An Afternoon with the Queen

August 22, 2007 -

John Heald

Good Morning Everyone from Venice.

Today’s blog is a little different. There will be none of the usual sections (they will be back in another blog later this evening) because I am dedicating this blog to a very special lady.

Yesterday, (Tuesday August 21) Heidi and I were privileged to be taken on a tour of Cunard’s new ship, Queen Victoria.

We were accompanied by Cunard’s Vice President of Newbuildings Stuart Hawkins who had been sailing on the Emerald Princess which was docked with us in Venice. Once at the Fincantieri Shipyard we were met by three very important gentlemen, Paolo Capobianco who is the Shipyard Director, Pierluigi Punter who is the Fincantieri Project Manager and, from Carnival Corporation, our own Project Manager, Giovanni Esposito.

Heidi and I had not been back to the shipyard since February when we spent one month there preparing the Carnival Freedom so it was sort of like a “homecoming” for us. Disembarking the water taxi right under the bow of the Queen Victoria was simply breathtaking. The last time I had seen her was six months ago and already I could tell how far along the work had progressed.

First impressions are for me and many others so very important and the first impression of seeing the Queen Victoria was ……well, let’s just say this. There is no need for her to have the word Cunard on her bow or anywhere else. You don’t need to be in the business we are in to know that this is a Cunard ship……..you just know………..some sixth sense tells you that those lines, those colours, (and, yes, we are spelling that the British way ) means it can only be a Cunard ship.

The Queen Victoria is due to enter service in December so there is still lots of work to be done. There is no furniture, no art, no Captain, no crew onboard. The lounges are not finished yet, the library has no books in it…..but you know what, it did not matter. The ship was alive……………I cannot explain it, I had not felt this on any of the many ships I had delivered as a Cruise Director.

At this point you are probably thinking………OK, John’s smoked a palm tree….what the heck is he talking about? The answer is, I don’t know…….there was just something that, even in its yet-to-be-completed state, the ship had a heart and a soul. You could see, imagine and feel what she would be like once at sea…………was she alive or did I have water on the brain from my Turkish bath experience ?

I am not a travel writer and in the weeks and months to come, the brilliant minds of the press will write their newspaper, magazine and Internet articles for all to read but if you will, please allow me to describe some of the features that will, I know, make this ship incomparable.

Where to start………well, first off let me say the ship’s architect has created a vessel that feels open and airy (is that a word?)

The public spaces are designed in such a way that you really feel that you must be on a ship twice the size and the 2,014 lucky guests who will cruise on her will, I am positive, never feel that there are indeed that many people on board.

The signature public room is the Queens Room, which even in the incomplete stage that it is currently in, I could already feel that this room was something special. We stood on the Promenade looking down on the dance floor and you could imagine the orchestra playing, the well dressed Cunarders dancing before returning to their martini’s and gin and tonics and I could imagine Heidi and I sitting at one of the tables, me with my diet coke and Heidi begging me to dance. In the afternoon’s they will serve the great British tradition of Tea Time.

In the U.K. everything stops for tea……..it does not matter – 3 pm is tea time and no matter what you are doing you must drink tea……..it’s the law. So, again my imagination was in overdrive and I could see the white-gloved waiters serving the Earl Grey from the finest Royal Dolton and Wedgwood china and the look of horror and the ship’s alarm sounding, security rushing in because someone had dared to order Iced Tea!

The Queens Room will be the heartbeat of the vessel and standing there you know without a doubt, you are on a Cunard ship. Here is a photo of the Queens Room. Forget about the wires and the construction and think of the orchestra playing your favorite love song as you dance before dinner……………this will be one very extraordinary room.

Talking of dining……………well, the three dining rooms continue the Cunard tradition of your assigned dining room being decided upon by the cabin you reserve. However, personally, I could see little difference between the Princess Grill & the Britannia Restaurant; they were both amazing and oozed elegance and class. The Queens Grill has amazing views with floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the ocean go by while enjoying the finest food and service afloat.

