MS Queen Victoria offers an experience fit for royalty
Reliving the golden era of luxury travel as Cunard cruise ship visits Port Elizabeth
My ship’s come in and I’m sitting down to a splendiferous lunch in the MS Queen Victoria’s elegant Britannia Restaurant.
Impeccably trained waiters are primed for my every command.
I nip to the ladies’ during one of numerous beautifully plated courses and return to find my carelessly discarded napkin once more perfectly folded like an elaborate origami.
“Some lemon for your fish, ma’am?” asks waiter Henry when my main course of poached lemon sole with shrimp, parsley and truffle sauce arrives.
I give an affirmative nod and the ever-obliging Henry squeezes the dainty wedge for me, applying the deftest of sparkling silverware aided manoeuvres.
These are among the countless thoughtful touches that make a journey with Cunard Lines so special.
One of the world’s most impressive luxury liners, the majestic MS Queen Victoria visited the port of Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, attracting scores of curious onlookers before departing for Cape Town at 8pm.
At 294m long, and able to carry more than 2,000 passengers and just under 1,000 crew, the ship with its distinctive red and black funnels could be seen from most vantage points along the beachfront.
This was only Victoria’s second visit here. Similar in size to Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, it sailed to Port Elizabeth from Mauritius and the Seychelles, and before that, Australia and New Zealand, as part of a four-month world cruise that began in Cunard headquarters in Southampton in January.
The Cape Town stop signals the end of one official segment or leg of the journey; a new segment then began for passengers travelling from Cape Town to Southampton, where the world cruise wraps up at the end of April.
Passengers may not as yet board in Port Elizabeth but one lives in hope this will change in future.
Besides Victoria and Elizabeth, Cunard’s other oceanic majesty is the ultra-luxurious Queen Mary 2, the biggest in the fleet and also no stranger to the Bay.
A fourth ship, to be built in Italy, will join the iconic Cunard Line – founded in 1840 – in 2022.
It’s worth remembering that every visit by a liner of this calibre contributes significantly to the local economy as passengers spend money on shopping, sight-seeing, and visits to game reserves and other attractions while on their shore excursions.
In SA, some even disembark for a few days to explore the Garden Route and Winelands on their own steam before getting back on board in Cape Town.
Cruising season is traditionally between November and the end of April.
Sadly my own visit would be all too brief as I was joining a handful of media and travel industry guests who were lucky enough to get invited for an orientation tour and lunch.We were accompanied by Port Elizabeth cruising specialist Emma Momberg and our informative, one-hour tour was led by Dragana Prodanovic, the ship’s charming, Coco Chanel-channeling loyalty cruise sales manager.We entered on deck one, our IDs and passports safely stored should anyone have attempted to stow away (the thought does occur!).The ship is incredibly steeped in English tradition and decorum – service is impeccable, there are no queues in sight and Dragana knew the name of every passenger we encountered.As with the other Cunard ships there is distinctive art deco and art nouveau styling throughout, and many nostalgic touches drawing on British royal history.Apart from at the three pool areas (two outdoor, one indoor) – and perhaps the gym and spa – you will not see anyone in T-shirts and flip-flops.Appropriate attire is expected at all times and, Dragana told us, guests dress to the nines for dinner, the theatre, dancing and other activities.You won’t see kids getting free rein either. This ship is not tailored for family cruising, though it does have some (tucked-away) facilities for babies, children and teens.Dragana, who originally hails from Serbia, led us to spectacular venues such as the grand Queen’s Room with its huge, shimmering crystal chandeliers – the perfect place to dance the night away; the exclusive Queens and Princess Grills which only the top-paying passengers have access to; and the jaw-droppingly beautiful Royal Court Theatre with its ornate private boxes, and velvet and brocade touches reminiscent of London’s most lavish West End theatres.The most expensive Q1 suites –only five in all – are often snapped up first, Dragana said, even though they could set you back around R5,4m a couple for the world cruise.Shorter sections and less exclusive cabins are a lot more affordable.“There are many great cruise lines but this one is about experiencing history,” said Dragana, who has worked on Cunard ships for 11 years.“It’s like travelling back in time. We believe in the ballrooms, the formal events, the feathers and the bling for the ladies, the tuxedos for the gents. The big bands, just like the old times. It’s all about tradition and quality.”
More majestic liners bound for the Bay The Bay is firmly on the map when it comes to international cruising, with the Cunard Line’s stately MS Queen Victoria having spent Wednesday in the port of Port Elizabeth before heading on to Cape Town and, finally, Southampton.What the city has going for it, is that it is a very convenient gateway to the Garden Route. Many passengers on Cunard’s world tours now choose to disembark in Port Elizabeth, hire a car, and explore the Garden Route and Winelands before getting back on the ship in Cape Town for the final stretch to Southampton.“Port Elizabeth saw Queen Elizabeth visiting in January and Queen Victoria has just been here as part of her world voyage,” said Emma Momberg, Whitestar Cruise & Travel’s representative in the Eastern Cape and Garden Route, and a Port Elizabeth-based travel expert specialising in cruises.White Star is Cunard’s official sales agency for Southern Africa.“Queen Elizabeth will be back in November as she sails around the SA coast. Port Elizabeth will be one of her ports of call as she makes her way to spend her first Christmas in Australia,” Momberg added.Cunard’s other “Queen” apart from Victoria and Elizabeth is Queen Mary 2, one of the grandest ocean liners ever built.This beauty of the high seas will visit again at the end of March 2020.“More and more cruise ships are including Port Elizabeth on their itineraries so guests can experience our historic attractions, have local experiences and of course see our wildlife, with many visiting the likes of Addo Elephant Park and Pumba Private Game Reserve,” Momberg said.“Oceania’s Nautica visited in January, Ponant’s Le Lyrial was here in March and the Viking Sun will be in port on Tuesday April 16.”2020 will likewise be an exciting year with Cunard, Ponant and Oceania Cruises returning once more and Azamara Club Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruises Lines also including Port Elizabeth on their itineraries.To get an idea of what it would set you back, Whitestar Cruises were selling the last remaining cabins on the Queen Victoria segment from Cape Town to Southampton for 16 nights (April 12 to 28) from £1,540 a person sharing (about R28,500) for a Balcony Stateroom.Ten nights in Alaska on board the Queen Elizabeth (a round trip from Vancouver departing May 31) is selling from £1,350 a person sharing (about R25,000) for a Balcony Stateroom.“Cruising has become increasingly popular as you unpack only once and see a new destination each day,” Momberg said.“It’s crime free on board, great for families and friends travelling together and, with more cruise lines including gratuities, drinks packages and wi-fi onboard, it’s a great, fully-inclusive way to travel.“There are so many cruise lines out there to match every style of travel and budget.”