Queen Mary Sets Sail On Maiden Voyage

January 12, 2004

Queen Mary 2 -- at long last! -- has set sail. The ship departed on its maiden voyage this evening from Southampton, about 1.5 hours later than scheduled, and, after much ceremonial hoopla, is headed for its 14 day inaugural to the Caribbean, winding up at Ft. Lauderdale's Port Everglades.

In what represented its biggest event, Cunard spectacularly hosted the ship's christening ceremonies on Thursday.

The ceremony – to which 2,000 guests were invited – was held in a fully-enclosed tent, located pier-side in Southampton. On the main stage, the event kicked-off with a concert by the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, Portsmouth, which played maritime-themed songs. Cunard Line President Pamela Conover was the first to offer remarks, calling Queen Mary 2 a "splendid contradiction" (between ocean liner and cruise ship).

The big attraction of course was the presence of Queen Elizabeth II (and her husband, Prince Philip). They arrived, following a private tour of the vessel, to a bit of pomp and circumstance – not to mention the singing of the National Anthem – and sat down in front row seats (which, interestingly, were not of the "stadium variety" that otherwise existed but were comfy velvet-covered armchairs). The British royal couple was flanked by cruising's royal couple – Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison and his wife Madeleine.

The biggest moment of many began with Heather Small, a contemporary British pop-rhythm & blues singer, who sang "Proud," an inspirational tune, supported by both the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Chorale Society. That blending of contemporary and traditional was a perfectly symbolic tie-in with the introduction of Queen Mary 2 – as the ship's design also weaves old styles with new ones. Following that rousing number, the grim gray-curtained backdrop to the stage fell away to reveal Queen Mary 2 itself – backlit by a setting sun – and members of the crowd actually gasped at the stark beauty of the ship. Hauntingly, a bag piper – in fact the Queen's "personal piper" – stood alone on the bow and played "Amazing Grace". At this point, more than a few of the several-thousand guests openly wept, including the Queen, who was glimpsed crying a few tears herself.

The Queen's part in all of this was otherwise pretty minor. Following the music performances and a blessing from an Anglican bishop she, accompanied by Conover, Arison and Queen Mary 2's master Ronald Warwick, ascended to the stage. Queen Elizabeth 2 then announced, in a rather frail voice, "I name this ship Queen Mary 2. May God bless her and all who sail in her." The champagne bottle – a jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot – was rigged to smash against the hull -- and it broke on the first effort, which is considered good luck.

After the Queen and Prince Philip departed from the 45-minute ceremony, the majority of the ceremony's guests headed onboard for a rollicking overnight stay.