More than 7,000 people from all parts of the world will have had a chance over the weekend to tour the new Queen Victoria. The newly built 90,000-ton, 2,014-passenger ship, the third in Cunard's fleet, arrived in Southampton Friday.
While not as humongous as Cunard's Queen Mary 2, which when it debuted was the world's largest ever passenger ship, and not (at least yet) as storied as Queen Elizabeth 2 (which began sailing in 1969), Queen Victoria enjoys many distinctions over the industry’s usual "run of the mill" cruise ships.
Paramount among them is the fact that "Queen Victoria is an ocean liner, not a cruise ship," Carol Marlow, Cunard's president, told us yesterday. "She sails voyages instead of cruises."
Indeed, while the vessel was actually built using the same platform -- or design layout -- as Holland America's Vista class ships (such as Zuiderdam, Oosterdam, Westerdam and Noordam), there are numerous differences. Holland America, like Cunard, is a member of the Carnival Corporation family of cruise lines which means, of course, that the companies are cousins, and like other lines in the company -- such as Costa and Carnival -- share deck plans.
As such, it would be hard for any but the most dedicated Holland America cruise traveler to detect too many similarities. Ultimately, Queen Victoria feels entirely original, and in essence, it is. The changes made by Cunard designers started with the vessel's superstructure. According to a report in Cruise Business Review, an industry publication, "To give the ship more route flexibility through its ability to make liner-style journeys, the hull has been strengthened with more stiffeners and webs, while the draft was also increased."
As well, in the design stages, the ship was lengthened -- by 30 meters -- to make room for special, space-eating features like its gorgeous two-deck Queens Room ballroom and the two-deck Royal Arcade/casino area. In one of the more gorgeous innovations onboard, the Princess Grill and the Queens Grill, the restaurants for the high-fare paying passengers, were moved to a top deck spot. A huge improvement over the ambience of the grills on Queen Mary 2, their walls of windows flood the rooms with light.
So the ship is considered an ocean liner. But because of its size, Queen Victoria, unlike Queen Mary 2, is svelte enough to slip through the Panama Canal and so will focus on a regular schedule of voyages to all parts of the world. In contrast, Queen Mary 2, which can’t squeeze through the canal (at least until the canal is expanded about a decade from now), will continue to offer its regular schedule of Atlantic crossings, as well as a series of cruises to regions ranging from Europe's Mediterranean to the Caribbean.
After one night aboard, it's easy to get a feel for Queen Victoria. First impression: The interiors are gorgeous, sumptuous and luxurious with dark woods and soft, buttery colors (plenty of shades of gold and yellow and deep rich reds). Marlow summed up the onboard ambience of Queen Victoria as being "without the glitz but with the glamour."
And here they are, already, some of our favorite Cunard traditions -- some newer than others. The Golden Lion pub is better than ever; on this ship, dark wooden frames cover the standard cruise windows and immediately change the room’s feel. It’s just as big as the pub on Queen Mary 2 but subdivided into smaller rooms, which makes it more intimate. The library, while smaller than that on Queen Mary 2, is two decks; a graceful, curving staircase connects the levels.
The sunny Queens Room ballroom, where afternoon tea and evening waltzes will take place, is just beautiful with its two-deck high expanse. The Royal Arcade shops, alas, are nothing extra special, but the area itself is quite elegant. It’s designed to capture the feel of London's chic Burlington Arcade, and it’s anchored by a fantastic clock, which offers Westminster chimes on the hour and was built by Dent & Co., the company that made Big Ben. What distinguishes the lush, red velvet Red Court Theater from other cruise ship performance venues is its row of upper level private boxes; not limited to royalty, passengers will be able to book an evening here, which includes a pre-show (post-dinner) drink in a private bar, escort to your box, Veuve Cliquot Champagne and truffles, and a pull-cord to summon bell boys for any other desires.
These are just a few of the most notable differences -- and we'll offer a more complete rundown in our Queen Victoria sneak preview, which will launch later this week.
Today, more people, mostly travel professionals from the U.K., U.S. and Australia, will descend on the ship for a bit of a view. But the most anticipated visitors won’t arrive until later this afternoon. That’s when Their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall (perhaps you know them as Prince Charles and Camilla) will drop by for a visit. Cunard spokesman Michael Gallagher tells Cruise Critic that the couple will visit a handful of pre-selected spots onboard, such as the Queens Room, the two-deck library and the Commodore Club. As well, they'll tour the ship's bridge where, in an ode to nostalgia, Prince Charles and Camilla will blow the ship’s whistle (the Prince, actually the first passenger on Queen Elizabeth 2 on November 19, 1968, handled that delightful chore then).
All in all, they'll spend about two hours on the ship, meeting and greeting senior officers and those crewmembers with the longest tenures with Cunard.
The Prince and his bride are, of course, onboard because Camilla has been designated as the ship's godmother. Both will be participating in Queen Victoria's hour-long christening ceremony; it begins at 3:30 p.m. GMT.
Will the Prince and Camilla spend tonight on Queen Victoria or sail away on its maiden voyage, which departs tomorrow? No chance, Cunard's Gallagher tells us, but never say never. "Godmothers can travel on their ship whenever they want to," he says. "It's one of the perks. And I'm sure we wouldn't say no if we suddenly got a call from Clarence House."
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief