The biggest surprise about Cunard's Queen Victoria is that it's not merely a slimmed-down version of Queen Mary 2, the already-iconic mega-ship that Cunard debuted in 2003. Queen Victoria very much has -- even while still in its construction phase -- a spirit and personality of its own.
And sure, size has something to do with that. At 90,000 tons and carrying 2,000 passengers, Queen Victoria is a third smaller than Queen Mary 2. It's just not possible to include all the features -- expansive or otherwise -- of Queen Mary 2 on this next-generation Cunard vessel.
Editor's Note: Cunard President Carol Marlow told us that the new Queen Elizabeth (the ship, incidentally, is named after the first queen, not the present one) will be a sister ship of Victoria and so will be more similar than different.
The other big difference is that while Queen Mary 2 is primarily an ocean liner that, despite some efforts at sailing cruise-type trips, was actually designed and built to slice through seas, Queen Victoria is more of a hybrid. Cunard is calling the ship an ocean liner, and certain statistics support that. (The ship is longer and narrower than the typical cruise vessel, which enables it to travel more smoothly through tumultuous waters.) But it feels a bit more like a cruise ship in some ways, than a liner.
With just six weeks left to go (as opposed to our shipyard visit in March when Queen Victoria wasn't terribly recognizable), the best part of the visit was that you could really see the rooms taking shape and assuming personalities. Before we launch into our photo essay, here are a few observations:
Queen Victoria is, overall, a cozier, more intimate ship. While of course size is a factor in that, public rooms in particular feel more intimate. The Golden Lion Pub, a trademark Cunard favorite, actually has a bigger space -- but special details, including doors that close it off from the hustle and bustle of corridors and casino just outside, give it more of a High Street feel. The Commodore Club also feels more private. And even on a grand scale, the Lobby is elegant and yet cozy.
Fans of Queen Mary 2 will recognize some familiar places at least in concept, such as the aforementioned Golden Lion and Commodore Club, the Queens Lounge, the Royal Court Theater, the Winter Garden, Todd English's alternative restaurant, and an elegant, two-story library.
What's New? Princess and Queen's Grill diners not only have an exclusive outdoor terrace area for dining and cocktails, they also have only-Grill access to an upper deck above the pool -- complete with fancy loungers, big, thirsty beach towels and bar service. In the Royal Court Theater -- on its second deck -- there are private boxes for two. Couples pay $50 to watch the shows from there (fee also includes treats like chocolate and champagne); the hoi polloi can still enjoy productions from the orchestra rows below at no extra charge. And absolutely don't bypass Cunardia, the ship's museum space....
Cruise ship vs. ocean liner? Public spaces on Decks 2 and 3 definitely have the expansive, high-ceilinged, grand Queen Mary 2 ambience. Where the ship feels more like a cruise vessel is in places like the lido buffet. On Queen Victoria, the buffet is located in the usual cruise ship spot -- between pool area and aft -- rather than, as on Queen Mary 2, stretching along the ship on a middle deck. The spa, which on Queen Victoria will not be operated by Canyon Ranch, is pretty much same-old in terms of layout and design. (You'll particularly see similarities to spas in Holland America's Vista-class ships.)
Captain Paul Wright will usher Queen Victoria into its maiden season. Robert Howie is the hotel director and Alastair Greener is the entertainment director. All are already on hand to prepare the ship for its maiden voyage -- and beyond.