QUEEN MARY 2, The Maiden Voyage Recalled Ten Years Later

QUEEN MARY 2

The Maiden Voyage Recalled

Ten Years Later

By

Shawn J. Dake

The Queen Mary 2 on the day of her christening at the Queen Elizabeth II terminal in Southampton.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The Queen Mary 2 on the day of her christening at the Queen Elizabeth II terminal in Southampton. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

A decade has passed since the QUEEN MARY 2 was christened on January 8, 2004 in Southampton, and began her maiden voyage four days later. Since that time, much has been written about this modern reincarnation of the classic ocean liner that the ship embodies. In the months leading up to her introduction, the QUEEN MARY 2 was certainly the most talked about subject in maritime circles as the “newest, largest, longest, fastest and most expensive” passenger ship in the world. Her massive, yet stylish exterior, the somewhat unusual configuration of the interior, her public rooms, suites and cabins are still debated endlessly ten years later. In that time, she has become a proven success, both as an ocean liner on the Atlantic and as a cruise ship, voyaging to various ports around the world. In this, the 10th anniversary year, it seems like an appropriate time to look back at the official maiden voyage, a 14-night journey that took the new ship from her homeport of Southampton to the island of Madeira, a couple stops in the Canary Islands, across the Atlantic for the first time to a pair of Caribbean ports, Barbados and St. Thomas, before her inaugural landfall on the U.S. mainland at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I was there for it all. Let me take you back to that time and along for the journey.

The Queen Mary 2 on January 8, 2004.  Note the temporary structure near the bow set up for the naming ceremony.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The Queen Mary 2 on January 8, 2004. Note the temporary structure near the bow set up for the naming ceremony. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

Six days into the new year of 2004, I found myself seated beside my wife on a jet aircraft that would fly us off on one of the most memorable adventures of our lives. Leaving sunny Southern California, we were bound for London in the dead of winter. A quick rail connection from Heathrow airport and a short taxi ride to Waterloo Station put us on a train to Southampton. Tired, but perhaps too excited to experience complete jet-lag we met up at the hotel with other members of our press group along with a who’s who of Cunard Line hierarchy before being whisked off to dinner at a wonderful old-world restaurant in the heart of the New Forest. All conversation of course focused on the as-yet-unseen QUEEN MARY 2, and the baffling meaning, at least to us Americans, of the notation on the christening invitation of “hats and decorations optional.”

Cruising on choppy Southampton waters to view the new ship.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Cruising on choppy Southampton waters to view the new ship. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

The morning of January 8th dawned with sheets of rain being driven horizontally past the windows of our hotel. A scheduled trip by boat to view the ship from the water looked questionable at best. Many of the ladies made plans to brave the weather by going out hat shopping. As if proving the term “ship nut” the rest of us took advantage of a lull in the storm to board a small boat of the Blue Funnel Line and venture out in near gale-force winds. It would prove to be a cold, but worthwhile excursion, providing our first glimpses of the QUEEN MARY 2 at her berth. The rain held off providing the opportunity for taking some excellent photographs against the leaden sky. Not surprisingly, my first impression, was “wow, this ship is big.” Coming around the end of the Queen Elizabeth II terminal, I saw the unusual stern arrangement of the ship for the first time which was decidedly not what I had expected. From low on the water and approaching from the stern, the view was impressive. The boat traveled the length of the ship revealing the huge temporary shelter that would house the invited guests at the christening ceremony later that evening. Following the boat tour, it was time to check out of the hotel and board the great liner for an overnight stay.

Comfortable Balcony Stateroom #11094.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Comfortable Balcony Stateroom #11094. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

For this one gala evening aboard, our accommodations would be in a lovely balcony stateroom #11094, facing the harbor on the portside of Deck 11. There was barely time to change clothes and grab a bite to eat before heading back ashore to find seats for the naming ceremony. Cunard Line pulled out all the stops for this spectacular event, officiated by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II herself. This fulfilled the tradition of having all of Cunard’s Queen liners being named by the reigning monarch, up to that point. The enormous tarp-covered enclosure set up for the christening, was said to seat 2,000 invited guests.

