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Queen Victoria's Maiden Voyage
About the Virtual Cruise
Queen Victoria's Maiden Voyage Now that the gala send-off has passed, Queen Victoria is sailing on its maiden voyage -- an intriguing December trip to Western and Northern Europe where "Christmas market" season is in full swing. Join us for our virtual coverage of the trip, as Cruise Critic Contributor Greg Straub, who also covered Queen Mary 2's inaugural for us, gives us day-by-day reports on the ship and the ports.

Straub's a stalwart Cunarder, having first boarded Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1969 when he paid 50 cents to the Seamen's Fund for the privilege of a tour of the then-new vessel. Since his first crossing aboard QE2 in 1977, Straub has sailed many times on Cunard ships including Cunard Adventurer, Vistafjord, Caronia and QM2.

Straub's trip will transport you -- virtually of course -- onboard Queen Victoria from Southampton to Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Oslo and Brugge. Stay tuned for his first missive on Friday, December 14.

Queen Victoria Central
Day 1: Embarkation and First Impressions
Day 2: We Can’t Help But Compare the Queens
Day 3: Overnighting In Copenhagen
Day 4: Copenhagen Redux
Day 5: Moving On to Oslo
Day 6: At Sea
Day 7: Hamburg
Day 8: Final Day at Sea/Zeebrugge
Related Links
Queen Victoria ship review
Queen Victoria Member reviews
Messages
Cunard Messages
Day 1: Friday, Embarkation and First Impressions
Embarkation and First ImpressionsWhen I booked the maiden voyage of Queen Victoria more than four years ago, I didn't know what the length of the voyage would be or the ports that would be visited. (I also didn't know how much it would cost.) Cunard chose to showcase its new ship with a Christmas markets cruise, visiting northern capitals before the holiday.

Christmas markets are a northern European tradition of street fair. Merchants set up temporary shops, selling prepared meats, cheeses, baked goods (particular to the holiday), decorations and small presents. These markets are generally erected in the shadow of a city's cathedral.

I'd never been on a Christmas markets cruise, and I was happy enough with that itinerary. I was not alone. I have met several other passengers who booked the voyage because it was the ship's first, not because of its itinerary. (I have also met a fellow passenger who put a deposit down on a cabin five years ago and forgot she had done so, until the invoice arrived for final payment.)

I encountered my first Christmas market before boarding Queen Victoria. Southampton's main shopping street, Above Bar, is a rather forlorn pedestrian promenade dividing two rows of uninspired, post-war shops. (Southampton, like other port cities, was heavily damaged in World War II. The port was rebuilt in a brutally drab, concrete style.) This year, Above Bar became the site of a German Christmas market. Stall keepers sold prepared meats (sausages and cured hams), baked goods, ceramic models of half-timbered houses and all manner of small gifts and ornaments. There was also a rather nice carousel. The stall-keepers didn't look particularly German, or English, truth to tell. Most of them looked, well, Asian, but that was all right because most of the goods came from, um, China.

Queen Victoria was easily viewed from Above Bar and the West Quay Shopping Centre. She made a handsome profile docked at the City Cruise Terminal. Unlike Queen Mary 2, she has a properly proportioned, single red funnel, very much like QE2's. Resemblance to either of her running mates ends there, however. Queen Victoria presents a typical contemporary cruise ship profile. She does not have the sweeping bows of QE2 or QM2. Her bow is stubby. She does not have terraced decks aft ending in a lovely rounded stern. Her superstructure runs aft, stops, then drops to the square stern. In short, she is a boxy ship. A friend e-mailed me bon voyage wishes and told me how handsome she thought Queen Victoria. She said, "She reminds me of my favorite Holland America ships." Well, yes, and so she does. She also resembles all the other Carnival family ships of late: lots of balcony cabins, none of which, unlike QM2, are in-hull. Except for the signature Cunard funnel and the iconic font lettering of "Cunard" and "Queen Victoria," this ship could be a ship of any other Carnival Corporation's fleets.

I left my hotel by taxi and delivered my bags at the pier before returning to do some High Street shopping (and visiting of the Christmas market) in Southampton. I returned to the pier around 1:30 p.m. and whisked through registration. I have sailed often enough with Cunard to merit its diamond level of past-passenger status, which entitles one to expedited check-in with passengers assigned to grill dining rooms. I was handed a specially colored embarkation card that enabled me to avoid having to sit in the waiting room while other colors were called. I was ushered straight to the gangway. So far, so good. There was a long queue for the inevitable sailaway photo, but those of us who sail often have all these we want, so we were ushered past the ship's photographer. And there we stopped. For 45 minutes, we inched our way up the gangway. Here were the line's most important passengers: those who had spent the most money for their cabins and those who had been most loyal to Cunard Line. The gangway zigzagged up to the promenade deck in a series of switch-backs, where the line continued to a door. Each passenger was photographed for security purposes, but what was the hold-up? I can only imagine we were waiting for stewards to return from escorting previous passengers to their cabins. New stewards were finding their own ways to unfamiliar places, and the process was taking longer than anticipated. We were queuing for an amenity, being shown to our cabins, when everyone in line would have been happy to have been onboard as quickly as possible. I hope the valuing of marketing pretension over passenger convenience and comfort ended with our embarkation.

