(1 p.m. EDT) -- A new Cunard Queen was launched today at a lavish and quintessentially British ceremony in Southampton. With the immortal words, "I name this ship...," Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, resplendent in head-to-toe blue, smashed a bottle against the hull of the 92,400-ton, 2,092-passenger Queen Elizabeth, triggering an explosion of red, white and blue streamers, and a surge of cheers from hundreds of VIP's, media and travel industry honchos.
Ladies clutched their hats as a cool autumn wind gusted across Southampton Water -- but the sun shone, which was just as well, as the grandstand built on the dockside for the event was open to the elements at the sides.
The content of the naming ceremony had been kept tightly under wraps, with not even a hint about the entertainment line-up. But the anticipation was enormous, based on past Cunard namings, which have featured opera divas Katherine Jenkins and Lesley Garrett. Today's event was opened by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, followed by the marching spectacular of the Massed Bands of the Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards, with footage of former Cunarders shown on huge screens.
Crowd-pleasers including 'Jerusalem' and 'Amazing Grace,' for which the fabulous Lesley Garrett made a repeat appearance, brought tears to many an eye. And after the naming itself, the crowd joined in for a stirring version of 'Land of Hope and Glory' to finish off the truly patriotic occasion.
Peter Shanks, Cunard's president and managing director, pointed out in a rousing speech that, "Only one person here can claim presence at all three Elizabeth namings, and that person is Her Majesty, The Queen. This, Your Majesty ... is without a doubt, your ship."
Some guests had paid £150 a head for the privilege of attending the ceremony. A limited number of invitations were sent to the top tier of Cunard's World Club, the line's loyalty scheme for regular passengers. The money from the tickets will be donated to The Prince's Trust, a charity supported by Cunard.
Interestingly, the bottle smashed by the Queen wasn't Champagne. Although Champagne was used to christen Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, the original Cunard tradition is to use white wine, which was the case for the first Queen Elizabeth (1938) and the QE2 (1967). Cunard has a special arrangement with Rothschild Wines and a bottle of 2009 Cunard Graves shattered just above the Q of the new ship. The white, along with a Rothschild red, will be served onboard all three Cunard ships in the restaurants.
After the ceremony, passengers boarded the ship for a gala dinner and an evening of entertainment. Queen Elizabeth sets sail on its maiden voyage, to the Canary Islands, on Tuesday evening.
We're onboard until tomorrow, so do stay tuned for more updates as the rest of the day unfolds. Photos and vignettes will be added regularly to the Cruise Critic UK blog.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
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