Spectacular lighting and entertainment complemented the unveiling of the massive ship.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Spectacular lighting and entertainment complemented the unveiling of the massive ship. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Micky Arison, Pamela Conover, and Commodore Ronald W. Warwick joined Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for the christening ceremony.  Photo courtesy of Cunard Line.
Micky Arison, Pamela Conover, and Commodore Ronald W. Warwick joined Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for the christening ceremony. Photo courtesy of Cunard Line.

Initially, the ship was concealed behind a 70 foot high curtain, which when dropped revealed the starboard bow and forward superstructure of the new liner, bathed in theatrical lighting. There were many poignant moments, but few more memorable than the sight of a lone bagpiper on the bow playing “Amazing Grace” solo, before being joined vocally by opera star Lesley Garrett. While all of the entertainment was spectacular, the real star of the show was the QUEEN MARY 2, front and center. Carnival Chairman Micky Arison, Cunard Line President Pamela Conover and Commodore Ronald W. Warwick were joined on the podium by the Queen who released a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, French champagne against the hull. She spoke the classic words, “I name this ship Queen Mary 2; May God bless her and all who sail in her.” At that moment, a blast from the ship’s whistle coincided with the start of a fireworks display along the pier, over the harbor and even on the bow of the ship. The audience cheered, knowing they had witnessed a part of history. Following the ceremony, the overnight guests went back aboard for a formal dinner and an evening of free-flowing champagne.

The original Scottish steamer Queen Mary of 1933 spent much of her career sailing as Queen Mary II  before ending up in a stationary role in London.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The original Scottish steamer Queen Mary of 1933 spent much of her career sailing as Queen Mary II before ending up in a stationary role in London. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

For the next three days the ship was visited by thousands of travel agents, past Cunard Line passengers and members of the media. My wife and I returned to London to do some sightseeing. One of the things on my list to check off was a visit to the original QUEEN MARY of 1933, then moored on the Thames embankment as a nightclub and pub. I had sailed on the little Clyde excursion steamer back in 1977, just after she had completed her many years of sailing as the QUEEN MARY  II and regained her original name.  Having also had a long association from age 18 with the 1936 QUEEN MARY  of Cunard fame in Long Beach, California, it felt like things had come full circle again, seeing the oldest vessel of that name, just prior to embarking on the newest. A casual pub dinner aboard was a nice treat. Incredibly, all three of the famous ships that have worn the name QUEEN MARY  have managed to remain in existence into the 21st century.

This 12-cylinder Dailmer was the personal car of Queen Mary.  For a time it was displayed aboard the ship Queen Mary and was brought out again for the inauguration of the Queen Mary 2.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
This 12-cylinder Dailmer was the personal car of QUEEN MARY. For a time it was displayed aboard the ship QUEEN MARY and was brought out again for the inauguration of the QUEEN MARY 2. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Cunard "bellboys" welcome guests embarking on the maiden voyage.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Cunard “bellboys” welcome guests embarking on the maiden voyage. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 12, 2004. It was back to Southampton as the big day had finally arrived. A completely different air of anticipation pervaded the cruise terminal than had on christening day. This time, passengers were actually embarking and going somewhere. As in days of old, we were all bound for America, but on a more circuitous and leisurely route through warmer climes. I was pleasantly surprised to see the 1935 Daimler limousine that was the personal car of Her Majesty Queen Mary, parked in the terminal. As a tour guide in Long Beach I had spent many hours describing this remarkable vehicle to tourists when it was on display aboard the QUEEN MARY. Now, years later, here it was again. Another nice touch was seeing boys dressed in Cunard’s red bellboy uniforms greeting guests as we went upstairs to the waiting area. Embarkation proceeded in groups and we were soon able to enter the ship through the Grand Lobby then head up to Deck 6 which would be our home for the next two weeks. Our cabin this time was an inside, #6058 which was perfectly situated along a quiet interior corridor. As rooms go, this was a very nice one with a King-size bed, ample wardrobe and cabinet space, dresser and TV all neatly placed in 157 square feet of living space without feeling compact.

