Queen Mary 2 in Liverpool

Last week saw great excitement as Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 berthed in the city.  It’s only the second time that she has visited the city.  The first time was in October 2009 when she celebrated her fifth year in service with an 8-night voyage around the British Isles which included maiden visits to Greenock and Liverpool.

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Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 sailed into Liverpool at 3am on 17th May.  QM2 is able to carry 2,620 passengers and in docking at the new cruise liner terminal it allowed passengers to either sail into Liverpool or embark on a cruise from the city.  This is the first time in 45 years that passengers can sail on a Cunard liner from Liverpool.

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Cunard has a long association with Liverpool. From 1917 Cunard Line’s European headquarters were in the grand neo-Classical Cunard Building which is the third of Liverpool’s ‘Three Graces’ on the Pierhead.  The headquarters were used by Cunard until the 1960s.  In 1934 Cunard merged with The White Star Line which had been founded in Liverpool in 1845 strengthening the company’s links with the city.

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A seven night cruise departed from Southampton on May 10 sailing to Hamburg, Greenock and then Dublin before arriving in Liverpool on the 17th.  The itinerary for the cruise from Liverpool is an eight night sailing to Invergordon, Stavanger, Hamburg and finally Southampton.  Fares for the cruise from Liverpool started from only £599 but there were only 200 berths available for this leg of Cunard’s five star cruising experience on probably the world’s most famous ship.

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Queen Mary 2 succeeded Queen Elizabeth 2 which was built in 1969 and retired from active duty in 2008, as the flagship of the Cunard Line.  Queen Mary 2 operates a cruise liner service between Southampton and New York and is also used for more general cruising including an annual world cruise.

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She was built in 2003 by Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire, France. She is one of the longest, widest, and tallest passenger ship ever built, and with her gross tonnage of 148,528 she was also the largest at that time.  However she no longer holds this record after the construction of Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas in April 2006.  Whilst later cruise ships are larger, Queen Mary 2 remains the largest ocean liner (as opposed to cruise ship) ever built.  As the Queen Mary 2 was intended to routinely cross the Atlantic Ocean she was designed differently from many other passenger ships and required 40% more steel than a standard cruise ship.

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Queen Mary 2 has a maximum speed of just over 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) and a cruising speed of 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph).  This is much faster than a contemporary cruise ship.  Instead of the diesel-electric configuration found on many ships, Queen Mary 2 uses an integrated electric propulsion system that uses gas turbines to augment the power generated from the ship’s diesels.

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Queen Mary 2’s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the first planetarium at sea. There are also kennels on board, as well as a nursery.  Queen Mary 2 is one of the few ships afloat today to have remnants of a class system on board, as seen in her dining options.  The passengers’ dining arrangements on board are dictated by which ‘class’ of accommodation they choose to travel in. Most passengers (around 85%) are in Britannia class and therefore dine in the main restaurant.  Passengers can choose to upgrade to either a ‘junior suite’ and dine in the “Princess Grill”, or a full suite and dine in the “Queens’ Grill”.  Those in the two latter categories are grouped together by Cunard as “Grill Passengers”, and they are permitted to use the “Queens’ Grill Lounge” and a private outdoor area on deck 11 with its own whirlpool.  All other public areas can be used by all passengers.  This arrangement features on both of Cunard’s other liners, the Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth.

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On 19 October 2011, Queen Mary 2 had her registry changed to Hamilton, Bermuda, from her home port of Southampton, England to allow the ship to host on-board weddings. This continued 171 years of British registry for Cunard ships, as Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory.

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Liverpool’s new cruise liner terminal was officially opened on 21 September 2007 by HRH The Duke of Kent when the Queen Elizabeth 2 berthed in the city.  Since then Liverpool has seen a growing number of ocean going cruise liners coming in to the River Mersey.

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The £19 million facility is able to accommodate vessels of 345 metres (1,132 ft) in length and 10 metres (33 ft) draft.  The terminal was mostly funded by grants from the UK government and the European Regional Development Fund.  The £9 million grant from the UK government came with a condition that the terminal could only be used for cruise ‘port-of-calls’ rather than ‘turnaround’ visits meaning cruises would not be allowed to begin or end at the terminal.  Turnaround visits generate more revenue for the port and city than ‘port-of-calls’. The reason for this restriction was that it was to minimize unfair competition with other ports notably Southampton that had been built with private funding.

