The fascinating stories behind the cruise ships launched by Queen Elizabeth II

The fascinating stories behind the cruise ships launched by Queen Elizabeth II

Captain Paul Brown, Queen Elizabeth II, cruise ship Brittania - ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP via Getty Images

Captain Paul Brown, Queen Elizabeth II, cruise ship Brittania – ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP via Getty Images

As Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen had her first impression of what the baptism of a new ship entailed on September 27, 1938. At the age of 12, she and her sister, Princess Margaret, accompanied her mother to the John Brown Shipyard in Clydebank. From the podium she watched as the largest ship in the world of the time, the mighty Queen Elizabeth of Cunard, was launched. When the massive ship glided aft on a sloping slipway and plunged into the sea for the first time, the cheers of hundreds of thousands of people along the banks of the River Clyde no doubt impressed the young princess.

From there, it made its maritime history. Queen Elizabeth II baptized 21 ships during her lifetime, more than anyone else in the nation’s history. She has officiated for five Cunard liners, two of P&O Cruises ships and a Royal Navy mini-armada of boats, not to mention her Royal Yacht.

On November 30, 1944, Princess Elizabeth launched her first ship, the HMS Vanguard, Britain’s largest and fastest battleship; three years later, for her last public engagement before her marriage to Lt. Mountbatten, she returned to Clydebank to launch Cunard’s Caronia. As queen, the ships she launched include some of the most celebrated in recent maritime history.

The queen’s fleet

Caronia, 1947

Built specifically for transatlantic crossings and leisurely warm weather cruises, Cunard’s Caronia would be affectionately nicknamed the “Green Goddess” due to its distinctive four-tone green livery, similar to Liverpool trams. Upon her launch on October 30, 1947 in Clydebank, the princess and her future husband, Lieutenant Mountbatten, were greeted by a crowd of 30,000 in a “savage way,” according to a local newspaper.

The princess’s association would remain throughout the luxurious ship’s career; her portrait – depicting the prince and princess in a pastoral setting on a honeymoon in Broadlands – held a place of honor in the main hall. Unfortunately, Caronia’s fate was ignominious. Following shipwreckers in Taiwan; she sank off the coast of Guam.

Princess Elizabeth, Lieutenant Mountbatten, Caronia cruise ship - Hulton Royals / Getty Collection

Princess Elizabeth, Lieutenant Mountbatten, Caronia cruise ship – Hulton Royals / Getty Collection

Britannia, 1953

Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia was launched by Queen Elizabeth from the John Brown & Company shipyard on April 16, 1953. In over 44 years the Royal Yacht has traveled over one million nautical miles and has become one of the most famous ships in the world. Britannia provided the perfect royal residence for glittering state visits, official receptions, royal honeymoons and relaxing family vacations. After a decommissioning ceremony in 1997 in which Queen Elizabeth was visibly distraught, Britannia has become a visitor attraction and exclusive location in Leith, the port of Edinburgh.

Queen Elizabeth 2, 1967

The second Queen Elizabeth of Cunard was also built at John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank and launched by the Queen on September 20, 1967. She cut the ribbon using the same gold scissors her mother had used to cast Queen Elizabeth in 1938. This released the Empire wine bottle which crashed into the side of the mighty ocean liner. She then she pressed the button that electrically released the launch trigger, but the ship did not move.

The queen looked bewildered; her smile faded from Prince Philip’s face. The workers high up on the ship’s deck shouted “Give us a push” and shipyard manager George Parker joined in the spirit of the request: with the bowler hat, he leapt forward and pushed. He made a gesture of jubilation with his bowler hat when, coincidentally, he began to slide smoothly into the Clyde, about two minutes after the queen had mentioned her.

Queen Elizabeth II, QE2 cruise ship - Popperfoto via Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II, QE2 cruise ship – Popperfoto via Getty Images

The name itself has sparked some controversy. Her Majesty had said: “I have named this ship Queen Elizabeth II. May God bless her … May God bless her and all who sail in her. “And thus began a maritime puzzle. The name referred to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, or the name meant to imply the Queen’s second ship Elizabeth? A spokesperson for Cunard said, “The ship is named as the second ship of the line with that name. Queen Elizabeth will be out of service next October; Queen Elizabeth 2 will be in service shortly thereafter. It’s that simple.”

