Previewing Cunard's New Queen Victoria: Part 1

With its newest ocean liner, Cunard breathes new life into passenger ship traditions.

Queen Victoria
Cunard's newest liner, Queen Victoria, is scheduled to be christened in Southampton, England, December 10 by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and wife of Prince Charles. The 90,000-ton vessel is the second-largest ship Cunard has ever built -- though it is significantly smaller than the 151,000-ton Queen Mary 2, the line's current flagship.

I was one of a group of journalists escorted by Carol Marlow, CEO of Cunard Line, to visit the nearly completed Queen Victoria in the Fincantieri Shipyards near Venice, Italy, on October 13.

Marlow strives to impart the vision of Cunard ships as ocean liners rather than cruise ships. "Cunard Line ships do not sail on cruises, Cunard liners sail on voyages," she said.

The claim is justifiable when you consider nearly 40 passenger vessels operating throughout Cunard's 170 years of service, the vast majority legitimately in the "ocean liner" category, even though the "golden age of ocean liners" ended several decades ago.

Video: Cunard CEO, Carol Marlow, Introduces Queen Victoria: Play Video

Modern Era Ocean Liners

Since the advent of jet travel has rendered trans-oceanic travel by ship virtually obsolete, why is Cunard intent on branding its ships as ocean liners rather than cruise ships? The company believes that crossing the world's oceans by ship is an essential element of human history. Naturally, Cunard is proud of the significant role it has played in this history, from the age of early emigration to the United States to the golden age of ocean liners. They note that close to one in five immigrants at Ellis Island can be traced to a Cunard ship.

Today, Cunard sees its ships as the epitome of the ocean liner experience, exemplified by the line's signature "White Star Service."

click on pictures below for larger images:

We approach Queen Victoria   Cranes lifting top pieces   The Name on the Hull
Cunard's Place in Liner History

The more you know about Cunard, the more you love MS Queen Victoria. As one of the oldest passenger ship companies still in existence, the line is as British as afternoon tea -- and that is the point. Queen Victoria retains design elements common to all the great Cunard liners, a family rich with maritime history and influence.

The ship also pays respect to the apogee of British tradition, the Victorian era. The reign of Queen Victoria began in 1837, the same year Cunard Line was created, and the Victorian Era coincided with the peak of the British Empire. She was a popular queen who spoke five languages. But this is the first time the company has named a ship after her.

According to popular lore, in 1930 the Cunard fleet commodore asked King George V if he had any objections to Cunard naming its newest liner after "the greatest queen who ever lived." In his roundabout manner, the commodore was referring to Queen Victoria, who had already passed away.

The king allegedly replied that his wife, Queen Mary, would be delighted to have a ship named after her. While Cunard candidly divulges this story is not true, it is true that Cunard decided to use the name Queen Mary instead of Queen Victoria. No one is sure why, but in 1933, Cunard merged with White Star Line, which had built Titanic, which probably had something to do with it. Her Majesty Queen Mary presided over the 1934 christening ceremony of her namesake vessel, uttering the only 28 words she ever spoke in public.

Aside from the one "mishap" with Titanic, in its day White Star Line was the pinnacle of good taste and fine service, as accurately portrayed in the James Cameron Academy award winning movie. Cunard still boasts proudly of "White Star Service" as its trademark of excellence.

By the 1950s Cunard had two sister ships, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, until 1969, when the airlines began to steal transatlantic passengers away from the liners. Both ships (at 88,000-tons apiece) were sold and replaced by a single new liner in 1969 --the smaller (68,000-tons) Queen Elizabeth 2. For decades it appeared QE2 might be the last ship to carry on the ocean liner tradition. Every ship that had been built as a true ocean liner -- most of them re-purposed into tropical cruisers -- was aging rapidly. One by one, during the last decade, each was scheduled to leave service.

