Celtic Landscapes April 2013-04-19
Perhaps I should start by saying that this was a cheap cruise, so it is probably unfair to compare this cruise with more expensive lines.
My friend and I booked a guarantee inside cabin for around Â£335 each. We were upgraded to an outside twin on Coral Deck. This had portholes; however, given the appalling weather we subsequently encountered, the deadlights were closed for much of the cruise!
We had twin beds in an L-configuration. I found the foam mattresses really comfortable, but the beds were only 2'6" wide! The cabin was clean and adequate. The only storage was three 18" wardrobes and four small drawers so just about enough for two but the cabin was a three berth and that would have been really difficult. There was also a very old wall cupboard, which should have had a safe in -- but it had been removed as apparently the combination wasn't working -- it was never replaced during our cruise -- despite several complaints from us!
The bathroom had a tiled shower with removable and adjustable shower head, large basin with mixer tap, two corner cabinets and central shelf. The toilet was a fully water-flushing one like at home. We each got a small bottle of hair/body wash and a similar small bottle of hand/body cream, plastic shower cap and tiny bar of soap in the cabin. If I sailed C&M again I would pack shower gel -- it hadn't occurred to me on this occasion. The toiletries were however freely replenished. The bathmat on the floor was nicely folded into a little boat every day!
We arrived at Avonmouth (Bristol) earlier than our allotted time, to allow for traffic. It didn't matter however, I drove up to Avonmouth Terminal and offloaded the luggage which was taken by porters, I then drove to the self-parking I had pre-booked and we walked the short distance back. We were able to go straight to check-in and were waved on board, without going through any security checks. Walked up the gangway and were taken to our cabin by a stewardess. One and a half hours from home to cabin and out luggage was already there before us! That is efficient!
After freshening up, we set off for a cuppa and to explore the ship. Discovery is 42 years old but to my mind was looking just fine, for her age. If anything, her layout reminded me very much of Artemis. On the main Passenger deck -- deck 6 -- there was the Carousel Show Lounge with bar at one end. Two wide walkways down to a full-width lobby, then the Theatre -- this was the only venue that looked desperately in need of a revamp, on one side of this was a long seating area, with smart sofas and views of the ocean, the other side was the photo gallery and Hideaway club-style bar. Then a games room where the craft classes were held, before leading into the Discovery Lounge -- another show lounge with doors out onto the stern deck and deck bar. Everything looked smart and clean. The only dining room -- the Seven Continents -- was on the same deck as our cabin -- deck 3 and my one complaint was that it had no windows -- or rather it had portholes which were permanently covered by deadlights and curtains. The Medical centre was also down on deck 3.
Deck 7 was the prom deck -- no seating and to walk all round, you had to go up steps at the front -- like the QE2 for anyone who remembers her.
Deck 9 held the Lido restaurant and pool area. This is very like Prinsendam -- a very small pool surrounded by tables and chairs with the tea and coffee station and a very small buffet the whole, covered by a sliding glass roof. What spoiled this area for me was the mishmash of chairs and tables -- teak garden style, dark brown rattan style and some cheap white plastic garden chairs! The choice in the buffet was also very limited indeed and Caryll and I only had tea there once preferring to eat all our meals in the MDR.
There were lots of open deck areas to stand and get good views coming into ports etc, but few seemed to have any seats or sun beds. What was particularly great from my point of view was that the open bridge wings were part of a small sun deck area so you could listen and watch the complete docking operations.
On the downside -- the four lifts were incredibly slow and prone to breaking down at frequent moments. When they did work -- they never seemed to stop level with the deck.
I know this was a cheap cruise, so I will only say the food was satisfactory. The choices were limited and the dishes OK, but I can't say I especially enjoyed any meal we ate. Three plusses -- their ice cream was delicious -- but you only got one scoop ever! The coffee was excellent -- much nicer than P&O! And their bread rolls were to die for! I don't usually eat bread rolls at lunch and dinner -- but often found myself eating two -- they were so good. The catering was very like Fred Olsen in that breakfast in the MDR was a buffet, with a bar at which you could order omelettes, porridge etc. with teas, coffee and juice served at the table by stewards. Lunch in the MDR was served but there was a salad buffet where you helped yourself. Dinner was much as any other line.
