It was a welcome fit for a queen.
Making her Baltimore debut, the Queen Elizabeth 2 sailed majestically into Baltimore Harbor today, escorted by thousands of pleasure craft that looked like white specks next to the massive liner, 13 stories high and three football fields long.
Private planes and helicopters buzzed overhead as the ship slid under Baltimore's Key Bridge, clearing the span by a mere 20 feet. Fireboats shot their water cannons into the blue sky, a flotilla of tugboats honked in greeting, and the Baltimore City Bagpipe Band wailed a welcome as the 67,000-ton behemoth eased her way into Berth 5 at the Dundalk Marine Terminal.
Crowds, kept away from the pier, jammed strategic locations for a glimpse of the last of the world's transatlantic liners. One contingent of spectators, caught in the traffic along Dundalk Avenue, piled out of the car and set up a telescope along the roadway.
Gerald Itkin, who came from Key West, Fla., to welcome his mother, Columbia, Md., resident Ruth Itkin, 71, back from her transatlantic crossing, waved a sign proclaiming, "Welcome Home Mom."
"She's been dying to take a cruise her whole life and she figured she'd go right to the top," his sister, Amy Kaplan, said.
"Everything was super," Capt. Lawrence Portet said of his welcome at the Chesapeake Bay port. Portet, a proper British sea captain whose double-breasted blue uniform was decked with ribbons and gold buttons, remarked, however, that "It would be quite wrong to compare it to other places, because that would be putting them down, and we don't want to do so."
"This is a crown jewel in the tourism that we're promoting in the city of Baltimore," beamed Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who joined officials for an on-board news conference and proclaimed it QE2 day in the city.
After letting off passengers who made the six-day crossing from Southampton, England, the QE2 set sail shortly before midnight for a seven-day Caribbean cruise, with stops in San Juan and St. Thomas. It will be back, however: A second transatlantic trip will depart Baltimore on Sunday.
Costs for the luxury Caribbean cruise -- booked to its 1,725-passenger capacity the day after Schaefer announced last year that the ship was coming to Baltimore -- ranged from $1,095 for an inside cabin well below deck to $13,490 for a split-level two-bedroom apartment. Costs for the transatlantic trip start at $1,370, including a return flight on British Airways.
The "city at sea," as Cunard Lines Ltd. brags of the flagship of its five-vessel fleet, comes complete with four restaurants, a seagoing branch of Harrods department store, a "Golden Door Spa at Sea," two English nannies to mind babies and a video arcade to amuse passengers. It has so many activities -- from IBM computer training to a casino -- that Cunard maintains it would take one person four months to participate in all of them.
On board the ship, which has logged 1.9 million miles since her maiden voyage in 1969, are 207 waiters, 138 kitchen workers, 23 "beverage personnel," 21 bartenders, 16 bakers, 16 wine stewards, 13 croupiers, eight carpenters, five exercise instructors, four printers, two doctors, two kennel maids, one dentist and one disc jockey.
"I'm thinking about it," said Bob Michael, a Baltimore police sergeant moonlighting as a bagpiper and contemplating a sea voyage. "I want the one right up there -- right, hon?" he said, directing his wife's attention to one of the luxury cabins.
Ron Cohen and his wife Jane Johnson, of Laurel, had already decided to take the plunge. Cohen, who manages a jewelry store at Columbia Mall, booked the cruise as a surprise for his wife.
"I'm so excited I can't feel my toes," Johnson said as the couple hunted for their cabin on the enormous ship. "There's Harrods!" she exclaimed, spying a window display. "Oh terrific, I'm home."