Cruise Guide: Queen Victoria waiting in the wings

By Mike Coleman

The Legendary Cunard Line is just a few months away from ushering in a new maritime era. The much-anticipated launch of Queen Victoria will become reality in December. 

The 90,000-ton vessel will not only be a classic ocean liner, offering the very best of Cunard’s heritage and traditions (replete with modern-day luxuries), but will also feature a host of new innovations.

Look for the first traditional West End London-style private viewing boxes at sea in the Royal Court Theatre; the first floating Cunardia museum display, housing Cunard artifacts and memorabilia; and the first two-story, spiral staircased library at sea. The ship will also feature the line’s celebrated luxury Grills accommodation and dining, further enhanced on Queen Victoria with exclusive deck terraces and an al fresco dining option.

From the outside, her distinctive black-and-red livery will hint at what differentiates a Cunard liner from a standard cruise ship. This will be most evident in the ship’s adherence to liner traditions of the past, with elegant double- and triple-height public rooms, featuring rich wood paneling, intricate mosaics and gleaming chandeliers. There will also be a grand, colonial-style Winter Garden, complete with a retractable glass roof.
Itineraries will also sparkle.

“In Queen Victoria’s inaugural year, we’ve planned a compelling around-the-world schedule that affords travelers an opportunity to experience the next generation of Cunard style, complete with festive welcomes in every port,” said Carol Marlow, president of Cunard Line.

“In addition to joining Cunard’s exciting heritage of maiden call fanfare, guests traveling on Mediterranean, Baltic and Northern European voyages will be able to enjoy a more in-depth experience in each of these fascinating ports.”

In the first year alone, the 1,980-passenger vessel will chart a course through Europe, stretching as far south as the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria; as far east as Yalta, Ukraine, once an ancient Greek colony on the northern coast of the Black Sea; and west to Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands.

Highlighting the ship’s 2008 schedule are an eclectic variety of Mediterranean itineraries, offering departures from Rome, Barcelona, Venice, Athens and Southampton. Look also for Queen Victoria to offer a Mediterranean voyage, departing from Southampton, and ending with an overnight in Venice.

Additional highlights include three 14-day Russian Rendezvous voyages (departing May 27, June 22 and July 18, roundtrip from Southampton) that will circle the Baltic Sea and feature two full days in St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as stops in Bruges, Belgium; Gdansk, Poland; Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo.

The ship will also call on Northern Europe. Look for a seven-day Norwegian Fjords voyage, departing roundtrip from Southampton on May 20, with stops in Bergen, Hellesylt, Geiranger, Aalesund and Stavanger, and two 12-day Voyage of the Vikings voyages, departing roundtrip from Southampton on June 10 and July 6, with stops in Bergen, Tromso, Honningsvag (for the North Cape), Trondheim, Hellesylt, Geiranger, Olden and Stavanger.

Cruise Guide: Cruise lines brace for hurricanes

By Mike Coleman

My e-mail inbox is usually filled each week with questions from readers who are either planning a first voyage or are so enthralled by the cruise vacation experience that they seek advice about an upcoming sailing.

I’m constantly asked to name the best of the best: Who operates the best cruise line? Who has the world’s best ship? Who serves the best cuisine? What line is best for families? Is cruising really one of the best vacation experiences?

When answering such queries I usually shy away from selecting just one cruise line. After all, today’s mega-liners and their intimate counterparts can easily provide a memorable vacation experience for first-time or experienced cruise passengers. What it really boils down to when choosing a trip on the high seas is individual taste and how much potential passengers are prepared to pay for the voyage.

This time of year, the correspondence tone changes dramatically. Best-of-the-best queries were relegated to the back burner, as local readers collectively sought the answer to but one question: How safe is cruise ship travel during hurricane season?

According to officials at the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), North America’s largest cruise industry organization, representing 24 member lines (over 150 ships) and 17,000 travel agencies, passenger and crew safety is a paramount concern.

“Passengers should rest assured that CLIA-member lines have the latest technology and information to closely monitor weather conditions and take all actions necessary to make certain its passengers enjoy a safe and enjoyable cruise vacation,” said CLIA president and chief executive, Terry Dale.

In the event of severe weather conditions, said Dale, cruise lines follow strict operational protocols. Because ships are mobile, cruise lines are able to alter, cancel, shorten or extend ship itineraries to keep passengers safe. Modern cruise ships also feature technologically-advanced weather forecasting systems, which enable cruise lines to reposition a ship well in advance of significant weather-related disturbances.

In addition, ships are able to work around port closures caused by severe weather conditions. In the event that ports of embarkation and debarkation are closed, cruise lines can use an alternative port. In such cases, cruise lines also coordinate the logistics of loading food and supplies and getting passengers to and from the original port.

By means of e-mail, telephone calls or overnight express, cruise lines also effectively communicate potential itinerary changes to their passengers, right up to their respective sailing dates. There’s simply too much at stake for today’s major cruise lines not to take proactive and preventative means to ensure passenger, crew and vessel safety prior to or during a storm.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, with peak activity occurring through October.