All room service was chargeable. No tea or coffee facilities in the cabin.
We were attracted to this cruise because all of the ports were new to me. The itinerary was Dublin, Tobermory, Oban, Douglas and Cobh. We arrived at Dublin to a thick "Irish Mist" -- pouring rain to you and me! It was a foretaste of what was to come. Because of the tidal range at Avonmouth we left at 8pm so arrived at Dublin at midday leaving at 4pm (Back on board 3.30pm).
As time was short we opted for the DUWK tour. Unfortunately for us European Finance Ministers were meeting in Dublin that day and there was a big demonstration going on so our route was altered to avoid the traffic congestion. I was still impressed with what I saw -- beautiful Georgian terraces, the Dail, Halfpenny Bridge, etc. Our driver/guide was excellent, making us roar like Vikings at unsuspecting pedestrians! At the Grand Canal Basin we donned life jackets and entered the water for a quick sail round the basin. Then back to ship driving alongside the Liffey.
Once dry we went to sample afternoon tea which was only served in the buffet. OK, it was teatime, but afternoon tea ??? There was a choice of one (that is one filling) sandwich, one open sandwich and a wrap, two different cakes, one biscuit and scones. We didn't bother again. There were however several different herbal teas, and coffee from the station.
The next day was Tobermory -- or was it?? Due to the weather reports our captain, who was experienced in these waters (ex Hebridean Princess no less) decided to swap round Oban and Tobermory visiting Oban on Day 2, then sailing halfway to Tobermory and finding a sheltered anchorage overnight. It made little difference to anyone on board so all were happy (aside from the few who had made plans to meet people ashore of course).
The next day dawned to guess what -- pouring rain! Oban was a tender port so, clutching our tender tickets we waited briefly before being called. It was the standard tender operation. However, being an old ship, we reverted back to walking down a stepped gangway to a suspended tendering platform. Not a good idea for those with mobility issues. Remember this for later -- when we return!
Once ashore, Oban looked a lovely little town. In the afternoon, my friend and I were booked to go to Inveraray Castle, so we explored ashore all morning before boarding the coach for the tour. Unbelievably -- the rain cleared and the sun came out too. The castle was a typical Scottish gothic style mansion with beautiful gardens. This was the ancestral seat of the head of the Campbell clan and still home to the Duke of Argyle. The drive took us past lochs and glens with ruined castles and highland cattle grazing.
Back at Oban, we boarded the tender to Discovery. The wind had risen and the seas were noticeably choppier. The junior officer at the tender landing warned us to hold on tight. In fact the ride back was not too bad -- until we neared the ship. Remember that suspended platform we had to get onto to walk up the steps? The boat was bobbing about on the wild water, slamming into the platform which in turn was swaying about on its cables and hitting the side of the ship. I can safely say this was the first time I can remember being really scared on a cruise. At one point I truly feared for the safety of the boatman, clinging to the outside of the tender to grab the ropes -- I thought his legs might be crushed. One by one we stood at the exit and waited for the right moment to be pushed off! And we had elderly people on board, with sticks etc! Apparently the captain had stopped anyone going ashore from 4pm (last tender should have been 6pm)!
