Arrived at Harwich 11.30am and followed signs to the car park to the left of the Ship. Luggage was taken; we parked the car ourselves and got the courtesy shuttle bus to the Ship. It was busy already with the priority area for platinum members and above overflowing so we went into the normal queue which was much quicker. We then queued up to the scanners and all the way on to the Ship. The Windjammer buffet restaurant was not too full so we had lunch. Next we ordered the Evian water package from outside the Windjammer - yes I know it is very expensive (16x1 litre bottles for $66 including the 15% tip added automatically) but I do prefer it to the water on board which has a funny taste and as I do not drink tea or coffee, I am rather limited as to what I can have. This arrived in the cabin at 8.30pm so next time I will order beforehand if it says it will be waiting in the cabin on arrival. We went to our cabins at 1.45pm and they were open. I never did hear the announcement saying they were open so not sure if they said or not. Two out of 3 suitcases were already there and the 3rd arrived within a few minutes so very good service. We unpacked and attended the lifeboat drill at 4pm before sailing at 5pm. My cabin steward came to say hello and was generally very good. I did have to ask him for my bathrobe which should be standard for platinum members and above and Guest Relations for my Crown & Anchor Ultimate Value Booklet which was also missing. This has discount coupons for drinks, photos, casino, laundry, bingo, jewelry, tattoos, Pets at Sea, $7.50 internet credit and a few other things too.
FOOD & DRINK
The Windjammer was ok for self service. I like to look first so always eat here rather than the main waiter service restaurant which does make you feel hemmed in. I heard one passenger say they were all herded in like cattle down there! It is very handy having free lemonade here although they do fill the glass full with ice so I have to constantly ask for no ice or just 2 cubes. They also do occasionally have lime water and a couple of other flavoured drinks free. My only criticisms were that at dinner, half the Windjammer restaurant is closed off and the make your own pizzas at dinner had been replaced by plastic fruit! I spoke to the restaurant manager one night as the glare off the sea was so bright it was difficult to see in the only side that was open. He did explain it was due to staff shortages amongst other excuses but did say I could sit the other side if I wanted to anytime. Other people were coming in asking the same question but the waiter staff still insisted it was closed. We saw our dining room waiter from last year's Russia cruise on Day 9 twice. We did not think he would still be here so it was nice to see him and catch up. Keeping up with last year, on the last day at lunchtime they had a giant cake and scooped ice cream. Yum!
The destination guides for each port are no longer put in the cabins in the evening before the next port. You now have to go to guest relations/shore excursions to pick one up -- I wonder why! Make sure you check the language is correct too. I was disappointed there was no proper information about where we were docking at each port. They did not explain if we would be in a working port area where we needed to get shuttle buses or if it would be literally next to the town and we would be able to walk. We only found out when getting off the Ship. In fact guest relations twice told us there were no free shuttles in Bergen when there were.
I was disappointed it was impossible to walk from the front of the ship on deck 6 through the pit stop bar to the casino without being choked from the smoke. Some parts of the casino had no smoking signs but this was pointless with the smoke wafting through from the bar. We had two Crown & Anchor members' only casino tournaments. You redeem 1 of the $5 match play certificates in your ultimate value booklet to enter. For the 1st game you get 5 minutes on the slot machines. Whoever scored the most in the top 3 won prizes. Nothing special, T shirts etc. but it was free and good fun. We also had a blackjack tournament as we left Iceland where you get $500 chips to play 7 rounds. Again whoever wins gets a prize and no you don't get to keep the chips! When playing the slot machines in the casino, insert your Seapass card to accrue points which you can redeem near the end of the cruise.
SHOPS ON BOARD
The $10 sale has been replaced by the $12 sale. Also they were still doing a Russian Bazaar the last day trying to sell the dolls etc. which are a lot cheaper at the markets in Russia if you ever take that cruise. (Our cruise was a one off as normally this ship goes up to Russia).
Still no flat screen TV's in room and no decent TV so not possible to check what is going on back home even if you wanted to. No BBC UK news, just BBC World news and no Sky. ESPN was the best channel if you like sports. This came in handy to watch us lose yet again on penalties in the European footie tournament but this time to Italy! Cabins are looking rather dated although clean but could do with a refit. The chair & sofa beds look grubby and worn as do the bathroom cabinets and the toilet had a permanent black ring around it. My hairdryer socket stopped working on day 6 but maintenance promptly fixed it but the next morning the hairdryer and the fridge had been fused again. When I returned from breakfast the maintenance man explained he changed the circuit board and was fitting a new fridge/cooler just in case. Later that day the same thing happened and the cabin steward said same problem next door. Not sure if they were plugging the wrong voltage in or not but it never happened again. Shower doors did not close totally in the middle but it only caused a spray of water outside no major flood so I did not report it to maintenance. Overall it was as clean as it could be.
