The lady who launched

The Duchess of Cam­bridge makes a right royal splash

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

A DAL­MA­TIAN on the docks up­stag­ing a leviathan of the seas? It seems un­likely, but so it is on this blus­tery day at the port of Southamp­ton, south­west of Lon­don, as Cather­ine, Duchess of Cam­bridge, brav­ing the ele­ments (a snappy 14C with pass­ing clouds and the ‘‘pos­si­bil­ity of show­ers’’) and oc­ca­sion­ally pat­ting her fa­mous tummy bump, takes her place among as­sem­bled dig­ni­taries and con­tin­gents of me­dia for the nam­ing cer­e­mony of the good ship Royal Princess.

She is the 3600-pas­sen­ger ves­sel’s of­fi­cial god­mother cum pa­tron, rep­re­sent­ing a suit­ably re­gal con­nec­tion, and this is the Duchess’s last solo en­gage­ment be­fore her baby ar­rives in July. The for­mer Miss Mid­dle­ton is wear­ing a black-and-white dotty ‘‘coat dress’’ and there is a buzz in the crowd about the pat­tern. Paw prints? Snow leopard? The fash­ion writ­ers in our midst fire up their iPhones and shriek. It’s a style known as the Dal­ma­tian from high-street re­tailer Hobbs. Tweet, tweet.

Be­fore the Duchess has smashed the 15-litre Ne­buchad­nez­zar of cel­e­bra­tory cham­pagne against the ship’s hull, been all but hur­ried off the dais by gusts from Southamp­ton Wa­ter, had a quick tour of Royal Princess with Cap­tain Tony Draper and tooted its bel­low­ing horn, the £169 ($280) gar­ment has sold out on­line.

The Brits do pomp and cer­e­mony very well in­deed and pro­ceed­ings are opened by the white-hel­meted Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth and the or­ange-kilted Pipe Band of the 1st Bat­tal­ion Ir­ish Guards, of which Prince Wil­liam is Colonel of the Reg­i­ment. We guests are also treated to a song apiece by chart-top­per Natasha Bed­ing­field and West End mu­si­cal star Kerry El­lis as the Duchess smoothes her con­sid­er­able hair back into place and read­justs her pert black Sylvia Fletcher hat.

Above our heads in the tiered spec­ta­tor stand, long, taut strings stretch 300m to­wards the back wall where they are an­chored in place like nau­ti­cal rig­ging. With more for­mal in­stru­ments such as vi­o­lin, cello, drums and flute, this Earth Harp con­vo­lu­tion is part of the per­cus­sive orches­tra Mass En­sem­ble and the mu­sic is eerie and ethe­real. Seated be­neath, big-day-out hats wob­bling, my next-seat neigh­bour and I agree it feels like be­ing in­side a vi­brat­ing harp.

The Right Rev­erend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winch­ester, con­ducts the tra­di­tional ship’s bless­ing, wish­ing good for­tune and safety for the ship, its pas­sen­gers and crew. The Duchess says but a few words and the fi­nal dash by all present to es­cape the cold tem­per­a­tures and im­pend­ing rain is all but un­seemly.

Royal Princess is the 17th liner in the fleet of Princess Cruises, a com­pany that has long em­braced the con­cept of god­moth­ers. Its first Royal Princess (later re­branded as Artemis) was launched in 1984 by Diana, Princess of Wales. Con­fus­ingly, a sec­ond Royal Princess, which was added in 2007, is now known as Ado­nia.

This 2013 fac­tory-fresh ship, shiny and fab­u­lous, is de­scribed as ‘‘new gen­er­a­tion’’, which is in­stantly ap­par­ent up on the bridge where Cap­tain Draper com­mands what could be the Star­ship En­ter­prise given the plethora of elec­tronic giz­mos and ab­sence of nau­ti­cal charts (there is a lone piece of pa­per pinned in a glass cabi­net and shelves empty of books or binders). The pres­ence of two sea­men in nau­ti­cal blue shirts, their binoc­u­lars trained to the hori­zon, seems a re­as­sur­ing con­nec­tion with mar­itime tra­di­tion. They are ‘‘look-outs’’ do­ing four-hour stints and on watch for any­thing the ship’s so­phis­ti­cated radar sys­tem might not de­tect.

The in­te­rior de­sign­ers of most new ships seem to subscribe to the Bling Cy­cle school of over-em­bel­lish­ment and while Royal Princess has its quota of swirly car­pets, chan­de­liers, shim­mer­ing in­stal­la­tions that cas­cade like mer­maid tresses and (oc­ca­sion­ally un­for­tu­nate) mu­rals, the over­all look is sleek and stylish with some gen­uinely witty art­works, such as the framed black-and-white pho­to­graphs out­side the casino on Deck 6. There is an im­age of a so­cialite-slen­der woman wear­ing a colos­sal lamp­shade (my cap­tion: ‘‘Does my head look big in this?’’) and a bow-tied and bowler-hat­ted chap with binoc­u­lars who ap­pears ready for a jolly spot of rac­ing at Royal As­cot.

One thou­sand pho­tos taken by pre­vi­ous Princess Cruises pas­sen­gers, all beau­ti­fully framed, hang along state­room cor­ri­dors and I am de­lighted to dis­cover one by a T&I reader of Bris­bane’s Gate­way Bridge. It’s a lovely con­nec­tion and the im­ages, cho­sen from many thou­sands of sub­mis­sions, are all su­perb.

The buzz on board cen­tres around the Pi­azza at the cen­tre of the triple-storeyed Atrium with glit­tery stair­cases, soar­ing col­umns and curves. The Atrium is ap­par-

Clock­wise from above, the SeaWalk; ready to launch; Sa­ba­tini’s; the Atrium over­look­ing the Pi­azza; the bright and breezy SeaV­iew Bar; smil­ing ser­vice at the In­ter­na­tional Cafe.

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