My Classic International Cruise on MV Athena started in Capetown. Boarding was messy with the staff focusing on existing passengers from Fremantle. After the check-in chaos, taken to my cabin by a sloppily dressed, disinterested Portuguese boy. The cabin was dated, bordering on shabby, but spacious enough and like the rest of the ship, clean.
We departed late due to some issue with immigration, but as we were to hear many times throughout the cruise, "not the ships fault". Five days later, over hundreds of miles of good seas, we arrived at our first port, St Helena, just as late, not the ships fault apparently. It would appear that even though the seas were good, there was no fat in the schedule to catch up. This begs the question, what would have happened if the seas weren't as good. Poor planning to me. Three days later we arrived at the next port, Ascension Island, It was a perfect day in excellent seas and we sat at anchor overnight and half the next morning. Then it was announced it was too unsafe to disembark, not the ships fault. It had been warned in the disclaimer that we may not be able to disembark at tender ports if the seas were unsuitable, but since this was good seas and weather, had anyone in this shipping company done any research on the jetty facilities on this island and its suitability for tenders. Certainly not very professionally anyway. Our Tenerife stop was changed to Las Palmas at the last moment due to the arranged refueling tender not being available, not the ships fault of course. In all fairness, this did have some advantages in that it afforded an extra hour or two in port but certainly upset a few passengers. The final insult was at Lisbon where we had an afternoon and evening, departing at 9.30pm. Not so. Without notice, we were informed to be back onboard at 8.00pm and it would appear the main focus now was getting to Portsmouth as soon as possible, getting rid of us, and in an amazingly short turn around time of about 5 hours, commencing the next charter to Scandanavia or UK or somewhere. And guess what, we finally arrived at a scheduled port early, which was fortunate as disembarkation was a comedy and certainly not fast.
The food was good, not exceptional, but simple delicate flavours. Though pastries and cakes all appeared to have thawed from the freezer and cut from huge slabs. Most the restaurant staff were excellent, Ivan and companion from the Ukraine of particular mention. But there were a few horror stories like one Philipino waiter who threw, really threw the cutlery on the table for me to set when I sat for lunch with a friend and not where he wanted me to sit. The menu for the final gala dinner promised Lobster Thermidor and Beef Wellington, that is at least until we received a different menu at the table that wasn't much different that all the previous offerings. Indian givers! No explanation, no apology, I can only guess it wasn't the ships fault. Little things, like the quality and range of fruit dwindling to a couple of substandard choices by the end of the cruise didn't warm the heart. I bought fresh stuff at ports but it appeared that the ship didn't once. If they did, they got ripped off. The coffee was pretty ghastly and only complimentary at certain times.
The remaining ships staff were mostly good though in many cases this appeared to be largely through the threat of securing the next contract. Very little of it felt truely genuine or convincing. They did however appear to bond very well amongst themselves and I'm sure many a true opinion of the passengers was discussed in the staff quarters. Some of the animation (entertainment) staff were very good with the largely senior passengers and I have to give it to them for patience. But it all seemed a bit flat to me and very, very fake. The Indonesian bar staff were excellent.
Entertainment in the show lounge was OK if you like feathers and bottoms. It got quite repetitious and the room was pretty level so unless you have a front seat, you only see half of the performers. There were a few other entertainment themes but nothing to go to bed thinking about. Same problem with the cinema where you only see the top half of the screen. Bands and other entertainers weren't bad with a couple of shinning lights. Other rooms of particular mention include the Lotus Grill which looked very shabby with furniture that appeared as if it had been purchased from Bunnings 20 years ago. And the pool had flaps of paint peeling off it but I must say it was sea water and otherwise quite delightful.
In summary, most the passengers were advanced seniors and repeat cruisers. A lot of them were ten pound English/Australians returning home for a visit, complained a lot, but loved most of it. Many of us didn't buy the "not the ships fault" story for all their indiscretions. After all, they are an international shipping company that you would expect has the resources and information to plan a lot better. I understand the commercial reality in scheduling etc., but hey. I could accept a couple of glitches but not the almost consistent failures in planning and scheduling. And it wasn't a cheap cruise by any means. OK for some, not for me.