It was a beautiful October 11 in the British port city of Southampton, England, as I sat with many of the most important people in Britain and the ship industry in Europe to witness the third time the lady now known as Queen Elizabeth II has christened a passenger ship. Actually, the Queen "named" the ship rather than "christened" it. The British stopped calling the ceremony a christening when they broke with the Catholic Church.
Queen Elizabeth was present when the first Queen Elizabeth was christened in 1937, but that was named for her mother and she was only 12 years old and still a princess. As Princess Elizabeth she christened the Cunard Caronia also known as the "Green Goddess." In 2004 she christened the Queen Mary 2 and now she has christened the third Queen Elizabeth, named for herself.
Centuries ago, the ship naming ceremony was much more primitive than it is today, with priests pouring blood over the long tracks the ships needed to slide into the sea. In those days ships were built on dry land, and the ship makers had to "grease the skids" to make it so the ships could slide to the sea during the initial launch.
Legend has it they used the blood of slaves to lubricate those skids. But before long they replaced the precious blood with wine, also red color in color. But wine is for drinking, not for spilling, and so they began breaking just one bottle of wine against the hull of the ship to "christen" it. The French were the first to replace that wine with champagne, since champagne is more synonymous with celebration.
Today, I just witnessed Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, naming the brand new Cunard cruise liner, Queen Elizabeth, with a bottle of champagne.
The ceremony started with Cunard Line filling a huge grandstand with people in their finest clothing; men in suits and ladies in fine dresses with hats. As soon as we were seated, the excellent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra played an introductory piece accompanied by the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, an ensemble of hundreds of voices.
There were two large-screen live video monitors showing the Queen meeting with the navigational officers on the ship's bridge, and looking quizzically at a small black button. She stuck her finger onto that button and the collective crowd laughed when the ship's horn blasted out at 110 decibels.
click on pictures below for larger images:
|The Queen signs the ship's guest book||The external monitor shows us the Queen touring the ship||The Queen offers a bit of usefel critique, perhaps? on the portrait painted by the youngest artist to paint a monarch.|
Next we saw her admiring an original portrait of herself gracing the main entrance. She discussed it with the original artist for a few minutes. She moved on while the music continued to play outside. Then the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Irish Guards introduced a Priest to give the queen a blessing.
Finally, she actually pulled up in a Rolls Royce, presumably having driven to her chair a distance of 50 feet from the ship's gangway. She was part of a small and separate assembly placed in a small tent with a dozen pre-set chairs. Waiting for her in the grandstand were Micky Arison, owner and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, the parent company to Cunard Cruise Line, along with Peter Shanks, the current president and managing director of Cunard Line.
click on pictures below for larger images:
|The formal group with Micky Arison (thrid from left) and Queen Elizabeth in blue||A closeup of the same on the monitor||Micky asks "Is everything all right, mum?"|
As soon as the Queen was seated we heard the British national anthem, which many Americans already know as the same melody the American patriotic song "My County 'tis of Thee." But in this case the real words to the song go like this:God Save our gracious Queen Long live our noble Queen! God Save the Queen! Send her victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us, God save The Queen.
At that point we heard a short song by a young male soprano, a few words of welcome to the Queen by Peter Shanks (Cunard President), a short rendition of "Amazing Grace" by the Pipers and Coldstream guards and a short prayer to bless the ship by the archbishop:
"Almighty and everlasting God, the Creator and Upholder of all people, who has in every age inspired your servants with courage and skill; we give thanks for examples of those who have gone before us, for the seafarers of our nation, for all who in great or small ships have braved the perils of the deep, and for all who have given their lives for their country."
Finally Captain Wells inviting the Queen to come to podium and name the ship. Queen Elizabeth rose smartly from her seat and strode to the podium, a waist-high pedestal with sky-blue satin rope draped over it. From the podium she spoke a short blessing.
"I name this ship Queen Elizabeth. May God bless her and all who sail in her."
The she press a "magic button" which cut the ceremonial rope which sent the bottle of white wine, from Baron Rothschild vineyard in France, hurling against the hull and shattering against the ship. The ship's horn blasted in celebration as several firework cannons shot off colorful streamers in progressive order. The philharmonic jubilantly began playing the patriotic music of Great Britain.
Her majesty's luck was better than Camilla's, for whom the bottle of champagne inexplicably did not break. In any case, almost immediately the queen's Rolls Royce came to the stage once again and the queen was on her way back to London. It does appear she left without any Cunarders with her as all of the executives remained on board for the celebration.
Cunard Queen Elizabeth officially entered service and Cunard Queen Elizabeth now has the two sister cruise liners; Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, and the mother ship, Queen Mary 2, giving the line smallest and youngest fleet in the world.
Queen Elizabeth Naming Ceremony Highlights:
Discuss the Queen Elizabeth here: Queen Elizabeth Inaugural.
The Royal Palace TheaterThe shops, the library and the Internet cafe are all ready for visitors to come and enjoy...
Similarly to the Queen Victoria, Elizabeth also has a beautiful Grand Lobby with a Dent clock, flanked by a two story library with a winding staircase and a new iLounge called "Connexxions" which features all Apple Computer products such as iMacs and iPhones.
One other difference between Queen Victoria and Elizabeth is that the alternative restaurant Todd English on Victoria has been replaced by "The Verandah," one of the original surcharge restaurants ever built on a cruise ship, back on the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria ships built in 1938. Then it was actually known as "The Verandah Grill" and my ship historian friend, Peter Knego, tells me that it carried just a slight cover charge, just enough to keep it very exclusive. It was known as the place where the celebrities and nobles would go not to be bothered by the hoi polloi.
The Verandah Restaurant
On today's Queen Elizabeth, it is called just "The Verandah," and we dined there Sunday for lunch. It was absolutely delicious. From my fois gras opener to my rare duck followed by a chocolate tort, accompanied with several shots of café latte, every moment of our three hour lunch was an utter joy.
We have already told you about the other subtle differences of this ship, and we will be telling your more after the ceremony tomorrow. This is a just an update keep you primed as we continue our Queen Elizabeth maming adventure.
The naming Black-tie ceremony commenced at 4:00 pm, Monday, October 11, GMT, U.K. We were told picture taking was not allowed during the ceremony but no one could resist, plus we all have access to pool photos and of course, our own vivid memories to bring the event to life for you. See you tomorrow.
For other videos of the event - go to We Are Cunard on YouTube.