ong live the Queen. And, if Cunard Line has its way, long live the buzz. That buzz about the world's biggest passenger ship, reached a fever pitch here last week.

That's when the trump card of godmothers, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, named the ship during a pier-side ceremony attended by more than 2,000 people.

Eighteen months ago, the Queen Mary 2's inaugural cruise sold out like a rock concert: All the cabins were snapped up within 24 hours. Today, according to executives, bookings, especially for regular transatlantic service, continue to move faster than expected.

Even so, "There's there's a lot of pressure," Cunard's senior vice president of sales and marketing, Deborah Natansohn, said in an interview before the christening. "It is, I think, the most anticipated ship. It's wonderful to see the excitement build and the exposure and attention it's gotten."

Billboards all over Southampton welcomed the ship to its British home port, and last week television crews roamed the enormous vessel -- along with a select group of past Cunard passengers; the line held a lottery to determine which former guests would be allowed a sneak peek.

The QM2 hosted a short series of "friends and family" shakedown cruises between its delivery in December and the sold-out Jan. 12 maiden voyage, but was among the first in the global media to get a preview of the new liner.

Despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding the inaugural of the QM2 -- and the unprecedented size of the vessel -- it isn't a fussy or an overly formal ship. It may cut an intimidating exterior profile, but its interiors are inviting rather than ostentatious.

The last time visited the QM2, it was under construction in the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in France and the guests walked down corridors illuminated by bare bulbs. Now, every wall sconce is perfectly in place.

Agents who have seen the computerized renderings of the interiors will find that they were a fairly accurate depiction of the finished product.

The furnishings are clean and modern, with art-deco touches, rectangular lamp shades and neutral colors. There are many nautical influences in the design, particularly in the Commodore Club, which is all dark wood and maritime elegance, right down to cocktail tables inlaid with maps and views of the QM2's bow from the windows. A model of the QM2 is mounted behind the bar.

"It's very classy, let's put it that way," said Cunard vice president of sales Lee Robinson, who gave an informal tour of the ship.

Robinson's favorite cabin configuration was, not surprisingly, the 2,249-square-foot, two-deck-high Balmoral Suite, with two-deck-high windows looking out on the aft pool.

Beneath the Balmoral is the boldly red-curtained Todd English restaurant. Once word spread on the shakedown cruises, Robinson said, passengers stood in line for hours to get a table.

But the ambiance in the other "main" restaurants -- the everyman's Britannia Restaurant and the junior suite-level Princess Grill (the top-drawer Queens Grill was closed to viewers) -- seemed just as pleasing. There were several tables for two in all the restaurants, including the eateries in the lido-like Kings Court.

Weighing in at 151,400 gross tons, the QM2 has more than enough space to provide for all those small tables. The ship radiates roominess.

Ceilings are high, corridors are wide. The smallest staterooms are 194 square feet. Passengers can roam rows of bookshelves in the library.

The ship's size means that trying to view the entire vessel in a four-hour period is nearly impossible. But that could well be an advantage for passengers on a six-day, transatlantic voyage who might still be exploring the ship on Day 4.

To help keep the buzz alive, more ceremonies are scheduled. For its foray to U.S. shores later this month, officials in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., plan to write "Welcome Queen Mary 2" on a sandy beach, and a U.S. Navy destroyer is to lead the QM2 into Port Everglades. As many as 6,000 travel agents are expected to either sail or tour the ship during its welcome weekend there.

More celebrations are planned for April in New York, when the QM2 and her venerable sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth 2, will be in port together for the first time.

Cunard finished up a series of sales seminars, and it plans to continue its consumer and trade campaigns -- the "Can You Wait?" theme can work just as well even though the ship has been introduced, Natansohn said.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

Old hat: Dressing for the queens

SOUTHAMPTON, England -- What hat does one wear to a christening?

A naming ceremony featuring two queens doesn't happen every year, so it seemed fitting that the very proper invitations to the Queen Mary 2's inaugural events contained some special requests. For example, it was politely suggested -- "presumed," actually -- that ladies at the naming ceremony wear a hat. Never mind that the invitations added the hat was "not compulsory."

Cunard Line got into the act, too. "My sales force has a little competition to see who will have the best hat," said Deborah Natansohn, Cunard's senior vice president of sales.

And while many ladies did go bareheaded for the ceremony, which featured a full orchestra and choir, fireworks and a flawless christening by Queen Elizabeth II (in a hat, of course), hats ranged from brightly colored to feathered to wide-brimmed.

Meanwhile, men had a similar conundrum. There were four different categories of dress and an explanation on how military members were to wear decorations (no more than two stars, no riband). Civilian gentlemen also were invited to wear "black tie with decorations." -- R.T.


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