We used our $7.50 internet coupons from our discount booklets during the cheap rate time of 7-9am making it 44c per minute. I bought my netbook this time so registered on one of the ships pc's to set up a username and password and then logged into it via my pc. Unfortunately it did not go back to the log off page and although I selected disconnect from the options on the pc, it was still charging. Luckily I checked with guest relations and the lady was very helpful and showed me on my pc what ip address I need to input for their internet cafe to log off. She also re credited me the extra time. On board internet seemed quicker than usual in Shetland but was very slow at Sea the last day so I gave up. I think it will be cheaper for us Brits in Europe to use a mobile phone with a good deal for internet access. I must get with the times and get a blackberry or something similar soon rather than just use my mobile for calls and texts. I had a text in Iceland saying calls 50p connection and then I can use my free o2 minutes. Also it said internet was only Â£1.66 plus vat for all day up to 25MB. So it is worth checking with your provider if it will be cheaper and easier to use your own mobile instead for internet access. Obviously when at sea, you are connected to the Ships connection so will be very expensive. The internet packages the Ship offer were 60 mins for $35, 100 mins for $55, 150 mins for $75, 250 mins for $100 and 500 mins for $150. You need quite a lot of time as connection is very slow.
On Day 2 whilst at sea, we booked the Panoramic Faroe Islands tour. They had 3 different times for this tour but 1 was already sold out. I couldn't find much to do independently here in my research so decided to book with the Ship. I also asked about vacancies on the Reykjavik geothermal field's tour and she had 3 places left so we also booked this too. We have learnt over the last few cruises that the Ships tours are getting very expensive and it appeared to me they are charging around Â£20-Â£30 mark up on what you can get them for if you book locally in the Tourist Info offices or online beforehand. I wonder if they are also getting a group discount but are not passing this on either! We heard a lot of people comment on the same thing this cruise especially in Iceland where tours are a lot cheaper in the TI office just off the Ship. Of course the benefits of taking a Ships tour is that the Ship will not go without you if you are late back and you do not need to plan anything in advance.
Clocks had gone forward 1 hour the 1st night at sea so we were already on Norway time. We docked on the left side (port). Was quite interesting watching the goings on in the working port. Good views both sides though. It was quite warm & sunny until lunchtime then clouded over. (worth noting not to take much notice of the Ships weather forecast). We didn't bring any Norwegian Krone (NOK) currency with us this year which was a mistake. We decided to convert some dollars we had yesterday at Guest Relations but they told us they would not have any until they docked in Bergen and to come back at 7.15am. When we did this, we were told no they did not get any as thought but may have some later that evening. She said it was not a problem as our ports accepts Euros. This was ok for Bergen but not Flam. At the current exchange rate it would have been better value for us to use NOK.
Last year we came with P&O and they had told us some useful information on the talk the day before in the theatre and that there would be free shuttle buses to the lake & fountain area. RC did not tell us this and we were told twice at guest relations there was no shuttle. Later on we were told there was a free shuttle. This delayed us getting off the ship. Last year we were off 8am and up the Funicular Railway -- just 80 NOK return. We decided once at the waterfall area to take the City Sightseeing Hop on Hop off (HOHO) bus this time as I am still recovering from DVT & PE's so cannot walk far yet. Not quite sure why RC set up the exit point at the far end of the ship, furthest away from the coaches! HOHO was 150NOK, or Â£20, 20 Euros or $30. You can pay in any of these currencies or credit card. The people in front of us used credit card. There were signs up in the road in Norwegian that had 12.00-21.00 on them. The driver on the HOHO said the streets were closed for a cycle race from 12.00. Shame RC decided to go here this day and also why were HOHO not charging half price! There were another 5 or so ships also in today so the place was heaving with people. The P&O Oceana docked over the other side right next to the HOHO stop. Last year P&O Ventura docked miles out like we did this year. We decided to go around anyway on the HOHO and when we reached the funicular at 10am which is only a 15 min walk from the fountain and lake by the way (where shuttles drop you off); the queue was right down to the bottom of the hill! (There are toilets at the bottom which you pay for I think but free ones at the top from what I remember. There is also a cafe at the top. We carried on to some picture stops, not that impressive and past some other cruise ships, the aquarium and back to the fountain area. Was it worth Â£20 -- no to be honest. The aquarium is 200NOK for anyone wanting to go in. Page them up online for timetable e.g. seal show, feeding times etc. Website says it is a 15-20 min walk from city centre and also the number 11 bus goes there.
