Queen Victoria is slated for launch in December 2007.
The celebrations comprised two events, the first of which was the placement of two coins in the foot of the mast on the uppermost deck of the new ship. The first one was a golden sovereign from the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901) and the other one a modern euro coin of Italy. Marlow pointed out that the figure of St. George slaying a dragon that is featured on the sovereign was actually carved by an Italian, thus making it even more suitable to the occasion. Cunard Line was founded by Samuel Cunard in 1840, when Victoria had been on the throne for mere three years (though it must be noted that at the time, the line was known as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company).
The coin ceremony was performed by Maureen Ryan, who has served with Cunard Line since 1963 and who is the only person the company is aware of that has worked on all of its Queen liners: Queen Mary (1936 - 67); the first Queen Elizabeth (1940 - 68); Queen Elizabeth 2, which was introduced in 1969; and Queen Mary 2, which is 3 years old.
Once the coins were in place, both Ryan and Marlow in their turn welded part of the transparent screen that covers the coins in place under the watchful eye of Corrado Antonini, chairman of Fincantieri and a large number of guests and shipyard workers.
It is difficult to believe that the ship is scheduled to enter service in December of this year: Although the steelwork appears to be in place, the decks are still minus their covering and interior spaces are just endless wastelands of steel floors, while miles of cables and ducts make the bare ceilings to look like a perfect nightmare of chaos and confusion. In what will be the Royal Court Theatre, scaffolding still runs through the three decks it will occupy as workmen are installing the ceiling proper to the room. It will be the first theatre on any cruise ship that will feature private boxes.
Other main public rooms on Deck 2 included in a tour for guests still lacked all the elegance and flair that they will have once the ship is completed. Cunard Line has published a range of images that show an interior style that heavily capitalises on traditional British interior design, but with touches of modernity where needed.
The Britannia Restaurant in the stern still appeared equally bare and had makeshift flooring between the upper and lower levels. However, this will disappear as the ship nears completion and thus create a two-deck-high area near the entrance on the starboard side of the room.
Once the brief tour was over, the time had come to move to the dockside, where a naming ceremony was about to follow. A stand had been erected on the quay, where hundreds of people soon congregated. Marlow and Antonini made brief speeches and the local chaplain blessed the vessel. Then the highlight of the day was at hand: a brass band played "Fratelli d' Italia," the Italian national anthem, followed by "God Save The Queen," the British anthem.
Marlow then asked Ryan to act as "madrina" of the vessel and pull the trigger that released a bottle of Champagne against the side of the ship. Hardly had the bottle burst when the applauds of the crowd were overwhelmed by the mighty blast of the siren of the ship and that of Carnival Freedom, which was nearing completion in the dock next to Queen Victoria. The valves that control the access of water to the graving dock where Queen Victoria is being built were opened and so the ship came in touch with its natural element for the first time.
However, this was a gentle introduction as a shipyard official admitted that some work still had to be carried out before the ship was ready to leave the dock. Alas, the valves were soon closed again and the new monarch of the Cunard fleet will have to wait until next week until she can graciously leave the dock.
In the meantime, check out these new developments:
Cunard lifted a bit of the veil of secrecy that has covered its itineraries. After two maiden cruises from Southampton in December and a world cruise from the same port in January 2008, Queen Victoria will make liner voyages, exotic voyages, European voyages from Southampton, and Atlantic crossings. The next question is when will the ship be doing what? And here a bit more patience is needed as a Cunard official admitted he did not quite know himself.
The new ship will feature many signature Cunard features, such as such as the Golden Lion pub, Chart Room bar and Todd English restaurant. Those occupying the best cabins will dine in the exclusive Queens Grill and Princess Grill restaurants, but now there will be an opportunity to dine al fresco at a courtyard reserved for the grill-class passengers.
A winter garden will offer casual light meals adjacent to the lido and the pavilion pool on Deck 9. Cafe Carinthia on Deck 2 is a new feature that will serve light snacks, sweet pastries and fine teas. On the entertainment side, the Hemispheres on Deck 10 promises to be an interesting place: In the daytime, it will be the venues for various classes with a 270-degree view and at night -- well, a nightclub.
--by Kari Reinikainen, a U.K.-based Cruise Critic contributor. Images appear courtesy of Kari Reinikainen.