Maybe it's not quite as elegant as it once was. But it is still the Queen Elizabeth 2, the benchmark for luxury liners.
On a blustery day, with winds whipping at 35 knots, the legendary passenger ship returned to the United States yesterday after three months at sea, stopping briefly in Baltimore yesterday on its way to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It was the QE2's second trip here since 1995.
Five tugboats nudged the 67,000-ton vessel through the harbor's sharp curves into Dundalk Marine Terminal. A handful of recreation boats anchored to watch while other spectators gathered on the docks with cameras and binoculars as Moran Co.'s veteran docking pilot Carroll Cudworth deftly eased the 963-foot ship alongside the pier.
Down the blue gangway, hundreds of passengers disembarked for a quick bus tour of Baltimore before the ship departed four hours later.
"It's all very nice, but she's lost a lot of [her] frills, you know," said Alice Clark, a Manchester, England, resident who with her husband, Allan, was celebrating their 60th anniversary with a sixth cruise on the QE2. It's the little touches, such as bathroom accessories, that have changed, she said.
But it's much better than it was two years ago, said passenger Kathleen Forest.
"We were on the tragic one," she said, referring to Cunard Cruise Line's disastrous Christmas cruise from Southampton to New York in 1994. With a $18 million face-lift not quite complete, some passengers were bumped despite their reservations while others found themselves in the middle of a traveling construction site, complete with exploding toilets.
The voyage cost Cunard $11.5 million in passenger compensation. The cruise ship operator has overcome much of its image problem, but it is still hampered by financial difficulties. Cunard is controlled by Kvaerner ASA, a Norwegian conglomerate that bought Cunard's ailing parent, Trafalgar House, last year.
"You can say, 'We'll give them grade II prawns instead of grade I, and they'll never notice. Or we can give them grade II orange juice instead of grade I, and they'll never notice.' But pretty soon they'll notice," said Don Daniels, of Lincolnshire, England. "That's what happens when a company is under financial pressure."
With elegant floating hotels emerging constantly in the booming cruise industry, the QE2 is still considered the oasis of luxury, the height of elegance. Passengers are treated to seven restaurants, a tuxedo rental shop, health spas on six decks, 13 elevators, a florist, a kennel, a 13-car garage and 330 waiters and stewards -- one for every five of its 1,500 passengers.
Launched by Queen Elizabeth II in 1969, the QE2 offers regular trans-Atlantic service between New York and Europe -- the only ship to do so. It cruises at 32.5 knots, the fastest passenger ship afloat.
But the QE2 is pricey. Fares for the round-the-world cruise, for instance, began at $29,870 a person, with suites going for up to $322,560 per person. "They don't give it away, you know," said Bill Haldewang, a retired businessman from Vera Beach, Fla., who paid $160,000 for an 106-day world trip for himself and wife.
Pub Date: 4/19/97