Queen Victoria Entertainment
Here Queen Victoria excels. The Royal Court Theatre and the Queens Room are the principal venues for entertainment onboard. The three-deck-high Royal Court Theatre forward is done up in traditional, elegant style, using lots of red velvet. It features 10 private boxes, a first on a cruise ship, which can be booked at $50 per couple for shows. The cost includes finger sandwiches and Champagne prior to the show and more bubbly in the box. For other events, they are open on first-in, first-served basis (and no extras are offered).
The shows range from a tribute to Celtic music and dance to Victoriana, which loosely traces the long reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) in a light fashion. I admired the spirit, energy and talent of the young performers. Royal Court is also the venue for concerts and lectures -- in April 2008, the young British soprano Annette Wardell -- who's performed at Glyndebourne and at the royal palaces of Kensignton and Buckingham -- sang here for an enthusiastic, full house.
The Queens Room on Deck 2 with a mezzanine on the starboard side on Deck 3 must be one of the most beautiful public rooms on any ship. With a design inspired by the ballroom at Osborne House, Queen Victoria's Italianate villa on the Isle of Wight, it is the setting for balls, cocktail receptions, concerts, afternoon tea and classes of fencing, favourite sport of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. Its huge chandeliers and elegant columns give the space enormous dignity and grace that is reminiscent of great liners of the past. A string quartet also occasionally plays in the Grand Lobby. The Queens Room also features dance classes in the daytime that are very popular and in the evenings, gentleman hosts will lead single ladies to the floor to dance to the tunes of the ship's orchestra.
The Veuve Cliquot Champagne Bar, Cafe Carinthia and the Chart Room Bar that follow each other on the starboard side of Deck 2 are all done in warm, yellow and brown colours. The champagne bar serves strawberries with your glass of bubbly, while a cinnamon Danish with mid-morning coffee comes with a small bowl of raspberries and blackberries. The Chart Room Bar features comfy seats with cushions in true British style, while the trumpet light fixtures are copies of ones that graced the First Class cocktail bar on the first Queen Mary (1936).
A casino with a bar is located just aft of the theatre. Americans will find it small while for Brits it's likely to be just big enough.
On the upper decks, the Commodore Club observation lounge forward on Deck 10 has wall-to-ceiling windows on three sides. The windows, however, are in the form of a V that lies on its side with the edge pointing forward, which means that at strong headwinds a howl of wind accompanies the tunes of the band. The furnishing is traditional with Chesterfield-style leather seats. Next door, Churchill's Cigar Lounge is a small, clubby room for a drink and a smoke with friends.
Hemispheres, the ship's circular night club on Deck 10, is a pleasant room in itself, but does not seem to get very busy. It's best for night owls who want a place to go once the ballroom dancing is finished in the Queens Room. It holds enrichment lectures during daytime hours.
Passengers in the Grills accommodations have a lounge reserved for their sole use that's adjacent to the Queens and Princess Grill restaurants on Deck 11.
An enrichment programme called Cunard Insights features lectures on various topics. These can include ones as varied as Baroque architecture in Portugal and life as a crewmember of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution on the coasts of Britain. The lectures are later made available on your cabin's television. The Cunard Book Club enables passengers to have literary discussions led by the ship's librarian, and on select voyages, members of the Royal Astronomical Society come onboard to teach about the constellations and space and lead star-gazing nights.
Queen Victoria also offers an extensive computer learning program in its Apple Learning Centre. Apple iStudy courses, taught on iMac computers, cover topics such as basic computer skills on Macs and PCs, photo editing, movie making, and using new technology such as Facebook and iPads.
Queen Victoria Public Rooms
The principal public rooms are located on Decks 2 and 3. A library with some 6,000 volumes on the port side of Decks 2 and 3 is highlighted by an elegant spiral staircase and comfortable seating. It features titles in French, Spanish and German in addition to English. The book selection, while of course not on a par with the much larger Queen Mary 2, is excellent, with plenty of new titles along with standard favourites. Adjacent to the library on Deck 3 is the card room.
