Stefan Giaconi, project manager on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth talks to World Cruise Industry Review about the challenges of crowning a new queen.
October 2010 sees the arrival of Queen Elizabeth, which will further enhance Cunard's reputation for ocean travel. Recalling the rich heritage of the first Cunarder to bear the name, the third Cunard Queen Elizabeth is nearing completion at Fincantieri's Monfalcone shipyard ahead of its naming ceremony in Southampton.
Queen Elizabeth will likely be the last new cruise ship for the British market for many years to come when it leaves the Gulf of Trieste, Italy, and heads to its home port of Southampton to be named on 11 October.
British cruise heritage
The new queen will join its Cunard's Queen Elizabeth will join its Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria and is the second largest Cunard ship ever built.
"Queen Elizabeth is continuing the tradition of British history in sailing," explains Stefan Giaconi, project manager for the Queen Elizabeth project, who managed a team of nine on the project. "There is continuity from Queen Victoria and the new ship has been designed for a market that has a feeling for tradition - our relationship was very good despite the very tight schedule," says Giaconi of Fincantieri's longstanding collaboration with Cunard, having delivered two new ships in the last few years.
Giaconi also has experience working with Carnival UK's other brand P&O and was project manager on the 115,000 tonner, which was built at Fincantieri's shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, launched in June 2009 and entered service in April 2010.
The Panamax vessel is likely to be the last Vista-class vessel to be built. 11 ships have been built and are operated by Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Costa Cruises and Cunard. Recent Vista-class ships preceding Queen Elizabeth were MS Nieuw Amsterdam, MS Costa Deliziosa, both of which are now in service.
Since 1990 Fincantieri has delivered 51 cruise ships, of which 47 for the six main brands in Carnival Group. A further 12 ships will be built in Fincantieri's shipyards within 2012.
Queen Elizabeth's predecessor Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) retired in November 2008 and ended its Days in Dubai owned by property developers Nakheel. Over 2,000 personnel worked 18 months to complete the £400m cruise project.
"The main architectural and technical decisions were taken on time," says Giaconi. "I personally had a very good relationship."
Queen Elizabeth, or QE as the ship is known, is a foot longer and a foot wider than QE2. The ship has 16 decks but is much taller than QE2.
Queen Elizabeth – a class act
As with Queen Victoria, QE is a Vista-Class ship but will carry slightly more passengers at 2,092 in 1,046 rooms, 71% of which have balconies. It has a space ration of gross tonnage per guest of 43. The completion of Queen Victoria, delivered in November 2007 after being built at Fincantieri's shipyard in Venice-Marghera, was quickly followed by the announcement that Cunard had ordered another ship. QE was launched on 5 January 2010 from the Monfalcone shipyard.
"From the beginning of January until now has been the whole outfitting process," says Giaconi. "The project is going well. Outfitting of the ship will be completed at the end of September."
Preliminary sea trials took place in the middle of August and one week it went on its final sea trial. Giaconi and his team will then have one month to put the final touches to the project.
"This ship has been built to a record schedule," says Giaconi, explaining that the hull of the ship alone was built in just six months.
Giaconi did not work on the Queen Victoria project: "When top management decided to move the building of the ship to Monfalcone we took over the situation."
He worked with the team who had worked so closely on the Queen Victoria project. "We were able to learn as much as we wanted and we avoided the problems we encountered on the Queen Victoria on the QE," he says. "The shipbuilding process remained the same. When you think about how big the project is there are little or significant changes in the system just because you have a new cabin for the new engine room."
The main difference between QE and its sister ship is in propulsion. Power comes from six Mak M43C diesel engines.
"This was a change that was agreed with Cunard in order to develop a better relation with Mak and give more possibilities to the owners," says Giaconi. "There are small but significant changes in the system because you have a new area for the new engines."
Queen Victoria is powered by four Wärtsila 16-cylinder engines and two 12-cylinder engines. The QE is propelled by two ABB pods and has three Fincantieri Riva Trigoso Thrusters and is equipped with a pair of Fincantieri Riva Trigoso Stabilisers.
QE was built with energy savings in mind. "We have applied new technologies in collaboration with the owner in order to reduce fuel consumption and emissions," says Giaconi. "Part of the design process in the preliminary stage was to incorporate several little but significant features that allow the ship to have these kind of energy savings, which is beneficial, cost-wise, to the owner."
In the design stage Fincantieri did tests in a wind tunnel tank in order to reduce the drag and resistance during the sail, which led the shipbuilder to optimise the longitudinal situation of the ship.
QE is virtually identical to Queen Victoria structurally, but there are a few subtle changes. Most of them concern the décor and the use of public areas. Queen Victoria's classical interiors were inspired by Cunard's history. In comparison QE will reflect the art deco era.
The main changes are the 38 new cabins, which give the ship a steeper stern and increasing passenger capacity (2,092 on QE to Queen Victoria's 2,014). The largest suites at the stern have smaller balconies.
Others include the fact that guests in the top-grade Britannia-class cabins have their own dining room with open seating dining, a Cunard first. What was the Winter Garden on Queen Victoria is now a huge conservatory onboard QE. The games deck is also different, with a glass roof cover.
Entrance to the new ship is through the grand lobby, triple height in terms of the number of decks. The Britannia Staterooms, available between 180ft²and 201ft², feature complementary room service and satellite TV.
There are 127 Grills Suites, which range in size from 508–1,493ft². Every Grill Suite features a marble bathroom, a private veranda and in-suite dining. The Princess Grill suites, spread over an area of 335513ft², feature complementary 24-hour room service and concierge service as well as marble bathrooms.
The ship's public spaces include the Queen' Room, which houses a 1,000ft²ballroom, and the Garden Lounge on deck nine. This is a conservatory-like space that evokes the glasshouses of Kew Gardens and sits astride the ship covered by a vaulted glass ceiling. The Games Deck will offers paddle tennis, croquet and conventional British bowls on a lawn under a canopy roof.
Fine dining onboard QE
QE offers five restaurants: Queens Grill, Princess Grill, Courtyard, Britannia Club and Britannia Restaurant, which was inspired by the art deco styling of Cunard's legendary Queen Mary. The aesthetic highlight of the restaurant will be a grand staircase that descends into the middle of the restaurant, harking back to an older era of shipbuilding. Guests will also enjoy alternative dining options such as the Lido Restaurants, Golden Lion and Queens Room, which serves afternoon tea.
True to Cunard's history, the new ship boasts The Royal Court Theatre, with tiered seating for 832 guests that offer a variety of shows and presentations. The 1,000ft²Royal Spa and Fitness Centre offers beauty treatments along with state-of-the art fitness equipment. The Pavilion Pool is an outdoor swimming pool that has two whirlpools. The ship has a library containing over 6,000 books, while the Royal Arcade offers famous brand names in 4,000ft²of shops.
Like other shipyards, Fincantieri has seen cuts in orders as cruise operators reassess their strategies. How are they coping with the downturn?
"Internally we are trying to find a new type of organisation that will optimise our structure," says Giaconi.
"This is necessary so we can be flexible for the new market. At the same time we are developing new designs that can take in new concepts in order to be able to provide the customer with a product that provides a new solution as well as being cost efficient and delivered on time."
Giaconi sees these characteristics as being core values that have brought Fincantieri success. "We are flexible so we can react to the customer's request. The strongest thing we can put on the table is the capability of our sub-contractors. We can react to the customer and provide solutions."
QE certainly is appealing but has a lot to live up to. Such is the anticipation of its entry into service that tickets for the maiden voyage sold out in 29 minutes.