The Queen………Revisited

October 12, 2007 -

John Heald

As the water taxi drew nearer to the shipyard just outside Venice, that feeling of excitement I felt last time I visited Her Royal Highness returned and the hairs on my arms stood to attention like the guards outside Buckingham Palace.

What is it about this ship?

We were met by our guides, the director of the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, Mr. Capobianco, and Carnival Corporation’s vice president of shipbuilding, the larger-than-life Giovanni Esposito.

It had been two months since I last visited the Queen Victoria and I wondered how far things had progressed. We walked up the gangway and even though the ship is still being completed and the crew is not yet on board, that special feeling that only a liner like this can provide returned to me. As we began our tour, one thing became evident straight away and that was how proud these young men and women from Fincantieri were in being part of building this regal liner.

As I watched them work it seemed that they were taking that extra care in everything they did and it was as though they knew they were building a little piece of history.

The ship has come a long way since my last visit and although the artwork, furniture and various dressings have yet to be installed, the ship already feels like she desperately wants her guests to come on board so that she can entertain them as only a Cunard liner can.

The last time I was onboard, one of the overriding memories was of what I still think will be the heartbeat of the ship and that is the Queen’s Room. Even two months ago with very little work completed I already knew that this would be the focal point of not just this ship but quite simply the most important and spoke about public room on any cruise ship or liner in the world.

Having seen it now and even though it is still not completed, I have never been more certain about anything in my life…………except, I want an Aston Martin.

The Queen’s Room was already alive two months ago and that life has been enhanced by the two magnificent chandeliers which now hang gracefully from the ceiling. These two centerpieces spread light across the dance floor which will soon be full of couples celebrating their own lives as they experience this astonishing and breathtaking room. The carpet which would not have looked out of place in the Queen’s own residence at Windsor Castle was ready to be laid, the artists were discussing with the builders where their years of hard work would be displayed and as our guides allowed us to wonder the room, I once again felt so proud to be experiencing the birth of this Royal Legend. The Queen’s Room will be used for many signature events including the traditional afternoon tea served by the Cunard staff complete with white gloves and that famous Cunard smile.

We then went on to the forward part of the vessel where you will find the stunning Royal Theatre. The private boxes are now complete and the red velvet chairs oozed pure luxury. This theatre will be home to the finest entertainment Cunard has ever offered which will include the continuation of their Insights Lecture Programme. This series will allow Queen Victoria’s guests to watch and listen to stars of stage and screen as well as people who have accomplished so much in their lives.

These entertainers and famous personalities will, I am sure, be intimidated by this imperious theatre as it is a place like no other and standing there, I had to remind myself that I was on a liner and not in the Royal Albert Hall in London.

I must say, as I stood there, I felt a slight tingle of jealousy that I would not have a chance to perform or to work in this one of a kind room. I wish the Cruise Director, whoever he or she may be, all the luck in the world and I am sure they realize how fortunate they are. If not, please e-mail me and I will be there before you know it.

If and when I am lucky enough to ever sail on the Queen Victoria, one of my first stops will be to reserve a table at the Courtyard. This is the outdoor dining area adjacent to the Queen’s Grille and is surely the most incredible Al Fresco dining experience available on the Seven Seas. Guests will enjoy the finest food in a most romantic and secluded atmosphere and as you sip on a glass of the finest Bordeaux and ponder your choices from the menu the stars will twinkle and you will realize just how lucky you are to be enjoying this incomparable dining experience.

On the nights you are not dining under the stars guests will experience the famous Princess and Queen’s Grilles. These areas are beginning to take shape and the views from both these restaurants are some of the best on the ship. These two areas typify just what Cunard is all about and though I know I am repeating myself, they are areas which make you say: “Ah yes, this must be Cunard.”

We were shown two of the cabins, including the mega suite. I am not blessed with the words to describe this amazing palace at sea and I am sure for most of us, my description and the following photos will be as close as we ever get to seeing it. It is vast, so vast in fact that it has a dressing room, a spectacular bedroom, a huge sitting room and a balcony that seems endless. It is the perfect place to lose your wife. Of course, the main feature of this cabin has to be the bath tub which is the size of other ships’ swimming pools and it sat there in front of the floor to ceiling window, begging for a Cleopatra to bath in there.

We also saw a mini suite which, I am sorry to say, is not described correctly. I have seen “mini,” I have tried to sit in a mini and let me tell you, there is nothing “mini” about this room.

All the cabins are decorated simply yet there is no doubting you are experiencing the words “ultra luxury.”

