Queen Elizabeth loved cruising and christened many ships over the years. Credit: Shutterstock

The Queen and cruise

Author: Kaye Holland

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Ahead of the Queen’s funeral, Kaye Holland looks at her Majesty’s life at sea.

The death of Her Majesty The Queen at the Scottish royal residence of Balmoral on September 8, following a 70-year reign, has been a source of grief across the nation, the Commonwealth, and the world.

The nation is now readying itself for the Queen’s state funeral on Monday September 19 – and we send our warm wishes and heartfelt sympathy to King Charles 111, the Royal Family, and all those whose lives she touched.

As a mark of respect, for the much-loved and longest-serving monarch in British history, we’re charting her close connection with the cruise sector.

Make no mistake: Her Majesty played a pivotal role in the maritime industry christening some 21 ships – more than anyone else in the nation’s history – serving as godmother to five others and famously hiring out Hebridean Princess on two occasions; once in 2006 to mark her 80th birthday and again in 2010 to celebrate Princess Anne’s 60th and Prince Andrew’s 50th.

Read on to discover more about the Queen's special relationship with the cruise and maritime industry…

Caronia, 1947
Before she became Queen, the then Princess Elizabeth launched Cunard’s first purpose-built ship, Caronia, on October 30, 1947. This was the Princess’ last public engagement prior to marrying Lieutenant Mountbatten, the future Prince Phillip.

Painted in no fewer than four shades of green, Caronia was affectionately dubbed the ‘Green Goddess’ and ushered in the era of modern cruising.

Caronia was an instant hit with the rich and famous – many of whom lived on board for years and appreciated the ​​beautiful Art Deco interiors, air conditioning (introduced in 1956), and portrait of the Queen and Prince Philip on their honeymoon In Hampshire, that hung in the luxury ship’s lounge.

Sadly the ‘millionaire’s ship’ faced a miserable ending: She sat in a dock in New York for several years before being towed, in 1974, to Taiwan for scrapping. En route, Caronia was caught in a storm off the coast of Guam and destroyed.

Britannia's majestic state dining room was where Her Majesty entertained world leaders, political figures and famous faces. Credit: Shutterstock

Britannia, 1953
The Queen had her own vessel, the five-deck Britannia which was built in 1952 by John Brown & Co, one of the most famous shipyards in the world.

On April 16, 1953, Britannia was officially launched with Queen Elizabeth II smashing a bottle of Empire wine (Champagne was considered too extravagant in post-war Britain) against the hull at a ceremony in Clydebank, Scotland.

She said: “Britannia, which is now floating in the waters of the Clyde, is not only the most modern addition to a long line of Royal Yachts which goes back to the reign of King Charles the Second, but she is to be at times the home of my husband and myself and of our family.

“I am sure that all of you who are present here realise how much the building of this ship meant to the late King, my father. He felt most strongly, as I do, that a yacht was a necessity and not a luxury for the Head of our great British Commonwealth, between whose countries the seas is no barrier but the natural and indestructible highway.”

The following year, Her Majesty boarded Royal Yacht Britannia for the first time for the final stage of her Commonwealth Tour.

Britannia went on to carry the royals around the world for 44 years, in addition to hosting official state functions, and Royal honeymoons and holidays. The Queen adored Britannia which she famously described as “the one place where I can truly relax.”

Little wonder that she was said to have shed a tear when the royal yacht, valued at around £60 million, was decommissioned in 1997 – a decision made three years earlier by John Major's government in order to avoid a public backlash over the expensive vessel.

Today Britannia serves as a museum in Leith, just outside Edinburgh, where it draws more than 300,000 tourists each year.

The Queen launched the QE2 on the Clyde in Scotland in September 1967. Credit: Shutterstock

Queen Elizabeth 2, 1967
Two decades after christening Caronia, Her Majesty launched ​another Cunard ship Queen Elizabeth 2 – named after the company’s earlier liner, Queen Elizabeth.

Some 30,000 people lined the streets of Clydebank in Scotland to watch the Queen cut the ribbon using the very same gold scissors that her mother had used to launch Queen Elizabeth in 1938 and her grandmother to launch Queen Mary in 1934.

In clear tones, the Queen pronounced: "I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second. May God bless her and all who sail in her." Her Majesty then pressed the launching button, and a bottle of champagne shattered against the huge bows of the ship.

QE2, as the vessel became known, made its maiden voyage in 1969 – a five-night transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York. She went on to cover 5.8 million miles, carry 2.5 million passengers in comfort and style, and complete 806 transatlantic crossings for Cunard, in addition to a spell carrying troops in the Falkland War.

The storied ship was forced into retirement in 2008 after changes in international safety regulations rendered her obsolete, before being reborn as a floating hotel in Dubai a decade later.

Oriana was originally named by Queen Elizabeth II on the April 6, 1995. Credit: Shutterstock

Oriana, 1995
In 1995, the Queen became a godmother again – this time to Oriana, her first P&O Cruises ship. Oriana was also the first ship that P&O built specifically for the British market – a revolutionary idea given that, at the time, the industry was dominated by American lines.

