Zenfolio | Peter Hewitt's Transport Pictures | Queen Victoria to the Mediterranean 6 20 May 2008

Created 4-Sep-16
Modified 4-Sep-16
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48 photos
Another major family birthday provided the motive to sample the latest ship in the Cunard fleet. She would never replace our beloved Queen Elizabeth 2, but would she win a place in our hearts alongside the magnificent Queen Mary 2? The night before embarkation, we stayed at the Holiday Inn alongside Mayflower Park in Southampton, and were allocated a sixth floor, North facing room. Just after we arrived, we saw pass our window the Queen Victoria that wasn't – P&O's Arcadia. This ship had been intended for Cunard but was switched to P&O at a late stage. (For pictures of many of the views mentioned in this review, please go to my website of The Cunard Queens - http://cunardqueens.fotopic.net/ - and select the collection with the title at the head of this review. Amongst many other things, you can compare and contrast views of Queen Victoria and Arcadia.) The following morning, I took a ride on the Hythe Ferry to view Queen Victoria at close quarters at the Queen Elizabeth 2 terminal. There was bright sunshine, although for some of my shots, it was shining in the wrong direction. Well, how does Queen Victoria look? She wears the Cunard paint job well, and no ship could look truly ugly in them. From certain angles, it's possible to believe that she's a liner like her illustrious predecessors. But from others, one cannot escape the truth that she is fashioned to make money: a snub bow which brings no revenue, and a stern that looks exactly like the block of penthouses it is, and not like a proper ship at all. Soon it was time to look at her up close. Being a party of three, we needed a Princess Grill room to have the necessary space, so the priority check in process was very quick and smooth and we were on board within half an hour of arriving at the terminal. You board straight into the three-storey Grand Lobby – impressive and extravagant in style – no restraint or understatement here. But we made straight for our room, forward on Deck 5, with, oh joy, a forward facing picture window as well as our side balcony. I was to spend many happy hours over the next fortnight, just below (and forward of!) the bridge with my GPS, laptop and chart software, second-guessing the Captain and watching our progress! What of the rest of the room? Pleasant and spacious; good solid furniture, comfortable and pleasing on the eye, and a good double bed and sofa-bed. Décor over the top again, but not intrusively so. Open hanging space and a cupboard with shelves, no drawers except to the desk and bedside tables. Bathroom small but efficient and fully equipped. Two small TFT television screens, with about 20 TV channels and some music channels. I was seriously disappointed that there was none of the interactivity which is standard on Queen Mary 2, with emails, ordering of excursions and room service, on-demand films etc (though we did find we could borrow DVDs from the concierge). I expected this to have become standard on a high-end 21st century ship. There was wifi in the room but the free online allowance as a gold World Club member was not usable in the room, only in the Internet Centre – another minus point on the communications front. We had room service the first evening so my first chance to sample the dining arrangements came at breakfast on our first day at sea. The Queens and Princess Grills are the bow-windowed structures high up aft, immediately below the funnel and with the Grills Lounge facing forward between them. I found the Princess Grill stunning, especially as our table was in the bow and one could look forward right along the side of the ship. Furniture fine again; décor over the top again, but service and food excellent. Afternoon tea in the Grills Lounge was similarly memorable. As a family we are not formal diners, but the Lido's food proved excellent at whatever time of day, much better than on QE2 or Kings Court on Queen Mary 2. Maybe the service was slightly less attentive: no assistance with gathering or carrying trays, and badly soiled tablecloths left in situ whilst waiters stood around waiting to clear plates. The greatest discovery, given our family circumstances, was the capacity to order room service from the full Princess Grill menu. This way we were able to eat really well as a family without having to meet public expectations. This was a huge plus for us, if not for our waistlines and cholesterol levels! Now for a brief tour of the ship's public areas. After breakfast in the Princess Grill I liked to go out through the Grill Courtyard up on to Deck 12, whence you can go up another few steps onto a viewing platform, which is one of the highest points on the ship with magnificent all-round views. In the photo of this platform, you can see the dismal fake teak finish which covers almost all the level decks, and contrast it with the delicious teak