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.


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.


Happy Christmas to you all

Yet again we are sending electronic Christmas cards (where we have email addresses) and the savings are going to the MS Society.

Last week we had Mike and Gretchen here from Dubai with 2 year old Archie and the news that Gretchen is expecting their second child in June. Wonderful news.

Louise and her boys, Ethan and Charlie joined us for the weekend and on Friday night we all enjoyed the “Light Up” display at the Hilliers Gardens near Romsey. It was amazing.

Charlie Ethan and Archie
Charlie, Me, Gretchen, Jane, Louise, Ethan, Archie and Mike

Mike and Gretchen are spending Christmas at their home in Dubai and are entertaining Gretchen’s family on Christmas Day. Jane and I are spending the day with Louise, Red, Ethan and Charlie and Red’s parents, John and Beverley, at Red and Louise’s lovely home in Tooting.

As you may have guessed Jane and I managed to get away cruising a couple of times. In May we went to the Baltic on Queen Victoria – great ports in Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Denmark. Unfortunately one of our favourite places, St Petersburg, was struck from the itinerary for obvious reasons.

In October we put together 2 cruises, the first down to Spain and Portugal and the second to Norway and the Arctic circle. Full reports on both cruises can be found on this blog under October and November 2023.

None of this travel would have been possible without our friend and companion/carer Kim Bigwood. Kim has now been with us on 11 cruises since 2016 and as a result she has been elevated to the top level of Cunard travellers – Diamond! Kim is a fantastic support for Jane (and for me).

Ashore we have amazing support from 2 care agencies, Home Instead in the mornings and Caremark in the evenings. 2 carers in the morning to get Jane up and 2 in the evening to put her to bed. Super caring people.

And the other supporters are Jane’s friends who take her out in her adapted car and entertain her in garden centres or arboretums or ladies clothing outlets. Jane’s sister Sarah frequently drives over from Poole to take Jane out or help her with her clothes. She has a busy life but always manages to find the time to help to look after Jane.

We thank everyone for their help and we wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.


Aurora Borealis

October/November 2023

When I booked these 2 cruises a year or so ago, the Northern Lights didn’t really enter my mind. I don’t recall Cunard marketing the Norway cruise on the basis of the Lights.

It soon became clear that many of the passengers who boarded Queen Victoria on Friday 27 October were there to see the Lights. One of the speakers that Cunard had lined up was Ian Redpath of the Royal Astronomical Society. He spoke in the Royal Court Theatre on most sea days and he was always on deck 9 on the evenings when there was the chance of a sighting.

We struggled in the early days to pick up sightings with our eyes. Cameras and mobiles were better, but things improved as we moved further and further into the Arctic Circle.

I can’t claim ownership of all these images. Most of them came from Mark’s camera. He’s on the left.

And here’s another photo with Jane, Kim, Me and the two Marks.

And finally we have the end of cruise photo of our dinner table for the Norway cruise. A fun bunch!

Mark 2, Mark 1, Me, Casey, Nadia, Kim, Jane


We arrived here just before 8.00am on Monday 6 November. The Captain had said to us the day before that the forecast was for high winds on Monday and that he would have a tug standing by to help with berthing Queen Victoria.

In fact it turned out to be a fairly calm morning, and when I woke up we were alongside, port side on. I guessed that a tug had not been necessary.

When we went ashore we found the adapted vehicle without too much difficulty. Veronica was the driver. Despite her very English sounding name her command of the English language was minimal. But she was smiley and had a plan for the 2 hour tour.

As we drove through the old town, we found a very clean and tidy place with very little traffic.

We did get stuck behind a “Noddy” train at one point and as the streets were narrow we had to crawl along behind it. Luckily it was aiming for the same attraction as us – Norway’s national monument, Haraldshaugen. It is said to be the site where Harald Hairfair (the first King of Norway) is buried. It was erected in 1872 during the millennium celebrations of Norway’s unification into one kingdom.

The areas around Haugesund were considered by the Vikings to be lands of power. At the time the King lived 5 miles away, in Avaldsnes, known as the homeland of the Vikings.

Veronica then suggested that she drove us up the nearby “mountains” (her word, we would have called them hills). We took a winding road/track through woods and lakes.

The views were fantastic.

And inevitably there was our home in the distance.

QV partially obscured!

Veronica then drove us to a small village, Visnes, once home to a prosperous copper mine. It was one of the most active mines in Norway and one of the biggest in Europe.


Visnes is said to have supplied the copper used to make New York’s Statue of Liberty and a small version sits in the water in the village.

A more dubious claim relates to Norma Jean Mortenson, otherwise Marilyn Monroe. Haugesund claims that her father emigrated from the town to the US, where she was born, but there are doubts that the man was actually her father. But a statue of her sits in the town!

Finally we were taken to Avaldsnes and to the ancient church which was surrounded by graves and headstones.

And then it was back to the ship for one more day at sea before our arrival in Southampton.