The Grand Lobby was the first sight seen by passengers as they arrived aboard.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The Grand Lobby was the first sight seen by passengers as they arrived aboard. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

Lifeboat drill commenced at our very overcrowded muster station located in the Winter Garden directly above us. Nightfall comes early in Britain during the winter and it was completely dark by the appointed sailing time, which was delayed by about an hour primarily due to luggage handling difficulties. At exactly 6:30pm three long blasts blew from the ship’s whistles and the long anticipated maiden voyage had begun. QUEEN MARY 2 began to move, but it didn’t move far. Backing away from the pier, it took up a position in the harbor opposite Mayflower Park. A flotilla of small craft surrounded the giant ship, constantly being shooed back with limited success by security boats. From the loudspeakers onboard the sounds of “Rule Britannia” played. Thousands of people on shore watched the proceedings in the cold night air, no doubt envious of those of us fortunate enough to be aboard. A barge pulled alongside and shortly thereafter a massive fireworks display lit up Southampton. Repeated admonitions came over the P.A. system urging first sitting dinner guests to proceed to the Britannia Restaurant, but no one was about to miss this once-in-a-lifetime show which lasted a full hour. After this wonderful sendoff, the ship finally began to move forward down Southampton Water picking up speed as it went. The number of spectator boats began to fall behind, the pilot was dropped, and as the night grew colder and darker we headed to the open sea. Dinner that night was a shambles, both from the disruption of the earlier festivities and the largely inexperienced crew. An hour passed between ordering and the first appetizer. We finally gave up on the whole enterprise when dessert had not yet been discussed, much less served, by 11:30pm. It had been a long day, but a great day. The predicted bad weather had held off earlier in the day and fortunately through the sail away but now it had arrived with the full force of wind and rain. The QUEEN MARY 2 was in her element as she gently pitched and bobbed through the night.

The Britannia Restaurant viewed from the entrance on Deck 2.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The Britannia Restaurant viewed from the entrance on Deck 2. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 13, 2004. A full day at sea and finally time to get acquainted with all the ship had to offer. Sailing south across the Bay Of Biscay the sea did the best it could to live up to the area’s reputation for bad weather. Force 8 gale conditions prevailed with wave heights reaching 25 feet. That day, the QUEEN MARY 2 proved herself to be a true ocean liner rather than a mere cruise ship as she plowed ahead at 24 knots with a minimum of motion. My wife and I quite enjoyed watching the seas through the large porthole-shaped windows down on Deck 2. Others did not enjoy the rough weather nearly as much and many were seasick. The show that evening was cancelled as the star performer was among them.

An unusual view of the Queens Room from the G32 nightclub. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
An unusual view of the Queens Room from the G32 nightclub. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 14, 2004. On the second full day at sea, conditions improved and the weather warmed up considerably. It would remain that way for the rest of the voyage. Maritime historian and lecturer, John Maxtone-Graham, who would be aboard the entire trip, gave his first talk in Illuminations. This beautiful room was heavily promoted before the maiden voyage as the first planetarium at sea and it also doubles as a movie theater and lecture hall. In my opinion, it is the best decorated public room aboard with décor inspired by the old QUEEN MARY from the faux-onyx light urns to the gilded panels adorning either side of the stage. At the entrances, sculptures and groupings of celestial figures representing Mercury and Andromeda among others add to the appeal of this two deck high room. Throughout the day passengers, lounged and shopped, ate and drank and did all of the usual activities that passengers generally do on a cruise. That evening was the first formal night and of course the first Captain’s cocktail party for revenue guests. It was held in the massive, but still overcrowded Queens Room. Commodore Warwick never made it to the actual event, not because of bad weather, but due to being stuck too long in the receiving line posing for photos. The dinner this evening was particularly good and served at a much more rational pace, possibly due at least in part to our wise decision to switch tables to one on the lower level of the Britannia Restaurant with a more experienced waiter. The postponed show from the previous night took place with Dame Shirley Bassey giving a spirited performance in the Royal Court Theatre. Even ten years later I can still hear her belting out the theme from “Goldfinger.”