Featuring four large street lantern-style light fixtures and a clock that chimes to the tune of the Big Ben in London (the chime runs seven minutes late), the Royal Arcade is the shopping heart of the ship. It provides the traditional offerings like clothing and accessories, but there's also an art gallery, where works coming up for auction can be inspected. A jewellery shop sells, among other things, copies of works by Faberge & Cie, jewellers to the Imperial Russian Court. An Easter egg can set you back $20,000. Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Russian tsarina and wife of Nicholas II, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Cunardia, an interactive museum, tells the story of Cunard Line since it was created as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in 1840 by Samuel Cunard. Touch-screen programmes feature stories about Cunard's links with British royalty, as well as the wartime efforts of the company, e.g. the Cunard Yanks and young Brits who served on Cunard ships after World War II.
Off the Grand Lobby on Deck 1 is the purser's office and the tour office, as well as the ship's Internet Centre.
Self-service launderettes can be found on passenger Decks 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
Queen Victoria Spa & Fitness
The Cunard Royal Spa is located forward on Deck 9. Facing forward is a gym that may not be the largest on the high seas, but still offers a good range of equipment both for cardiovascular and resistance training. It has staff that runs classes such as pilates, indoor cycling or salsa aerobics for a fee.
The treatment rooms are all on the port side and feature a shower and a window. Operated by Steiner Leisure, the spa offers a good range of treatments, provided by a friendly and professional staff in a pleasant atmosphere.
Adjacent to the spa reception area is a thermal suite with four different kinds of steam rooms, plus beds with heated ceramic tiles. A thermal pool without water jets is nearby. A day pass to the thermal suite and hydro pool costs between $35 and $300 for one- to 20-day passes.
The ship has two swimming pools, the Pavilion Pool amidships and the Lido pool aft, both on Deck 9. While the latter is of normal depth, the Pavilion pool is only some 4 feet deep on the shallow end and a foot or so more in the deep end. There are two Jacuzzis adjacent to each pool. Towels are provided at each sunbed. On nice days the sun deck was unpleasantly cluttered and crowded.
The Winter Garden, located amidship and adjacent to a pool area, is the place for table tennis. The room has cushioned, wicker-style furniture and art auctions are held here. It also features a bar that serves fresh-squeezed drinks, smoothies and coffee along with traditional cocktails (although on my visit the coffee machine broke first followed by the fruit squeezer). A sliding glass roof was never opened on a 10-night Atlantic Islands cruise in April, and while doors open to the pool area forward, wind conditions mean that only those on the starboard side are kept open. The wind still reaches the forward part of the lido further aft.
Passengers in the Grills accommodation can enjoy the privilege of their own sun deck, which delivers them from the plight of trying to find a place on the pool decks below. The Courtyard is an elegant outdoor space that has a water feature and lanterns. It too is a Grill-only option and offers al fresco dining during good weather.
The outer decks are a weak point of Queen Victoria, and this hurts those with a sporty lifestyle. The promenade deck (Deck 3) does not run around the vessel as the forward part is marked crew only. The best you can do is a U-shaped walk. There is no jogging track at all. A jogging track and a wrap-around promenade deck would warrant a half point rise in the rating of these facilities.
On a positive note, those who like the fresh sea air, but can do with a little bit less exercise will find the reclining seats on the promenade deck very pleasant -- and even more so thanks to the fact that each one has a warm steamer blanket placed on it. A chilly wind is no threat to the idea of a snooze in the fresh sea air!
For the sports enthusiast, the ship does provide you with outdoor games on Deck 11, such as shuffle board and paddle tennis. You can practise your golf as well. And as Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, loved fencing, the ship offers classes in this noble sport, held in the Queens Room. It's the first time that fencing has been featured on a modern cruise liner.