of the platform itself. It is so disappointing that cost considerations must have negated the provision of some teak decks. This apart, the open areas are generally fine, with a proper Winter Garden rather than the QM2 travesty, and the glass screening provides good wind protection without impairing views. Walking forward, you eventually reach the Commodore Club, a magnificent room above the bridge with a forward view that must be equally fine. Down on the Boat Deck, there is almost a complete circuit of the ship, and the stars are the magnificent oak lifejacket chests with Queen Victoria engraved in them in that elegant Gill Sans typeface. Moving inside, the Grand Lobby is for me magnificent kitsch, and on a cool day in port when the gangways are open, it remains an icy wind tunnel. The Queens Room is fine and worthy of the name, with a gallery running along one side. It was good to be greeted there by Captain Paul Wright, who has the presence and persona one expects of a Cunard captain, (unlike Mr Perkins on QE2 last year!). The Cunardia exhibition manages only 6 out of 10, even for this Cunard fanatic, and never held me for more than a few minutes. The shops are shops, the bars are bars and doubtless the casino is a casino. The Royal Court Theatre is however exceedingly fine, and the boxes are an inspired touch, doubtless motivated by the 50 bucks per couple charge for seats, drinks and nibbles. The lecturers who performed here were C list rather than A or B, but I did enjopy some maritime lectures from Captain William Wells. The huge disappointment of the entertainment programme was the absence of any destination lectures. On every Cunard cruise I have enjoyed until this one, there has been a distinguished academic or knowledgeable traveller who has spoken about and illustrated the history, geography and every other detail of each port, shortly before we arrive. Even though I have done my stuff on the guide books before hand, there is nothing like hearing about a place from someone who knows, understands and loves it. I felt bereft and swindled. I raised it with Amanda Reid, the Entertainment Director: her gracious assurance that the other lecturers were very good made me angry as well, because she simply was not registering the sense of loss I felt about the omission of destination lectures. Cunard passengers are intelligent and inquisitive travellers, and expect their interest in the itinerary to be supported by the lecture programme. Our voyage round the East coast of the Isle of Wight, down the English Channel, across the Bay of Biscay and down the western coast of Iberia went smoothly in largely calm weather, and two days and three nights later we were in the centre of Cadiz, with our namesake and stablemate Costa Victoria in the next berth and the ancient cathedral just behind. Spain is our second home so we had a happy day exploring the city without needing the tour programme. That evening we had the spectacular experience of passing through the Straits of Gibraltar at dusk, our forward facing window clearly showing Europe (Spain) to port and Africa (Morocco) to starboard. The Captain, in his informative daily briefing the next day, told us that the ship had attained its maximum speed ever of around 26 knots through the straits, carried on the constant and strong inward current from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean which replaces the water lost through evaporation. Our next port was Ajaccio in Corsica, on a grey and damp day which heightened the effect of the island's wild mountain scenery, a southern recurrence of the Alps. A half-day tour gave us a good insight into the landscape and history of this much contested island. The next day we lazed in Civitavecchia, as we had recently visited Rome. During the morning, a large people carrier with blacked out windows arrived on the dockside, to be attended by the Staff Captain and three bellboys in scarlet uniforms complete with pill box hats. They unloaded the many bags and clothes rails, and we later learned that Carnival (and therefore Cunard) owner Mickey Arison had joined the ship. It was however a private holiday and he would not be meeting passengers. The following day we woke with the outline of Mount Vesuvius at dawn from our balcony. This visit to Naples gave the chance of a full day tour of Sorrento and the Amalfi drive, which, with an excellent guide and fabulous scenery, was a highlight of the cruise. The travails of Naples and its rubbish crisis were touched upon, but we remained within the tourist bubble for the whole day. The next morning was again passed delightfully, gradually approaching the beautiful island of Malta. Sadly the docking process led to the allision of our stern with the dockside, causing significant damage to the rear fender. I will not dwell further on this (googling "Queen Victoria" and Malta together in Google News will bring up plenty of stories, or email me for a digest of these)

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