A New Year and a new ship as crowds greet the QM2 at Funchal, Madeira.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
A New Year and a new ship as crowds greet the QM2 at Funchal, Madeira. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Overlooking the city of Funchal, the Queen Mary 2 is by far the largest object in sight.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Overlooking the city of Funchal, the QUEEN MARY 2 is by far the largest object in sight. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 15, 2004. The QUEEN MARY 2 reached her first port-of-call, Funchal, Madeira. Arriving at dawn, a tugboat welcomed us with sprays of water against the picturesque backdrop of the twinkling lights of the town against the mountain backdrop. Madeira is a beautiful Portuguese island in the Atlantic and a frequent stop on European cruises, but they had never seen a ship as big as the QUEEN MARY 2 before. Hundreds turned out to have a look at the liner docked across the narrow harbor in front of town. While some passengers chose to stay aboard their $780 million floating resort, most of us ventured out for some sightseeing. We headed up the mountain to the town of Monte which afforded spectacular views of the ship below. Coming back down can be accomplished by the unique method of sleds on wooden runners tearing down the streets or by the more sedate aerial tramway. We had a great time doing both. After a beautiful day on Madeira, the QUEEN MARY 2 departed at sunset with thousands of well-wishers lining the shores to watch us go.

Ships of different generations, the Queen Mary 2 and the Flamenco meet in Tenerife.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Ships of different generations, the QUEEN MARY 2 and the FLAMENCO meet in Tenerife. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
A former Princess and the Queen.  The Flamenco has been through a number of incarnations including many years as the first Sun Princess.  In early 2004, she was idle at Tenerife.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
A former Princess and the Queen. The FLAMENCO has been through a number of incarnations including many years as the first Sun Princess. In early 2004, she was idle at Tenerife. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
 The Queen Mary 2 presents her impressive form alongside the dock.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The QUEEN MARY 2 presents her impressive form alongside the dock. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 16, 2004. The next day found the ship approaching the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The QUEEN MARY 2 found herself docked bow-to-bow with the diminutive, but still attractive FLAMENCO, originally completed in 1972 as the SPIRIT OF LONDON for P&O. Farther down the long quay was another cruise ship, the THOMSON SPIRIT, the former NIEUW AMSTERDAM of 1983 which had much more recently sailed under the American flag as the failed PATRIOT. Knowing that Tenerife was a large island and never having been there before, we opted for an all-day tour taking us from the sea through forests and mountains and the fantastic desert landscapes of Parque Nacional Del Teide.

Dressed in white, the Thomson Spirit was also on hand during the call at Tenerife.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Dressed in white, the THOMSON SPIRIT was also on hand during the call at Tenerife. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

Returning late in the day, there was still time for a quick walk around town. Across the harbor the QUEEN MARY 2 presented a pleasing picture in the growing darkness, ablaze in lights from bow to stern. Departure was scheduled for 11:00pm. With a whistle blast the ship moved away from the pier side. A few small fireworks were noted on the breakwater, but moments later the harbor erupted in a fantastic fireworks display from multiple locations all around the ship. It was a wonderful sendoff, reflective of the warmth of the people of this lovely island.

Throngs come out to view the new ship at Las Palmas, Grand Canary Island in one of the most spectacular receptions and send-offs in nautical history.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Throngs come out to view the new ship at Las Palmas, Grand Canary Island in one of the most spectacular receptions and send-offs in nautical history. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 17, 2004. For the third day in a row the ship arrived in a port, just as the dawn was breaking. This day would be so much more than a typical port call, and one that will be remembered for a lifetime. Approaching Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a pair of tugs sprayed plumes of water off our port side. But an even more indelible impression was found moving over to the starboard side of the boat deck. Thousands of people lined the pier. A flock of white doves were let go circling the ship and alongside a group of locals worked on creating a large-scale image of the arriving QUEEN MARY 2 in colored sand. Disembarking passengers were treated like celebrities, no doubt searching for the real celebrities who were rumored to be aboard. Off we went on another sightseeing tour of the island which was quite pleasant, but largely forgotten, in the midst of our exciting afternoon return to the ship. The crowds which had already been big in the morning, had swelled to an estimated 100,000 people late in the day. That means nearly one of every three persons living in Las Palmas had come out to see the QUEEN MARY 2 on its maiden arrival. Buses returning from shore excursions had to be given a police escort to get through the traffic and pedestrians crowding all approaches to the port. Everyone wanted to wave at, or shake hands with the lucky Cunard passengers.

