The Queen Mary 2 cruise ship is seen near a fireworks display January 13, 2011 in New York City.
The Queen Mary 2 cruise ship is seen near a fireworks display January 13, 2011 in New York City.

Since its founding in 1840, Britain?s Cunard Line has brought millions of passengers to the United States.  Thursday evening, it took 6,000 of them away. The occasion was a rare rendezvous of the line?s three premier ocean liners.

With the lights of New York City sparkling in the background, three queens - cities in their own right - The Queen Mary 2, The Queen Victoria and The Queen Elizabeth rendezvoused on the Hudson River.

It was only the second time in more than 170 years of Cunard history that the entire fleet was in New York at the same time.  

The ships left port under police escort, and a ceremonial spray by a New York City fire boat.

Some New Yorkers watched the spectacle from chartered boats.  

They include Alan Moore, a shipping history buff. The Queen Mary, he notes, is the largest of the three vessels.

"The design of the ship, the bow, made for speed, made for doing the trans-Atlantic with the waves and everything else.  She?s quite different from the other two.  Especially the Victoria, made for quieter waters, if you will, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean," he said.

Matthew Baker, a shipping aficionado and New York tour guide, says Cunard and the city have a historic relationship.

"When Cunard started out, they were a postal ship; a mail ship, between Liverpool and New York.  That?s one of the reasons New York is such a special harbor for them, because New York City and the Cunard Line grew together in the early 19th century," he said.

The Queens? rendezvous was marked by 20 minutes of fireworks from two locations, with the Statue of Liberty serving as a backdrop to one of them.

The ships then sailed to open sea under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, taking an average of 2,000 passengers each to separate destinations.