I am going to use a word now which I apologize to all who speak the Queen’s English perfectly. I am sorry but I cannot think of a better word to describe how I felt when I saw the library………..that word is “gobsmacked”.

This word originates from my home county of Essex and is used when you see something you are in awe of and something so astonishing that your mouth hangs open and words elude you. A spiral staircase covering two decks guides you to a choice of 6,000 books. Its ceiling has backlit glass which is designed after a ceiling in the first Caronia.

6,000 books. What an amazing choice and this library will set a new standard which I doubt anyone else will ever surpass.

I wonder if I published a book of blogs it would be 6,001.

We visited many of the other areas of the vessel all of which are progressing and are taking on their own personalities.

These include the spa which features a thermal suite and luxurious treatment rooms. We walked through the vast public spaces and visited the Commodore Club, the Cigar Bar, the Champagne Bar, the Casino and the Golden Lion Pub I could not help but think, once again, that this ship was surely about to become historic.

Talking of history, Cunard has a glowing history of its own and as the Queen Victoria sets sail she will become part of that history and will envelope much of Cunard’s past in the Cunardia Room. This is the on-board museum which will house memorabilia from the world’s most famous passenger liner company and will be a place where past meets present.

Like many of you, I was under the impression that the Queen Victorian will sail next year from Southampton and mainly carry out transatlantic duties. However, I was so excited to hear that Cunard will allow Her Majesty to spend some time in the Mediterranean. From the beginning of August till the end of November 2008 she will offer 12 night voyages including ports in the Western, Central and Eastern Mediterranean and will even travel through the Black Sea. I am told that this is the first time Cunard has based a ship in the Mediterranean since the late 1990’s.

Having sailed the Mediterranean myself for the last three years I can only imagine what that experience would be like.

Imagine, spending the day ashore exploring Piazza San Marco and the magic of Venice, returning to your suite, dancing before dinner in the Queen’s Room and following your dinner under the stars in the Courtyard restaurant you take a seat in your private box in the Royal Theatre and listen and enjoy the experiences of some of the world’s most famous personalities.

Imagine, returning from a day in the enchanted city of Rome. Feeling rejuvenated and blessed to have seen the Vatican and the wonders of the Coliseum. Once on board your luxurious home on the seas, you take the one you love for a glass of something special at the Champagne bar before reminiscing on the day’s events while dining at the Todd English Restaurant.

Imagine, having seen the Acropolis in Athens and once back on board you enjoy a walk around the Cunard museum before dining in one of the signature Grille rooms returning for some night music and dancing to the sounds of the Queen’s Room big band.

Imagine, a day at sea where the only decision you have to make is what luxurious treatment you deserve to have at the spa or which of the 6,000 books you will read.

Imagine, enjoying the service that can only be found on a Cunard ship as you sail to the next exciting destination that Europe has to offer.

Most importantly, imagine, the sense of fulfillment you will experience when, as with all Cunard ships, the crowds gather every time you sail into and out of a port and you realize you are part of ocean liner folklore.

You know what………..stop imagining. Call your Travel Agent, call Cunard and experience for yourself European cruising like no other.

Many people have lists of things to do and see in their lifetime and for anyone who loves the ocean and the great industry that is cruising then on top of that list surely must be a Cunard Experience.

The ship’s crew will arrive shortly, the artwork and furniture will be put into place and in early December Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cornwall will name this vessel Queen Victoria and a new and exciting chapter of Cunard’s history will begin.

I hope you can all be part of it…………..you deserve it.

One more thing. As we headed home, I took one last look at the Queen Victoria and it seemed that she had an extra glow about her. It seemed that she knew something we didn’t, she looked ……………….happy and content.

Maybe she knew already that she was about to get a new sister with the announcement of the new Queen Elizabeth. She will be complete in 2010 and Mary, Victoria and Elizabeth will, without doubt, rule the waves.

1. The Queen’s Room

1. The Queen’s Room

1. The Queen’s Room

2. The Cunard Crest

2. The Cunard Crest

3. The bathtub in one of the Mega Suites

3. The bathtub in one of the Mega Suites

4 & 5. The Grand Lobby staircase

4 & 5. The Grand Lobby staircase

4 & 5. The Grand Lobby staircase

6. The Royal Theatre

6. The Royal Theatre

6. The Royal Theatre

7. The Library

7. The Library

8. A beautiful mosaic in the Spa

8. A beautiful mosaic in the Spa

9. The Queen Victoria

9. The Queen Victoria

9. The Queen Victoria

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.