The main dining room, the Britannia Restaurant will be dominated by a huge globe which sits behind the Captain’s table. Again, a sense of nostalgia washed over me as I imagined the Commodore and his special guests discussing their cruising experience, I could feel the air of quality and luxury in the food and the service and I could picture Heidi and I sitting at our corner table, me in the doghouse because I spilt gravy down my shirt.

I really could sense that the dining experience would be, regardless of what dining room you were assigned, something that would uphold and exceed the high standards associated with the Cunard brand.

Then from five-star we move to well, unlimited stars as we mention the specialty restaurant with the menu designed and created by celebrity Chef Todd English. How wonderful that in order to enjoy a culinary journey like this you don’t need to go to Massachusetts, you just walk out of your cabin and there you are. Walking around the restaurant where the lush linens and fine silverware will very soon be laid out I could imagine the diners trying to decide if they should have the Pan Roasted Rib Eye with Gorgonzola or the Baked Whole Bass with Apple and fennel…………….and I could see Heidi getting embarrassed for asking the waiter if the fish comes with chips.

Oh, yes, just to the side of the Queens Grill, there is an outside dining area called The Courtyard which is an area where, weather permitting guests can dine under the stars. Now, we Brits still find the idea of eating outside a little……..well…………not proper………but I think if this area is marketed correctly the Europeans, The North Americans and eventually us Brits will enjoy. Imagine, sitting under the stars being served fine food and wine. I am sure, many guests will take this option and I am even more certain that many guests will ask for their coffee and after dinner drinks to be served in the Courtyard. I can imagine Heidi and I sitting under the stars drinking our espressos and discussing the joys of life, cruising, marriage and why I left my underwear on the bathroom floor again. I do urge the management to really utilize this area as it is something that could be very unique. This might be a great area where, after dinner has been completed smoking is allowed……………especially cigars…………under the stars……WOW !

Talking of smoking, most of the vessel will be non-smoking with the exception of one or two areas which include the Cigar Bar. This area is smaller than I imagined but as trends go, I guess cigar smoking may not be as popular as it was during the late nineties. Now, here is an interesting thought. Smoking is banned in public places in the U.K. Does this mean that once in U.K. waters there will be a smoking ban on the entire ship? Anyway, regardless the cigar bar will be a place where I would probably enjoy a cigar more than anywhere.

Talking of public areas we have yet to mention the Veuve-Clicquot champagne bar, the British pub The Golden Lion, and a host of other areas that seem so wide and spacious. I could just imagine these areas full of handsome and beautiful people, laughing, dancing, drinking and enjoying all that this ship has to offer……….and me, Heidi on my arm which is covering the gravy stain on my shirt having the time of our lives.

We saw two or three of the different categories of cabins. None had furniture but all yet again felt rich and comfortable even with bare walls and wires hanging from the ceiling. We did see one of the Mega Suites………….”.bloody hell”……….I said as I walked in. These are huge and again, the professional writers will give you the facts and figures on square meters and comforts etc…..but you do not need to be a travel writer to know that these cabins are the be all and end all of cruise ship luxury. There is even a bathtub by a floor to ceiling window…….what a view……especially if you take a bath while you are docked in port. The cabins are truly gorgeous and regardless of what you choose I am in no doubt that you will feel at home or in my case…..someone else’s home as the mega suite is bigger than my apartment. We couldn’t see the cabin where Heidi and I will be staying when we cruise as they had not put the hammocks up yet.

In my job as a Cruise Director I spend the majority of my shipboard life in two places, the theatre and the bathroom. Let’s talk about the first one. The main lounge/theatre on the Queen Victoria is called the Royal Court Theatre and is something quite extraordinary. It is a cross between London’s Royal Albert Hall and La Scala in Milan. For the first-ever time this theatre will have private boxes which offer total luxury while enjoying shows, lectures and performances. The seating reminded me of an old-fashioned Cinema with deep and wide flip up chairs made from the finest velvet. I do not know who the Cruise Director will be on the Queen Victoria but he or she will be so lucky to walk out on stage and soak up the atmosphere that this unique theatre will surely provide. I can imagine the audience, sitting in luxury in their deep cushioned chairs, the guests in their royal boxes enjoying the Cruise Director and Heidi and I on the very back row……………..Heidi telling me to be quiet when I say “That’s my joke” every time the Cruise Director says something funny.

