August 2, 2010
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Queen Victoria
Countdown to Queen Elizabeth – 70 days
I’ve just got back from an amazing visit to the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy to see our new Queen and will be posting the first of those photos and Video Blogs on Thursday. She is looking fantastic and what a difference from when I last saw her in January, so the excitement is definitely building, with just ten weeks to go!
Meanwhile as you will know from my last post, Queen Victoria has just completed her first Round Britain Voyage. These voyages are always special, but it’s even more so, when it’s the first one marked by a visit from the ship’s Godmother. Cunard’s President and Managing Director, Peter Shanks visited Queen Victoria in Liverpool so I’ll hand over to Peter to take up the story.
President and Managing Director
At Cunard we are blessed with special events and very special days. Last week,on Queen Victoria’s Round Britain Voyage, we had just such a day. The ingredients were pretty special –a maiden call to our spiritual home of Liverpool, a Royal visit from the ship’s Godmother, The Duchess of Cornwall and a celebration of 170 years to the month of the first ever voyage by a Cunard ship, The Britannia from Liverpool to Boston and Halifax in 1840. With ingredients like that, it had to end up with a cake; it did of course and I thought I would share my experience of the day with you.
Friendly Banter – I travelled up to Liverpool the night before. I had invited a very good friend of mine, a chap called John Heald who is a fellow blogger and writes brilliantly on his Carnival Cruise Line Blog. We met for breakfast and whilst waiting for a taxi to take us down to the port enjoyed some friendly banter with the hotel reception staff. It was pouring with rain and had been for a week, but the powers that be had imposed a hosepipe ban in the city. They should have known better as it rained when QE2 came to the city to say farewell in 2008, it rained when Queen Mary 2 made her maiden visit last year and for forward planning purposes they should be aware it will rain twice in July next year when both Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth will be in Liverpool next July.
Would there be any interest? – Well we arrived at a damp and drizzly dockside at 0800. I was not sure what to expect. Queen Mary 2 had attracted many hundreds of onlookers. I was very pleasantly surprised. The first sight was Queen Victoria going sideways down the river Mersey. There is a strong river tide, so as the ship makes her 180 degree turn to come alongside, the tide continues to push her down the river; quite a sight but I knew that Captain Wright had things under control.
The second wonderful sight was the many hundreds of Liverpool people who were on the dockside. There is so much pride in Liverpool – it’s a fabulous city. And here they were, just yards from the iconic Cunard Building, welcoming a Cunard Liner into Liverpool for the first time, as many people have done over the last 170 years – remarkable.
Getting Ready – There was a buzz of excitement in the cruise terminal, not just for the ship, but also for the pending Royal Visit. John and I were rather amused to see that the band was a Ukulele band. I asked the cruise terminal manager why a Ukulele band and she said it had worked well recently for a German cruise visit. John and I share a blank and rather amused look. But do you know what, when they struck-up their fist tune – and I have never heard 20 Ukulele’s all at once – they sang Beatles Songs. Well of course it was going to be Beatles, we are in Liverpool and it was actually rather good and received a huge round of applause from the arriving guests looking on with interest from their balconies.
She is going to be an hour late – Oh, Oh – first sign of trouble. On boarding the ship I heard that our Godmother, Duchess of Cornwall was going to be an hour late for her visit. Her helicopter had broken down. My first thought was what a good excuse that was. It was one I thought I could use in the future; only problem being that unlike her I don’t have a helicopter. It was marvelous to watch the seamless way in which our on board team calmly set about changing plans for the morning. As it happened she was only 45 minutes late, but she stayed with us for the full hour that she had promised and it was really very touching to see her come back to visit her ship and to see so many of our crew.
Meeting Queen Victoria’s Crew – On arrival in the Grand Lobby our crew were right around all three levels of the lobby and gave a very warm welcome.
The Duchess of Cornwall seemed very happy, and at home to be back. She unveiled a silver plaque and toured the Galley, meeting many of our Chef’s and cooks.
She came up to the Bridge.
We had planned that she would blow the ship’s whistles across the city at 1200. Problem – it was now 1245. No problem, The Captain announced ‘Maam – it is precisely 1200, would you care to blow the ship’s whistles’. And blow then she did to great effect.
It was really quite moving to see the beaming faces of so many of the ship’s company as they met our Godmother.
Of course most of them these days have mobile phones with cameras. I am convinced that many of them would be sending their photos home to their families. Our crew are such proud people, and to make their day special was, for me, the absolute highlight of the day. So on we went to The Queens Room. There we asked our Godmother to cut our Birthday Cake.
Yes – our 170th Birthday and I reminded those present in my short speech that our first ship Britannia would have fitted inside the Queen Room, a sign of just how Cunard Line has developed over 170 years.
As she toured the ship many of our guests were able to see and meet The Duchess of Cornwall. She was very warmly welcomed by all, relaxed, interested, chatty and it was really a very impressive sight – good for her.
And off she went – Our allocated 55 minutes passed in a flash. As I escorted our Godmother down the gangway – taking extra care as it was pouring with rain and it would be most careless to lose her – I thanked her for coming and explained how much the Ship’s Company appreciated her coming back to see her ship. She said she would love to come back again but for longer next time. To me that’s a lead, and there is a brochure in the post already!
If that was not enough for one day – Later that evening we had two concerts in the theatre. Not normal concert; we had the 65 piece Halle Orchestra along with tenors and sopranos and our famous and friendly conductor Anthony Inglis. They were a triumph and saw standing ovations – especially as they performed the famous Liverpool Anthem Never Walk Alone – on Queen Victoria, on the Mersey, in Liverpool 170 years from when Samuel Cunard gave birth to this remarkable brand. If that was not enough we followed with fireworks and then to finish the evening off we had a Beatles Band to perform on board.
And I was on the train – I have to admit that I missed the concerts and the fireworks. I had to be back in Southampton the next morning so had to leave the ship before they started. So during the concerts I was stuck on a train to London. Standard class was £70, First Class was £200 – a scandalous amount of money. So as I sat in standard class on a busy train, surrounded by other people’s cheeseburgers and screaming children – I kept thinking how the first concert was going. I should not have been worried. I had told John Heald that the as he sat through the concert he would be immersed in one of those magical Cunard moments and that the hair on the back of his neck would stand on end. At 2000, just as the first concert would have finished, my blackberry buzzed with a message from John. Turns out I was wrong – it was not the hair on the back of his neck that was tingling – it was every single hair on his body … remarkable.
So that was our day in Liverpool and I hope I have helped bring it to life. It was just one day in the life of Cunard, just 55 minutes of our Godmother’s time, just one day for the fine people of Liverpool but a very special day in the 62,000 days of our history and hopefully a very special day for our crew and for our guests. I can’t wait to do it again next year both Queen Mary 2 and our new Queen Elizabeth will do Round Britain Voyages. Both will call in Liverpool and both will feature a famous concert. Why don’t you join us – you would be most welcome.
With Best Regards
Thank you Peter for another fantastic President’s Blog and what an amazing day for everyone. There’s lot’s of news to share at the moment so I’ll be back on Thursday (if not before!) with those much anticipated pictures Of Queen Elizabeth in Italy. Cheers for now, Alastair