We flew from North America to Hong Kong directly and although it was 13 Â½ hours it was tolerable. On arrival we were met by the V2A agent and another couple. We had some wait for a third couple who had managed to exit by a different door and took some finding. Once we were all gathered we were transported to our hotel, The Langham, which was, very possibly, the best hotel we have ever stayed in. It was beautiful, comfortable and the food was superb. This set up our hopes of a wonderful, luxurious and enjoyable month.
The following day we were taken on a tour of Hong Kong and up to Victoria peak, but the view was not very good as it was so hazy. The guide was pleasant but her English was rather poor for the job. We went to Stanley Market and Aberdeen Harbour. In the afternoon we wandered about on our own in the local area and visited a Dim Sum restaurant for dinner. By the time we had had Dim Sum for breakfast every morning and twice for lunch/dinner we had had our fill of that particular food type, but all of it was very good.
The second day we went off on our own to Hong Kong Island and found the place I was expecting to find. I was rather surprised at how modern Hong Kong was, but over on the Island and way up the walkway, I found more of the traditional look I had expected to find. In the afternoon we went to the Peninsula Hotel for afternoon tea, which was not worth the money and was regretted. Like so many, they did not know the difference between afternoon tea and high tea, believing that the word "high" somehow added a sense of grandeur rather than offering something they did not deliver.
I was surprised at how cold it was in Hong Kong; not really cold, just not as hot as I had expected.
On the third morning we were out of our rooms and waiting in the lobby for our transfer to the ship. My husband went out to see the ship, which was within easy walking of the hotel. I didn't have the sense to ask him what he thought.
The bus was driven directly on to the dock side and we walked on to the ship with no security checks whatsoever. My heart sank the moment I saw her. My husband later told me he had the same reaction when he went out to view her in the morning.
Our passports were taken from us and we were issued with key cards. We were then shown to our cabins.
The more I saw of the ship the less happy I was. I understood that she would have been like one of the Saga Sisters, or at worst one of Fred Olsen's ships; older and plain, but comfortable; this was more like the Regal Empress, although in her slightly younger days.
The cabin was the smallest I can remember ever being in with so little storage space some things had to remain in the cases. The beds were as hard as bricks (we later discovered that the bases were solid metal sheets). We had an inside cabin which we have had on other ships before, but this one had a claustrophobic feel. We expected it to be warm in the cabin as they often are when the ship is at rest, but the heat and the stench of raw sewage coming from the bathroom made the room untenable and we left as soon as we possibly could. They did manage to get rid of the powerful smell, but a residual one remained. The drains frequently spewed water back up them and onto the bathroom floor.
The air conditioning was a saucer like contraption on the ceiling which could be opened or closed by the turn of a knob. There was no finesse about it and no ability to truly control the temperature.
We explored the ship and found a couple of lounges, a theatre and a dining room. There was not one comfortable seat in any of them. The sofas and the chairs bolt upright. In the theatre the chairs could be moved, but the tables could not. This was okay for the lectures but would have been very squashed for a dance or other formal event.
The decor was plain to the point of being dated and boring. The outside decks were teak and had that old world feel which was lovely. I was amazed that there were so few deck chairs, but I have to say that on most days one could be found free somewhere. Just above the pool was an outdoor bar with sofas and chairs more akin to patio furniture than ship's, but it looked like a nice spot for a drink, although it was, like the rest of the ship, very uncomfortable for sitting.
We sailed from Hong Kong in a fog and straight into rough seas. (force 8. This info had to be dragged out of the Capt. later ) There was no word of warning from the Capt. and many of the passengers were very sick and confined to quarters. Moving about was very difficult as she was pitching and rolling quite badly. On other lines we would expect the Capt. to alert us so that medications could be taken in advance, if required.
We decided we did not want to go to the dining room on the first evening, so we headed to the Terrace. This is an indoor/outdoor arrangement with a tiny buffet inside. There was a menu board in the hallway directly opposite the hand sanitizer; as a result people stopped to read the menu and missed the sanitizer. My husband suggested that they stagger the two things so that one could read and then use the cleanser. This was done for one day and then it was moved back again on orders "from above". This meant that on most days the sanitizer was never used.
I think that all things being considered, on the first leg of our trip, the food was the best we have had on any ship. It was good, varied and interesting at every meal and that was a minor miracle considering what the crew had to endure. The second leg had a different head chef and the food was not so good.
Our first port was Manila.
Due to the heavy seas we were late into port and so were rushed round the sights. Well, most of them. We had FAR too long in the museum and the dioramas, while interesting and well executed were far too numerous (over 50) for a rapid visit.
