February 17, 2006

New queen designed to rule the seas


CUNARD doesn’t do cruises — it does voyages, it insisted at the publicity launch (but not the real launch) yesterday of a new liner, the Queen Victoria, which will join the 36-year-old Queen Elizabeth 2 and the newer but troubled Queen Mary 2 next year.
When the 90,000-tonne vessel sets sail from Southampton on its maiden voyage to Oslo and back in December 2007, it will be the first time that three Cunard Queens have been afloat at the same time.
Legend has it that Cunard wanted to call the 1934 Queen Mary the Queen Victoria and wrote to King George V asking for permission to name the ship after “our greatest queen”. He replied that his wife, Queen Mary, would be delighted by the honour. For Cunard there was no way out.
There was no such misunderstanding when Cunard contacted the present Queen and asked her permission to name a liner after her great-great-grandmother.
The Queen Victoria is an addition to the fleet and not a replacement for the ageing QE2, which Cunard intends to keep in service for the time being, although the company is already looking for a permanent berth for her.
Carol Marlow, the president and managing director of Cunard, introduced the new £300 million vessel yesterday with a computer-generated slideshow. Some imagination was required as the Italian builders have not even laid the keel yet, but the message was that, in its interior decor, the Queen Victoria will return to the tradition of the cruise ships of the past, which definitely made voyages from A for the express purpose of getting to B, and none of this pootling round the oceans in circles just for the fun of it.
The Queen Victoria’s interior will be replete with mahogany and marble and it will have an understated Britishness, with a library of 6,000 books, a Cunard museum and an 800- seat theatre with private boxes.
Cunard claims that the ballroom resembles the interior of Osborne House, Victoria’s home on the Isle of Wight, but the resemblance seems passing.
To complete the ship’s claims to Britishness, she will be registered in Southampton, will fly the Red Duster and will have predominantly British officers running an international crew of almost 900.
But the Todd English restaurant on board will serve Mediterranean food and the currency on board, as befits a cruise ship owned by a company that is now American, will be the dollar.
And despite this week’s vote in the Commons, Cunard has not yet decided whether to make her, with her 13 bars and clubs, a non-smoking vessel.
The Queen Victoria will not be entirely classless, either: its 2,000 passengers will have to choose when they book whether they want to eat in the Princess Grill or the somewhat more upmarket Queen’s Grill.
As for voyaging, she may take an occasional turn on the transatlantic run but cruising, frankly, will be its bread and butter, whatever Cunard calls it.
Ms Marlow tried to reconcile the two terms yesterday. “There is a growth trend in the global cruise market; people are increasingly looking for authenticity and enrichment in what they do,” she said.
In other words, voyaging these days is simply mahoganypanelled cruising.

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Queen Victoria will have six diesel engines and two pods, more than enough power and manoeuvrability,” Ms Marlow added.
Fine, provided that nobody cruises that 90,000 gross tonnage into a harbour wall, as happened recently with the Queen Mary 2 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
When she enters service in late 2007, Queen Victoria’s 2,000 passengers are expected each year to consume:
954,681 teabags
59,060lb of coffee
1,528,707 eggs and
121,137lb of scrambled eggs
371,955 packets of cereal
12,940lb of smoked salmon
3.6 million fl oz of fruit juice
119,400 bottles of champagne and sparkling wine
109,000 bottles of red
119,600 bottles of white
141,600 toothpicks

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