February 12, 2007

'Royal' ocean liners to meet in Sydney

This from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Sydneysiders will be treated to a spectacular sight when the ocean liners Queen Mary 2 and her sister ship Queen Elizabeth 2 dock in the city's harbour on the same day.

If the ships aren't impressive enough on their own, a fireworks display will mark their history-making rendezvous on February 20.

But even better for Sydney, the liners' passengers are expected to spend up big as well.

The dual visit by the iconic liners will generate a $3 million tourism bonanza for Sydney, delivering about 6,500 passengers and crew to the city, the equivalent of 19 jumbo loads of tourists, says a spokesman for Cunard Line.

Sydney is a major turnaround point for both ships, with passengers leaving and joining the liners.

Capable of carrying up to 3,090 passengers, the 151,400-tonne Queen Mary 2 will become the largest ship ever to visit Australia when she sails into Sydney Harbour at about 6.30am on February 20.

She will be half way through her maiden world voyage, dubbed Around the World in 80 days.

The 70,327-tonne QE2 will be visiting Australia during her Silver Jubilee world voyage.

Cunard Line says fireworks will explode over the harbour at 8.40pm, around two hours and 10 minutes after QE2 sails through the Sydney heads.

The two ships will meet off Garden Island naval base at 7.15pm and salute each other with their whistles.

Aboard the Queen Mary 2 will be 2,700 passengers and 1,253 crew members.

The 23-storey-high ship is two metres taller than the road deck of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and is too big to dock at Circular Quay.

The last time two Cunard Queens called at Sydney together was during World War II, when the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth made joint visits as troop carriers in 1941 and 1942.

Thousands of Sydneysiders lined the foreshore on April 9, 1941 during their first dual visit.

But the reason then for the vessels' Australian visit was no cause for celebration.

Painted a dour grey, the 81,237-tonne, 311-metre long Queen Mary and her younger sister, the 83,763-tonne, 314-metre long Queen Elizabeth, came to Sydney as troop ships transporting soldiers.

But the ships' considerable length and draft meant they could not be accommodated in Sydney Harbour at the same time. On their first visit they passed each other at the Sydney Harbour heads.

Known then as the Grey Ghosts, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth transported Allied troops and prisoners of war around the world, carrying up to 16,000 troops at any one time. They even ferried British Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic.

But despite the distances travelled and a bounty placed on them by German leader Adolf Hitler, none was threatened or had to fire a shot in anger.

The two ships made several joint calls at Sydney during 1941 and 1942, between them carrying tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers.

In all, Queen Mary visited Sydney 13 times as a troop carrier, a role not anticipated when the liner was launched by Queen Elizabeth II's grandmother, Queen Mary, with a bottle of Australian sparkling wine in September 1934.

When she first set sail in May 1936, Queen Mary was hailed by newspapers at the time as a "wonder-ship".

Many regarded the 12-deck ocean liner as a tribute to the art deco era, with features including several swimming pools, a three-level dining room, a modern theatre and the latest in furnishings, from rare woods to linoleum.

With a service speed of up to 29 knots, the Queen Mary quickly made a name for herself on the high seas. In 1938 she set a new trans-Atlantic crossing record of three days, 21 hours and 48 minutes - a title she held for 14 years.

Her younger sister, Queen Elizabeth, also made her mark, holding the mantle of the world's largest liner for 57 years.

While Queen Elizabeth was launched in September 1938, the advent of World War II meant she did not make her maiden voyage as a passenger vessel until 1946.

The reign of both ships continued until the 1960s, when air travel became more popular.

In 1967, Queen Mary was sold to the City of Long Beach in California where she operates as a hotel and museum.

Queen Elizabeth was retired in 1968, and is now said to be at the bottom of the sea.

The new Queen Elizabeth 2 was launched in 1967 and this year celebrates her 40th birthday.

She has seven restaurants, two pools and the first sea-going Harrods boutique.

Her younger sister, Queen Mary 2, boasts 10 restaurants, five pools, the biggest ballroom at sea and the first planetarium at sea.

There are prices to match the luxury.

To do the whole current 81-night cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2 costs from $35,000 to $250,000 per person, depending on whether you prefer an inside cabin with no harbour views or a top suite. For the two-week section from San Francisco to Sydney the cheapest price is $6,600 and the dearest is $50,000. But most passengers take the middle option.

Those lucky enough to be aboard the 151,400 tonne Queen Mary 2 are sailing on one of the largest passenger ships afloat.

The newly-built Freedom of the Seas is larger at 160,000 tonnes, although it is 12 metres shorter than Queen Mary 2.

Sydney will be the only Australian port on this voyage to see the Queen Mary 2.

However the Queen Elizabeth 2 will arrive in Sydney after visits to Hobart (February 17), Melbourne (February 19) and will sail on to Brisbane on February 24 and Cairns on February 26.

The rundown: On Tuesday February 20 Queen Mary 2 will arrive at Sydney Heads at 6.30am and dock at Garden Island on 7.15am.

QE2 will sail through the heads at 6.30pm and pass Queen Mary 2 at Garden Island at 7.15pm.

Queen Mary 2 will depart Sydney at 11pm, while the QE2 will berth at Circular Quay at 8pm for 2 nights.


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