"Welcome to my office," Capt. Paul Wright said as he opened the security door to the bridge of the Queen Victoria. Through the expanse of windows, the ocean seemed endless, glimmering in the sun.
FOR THE RECORD:
Queen Victoria: A story in Sunday's Travel section on the new Queen Victoria ocean liner incorrectly referred to passenger Michelle Grant of Santa Monica as a travel manager. She is a talent manager. —
The captain, a genial chap from Cornwall, England, was soon laughing about the rumors aboard Cunard's newest ocean liner.
No, he assured me, no one had been lost overboard. And had I seen the reports in the British tabloids blaming every glitch on this, the ship's second voyage, on the "Curse of Camilla," Prince Charles' wife, the first non-monarch to christen a Cunard queen in nearly 75 years?
This Queen Victoria did have its share of bad luck, but that aside, I preferred it to the Queen Mary 2, which I accompanied on its maiden voyage to the Caribbean in 2004.
Like the Mary, the Victoria is an ocean-worthy liner (a liner generally makes oceanic crossings and may not return to its port of embarkation for some time), rather than a cruise ship (which generally leaves from and returns to the same port or one close to it). Purists sometimes dismiss cruise ships as clusters of floating flats.
The Victoria's signature black and red livery and elongated bow identify it immediately as a Cunard ship, but it is no mini-Mary.
Yet the two ships share a common trait: elegance. If Cunard can't yet replicate the graciousness of the 1930s in this age of inelegance, those who sail its ships -- myself included -- hope it keeps trying.
Let the others have their casual dress, free-choice dining and rock climbing. Formality is fine with me, and, flaws and all, a Cunard voyage is special.
Only the most superstitious -- or the most ardent Camilla bashers -- could blame the problems of this voyage on the Duchess of Cornwall, even if the Champagne bottle did fail to break at the christening.
Nor could Cunard be blamed for an outbreak of a highly contagious stomach virus that struck just before Christmas and ultimately sickened about 140 aboard. (The 24-hour virus, common in enclosed places, causes vomiting, diarrhea and cramps but is rarely fatal.) Ship personnel responded quickly to contain the bug, thought to have been carried on when we boarded Dec. 21 at Southampton, England. Hand-cleaning before entering dining spaces was mandated, and passengers were advised to avoid public restrooms.
Neither could Cunard be faulted for canceling a stop at Casablanca, Morocco, on advice of the British and U.S. governments -- "for security reasons," the captain said. And Gibraltar had to be scratched when gale-force winds made it too dangerous to dock. Several days of rough seas followed.
With time to kill as we headed back to Southampton, the ship slowed, which also made for a more comfortable trip. The Atlantic was choppy, the horizon shrouded in mist. Waves 11 feet high crashed against the hull. The captain reported "rogue swells" of up to 30 feet that caused the Victoria to creak and shudder as it rose and fell.
The good news from the bridge: "The ship has handled these big ocean swells very well" on this, its first real test, said Wright, who kept passengers abreast of the big waves and the bad bug.