of the Massed Bands of the Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards, a small troupe of whom were gathered on the ship’s bow docking platform.
The Royal Standard billowed from the radio mast indicating HM the Queen was aboard. Soon, the LED screens began to broadcast live footage of the monarch touring the ship, stopping to inspect the specially commissioned painting of herself and then later, as she greeted the officers on the bridge. She even tenuously pushed the button that sounded off the ship’s horn over the quay, answered with roaring applause from the attendees. Interspersed with the live footage were powerful images of the actual launch of the QUEEN ELIZABETH in 1938, the CARONIA in 1947 and QE2 in 1967.
All guests stood as the queen’s motorcade drove into the pavilion area, returning to their seats once she was she took hers next to Carnival Corporation chairman Mickey Arison.
The Right Reverend Michael Scott-Joynt, Lord Bishop of Winchester blessed the ship and Cunard’s president, Peter Shanks spoke eloquently of the monarch’s long affiliation with Cunard before Captain Wells escorted HM the Queen to the podium where she christened the ship with a succinct and traditional “I name this ship QUEEN ELIZABETH. May God bless her and all who sail in her.”
A bottle of 2009 Baron Philippe de Rothschild wine smashed into the bow, the whistle blew and confetti filled the sky.
A moment later, HM the Queen was climbing back into her maroon Bentley and off she went.
As the hoards filed back onto the ship to continue celebrating, I raced to the press room to upload photos and a quick update. Media from across the U.K. buzzed with live feeds and rushed reports. Programs and press kits were scattered about, having been plucked of every useable morsel of information. Later, on my way back to the ship, I stopped by the bow where a lone television reporter lingered with his camera crew. The light was fading into a rosy hue as the shadows of the terminal began to creep up the ship’s hull. Over my shoulder, the pavilion was being struck, carpeting and velvet bunting rolled and folded and support beams stacked into trucks.
The final night on board was formal, yet surely more relaxed for Cunard employees and the event planning staff. The new QUEEN had been “launched” with deserving spectacle and fanfare. Months, and for some, years, of hard work had achieved their result.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
As we filed into coaches for the trip back to Heathrow, QUEEN ELIZABETH began to embark a full contingent of passengers for her maiden voyage.
End of QUEEN ELIZABETH Preview and Naming Ceremony Sea Trek
Very special thanks: Martin Cox, Jackie Chase, Marilyn Greene, Christopher Kyte, Brian O’Connor