On Site: New Queen on the Horizon

Well, she’s not quite ready to kick up her heels across the seven seas just yet, but Cunard Line’s new 92,000-ton Queen Elizabeth looks elegant and regal just the same.

Travel Agent magazine was among a handful of media organizations given a sneak peak at the latest Cunarder in Fincantieri’s Monfalcone shipyard outside Trieste, Italy on Friday. 

Led by Peter Shanks, the line’s president and managing director, we stepped onboard for a first-hand glimpse of the new queen during a three-hour hardhat tour. The new 2,062-passenger Queen Elizabeth is inspired by the original Queen Elizabeth liner, which launched in 1940.

Agents will also recall the Queen Elizabeth 2, which retired from Cunard service a few years back. The newest Cunard vessel, not as large as Queen Mary 2 and essentially a sister ship to the QueenVictoria , will be ready to greet her subjects -- loyal Cunard guests and new cruisers as well -- by October.

photos by Susan J. Young


A Work in Progress

As with any construction project, let alone one that’s in the multimillion-dollar range and encompassing 12 passenger decks, this ship is an enormous work in progress. But as anyone who has ever built a new home knows, the structure can seem hardly ready one day and picture perfect the next.

So it is likely to be with the new Queen Elizabeth, which begins sea trials next month. The ship is a veritable beehive of activity. More than 2,000 workers – approximately 400 Fincantieri shipyard workers and 1,600 contractors – are toiling onboard daily during this late phase of the construction. Company officials are sure the new queen will be ready on time.

I’ve been on more than a dozen shipyard tours over the years. It’s fun to go. It’s impressive to see how the spaces will play out. But, even as I tour a vessel in a shipyard, I know that by the end of the month, by the end of the week, and heck, even by tomorrow, the ship will look far different than the way it did when I toured it during this snapshot in time.

Thus, I view a shipyard tour simply as a treasure trove of impressions. It’s not the total product. That said, my personal perspective is that Queen Elizabeth is elegant. She’s classy. She has a rich feel. And she likely will appeal to both loyal Cunard guests and new cruisers as well.

While the Wow Factor isn’t quite onboard yet, the makings of it are. Among the spaces we can’t wait to see finished are the bright Garden Lounge, a spot inspired by Kew Gardens in London. It will ultimately be a palm-filled conservatory.

On our visit, no plants were present, but it was easy to visualize the plants dripping from space atop the room. I also thought it’s nice the way the sun may stream through the glass ceiling, or, at least it will be, when the protective coating on the glass is finally removed.

It was a bit easier to envision the wow factor in two other massive venues – the 800-seat Royal Court Theatre and the Queens Room. Even without most of its seats installed, the theatre wows with large seating boxes of various sizes (hidden behind white protective coverings) and what appear to be excellent sight lines.

I often look for where “not” to sit, such as behind a pillar? Your clients won’t have that problem here, as there wasn’t a pillar in sight. Officials say guests will have unobstructed views from every seat in the house, quite an engineering marvel.

Among the entertainment? When the ship debuts in October, Cunard will introduce the newly formed Queen Elizabeth Theatre Company, with 29 singers, dancers, actors and musicians. Video blogs are posted on the WeAreCunard YouTube channel.

For entertainment of a more refined nature, guests might head for the Queens Room. Exuding a British aura, it’s easy to visualize couples in ball gowns spinning ‘round the large dance floor or ladies sampling scones and sipping tea in the side seating areas.

I also got a good vibe from the Library, which will ultimately feature 6,000 titles and a globe from the original Queen Elizabeth. The two-tiered library has a lovely spiral staircase, which was peaking through the protective plastic, enough for journalists to visualize the intent.

Throughout the ship, the rich – yet not overly dark – woods set the stage for a rich design experience for guests. Boasting elegant lines, the ship appears to feature high quality materials. It lacked gaudiness and glitz but reeked of glamour. Luxury and premium clients likely will find the type of ambience they expect on a Cunard vessel.

Look for impressive artwork. Art consultant Amy Lucena is working day and night to bring original artwork to the ship, adding new pieces, murals and other design creations as construction is completed. The line showed journalists an original portrait of the new Queen Elizabeth, which will ultimately hang in the vessel. As the ship isn’t yet finished, artist Harley Crossley painted it sailing the world’s oceans by combining impressions during a shipyard visit with study of the design plans for the ship. 

Legendary Vessels

Cunard has always been a line of legends. Thus, I enjoyed peering at the memorabilia from the original Queen Elizabeth in the Midships Bar area. Historic items included a doll, white telephone, photos and a 27,000 British pound work order for one week’s construction on the original Queen Elizabeth. That order, dated February 4, 1938, was issued by the John Brown Shipyard.

If clients are seeking a British ambience, the new Queen Elizabeth will have many spaces that provide just that. Guests might have a pub lunch in the Golden Lion Pub or simply head to the Games Deck. Under what will become a sweeping canopy, the Games Deck will offer paddle tennis, croquet and “English bowls.”

Fine cuisine is always on the mind of guests, even those on our three-hour tour. Listening to Shanks describe the new Verandah’s style of allowing guests to luxuriate in history while savoring the very best in French cuisine was enough to have me wondering about “what time is lunch?”

Yes, we briefly toured the Lido Restaurants area, the Brittania Restaurant, the upscale Grills and their new al fresco area and much more. But after viewing one of the few cabins “inspected” and ready to go – but without all the fluffy pillows and décor appointments – it was time to debark the ship.

Throughout our tour, workers scurried on and off the ship. They drilled and pounded. They fitted, carried, cleaned up and installed a zillion types of things. We even saw a duo ferrying a bunch of new toilets onboard. It’s fascinating to watch the beehive – with all the worker bees doing their jobs dutifully.

A shipyard is a constant ebb and flow of activity. Carnival Cruises Lines’ new Carnival Magic was visible from the top deck of Queen Elizabeth. Part of the new Carnival ship's massive funnel was viewable in a separate building -- clearly awaiting installation. Also entering the construction timeline at the shipyard are the next Carnival ship, Carnival Breeze, and two new 140,000-grt prototype vessels for Princess Cruises.

For now, though, Queen Elizabeth is the star of Monfalcone, as the days grow short and the shipyard enters its crunch period. Sizewise, the new Cunarder is 965 feet long, 106 feet wide, has a nearly 26 foot draft in the water, and is 179 feet tall. Those are all hard statistics.

But it’s the warm and fuzzy feeling I get from any ship that’s my indicator of whether it will be a success or not with guests. Despite traipsing over cables, plastic, concrete and a slew of other construction materials, I got that feeling with Queen Elizabeth. I suspect Cunard guests will be very happy with the latest queen.

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