We (my wife and I) flew out to Peru to catch the last leg of the world cruise back to Southampton, and almost literally pushed the boat out to take a Premier Suite (their top suite). We expected superb service, but that was in part a big let-down.
I'm disabled, and asked for assistance at the airport and ship. The airport was great with this. Coming from oop north, we stayed at the Hilton (package included parking) the previous night, and it was probably a good job we did. The rumour mill on the ship said that some 16 passengers missed the flight (a charter by Fred Olsen) due to a car crash on the Gatwick approach road, though I believe they did catch up with the ship at a later port. The hotel was OK but no better, but they arranged wheelchair assistance for me from the hotel right through to boarding the aircraft. For reasons unknown, they don't actually advertise this, and we found out only by accident. But a superb service it is, and they should make more of it.
The flight was with Pullmantur, and I'd never heard of them (a small, Spanish charter company). We were on a 747-400, and had upgraded seats. These seats were on the upper deck, and were full business class seats and service. Service (and comfort) was excellent, and a lot of passengers (including the standard class passengers) were congratulating the crew on providing such good service. I'd certainly fly with them again!
Unfortunately, the ship did not do as well. It provided no help for me (a wheelchair was required) for embarkation (nor for disembarkation). Not an impressive start! However, check-in was pain-free, so the embarkation was not a real problem.
Taken to our cabin, our cabin attendant (CA, named Beth) greeted us and vanished. She came back with some sparkling wine, but only ran through the facilities when we asked her to (there were several things that were not obvious). Unfortunately, that was the start of poor service that went on almost every day for the rest of the trip. She cleaned OK, but it was done at her convenience, not ours. If there was a separate category for the CA, it would have a zero rating.
The cabin was huge (about 550 sq ft, or 50 sq mtrs), though quite a lot of that space was dead because of the design (essentially two long cabins with a partial partition between them). It was still a great deal more space that we were used to, and it was pleasant to be able to sit in there. There was also a decent balcony, which was very good when we were in South America and the Caribbean but of no use when crossing the Atlantic! We got this cabin because of the length of the cruise, and it was well worth it for us. However, the smaller suites were probably better value for money.
That first night, we were too late for the first sitting at dinner (which is the sitting we'd asked for), so we ate in the buffet restaurant. That was a bit of a mistake, as the quality was rather poor, and we didn't eat there again in the cruise. Overall, then, we'd not had a good introduction to the cruise.
We mainly ate in the main dining room, with waiter service. The waiters, on a couple of occasions, asked me to move once I'd sat down, though at considerable inconvenience to myself. Apparently, they'd have had to go slightly further to walk round me if I hadn't moved. Never met that before! There was lots available for breakfast, but the theme of the food for me was the lovely, fresh bread rolls -- I'm missing that now I'm home.
Food generally in the main restaurant was good, though not excellent. My wife struggled, as things she liked were often paired with things she disliked. Not a problem with separates (like veg), but a real problem with sauces and the like. Still, she didn't starve. The meat chef must have been on holiday, though. Medium steak would come out rare, really well done would be medium rare, and rare came out sometimes rare and sometimes uncooked. There were quite a few comments about this. And portion sizes were so variable. Roast chicken was half a chicken as a main course; garlic mushrooms as a starter comprised 4 small (about 12mm, or half an inch, across) mushrooms -- thank goodness I didn't sneeze! Someone in the reviews has mentioned fine dining, but it was a long way from that. The only thing that reminded me of fine dining was the small size of some of the dishes!
One thing I can recommend: the fish and chips from the Marquee Bar. The fish was really sweet, and turned out to be an Asian river fish (no, I can't remember the name). This dish was excellent, and very popular.
The waiters, once you'd been there a couple of days, were excellent. Our regular (dinner) waiter kept an eye open for us at the other meals, and waved us over to a suitable table. He served us well, and anticipated many of our likes and dislikes as well as my mobility problems. But the best part was that he (and others) involved themselves in our foibles!
I'm a Daffy Duck fan, and it was DD's "birthday" on 17th April (he was 75!). I arranged a party for him at dinner that night, and everyone entered into the spirit of it. Our waiter sat a Jester puppet of Daffy on a wine glass; we had the usual song of "Happy Birthday to Daffy" sung by 6 or so waiters and a couple of officers; and they shook Daffy's hand at the end! I've never enjoyed a birthday so much. And after that, I was called Mr Daffy (or just Daffy) by a number of the waiters. (And yes, Daffy enjoyed his party as well.)
I'm not a great one for shows -- I'm particularly picky about singers -- but I went to watch a magician and comedian (Mandy Muden) and watched bits of a couple of shows on the inboard TV system. The one I went to was truly excellent, and I would willingly have paid to go to see her (that says a lot for me!). The singers I watched on TV, though, I didn't like at all, though my wife enjoyed them.
What was strange was that only part of the shows were put on TV. Some were not shown at all, while some were broadcast missing the first few (up to 15) minutes. And no mention was made of this "feature". We did have a longish bout of what the Captain called "stomach flue" but what everyone thought was norovirus, and a stupid film kept being played over and over again about washing hands, and why it was important; and this took precedence over a lot of the televised shows.
There were other oddities, such as the mobile network going down for 2 days or so and not announced, but incredibly tall tales being given when I queried this; and our ship position being given on screen as Antigua right through to our arrival in Southampton. But generally the ship was a nice experience, though as others have said the passengers had a lot of infirm people amongst them (including me).
As for trips, we didn't go on many, as we'd been to the Caribbean before. My wife was really impressed with Lima, and loved the city tour. She would like to go back there again.
Manta (Ecuador) was interesting, and we went on a tour that took us to a market that sold, among other things, the panama hat. I had no idea that these came in multiple grades, basically from coarse to fine, with prices that ranged from $30 or so up to $300 or so. The other highlight was the Tagua (nut) factory, where they created sculptures out of these nuts (which are often called "vegetable ivory"). These were very nicely done, and we bought several of them. On a previous cruise, we had bought one at St Maarten, but they were much cheaper here.
Next came the main feature for us: the transit of the Panama Canal. I'm not going to try to describe it, because I couldn't do it justice. While the first couple of miles of the canal itself looked like (and was, I think) a mining operation, perhaps partly because they are enlarging the lock gates to take bigger ships, the real scenery started in the Gatun Lake. It was worth the trip just to see this.
Our next trip was a horse and carriage ride in Cartagena, Columbia. This was very interesting, though I was disappointed with the standard of English of our driver. The combination of the carriage and the street surfaces made it difficult to take photos, though.
St Maarten was a bit of a let-down, as it was Sunday and a lot of places were closed. Even the shops at the terminal had a lot closed! Still, I managed to get a couple of bottles of rum, so the important souvenirs were obtained!
Our last tour was at Ponta Delgada, which my wife did on her own. The place looks very nice, and my wife absolutely loved it. She now wants to go there for a week or two to look round properly.
My one standard moan (for all cruise ships so far) is that the activities provided are boring, and I don't bother with them. This makes 23 nights on a ship about a week too long, and I'd think twice about going on another long cruise like this one. Having said that, we chatted to several people who'd been on the full 106 days of the world cruise, and no-one had cut their own throat. There must be a knack to surviving that length of time!
Once we arrived in Southampton, we had the usual hassle of getting off the ship. I should have had wheelchair assistance, but that wasn't provided. And it was a very long walk from the ship to the point where we picked up a coach to Gatwick (to collect our car for the drive north). Fred Olsen really does need to sort itself out with regard to helping passengers who ask for wheelchair assistance.
Overall, then, the cruise was interesting, though Beth's poor performance made it quite disappointing.