February 3, 2008

Cruise ship review | Cunard's Queen Victoria

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.

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.


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.

That's hardly enough storage for a weekend cruise, much less the 105-night world cruise the ship is now embarked upon, even if you stow pillows and life jackets under the beds.

''Women need more room on a world cruise because of formals. There's no casual dress code [on the QV]. There's a disconnect here,'' said William Gladstone, a passenger from Boston.

Another passenger, Bernard Fowler from Bath, England, complained that power outlets were awkwardly placed, making it difficult to connect chargers for electronic devices.

Some passengers, though, were taking it in stride. Judy Duvall, from Hawaii, said the drawer issue didn't worry her. ``We're going to buy plastic boxes at Wal-Mart when we get to Los Angeles.''

Help is on the way also from the cruise line. Cunard spokesperson Jackie Chase said the line plans to add more drawers in the night tables. (While they're at it, I'd suggest they add a soap dish and shelves on each side of the small sinks in the small bathrooms -- another topic of passenger heat.)

On the plus side, stateroom balconies are deeper than most on similar cabins on other ships.


Aside from the drawer brouhaha, most passengers on this sold-out world cruise seemed to be enjoying themselves. They listened intently to such lecturers as Bill Miller, who has written 65 books on cruising, and to forensic expert Jerry Labriola, M.D., as he discussed evidence in the O.J. Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey and other murder cases. Watercolor classes, dance lessons, flower arranging seminars, the computer center, shuffleboard and paddle tennis were all hits. So many played duplicate bridge that an extra room was required for every session.

Nightly Royal Court Theater shows tended to focus on single performers, among them singers Petrina Johnson and Earl Turner. (Both got standing ovations.) Live orchestras played every night in the Queens Room, whose floor was always crowded with ballroom dancers. Live bands and DJs made the scene in Hemispheres, the late-night venue. Solo pianists played in lounges and a talented string quartet performed in the Grand Lobby and for afternoon tea.

For quiet days at sea, passengers retreated to the library, which has 6,000 books and a unique spiral staircase connecting its two levels.


We dined in the main dining room, the two-deck Brittania, where the food and presentation fit the upscale tone of the ship. My wife particularly enjoyed the lamb and venison, and the chocoholics at our table scored well at dessert time.

One evening we decided to skip the more formal dining room meals and enjoyed a casual (and happily not drawn-out) buffet dinner in the Lido restaurant, where one can get a minute steak, lamb or pork chop cooked to order. And on another day, we had a bangers-and-mash lunch washed down with beer in the Golden Lion pub and felt very British. As one should on a British ship.

But the best dining without question was in the Todd English alternative restaurant, where waiters hovered over the table and my two-inch-high tenderloin came to me cooked perfectly as ordered -- the mark of an expert kitchen. To top it off, my wife declared that her creme brulee was the best she'd ever had. Reservations are required at Todd English, where a charge of $20 per person is made for lunch and $30 for dinner.

After her current world cruise, the QV will make a variety of European cruises, mostly in the Mediterranean.

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