Jan. 22, 2004 – An imposing queen is coming to St. Thomas on Saturday morning, and the island is planning a royal welcome.
As the Queen Mary 2 approaches the Charlotte Amalie outer harbor with a scheduled 7 a.m. arrival, St. Thomas's new fireboat will greet the mammoth vessel with colored water sprays. A flotilla of charter yachts will escort the first tender trip to the waterfront, where its passengers will be met with live entertainment including bands and maybe a mocko jumbie or two.
Main Street will be closed to vehicular traffic and transformed into a pedestrian mall for the day — with local arts and crafts on display along with local musicians. The Tourism Department is asking all residents to come downtown and help celebrate the queen's inaugural visit.
In a formal ceremony onboard the vessel, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and the ship's commodore will exchange plaques, with Pamela Richards, Tourism commissioner and Port Authority board chair, and other government officials looking on.
Nearing the end of its maiden voyage, the Queen Mary 2 — the world's longest, tallest and most expensive cruise ship — will first touch American waters at St. Thomas. The ship sailed on Jan. 12 from Southampton, England, where Queen Elizabeth in a formal ceremony named it (the term "christened" is no longer used) for her grandmother, the wife of Britain's King George V.
The 14-day maiden voyage (not to be confused with its maiden Caribbean cruise, which departs Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 31) was sold out months in advance, according to the QM2 Web site. And the 2,620 passengers paid anywhere from $4,400 to $48,310, according to national media reports.
After calls at Madeira, Tenerife and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, the ship crossed the Atlantic, making landfall at Barbados this week. It will be at sea on Friday en route to St. Thomas, and upon departing the island at 5 p.m. will sail directly to Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades, its homeport for a winter of Caribbean cruising. There, five days of inaugural festivities are scheduled to begin on Monday. (See "New Queen Mary 2 to visit St. Thomas Jan. 24".)
While the royal welcome is taking place on St. Thomas, there's a good chance some of the QM2's passengers may opt to spend their day on St. John. In its one-line promotions for the stops on the maiden voyage, the ship's Web site offers this suggestion for what to do while in port at Charlotte Amalie: "Take a ferry to St. John and snorkel over gorgeous coral gardens in the first underwater national park."
Owned by Cunard Line, which is owned by Carnival Corp. and which also owns the Queen Elizabeth 2, the Queen Mary 2 is 1,132 feet in length, weighs 150,000 gross tons, has 14 passenger decks and is the height of a 21-story building. It was built at Ste. Nazaire, France, and cost at least $800 million — and closer to $1 billion according to some accounts.
If your eyes glaze over at such numbers, consider these comparisons: It's three and a half times the length of a football field, more than twice as long as the Washington Monument is tall, and a mere 117 feet shorter than the Empire State Building is tall.
The inaugural festivities in France, Britain and the ports of call on the maiden voyage have been tempered by a tragedy that occurred just weeks before the vessel left the Ste. Nazaire shipyard. On Nov. 15, when a gangway collapsed, 15 persons lost their lives.
For nostalgia buffs, the highlight of the Queen Mary 2's first season will take place at the end of April, when the ship will make its inaugural east-bound Atlantic crossing. It will sail from New York on April 25 in tandem with the Queen Elizabeth 2, the day marking the first time two Cunard Queens will have been berthed in the port together since March 1940. The cruise will be the last Atlantic crossing for the QE2, with the QM2 now to take over Cunard itineraries involving such transits.
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