Cunard's new Queen Victoria makes its maiden call to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. - PR NEWSWIRE

Queen Elizabeth 2 takes its final world cruise

NEW YORK — Cunard's new Queen Victoria cruise ship is on its first world tour, sailing in tandem with the Queen Elizabeth 2, which is on its 26th and final trip around the globe.

The two ships had a historic rendezvous last Sunday in New York Harbor with the Queen Mary 2, which homeports in Brooklyn.

It was the first and only time the three ships will ever meet. The Queen Victoria was launched in December and the QE2 will be retired later this year and turned into a floating five-star hotel in Dubai.

Thousands of New Yorkers stood along the waterfront of Lower Manhattan to watch the three grand vessels twinkling in the winter darkness as they lined in front of the Statue of Liberty amid fireworks.

"They are big!" said Brammy Sturley, 8, who watched from aboard a Circle Line boat nearby in the harbor. Brammy's dad Steve described the boy as a "Cunard fanatic."

A cold rain began to fall on the crowd on shore before the fireworks were over, but Manhattan resident Nadine Ellman, who sailed twice on the QE2, wasn't about to leave early. "This is for the die-hards," she said. "I'm having such a good time."

"You'll never see it like this again," said John Stella of Staten Island, who impressed other spectators with his knowledge of Cunard history, mentioning, among other things, that the QE2 transported troops in the 1982 Falklands War.

The twin sailings and rendezvous underscored several differences between the older and newer Cunard vessels.

The meeting of the ships started about a half-hour late because it took more time than expected to get the QE2 in place. Cunard spokesman Brian O'Connor said the QE2 has older propulsion and navigation technology than the other two and had to be guided by tugboats.

The QE2 was built in the 1960s with trans-Atlantic crossings in mind, while the Queen Victoria is a modern cruise ship with a lower front hull. As the two ships sailed from England to New York on the first leg of their trip, they encountered rough seas, including waves so high that they washed over the bow of the Queen Victoria. No one was injured, according to O'Connor. But the waves did not wash over the bow of the QE2, which is taller in front than the newer ships.

The QE2 will make one more final call in New York on Oct. 16 before retiring as part of its "Farewell to America" trans-Atlantic crossing.

The QE2 is the longest-serving vessel in the 168-year history of the Cunard line. Since launching in 1967, it has traveled more than 5 million nautical miles, including more than 800 trans-Atlantic crossings with 2.5 million passengers. The ship was sold for $100 million to Dubai World, an investment company that manages projects for the government in Dubai.

Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of, said the QE2 "represents a previous era, in style and substance, of ocean liners, and it's an era that so many of today's younger, newer-to-cruising travelers will never see. It's an utterly unique experience with a dedicated class system onboard — four classes of passengers who dine in four different restaurants that reflect the fares they pay. The emphasis on sea days, with erudite lectures and elegant meals, including afternoon tea that's the best in cruising ... will probably not be mimicked so beautifully in my lifetime."

The Queen Victoria has three classes of passengers, but the differences in amenities are not as distinct as they were on the QE2. The staterooms are smaller but more of them have balconies. Like the other two ships, it has Cunard's trademark red-and-black smokestack, a "Queens Room" ballroom where elegant events are held, as well as a pub where guests can wash down fish and chips with a pint.

But the new ship has some features that the others do not, such as a 6,000-volume, two-deck-high library, a "Cunardia" history museum, fencing classes and a theater with private boxes.

Both the QM2 and the Queen Victoria also have restaurants overseen by the celebrity chef Todd English in addition to their regular dining rooms.

The 151,000-ton QM2, which began sailing in 2004, is the largest of the three, carrying 2,592 passengers in 1,296 staterooms, plus 1,253 crew members.

The 90,000-ton Queen Victoria, which will homeport in Southampton, carries 2,014 passengers in 990 staterooms, plus 1,001 crew members.

The 70,000-ton QE2 carries 1,792 passengers in 1,002 staterooms, plus 921 crew members.

Cunard Line, a unit of Carnival Corp., is building a new Queen Elizabeth at Italy's Fincantieri shipyard, which built the Queen Victoria, with delivery in 2010. The new vessel will be Cunard's second-largest after the QM2. It will allow Cunard to keep three Queens in service after the QE2 retires. But the new vessel will not be called the QE3 - just simply the Queen Elizabeth.

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