It was advertised as a Grand Voyage but proved to be anything but "Grand". It was made up of two cruises back to back. Bangkok to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Bali. It was a "maiden" voyage to this area and hadn't been done before. The pre and post cruise accommodation was very good and made up for the failings of the holiday as a whole. The catering staff on the ship were excellent and tried hard to make up for the failings of the ship as a whole. The air conditioning failure has been detailed by other reviewers and contributed to making it unpleasant to attend lectures. The lecture programme was supposed to be a plus point for the Cruise but the ability of the lecturers varied from excellent to poor. The content didn't always contribute to the shore excursions. We had to have 3 cabins due to a leak and then the fact our replacement cabin must have been booked for the second half of the Grand Voyage. We would agree with everything already said regarding the cruise and in summary, the black soot smuts impacted on us and the ability to use the outside decks specifically at the stern of the ship. Waiters would use napkins to place on the Terrace dining seats. Loungers would have black soot on them. Two of our cabins Belvedere F Deluxe Staterooms (541 and 545) were noisy and 534 which we ended up in had the same kind of air conditioning control issues as other reviewers have noted, although this cabin was much quieter.
If we ignore the air conditioning failure then the following points explain why we would never cruise again even though we had been offered compensation for the cruise including an "attractive" percentage off a future cruise. The ship is old and jaded and retains the feel of a car ferry. It emits black soot and seems slow and unable to maintain the speed required for the distances traveled on this cruise. It did not seem to be able to make up speed to compensate for adverse weather conditions. I did not feel that we had particularly heavy seas compared to a large number of ferry crossings I've made in Europe and to cruises in the pacific and around cape Horn.
The sore excursions were our biggest disappointment. In several cases the trips did not take in the sights shown in the brochures. We were late into all the ports on the Hong Kong to Bali leg and where trips were curtailed due to time issues then visits to jewellery factories and similar venues seemed to miss the cut over handicraft and similar venues. the overall feeling was one of being rushed from place to place and with little time to actually take in the atmosphere of each sight. The average age of the passengers on the cruise was 68 and indeed many were unable to meet the pace required to follow the itineraries given to the local guides. Thus some passengers tired of waiting for some to catch up would wander off making the job of the guides to account for all their party members difficult. We did not find it difficult to understand our local guides and their ability was invariably good to excellent.
The advantage of the small ship was that it could access ports that larger ships could not. However the voyage included 3 trips involving coach trips that exceeded 4 hours each way. In the case of Pare Pare some 12+ hours with functioning air-conditioning on the bus was a welcome relief from the on-board experience! The tender operations seemed to be inefficient and perhaps the fact that the ship was small and could take berths that larger ships could not reach meant that using their own tenders was not as practiced as on other ships.
The Ambassador Lounge screens to assist a lecturer's presentation or for viewing films was not wholly visible from most seats. The lecture programme is part of the Unique Selling Point of the cruise and so needed a better venue.
There was excellent musical entertainment on the cruise but the Charleston Lounge is the only bar available after dark so musicians battled against people in the same venue who wanted to sit with a drink and talk with others.
Before making this review we spent time looking at out previous cruises and came to the conclusion that the itinerary did not give sufficient time to spend in the venues and this is also seen when comparing the quality of photographs we took. So many of our images were taken through coach windows and looked as rushed as the pace of the trips. The grand Voyage promised much but delivered poorly in part I feel due to poor management.
Would it have been a better experience with air conditioning throughout and thus make the offer of money off a future cruise acceptable? I think not. The rushed nature of the itineraries have been reviewed before, there is no real provision of excursions with levels of ability and so despite excursions having a difficulty level for access/walking passengers who couldn't cope took the trips anyway despite advice from the shore excursion briefings as to what would be the problem areas (number of steps, distance to walk etc.) The ship is probably too old and there are likely to be failures in the future and the black soot will continue to be emitted and a look at the 2013/14 cruise itineraries show few changes for this cruise.