A Peek at the Queen

Cunard previews world's largest ocean liner -- the QM2

By: Anne Kalosh

ST. NAZAIRE, France Like a modern-day Rosie the Riveter, Cunard Line President, Pamela Conover, donned a welder’s mask and apron to place specially minted coins under the masthead of Queen Mary 2 at a recent shipyard ceremony. The coin ceremony, one of several traditions associated with shipbuilding, is thought to bring good luck to a vessel.

“The birth of this ship marks the beginning of a new Cunard,” Conover told a crowd of media, European travel agents and dignitaries at a Dry Dock Party at ALSTOM Chantiers de l’Atlantique, the shipyard building for the QM2.

The event served as the first public preview of the world’s largest, longest, tallest, widest and costliest cruise liner ever conceived. Standing beside this behemoth at the quay, visitors will behold a structure as tall as a 21-story building. The 237-foot-high vessel, which, when she enters service in January 2004 at 150,000 tons, will be the world’s largest and, at $800 million, the most expensive cruise ship.

QM2 will be delivered, as scheduled, on Dec. 12, pledged ALSTOM Marine President Patrick Boissier, despite the discovery of a glitch in one of the ship’s four Mermaid propulsion pods, the external units that provide propulsion and maneuverability. All the pods are now undergoing further testing, as a precautionary measure, before being attached to the massive vessel.

Ninety-four colossal steel blocks, some weighing as much as 600 tons, have been assembled to form the QM2, which towers above all other ships that are under construction at Chantiers, including Crystal Serenity, Island Princess and MSC Lirica. One of the most amazing things about this ocean liner is its massive prow, engineered to pierce the strongest North Atlantic waves.

It’s not just the size but also the spaciousness that makes QM2 so extraordinary, said Carnival Corp. Chairman Micky Arison. At 150,000 gross tons, a vessel of this size could accommodate 4,000 passengers, not the 2,620 it will carry, he pointed out.

A walk-through of the vessel revealed high ceilings, wide corridors and numerous one-of-a-kind features. London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art the training ground for a “Who’s Who” of British stars, from Anthony Hopkins to Kenneth Branagh will supply a company of actors to perform and lead workshops as part of ConneXions, QM2’s educational program.

The world’s first floating planetarium will host celestial shows as well as lectures, movies and a virtual-reality roller-coaster film.

The only Canyon Ranch Spa at sea will offer 24 treatment rooms and a staff of 51. Some 8,000 volumes plus books on CD-Rom will be stocked in the library, and Microsoft will provide Xbox entertainment in the suites and the children’s area.

At the Chef’s Galley restaurant, passengers can learn how to prepare their meal, just prior to dining, from Cunard chefs or famous guest chefs sponsored by “Gourmet” magazine.

The concept is part of QM2’s Kings Court, a casual dining venue by day that transforms after dark into four sit-down restaurants. In addition to Chef’s Galley, there is Lotus, serving Asian cuisine; La Piazza for Italian specialties (open 24 hours); and The Carvery for carved meats.

QM2’s sold-out maiden voyage is set to depart Southampton, England, on Jan. 12, for Fort Lauderdale. Too enormous to pass through the Panama Canal, the vessel will follow the trans-Atlantic routes that have been operated by Queen Elizabeth 2, sailing between Southampton and New York.

Deborah Natansohn, Cunard’s senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing, forecasts strong sales nationwide not just on the East Coast.

“QM2 is going to have universal appeal because of the fact it’s the largest and grandest ship ever built,” she told TravelAge West. “I don’t think the market is going to be any geographic limitation. It’s one of a kind. There’s never going to be another ship like it.”

Natansohn said QM2 could conceivably steam around South America to the West Coast, though currently there are no plans for such a deployment.

There’s also a misconception that West Coast clients who sail QM2 to Europe have to fly back via East Coast gateways. In fact, Natansohn said, they can return from London direct to West Coast airports.

Ship facilities/details link: http://www.ship-technology.com/ projects/queen_mary/.