Captain Karl Shepherd

Master of Queen Victoria

Today, the 5th November 2023, I had the honour, at the invitation of Captain Karl Shepherd, to sound Queen Victoria’s whistle from the bridge to indicate 12 noon. The Captain then broadcast his daily message to the passengers and crew.

Earlier the Captain had given us a tour and had introduced us to the officers and crew manning the bridge.

Jane was astounded by the amount of navigational equipment!

It was a great occasion for me, because I first sailed on a Cunard ship, the Queen Mary, in 1965. For the last 20 years, after our children grew up, Jane and I have been at sea with Cunard for 675 nights and this was our first invitation to the bridge.

I have to say that I am not the first member of my family to do this. In September of this year, my sister Liz Cracknell was on Queen Victoria for her second Cunard cruise and she was invited to sound the 12 noon whistle. She beat me to it!

You will appreciate that these occasions have arisen because our father was a Cunard Captain back in the sixties and seventies – Captain George E Smith. He was one of only 3 Captains who were Masters of both the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2). He was the second ever Captain of QE2. In addition, during his career with Cunard, he was also Captain of Mauretania, Franconia, Saxonia, Ivernia and Carmania.

Captain George E Smith

With Captain Karl Shepherd, Master of Queen Victoria

My thanks to the Captain’s secretary Crystal for setting up this visit for me, Jane and our companion/carer Kim. Our thanks also to the bridge team and of course to the Master of Queen Victoria, Captain Karl Shepherd our thanks for giving up his valuable time. It was a great pleasure meeting him.

The head too big or the cap too small?


The port

Our visit here didn’t start too well. I had booked adapted taxis at all four Norwegian ports back in September and had confirmed the bookings on line a few days before each visit.

In Narvik on Friday it was very cold (minus 6). Jane was well bundled up and we set off along the pier to the spot where coaches, buses and taxis were assembling. There was no sign of our taxi. After 15 minutes we managed to contact the taxi company to be told that the taxi had gone to the wrong port. Classic.

We went back to the ship for a coffee. Jane and Kim decided to stay aboard. The town was up a steep hill and there were no adapted shuttles (in fact no shuttles at all, it would appear) so pushing Jane up the hill was not an option. We always take a manual wheelchair ashore because of the risk to the electric one from cobblestones and a lack of dropped kerbs.

I decided to venture up to the town. It was a long hard climb. By then it was getting dark (3pm!). I bought a few items from my list and had a look at the Museum which was about to close. The walk back to the ship was easy.

The Narvik Museum
Return to the ship

As we were still within the Arctic Circle, the Aurora was still on the agenda. In Tromso and in Narvik, evening tours in coaches to likely viewing sites were very popular. Our dining companions Casey and Nadia missed dinner on both evenings to search for the Aurora.

The Aurora was elusive. We ventured onto the darkened 9 deck after dinner but there was no sign of the Lights and I gather that the 400 or so passengers who went off for the evening in coaches had no joy either.

The last of the coaches arrived back at the ship at 12.30am and we set sail half an hour later.


The Northern Lights

The dining room was half empty. Hundreds appeared to have chosen the Northern Lights ahead of food. We knew that Casey and Nadia were on an evening tour in search of the Lights. The two Marks were with us. I’ve just found a copy of the photo of them in their masks taken the night before (the Masquerade Ball on Halloween).

But back to Tromso. At about 10.00pm, after dinner, we moved up to 9 deck which was dark. All the ships lights were turned off. The decks were salted and we were all looking to the sky. From time to time Ian Redpath, from the Royal Astrological Society, would tell us where to look and after a time this was spotted

It gets better

There may be more tomorrow. We are still inside the Arctic Circle.



Wednesday 1st November 2023. In the Arctic Circle. We sailed into the port just before 9.00am. It had clearly been snowing and all the hills and mountains surrounding us were covered in snow. No sign of the Northern Lights yet but fingers crossed for later today!

After breakfast, we all made sure that we had layers of sweaters, scarves, hats and coats on and then ventured down the gangway. It was minus 5 degrees!

I had organised an adapted taxi from Tromsotaxis which we couldn’t find initially, but the driver found us. He quickly loaded us up. The vehicle had a lift at the rear to get Jane aboard. He was an excellent driver and again, very careful and courteous.

We were quickly in a tunnel which took us under the fjord for about a mile, and then, ahead of us was the Arctic Cathedral.

It was impressive, but it is not the only Cathedral in Tromso.

This is the other Cathedral

We then travelled in a circle along one side of the fiord where, in the main, it appeared to be a series of residential areas.

He then took us across a modern bridge

to the other side which was less developed.

Suddenly the driver turned right from the main road into what appeared to be the drive of a private house.

He drove a short way down the drive and to our right was a field with reindeer grazing.

He said the reindeer grazed in that field until the middle of the day and wandered off up the hill in the afternoon. It was clearly a regular stop on his Tromso tours.

