Rebecca Tobin was the cruise editor when the Queen Mary 2 was delivered and christened. Ten years later she remembers her first encounters with the liner.
Our coveted invitations to the very British naming ceremony had specified hats. And it just so happened that months earlier I'd been in a store and noticed a hat — I think it's called a cloche — and purchased it, thinking with glee that I might have a (grand) occasion to wear it. I carefully brought it with me, unworn, across the Atlantic in January 2004.
It was a very exciting time. One of the people most excited was Debbie Natansohn, Cunard's senior vice president of sales and marketing. The buzz about the Queen Mary 2 was incredible, and a lot of the anticipation of the ship was due to her efforts in advertising and onboard experience.
I interviewed her in July 2003, and she said:
"I wanted to make crossing the Atlantic fashionable. We wanted to make the ad campaign about fashion and lifestyle. That's why you'll see women [in the ads] dressed in Vivienne Westwood."
I wore a different kind of hat during my first visit to the Queen when it was under construction in Saint-Nazaire, France, and I think that experience was instrumental to me in my appreciation for the ship and its massive size. Nothing really prepares you for the feeling you get when you're standing, antlike, underneath the stern in an enormous concrete drydock. All cruise ships are impressive when you're viewing them in the drydock basin, surrounded by concrete and cranes. But the QM2's hull — well, it was something else. It was stupendously large.
The naming ceremony in 2004 was the press' first chance to see the finished ship, and on our second day in Southampton I had several hours to tour the ship from top to bottom. I ended up going around with Lee Robinson, then the vice president of sales for Cunard, and Anne Kalosh, a reporter for Seatrade. Of course the must-sees were the library, the Queen's Room ballroom, the Brittania restaurant and the duplex Balmoral and Sandringham suites. My favorite room, then and now, is the nautical Commodore Club, with its comfortable chairs that look out over the bow.
Before the ceremony the royals toured the ship separately, but I managed to spot Prince Philip as he made his way through Deck 3. Ladies with hats started to appear in the atrium, which was my cue to don mine, and of course my felt cloche was much too utilitarian. "Fascinator" was not yet in my vocabulary (it arrived in 2011, thanks to Duchess Kate). Nonetheless, my cloche and I, and Travel Weekly's Editor in Chief Arnie Weissmann, made it off the QM2 and over to an auditorum, constructed down the quay, for the main event.
Several people I interviewed last week for this article said they thought the QM2's naming was the best ceremony of its kind. And it was a true production, with the Royal Philharmonic to Heather Small to speeches from then-president Pamela Conover, Commodore Ron Warwick and others, plus a big-screen showing of historical images of Cunarders and the incredibly dramatic drop of the curtain to reveal the QM2's bow in front of us. Conover told me last month that the ship actually had to be moved up the pier to get it positioned behind the curtain, and I'd never considered the complicated logistics of that sleight-of-hand (offload passengers, untie the ship, back it up the pier, re-tie, reveal) until now, 10 years later.
Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, last month recalled that lone piper on the bow of the ship, performing "Amazing Grace," which was indeed a spine-tingling moment. "Powerful!" she said.
Weissmann captured some of the feeling in the auditorium in his column in 2004.
As for Queen Elizabeth II, I guess I expected her to make a short speech, but in retrospect of course it was a silly thought. She named the ship and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot smashed (the ship was somewhat of a French-English partnership, after all). Fireworks closed the scene.
The formal cocktail reception was in the QM2's Queen's Room, then, as now, the largest ballroom at sea. I still think of Natansohn, the creatives at TBWA\Chiat\Day and the "Can You Wait?" campaign, something that stands out 11 years later, and I still think about taking a turn in the Queen's Room dance floor in a Charles James ballgown as the ship cuts through the night on its way across the Atlantic. Maybe some year ...
I can't find my invitation to the naming, but I still have the inaugural menu from our dinner in the Brittania Restaurant. And after dinner there was another impromptu tour of the ship — people just wanted to see it over and over. The final stop for a small group of reporters and public relations folks was the Golden Lion pub. The cabins were certainly comfortable, but nobody seemed to want to turn in early.
— Rebecca Tobin
In 2011, Donna Tunney, then the cruise editor for Travel Weekly, embarked on a seven-night transatlantic crossing. She recounted her first encounter with the Queen Mary 2. You can also read her daily dispatches from the crossing here.
You know those scenes from "Downton Abbey" where some bigwig is about to show up and the family members and household staff stand outside the house (house being a relative term) waiting for the car to pull up?
Well, when you board the Queen Mary 2, you're the VIP in the car.
When I came aboard in 2011, a few dozen crew members were lined up just like the Grantham crowd, waiting to welcome me. The cruise director shook my hand, someone handed me a glass of champagne and a young man in a Cunard uniform went for the bag on my shoulder.
"Now hold on there, mister," I said.
OK, so I didn't really say that, but I was slightly taken aback by all the attention. I'm the gal who almost always waits in the longest line at the grocery store. I pump my own gas. I grow my own potatoes.
Did they have me confused with someone else?
I turned around. Was there a countess behind me? No. Every guest who stepped aboard got the same red carpet treatment.
My escort showed me to the elevator. Up we went to the Princess deck and then into my cabin.
Along with a balcony and a queen bed, this stateroom had a walk-in closet, a full-size bathtub, a desk, a minifridge, a couch and a couple of chairs. I could've lived in it the rest of my life very comfortably.
Traveling solo, I headed to the dining room that first night wondering where they'd seat me for the duration of our transatlantic crossing. (I've had some unusual table-mates over the years.)
"You must be Ms. Tunney," the smiling maitre 'd said as I entered the reception area.
How could he possibly know who I was?
I asked him that.
"Oh, Ms. Tunney, it's my job to know who you are — to know who everyone is," he said.
— Donna Tunney