FLAM (pronounced Flom)
Docked starboard side (right) looking over to the Flam Railway. Nice views over the bay the other side. Temperature was 18c sun & cloud but much colder up the mountain on the train. We arrived at 7am. Again they set the exit point off the Ship as far away as possible. Flam railway station is literally a few minutes' walk to the left past the souvenir shops & cafes from the ship. There is also a museum slightly further along to the left of the railway. We got off the boat at 8.10am to get our own Flam Railway ticket to Myrdal and back as the boat are charging approximately Â£25 more per ticket. Return ticket for adults is 360NOK (was just under Â£40). You can pay in NOK or credit card. You CANNOT pay in Euros so we used the credit card. People were just starting to queue out the doors of the ticket office but still we missed the 8.35 train by a good 10 minutes. The sign said ticket office open from 8.15am but worth getting in the queue from 7.30-7.45. Although this early train was not full even with the excursion tours, they would not allow tickets to be purchased on board so it left half empty. The next 2 trains were sold out as were the returns trains. Although there were spaces on the 12.20 this meant we had to get the 14.43 train back, arriving back at Flam at 15.40 when the time set to be on board the ship was ten minutes before at 15.30! The ticket office asked the Ship if they could book this train but they told us the Ship had said no. However, after we learnt a few people had booked it and some were told by Guest Relations that the ship will wait for them we also booked it. Even so, it was an anxious wait all day which was unnecessary. Surely RC knew the only thing people wanted to see here is the railway so why not say on board time 15.45? The timetable was clearly printed online so they must have been aware we needed just 10 more minutes. They have definitely lost some of their credibility with me over this! The captain was more concerned with the crew lifeboat race going on outside! Slightly better view up the mountain was on the left side going up (3 seats). It stops about 10 minutes from the top for you to get out and take a picture of the waterfall. Be warned you may get a little damp with the spray. You pass through the snowcapped mountains that you can see from ground level. Not much up the top but you could spend the hour and a quarter or so up there, but remember to take a warm coat, hat & gloves for when you get to the top. As we went up, we passed the sold out return 13.27 train which was not full at all. I wonder if RC had booked all the seats. Although we were the only ship in port, there were a few coaches from elsewhere who had booked tours. My tip for here is to get off the Ship around 7.30 and get in the queue for tickets!
This is a tendered port with town views to the right side (starboard). Good views both sides. As we left Flam yesterday, the Captain announced we would pass the Seven Sisters Waterfall in Geiranger at around 7.30am. This is around 10-15 minutes from the port. The sun was shining and a rainbow had formed over the falls. Everyone wanting to go ashore had to queue from 9am for tender tickets to leave from 9.30am but the ship announced at 8.45 that as they were ready early & anybody who wanted to go ashore within the next 10 -- 15 minutes can do so without tender tickets so we hastily left. We were ashore just after 9am and it was a beautiful sunny day so we walked into the tourist information office just by the docks and booked the coach up to Mount Dalsnibba. It was 250NOK or 35 euros. The bus left at 9.40am. There were 2 further tours later in the day. The HOHO bus only goes part way up the mountain which would be ok if the weather was not great and was 180NOK. I would say it is best to see what the weather is like before booking in advance. It took around 1hr 30 to get to the top as we picked up a couple of people en route and detoured to drop a couple off by the frozen lake. We didn't mind the detours as it was truly fantastic views and we went up into the snowcapped mountains. Great view up the top and a souvenir shop and clean free to use toilets. It is a lot colder at the top so even though it was 18c at the bottom of the mountain, it was below freezing at the top so a thick coat, gloves etc. required! The shop takes NOK, Euros, GB Pounds and Dollars. The trip down was only an hour and again great views. There are a number of souvenir shops at the bottom of the mountain by the tourist information. Reading other reviews I believe this is a visitor Centre (Fjord Centre) just a little way up the mountain that some people walked to. Also clean free to use toilets to the left side of the Tourist Info office. As we left the port, we again passed the Seven Sisters Waterfall. Clocks went backwards 1 hour overnight tonight.