Our guide's English was dreadful and the Quietvox system was not effective in a tight space where three guides, plus independent visitors, were all talking at once. Later the guide was asked to just talk directly into the box as it would make hearing her easier, but she kept pointing with the hand holding the box, so that didn't do the trick! We missed the church as a result of the late arrival but no apology was offered by the ship and the guide got in such a panic about our tight time that she rushed us back to the ship and we were there half an hour before anyone else.
On return to the ship it was rather warm, but we thought that the A/C was just rubbish.
So, off we sailed again, into rough waters and again with no warning; sweating as we went.
Next day we were in Sandakan to see the Orang Hutan, but guess what, we were late again. We were rushed to the centre, but were well passed the feeding time when we got there so the Orang had been and gone before we got the chance to see them. As it so happened we, and two or three other couples, hung back to the bitter end just in case and we were rewarded by a baby who came to see if there was anything left. We were being called to hurry up for the bus, but we went to see Orang Hutan and we were jolly well going to see her.
Again our guide's English was impossible to understand fully and we had to contend with one of the girls from the ship's shore excursions office talking over him.
She was a little snip of a girl who spoke to us as though we were children.
Their ability to organise was now obviously non existent. People were offered the chance to visit the loo first, but there was no time for that; they were being taken in and out on the same walkway and there was no room to move; communication was not detailed enough and it was clear that details had never been though about.
On return to the ship it was sweltering.
Day 5 saw us at sea again, but boy were we all miserable. Most of us had had another bad night as there was no A/C at all and we were hot and tired.
That evening was the Capt's Cocktail Party but we didn't go as the thought of so many people crammed into that hot room was not to our liking. We heard later that he said that there was a little problem with the A/C but it would be fixed by bedtime. It was not. He apparently did not stay long at his party!
We ate at the Terrace. There was a little pot light which was flickering and they sent for an engineer to change it. When he was done I thanked him as I had found the flickering annoying and ask if he could fix the A/C too. I was just joking, but he replied "No. There is a part broken and we HOPE to get a new one at Pare Pare" The Capt knew this and yet he said it would be fixed by bedtime. Pare Pare was over 24 hours away.
The cabin was now smelling of pseudomonas and unbearable to be in. The crew were changing their clothes up to 7 times per day and getting into trouble for having tops showing sweat. The chefs were working in infernos and several of us asked that we just be given salads and cold sandwiches, but the Hotel Manager said no we would continue as normal. No one really wanted all that food in that heat and yet they had to cook it. The stick, rather than the carrot was the preferred method of dealing with the crew, but it was not working and several were getting near the end of their tethers with the officers.
The dining room had been closed as it was too hot to eat there, but we learned that the crew had taken to sleeping there as it was cooler than their cabins! One passenger had a thermometer and took a random sample of the cabins in which to measure the temps. Not one was cooler than 102F!!
We had taken to sleeping on deck. This had it problems as there were regular thunder showers in the middle of the night. We were soaked one night, which was a rude awakening! My husband caught a cold as a result. Several others already had it so the place was sweltering, stuffy and full of coughing, sneezing passengers many of whom were not using any hand sanitizer at meal times and serving themselves with their hands.
We had the crossing ceremony today at which people were volunteering just to get in the pool. It has not been open everyday which seems odd as it is so hot. The Capt, got carried away with a can of cream and was spraying the lecturers and staff. Some were not at all pleased as their clothes are sprayed with greasy cream.
The pool then had cream, spaghetti and other food substances in it making it unusable by the overheated passengers. The Dr was run off his feet with heat related problems and was in one of the hottest parts of the ship while doing it.
We were going round in circles outside the bay of Pare Pare and were late arriving. We never knew why.
We drove for 4 hours, each way, to visit the Toraja people and to see their burial sights. This was fairly boring but the drive was interesting. We stopped en route for fried bananas and photos, on the way up, and again on the way back. As the bananas were included the foods laid out on the way back were assumed to be so also. They were not and the poor woman was not paid for heaps of food the passengers thought they were entitled to take.
As was becoming the norm the guide's English was awful so we had no idea what we were support to be learning about the people we were visiting. One thing I did enjoy in the Toraja village was getting to go inside one of their houses. It was on stilts and very dark inside.
Pare Pare is the major city of the Bugis people and they were the ones we (Brits) were told would come in the night and take us away if we were naughty. The bogeyman was the terror of many children. The source of this story was the Bugis pirates who were renowned in Indonesia for their ferocity. Our wine waitress was Bugis and a nicer person you would be hard pressed to meet, so I shall now no longer worry about the Bugis coming in the night.
