Misfortunes aside, not everyone was thrilled with the cruise, for which passengers paid from $4,100 each for an inside cabin for two to $34,000 for the grand suite in upper class. Passengers had expected lavish Victorian Christmas decorations but got little more than a pair of towering trees in the Queens Room and some greenery here and there. Others described the food in the handsome two-deck Britannia dining room as merely adequate. It wasn't on a par with the food in the intimate Todd English restaurant, where a supplement -- $20 a person for lunch, $30 for dinner -- was charged.
Veteran Cunarders also criticized the uneven service: missing cutlery, mixed-up orders, largely invisible wine stewards, the feeling of being rushed through meals. One night, I asked for a tall J&B Scotch and got a short Tanqueray gin. (Some of the multinational staff seemed less than fluent in English.) But I have only praise for Vivian, my cabin steward, who anticipated my needs and never made me feel as though I had to plan my day around her schedule.
On one thing almost everyone seemed to agree: The Queen Victoria is a beautiful ship with elements of Victorian décor -- marble and mosaics and crystal chandeliers -- and touches of Art Deco and Art Nouveau. It's smaller and cozier than the Queen Mary 2. The Queen Victoria occupies a different niche, Wright said: "It's intimate, a ship where people can get to know people."
Alastair Greener, the ship's entertainment director (a new Cunard title replacing cruise director), said: "A lot of people didn't like the size of the Queen Mary 2. The Queen Mary 2 is big and grand," the Ritz-Carlton of liners; the Queen Victoria is more like "a five-star luxury country hotel."
Lessons learned from Queen Mary 2 influenced the design. Mary's library was tucked away on Deck 8, but it is a showpiece on the Victoria, an inviting Deck 2 space with a spiral staircase, a skylight and leather chairs. The Royal Court Theater, all red plush and gilt, has private boxes ($50 a night per couple). Many passengers liked how most of the Queen Victoria's bars and lounges were clustered on Deck 2 around the three-deck Grand Lobby; with its make-an-entrance staircase, it's the hub of the ship.
There's a casino, of course, but unlike on the Queen Mary, it doesn't abut the Britannia dining room, so it is much less jolting. The popular Commodore Club, forward on Deck 10 with wraparound windows, is clubbier than the Queen Mary's.
The Todd English restaurant proved such a winner on the Queen Mary 2, where it was tucked away on Deck 8, that it was moved to Deck 2 on Victoria. The Golden Lion pub, larger than the one on the Queen Mary, attracted a noon lunch crowd keen on bangers and mash and fish and chips. During the day, it was a hangout for team trivia addicts; at night, the destination of karaoke fans.
In all, public rooms seemed well placed. And getting from one to another wasn't a marathon-ish task.
Several of the Queen Victoria's shortcomings are not open to debate. Standard outside staterooms (that's what mine was) are a good size for a cruise ship, about 180 to 200 square feet. The décor, gold and blue with blond woods, is pleasant, and the beds are great. But there's little drawer space, and baths are so skimpy there's just enough room to turn around in the shower. Malfunctioning toilets also were a problem.
Sixteen days make a long cruise, especially with two ports scratched and seven at-sea days. But the entertainment staff worked overtime to keep passengers amused, even though the paucity of big-cast production shows disappointed some.
Theater acts included a politically incorrect British comedian, an overreaching soprano, a magician, a juggler and two men playing one piano. "What's next, an accordionist?" asked Cunard devotee Randy Randolph, a retired high school teacher from Pompano Beach, Fla. The Brits onboard (1,165 among the 1,880 passengers) loved the Victorian music hall show, enthusiastically waving miniature Union Jacks, but it seemed to leave many Americans bewildered.
Along with elegance, Cunard sells Britishness. It clings fiercely to British traditions, including afternoon tea -- cucumber sandwiches and scones, served by white-gloved waiters.
But some Cunarders seemingly can't forgive the company for becoming American. (Miami-based Carnival Corp. bought the line a decade ago and later moved Cunard's U.S. headquarters to Valencia, Calif.) Some think acquisition by Carnival was the beginning of the end.
Roger and Janet Birkin of Derbyshire, England, were among unhappy voyagers. (It didn't help that Roger got the stomach virus.) Janet found it "quite vulgar how they're trying to extract every dollar out of you. They're exploiting the Cunard name."
There's some truth to that. We had to buy our own drinks at the sail-away parties. Shore excursions cost as much as $129 per person. But the two I took -- to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain and to Lisbon, Sintra and Cascais in Portugal -- were well organized, with excellent English-speaking guides and included first-rate lunches ashore.
The ship's 24-hour computer center charged 50 cents a minute (with discounts for frequent Cunarders and package deals, such as $480 for 32 hours). Wi-Fi, widely available, was 50 cents a minute.
The "daily programmes" included fencing classes, napkin folding, whist (similar to bridge), line dancing and electronic photo editing. Some were free; some weren't. There were lectures by British actress Sylvia Syms (the queen mother in the 2006 movie "The Queen") and motor-car racer Jackie Stewart.
I met happy passengers as well as disgruntled ones. Lorcas Martin, a Dublin psychiatrist and self-described cruise addict, said of the ship: "When she gets her character, she'll be fantastic." He had already booked the ship's cruise to Russia in May.
Martin pointed out that the 1,000-member crew was still "getting to know the ship, just as we are. Until you've got a shipload of passengers, it's very hard to know how it's going to work. Given time, I think it will become people's favorite."
SPECIAL CRUISE ISSUE
The Queen Victoria cruise ship a queen, all the same
Not all aboard are happy with an early cruise on Cunard's newest ocean liner. Still, the Queen Victoria is an elegant ride.
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