To truly get the feeling of what it is like to be aboard Cunard Line’s new Queen Victoria, it helps if you think of hats. Hats crowned nearly every woman’s head during Queen Victoria’s naming ceremony in Southampton, England this past December.
Wide-brimmed, narrow-brimmed, floral and feathery, hats of all types adorned heads turned toward the stage, where Cunard Line President Carol Marlow, in her stylish hat, acknowledged The Duchess of Cornwall. Camilla, as she is more commonly known, dispatched a bottle of bubbly against the hull of the new vessel and launched Queen Victoria into service. Of course she did so wearing what else? A hat.
Hats even prevailed in the days following the ceremony. On Queen Victoria’s maiden voyage, women put themselves in fanciful headdress for the Royal Ascot Ball’s ‘hat parade.’ Queen Victoria herself would have approved. Britain’s longest-ruling monarch was particularly fond of hats and even ‘set the fashion’ for the styles of headdress that Englishwomen favored, according to a 1901 article in The London Mail.
If the emphasis on hats seems somewhat antiquated, then you’ve gotten my point. Queen Victoria (the ship, that is) presents the perfect backdrop for those who long to return to the golden age of ocean liner travel, when ships were steeped in elegant grandeur and when hats were in vogue.
Not A Cruise Ship At All
Indeed, as I strolled the decks of Queen Victoria, dressed in a tuxedo, a glass of champagne in hand, I felt as though I were witnessing a harmonious marriage between theatrical stage and ocean-going vessel. It was as if Disney had met Titanic — and given it a happy ending. None of it felt fake or contrived.
In fact, Marlow says that the 2,014-passenger Queen Victoria evokes grandeur without grandiosity, glamour without glitz. It is not a cruise ship, but an ocean liner. She speaks of voyages, not cruises, and in her mind, all of these distinctions are important ones. You might say that Queen Victoria provides an experiential escape rather than a contemporary get-away.
On board Queen Victoria, I could easily imagine myself on a grand ocean voyage. How could I not? The nostalgia of yesteryear surrounded me. Walking into the two-deck Britannia Restaurant, for example, I stopped to admire the magnificent centerpiece: a stylized Art Deco, revolving globe, 10 feet tall. It was wonderfully evocative of Cunard’s rich history of plying the world’s oceans.
Featuring original artwork, wall sconces, polished wood, bronze, mirror and gold leaf ceiling, Britannia was inspired by the dining car on the Golden Arrow, the glamorous train that linked London and Paris.
While there is no ‘steerage’ class on Queen Victoria, there is something that evokes the ‘class structure’ on ocean liners of the past. On Deck 12, the smaller Queen’s and Princess Grill dining venues are reserved for guests in Queen’s and Princess’ suites (there are 127 suites ranging from 335 to 2,131 square feet). These traditional dining venues are accessed by private elevator, keyed by a stateroom card.
Perhaps the most nostalgically evocative space is the Royal Court Theatre. Designed to resemble a grand West End theatre, it features a first at sea: 16 private viewing boxes that overlook the stage. Seating two to eight guests each and spanning three decks, the private boxes are furnished with elegant armchairs and cocktail tables.
The $50 per couple charge for the private boxes includes many extras: a pre-show cocktail in a private bar as well as complimentary individual-sized bottles of Veuve Cliquot champagne and truffles. Should anything else be required during the show, a velvet pull cord summons the bell boy. You rang sir?
A Slice of Britain
Just outside the Royal Court Theatre are the Royal Arcade shops, an elegant shopping area designed to capture the feel of London’s Burlington Arcade. The Royal Arcade is anchored by a free-standing clock built by the same company that built Big Ben. It issues Westminster chimes on the hour.
Flanking the clock on either side is a dramatic staircase with intricate wrought-iron detailing. With such attention to detail, Queen Victoria appears to be as much setting as it does ship. I imagined myself walking through London as I crossed the Royal Arcade to The Golden Lion, a British Isles style pub, where bartenders dispensed draft bitters and stouts and a chalk board listed such English comfort food as bangers and mash, fish and chips, and ploughman’s lunch — all at no additional charge. The pub has an authentic feel with its red carpet and dark woods.
Anglophiles will find Queen Victoria to be their cup of tea, and of course, white-gloved service high tea is served daily in the formal ballroom known as the Queen’s Room. Cunard bills the afternoon tea as one of the its most ‘civilized customs.’
Proceeding even deeper into Anglophilia, I made my way to Churchill’s Cigar Lounge, an intimate area that features a selection of cigars and after-dinner drinks as well as photos of Winston Churchill himself. I also visited the Art Deco-inspired Veuve Cliquot Champagne Bar that overlooks the Grand Lobby and features several rich canvases depicting the launch of the original Queen Mary. Cunard’s history is depicted, in fact, throughout the ship and particularly in the well-executed Cunardia, featuring exhibits of Cunard memorabilia.
The Grand Lobby, with its triple-height ceiling, sweeping staircases and sculpted balconies, evokes the ambience found on Cunard liners of the past. An attractive bronzed-effect representation of Queen Victoria emerging from a sun and earth motif graces the staircase landing.
Accessible from the Grand Lobby, The Library offers a selection of more than 6,000 books and spans two decks — with the upper and lower levels connected by a spiral staircase.
Double and triple-height public rooms, dark woods, deep rich reds, shades of yellow and gold characterize Queen Victoria’s interior. But for me, Queen Victoria will forever be cast in sepia. That’s because she evokes the image of the bygone days of cruising, a grand and rich era when ocean liners carried the names of queens and when special occasions brought out ladies wearing their magnificent hats.