The excitement continued throughout the day and into the night.  Thank you Las Palmas!  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The excitement continued throughout the day and into the night. Thank you Las Palmas! Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

Around 5:00pm had been the scheduled sailing time, but the enthusiasm from the shore did not seem to be diminishing. A parade with a band in formal white dress and costumed revelers made their way to the waterfront. Portions of the crowds formed a spontaneous conga line, the excitement translating to the passengers lining the decks watching from above. It soon became clear why the departure had been delayed. Allowing time for darkness to arrive camera flashes soon turned into other sparks of light. Fireworks began, actually in the water at first, and gradually rose higher. As we progressed down the harbor a series of five spectacular fireworks displays followed the length of our course for nearly an hour. The final one read “Farewell and Godspeed” as the ship turned west to begin crossing the Atlantic ocean for the first time. Commodore Warwick later remarked that in his entire career he had never seen anything like the reception and sendoff we had received in Las Palmas.

The Queen Mary 2 crossing the Atlantic for the first time under perfect weather conditions.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The Queen Mary 2 crossing the Atlantic for the first time under perfect weather conditions. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 18 – 21, 2004. Four days at sea lay ahead before the next landfall. The weather remained calm and warm; the sea like glass the entire distance. Time passed by in a relaxing, unremarkable fashion. Quite frankly, there were very few activities that seemed obligatory to participate in. Except for the few star performances, the evening shows were lackluster. During the day there were planetarium presentations in Illuminations and some outstanding nautical lectures. The granddaddy of them all was a three hour stint with chances to ask questions of Commodore Ronald Warwick and legendary social hostess Maureen Ryan, who had served aboard all four Queens. Next came Stephen Payne, a true ship buff and the remarkable designer of the Queen Mary 2. After speaking for an hour on the design and building of the ship we were on, he received a well-deserved standing ovation. As if this wasn’t enough, John Maxtone-Graham followed with another of his always interesting ocean liner lectures. There were also abbreviated performances of famous plays put on by graduates of the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts and a fine series of lectures held in the Cunard ConneXions conference rooms. Most days however, would find me outside in the warm sunshine, lounging by the pool aft on Deck 8, reading a book. For me, that is one of the great pleasures of being on a ship.

We learned that fantastic meals could be obtained, at that time without reservations or extra charges, by dining at the bar in the Todd English Restaurant; the best food on the ship.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
We learned that fantastic meals could be obtained, at that time without reservations or extra charges, by dining at the bar in the Todd English Restaurant; the best food on the ship. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

There were a couple of interesting personal incidents that I can share. All passengers on the maiden voyage were full-fare, revenue paying guests. In fact, to this day, the per diems for this trip are among the highest I have ever paid including for World Cruises. The voyage had been fully booked for 18 months, since the day it went on sale. While this was a cruise I would not have missed for anything, I was also working as a reporter for a number of travel, trade and newspaper publications. One of them wanted dispatches from the ship at sea. To show how much times and technology have changed in ten years, Internet access in the cabin was brand new on the QM2. Not really knowing what I was doing, I sat on the bed in front of the television with a computer keyboard in front of me, typing away with nothing happening. I finally called for help and the culprit turned out to be that no batteries had ever been placed in the wireless keyboard. The latest technology yes, but they forgot the batteries. Problem corrected I filed my first ever reports from sea in 2004.

Commodore Ronald W. Warwick aboard his ship on January 18, 2004.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Commodore Ronald W. Warwick aboard his ship on January 18, 2004. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

