Cunard's Queen Victoria: High Life On The Ocean Wave
The theatre was in the Gulf of Thailand. In it, note, not on it – a dozen or so nautical miles offshore. And I was being served champagne and chocolate strawberries in a box. That is a box in the theatre, one with bellboys in scarlet tunics to show you to your seats and a velvet bell pull for summoning more champagne.
If you want an image of the incongruities of cruising, this was it: the metropolitan sweet life on a Pacific Ocean wave.
The Royal Court Theatre is on Queen Victoria, one of Cunard’s trio of liner queens along with its oceanic majesties Mary and Elizabeth . At 90,000 tons, Victoria is one of the world’s bigger passenger ships. When full she has a population of 2,969, comprising 1988 passengers and 981 crew.
I joined Queen Victoria in Hong Kong on the fifth leg of her round-the-world voyage en route to Singapore; 396 passengers were making the 15-week voyage.
We sailed in darkness and a deluge. The Hong Kong skyline off to starboard was veiled in a tulle of rain and only the neon signs for electronic industries – Samsung, Philips, Hitachi – penetrated the gauze.
For a moment they appeared detached, suspended in the gloom, then the mist cleared and it was as if the buildings of the city had crowded the shoreline to see us off.
Five days later I was in the theatre watching On the West Side, a song- and-dance show reminiscent of West Side Story. The theatre is emblematic of the ship, combining hugeness and heritage.
It is cavernous – three decks high, with 830 seats, a royal circle, 16 boxes and barely a pillar in sight. It is also deeply traditional – all red plush and brocaded walls – modelled on London’s Edwardian theatres. There are times when the Royal Court out-dazzles its shows.
A Stately Beauty
The ship is dressed overall in tradition and steeped in the ways of Cunard from the moment you board and see two bellboys in pillbox hats at the top of the gangway.
It continues with spectacular rooms like the grand ballroom, with its two vast chandeliers, the 6,000-book library, which, linked by a spiral staircase, extends through two decks, and in details like the oil paintings of old Cunard liners on the staircases, and a small Cunard museum.
The US dollar is the on-board currency: Cunard is owned by the Carnival Corporation, based in the US. But the ship has the genes of a Cunarder, with squirly touches of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, stained glass and acres of wood panelling. Queen Victoria is very brown inside.
If the future is rosy, the past, as far as Queen Vic’s designers go, is umber. The wood in the pub is the colour of Guinness, which is served on draught. The funnel, of course, is Cunard’s red and black.
The class system is something else that Cunard has retained – although they don’t call it that. Instead, passengers are categorised by their restaurants, presumably a more acceptable sleight of societal taxonomy.
So Queen Victoria is really two cruise ships in one. There is the two-sittings-for-dinner/bag-us-a-sunbed ship for the folk from the lower decks in the Britannia Restaurant, and an exclusive penthouse area for those paying top dollar for the most spacious staterooms.
They number just over 300. The two groups are divided not by locked doors but by a dedicated lift and a sign at the foot of a stairway reserving a top deck area for Grill Suite Guests. Here they are pretty much sequestered from the masses below, unless they want to swim, go ashore, play the casino or go to a show.
Deciding on a cruise line? Top 10 Reasons To Cruise With Cunard
How about another Queen? Cruise Review – Queen Mary 2
Although others have followed suit (MSC Cruises, for example, has the Yacht Club), Cunard is the only cruise line to segregate its passengers quite so strictly. Some may feel excluded, but those in the Princess and Queens Grill suites get the best of two, normally incompatible, cruising worlds.
They can persuade themselves they are sailing in a small, select ship, while at the same time have the daytime activities and nightlife of 90,000-ton liner. That includes music from two dance bands and a string quartet, deck games, lectures, art and dance classes, bingo, quizzes, cabaret and classical concerts.
Everyone dining in the waiter-serviced restaurants is required to observe the etiquette of the ship’s strict dress codes.
Formal nights – of which there were four in the eight days I was on board – require black tie or dark suits for men; evening dresses for women. For Cunard a dinner jacket is a social flotation device, almost as indispensable as a life jacket.
Then there are “semi-formal” evenings, which means jacket and tie and cocktail dresses, and “elegant casual” when men don’t need ties but are still expected to wear jackets. Imagine the permutations on a four-month cruise. No wonder my wardrobe had 52 clothes hangers.
Contrasting On-Shore Excursions
At Nha Trang in Vietnam we anchored in front of “the longest cable car in the world”. A string of little capsules dangled from a wire over a distance of some two miles.
On my excursion, the guide, Uyen, told us her name means Happy Bird. In the windscreen of the tour bus, arranged in a small spray, were the flags of Vietnam, the US and Australia, the principal combatants in the Vietnam War.
Our first stop was at a local market. As soon as we stepped off the bus a swarm of hawkers selling lacquer boxes, postcards and fans thronged round us.
I was sad to see they wore motorcycle helmets. Sure enough, they were a mobile column. At each of the tour’s half dozen stops, the last at a workshop producing exquisite embroidery, there were the bikers to meet us.
The ship was full yet it never felt crowded. In fact for most of the time I wondered where everyone was. Even on our days at sea not all the sunbeds round the two swimming pools were occupied and the 24-hour self-service restaurant was only busy at peak times. Perhaps they were on their balconies: eight out of 10 cabins have them.
The sharpest reminder of the Queen Victoria’s size came in Phu My, the port for Ho Chi Minh City (formerly) Saigon.
Fifty coaches and 14 people carriers lined up on the quayside ready for the day’s excursions. But the dispatching of the tours could not have been more efficient.
I took a coach into the city. It took two and a half hours to get from the port into the centre. Smaller ships can get to the city up the Saigon River.
They get closer to Bangkok too where, for us, there was another two-hour journey from the port. Big ships have their advantages, though, especially in rough weather.
On the flat seas of this cruise there was barely any evidence of motion at all. Occasionally the ship would give a little wriggle like someone getting comfortable in bed. Not enough to disturb a vegetable bisque with truffle cream or Lamb Wellington with vegetable ratatouille and rosemary jus on the chef’s special dinner menu.
Set sail on a dream holiday with Cruiseabout
This article was written by Peter Hughes from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.