Maiden Voyages of Cunard Queens

The new Cunarder Queen Anne will sail from Southampton on her Maiden voyage on 3 May 2024. She is undergoing sea trials at the moment and subject to those trials being successful and the final fitting out being completed, I anticipate Queen Anne will be sailing up Southampton Water towards the end of April.

Queen Anne

The very first Cunard Queen was RMS Queen Mary. Work began on her construction at the end of 1930 but there were numerous delays in her build because of the Depression. She was eventually named by King George V’s wife Queen Mary at the launch on 26 September 1934.

You may have heard the story about the name. Cunard wanted to call her Queen Victoria and when the Chairman of Cunard asked the King for his permission to name the new ship “after Britain’s greatest Queen” the King instantly replied “my wife, Queen Mary, would be delighted”. Cunard had no alternative but to name her Queen Mary!

Queen Mary

RMS Queen Mary sailed on her maiden voyage on 27 May 1936.

I can’t claim a family connection to Queen Mary’s Maiden voyage because father George Edward Smith didn’t join Cunard until June 1940, after he had gained his Master’s ticket. He served as a Junior deck officer on various Cunard ships throughout the war and joined Queen Mary for the first time on 19 December 1944.

But there is a Smith family connection with the Maiden voyage of every Cunard Queen thereafter.

Queen Elizabeth was built and ready for sea by March 1940. On 3 March 1940 she set off on a secret Maiden voyage. She was painted in camouflage grey and it was expected that she would sail to Southampton, but soon after she had set sail, secret orders were handed to the Captain.

The new Queen Elizabeth in wartime grey

He was ordered to take the ship straight to New York. This was a brand new untried and untested ship, but she zigzagged across the Atlantic, avoiding U-boats and reached New York in one piece. She docked alongside Queen Mary.

Both the Queens then embarked on trooping duties. By May 1945 Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth had, between them, carried 2,473,040 troops and personnel around the world.

After Queen Elizabeth was handed back to Cunard in March 1946 she had a massive refit and father was assigned to her as Junior First Officer and he was aboard QE on the Maiden voyage in October 1946. He remained with that ship until 1950.

Queen Mary
Queen Elizabeth

It was a long time before Cunard’s fortunes had improved enough for them to contemplate a new Queen. In September 1967 Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) was launched by Queen Elizabeth. Captain William Warwick was appointed her Captain and father was appointed Staff (now called Deputy) Captain and Relief Master.

The Queen at the launch of Queen Elizabeth 2

It was November 1968 before the ship was ready to leave the fitting out berth and later that month technical sea trials began.

My father Captain George Smith greeting Prince Charles when he boarded QE2 for her first yoyage along the Clyde

Sadly there were problems with the turbines. Cunard would not accept the ship. It was March 1969 before the problem was fixed. A shakedown cruise to the Canaries was organised. I call it the Mini Maiden voyage because I managed to get a free trip. I was a trainee solicitor earning less than £10 a week and was therefore a dependant child! It was a 10 day voyage to the Canaries and back. The problems with the turbines were resolved and Cunard accepted the ship and paid for her.

QE2 in the early days. The shape of the funnel was later changed and it was painted in Cunard colours

Father was aboard of course for my Mini Maiden voyage as was my mother. The real Maiden voyage left Southampton on 2 May 1969 – a transatlantic to New York with father as Staff Captain.

This was father greeting the Queen when she boarded QE2

Queen Mary 2

Queen Mary 2

It was probably in 2002 that I heard that a new Queen was being built. The Queen Mary 2. Father had retired in 1972 and had died in 1984.

Jane and I had not cruised at all while the children were growing up. Our holidays, in the main, were dinghy sailing and windsurfing in the Mediterranean in the summers and skiing in France in the winters, often with Mark Warner holidays or Club Med.

QM2

In 2002 we felt that the time was right for us to resume the Cunard connection. The Maiden voyage of Queen Mary 2 was nearly sold out, but I managed to secure a cabin very near the bow! An outside cabin with a porthole!

Then, by chance, at a Paris Smith marketing event at the Mayflower Theatre, I met a senior Cunard executive. When she learned that Jane and I were booked on the Maiden and heard about my father’s career, she arranged an invitation for us to the Naming Ceremony and to lunch on QM2 beforehand. As we explored the ship before the Ceremony we nearly bumped into the Queen who was to name the ship.

The Queen with the President of Cunard, Pamela Conover

The Naming Ceremony took place in a vast marquee erected on the dockside by the bow of the ship.

The Queen naming Queen Mary 2

The Maiden Voyage of QM2 began on 12 January 2004, four days after the naming ceremony. It was Jane’s first ocean voyage, but she took it in her stride, having spent her childhood in small boats and having spent the summer before we met, working on a Townsend Thoresen cross channel ferry. I had spent my childhood and my days at school and at University and for the Law Society, racing sailing dinghies but it was 39 years since I had last sailed on a ship – on the Queen Mary, returning from a working vacation in the US.