LERWICK, SHETLAND, UK
We arrived around 9.30am and again tendered port so needed tickets for the lifeboat to go ashore from 11am. No early let off today so we got a tender ticket which was up to number 9 already. Unfortunately they were not calling the numbers out in the rooms or the corridors, only by the theatre where tickets were issued so we walked down to the lifeboats a little while later to see where they were up to and were let on after a tour party just going on had a few spare seats on their lifeboat. A good 5 minute tender ride to the pier, looks like independent boat trips available from here also. We just walked around the town and did not do any tours, as only 2 available anyway. I heard you can do the local boat trips to the see the birds on the cliffs -- check map given out when you get off the tender boats. Small town just off the pier with some big name stores like Boots and shoe shops, etc. Several souvenir shops including Shetland fudge but the shop was packed we could not get in the door. Lots of cafes and the smell of fish and chips were very tempting. There are lots of free toilets around the town and by the pier and local buses available also for those wanting to ride further around the island. As we were back in the UK we were able to use our mobiles free again. We heard people commented there was free Wi-Fi in most of the ports.
KLAKSVIK, FAROE ISLANDS
Sunny day 11c which actually felt quite warm, except when we went up the mountain on the tour pm. Arrived at 8am. Docked port side (left) but still nice view of the mountain the other side. Not many houses although there are lots of small villages around the island. Again, getting off the ship was right at the back of the ship with the end of the pier the opposite end. The free local shuttle buses were driving up to the departure point which was helpful. Shame the ship did not tell us this in the daily compass guide, seems they would rather use that to sell their chargeable services rather than provide useful information! We did not go into town but I imagine it was full of the usual tourist shops. Instead we were on a ships tour in the afternoon -- Faroe panoramic. My tip for the tours -- get off the ship earlier than it says. I am not sure if the ship overbooked this tour but all 3 coaches were full yet we still left around 7 people on the pier. They were not late, in fact 10 minutes before the departure time. This was a 2 hour 30 tour driving around the island. Maybe those left behind were the lucky ones, our guide decided to sing to us twice and really he was bad! He was very helpful though answering lots of questions. He was telling us the cost of houses here are 300,000 euros and you need 3-4000 euros per month to live here as taxes are around 42%. We drove through the 6km undersea tunnel. You drive downhill to 150m below sea level before going up and out the other side of the mountain. Then we passed through another shorter tunnel. We drove the whole time around little villages and mountains stopping for 3 picture stops. The 1st stop had toilets (1 passenger said they looked like a garden shed -- he was correct). Luckily as it was a short tour, the toilets were not required. The guide did not tell us there were no more toilets for the other 2 hours though. Clocks go backwards 1 hour tonight as At Sea tomorrow.
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND Day 1
We arrived at 7am. Docked left side (port) but just overlooking the working dock area. The other side of the Ship has nice views. Gangway was once again at the back of the boat, as far away from the entrance to the dock. It was very uneven and not flat, and very difficult to walk on. Luckily however, Iceland Port had their own gangway they wheeled on and set up near the front so wheelchairs etc. could get off. Breakfast was quiet at 8.30am as many people were out at this time for the Golden Circle Tour. We docked in SKARFABAKKI harbour which happens to be on stop 9 of the HOHO City Sightseeing bus if you page this up on the internet. The HOHO is 3000 ISK for adults (approximately Â£15) and 1500ISK for 12-15 year olds and free for 0-11 year olds. The tour does not look very interesting, it goes to the main town, the BSI Bus terminal Stop 4 (other tours go from here but I think they also offer pick-ups from dock or hotels - you just need to ask.) It also goes to the National Museum, the Hilton Hotel and a hostel. You could use the HOHO instead of paying the $15 return for the ships shuttle buses which were not free here unlike the other ports we had visited. Tickets for HOHO are valid 24 hours. The Ships shuttle bus stops at stop 1 on the HOHO route. I spotted the tourist office from my cabin using the binoculars I bought with me and I could see it said on the windows of the building to book tours here etc. We walked down and there is also a Europcar rent a car desk inside the tourist office and an internet cafe -- didn't check if free or not. The staff were very helpful indeed and showed us all the tour leaflets and gave good advice. They offer even more tours than the ship does. They do several evening tours including the Golden Circle at 13.00 or 19:00 which goes to the Gullfoss waterfall 120km away and the geothermal area. Gray Line operates a lot of tours from here. One company from BSI terminal was advertising free Wi-Fi on their coaches. Most tours are in English with some offering other languages also. The whale trip we booked was English and as the guide was German, she repeated everything in German also. There is also a souvenir shop inside the TI Office and the staff said you can pay in ISK, Euros, Pounds, dollars or credit card (which we used) for the tour we booked. We could not believe how much cheaper the tours were than the ships excursions to the same places. We went back on board and cancelled the geothermal tour which they did without charging us