Another sea day, I had the privilege of conducting a one-on-one interview with Commodore Warwick. We met in the Boardroom adjacent to the beautiful Commodore Club bar, the equivalent of an observation lounge on the QM2. The man who had overseen the building of the ship and had been hobnobbing with royalty and reporters for the last several weeks, was now casually sitting opposite me in a chair ready to answer any questions I asked. Like others involved with this ship, the man at the top is a ship buff. He told me he began collecting press clippings in 1965 related to Cunard Line’s building of the liner that would become the QE2. By 1969, he was a young man working aboard a cargo ship in Kingston, Jamaica when the new QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 arrived on a cruise. He went aboard to see his father, Bill Warwick who was captain of the ship and to have a look around. His dad told him, “Son it is not a bad job,” and he joined Cunard Line in 1970. He followed in his father’s footsteps working his way up through the ranks, first becoming captain of the smaller cruise ships like the CUNARD PRINCESS. Commodore Warwick said, “The pinnacle of my career came in 1990 when I was appointed Master of QE2.” He left that ship in March, 2003 to start work on the QM2 project, moving permanently to St. Nazaire in August. By mid-December he had a crew of 1,250 onboard. On December 22, 2003 the QUEEN MARY 2 was handed over to his command with the words “it’s yours now.” He mentioned that the delivery voyage “arrival in Vigo was interesting. We maneuvered about; conducted our own trials. We’ve never had to use a tug.” He added, the “weather we had the other day was the worst weather we’ve had in the brief lifetime of this ship.” The most economical cruising speed for the QM2 is 23.5 knots in service. Normally on the Atlantic, the cruising speed had been planned for 25.5 knots, which is what we were averaging on our southerly maiden crossing. For a brief period one day the Commodore opened the ship up to a full 28 knots. One last interesting anecdote the Commodore shared was the story of the original whistle from the old QUEEN MARY that now resides aboard the new QUEEN MARY 2. “It is on permanent loan from Long Beach. It was trucked to Florida and taken on to England on QE2, then sent back to its original makers. Then sent over to France and installed on the ship. The portside whistle is probably the one.” I thanked Commodore Warwick for taking the time out of his extremely busy schedule to talk to me. As we were wrapping up, he said “I never thought there’d be another one. They bought Cunard to build this ship.”

First sight at first light in Barbados; the now bankrupt European Vision of Festival Cruises.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
First sight at first light in Barbados; the now bankrupt European Vision of Festival Cruises. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 22, 2004. To most of the passengers onboard the QM2, the completion of the Atlantic crossing and maiden arrival on this side of the pond was a major event worthy of a tumultuous welcome. Apparently, the port authorities in Bridgetown, Barbados didn’t get that memo. As we approached the island, there was no fanfare of any kind. We were just another ship in port on a crowded day; albeit the newest and by far largest one. The 58,174 gross ton European Vision (now MSC ARMONIA) was the first ship to come into view and was an unexpected sight. Built in the same shipyard as the QUEEN MARY 2, Chantiers de L’Atlantique in 2001 for Festival Cruises, that company had ceased operations the day before. Passengers were still milling around her decks wondering how they were going to get home.

Family members in port at Barbados on January 22, 2004.  The Costa Classica and the Carnival Spirit.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Family members in port at Barbados on January 22, 2004. The Costa Classica and the Carnival Spirit. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

In the main part of the harbor across from the outer berth allocated to the QM2, was the COSTA CLASSICA. Shortly afterwards the Carnival Spirit docked astern of her, while Radisson’s SEVEN SEAS NAVIGATOR pulled in ahead of the QUEEN MARY 2s bow. Five ships, three of them owned by Carnival Corporation. There was a delayed welcome of sorts when a van holding a small brass band pulled up alongside the ship, but by then it was a case of too little, too late. The day in beautiful Barbados would remain a low-key event. In the morning, we stayed aboard the ship, having an invitation to tour the modern, highly computerized bridge after docking. The views from the enclosed bridge wings along the ship’s sides and looking out over the harbor were nothing short of spectacular. We had been to Barbados many times before so sightseeing today was not a priority. A simple walk around the port to photograph the ships and time to enjoy a couple cold Banks beers at sunset was enough. After late sitting dinner in the Britannia Restaurant it was nearing the 11:00pm sailing time. There would be no fireworks or tributes, as the newest ship in the world quietly slipped away from port.

The spectacular view from the bridge looking down the portside of the Queen Mary 2.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The spectacular view from the bridge looking down the portside of the Queen Mary 2. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 23, 2004. There was a full day at sea which would continue the relaxing atmosphere of basking beneath the Caribbean sunshine. Passengers strolled the broad promenade decks or lounged in wooden deck chairs along the railings. The long straight wake churned up by the quadruple propeller pods stretched out seemingly for miles behind the liner. Indoors, the fine nautical lectures continued.

