The Princess Grill maitre d' serves up a flaming cherries jubilee // (c) 2011 Monica Poling
My earliest cruise experience dates back to the late 70s, coinciding with the first time I toured the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach. Although it would be some 30 years before I would take a “real” cruise, my experience on board the Queen Mary set an early impressions for what I would believe to be the ultimate in luxury cruising.
The romantic notion of a trans-Atlantic crossing, coupled with elegant dinner settings and glitzy ballroom dancing, all accented by opulent art-deco furnishings, continue to remain a mental luxury cruise benchmark for me, so it was with true excitement that I was able to experience my first cruise onboard a Cunard ship.
The Queen Victoria, which is in the midst of her America’s Season, recently called upon the Port of Los Angeles, between sailings through the Panama Canal and to the Hawaiian Islands. For me, a four-day journey to Ensenada, while not quite on par with a trans-Atlantic voyage, certainly gave me plenty of time to get a true taste of the Cunard experience.
What became quickly apparent onboard is that the Queen Victoria remains true to her history. While there are certainly plenty of modern touches (karaoke in the pub, anyone?), the Queen Victoria has countless art and artifacts scattered throughout the ship that pay tribute to Cunard’s rich history.
On every deck, there are rich paintings of current and former Cunard ships, and the Cunardia Gallery, which sits in the main passageway between the Queens Room (ballroom) and the main lobby, pays particular homage to the era of steamship sailing — displaying artifacts that retell the histories of all of Cunard’s ocean liners. Among the most noted items in the ship’s vast art collection are three etchings in the Queens Room, one done by Queen Victoria herself, one done by Prince Albert and one etching that the two did together.
Before boarding, I was concerned that the reality might not live up to the fantasies generated by my younger self. In particular, I was worried that what seemed opulent to a younger me might translate to oppressive to my more mature self, but the experience on the Queen Victoria was never stifling. For example, while I mentally consider glitzy ball gown affairs the ultimate in luxury cruising, in reality I’m not actually a big fan of participating in the formal night experience. However, once I got past my grumbling over having to “dress up,” I found myself enjoying the formal night onboard.
Our evening started at the ship’s signature Todd English restaurant, which carries the banner of the New York-based restaurateur who earned Bon Appetit’s “Restaurateur of the Year” award earlier this year.
Following dinner, there were plenty of entertainment options, but because the Queens Room is centrally located and on the main flight path to and from anywhere important on the ship, most people gravitated to the ballroom, at least for a short while.
The band did a tremendous job performing vocal standards and passengers across all age demographics — with the youngest ringing in at about age 3 — tripping the lights fantastic. Professional dance escorts were on hand to ensure that even the dateless had a chance to take a spin around the dance floor.
After ballroom dancing, many of the passengers headed to the Royal Court Theatre, a theatre built to imitate Britain’s turn-of-the century theaters. In a true nod to the luxury traveler, the theater comes complete with 16 private boxes, which can be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis.
Despite the myriad options available to Queen Victoria’s passengers, in the end, my favorite feature was dining in the Princess Grill, a private restaurant available just to passengers booked in the ship’s Princess Grill suites. (Similarly, the ship also offers a Queen’s Grill).
Both restaurants feature designated seating and, by the second day, my dedicated server, Anish, already had my specialty coffee order memorized. The menu offered both a lineup of regular fare as well as daily specials. Furthermore, no request seemed to be off limits. Despite our group’s very last-minute decision to celebrate a personal event, a cake magically appeared at dinner time.
Both grill restaurants have lounges, again, only available to passengers booked in specific room classes. I especially appreciated the Princess Grill lounge during high tea. Many of my fellow passengers had to stand in a long line at the Queens Room waiting for service, but we did not have to wait for our scones with clotted cream.
The Princess Grill suites, too, added to the overall cruise experience. At 335 square feet, there was plenty of room to move around, and the bathroom even featured a tub. Suitcases fit easily in the closet (no dragging them out from under the bed), and the private balcony was the perfect location for the one time I enjoyed in-room dining.
When first embarking on the four-day voyage to Ensenada, I was concerned about how little time we were to spend in port. For me, cruising has always seemed to be an activity that was more about the destination and less about the journey. But my time onboard the Queen Victoria readjusted my thinking of what life on a ship should be like and, by the time we arrived in Ensenada, I was already considering skipping the shore excursion so I could enjoy more time on the ship.