The first Captain of Queen Mary 2 was Ron Warwick, who had been Captain of QE2 for many years. He was the son of Captain William Warwick, the first Captain of QE2. Both of them were promoted to the rank of Commodore.

Commodore Ron Warwick with the Queen on the day of the naming ceremony
Commodore Ron Warwick greeting Jane and me at a Reception on the Maiden voyage of QM2

QM2’s maiden voyage took us to Funchal, Madeira and then to Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Thousands arrived to watch QM2 at all of the ports and there were fireworks to round off each of our visits. Then we crossed the Atlantic to Barbados, followed by St John in the Virgin Islands before we disembarked in Fort Lauderdale.

Jane and I had the cruising bug after that and we had a number of cruises before Cunard announced a new ship to be called Queen Victoria. In fact that hull became P&O’s Arcadia but eventually Queen Victoria was built and we secured a cabin for the Maiden voyage scheduled to start on 11 December 2007.

Queen Victoria

We were invited to the Naming ceremony which took place on 10 December 2007. Camilla, then the Duchess of Cornwall, performed the christening accompanied by Charles, then Duke of Cornwall.

The Maiden voyage was to the Christmas markets – Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo, Hamburg and Zeebrugge. It was possibly not the cleverest itinerary. It was very cold throughout the voyage, but we loved the ship and have sailed on Queen Victoria further and for far longer than on any other ship.

Queen Victoria

Soon after Queen Victoria’s introduction, Cunard announced that another ship, to be known as Queen Elizabeth, was to be built. She was to be similar to Queen Victoria based on an updated version of the Vista Class.

Queen Elizabeth was launched on 5 January 2010 and was ready for a naming ceremony on the 11 October 2010. The naming ceremony was of course performed by the Queen.

Captain Christopher Wells and the Queen

The introduction of Queen Elizabeth brought the Cunard fleet back up to three, QE2 having sailed away to her new home in Dubai on 11 November 2008 after Cunard had sold her.

Jane and I had managed to secure a cabin on QE2’s final voyage. The ship sold out in 30 minutes. The same thing happened with Queen Elizabeth’s Maiden voyage. In March 2009 Cunard announced that bookings could be made from 2 April 2009. On that day the laptops were all at the ready for the appointed hour. We managed to get into the site and secured our cabin for the Maiden voyage to the Canaries.

Queen Elizabeth
On the bridge

Queen Anne

Queen Anne being fitted out

When the Maiden Voyage of Queen Anne was first announced in early 2022, the voyage was to start on 4 January 2024 and it was to be a 7 day voyage. With all the kit that we need to take for Jane (hoist, bath chairs and wheelchairs et al) 7 days is too short, so we tagged on the following 16 day cruise as well.

Then, in the early part of 2023, it apparently became clear that the ship would not be ready for January 2024. The Maiden voyage was moved to 3 May 2024 and remained a 7 day voyage. We added the following voyage – a 14 day trip to the Canaries.

Queen Anne

It has just been announced that Queen Anne’s naming ceremony will not take place prior to the Maiden voyage. It will take place in Liverpool on Monday 3 June 2024 during the British Isles Festival voyage, her 3rd voyage. Sadly we will miss the ceremony as we will have left the ship the week before on the 24 May after her first 2 voyages.

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13 Replies to “Maiden Voyages of Cunard Queens”

  1. You mean the queen almost bumped into you. Working vacation? Thats what you call it. I don’t remember too much about the working part of your stay in Milwaukee

    1. The Queen was walking towards us. A security man had told us to remain where we were. We stood still and as the Queen came towards us, I was trying to remember the protocols and how I should address her. At that point she turned left and spoke to a line of the ships officers!

  2. Very interesting story. We have also had the Cunard bug as you call it since our first trip on QM2 in 2009. Then more 8 trips on boards of all available Queens.
    The last one in 2019 HK- Singapour on QM2 with capitan Wells. Due to pandemia it seemed that it would be the last cruise being 5 years older and the fact that our start point is pretty far from Southampton – we live in Gdynia (Poland) . But the opportunity to embark Cunard’s newest ship is so appealing for us that we decided to take her on the second voyage to Canary Island. We are already very excited …
    With kind regards,

    Wojtek

    1. Wojtek
      I have only just seen this. We too are on Queen Anne’s second voyage to the Canaries.
      We have been to Poland twice and they are recorded on this blog on 25 May 2019 and 21 May 2023.
      Possibly we will meet up on Queen Anne. Enjoy the voyage
      Richard Smith

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