The intimate Princess Grill on the portside of Deck 7 facing aft.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The intimate Princess Grill on the portside of Deck 7 facing aft. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

That evening we broke from our usual routine of dining in the Britannia Restaurant and accepted an invitation to join another journalist from the Miami Herald and his wife for dinner in the Princess Grill. The menu selection turned out to be just the same with no noticeable improvement in quality. The service too was equally as slow. The Princess Grill and the higher suite level Queens Grill are virtual mirror images of each other, located aft on Deck 7. Slight differences in décor are about the only distinguishing characteristics.

Heavy security in the air and on the sea provided the first "welcome" to the United States.   Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Heavy security in the air and on the sea provided the first “welcome” to the United States. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 24, 2004. Arriving off the island of St. Thomas, the QUEEN MARY 2 anchored far outside the harbor of Charlotte Amalie. This morning was literally a rude awakening as passengers had to muster early in the morning hours to stand in hour-long lines to go through U.S. Immigration inspection. As if to add an exclamation mark that we were indeed back in the good old U.S.A., security boats armed with automatic weapons patrolled around the ship with helicopters circling overhead. No exuberant welcome here, as in Europe. This port would also be the first test of the ship’s tenders. If given a letter grade, they failed. Once again, the poor crew training showed and it was an extremely long process trying to get from the ship to shore. Eventually, after hours of waiting, larger tenders from the port were enlisted to shuttle passengers off the ship to the streets of town, but by then half the day was gone.

The harbor of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas with the Queen Mary 2 anchored far out beyond Water Island.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The harbor of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas with the Queen Mary 2 anchored far out beyond Water Island. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

Several other ships shared the port today, with the DAWN PRINCESS, GALAXY and ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS occupying the prime West Indian Company Dock. Their lucky passengers could walk ashore for shopping and recreation. St. Thomas is another port we have visited dozens of times, so today would be spent relaxing at the beach. Beautiful Magens Bay is just over the mountain from the heart of Charlotte Amalie with turquoise water lapping at sugar white sand. The tender ride back to the ship went much more smoothly and afforded some spectacular views of the QUEEN MARY 2 from the water.

Looking every inch a Queen on maiden U.S. call at St. Thomas, January 24, 2004.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Looking every inch a Queen on maiden U.S. call at St. Thomas, January 24, 2004. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Close Encounters Of The World's Largest Ships Kind, as Adventure Of The Seas cuts past the bow of the Queen Mary 2 off St. Thomas.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Close Encounters Of The World’s Largest Ships Kind, as Adventure Of The Seas cuts past the bow of the Queen Mary 2 off St. Thomas. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

One of the more poignant moments of the cruise occurred as the ships filed one by one out of St. Thomas. Royal Caribbean’s 3,264 passenger capacity, 137,376 gross ton cruise ship ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS was then the co-title holder, along with her sisters, as the largest passenger ship in the world until the advent of QUEEN MARY 2. As if to symbolically pass the title over to the new Cunard liner the 1,020 foot long ship passed very close off the bow of the QM2, blasting whistle salutes that were both loud and frequent. The 148,528 gross ton QUEEN MARY 2 responded in the same manner with three long blasts, acknowledging the honor. Although much larger ships have come along since then, it was truly a moment to witness maritime history in the making. Later that same evening after literally sailing off into the sunset, the QUEEN MARY 2 and the comparatively tiny WIND SURF (ex CLUB MED1)  cruised side-by-side, the smaller ship under full sail flashing it’s lights in tribute. With a lovely moon rising off the stern the huge liner quickly left the slower ship in its wake.