The Library is pure English (not the chef) but in origin. Two levels connected by a wooden circular staircase crafted in the finest woods, its dovetails the signature of a master craftsman. The card room will I am sure be very popular as no doubt will be the Empire Casino, the shopping arcade, the sports deck, the paddle tennis court, The Winter Garden which is designed like a typical English conservatory and of course the Cunard Royal Spa which features pampering that can only be found on a ship like this. They even have something called “A Gym” but I didn’t get to see that as the elevator that goes there was broken!

I could go on and on but alas I must stop. It is hard to know what else to say. The ship already has a feel, a, I don’t know…….a something………which maybe the professional writers will word properly. All I know is this. There are some things that make me proud to be British…………..The Royal Family (most of them), Aston Martin, the Pomp and Circumstance of our traditions, The Beatles, Fish and Chips and today I walked off the ship humming Rule Britannia because Cunard continues to be a talisman of everything that was and continues to be Cunard.

Heidi and I are going to book the cruise from Southampton to the Christmas markets leaving Southampton on December 14 and maybe we will see a few other bloggers there as well.

I work for Carnival Cruise Lines and I am proud of our ships beyond all measure…………but this is something different, something unique and if I were you and if you can, I would be calling my travel agent or Cunard and booking a cruise now. This is a chance for North America to sample the best of British and quite frankly the best of cruising.

I am in no doubt that this ship will become………………………………….. historic.

Your Friends

John and Heidi

Here is a selection of photos. I apologize for the quality of some as the ship was under working conditions and light was not always available.

1. The Royal Court Theatre and the great people of Fincantieri and Cunard who took us around (Note the boxes above)

1. The Royal Court Theatre and the great people of Fincantieri and Cunard who took us around (Note the boxes above)

2. One of the Public rooms which will become the Champagne Bar

2. One of the Public rooms which will become the Champagne Bar

3. The Queens Grill

3. The Queens Grill

4. The Famous Cunard Smoke Stack

4. The Famous Cunard Smoke Stack

5. The Open Decks

5. The Open Decks

6. Giovanni finds me funny……..Stuart………..thinks “who is this guy?”

6. Giovanni finds me funny……..Stuart………..thinks “who is this guy?”

7. Hard at work on one of the swimming pools.

7. Hard at work on one of the swimming pools.

8. The Winter Garden. A conservatory with a retractable roof

8. The Winter Garden. A conservatory with a retractable roof

9. The floor of the Winter garden….uncovered!

9. The floor of the Winter garden….uncovered!

10. The Spa Hydro something or other pool

10. The Spa Hydro something or other pool

11. Part of the Living area of one of the very impressive suites

11. Part of the Living area of one of the very impressive suites

12. Take a bath by your ocean view window

12. Take a bath by your ocean view window

13. The stair case leading to the Grand Lobby, what a feeling this area already has……I think I saw Leonardo De Crappyo !

13. The stair case leading to the Grand Lobby, what a feeling this area already has……I think I saw Leonardo De Crappyo !

14. The Queens Room. Sorry for the quality but there was a blackout test during our tour. This room has an amazing feel to it already.

14. The Queens Room. Sorry for the quality but there was a blackout test during our tour. This room has an amazing feel to it already.

15. Another view of the private boxes in the Royal Court Theatre………Queen Victoria herself would have been amused.

15. Another view of the private boxes in the Royal Court Theatre………Queen Victoria herself would have been amused.

16. Here she is

16. Here she is

17. The Queen

17. The Queen

18. God Bless Her

18. God Bless Her

19. That’s me on the left, holding my trousers up because I forgot to put a belt on.

19. That’s me on the left, holding my trousers up because I forgot to put a belt on.

20. Finally, the three sisters. Cunard, Princess and Carnival

20. Finally, the three sisters. Cunard, Princess and Carnival

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.