(10:45 a.m. BST) -- With the iconic Mount Vesuvius in the background, Cunard Line cut the steel for its as-yet-unnamed fourth ship at the Castellammare di Stabia shipyard in Naples this morning.
The official steel-cutting ceremony marked the start of the construction process for the 3,000-passenger vessel, set to be the largest in Cunard's fleet (by passenger capacity) when it launches in 2022.
Speaking to Cruise Critic ahead of the official ceremony, Cunard's President Simon Palethorpe confirmed that the name of the ship will be announced in early 2020 and sales will open in spring 2020.
Little is known about the new ship at this stage, though Simon revealed that the line is listening to feedback from passengers to determine its design. "It's our guests' ship -- I just happen to be the guy in charge of running it at the moment.
"We are spending a tonne of time with our guests to really understand the things that they really love and don’t want us to change versus the things they give us permission to change.
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"Passengers said don’t touch the design of the Queens Room. They love the Queens Room and the ambiance that it creates, the afternoon tea and the dancing. We will have a wonderful Queens Room and it will have a fantastic design."
Simon added that passengers have given the line the greenlight to change the new ship’s theatre. “They just said, 'Just make sure the sightline is good, the acoustics are good and the seats are super comfortable,' so we’ve reduced the amount of seats to make each seat bigger, with more room and bigger arm rests.
"The design of our newest ship will take the most popular elements from our three Queens and blend them with a forward-looking, modern take on the Cunard experience."
Addressing cruise line and industry officials and members of the press at the shipyard, Simon said: "The commencement of the cutting of steel is akin to the opening moments in a ship's life -- that instant where a paper dream turns into a tangible reality."
"After years of planning and design, we are delighted to see building works commence on our newest ship. The 249th Cunarder will be our fourth luxury liner for the 21st century.
The first piece of steel cut at today's ceremony will be used to create an onboard sculpture by artist Sam Shendi. The Egyptian-born British sculptor's signature style is to use industrial materials, such as steel, in his work. A collection consisting of 4,000 pieces of artwork is being curated by the ship's interior design team, led by Adam D. Tihany.