It had been announced that the required part to fix the A/C would be brought on board today and that we would be cool when we returned. Not so, it was still sweltering. A later announcement said that it was the wrong part, but the right one would be awaiting us at the next port. As that was Ujung Padang just down the coast in Makassar it seemed unlikely, to say the least.
One thing which they did on the ship which I kind of liked was a daily briefing. We would be told about the tour the next day and any information we needed re- dress code, things to take or look out for. On the first leg it was fine, (apart from the heat) but on the second leg it became a free for all idiots who had stupid questions to ask. It was amazing how stupid people can be.
On this day Zoe told us that we would be late into port AGAIN and one of the passengers lost the place. He was furious, hot, tired and let rip at her. Later I spoke with him and he and a lady were getting ready to confront the Hotel Manager and were using the "M" word. This was rash as that is a crime and that very afternoon they had learned the results for one Capt Bligh!!
Two passengers got off today and made their own way home.
It had also been noted that the internet had been down for exactly the same length of time there had been no A/C. Interesting!
We spent yet another night on deck, but this night we found a better use for the patio furniture than sitting on it. The cushions were too soft to support anyone sitting, but laid on the deck they made a comfy bed........until the heavens opened and we got an early shower.
More guides with poor English and more sweltering. At this point the ABC had become ABM(arkets) and we were all getting very fed up. On return to the ship we were told they had embarked 5 engineers and the problem would be fixed that evening. Guess what?
After yet another night on the deck we decided that we had had enough and that we could not endure this to Bangkok. So my husband spoke with the Cruise Director, Alison, and said we thought we would get off in Bali. She said she would see if the Hotel Manager could find us another cabin which may be cooler. So in the afternoon we were offered five cabins from which to choose. There was one, on the same deck as we had booked but a little farther forward which, strangely, was a little cooler so we moved into it, but reserved the right to leave in Bali.
We were told that the problem was being fixed and it was amazing how many people started to think it was cooler. The power of imagination is truly boggling!!
There was a rumour going around that the cruise was going to stop in Singapore as she was due to go there soon anyway for a dry dock spell. We now wondered if that were to be the case would we stay on until Singapore, but decided we would wait and see what happened next.
Tomorrow is Bali and those leaving the ship are preparing to go with joy. The Capt said that the problem was being worked on, but no one believes him. He said he would update us at 18:00 but he didn't, nor did he yesterday after making the same announcement. He is without doubt the most unpopular man on the ship.
We are in Lombok today and were to gather at 13:20, we were still sitting there at 14:00 and the ship was not yet docked. We arrived at 14:30 and were off the ship at 15:45. They had to cut two stops from our tour and guess what? Yet again we could not understand half of what the guide was telling us.
On return we were told by the Capt that the A/C was fixed!! Woohoo!!
Another night on the deck.
Day 12 Bali.
This should be interesting. How are they going to explain no A/C to the new passengers getting on? Simple, they don't. It was so funny hearing all the newbies complaining about the heat. However, I think they had done something to improve the situation as it was slightly cooler and we actually managed a night in our beds.
Today was the first day we had a guide we understood. His English was excellent and we enjoyed our day in Bali; apart from two passengers who spoiled things by their behaviour. The tour sheet said that we would visit a specific temple, but the guide said that all the guides has suggested to V2A that we should visit another one, as the one on the itinerary required 300 steps to be descended to reach it and, naturally, this meant that the same 300 had to be ascended to get back to the bus. As half the folk couldn't walk the length of their noses this was never going to happen. This woman was VERY vocal about wanting the temple we were told we were going to; she was rude and could not understand that in Indonesian culture you do not say "No". The poor guide was nearly in tears and when we arrived back late to the ship, because she insisted on shopping, there was a rush of passengers to tell the shore excursions folk that we were not late because of the guide.
Bizarrely, as we usually complain the other way, there was next to no time to shop anywhere on the entire trip. When did you ever hear a pax saying "We need MORE shopping time!!" ?
It was only much later that we think we figured out why she was so insistent. There is a picture of the Ulun Danu Beratan Temple on the V2A brochure and we think she thought this is where we were supposed to go. Why they have that picture I do not know because they offer no tour, at any time, which visits it.
Back at the ship many of the familiar faces have gone and there are strangers on our ship!!
We are told that the A/C is fully fixed and although not inclined to believe him, we do think it is slightly better.
Day 13 at sea and yes, the A/C is fixed. What a relief!!!!
We were going through clothes like there was no tomorrow and so complained about the cost. We were given a reduction and told that the company will be in touch with us when we get home.
