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Cunard’s Queen Victoria
Exemplary Service, Amenities, Cuisine and Style are Cunard’s Calling Card
By Terry Miller
When making a decision to take a holiday cruise or crossing the Atlantic, I anticipate the splendor and elegance of bygone era being a principal part of that voyage. Some may say I’m a bit of a fantasist, but I do take into account the days when travel was not such a hurried, hassle-filled experience as is now so often the case. Getting to one’s destination in a relaxed, civilized fashion, was, and still is, as far as I’m concerned, the only way to take a trip.
I was a rather young boy when I immigrated to the United States from England with my family in 1965. The vessel: Cunard’s legendary RMS Queen Mary – steamed us from Southampton to New York – five glorious days on some very rough seas that my dear mother would probably care not to remember – she and hundreds more were seasick that May of 1965. RMS Queen Mary now rests as a floating hotel owned by the City of Long Beach where she educates visitors of an era where steamship travel was perhaps more common that air travel.
Cunard’s history is, of course, legendary, and she now boasts three of the most magnificent ships sailing around the world still offer their exclusive, signature White Star service. The fleet consists of, Queen Mary 2; Queen Elizabeth and the delightful Queen Victoria on which I recently sailed from San Pedro to Ensenada, Mexico.
My personal connection to Cunard has deep roots. In addition to traveling on the Queen Mary, the rest of my family has also sailed on the QE2 and the original Queen Elizabeth on numerous occasions during the 60’s and 70’s.
When I first arrived at San Pedro in preparation for the 4 day trip to Ensenada I found the parking easy and plentiful with a very short trek to the area where porters were more than happy to take my baggage and arrange for it to be delivered to the stateroom.
I was assigned stateroom 5019 and directed to my quarters by a very efficient and polite young British Cunard employee shortly after I was checked in. While I heard one complaint about the time it took to board the ship, I had none. In fact, it truly was smooth sailing getting through the check-in process – I was treated with the utmost respect and dignity.
My delightful stateroom complete with delightful balcony, comfortable couch and reading chair greeted me with some excellent champagne, two bowls of fresh fruit and canapés upon my arrival. Not a bad start to the trip, I must say. There is a mini fridge, two televisions a King size bed and ample closet space to accommodate my newly acquired Italian suit , shirts and ties for the formal evenings I was soon to encounter. The bathroom included an efficient shower, sink and first-class selection of comfortable cotton towels – there seemed to be nothing missing, even for the seasoned traveler.
I was traveling with a small group of journalists, many of whom have considerably more cruise experience than I. However, I did not let this deter my thirst for knowledge and the occasional pint of Bass ale (which, by the way, tasted exceptionally good in Queen Victoria’s Golden Lion Pub.)
Now, as I understand it, the on board experience of sailing on such a vessel is really about being pampered and wined and dined to the nines. I was not to be thwarted.
I had the beguiling opportunity to lunch at Todd English Grill before we set sail last Sunday. This exclusive restaurant on Queen Victoria is truly remarkable not only in décor and privacy but in essence. I had the sea bass, cooked so impeccably that guests at nearby tables also commented for some time on this noteworthy entrée.
After lunch, the almost larger than life man himself, Todd English, made the rounds of our private party and introduced himself, as eager star-gazers tried to pry culinary secrets out of the celebrity chef. He was happy to oblige, to a degree. After posing for photos with the guests, English disembarked Queen Victoria for a trip to Boston (I believe) to check on one of his trendy restaurants. If you sail aboard Queen Victoria, a trip to this restaurant is a must! In addition to the dazzling menu, the attention to every detail is what makes dining here so inimitable.
“Not a bad start, at all!” I said to myself as we left Todd English for the next phase of my Queen Victoria experience. Leaving the restaurant you enter the main area of the QV in which a grand piano accents a truly grand staircase ( if you’ve ever seen Pygmalion- this staircase is almost a carbon copy of that Regal, sweeping staircase in the classic 1938 film) which leads to three or four of the 11 decks aboard the ship. A bas relief etching of Queen Victoria (the ship) greets you as you ascend this impressive stairway.
