Cunard's 3 'Queen' Ships Meet under Fireworks in New York Harbor
While a fire boat sprayed cannons of frigid water and a flotilla of police boats twinkled with blue lights in the inky waters, the Queen Mary 2, the largest ship ever built expressly for transoceanic passage, led the procession southeast down the Hudson River, followed by Queen Victoria and followed by the QE. Around 7 p.m., two barges off Liberty and Ellis Islands lit the fuse on a 20-minute fireworks display. The show, synchronized to music piped in on all three ships, was heavy on red, white and blue -- the national colors of both the United States and the United Kingdom, the ships' home country.
Despite temperatures of 22 degrees Fahrenheit and a bitter wind chill that made the clear night feel more like a 9 degrees, a few dozen intrepid New Yorkers gathered quayside in Battery Park for a front-row view of the spectacle. Many more sought views from indoors. By the climax of the Fireworks by Grucci-produced show, all three ships had passed the southern tip of Manhattan and were crossing in front of Lady Liberty. After the explosive thunder faded away, the ships glided in single file under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and headed south on separate journeys. The Victoria will hover around America and the Panama Canal for the next few months while the other two ships continue on 103-day world tours.
Although Cunard's history goes back to 1840, the flotilla marked only the second time in history the entire Cunard fleet has converged in the same American port. The first time, on the same January day in 2008, marked the maiden New York City call for the then-new Queen Victoria ship. Thursday's floating party marked the maiden visit to Manhattan of the three-month-old QE, which was named by Queen Elizabeth herself in October (Aol Travel News was there).
The third and only other recorded instance of all Cunard liners porting together was in April, 2008, in their home harbor of Southampton, England.
Earlier, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had proclaimed the January 13, 2011, as "Cunard Royal Rendezvous Day," and executives from World's Leading Cruise Lines, which owns both Cunard, Princess, and the Holland America brands, closed the day's trading at the New York Stock Exchange by ringing a bell that came from the original Queen Elizabeth ship, which retired in the 1960s.
What seems on the surface to perhaps be pointless British pomp is, in fact, a pageant honoring a long and vital tradition for both England and the United States. Cunard has been sailing to New York since its Hibernia called in 1845, and since that time, said Cunard president Peter Shanks, it's estimated that the line has brought some 10 million passengers to American shores. (The Grucci family, which produced the event's fireworks display, began creating pyrotechnic displays just five years after Cunard first came to the United States.)
The regular arrival of Cunard ships in New York City was vital to the growth and economy of both Europe and America for the century that ocean liner travel was the dominant transporation link between the continents. Today, only the Queen Mary 2 makes regular transatlantic crossings, and only outside of peak iceberg season.
The QM2 will call next at Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades on Saturday, and her sister ships will show up there a day later. Theoretically, they could have reunited a second time in Florida this weekend, but given its central role in the story of transatlantic travel, New York City was allowed to keep the distinction to itself.
Cunard representatives say there are currently no more fleet rendezvous planned for the foreseeable future.
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