The traffic chaos in Southampton may have delayed many cruise ship passengers yesterday - but that didn't dampen spirits as fireworks lit up the city sky last night.

Once on board the passengers, who had flown in from around the world to embark the two Cunard vessels, soon forgot the jams and even the torrential rain and low cloud did not dampen the excitement as the ships made last-minute preparations for their three-month voyages around the globe.

Thousands of people lined the decks of QM2, the Cunard flagship, and Queen Elizabeth to watch a spectacular firework display which lit up the night sky over the port.

Starbursts exploded and brightly coloured glittering cascades filled the darkness as QM2 eased herself away from the Ocean Terminal to be followed by Queen Elizabeth berthed at the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal.

There was also a stirring military send-off as the band of the Welsh Guards performed on the dockside watched by throngs of passengers.

QM2, which this year celebrates her tenth anniversary of entering service in January, 2004, set a southerly course en route to Cape Town, South Africa, and then on to the other side of the world to return to Southampton early in May.

Queen Elizabeth turned to starboard as she entered the Solent to pass the Needles before heading down the Channel for the Atlantic and a crossing to New York.

Both vessels, together with Queen Victoria, Cunard’s third ship, will all arrive back in Southampton on May 9 after the three vessels rendezvous at Lisbon, Portugal.