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Proud Mary: Cunard's QM2 Makes Her Big Debut

After more than five solid years of development, design, and construction, the world's most anticipated ship has finally arrived.

January 28, 2004 -- After more than five solid years of development, design, and construction, the world's most anticipated ship has finally made her debut, being christened by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II at a gala ceremony in Southampton on January 8.

The christening follows a tradition of Cunard flagships being christened by British Royalty, even though Cunard (800/5-CUNARD, www.cunard.com) is now owned by the very American Carnival Corporation, and even though QM2 was built at a French shipyard. The original Queen Mary was named in 1934 by her namesake, Queen Mary, wife of King George V; Queen Elizabeth was launched in 1938 by the late Queen Mother, then Queen Elizabeth and wife of George VI; and Queen Elizabeth 2 was named by the current queen in 1967.

The formal naming ceremony was hosted by British broadcaster Michael Buerk and included musical performances by the Royal Marines, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and opera diva Lesley Garrett. In christening the vessel, the queen kept her remarks short and sweet, saying simply, "I name this ship Queen Mary 2. May God bless her and all who sail in her."

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At 151,400 gross register tons, Queen Mary 2 is the largest passenger vessel ever built, as well as the longest (1,132 feet/345 meters), tallest (236 feet/72 meters), widest (135 feet/41 meters) and most expensive (US $800 million). However, she does not carry the largest number of passengers -- 2,620, compared with some of her close competition:

  • Royal Caribbean Voyager class (142,000 tons): 3,114
  • Princess Caribbean Princess (116,000 tons, and debuting this April): 3,100
  • Carnival Conquest class (110-000 tons): 2,974
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  • Carnival Destiny class (102,000 tons): 2,642-2,758

(Chalk this up in the "plus" column, of course: The fewer passengers, the more space per passenger.)

QM2 is the first true transatlantic liner built since Cunard's famous QE2 entered service in May 1969. So what's the difference between a liner and a cruise ship? It's all a matter of strength, power, speed, and hydrodynamic efficiency.

By definition, a liner is designed for sailing a line of transit between two points (say, New York and Southampton), maintaining a strict schedule no matter what kinds of weather or other trouble it encounters. Unlike a cruise ship, a liner has no ports it can skip to get back on schedule if hit by a storm -- it must rely instead on sheer reserves of power and a sleek hull that allows it to fly even in heavy seas. It must also be possessed of enormous strength to combat the pounding it can take in such conditions. QM2's hull plating, for instance, measures between 23 and 28mm, versus about 18 millimeters average on similarly sized cruise vessels.

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The ship is currently on her sold-out inaugural voyage and will dock in Ft. Lauderdale on January 26.

"The send off the ship in Southampton was great," reports Gerry Ellis, Cunard's director of newbuilds and one of the primary people responsible for seeing her through design and construction. "She's being received by thousands at every port and inevitably sent off with fireworks when she leaves."

In her inaugural year, QM2 will sail 13 transatlantic crossings between England and New York as she takes over the transatlantic role currently operated by the legendary QE2, which will begin offering a more cruise-oriented schedule.

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[Editor's Note: Click here to see images of the QM2 in the Frommer's Photo Center at Snapfish.com. A free registration is required to view.]

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