On a visit to Fincantieri’s shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy (near Trieste) on Friday, I got a chance to visit with Queen Elizabeth (see our coverage, via photos and commentary, here!) . The line’s newest ship, it’s still under construction at the yard (and has a mere 11 weeks to go before its “release date” of September 30).
In the lobby, a-hammer with all kinds of builders pounding nails into concrete, cutting wood on buzz saws, and dabbing paint onto ceiling murals, a painting of the ship caught my eye. Incongruously elegant, it was an oil of Queen Elizabeth-the-new, clearly done from renderings as the ship appeared fully operational (it was clearly cruising around Southampton).
Now the painting, by Dorset’s Harley Crossley, hasn’t been moldering amidst the dust and debris for long; it was purposely hung for the three-hour visit by a handful of cruise journalists (and promptly taken down and properly stored the minute we left the room). Ultimately of course it will be surrounded by a much more glorious – and of course completed – atrium when it’s mounted again, permanently.
Still, for a few minutes, probably longer than that, I stood in front of it, mesmerized. Among nautical enthusiasts who decry the loss of ships with elegant exteriors in an era in which so many look like 1990s condo blocks (or like NCL’s new Norwegian Epic, with appearances that frankly defy description), the new painting of Queen Elizabeth-the-new took me back in time.
“Let’s put it this way,” said one of the dozen or so Cunard staffers milling around us, “Would you really stop to admire a painting of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas?”
Look, I’m the first to say that as ugly as Norwegian Epic is, once you’re inside who cares what the ship’s exterior looks like? But that’s not the point with Cunard. Even as the line has made some modern compromises (building out the aft section of the ship to make room for more staterooms, for one, plenty of cabins with balconies for another), what’s important is this: Cunard’s very specialness is the fact that a passenger onboard its ships can cruise with a leg in the illustrious past of golden liners – and the other leg most definitely planted firmly in the present.
That’s why I want to cruise again on Cunard, whether it’s a crossing on Queen Mary 2 or a cruise on Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth.
On all three vessels, Cunard’s homage to its history, and to cruising’s golden era, is not lip service. If that intrigues you as much as it does me, don’t miss spending time in Queen Elizabeth’s reincarnated Mid Ships bar (a QEII and Queen Mary institution). On a day with many highlights, the most memorable for me was the glimpse of the gallery that will be featured there – full of fantastic historic relics. My favorite was the Cunard White Star International Marine Radio Service Radiogram, dated October 9, 1946, from Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage:
Dear Belinda and Chris, grateful if you would check that our cabin, M45, is not more than five minutes walk from the sea. Stop.
“It’s one of the ways we’re bringing the experience of the old liners to life,” said Peter Shanks, Cunard’s president, a few minutes after he’d been spotted whipping out his own camera to snap shots of some of the pieces featured in display cases.
You’d think that the radiogram and other artifacts, such as newspaper clippings featuring Cunard ships, old teapots, and ship models, would all be culled from the line’s own collection. You’d be wrong! One of the best aspects of overseeing Queen Elizabeth’s art collection for Amy Lucena, an art consultant for the cruise line, is hunting for just the right antiques to display.
She found the telegram from an antique shop in Dania Beach, Florida. Teapots came from the gift shop onboard Queen Mary, which is now a hotel ship in Long Beach, California. And via eBay she unearthed a treasure trove of 25 manila envelopes filled with newspapers with Queen Elizabeth stories.
In its own way, Cunard’s the closest thing we have to connecting cruising’s past with its present. As I never had the chance to cruise on a ship during the golden era, I’m glad that there’s still an opportunity to experience this glamour – without having to compromise on any of contemporary travel’s modern necessities.