Cunard Line's Queen Victoria is an established ship with a decade of service behind her. We spoke with her captain and her general hotel manager about the ship and the cruise experience she provides as she enters her second decade of service.
A sound ship.
Captain Tomas Connery began his passenger ship career on the legendary Queen Elizabeth 2. He then was part of the team that went to the shipyard in St. Nazaire, France to bring the Queen Mary 2 to into service. He spent four years on the Queen Mary 2 After taking some time to continue his academic education, he returned to the sea as an officer for Cunard's sister company P&O Cruises.
One of Captain Connery's commands with P&O Cruises was the Arcadia. As a result, he is able to say that he has commanded both Queen Victorias. After Carnival Corporation acquired Cunard Line, it ordered a cruise ship for Cunard, which was to bear the name “Queen Victoria.” However, after Carnival merged with P&O, the decision was made to give the cruise ship that it had ordered for Cunard to P&O Cruises. “Sometimes if the sun shines right you can see the [Queen Victoria] name on the back of the Arcadia.”
The ship that now bears the name Queen Victoria was built a few years later. Like the Arcadia, it is built on the Vista class design. However, the bow was strengthened and the ship was lengthened. Consequently, the Queen Victoria is known as a “Super-Vista”.
“Compare this ship to Arcadia, even though it is only 15 meters longer, it is more stable at sea. It is designed to go transatlantic, around Cape Horn, across the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and even down through the Bay of Biscay. The Bay of Biscay can be some of the worse seas you can come across.”
The ship is also very maneuverable. “We are quite lucky here with the design of the ship. We have azipods for maneuvering, it is not like a conventional ship. All the Cunard ships have pods. Three bow thrusters forward.”
In 2017, Queen Victoria underwent a major refit. “The last refit, there was a lot of overhaul on the engines. Every 10 years, that is normal with a ship.”
“The extension on the back made during the refit is very nice. It squared up the back but now you have the nice sun deck on Deck 9 aft. It opens up the back deck more. The ship still handles the same. There was a little bit of concern when we came out but the handling has not changed sine the back end was put on.”
Captain Connery's overall assessment of Queen Victoria from a nautical perspective: “After 11 years [in service}, she is doing very well. Structure-wise the ship is very sound. “
A luxury hotel.
In charge of Queen Victoria's hotel operations is veteran hotelier James Cusick. Mr. Cusick originally wanted to become a chef. However, he found the heat in an industrial kitchen too much and “so I decided to get out of the kitchen and concentrate on hotels and tourism.”
After working in hotels in London and other parts of the UK, Mr. Cusick decided that he would go to sea. “I thoroughly enjoyed meeting people from all over the world and that gave me the bug to want and go and visit these countries. 35 years at sea and I only came for two years to see the world. Loving it and still enjoying it.”
During his time at sea, the companies Mr. Cusick has worked for have included Princess Cruises, P&O Australia and P&O Cruises as well as Cunard. It has included a variety of ships ranging from the legendary Canberra to large modern resort ships like P&O Cruises' Azura. As a result, Mr. Cusick brings to Queen Victoria an extensive and diverse experience.
“At the end of the day, it is all about safety and looking after your guests and the ship's company.”
Cunard is well known as a British-based line but what makes it different from other British-based lines such as P&O Cruises?
“We are a five star line. We are in the Berlitz Guide to Cruising as five stars. P&O is four stars. So the level of service is higher here, we have more staff per guest and the guests are paying more here so you have to deliver more.” Mr. Cusick answered
Captain Connery elaborated: “If you compare this ship to Arcadia, Arcadia's crew figure is 850 and we are 940 even though they are sister ships. The White Star service stands out. When you come aboard, there are bellboys waiting for you there, the maitre d', the restaurant staff to guide you to your stateroom. That is the service people expect on a Cunard ship.”
“There is more space on a Cunard ship for everybody. That's what the guests really like – the space. It makes them feel free, feel inspired, feel good. The signature afternoon tea is served every afternoon in the Queens Room with the white gloves. Classical music playing. We have 28 full time musicians on this ship and every room has live music at some time of the day.” Mr. Cusick noted.
In addition, Cunard has an extensive enrichment program, often featuring well-known personalities giving lectures. “What I find on voyages is that people want to entertained and educated that way, enriched . They don't want to be educated as such. They want to be entertained and still learn new things.”
A formal experience
“Many of the things on Cunard are things that have been going on for years. It is still quite formal Most of our guests have gone away to other luxury lines but they come back here because they like the formality.”
While not every night is formal, there are more formal nights on Cunard than on most other lines. “Our regular guests tell us that they want to keep that. One of the hardest things marketing has to do is get across that even though we have dress codes, we are not stuffy. Its fun but it is still a formal cruise line.”
“People know that this is what we do on Cunard. We get dressed up on formal nights. They come to get dressed up, make a special occasion out of it. Added Captain Connery.
“On a formal night, we invite guests who don't want to take part to remain on Deck 9, which is the Lido, the Winter Garden and we have even opened up the Yacht Club. We ask them to stay clear of the public areas on Decks 2 and 3. In the main, people are happy with that.” Mr. Cusick explained.
Queen Victoria attracts a large number of repeat guests. “The ship has a good following. They like the décor, the way it is run and they like the operation. When they come back to the ship, they know the crew.” Captain Connery observed.
Mr. Cusick added: “She was the first Cunard liner in a cruise ship make up. Everybody loved the ship from day one. Even the few alterations that were done during the last refit, the regulars all love what was done.”
“We also get a lot of newcomers. We like to look after them so they come back. A high percentage of our guests do book another cruise while they are onboard.”
“People who have not traveled very much pick a ship for where it goes, but what we find is that even with first time Cunarders, our guests have traveled extensively so they are not coming necessarily to go to new places. They are coming because of the ship.”
“Last cruise there were over 150 guests who did not get off. They just came to stay on the ship. The destinations are very nice. The majority of our guests have seen it before, they just want to experience life aboard.” Captain Connery added.
Guests come from many nations. “We are a very traditional product but we seem to please people from America, England, Germany all over the world. It is amazing the way the general menu and the service we provide seems to agree with everybody.
"For the international guests, we have international hots. We translate the programs and the menus into German, French. Sometimes Japanese and Chinese depending upon what the need is on the voyage.” Mr. Cusick commented.
Queen Victoria also seeks to accommodate all age groups. Most guests are adults. However, “we welcome children. We never have more than 70 at one time but we have facilities to entertain the children and give them a great holiday. The parents get some time to themselves, enjoy the ship, relax.”
Cruise ship intervew - - Cunard Line - - Queen Victoria - - Captain Tomas Connery and Hotel General Manager James Cusick