Monday, January 14, 2008

Cunard Coda

On the evening of Jan. 13, 2008, the three Cunard Queens assembled for the last time in front of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The Queen Mary 2 got there first from her nearby berth in Brooklyn and waited for her sister ships to come down the Hudson River from midtown Manhattan. They arrived a half hour late. The 40-year-old Queen Elizabeth 2 requires tugboats to get her in and out of the pier and to guide her down the river. In former times, pilots were famous for their skills in handling the big ship in tight situations. Newer ships can be maneuvered with a joy stick and don't really need tugs. So the Queen Elizabeth 2 held up the show. By the time she and the Queen Victoria arrived, a cold, steady rain had started to fall and the fireworks were just a gasp against the low-lying clouds. The ships didn't linger. The Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria headed out first. Then the doughty Queen Elizabeth 2 steamed once again into the open sea. According to Carol Marlow, Cunard’s president, this had been her 802nd visit to the Port of New York, with one more to go in October before she becomes a hotel in Dubai.

Queen Victoria Tour

Yesterday afternoon, I toured the Queen Victoria. The last time I saw her up close was in the Fincantieri shipyard outside Venice, where she was built. She was then around seven weeks short of completion — there in the bones but without her finishes. I was amazed at how beautifully she came together. The public rooms are gracious, warm and elegant. Teresa Anderson, the designer, said that she kept Cunard history in mind, with paintings, furnishings and Art Deco motifs that recall the 1920's and '30's, when trans-Atlantic ships were the last word in glamour. The QV has a 6,000-volume library, a theater with private boxes, a small museum, a Queens Room where afternoon tea is served, accompanied by a harpist and other musicians. Evening dress on the ship is usually formal or semi-formal. Queens Grill and Princess Grill passengers have their own dining room and lounge, "just like on airplanes," explained Philip Naylor, a Cunard official, "where there are first class and business class passengers." And the others. I will be sailing on the Queen Victoria later this month among the "others" and will let you know what that's like.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cunard in New York

This morning at 5:45 a.m., I was alone on the Battery Park City esplanade, scanning the dark water of the Hudson River. The tide was gently flowing out. The lights on the Verrazano Narrows bridge sparkled in the distance. Had I come too late? Had the three Cunard queens — Elizabeth 2, Mary 2 and Victoria already made their way into port? But, no. There they were. Three great ships, small and glittering in the cold night air. The Queen Elizabeth 2 approached first, pausing in front of the Statue of Liberty and then pulling near, her sleek lines and strong engines propelling her like a youngster and not like a geriatric relic. At 40 years old, she is still the fastest passenger liner on the sea, built for trans-Atlantic runs, with a top speed of 32 knots an hour. I waved to her, a lone figure in a red coat under a street lamp. Mary, behind her steamed toward the Statue and then turned to her berth in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Helicopters circled overhead and fireboats came down the river, spewing tall plumes of water into the air as Queen Victoria came abreast of the Statue. Then slowly, she made her way up the river. I waved some more, and she sounded her horn. Did someone see me or was she saluting the fireboats and New York City? I walked along the esplanade as far as I could, keeping pace with her, and then saw a few other people who had come out to greet the Queens. I met a man and a woman (not together) who had come over from England just for this moment, and a young man who had driven in from New Jersey. Passionately, we watched Victoria head for her midtown berth as the dawn broke and we could see her no more.