It was a mild March day in Marghera, near Venice, as we headed toward Fincantieri's shipyard, where Cunard's Queen Victoria was being built. In town for the launch of Carnival Freedom, the chance to visit this already-storied step sister of Queen Mary 2, about nine months from completion, was too tempting to pass up.
Like most shipyard visits, looking at a vessel in the bare bones stage -- lots of steel, scaffolding and open spaces that don't resemble anything remotely cruise ship-like -- requires a bit of an imagination. On the other hand, Cunard and Fincantieri had posted nifty easels with renderings of the spaces we visited to help us conjure an image.
The 90,000-ton, 2,014-passenger Queen Victoria is the first Cunard liner to be built by the Italians. Construction began in May 2006 and the $522 million ship debuts in December with a sold-out maiden voyage that will take passengers to the Christmas Markets of Northern Europe.
Want to see what Queen Victoria is like -- right now? Read on.
It's important to note, right off the bat, that while Queen Victoria will feature a number of public spaces found on Queen Mary 2 and even on Queen Elizabeth 2, this ship is distinctive in its own right. One area that's especially so -- or it will be -- is the pool deck. The main pool will be located in the center of the ship. (Queen Mary 2's main pool, for instance, is located aft -- in a very windy spot when the ship is at sea.) So this more protected area bodes well.
|On Queen Mary 2, one of the few disappointments is its Winter Garden, which is located amidships and on a middle deck with fake flowers and low ceilings that fail to communicate the delight of a real winter garden. Fortunately, while you can't really see Queen Victoria's winter garden at this point, the rendering we saw promises a whole different ambience. This one's located on a top deck and features a retractable glass ceiling that can open during seasonable temperatures. It will be used primarily for afternoon tea.|
The ship will have a total of 1,007 staterooms in three categories, beginning with Britannia, moving up to Princess and then culminating with Queen's Grill. All non suites aboard Queen Victoria are prefabricated at an offsite facility and then hoisted up onto the deck and slotted in place. The suites are being constructed onboard.
|One of the biggest new innovations on Queen Mary 2, Boston-based uber chef Todd English will reprise his restaurant here. On this ship it will be located off the lobby.|
See the finished version on Queen Mary 2? Well, it looked like the above once, too.
|Rai Calouri, a longtime Princess executive who also overseas Cunard, shows us the Hemispheres Lounge. This new-to-Cunard themed room will serve as its nightclub and disco. Fun fact about Calouri: did you know he started in the cruise industry as an entertainer? Check out our Q&A with Ray|
There sure does seem to be a lot of space for treatment rooms, treadmills and the like, when you're in this cavernous area; note the floor to ceiling windows that will offer a great ambience at sea or in port ... The facility will have a thermal suite, sauna and steam, and its beauty salon will feature among others an English barber who knows how to do proper straight razor shaves.
Notice the ship just outside the windows? That's Carnival Freedom, preparing for its inaugural sailing.
|On this deck, floor-to-ceiling windows tell us these are balcony cabins; as mentioned, they'll be trucked in from elsewhere and slipped into place. Then the actual balcony structure will be constructed.|
This is the main dining room for the large majority of passengers -- on Queen Mary 2 it's one of the most gorgeous rooms aboard. One of the challenges for Queen Mary was in the design of this massive dining room (on Queen Mary 2, it seats 1,349 in two evening seatings); logistically though, serving stations were too spread out and some tables were too far from the kitchen. As a result food arrived late and/or cold. Though Queen Victoria's Brittania isn't as large, its designers also have the hindsight-is-2020 benefit. Right now there's not much to see except an unidentified pile of huge metal pipes piled in a corner.
Aside from clambering over cords and wires and up construction gangways (it's impossible at this point to really get a feel for Queen Victoria), the renderings posted at the entrance to each room -- while not distributed to anyone yet -- actually did create some of the Cunard excitement.
A couple of interesting notes for which there are no photos to show: Did you know that this ship will have its own dedicated museum? Cunardia will house memorabilia not only collected from the line's historians, but also from passengers donations. In the Royal Court Theater, one new feature is the addition of 16 royal boxes. Passengers can reserve these for a show -- they seat two - four -- at a price to be determined. Perks, beyond not having to rub shoulders with the hoi polloi, include an escort after dinner to a special lounge for dessert and coffee and then to the box, where champagne and chocolate will be provided.
The shopping arcade will span two decks on Queen Victoria (Queen Mary 2 only has one).
--by Fran Golden. Boston-based Golden, whose contributions to Cruise Critic include features, ship reviews and destination-oriented port profiles, is also co-author of Frommer's Alaska Cruises & Ports of Call.