We've just returned from a highly enjoyable week on the Island Escape. To put this review in context we are a family of 3, me, my husband (both in our forties) and my 4 year old boy. We've cruised 4 times previously on Ocean Village twice and Royal Caribbean twice (most recently the Oasis of the Seas). This trip was a very last minute bargain holiday (paid just over Â£200 each with flights from Ryan Air for Â£30 return!) and the purpose was really to see my Mum & step Dad so my little boy could see his Nana & Granddad (who live in Palma).
My Mum has travelled on the Island Escape around 20 times, often picking up a last minute bargain so she tipped us off about this one. She was a little concerned about what I was expecting and kept stressing it wasn't RCI! Thankfully I'd read all the reviews so was going with an open mind (and the thought that for Â£200 what could I expect!)
Anyway we arrive in Palma, the embarkation was really smooth and we were on top deck with a drink in hand by 11.30am! First impressions and I was very pleasantly surprised, the ship had clearly had a makeover while in dry dock, their were new (and quite stylish) carpets throughout, yes it was an old ship but it did look like everything had had an overhaul, lovely new varnish on all wood and fresh paint everywhere. After a drink we headed to the cabin, we'd booked an inside / lowest grade to keep the trip cheap and again I was pleasantly surprised. I'd read about tired cabins but ours seemed very cozy, the lighting is very clever / subtle and hides the dated decor well. Personally I was happy with the curtains over the wardrobes, again these seemed new, the bedding was clean, the towel new and the bathroom bigger than I expected. Loads & loads of storage was a bonus too! I was delighted to see a reasonably priced in room mini bar (Â£3 for a quarter bottle of wine / Â£2 for a bottle of water) the RCI ones only have soft drinks and I love a nightcap when back in the room. We didn't try and take any drinks onboard but I know a few people who did in their cases with no problems...
We didn't go all inclusive as it was going to cost another Â£400 to do so and we weren't sure if we'd drink that much (I think we saved about Â£10 by not going all inclusive in the end but at least we could choose to have a bottle of wine with dinner rather than drink by the glass which is nice).
I thought the food was very good, we ate well for the whole week, mainly in the Island Restaurant, we did have two dinners in the paid for Oasis restaurant which was gorgeous and well worth the money, we did the Â£34.95 wine & dine package which includes a bottle of wine (usually Â£14 on its own) so you are dining for Â£10 a head. The food in here was incredible, lots of choice and I highly recommend the Fillet Mignon steak and the bread and butter pudding - delicious. The staff and service was superb. The other two restaurants (The Island & the top deck) serve almost the same food as each other, both buffet style, lots of choice, I often had to go back for seconds as there was so much I wanted to try! They do a kids menu as well, so if your little one doesn't want to eat of the buffet they'll bring a hot dog or burger etc, which was great, again the service is superb, staff bringing you water, topping up your wine etc. In the Island restaurant the tables are mostly for 8 so you do get to sit with some fellow diners although I really don't mind that as it is nice to meet new people, if you prefer to sit alone (as my parents do) then you may be better with the upstairs restaurant, there is a lovely outdoor seating area at the back of the upstairs restaurant if the weather is good. The full English breakfast was lovely and there is an omelet chef too. The only complaint was the desert selection wasn't that great but if I'm honest that is probably a good thing as I didn't put on too much weight! The afternoon tea is lovely and the sausage rolls fantastic. There are a couple of theme nights (Chinese, Italian, Indian) which were good although not the largest selection of dishes.
The kids club is Palmy's and my little boy loved it, infact the problem was getting him out of there. The staff Sophie, Nadia and Kylie were absolutely fantastic and Finn adored them! It was very basic in comparison to the RCI kids club however it didn't seem to matter to Finn! They did a great thing called breakfast club where the staff come to your cabin at 8.30am to collect your kids and take them to breakfast while Mum & dad have a lie in - absolute heaven!
I thought the entertainment was good, we loved Rock the Boat in the Bounty Lounge, who did a fab live music set each night, we enjoyed the entertainment team shows, quizzes etc. There seemed to be something on almost all the day and Ross Cruise Director was funny and entertaining.
The ports of call were great, our only disappointment was Civitavecchia where we had planned to go to Rome but there was a strike by transport workers, which meant the trains weren't running, and many of roads in Rome may be closed for protests so we decided not to risk it. Luckily we are back in July on the Carnival Breeze so we can do this then. We loved Corsica (although it rained) and Toulon was lovely, took the little train to the beach and drank wine on the waterfront and played in the park / beach. Barcelona we just strolled the Ramblas then shopped and lunched. The daily planner and maps from reception were helpful, we didn't do any 'official' trips but they did look very reasonably priced in comparison to RCI anyway.
The drinks prices were brilliant (again in comparison to RCI) and it was a lovely change not to be charged a 15% service charge on everything! There are a number of bars including the Sundowner bar, a sail away bar, The pub, the pool bar, I think we tried them all! Bar service was great with very attentive staff who quickly learnt your favourite tipple.
Despite the lack of tipping / service charge the staff were great, very helpful and as a result of that we tipped anyway which was well appreciated.
I was impressed by the customer service standards, I experienced a problem where I had booked a 2 hour wifi package, a bargain at Â£18, I was using this on my iphone and there wasn't an option to log off so I actually used this package within the first 2 hours without realizing, I then unwittingly continued to use wifi (thinking I was still on my package) when I wasn't so when we got the first copy of our bill half way through the holiday I had run up over Â£60 of internet charges. I went to reception who were very helpful and raised it with the IT manager who they said would contact me, a few days later I popped back and they offered to waive all fees if I bought another package at Â£18 which I did. This was very good of them as really it was my fault for not logging out properly and they really didn't need to I suppose. I was pleased but be aware if you use wifi.
In all I was delighted with our bargain break, no it wasn't RCI but do you know I think we had just as good a time as our previous holiday and at a 10th of the price!!!
My advice if you are thinking about it and worrying about some of the less than positive reviews, don't, if you see a good price just book it, go with an open mind and you'll enjoy.