But after Carnival Corporation took over Cunard Line in 1998, they stunned the cruise industry by announcing (in 2002) that Cunard would build the largest passenger vessel in the world -- and that it would be an ocean liner, specializing in trans-Atlantic crossings.

In retrospect, the timing could not have been better. The lives of the world's remaining liners were quickly coming to an end. The launch of Queen Mary 2 in 2004 extended the effective life of ocean liners possibly forever. In the process, Cunard created a new generation of liner enthusiasts who find the tradition and decorum attractive enough to keep it alive - reveling in the finery of the liners' golden age.

The new MS Queen Victoria is fully imbued with Cunard tradition and "White Star Service." Passengers will feel as much a part of the Cunard legacy as those who sailed on the original Queen Mary 50 years ago.

With Queen Victoria, Cunard will have three "Queens" sailing simultaneously for the first time ever -- until QE2 retires in 2008 to become a hotel. However, in 2010 Cunard will launch a "replacement" for Queen Elizabeth 2 -- a new 92,000-ton ship to be dubbed simply Queen Elizabeth.

The Cunard Heritage Lives On

Despite the odds, Cunard Line is today stronger than ever. A few dissenters claim MS Queen Victoria is more cruise ship than ocean liner; in fact, her exterior design and basic floor plan is that of a Vista-class ship, just like Carnival Spirit, Costa Atlantica and the four most recent ships from Holland America.

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Cunards President Carol Marlow introduces Rai Caluori, executive vice president of Cunard Line.   The Entertainment Director Alistair Greener   The ships captain on right shares a laugh with coordinating archictect Giacomo Mortola and and Teresa Anderson (Vice President, Interior Design, Cunard Line)

In terms of interior design, however, Queen Victoria is a Cunard thoroughbred, highly predicated on Cunard tradition. The one difference between this liner and and those cruise ships is the flow of two deck high public rooms from the Britannia Restaurant through the Grand Lobby and continuing through the Queens Room. Unlike the Vista-class ships, this creates an open horizontal space lengthwise through the ship, similar to a Royal Caribbean Royal Promenade. The effect is very roomy with great flow for a leisurely strolling through the ship for hours. This essential element adds a distinct "statliness" and regal feeling, like a Victorian palace. You will feel like royalty as you walk along.

Video: Cunard CEO, Carol Marlow, Describes the Queens Room: Play Video

The Queen's Room, for example, is a lovely setting for tea in the afternoon and ballroom dancing at night. Her majesty's Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, whose main drawing room had nearly the same paneling, sconces and balustrades, inspires it.

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Queens Room Lounge   Queens room upper panels   Queens Room Stage

The Royal Court Theater, built in the style of Victorian-era West End theaters, features elaborately decorated private boxes, a first on any passenger ship, according to Cunard. They are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, or can be pre-reserved for $50 per couple. The couple will be escorted to their seats and supplied with champagne and chocolate truffles.

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Royal Court Theater - Audience   About the Boxes   Royal Court Boxes
Royal Court Theater Singers in Costime   Royal Court Singers onstage   Royal Court Rendering

The ship has its own versions of rooms that are on Queen Mary 2, with a pinch of Victorian sensibility thrown in. There is the Todd English Restaurant and the Veuve Clicquot Champagne bar. Other public rooms, including the Chart Room, Golden Lion Pub and the Queens Room, will be immediately recognizable to any Cunarder.

Before and After Pictures click on pictures below for larger images:

first look at Todds English restaurant   Todd English rendering
Veuve Cliquot Champagne Bar   Veuve Cliquot Champagne rendering

The banisters and balustrades are influenced by the London's classic Dorchester Hotel as well as the original Queen Mary (originally meant to be the first Queen Victoria). It is this homage to its own tradition that makes the Cunard experience unique. The more you know it, the more you love it.

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Dorchester Bannisters   Queen Mary Bannisters

Link to: Previewing Cunard's New Queen Victoria - Part 2

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