Unlike some modern cruiseships launched in the last decade, the £300m, 90,000t Queen Victoria actually looks like a classic British liner rather than a floating themed hotel. On a grey day in December, thousands of onlookers in Southampton dock admired the latest addition to Cunard’s fleet resplendent in Cunard’s classic red and blue livery.

Large and impressive, Queen Victoria’s elegant sweeping lines graced the skyline. Such is the ship’s retro appeal that tickets for its first world cruise, which began with a crossing to New York on 6 January 2008, sold out within hours.

Sir Anthony Bullens, one of the distinguished guests invited to preview the new liner, has enjoyed world cruises on some of Cunard’s other vessels. "It’s a very impressive liner," he says, "And what’s more it’s very British. The Queen Victoria harks back to the old days while looking to the future. I’m looking forward to being on it."

FUTURE CLASSIC

"We are an ocean liner, not a cruise ship and we take voyages, not cruises," says Cunard company president Carol Marlow of the ethos that permeates the Cunard family of three ‘Queens’ – Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth 2 and the new Queen Victoria. The three-strong fleet will be temporary; the 40-year-old QE2 is to be retired in late 2008 and turned into a floating hotel based in Dubai. Cunard has already announced plans to replace her with
a new Queen Elizabeth, built by Fincantieri and set to debut in 2010.

Cunard have come a long way since Samuel Cunard’s ambitious venture to offer transatlantic mail delivery back in 1839. Designed in the long Cunard tradition, Queen Victoria has a reinforced hull and bow capable of sailing both rough and calm seas. The success of Queen Mary 2 since its launch in 2004 was a factor in Cunard giving the green light to the Queen Victoria project.

In 2008 there is a big demand for a return to the more traditional atmosphere of a ship voyage. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

"This ship is all about our history and heritage," says Marlow about Queen Victoria where heritage permeates its design. The clock, which comes complete with the chimes of Westminster, in the Royal Arcade shopping area was custom made by Dent & Co, the same firm responsible for Big Ben.

"It gives a little bit of London wherever the ship goes in the world," says Marlow.

INAUSPICIOUS START

Some of Southampton’s regular cruiseship spotters standing on the dockside muttered about the bad omens of a ‘Queen’ liner that for the first time in Cunard’s history was not actually named by a reigning British monarch. Then there was the incident when the bottle of Veuve Clicquot – winched back mechanically on a fixed arm before Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, pressed the button to send it swinging – didn’t break.

The last time a champagne bottle failed to break on a similar occasion was when Princess Anne christened MV Aurora seven years ago, after which the ship broke down 18 hours into its maiden voyage. On this latest occasion Marlow simply shrugged it off.

"It didn’t detract from the fact that this is very much a Cunard ocean liner with its own unique personality," she says. "I think as soon as our guests step onboard they will feel a certain intimacy – the ship is very friendly. Our ocean liners represent a British style using woods, marbles and brass, and Cunard is very much a British line.

“Queen Victoria promises to be Cunard’s most luxurious liner yet.”

"What the Queen Victoria is all about is capturing the golden age of travel. We operate ocean liners, not cruiseships, and we take voyages not cruises, so we are unique in the marketplace. Queen Victoria is the next in a long line – ship number 222 – in Cunard’s long history and brings with it the heritage of the company into the 21st century. This is the pinnacle of ship design, equalled only by the early Cunard floating palaces such as
Mauretania, Lusitania and Acquitania back at the turn of the 20th century. We’re stepping back in time with all the modern facilities you’d expect."

ROYAL FLAGSHIP

With a luxurious mix of traditional and contemporary design Queen Victoria is bound to influence other ship designers. "We hope not because we’re unique and we’d like to stay unique," says Marlow. "At the end of the day we’ve done our research, which said there is increased demand for authenticity, history and heritage. We believe Queen Victoria is just what the world is looking for."

Although smaller than the 150,000t Queen Mary 2, and despite its relatively minor start-up hiccups, Queen Victoria promises to be Cunard’s most luxurious liner yet. At 294m long with 16 decks and a top speed of 23.7kt, it will carry 2,014 well-heeled passengers (a four-month world cruise costs a minimum £20,000; master suites are £210,000).

“The clock was custom made by Dent & Co, the same firm responsible for Big Ben.”

Among the new vessel’s luxurious amenities are: the Grand Lobby, which sets the tone for the dramatic architecture and design that can be found throughout the ship; a fabulous 830-seat, three-deck theatre based on London’s Royal Court; the Cunardia museum; the Queens Room and Queens Arcade, which is inspired by the Grand Ballroom at Queen Victoria’s former home on the Isle of Wight; a 4,000ft² Royal Arcade inspired by the Royal and Burlington Arcades in London; a two-deck,
6,000-book library with a spiral staircase; a casino with slot machines; a spa, gym; three swimming pools; numerous bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs; and Churchill’s cigar lounge.

"Queen Victoria is a superb ship and I’m sure our guests will be impressed with the quality and fine workmanship," says the luxurious new liner’s Captain Wright, who previously commanded Queen Mary 2 and QE2. "She’s a classic."