I am a novice Cruiser but my partner is a real expert. He bought this short trip to Amsterdam and Hamburg out of Hull as a birthday present for me when he saw that it was a craft-themed cruise, knowing that I am an 'arty-type'. Little did he know that the craft side of things was actually run by the TV company "Create & Craft" which we had never watched...but boy all the other crafters onboard had! What a fanatical lot! They all wanted to attend every session so the registration on the first evening was chaotic due to the sheer numbers of keen cardmakers. The next day they reorganised things and after that we went to three craft session all of which we enjoyed even if the actual craft was not our usual thing. The sponsors had been particularly generous and gave everyone lots of gifts and starter packs to take away and use.
There were a few non-crafters, IE, ordinary cruisers. I hasten to add that the Cruise side of things run by Maritime Voyages nearly always went smoothly - except when we disembarked for the excursions when as usual on cruise ships it all becomes a bit of a rugby scrum to get off.
The ship itself IS OLD - but delightfully old fashioned in some ways. Having never cruised on a glitzy new super liner I found the smallness and simplicity of the Ocean Countess delightful. It has lovely lines and looks beautiful, especially next to a P & O super liner in Amsterdam dock which looks too top heavy.
The cabins are neat and kept very clean by invisible stewards. The staff are all friendly if a little shy and never look for any extra tips (Â£5 per day is
charged to your online account per person to take care of all tipping which is great at bars and dining rooms). Dining in the main dining room is slow but then we were on holiday and never in a hurry. The buffet area (The Boat House) is at the back of the boat and in fact is really outdoors, but we found breakfast there was fine and tea and coffee was on tap all day. However food generally ended by 10.00 at night.
The weather was mixed - sunshine and a cold breeze during the day in Amsterdam but then we wandered about the flea market which was wonderful and not at all expensive.Then heavy seas and strong headwinds at night while steaming from Amsterdam to Hamburg so we arrived late, but the shore excursions were all rearranged. We enjoyed a trip to Lubeck North of Hamburg and saw the rebuilt brick cathedral that was bombed in WW2 and the famous Holsten Gate.
The groaning and cracking, banging and straining that another reviewer mentioned DID bother us...it happened when we were at sea and did wake us periodically. After two days I grew used to the ship protesting and then it was TOO quiet as we headed up the calm Kiel Canal and River Elbe! We were on the bottom (Admiral) deck very low in the ship.
I would say that anyone used to very 5 star cruising would find this ship a bit too basic, and there is not any facilities for kids or teenagers, but for those of us who like quiet and small vessels it was lovely.
Beware that nowadays when you return from a shore excursion to a cruise terminal there is always a Port Security Station which may or may not conduct a thorough search (Amsterdam was like going through airport security), and this may hold up your re-boarding.