January 8, 2007

A new but smaller Queen coming for Christmas `07

By Arline and Sam Bleecker
Special to the Tribune
Published January 7, 2007

We've barely finished savoring this year's Christmas goodies and already Cunard has a gift in the works for next year's yuletide season. Just in time for the holidays in December 2007, the venerable 167-year-old line will christen its newest monarch, the Queen Victoria. Anticipation of its debut is so keen that the pre-Christmas maiden voyage, round-trip from Southampton, England, already is sold out.

Queen Victoria won't tip any scales, though. At 90,000 gross registered tons, it's practically a featherweight compared to Cunard's other royal, the 150,000-ton Queen Mary 2--famously the world's largest vessel until Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas dethroned it earlier this year.

The $522 million Queen Victoria is expected to continue Cunard's tradition of British service and decorative restraint, including the vessel's distinctive black and red livery. To the line's hallmark features--which curiously still include what amounts to a two-class system on board--the 2,014-passenger Queen Victoria will add several innovations. Among them: private viewing boxes in the 800-seat Royal Court Theater; a floating museum display of Cunard memorabilia; and a two-story library with nearly 6,000 books, more than enough tomes for those trans-Atlantic crossings with nothing but time on your hands.

Beyond those amenities, the vessel will sport a three-story Grand Lobby featuring a dramatic staircase and exclusive artworks; the Winter Garden, a conservatory with a colonial ambience and retractable roof that opens to the sky; the Royal Shopping Arcade's 4,000 square feet of designer-name shops, spanning two decks and inspired by the Royal and Burlington arcades in London; Hemisphere's, a lounge with a 270-degree view--by day, the setting for classes and lectures or relaxing that, in the evening, transforms into a lively nightclub; and the Queens Room, a voluminous venue with a 1,000-square-foot dance floor that will offer 4 o'clock tea and dancing before dinner.

As on all Cunard ships, some areas on Queen Victoria will be reserved exclusively for those passengers who book upper-category suites. The so-called "Grill guests" enjoy such goodies as the Upper Grills Terrace, a secluded retreat for sunning and relaxing; and the Grill restaurants, which include an exclusive patio area called "The Courtyard" for alfresco dining.

Passengers not in the Grill category are no slouches either, however. They will dine in the classically inspired Britannia Restaurant, a double-deck-high dining room with sweeping staircases. The remainder of the ship's amenities are, of course, open to all. For alternative meals, for example, there will be a traditional London pub and a Todd English restaurant, serving innovative Mediterranean cuisine.

As for staterooms, 86 percent of the 1,007 cabins will have ocean views; 71 percent of those will feature a private balcony. Twenty cabins will conform to ADA standards.

Just in the St. Nick of time, Queen Victoria will make its maiden pre-Christmas voyage Dec. 11, 2007, and feature a shopaholic's dream: a Christmas markets tour of Northern Europe. The 10-night round-trip sailing, departing from Cunard's homeport of Southampton, will call in Amsterdam, Copenhagen (overnight), Oslo, Hamburg, Germany, and Brugge, Belgium.

Queen Victoria's first Christmas will be spent lolling in the sunshine of the Canary Islands and Morocco and ports along the Iberian Peninsula. The 16-night sailing, departing Dec. 21, will call at Vigo, Spain; Lisbon, Malaga, Spain; Funchal, Las Palmas, Arrecife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife; Casablanca, Morocco, and Gibraltar. Christmas Day will be celebrated at sea.


Fares start at $1,899 per person for the 10-night cruise. For information, call 800-728-6273 or visit cunard.com.

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