First Hand Report: Queen Victoria's Sailaway

December 12, 2007

News: The Duchess Christens Queen Victoria

News: Queen Victoria Arrives in Southampton

Queen Victoria: Classic Style with Modern Sensibility

No one in Southampton could have been unaware that Queen Victoria, Cunard Line's latest ship, was coming to town. Billboards in round-abouts, hoardings on building sides, and special editions of the local press all announced Queen Victoria was taking up residence in Southampton on 7 December. (As Queen Victoria, the British monarch, summered at a house in Cowes on the Isle of Wight just the other side of Southampton Water, Cunard's hard-at-work marketing department made it appear as if the old queen herself were coming back from the dead to take up residence near her old house!)

After the ship was duly christened Monday and VIP types who overnighted onboard had departed early Tuesday morning, it was time for Queen Victoria to get down to the business of sailaway. And in this respect, reports Greg Straub, a Cruise Critic correspondent (and veteran Cunard traveler), who's onboard for the maiden voyage, the trip got off to a much easier start than that endured by Queen Mary 2. Here is Straub's report:

"The naming of Queen Victoria by the Duchess of Cornwall, wife of the Prince of Wales, took place on Monday, 10 December. A large marquee was erected quayside for the festivities. Queen Victoria was docked, not in Cunard's regular berth, Queen Elizabeth II Terminal, but at City Cruise Terminal, near the Mayflower Docks. The reason for the shift was occasioned by Queen Mary 2's maiden voyage in January 2004, when she was named at the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal, then had to back up to the City Terminal for the festivities and fireworks that accompanied her maiden voyage. That backing up movement was a nightmare not to be repeated, so Queen Victoria began her maiden call where she would end it.

"There was no baggage snafu, as there had been for Queen Mary 2's maiden voyage. Queen Victoria sailed precisely on time at 5 p.m. John Maxtone-Graham, the American cruise historian, broadcast from the bridge, providing colorful anecdotes about Southampton and Cunard Line.

"On this maiden sailing day the weather had been cold, but sunny, and Mother Nature had provided a spectacular sunset. (She may have wanted to get her innings in before Cunard's sailaway fireworks!)

"Southampton Water was dotted with the lights of working and pleasure craft, come out to see off Cunard's latest Queen. Boats were required to remain 300 feet to the side of Queen Victoria or 1,000 feet in front of her.

"Thousands of well wishers lined the shore; many of them related to or descended from families that had furnished Cunard's crew members for generations. Not only is Queen Victoria a link to the port's past, but she represents the port's future: Southampton will be her English home port for years to come.

"For Queen Mary 2's maiden voyage, Cunard had arranged for a fireworks barge to be positioned between the quay and the ship. That location provided a spectacular view for both passengers and visitors on shore. (I wrote at the time that I had never been so close to exploding fireworks.) This time Cunard placed the fireworks barge on the far side of the ship. My guess is the view at Queen Mary 2's maiden sailing was spectacular for some but not for others for whom the site was obscured by fireworks smoke. The fireworks for Queen Victoria's sailing were no less impressive (with an appropriate preponderance of Cunard red). And I am sure the view from shore was much better, with the ship clearly lighted and fireworks rising behind her. The smoke was hidden by the ship.

"Comparisons are invidious; they are also inevitable. Is it my faulty memory, or were there fewer boats accompanying us out into the Solent? Were the crowds thinner? Has Southampton become jaded to maiden voyages, or is there something less special about Queen Victoria's first sailing? Queen Mary 2 made her maiden voyage 35 years after the previous Queen (QE2) made hers. For years it was assumed QE2 would be the last Cunard Queen. Queen Mary 2, then, was something of a miracle. Now, with a third Queen a reality (and a new Queen Elizabeth being planned), the maiden voyage of a new Cunarder is no longer a surprise. With the line's future assured, Southamptonians no longer have to act as if this Cunard maiden voyage might be the last."

Stay tuned for Straub's day by day "virtual" report from Queen Victoria; it launches later this week and will continue through Monday, December 24.