Because the line took so long to move, I had ample time to survey the promenade deck. It is covered in some manufactured substance with lines drawn on it to simulate teak decking. It looks like linoleum, and this is not its only appearance on the ship. The ship's balconies are covered in the same substance, as are the upper, outside decks. Lovely teak deck chairs with bright blue Cunard cushions line the promenade. Rather good powdered-steel tables with nylon mesh chairs furnish the stateroom balconies. But they rest on linoleum! What gives?

Cunard had upgraded my cabin category from an inside to a balcony outside cabin. In previous reviews, I have remarked on how spacious my minimum-grade inside cabin had been. Now, I have a top-of-the-line (for Britannia Restaurant) balcony cabin, and roomy is not the word I would use to describe it. First, there are few drawers. There's a drawer over the refrigerator. (It holds the hair dryer.) There is a desk drawer. (It holds the ship's information book.) There is a small drawer in the bottom of each of two bedside tables. (One contains a Gideon Bible.) And that's it. Yes, there are a few shelves in the three closets. (One is occupied by the life vests; another, by the in-room safe.) That's all there is for a ship that is scheduled to make two world cruises. There is, however, ample hanging space with wooden hangers. And someone thought it would be a nice touch to put a tie rack on one of the closet doors -- it holds six ties, which may be indicative of the level of formality Cunard plans for the future.

As little storage as there is in the cabin, there is less in the bathroom. There is no medicine chest. There are two small trays below the mirror, but they are already filled with tooth glasses, toiletries, cotton swabs and so on.

As I have run into passengers I have met on previous sailings, the first thing we remark is, "Have you seen the drawers?"

Most of my fellow passengers are English. There is a sizable number of Americans, including a large contingent who booked with Pied Piper Travel, the New York agency that caters to gay travelers, along with a smattering of Germans and Japanese. I hope to discover what has drawn this group of passengers together.



Today, we put into Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I have not been here in many years, so it was good to walk around the city and remind myself of its layout. Rotterdam is not picture-postcard Holland, so forget about windmills and canals. Cruise Critic's Rotterdam port profile pretty much addresses this: "For the first-time visitor, it can be jarring to see steel and cement instead of canals and cobblestones. But what Rotterdam lacks in historic charm, it makes up for in cutting-edge architecture, world-class museums and sunny sidewalk terraces perfect for enjoying a Dutch beer or two. And the past isn't entirely forgotten; look closely enough and you'll unearth a few remnants of the city's history, like a 1920's statehouse, a 15th-century church and a 400-year-old statue of Erasmus -- a ghost from the past who seems to smile benevolently upon Rotterdam's bright future."

Part of the reason -- a major part -- for Rotterdam's lack of charm is that the city was heavily damaged in World War II and is a post-war, industrial port (the largest in Europe). While the city itself is not particularly interesting, nothing is too far by train: Edam with its cheeses; Delft with its pottery; The Hague, the lovely center of government (but ironically not the capital); and the cosmopolitan capital of Amsterdam.

If you feel like a low-key day, one of the most interesting buildings to survive the war is just a short walk from the pier. The Hotel New York, at one time the old headquarters of the Holland America Line, has since been remodeled. It has charm, and its cafe/bar, the former ticket hall, is a wonderful place to have a coffee or drink and a light meal. It overlooks the harbor and is a great place for people-watching. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of Rotterdam V, but she has not yet arrived (the retired ship, which was built in 1958 for Holland America Line, will become a floating hotel/conference center in Rotterdam). QE2 was in port with us, but she was docked some distance from the center of town in the container port. Queen Victoria, with her relatively shallow draft, docked at the city pier.

Is Queen Victoria a liner? Cunard assures us she has a strengthened bow, but her stubby bow and high superstructure do not suit her for inclement crossings of the North Atlantic, and she is not as powerful as either of her sister ships. When Queen Victoria and QE2 sail in tandem across the Atlantic next month, QE2 will slow herself down to her running mate's speed. With the wrong shape and inadequate propulsion, Queen Victoria is not an ocean liner.

Tomorrow, our first day at sea, we'll see what kind of cruise ship she is.

  Day 2: We Can’t Help But Compare the Queens

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