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Liverpool City Council tried unsuccessfully to have this restriction removed.  In July 2011 the council offered to pay back part of the UK government funding in exchange for being allowed turnaround visits and after further negotiation in March 2012 the government agreed a repayment offer from Liverpool City Council.  With Liverpool paying back the public funding they will be competing on a purely commercial basis with other British ports to secure passenger cruise turnaround opportunities.

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On 29 May 2012 a cruise began from the Pier Head for the first time in forty years, when Ocean Countess departed on a cruise to the Norwegian fjords.  From 2014 Liverpool will be the home port of Thomson Spirit, which will operate cruises out of Liverpool.

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Last year 30 ships visited Liverpool carrying 37,000 passengers and 15,000 crew.  The city council estimates the spend of the cruise passengers is worth about £1m to the local economy.  As well as cruise ships the Royal Navy also berths ships at the terminal several times a year, often allowing the public to visit the naval vessels.

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Many thousands of people had turned out to see the Queen Mary 2.  Many came to view it from Princes Dock where it was berthed opposite some of Liverpool’s waterfront offices.   It’s the size of a large office block in itself with its four stories of passenger cabins with their private balconies high up on the ship.

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I had managed to get some photos of the ship in my lunch hour and I had planned to take some more of it sailing out of the Mersey from New Brighton.  Unfortunately it appeared to have left fifteen minutes early rather than its published 5pm departure and by the time I got to New Brighton it was sailing out into Liverpool Bay in the distance.  Maybe I’ll get some shots next time it is berthed in Liverpool.

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Mayday in West Kirby

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West Kirby is a small town on the north-west corner of the Wirral Peninsula at the mouth of the River Dee.  It is a popular destination for residents of Wirral and from Liverpool who come over on the train to enjoy the sun, sea and sand when the weather is good.  For a change this bank holiday we have had a really hot and sunny day with temperatures topping 20 degrees centigrade and lots of people were out to enjoy the day.

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A big attraction is the large man made coastal lake, the ‘Marine Lake’ which holds sailing events, sail-boarding, canoeing and kayaking. It is 52 acres in size, is around 5 feet deep and is totally enclosed.  Today it was calm with very little wind and there were few dinghies on the water.

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The popular walk along the outer wall of the lake has become a feature of the promenade in West Kirby since it was built in 1899.  The lake suffered a catastrophic leak in 1985 and a new much larger lake was built at that time by the local Wirral Council.  More recently the lake was given a £750,000 refurbishment in 2009 following an engineers’ report which said the lake’s outer wall was crumbling and that it was only a matter of time before it became too dangerous to allow visitors to continue walking along it. Today the perimeter wall is good shape and there were hundreds of people walking around the lake.

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Another favourite pastime when the tide is out for many families is to walk across to the three small islands out in the Dee estuary.  The islands of Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hilbre Island are cut off from the mainland by the tide for up to 5 hours out of every 12 hours.  If you do not plan your walk with enough time to get back before high water then you will have to allow for a stay of at least 5 hours whilst the tide is in.  It takes around an hour for the 2 mile crossing.  Today there appeared to be many many people walking across the sands to the islands.

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Little and Middle Eye are very small sandstone outcrops but Hilbre is a much larger island at around 11.6 acres in area and whilst there are a number of buildings there are no shops, public toilets or any fresh water on the island and very little shelter. A Countryside Ranger from Wirral Council used to be based on Hilbre Island but it was announced in January 2011 that there would be no longer be a permanent ranger as the Council could not find anyone prepared to live without mains electricity or running water.

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The West Hoyle sandbank, to the west of Hilbre, provides a haul-out for quite large numbers of Grey Seals, and these can be seen swimming around the islands most days of the year. Whales and dolphins have also been sighted off the island.

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But many people were happy just to potter around the promenade or around the lake and judging by the number of cars in the town’s streets many probably didn’t manage to get a parking space and therefore were not able to enjoy a hot day by the sea.

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