a cancellation fee. We decided it was such a lovely sunny day with very flat sea that we should do the whale watching instead. I would recommend waiting until you arrive and only do this tour if the sea is very flat. I read the reviews on the whale watching boats and they do say many people are sea sick on it if rough seas. We paid Â£47 euros or 7500ISK each and that includes the pick up from just outside at the back of the TI office -- just look for the blue whale watching minibus. Pick up is 30 minutes before the tour. We did pick up at 2 other places around town but it gave us an overview of the town and to be honest there doesn't look much here. Most of the interesting bits are further afield. It was called Whale watching & puffin tour LIFE OF WHALES. There are around 3 different companies all about the same price. They leave at 8.55am, 12.55 and 16.55. Other companies were around the same time or 10am 2pm 6pm and 1 leaflet says 20.30pm June -- August. The whale watching boat accepts credit cards for purchases in the cafe and Euros. There are thermal suits downstairs if you want to wrap up warm. Even though it was 18c by the ship, it is still windy out in the bay so you do need a thick coat, hats & gloves. It is worth noting that the ships Whale excursion was using another boat in the same area and was packed. We only had around 30 people on our boat and it was therefore a lot easier to get a good viewing position. We mostly spotted whales ahead of us so it is worth trying to get to the front although very windy there. We saw a mother and calf mink whale and another whale further along. The morning trip saw a humpback whale also. Toilets on board were clean and the cafe had lots from cans of drink to hotdogs & sandwiches. The tour also went past Puffin Island on the way to the whales. There were loads of puffins but I would recommend binoculars for a good view though. I wouldn't recommend just the puffin island tour (around 24euros) as the boats look very small so could be very bouncy.
The windjammer restaurant opened before 6pm tonight although it was advertised as 6.30pm as usual, due to the fact many all day tours arrived back just before then.
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND Day 2
Sadly we had to be back on board at 12.30 so we did not do any of the other tours. We would have liked to have done the Golden Circle and could have done the evening tour last night but I decided against this as still not 100% fully fit but it is possible to cram lots in here. I will have to come back next year! There were some local buses going to the blue lagoon on a regular basis for anyone not wanting to pay the Ships excursion prices. We went ashore early and got some souvenirs in the TI office before it good too crowded. Not cheap but Norway and Iceland are expensive anyway. Thimbles 495 IKR, Postcards 100ISK, fridge magnets 695IKR, ornaments from 895IKR. Clothing is quite expensive. Calendars were very expensive at 1295IKR. If we had gone on the HOHO bus yesterday we could have used the ticket today for a ride around as valid 24 hrs. Ship was due to leave at 1pm which was a shame. I do not know why they did not stay until 4 or 5pm as this would have allowed a lot more sightseeing and we are back in Harwich at 4am Monday which is really not necessary. I can only assume the mooring fees are very expensive in Iceland. Real shame though.
Lots of the ships tours were late back so we didn't get away until nearly 1.30pm. Just before we sailed away the captain warned us we would be sailing in to rough weather and 12ft waves from midnight tonight and during tomorrow. Having been on some rough seas in the past we didn't take much notice even when it started getting very rough and swaying later in the evening. However, it was a relentless night of jolting about and the whole ship shuddering. The next morning I felt sick when I walked or tried to walk around the cabin. This is very unusual for me but most people were affected today. It was difficult to stay upright at times. It felt much better lying down. By 11am I had to take anti seasick tablets. I ordered room service for the 1st time the whole trip and it appeared everyone else had too as I was told it would be a 45 minute wait. I thought I may feel better if I ate something as had skipped breakfast. Room service menu is rather basic but OK. I had a couple of slices of pizza and then rested in bed again. A couple of hours later I was feeling a lot better but could not face getting up until dinner. The captain informed us we had changed course slightly due to the storm and were battered by 5 metre high waves (as if we didn't know)! It started to ease about 7pm thankfully. Clocks went forward 1hour tonight. The last day at sea was a lot easier but did get a bit choppy again in the afternoon. We packed before dinner and used up our quarters from our winnings the days before in the casino. It took a good hour to lose $10 and was good fun. Worth noting, some people got off the ship in Iceland. This is actually not a bad idea. You could spend a good few days here seeing all the sights and then fly back rather than taking 2 days. Maybe the Ship should have called in to one of the other ports on the way back instead of on the way up.
We were allocated a numbered ticket depending on travel plans on departing the Ship. For the car park we had a choice of 7.20am or 8am so we selected 8am. When they allocated them, there were actually 4 times for departure for the car park but we were allocated 7.40am. We had taken milk and cereal down to our cabin the day before to avoid the crush in the Windjammer! The departure lounge for platinum members was on deck 13 in the Vortex but as it was so early we just left from our room.
Overall a great trip apart from the storm and a bit of a wasted 2nd day in Iceland but that happens. Looking forward to booking another cruise soon.