The aft swimming pool on Deck 8 with a fireboat welcome to Florida.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The aft swimming pool on Deck 8 with a fireboat welcome to Florida. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 25, 2004. A final day at sea. The time had gone by so quickly and now our voyage was nearing the end. There was time for some last minute shopping although by this point any maiden voyage souvenirs had been well picked over. Somewhat disappointing to passengers, Cunard had not provided much of anything in the way of gifts to acknowledge participation in this important maiden voyage. Not even the anticipated inaugural books which were printed, but not provided to this group of high revenue passengers. A final swim, a final lecture and the last dinner divided our time between packing up the luggage to be placed outside the cabin door tonight. Tonight’s entertainment would be a special “surprise” show by second season “American Idol” winner, Ruben Studdard. It wasn’t much of a surprise to those of us who witnessed his arrival at dinner the night before along with his posse, attired in loose-fitting basketball shorts and jerseys while the rest of us were formally dressed. The Maitre’D seemingly did not know what to do with his latest “celebrity” guests and eventually allowed them to enter the restaurant. His actual musical show was enjoyable and he was a very popular performer early in 2004. Last nights aboard cruises are always a bit melancholy and this one was no exception. After a final walk around the deck, it was off to our quiet little cabin on Deck 6 that we had become so attached to in the last 14-nights.

The USS CARNEY and the MSC LIRICA  were on hand for the arrival at Port Everglades.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
The USS Carney and the MSC Lirica were on hand for the arrival at Port Everglades. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

January 26, 2004. Dawn was just beginning to break as QUEEN MARY 2 approached the Florida coast. The ship was greeted by a moderate size flotilla of small craft, kept at a distance by police and Coast Guard boats. Not at all distant, a fireboat arched plumes of blue and pink water (apparently representing red, white and blue) over the decks as passengers waved British and Cunard Line flags. The forward decks and some of the passengers were drenched. There were spectators on the beach and in the apartment buildings that line the entrance to Port Everglades, all watching our arrival. At least sixteen helicopters flew overhead. Several television shows including “Entertainment Tonight” and “Good Morning America” had devoted a full week of segments to the newest Queen of the seas. In a very nice touch, sailors in dress whites stood at attention aboard the guided missile destroyer USS CARNEY to greet our arrival. Across the dock from where the Queen Mary 2 would tie up, the previous ship built by Chantiers de L’Atlantique in 2003, the MSC LIRICA awaited the arrival of her former yard mate. By 7:40am the lines were secured to the shore and the maiden voyage was over. For security reasons a floating “fence” was pulled by tug around the QM2’s hull. Normally, disembarkation would proceed in an orderly fashion after this, but it never did. Passengers waited and waited as morning turned to afternoon and flights home departed from Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood airport without Cunard guests aboard them. It was a final exercise in how ill-prepared Cunard Line was for certain aspects of this first voyage, especially in the area of baggage handling. The problem was exacerbated as the company refused to serve any food as the hours dragged on well beyond lunchtime. We finally disembarked around 2:30pm and having missed the last flight to the West Coast found one of the cheapest, dirtiest and scariest motels in Florida to spend the night. It was quite a contrast from our luxurious confines of the past two weeks. The cab driver who took us to the airport the next morning had to puzzle over what two people with QM2 luggage tags on their suitcases were doing in a place like that.

Ashore at last.  The QM2 alongside the pier at Ft. Lauderdale for the first time.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
Ashore at last. The QM2 alongside the pier at Ft. Lauderdale for the first time. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

Still despite the bumps and miscues, and they were many, this was the trip of a lifetime. The passage of time seems to smooth out the rough spots, while the mind retains the most pleasant memories. In the decade that has gone by since the maiden voyage, the QUEEN MARY 2 has established itself as a true ocean liner. In a ship that incorporates elements from some of the finest liners of the past, it has taken a rightful place as a unique entity unto itself that can be regarded as one of the greatest passenger ships of all time, and an extremely popular one at that. Over the course of ten years the Queen Mary 2 has undertaken a total of 419 voyages, including over 200 Transatlantic Crossings, and has called at 182 ports in 60 countries. She has sailed by sea the equivalent of three times to the moon and back, carrying more than 1.3 million guests. Not bad for a ship most said would never be built. It is good that she is carrying on the traditional service of the Atlantic ferry, something Cunard Line vessels have done since 1840. As Queen Elizabeth II said at her christening; “May God bless her and all who sail in her.”

A final glimpse of the Queen Mary 2 at Port Everglades from the taxi.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.
A final glimpse of the QUEEN MARY 2 at Port Everglades from the taxi. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2004.

Thanks to Martin Cox, Caroline Dake, Julie Davis and the late Deborah Nathanson. 

Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake
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