Ringing in the New Year Cunard style!


Hello again and if you are anything like me, you are right now wondering just where the year 2018 has gone! Another year flies by and we are right on the brink of entering 2019 as I write this.

Where will this new year take us, I wonder? Lots of new and exciting adventures and experiences undoubtedly lie in wait! And of course The World’s Greatest Vacations is ideally placed to guide you in the right direction!

On the Cunard vessels and other cruise ships around the world, the New Year is brought in many different but lovely ways; however I did very much like the traditional and elegant way in which we used to hold the celebration on the Cunard ships of which I was Captain, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2. Queen Elizabeth will of course be equally as special.

Naturally New Year’s Eve would be designated an Formal evening on board ship, which means black tie for the gents and evening dress for the ladies. This makes it a fabulously special evening with all the guests looking resplendent and helping to make sure the atmosphere is brimming with style and elegance.

After a suitably sumptuous dinner, the festivities would start with an extra special show in the Royal Court Theatre followed by a New Year’s Ball in the Cunard signature “Queen’s Room” – these are some of the largest and grandest Ballrooms on any ship and are decorated very much in the style of the grandest ocean liners of yesteryear.

We would also have the grand “Champagne Waterfall” with the Captain pouring the first (and most difficult) glass right at the top of the pyramid of hundreds of champagne glasses! I’ve included a photo of myself doing exactly this and I think you can see the concentration on my face!

This is where the New Year would be “rung in” on the Ship’s Bell, but not just by anyone. Oh no, on board ship this is another time-honored tradition in which the oldest member of the ship’s crew, whoever he or she may be, rings out the old year and yes, you guessed it, the youngest member of the crew rings in the New Year!

The ship’s bell is another tradition in it’s own right, being a large and heavy brass bell engraved with the ship’s name and it has a ringer attached with a spliced rope. It is usually kept on the forward deck of the ship or on the Bridge itself, but is brought into the ballroom especially to ring in the New Year.

But what do I mean by “ringing in” the New Year? Well, the system of ringing the ship’s bell in the old days of sailing ships was literally to tell the crew the time, with increasing numbers of rings signifying the different hours of the day, but “eight bells” (eight distinct strokes of the ringer on the bell) was sounded every four hours, commencing at midnight. Hence it was eight bells that were rung to bring in the New Year at midnight, with the oldest crewmember giving the first four rings and the youngest giving the second four. All done with much fanfare and countdowns from the Entertainment Director and his or her staff, of course!

Most years we arranged to be at sea for New Year, rather than in port somewhere, just as we did for Christmas Day, but there were a couple of exceptions. One of these was the Atlantic island of Madeira and it’s main port of Funchal which actually holds one of the most spectacular New Year’s firework displays in the world. Many cruise ships arrange to be outside the port for the New Year to watch this amazing display and having witnessed it myself, I can truly recommend it!

One other port I have been in for an overnight call at New Year is Amsterdam in The Netherlands. Here we managed to arrange a rather funny but very effective little trick to maximise our guests’ enjoyment of the evening and to in effect give them two seperate New Years…!!

Amsterdam is one hour in time ahead of England and therefore of course Southampton, where we had commenced the cruise. We realised that the guests would want to be out on the open decks to watch the amazing Amsterdam city firework display at midnight, but would also of course want to be part of our own on board celebrations in the Queen’s Room. They could not be in two places at once, so we had the brainwave of simply remaining on UK time on the ship, meaning that the local fireworks would be at 11pm ship’s time and after they had finished, the guests could come inside and see in the New Year there as well, at midnight ship’s time!!! All agreed that it was a great success!

Wherever you are in the world for this New Year, I would like to finish for this week by wishing you and your families a very happy, prosperous and peaceful 2019.

Peter Philpott
Queen Mary 2.