So we settle down to a quite day at sea and expect things to just get better, until about 23:30 when the ship's general alarm is sounded. Not to worry though, it is just a faulty button! What next?
What next? The tenders can't be lowered. Now worry, they'll get local boats to take us ashore when needed............and if we need them on the high seas?????????
Borobudur. Central Java is the most beautiful part of Java and we loved seeing it again. The temple was smaller than I had expected but with the temp at 97F it was quite big enough. We had a great day; spicy food for lunch, being able to use our Bahasa and just interacting with some of the loveliest people on earth. Just adore Indonesia.
At sea. The sea days just melt away. We had one or two lectures and a briefing, if the next day was a shore day, that was all, but with that, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and a good book it was bedtime before you knew it. There is no prom. deck to walk right around and even if there were it was too hot to bother, so exercise was limited to turning pages and lifting a fork to one's mouth.
We asked the desk staff if we could get an underground train from the pier and do our own thing but they didn't know and were unsure if it would be safe. There was a station right by the pier and we went AWOL for a whole day. It was wonderful.
We were off the ship at 07:00 and due to sail at 19:00, but the notice said All Aboard at 17:00. We thought this was very early, and checked with three sources who all said yes, 17:00. So we wandered all over Singapore (very easy city to see on your own) and had a drink at the Level 57 before rushing back to the ship. We arrived at the security at about 17:10 and there was nobody to be see anywhere, so we were a bit worried we were late. There is a long way to walk from security to the ship, so we half ran, and arrived at the gangway in a lather of sweat to see that they had changed the notice from 17:00 to 18:00 while we were out. I am sure those of you on the West coast heard my husband quite clearly. A muttered word of apology was uttered; they send us a free bottle of the free wine we got every night anyway.
Singapore was also the port at which three men from head office boarded the ship. Suddenly the crew were stiff as boards. Terror reigned.
Having been told we would get a reduction in the laundry over the next week they sent us three bills for the full amount, which put us in the awkward position of either accepting it or complaining, which seemed cheap. The hotel manager was known by his first name, which I have never seen before and did not like. That is no way to address an office; even if he is not a gentleman. The girls at the front desk were dreadful for making people wait while they answered the phone, so passengers got the message and stopped going to the desk, but phoned instead. Generally, their service was poor and the over all attention to detail was slipshod.
Invited to a cocktail party at lunch time. Turned out to be for B2Bs. I was quite happy with my one glass of fizz, but others had to ask for a second glass. We were given 45 minutes in the lounge and then turned out. Again that suited me fine, but not everyone was very happy with that.
The shore excursions people were made up of Zoe, who seemed to be the senior member; Hannah, Ion and Melisa. Hannah was snippy and spoke to us like we were children, Melisa was quite efficient and Ion was out of his depth; charming but, if you'll forgive the pun, at sea. Zoe disappeared in Singapore and reappeared in Koi Samui. It turned out that she was due to go home on holiday but spent the time in Singapore trying to find a replacement for Ion, who had had more than enough by this point and was barely able to keep his mouth shut. I didn't blame him for leaving and trust he is happier in his new position. The group of them, like the rest of the organisation, did not pay enough attention to details and made their own lives difficult as a result.
Over all, I would never cruise with them again. The idea that they are a quality line is laughable. The decor, comfort and general management was barely at standard level. However, the food was very good and the crew in the dining rooms, bars and cabins were fantastic.
The lectures ranged from interesting to down right boring; but then there were things for every taste, from healthy living to cargo shipping, from the history of the Vietnam war to the inventions of the Chinese.
The ship produced a huge amount of soot and the decks had to be swabbed daily to keep the mess under control. Everyone had black marks on their backsides and several items of our clothes are stained.
I spoke, one day with a Mr Nicos,(sp?) who described himself as Gerry Herrod's "right and left arms". I told him how wonderful the crew had been through those difficult and unbearably hot days and he seemed surprised. He told me that he was telling the Capt; from head office, (where he claimed to have stayed for four days without going home) to keep the passengers informed, but I don't believe him. He also said that the reason for the rough weather at the beginning was because we were trying to avoid two typhoons. Why was mention of this never made to us at the time? Almost all of us were seasoned cruisers and many university graduates; were they worried we would be unable to handle to information?
He spent his days prowling about the ship finding fault with everything and, although it sounds as though I am doing the same, I am not doing it to the faces of the crew who were the best part of the trip and working their backsides off. I am giving you a review of a ship on which we were less than happy and for which privilege we paid a great deal of money. Several crew members told us they will be leaving and not returning to that company. I wonder why?
The tense has changed over this review as I began from memory and ended up transcribing notes made at the time.