NOW THAT THE HOOPLA SURROUNDING QUEEN VICTORIA'S CHRISTENING IN SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND, IS OVER, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty: What can travel agents tell their clients to expect when they step onboard?
When I went to Southampton to partake in the naming revelry, I made a detailed survey of the ship, and can report frankly that I enjoyed my experience on it more than I did on its sister ship, Queen Mary 2. The main difference is size: Queen Victoria is 90,000 tons; Queen Mary 2 measures in at more than 150,000 tons. Obviously, this time Cunard took the approach that less is more, and I applaud them.
Continuity reigns supreme on Victoria, and all the rooms and spaces are easily accessible. (If you have the misfortune of forgetting something you need in your stateroom on Queen Mary 2, best to forget about it or call it a night—it's such a long walk back.)
So, with a little "Help!" from the Beatles (Cunard having a British heritage and all), here's what your clients can expect.
Here, There and Everywhere
Every Cunard ship is famous for its Grand Lobby, and Queen Victoria is no exception. The sweeping staircase's centerpiece is a sprawling marquetry, designed by Scottish sculptor John McKenna, that depicts a globe, sky, continents and sea in varying shades of wood, set against a portrait of the ship. The lobby area conveys a return to the bygone golden age of cruising, reminiscent of past ships such as the storied and tragic Titanic.
However, the spot on the ship most likely to elicit a "wow" has to be the 800-seat Royal Court Theatre. I defy anyone to say they don't feel transported to London's West End once inside. Private boxes hug the sides of the theater and have a dedicated lounge section.
Another eye-catcher on Victoria is the two-deck library, anchored in the middle by a dark-wood spiral staircase. The library features rich wood paneling, stained glass, leather furniture and, of course, books—nearly 6,000 in all.
After a show, many guests converge on deck 2 and its row of drinking and entertainment venues. In total, Queen Victoria boasts 13 bars and clubs, and if you want a taste of real English tradition, sidle up to the bar at the Golden Lion, the ship's traditional English pub, where you can enjoy a pint of Guinness with a basket of fish and chips. For a more refined experience, check out the Champagne Bar or the nautically themed Chart Room.
The Queen's Room is the perfect space to squire a lady friend for an evening of dancing on the 1,000-square-foot ballroom floor. The bilevel room is also used for afternoon tea.
Dining is where Cunard sets itself apart from other cruise lines—not only with the food, but to whom and where it is served. The caste system is alive and well on Cunard, meaning the restaurant where guests eat is tied to which accommodations they've purchased.
Passengers staying in Queens, Grand, Master and Penthouse Suites dine in the Queens Grill (billed as the top restaurant); those in Princess Suites go to the Princess Grill; and all other passengers eat in the Britannia dining room. One great feature the Queens and Princess Grills provide is alfresco dining: Each restaurant is connected to a courtyard terrace, an exclusive patio area where passengers can dine under the stars.
Cunard does food and wine expertly at every level, though I will say the food I had in the Britannia was on par with my dinner at the Queens Grill; the real discernible difference is a higher level of attentiveness and service in the Queens Grill.
Just as on Queen Mary 2, there is a Todd English restaurant aboard Victoria, which carries a dining supplement of $20 for lunch, $30 for dinner.
A Hard Day's Night
After a long day on land or by the pool, guests probably look forward to retiring to their staterooms. I'm not disparaging the Britannia-class balcony room I stayed in on Queen Victoria—it was perfectly suitable and comfortable—but the color scheme was, well, staid. (Unless you are partial to beige...everywhere.) The balconies are oversized, which is always a nice touch, and there is plenty of closet space for even the fussiest packer.
I do have one point of contention: If you bill yourself as a luxury ship, which Cunard does, I think the bathrooms should be a bit more lavish than they are. The basic shower stall in my bathroom seemed too similar to those on Carnival (a line owned by the same parent company as Cunard). Two thumbs-up, though, on the Gilchrist & Soames toiletries.
For the big spenders, there are four Grand Suites, which range in size from 1,918 square feet to 2,131 square feet; two Master Suites; 25 penthouses; 35 Queens Suites; and 61 Princess Suites. The rest of the rooms are balcony, oceanview or inside staterooms.
Here Comes the Sun
It's cold in much of the U.S. right now, but Queen Victoria is on the southern legs of a world cruise, which runs in its entirety from January 6 to April 22. Through February, the liner is sailing to Central America, Mexico, L.A., Hawaii, South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia.
Being in warmer waters allows for an array of outdoor activities. Lying out by the pool goes hand in hand with cruising, and on Queen Victoria there is ample space for that. One of the neater spaces is the Grand Conservatory, which sports a central fountain and a retractable glass roof, and opens up right to the main pool. The space is completed by rattan furniture and ceiling fans, giving off a colonial feel.
Let It Be
Or, in this case, don't disturb the merchandise. It's only right that a cruise line with a history like Cunard's should have one of the best collections of memorabilia at sea. Queen Victoria's onboard museum, Cunardia, delivers. Among its artifacts are a logbook from the original Queen Mary and its Zig Zag clock—a device that helped prevent World War II U-boat attacks against the ship. The space is a must-see for all passengers, and especially for those who are enthusiastic about history. Agent insider
Queen Victoria makes a fine third Queen, admirably carrying on Cunard's proud tradition. Only time will tell if it becomes as identified with Britain as the Fab Four, but it's off to a good start.
On January 13, all three Queens—QE2, QM2 and Queen Victoria—converged on New York Harbor, and onlookers were treated to a spectacle of fireworks marking the unprecedented event.
For more information or reservations, go to www.cunard.com or call 800-7-CUNARD.