The Launch of Cunard's New Queen Elizabeth Ship
The latest Queen Elizabeth ship, the third generation of ocean liners going back to the late 1930s, was named by the actual Queen Elizabeth Monday in Southampton, England. The $634 million ship, the third and final new vessel to be launched by Cunard in a decade, begins its maiden voyage on Tuesday.
She will be nearly full with her maximum 2,094 passengers. The sailing sold out some 18 months ago in 29 minutes and 29 seconds.
Much has changed since the QE2, which went out of service two years ago and was ignominiously sent to Dubai to function as a hotel. Gone are the ripple-effect ceilings and bachelor-pad brass fittings that made the previous ship the latest in 1970s sophistication.
This iteration, technically the QE3 but called simply the QE like the first in the line, hews closely to Cunard's current design ethic, and in both ethic and size, is largely similar to the Queen Victoria, launched in 2007. Extensive wood paneling, art deco touches, and swooping shapes in the ceiling and balustrades mark the interior.
The centerpiece of the ship is an 18 1/2-foot-tall wood art installation that presides over the Grand Lobby. The marquetry panel depicting the original QE -- a liner turned World War service ship turned liner -- was hand-made by Queen Elizabeth's only nephew, David Linley, who is the son of the late Princess Margaret and photographer Lord Snowden. Even without its nepotistic origins, the subtle woods, with knot placement subtly placed to accentuate perspective, is impressive.
Also in the Grand Lobby, facing the marquetry, is an official portrait of the queen, by the youngest female artist to paint the monarch, Isobel Peachey. The Queen sat three times for Peachey, who, lacking a studio, finished the work in her mother's attic.
As a ship that borrows heavily from an oceangoing tradition going back 170 years, Cunard's ships aren't packed with the latest bells and whistles -- although in the QE's case, there is one very large bell, which once stood on the QE2's deck, on display in the Commodore's Club. Instead, designers appear more concerned about providing plenty of places to lounge with a glass of champagne.
Celebrity chef Todd English, who has presences on Cunard's other ships, the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria, does not oversee a kitchen on the new QE. Instead, Chef Jean-Marie Zimmermann, shown above, who will sail with the vessel rather than just oversee cuisine, runs The Verandah, an extra-charge fine French restaurant located on off the Grand Lobby.
Other Cunard dining standards cater to passengers according to their booking class -- Britannia for third class, Princess Grill for second class, and the Queens Grill for first class. In fact, most of the ship is given over to Cunard standards, including the two-level Queens Room, shown above, for dancing with live music, the Royal Arcade for shopping and the Golden Lion evoking a traditional British pub.
One feature being revived from the original QE is the Garden Lounge, a conservatory-style space with a vaulted glass ceiling on the top of the ship. By day, it's a bar and lounge serving the pool areas, and by night, it can serve as a "supper club" for entertainment and dancing with outdoor deck access.
In keeping with Cunard's upscale and well-educated clientele, there's a resident theatre company that performs both musicals and plays. In another sign of whom it expects to host, the kids' area is a mere modest gesture. On Cunard, families are unusual.
Staterooms are nothing special for the cruise industry, although closet space is more ample than the norm, given the line imperative that at least one or two nights of a cruise require black-tie dress. The most lavish suite, the Grand, is notably restrained.
There's no grand piano as in the Norwegian Epic's highest class of cabin. Instead, there's plenty of open space uncluttered by much furniture, a mosaic above the bathtub, a walk-in closet, and a wraparound balcony. Just 162 of the 1,046 staterooms are inside cabins. While the QE2 had no balcony cabins, the new QE has 572 in standard Britannia class alone.
It's a sign of how much the cruise industry has shifted in 30 years. Cunard's new QE may be stocked with some pleasant features that gently recall the past, but it's most a modern cruise ship cut from tasteful cloth, more evocative than truly traditional.
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