A new Queen is touring the world today.
It is the Queen Victoria, latest in the Cunard Line's distinguished series of ships named after British monarchs. And like its four predecessors -- the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary 2 -- the new Queen brings a regal tone to the world of cruising.
Rich woods, muted colors, marble floors in some areas and tasteful furnishings lend an aura of understated elegance to the ship. Service is quiet and efficient, in keeping with British tradition, and the ship has the same two-tier ''Grill'' stateroom/dining system as the other two current Queens.
But the QV is no clone.
Though it can take about 250 more passengers than the QE2, the 2,014-passenger QV is substantially smaller than the massive 150,000-ton, 2,620-passenger QM2, which entered service in 2004 as what was then the largest passenger ship afloat. That can work both to advantage and disadvantage.
''It's more intimate, more accessible than the QM2,'' said passenger Jerry Levine of Chappaqua, N.Y., one of many passengers on the current world cruise who have sailed on the earlier Queens.
That's the same impression I have after sailing on the ship for six nights. It's a comfortable ship, easy to get around, and while some public rooms are not as large as those on the QM2, they exude much the same aura of elegance and lineage as the earlier Queens.
Both the QV and QM2, for instance, have a Chart Room, a popular centrally located cocktail lounge, and a Commodore Club, an 180-degree observation lounge overlooking the bow. Both also have a Golden Lion, a lively English pub where passengers can get a traditional pub lunch and sing karaoke at night. And all three current Queens have a Queens Room, a two-deck-high space used for dance lessons, afternoon tea, bingo and other functions in daytime and for ballroom dancing at night.
All the Queens feature distinctive private dining rooms, Queens Grill and Princess Grill, reserved for passengers in the more expensive staterooms. On the QV, these dining rooms have new twists: an exclusive courtyard for al fresco dining and an exclusive Upper Terrace. Both Grills are faced with glass walls and cantilevered over the side of the ship. Access is by private elevator.
The QV's 830-seat Royal Court Theater is also a departure -- a stunning space bordered by private loges, the first such features offered aboard any ship. Seating in the loges is first-come, first-served during the day, but costs $50 per couple for evening productions. That charge includes dessert, coffee and champagne.
Another new feature on board cements the QV's ties to Cunard tradition. Cunard memorabilia is displayed both in a Cunardia Museum, a first for the line, and in the Cunardia Gallery. Among displays is a replica of the Hales Trophy, awarded to the holder of the famous Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic ship crossing. Interactive monitors let passengers learn more about Cunard, and poster-sized photographs show early ports of call and other historic scenes. One of them shows bayside Miami in the 1930s with the Goodyear blimp hovering overhead.
A TIGHT FIT
Though passengers seemed happy with the Queen Victoria, the chief topic of conversation aboard concerned storage space in staterooms. As one passenger put it, the Queen has no drawers.
That's not quite accurate, but pretty close. The most numerous stateroom type, a balcony cabin, has only two usable drawers, one each at the bottom of the two small night tables. In the center closet are four shelves, but one is occupied by the safe, the other by for extra pillows. Two other large shelves in the closets are used for storing life jackets.