As you make your way to any particular destination on board there is a vast array of comfy seating begging you to relax and read a good book or simply enjoy the ocean views. Prior to the Muster emergency drill, I had a couple of hours to acclimate myself to the ship’s many decks, amenities restaurants and wonderful specialty bars and, in due course, tried out a couple of these chairs.
After cocktails at the Commodore Club with our hostess, Lauren Purnell, it was time for our first elegant but casual dining experience in the Princess Grill.
I was immediately taken by number of waiters and servers we had for a fairly small group. I did feel ever- so important, moreover I felt it was genuine. Our head waiter from India, Anish Paniker, is a delight to watch as he helps the ladies to their seats and then the gentlemen. Paniker is the perfect combination of panache, and personality. Raul Lucas, originally from Portugal, is the Princess Grille Maitre d’Hotel kept everything running smoothly on the floor of the Princess Grill.
What struck me after we had some spectacular appetizers which included items such as some excellent Scottish Smoked Salmon – which was truly to write home about – was the calm way in which each server approached each guest and ensured your every wish was their command without being over the top. It just felt right. Now if only I could get this kind of service at my home…
I’ve been fortunate enough to dine in restaurants such as the 21 Club in New York and Tavern on the Green in Central Park (which I understand is no more) among many others and I can, without vacillation, say that the food, service and ambiance of Queen Victoria’s Princess Grill is as good as it gets.
As I now understand it, a Cunard voyage is, perhaps foremost, all about exquisite food. I know there are those who would disagree and point out the amazing Spa; the pools; gymnasium; the dancing; the casino; the bingo; the shopping; the history; the library and the many unique bars but come on, it really is about the remarkable food, isn’t it?
This is where it gets REALLY interesting. We had the rare opportunity to visit the galley where these chefs under the executive direction of Chef Patron Jean Marie Zimmerman create such world class cuisine on such a large scale.
The executive chef on Queen Victoria is Mark Olyroyd. Mark gave us a tour of his highly polished and clean kitchen the day after we visited Ensenada. He and his twin brother Nicholas (who also is a chef aboard a Cunard ship) is a master chef with a great sense of humour which helps the massive galley run smoothly. More on this aspect of the Queen Victoria in next week’s installment.
Queen Victoria once said: “Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.” It seems obvious, with this in mind, that Cunard has created a peaceful masterpiece in Queen Victoria. Stunning, when you think that she carries in excess 2000 plus passengers, and an enormously talented and dedicated crew of 1001.
On my particular trip there were very few children and I didn’t see a single baby. This would have pleased Her Majesty Queen Victoria immensely as her preference for the young has been well documented… “I don’t dislike babies, though I think very young ones rather disgusting.”
It seems to me that Cunard appeals to a slightly older traveler and perhaps attracts somewhat more complex, refined tastes for that very reason. Even though there were so many aboard, it never seemed crowded or noisy.
On the second day of the voyage I joined a few other journalists for a tour of Queen Victoria’s bridge. For obvious security reasons, not many are allowed this opportunity. Long gone are the days when you could visit the captain in the aircraft cockpit, for example.
We met Capt. Christopher Rynd, albeit briefly, and then had a terrific educational and fun visit with Second Officer, Aaron Wood, who started the tour by showing us some of the navigational equipment and, yes, the auto pilot button. We also had a glance at the ship’s wheel (yes it still is functional but not quite the size I’d expect for a vessel that carries 3000 plus.) The education and training that goes into becoming responsible for such a massive ship is, in itself, very intense. Meanwhile Chief Officer Tom Bosic and 3rd Officer Joey Clinton kept us safely on course while Second Officer Wood continued the tour of the bridge.
As of 22nd February, Queen Victoria has steamed 367,025 nautical miles
When the great shipwrights built Queen Victoria they had to have this famous quote in mind: “We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist.” -Queen Victoria
Everything about Queen Victoria says success and splendor and while sailing aboard her one can feel nothing but successful and splendidly pampered. Now, this is THE way to travel. For further information on Cunard’s incredible journey opportunities and to book a cruise or crossing, go to: www.cunard.com
Part 2 of this article will appear next week in all Beacon Media News publications and websites.