One of the biggest challenges Cunard may face with their newest ship, the Queen Victoria, is if it can attract enough premium passengers.
The newest Cunard ship, the Queen Victoria is a cruise ship. This is unlike her predecessors which tended to be more "ocean liners". They tended to look different, especially the bow which was designed to slice through the aggressive Atlantic sea on regular trans-Atlantic crossings - but they also tended to be "one offs". They were distinctive and unique. There is no other ship that looks like either the QE2 or the Queen Mary 2.
The Queen Victoria quite simply from the outside looks like many other cruise ships from the outside, which is not remarkable since it was built using a Carnival (the owner of Cunard) template structure called "vista".
One of the marketing differences for Cunard has been its uniqueness, its specialness - and the feeling that there is something exclusive about being on one of their ships. Even if you were travelling in an inside cabin whose fares are not that different to competition. You feel you are part of something almost historic. I do think this is driven by the transatlantic habit and schedules that generates a lot of this, and also the fact that the "crossings" do attract celebrity, names and the rich (as well as the regular cruise and ship addict).
There is no doubt that Cunard have done an excellent job, in my view at least, in designing and fitting out the inside of the ship in a rich, plush and feel that harks to the romance and tradition of the old liners. It was interesting that the first comments left on FLickr when I posted my photos of the interior, where about how the interiors look "Titanic" and traditional cruise liner like. Inside the ship it feels distinctive.
There are some very large and premium cabins in Queens Grill, and there is a special access (by your cruise card/ room key) to deck 11 and deck 12 for only Princess Grill (kind of "club class") and Queens Grill (kind of First Class). Here there is a lounge, the separate dining rooms, an outside courtyard and then a deck only for Grill passengers with better loungers. So there is an attempt to create this special enclave that Cunard nurtures and I think is part of and integral to the Cunard story and positioning that appeals to some but adds to the sense of glamour versus other cruise companies.
However, I am not sure that the schedules that the Queen Victoria will run as a cruise ship with the limitations on what that means versus doing regular "crossing" schedule, will make it have the same mystery, allure and specialness as its sister ships like the QE2 (had as it heads to retirement) and the Queen Mary 2. It is not the right design to handle a regular trans-Atlantic crossing which hammers a ship and takes some designing for - and also having seen pictures taken from the QE2 on their joint crossing at the start of both their 2008 world cruises where the Queen Victoria struggled more through the Atlantic winter seas, I am not sure many would be up for doing it either!
Some facts and figures before more thoughts and review:
The ship has 990 staterooms, holding a maximum of 1980 passengers. It's maiden voyage set sail on 11 December 2007. It is 90000 tons.
We went on a 4 night "taster" cruise to a few European ports out of Southampton from 2 - 6 May. We travelled in Queens Grill, on a super deal thanks to our excellent travel agent (Jane Chadwick; Go cruise). That deal may already indicate the challenge in attracting people to pay a high premium to travel Queens Grill on regular cruises on the ship versus just doing a suite on other brands.
Q4 Penthouse Cabin
We had a Q4 Penthouse (5106). I am not sure why it is called a penthouse as it was on deck 5. It was an unusual shape, but large. I suspect there was some structural beam in the middle of the room and so it had been designed around it. There was a hallway and then a desk area and bar area with lots of glasses, fridge and basin opposite. Then there was a lounge area, with sofa that could fold out into a bed and flat screen TV and DVD player, and the door onto a large balcony with 2 chairs and table. Opposite the lounge area was the bedroom with high and very comfortable bed. To the left as you lie on the bed, was an area with desk and cupboards. This was a strange space that I suspect they could not think of what to do with it. There was a walk in cupboard, which had more coat hangers than I have ever seen in my life! Then the bathroom with very large Jacuzzi bath and separate glass surround shower. Off this room was the toilet and basin. Unlike other suite style cabins, there was only one basin and not 2. Off this room was a door leading back to the hallway.
A video I took of the cabin can be seen on YouTube, or on the blog.
Queens Grill Restaurant
Our table (16) on Cunard Queen Victoria Queens Grill Restaurant
Originally uploaded by garybembridge
This is, as mentioned earlier, is on deck 11. One thing that is better than the Grills Restaurants on Queen Mary 2 which are on the Promenade Deck and so is no view other than people going for a stroll on the deck looking in, these are right at the top of the ship with wall to ceiling windows and so glorious views across the ocean.
The service is, as you expect from Cunard, excellent. They have their "White Star Service" philosophy and training which shows.
In Queens Grill you get to chose at dinner from the huge menu choices of the day, or from the ala carte menu choices (and with notice, you can also ask for a dish they takes your fancy that is not on the menu).
Personally, I felt the food on both the QE2 Queens Grill and Queen Mary 2 Queens Grill was better, despite how good it was on here. The food here felt a bit more pre-prepared. I am not sure if that is a memory thing, but as we are back on the Queen Mary 2 later this year for a crossing, I will be able to check!
The Grills lounge serves afternoon tea for Grill passengers. This is great with sandwiches, scones and cake - but a bit stressful as the service was very erratic. I think the restaurant staff get allocated sessions and resent it cutting into their time off and also as different people each day it is not consistent nor slick through experience.
Rather than spend time on each, the key thing is (as mentioned earlier) these are well done and large. Having been on P&O Arcadia (which is also a Vista style and was originally started to be built as the QV but was allocated to them instead earlier on), I was amazed at how much more public space there seemed to be.
There is the huge, several deck and impressive Grand Lobby. The large Queens Room where there is a band and dancing, the large Royal Arcade shopping area and then the impressive Royal Court theatre. Plus of course the bars all over the ship.
Although Cunard is an old English brand and has a very English heritage and feel, the ship (as with the Queen Mary 2) is American. By this I mean the on-board currency is the US$ and so everything is priced in dollars. If you gamble, take dollars with you as they charge a 3 per cent fee to convert currencies either at the casino desk or on the conversion machines. It also mean if you are not from the USA take plug converters as all but 1 plug is US - and the voltage is the US voltage.
We really liked the ship from the inside, and lived the Queens Grill experience. It may not be "special" enough to attract us back much. It will be interesting to see what happens!
View all my photos of Queen Victoria on Flickr: click here