“SURE is majestic,” a cyclist at Queens Wharf said of the berthed Queen Elizabeth on Monday, in a line seldom overused in Newcastle.
The youngest of Cunard’s signature liners sailed into the harbour at 7am, a 91,000-tonne conversation starter measured in football fields and Titanics.
Onlookers drove, walked and rode to Nobbys to clap and cheer and fill their camera phones with the ship’s 16 gleaming decks and the sweep of its bow.
At Queens Wharf at 10am, Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes presented the company with the keys to the city.
“It’s my great pleasure now to bestow the keys to the city on the Queen Elizabeth,” Cr Nelmes said.
According to tradition, the keys entitle the ship to “parade” through the city at will. A troupe of bellboys in Cunard red livery marched through an Air Force guard of honour. Onlookers clapped.
David Jones, of Cunard’s parent company Carnival, said the 2000 passengers were delighted by Novocastrians’ “warm” response.
The Queen Elizabeth’s visit comprised one day of 120 on its world tour, and passengers had paid up to $33,800 for the privilege.
Onboard, the ship’s main lobby is a three-level cathedral of marble and wood, discreetly adorned in the block-letter Cunard font.
Corridors painted with the ports of the world lead to glass shopfronts of duty free Dior, Absolut and Tag Heuer.
A cruise ticket buys nightly entry to the 820-seat theatre, where private boxes come with champagne and fondue strawberries.
A crew of more than 50 nationalities caters to passengers’ every need – from the croquet deck to the library to the royal spa – with unerring Cunard presentation and manners.
Those to have dined in the Britannia restaurant include the actor Sir Ben Kingsley, journalist and presenter David Frost – who died onboard of a heart attack in 2013 – and Her Majesty herself.
World War II veterans Frank Hall, 93, and Kevin Murphy, 95, were special guests at a ceremony on the ship’s aft deck on Monday to honour Williamtown’s 450 Squadron.
The two men, both based in Victoria, sailed from Sydney Harbour aboard the original Queen Elizabeth in February 1941 to join the war.
“It was unreal,” Mr Hall said.
“You didn’t know where you were going or when you would come back.”
Mr Murphy remembered finding his room on the luxury liner refitted with bunk beds, and how the men fought boxing bouts to keep themselves entertained.
The squadron landed in Egypt, and served throughout the Mediterranean.