Designed for long-distance voyaging and world cruises, Oriana was the largest ship that P&O had ever built.

Built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg, Germany, at a cost of £200 million pounds, Oriana departed on her maiden voyage from Southampton on April 9, 1995.

After a 24-year career with P&O Cruises UK, Oriana was sold, in August 2019, to the newly-formed Chinese cruise line Astro Ocean and renamed Piano Land.

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Queen Mary 2, 2004
On January 8, 2004, Queen Elizabeth made the journey to Southampton to christen another Cunard vessel, Queen Mary 2 – conceived as a successor to RMS Queen Mary, who served Cunard between 1936 and 1967.

Built for the British cruise line at a shipyard in Saint-Nazaire on France’s Atlantic coast, QM2 (as she became known) cost circa £700 million to construct.

Resplendent in a pink dress and matching coat, the monarch, accompanied by Prince Philip, braved the wind and rain to announce: “I name this ship Queen Mary 2. May God bless her and all who sail in her'' – before a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne broke on cue.

The spectacular Christening ceremony featured a pipe band, singers, and a rendition of Amazing Grace by opera singer Lesley Garrett. Pop singer Heather Small also wowed the 2,000 guests on the dockside with a reworked version of her smash hit Proud.

At the time of its launch, QM2 was the longest, heaviest and tallest passenger ship in the world and boasted every conceivable luxury, including five swimming pools, a theatre, a planetarium, and an art gallery with a £3m collection.

Since entering service in 2004, Queen Mary 2 has become a firm favourite among Cunard passengers. Credit: Shutterstock

Hebridean Princess, 2006 and 2010
After the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997, the Queen chartered Hebridean Princess for her 80th birthday.

Her Majesty enjoyed her time onboard – sailing around the Scottish coastline and stopping off to be served picnics on the remote islands of Colonsay and Harris – so much that she booked Hebridean Princess again four years later to celebrate Princess Anne’s 60th and Prince Andrew’s 50th birthdays.

A former Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry, Hebridean Princess has been described as “more like an opulent country house hotel” than a ship and is famed for its five-star service.

The 50-passenger ship features 30 luxurious cabins, a lounge replete with an inglenook fireplace, and the walnut-panelled Columba restaurant where local specialties like haggis are served.

Hebridean Princess is literally fit for a queen: Her Majesty chartered the ship twice. Credit: Shutterstock

Queen Elizabeth, 2010
A full 72 years after attending her first Cunard event, the Queen travelled to Southampton to christen the cruise line’s third Elizabeth ship.

And the only one at the christening ceremony who could lay claim to having been at all three ship namings (in the 1930s, in 1967, and in 2010) was Her Majesty herself.

D​​ressed in a teal blue coat and matching hat, the monarch watched with the crowd as a jeroboam of 2009 Baron Philippe de Rothschild wine was sent smashing against the 2,092-passenger vessel.

Since her launch, Queen Elizabeth has made many transatlantic crossings and travelled all over the world. However one of Queen Elizabeth’s most memorable voyages took place in 2012 (the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year), when she met up with her two sisters – Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria – in Southampton as a special tribute to the Queen's 60-year reign.

Cunard's 'Three Queens' met in Southampton in tribute to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Credit: Shutterstock

Britannia, 2015
Almost 20 years after naming Oriana, the UK’s longest reigning monarch was asked to christen P&O’s newest cruise ship, Britannia.

Wearing a peach-coloured coat and dress and matching hat, the Queen attended the ceremony for the 141,000-tonne vessel at Southampton’s Ocean Terminal on March 10, 2015, with the Duke of Edinburgh.

The naming ceremony was hosted by Rob Brydon and included a performance by soprano Laura Wright. After this, the Queen made a short speech and smashed a bottle of Brut NV from the Wiston Estate Winery in the South Downs – a nod to Britannia’s British roots – against the side of the ship.

Her Majesty was then treated to a tour of the atrium, introduced to crew members, and visited the bridge before enjoying lunch on board.

Until Iona launched in 2021, Britannia was the largest ship in P&O Cruises’ fleet, measuring 1,082ft (330m) and with a passenger capacity of 3,647 guests.

Britannia bears the same name as the Queen's former Royal Yacht Britannia and boasts a multimillion-pound art collection as well as a cookery school overseen by the godfather of British cooking, Marco Pierre White.

The Queen named P&O’s new ship Britannia, the biggest ship ever built for the British market, in 2015. Credit: Shutterstock

Everyone at World of Cruising is deeply saddened by the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11, our longest reigning monarch. We thank Her Majesty for her outstanding, life-long service.

Her Majesty made her own maritime history. Credit: Shutterstock
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About Kaye Holland

Kaye is a London-based wordsmith who has written for a range of publications including The Times, The Independent, The I, Culture Trip, The Sun, and ABTA among others. In June 2022, Kaye joined the Real Response Media where she looks – together with Lucy Abbott – after the World of Cruising website. Want to get in touch? Kaye can be reached at: [email protected]