"I name this ship Queen Victoria. May God bless her and all who sail in her," declared Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, in time-honored manner, before the backup jeroboam of Veuve Cliquot champagne (first bottle refused to break) smashed against the spotlit starboard side of Queen Victoria's sleek black bow. The ship's horns blew in celebration, fireworks illuminated the night, and the 2,000 invited guests, including Camilla's husband Prince Charles, broke into a triple chorus of "Hip, hip, hurrah!"
We are not "cruisey"
So begins the charmed life of the 90,000-ton, 2,014-passenger Queen Victoria, a vessel that is Italian-built, American-owned and sailing under the British flag. It's no surprise that a ship with such an international pedigree is designed to take its guests around the world in a grand style that is neither glitzy nor "cruisey" by today's standards. In fact, Cunard presents itself as the anti-cruise line. "We offer voyages not cruises and ocean liners not cruise ships," says Cunard's president Carol Marlow.
Class sister act
Queen Victoria is a classic Cunard ocean liner, sporting the line's distinctive black-and-red livery, red smokestack and elongated hull, which is specially reinforced for ocean crossings. It is the second-largest Cunard ship ever built, and her launching last week, in December 2007, marked the first time that three Cunard Queens have been in service together in the company's 168-year history. Queen Victoria joins the world's grandest ocean liner, Queen Mary 2 (QM2) and the world's most famous liner, Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2).
Tradition with a modern twist
The ship is named for the queen who reigned from 1837 to 1901. Victoria was England's first "modern" monarch: first to have a telephone, first to ride a train, and first to be photographed. As Britain's longest-reigning royal, she led her country through the Industrial Revolution and into a peaceful constitutional monarchy. In keeping with the monarch's forward-looking approach, Cunard chose to go in a modern direction with the namesake ship, showcasing the works of accomplished contemporary British artists in many of the public areas. Guests can take an 80-minute self-guided tour of the $2 million art collection by borrowing one of the ship's Apple iPod Touch media players.
Queen Victoria is setting a number of other firsts for Cunard Line, too. These include the first West End-style private viewing boxes at sea in the Royal Court Theatre; the first floating "Cunardia" museum display, housing Cunard artifacts and memorabilia; a two-story, spiral-staircased, 6,000-book library with two full-time librarians; and fencing classes that will allow guests to touché with champion instructors.
There are the usual cruise trappings on board too, of course, including a casino, a shopping arcade (with a Harrods shop), an Internet center, a dedicated children's area, pools, a jogging track and a beautifully appointed 13,000-square-foot spa-and-fitness center that features a glass-enclosed exercise area with ocean views. The spa offers a comprehensive health and wellness program with a large hydrotherapy pool and thermal suite.
There are some posh perks for passengers on the Queen Victoria. For example, guests in the largest suites (the Queens Grill category) will have their own private sun deck, as well as butler and concierge service. The largest of these suites, the Queens Grill Grand Suites, which average about 2,000 square feet, have marble baths and stocked refrigerators.
As on all Cunard ships, you are where you eat, meaning your cabin category determines your dining room. Cunard has operated a three-tier system for years, and Marlow says there is no shortage of passengers willing to pay top dollar for big suites and the privilege of eating in the swank Queens Grill, where, in consultation with the staff, they can order just about anything they want. Guests in the junior suites dine in the Princess Grill. The rest of the passengers dine in the main restaurant, Britannia, which isn't too shabby, either (it boasts two grand, curved staircases for those who wish to make an entrance).
For breakfast, lunch and dinner, all guests can enjoy the Lido Café, a casual, bright and airy buffet eatery reminiscent of the café on the iconic QE2. Guests who want the touch of a celebrity chef can dine in the intimate Todd English restaurant, where for $30 anyone can indulge in a dinner of Maine crab cake in a sweet-and-sour tomato sauce or other fine cuisine.
Guests can enjoy cocktails in one of the ship's dozen bars and lounges; the favorite seems to be the Commodore Club, on Deck 10, which features sweeping views over the ship's bow. Tea in the indoor/outdoor Winter Garden is a traditional treat, right down to the white-gloved butlers, gleaming silver and lovely scones.
The three-tiered Royal Court Theatre will house theatrical productions with a British flair that are typically historical and thought-provoking. For a $50 fee, guests can reserve a seat in one of the 16 private boxes, drink champagne during the performance, and meet the cast backstage afterward.
Queen Victoria will certainly be a well-traveled liner. Her first voyage offers a 99-day around-the-world program. Other inaugural-year itineraries including Mediterranean sailings from Rome, Barcelona, Venice, Athens and Southampton, as well as voyages to the Baltic. The Baltic cruises are much anticipated, as Cunard has not offered sailings to this part of the world in four years.
Queen Victoria is a marvelous ship best suited to upscale, well-traveled guests who want a sophisticated travel experience and all the white-gloved service and luxury that goes with it.
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