Queen Victoria hidden amongst the trees

By the time he had returned us to the ship it was lunchtime.

Of course for many the reason for joining this cruise was the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights. As I write, some people are leaving the ship to go on tours that might give them a better chance of seeing the Lights. It appears to be a cloudless sky which is a good sign. The locals think the chances are good (but they would say that wouldn’t they?).

We are going to dinner on 3 deck in the main dining room at the aft end of the ship at 8.15pm tonight and taking our warm kit with us. If it is announced that the Lights are in the sky we will rush up six decks in the lift to the open 9 deck where the ships lights will be dimmed. Fingers crossed.


Norway here we come.

We left Southampton on time on Friday evening and eventually turned to the east and aimed towards the North Sea.

All our table companions turned up on Friday. Casey and Nadia from just north of Miami, Florida and Mark x 2 – from Southampton! So it’s a table of 7.

It soon became apparent that coincidences would be rife. Mark 1, from Chessel Bay revealed that his former father in law was Ken Bennett, a Southampton character, who would have been well known to many of you. Ken lived along the road from us in Chilworth.

By the way, I’ve lived in Southampton all my life and have never before heard of Chessel Bay. Have you? When I was a boy, our family GP practiced in Chessel Avenue, Bitterne. But a bay in a river? That’s new to me! But I have found it on Google maps.

Mark 2 revealed that he had worked for IBM in Hursley for 17 years. The park in which IBM operates is no more than 2 miles from our home and I drive past the park every time I go to Winchester.

On Tuesday evening at a World Club party, I found myself talking to a distinguished English gentleman with a very attractive Chinese wife. I didn’t get their names but they told me that they now lived in Winchester, having until recently lived in Kingsway, Chandlers Ford. Kingsway is 50 yards from our house!

The first of the 2 sea days was rough but not as bad as the weather in Biscay the previous week. We had 2 days relaxing and then we arrived at our first Norwegian port on this voyage – Alesund.

You can see Alesund, south of Kristiansand and Molde but north of Bergen and Haugesund (which is our last port before our return home)

Alesund in the early morning as we arrived

For the four Norwegian ports, I had given up on Cunard tours and shuttles and in September I emailed taxi firms in all the ports. There were plenty of adapted vehicles. The firm that I eventually used in Alesund have 6 large Mercedes Sprinter adapted vehicles with lift and room for more than one wheelchair and 6-8 seats for the able bodied.

Our driver, of Eritrean heritage, arrived in the adapted vehicle as arranged at 10.30am. He was a lovely man. Courteous and a careful driver. We sorted out an itinerary and he wanted first of all to show us one of the handful of houses that had survived the fire back in 1904.

In many towns in Norway in the late 1800’s nearly all the houses were wooden. In Alesund in January 1904 a fire started in a factory when a cow apparently kicked over a torch! It was a very windy night and flames spread rapidly wiping out the 1,000+ houses in the town leaving 10,000 people homeless. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, who often vacationed in the town, led a swift rebuilding programme, combining German art nouveau with Viking flourishes.

Alesund sits on 3 islands between 2 fjords

He took us up to the Aksla viewpoint which gave us magnificent views in all directions. Queen Victoria was on her berth.

These photos look north, south, east and west from the viewpoint
This island is known as Viking Island

Our driver then took us to the Sunmore museum, an open air exhibition of Viking boats and homes.

It was a fun day and after our return to the ship I ventured out on foot to find a few items that I was in trouble about as I’d failed to pack them. I took some more photos on my travels. The buildings in Alesund are very attractive.

We have a day at sea on Tuesday with, apparently, some Halloween celebrations.

As I write the Captain has announced that we are now within the Arctic Circle. He also said that he will be leaving the ship in Tromso tomorrow for a months leave. The new Captain is apparently already aboard. We look forward to meeting him.


The first leg return

We had all enjoyed the first week. It was unusual for us to visit only one port but the tour on the second day in Lisbon was exceptional. Those who frequent Queen Mary 2 and her transatlantic voyages are, of course, used to spending 6 or 7 days at sea visiting no ports at all.

Jane, Kim and I love sea days. There are always plenty of things to do. After a leisurely breakfast the Wordle, Sudoku, crosswords and books come out and then it’s time for coffee. The Commodore Club on 9 deck is the favourite for us these days.

Commodore Club

It has fabulous views looking forward and because it is high up on deck 10 in the forward part of the ship new passengers find it difficult to locate. That keeps it peaceful and relaxed. Some never find it!

Thursday evening was our last dinner before our table companions departed.

Clockwise from the bottom left – Me, Ray and Margaret from Bagshot, James from Paris, Anthony from Northampton and his daughter Liz from Chester, Kim and Jane

And the next day, Friday 27 October, the vast majority of passengers departed and about 100 of us doing the back to back adventure remained. Some went into Southampton, shopping, but we stayed on the ship. By lunchtime the new contingent had started to board for the Norway cruise and the excitement began to build up again.