In fact, no one found it simple. In 1969, Assistant Commissioner Harry Smith received a letter addressed to “The QE II”. He promptly marked it “proof Buckingham Palace” and returned the letter to the post office. The ship received Arabic “2” instead of Roman “II” and became known globally as QE2.

In July 1990, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh won the Royal Review of QE2 and assembled the Royal Navy ships at Spithead from the aft deck of the Royal Yacht Britannia. The Queen and Duke were later transferred to the Cunarder from Royal Barge for a celebratory lunch. On that day, the queen became the first reigning monarch to sail a commercial ship with passengers on board.

On June 2, 2008, she returned to QE2 for the last time to say goodbye to this illustrious ship. Between 1969 and 2008, QE2 traveled 5.8 million miles and carried 2.5 million passengers in style and luxury. The legendary ship is now a floating hotel in Port Rashid, Dubai.

Oriana, 1995

On April 6, 1995, Queen Elizabeth christened Oriana, the first cruise ship designed specifically for the British cruise market. This was the first time a reigning monarch had officiated the naming ceremony of a P&O Cruises ship. Shortly before the ceremony began, the Band of HM Royal Marines and the Westminster Abbey Choir performed “Fair Oriana, Beauty’s Queen”. In August 2019, Oriana was sold to a newly established Chinese cruise line and incongruously renamed Piano Land.

Queen Elizabeth II, P&O Oriana cruise ship - Tim Graham Picture Library / Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II, P&O Oriana cruise ship – Tim Graham Picture Library / Getty Images

Queen Mary 2, 2004

Thirty-seven years after the launch of QE2, Her Majesty traveled to Southampton on 8 January 2004 to name the Queen Mary 2, the largest, longest, tallest and widest ocean liner ever built. That ceremony is still considered the most spectacular performance ever staged and with the participation of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines (Portsmouth), the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and soprano Lesley Garrett.

It was a moving moment when Heather Small performed a particularly extended version of her hymn “Proud”. As the orchestra, choir and soloist reached an overwhelming crescendo, the entire backdrop of the stage disappeared to reveal the imposing forecastle and colossal superstructure of the Cunarder. There was an audible gasp from the assembled crowd.

Queen Elizabeth II, the cruise ship Queen Mary 2 - Alamy

Queen Elizabeth II, the cruise ship Queen Mary 2 – Alamy

Queen Elizabeth, 2010

A new Queen Elizabeth joined the Cunard fleet on 11 October 2010. 72 years after attending her first Cunard event, the Queen traveled to Southampton to name the third Elizabeth of Cunard and thus claim recognition that she was the l only person to have participated in the launches of all three of Cunard’s “Elizabeth”.

The Queen told Royal Party members about when she and her sister accompanied their mother on a return voyage to the first Queen Elizabeth on October 8, 1946, when the ship’s conversion after her wartime service was nearing completion. Then, the Royal Party was escorted to the bridge, where both princesses were given a stopwatch to time the Cunarder’s speed over a measured mile. In her third test, the ship reached exactly 30 knots. While she was aboard the new Queen Elizabeth, she revealed that, in those days of rationing, this was the moment she first saw white bread.

Britannia, 2015

Looking radiant in a petal peach-colored cloak, the 88-year-old monarch took a seat on the deck built in front of P&O Cruises’ Britannia, whose hull was painted with a 308-foot-long Union flag. The patriotic christening ceremony on 10 March 2015 at Southampton’s Ocean Terminal was one of the last public occasions Prince Philip accompanied his Majesty. His sense of humor remained sharp. Watching his wife sign a blank frame, in which a glossy portrait of the monarch was later placed, the prince remarked concisely: “It’s not a beautiful likeness, is it?”

Queen Elizabeth II, Britannia cruise ship, P&O - Getty cruises

Queen Elizabeth II, Britannia cruise ship, P&O – Getty cruises

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