The three grand ships with the trademark red-and-black smokestacks lined up in front of the Statue of Liberty while colorful fireworks lit up the winter darkness for the once-in-a-lifetime event in January.
(Picture: Cunard's Queen Victoria on the Hudson River enroute to meet with its sister ships, the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2, Jan 13, 2008.
"This is amazing," said John Stella of Staten Island, part of the crowd watching the spectacle from the Manhattan waterfront. "You'll never see it like this again."
After leaving New York, the Queen Victoria and the QE2 continued their world tour together, on route for their next port of call, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. This is the Queen Victoria's first trip around the world and the QE2's 26th and last.
The ships encountered rough seas on their trip from England to New York, including waves so high that they washed over the bow of the Queen Victoria. No one was injured, according to Cunard spokesman Brian O'Connor. The waves did not wash over the bow of the QE2, which is taller in front than the newer ships.
The rendezvous with the QM2 started about a half-hour late because it took more time than expected to get the QE2 in place. O'Connor said the QE2 has older propulsion and navigation technology than the other two and had to be guided by tugboats.
The QE2 will make one more final call in New York before retiring, on Oct. 16, as part of its "Farewell to America" trans-Atlantic crossing.
The QE2 is the longest-serving vessel in the 168-year history of the Cunard line. Since launching in 1967, it has traveled more than 5 million nautical miles, including more than 800 trans-Atlantic crossings with 2.5 million passengers. The ship was sold for $100 million to Dubai World, an investment company that manages projects for the government in Dubai.
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com, said the QE2 "represents a previous era, in style and substance, of ocean liners, and it's an era that so many of today's younger, newer-to-cruising travelers will never see."
The Queen Victoria has three classes of passengers, but the differences in amenities are not as distinct as they were on the QE2. The staterooms are smaller but more of them have balconies. Like the other two ships, it has a "Queens Room" ballroom where elegant events are held, as well as a pub where guests can wash down fish and chips with a pint.
But the new ship has some features that the others do not, such as a 6,000-volume, two-deck-high library, a "Cunardia" history museum, fencing classes and a theater with private boxes.
Both the QM2 and the Queen Victoria also have restaurants overseen by the celebrity chef Todd English in addition to their regular dining rooms. English was on the Victoria greeting visitors, saying, "I'm here to tweak things."
The 151,000-ton QM2, which began sailing in 2004, is the largest of the three, carrying 2,592 passengers in 1,296 staterooms, plus 1,253 crew members.
The 90,000-ton Queen Victoria, which will homeport in Southampton, carries 2,014 passengers in 990 staterooms, plus 1,001 crew members.
The 70,000-ton QE2 carries 1,792 passengers in 1,002 staterooms, plus 921 crew members.
Steve Sturley and his 8-year-old son, Brammy, whom he described as a "Cunard fanatic," took a Circle Line boat ride in New York Harbor to watch the three ships and the fireworks from the water. The family plans to cruise on the QM2 next summer.
Asked what he thought of the ships, Brammy said, "They are big."
Cunard Line, a unit of Carnival Corp., is building a new Queen Elizabeth at Italy's Fincantieri shipyard, which built the Queen Victoria, with delivery in 2010. The new vessel will be Cunard's second-largest after the QM2. It will allow Cunard to keep three Queens in service after the QE2 retires.
Credit: By Beth J. Harpaz, AP