Queen Elizabeth Launches Namesake Ship

With attendant pomp and circumstance, Queen Elizabeth pressed a button to smash a bottle of 2009 Rothschild wine across the bow of the latest Cunard ship, the 2,068-passenger Queen Elizabeth, in sunny Southampton, UK. AOL Travel News was among 1,600 guests invited to witness the historic occasion.

The British-flagged, Italian-built ship is the third launched with the Queen in attendance. Seventy-two years ago, a then Princess Elizabeth watched her mother launch the first Queen Elizabeth ship. And in 1967, the Queen launched the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2).

With a 170-year history, Cunard is still very much recognized as a British line, though it is now owned by Carnival Corp., and the 92,000-ton ship's launch was news around the UK.

The Queen wore a blue coat with a brooch and a bright blue hat for the occasion, and before being seated on a pier-side stage, next to Carnival Corporation Chairman Micky Arison, she toured the ship and chatted with officers on the bridge.

At the urging of the Captain, she even timidly pressed the button of the ship's horn, and seemed taken aback when it whistled loudly.

Her Majesty visited the ship's Grand Lobby to view an inlaid wood panel of the original Queen Elizabeth created by her only nephew, David Linley, son of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. She also stopped to see her own portrait, specially commissioned for the ship (which she had posed for, but not before seen completed) and painted by 31-year-old Isobel Peachey.

Guests seated in bleachers, above carpeting with the blue and gold Cunard crest, watched the Queen's tour on video, interspersed with scenes of a younger Queen Elizabeth visiting the earlier QE ships.

A 70-piece band, representing three Guards regiments, wearing red jackets and tall black bearskin hats, marched past the ship's black, white and red livery, an awesome sight.

The Queen was driven the short distance to the stage in a maroon Bentley. She was greeted by a trumpet fanfare from the Irish Guards.

There was the traditional bagpipe played from the ship, as well as performances by the Bournmouth Symphony Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and soprano Lesley Garret.

In a brief speech, Cunard President Peter Shanks noted the Queen had a longer association with Cunard than anyone else present. He told her the new ship was essentially "your ship."

He also called the ship "quintessentially British."

After a blessing by a priest, the Queen spoke the traditional words: "I name this ship Queen Elizabeth. May God bless her and all who sail in her."

The bottle smashed and the ship's horn blew deeply as red, white and blue streamers flew celebrating the event and the crowd cheered.

The Queen departed, but not before accepting warmly smiling at a child dressed in a traditional red Cunard steward uniform, who handed her a white bouquet.

The Queen Elizabeth sets sail on its maiden voyage Tuesday, a cruise to the Canary Islands that went on sale in April 2009, and sold out in 29 minutes and 14 seconds.

Check out AOL Travel's First Look at the Queen Elizabeth ship.

Photo, Cunard

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