Day 4 was Tobermory -- another tender port (a feeling of dread started now, although I usually love tendering!) Today was the highlight of the cruise for me -- a trip to Iona. As it turned out the day was beautiful -- bright clear blue sky and sun! It was an all-day tour so we were supplied with a packed lunch -- a sandwich, a breaded chicken breast, apple, banana, yoghurt (and spoon), poppy seed cake and bottle of water. We mustered in the Carousel Lounge and waited while two medical evacuations took precedence -- one by tender, one by lifeboat. The drive to the ferry at Ffionfort was two hours with a brief toilet stop at Craigmure while the guide collected our ferry tickets. The scenery of Mull was stunning. We saw seals, herons, highland cattle, hares, red deer and buzzards. We drove through the Great Glen, still in its winter colours of gold and red, broken by salmon rivers and granite outcrops, green with lichen and moss. The lochs were like glass as we drove along the single track roads that cross the island. The ferry took about 10 minutes to cross the short stretch of water to Iona. At the landing was a small beach worthy of the Caribbean with white shell sand and turquoise water. It was then a short walk uphill to the famous Abbey. We had two hours there to do as we wished before meeting at the ferry at 2.45 to return. I have to say Discovery passengers were very well trained and no one was late or lost throughout the cruise, at least on our tours. We retraced our morning journey back to pretty Tobermory, its brightly coloured houses lining the harbour, and tendered back -- thankfully a much better experience than yesterday except the tide had risen so the platform had had to be raised to the extent that each tread on the gangway steps slanted downwards alarmingly!
Back on board, fed and watered -- metaphorically speaking, the captain came over the tannoy - never a good sign! Due to bad weather forecast we would be missing Douglas and heading at full speed to Cobh to get there tomorrow evening and spend the night alongside.
Be very careful what you wish for as you may get it! Our one regret on this short cruise had been no sea days -- in the end we had two! This is when we found out some of the shortcomings of Discovery! The library was impressive for a small ship BUT only opened from 9-10 and from 4-5. We had thought that was because we were in port, but it was just the same today. Ok, another query we put to the Cruise Director a day or so ago, was were the ever any events for solo travellers as there hadn't been any so far. His answer was of course we have them -- coffee meets, lunches etc. -- but we haven't any sea days to put them on. Great we thought -- we now have a sea day -- zilch! The weather was too poor to sit out on deck -- in any event there were only white plastic sun beds (too low for me) or folding teak garden-style chairs -- so no quoits or shuffleboard.
Discovery has an impressive number of pubic venues for her size -- but not the matching entertainment staff to have two things going on at the same time.
Daytime activities were --
Dancercise, Morning Quiz, Bridge, Bean bag bowls, Laurel & Hardy films in the Theatre. Guest lecturer on Wildlife of the Welsh Coastline -- which we couldn't see and were not going to, Jakkalo, crafts, Comedy Cabaret, Chairobics -- I kid you not ! Bingo, Vegetable carving demo, Ballroom dancing lesson from the ballet dancers in the show troupe, Film, Singer, Scattergories quiz, Elvis songs, Afternoon quiz and Countdown.
A typical evening entertainment was a show in the Carousel Lounge -- twice for first and second sitting
The Carmen Duo in the Theatre from 7 -- 9.45 followed by a film like Johnny English
The Discovery Lounge had dancing for 45 mins from 7, then pre-recorded dance music while they had a break, the dance band back till 8.45.
There was a quiz on every night at 8.45 like Name that Tune or Mr & Mr, that no one on second sitting could ever attend. Then more music for dancing, and a cabaret at 10.45.
Day 6 Cobh.
My friend had been before but went to Cork and this was my first visit here. Since we hope to be back here in August on Nautica, we decided to explore Cobh rather than get the train into Cork. In view of the weather it was a good decision as there is a lot to do in Cobh indoors.
We had arrived around midnight so we got up and had our usual breakfast in the MDR. This is a buffet but teas, coffees and orange juice is served to you. I had taken to having a sausage (very nice), piece of bacon (also good) and then either mushrooms (which I love) or grilled tomatoes -- you couldn't have both since they were served on alternate days!
The weather was back to our norm or gale-force winds and torrential wind. We walked along the seafront to the Titanic Experience which was open. This was quite moving -- we were there just two days after the 101 anniversary of the sinking and to stand at the jetty where her final passengers embarked the tenders to take them to Titanic moored out in the harbour, was sobering to say the least. Cobh is also the port where the bodies and survivors of the Lusitania were brought and this is covered well in the Heritage Centre in the old station. The Titanic and Lusitania memorial are within a few yards of each other on the main promenade. We walked up to the cathedral and since a service was just starting, stayed for half an hour. When I opened the door to come down, I was nearly blown off my feet. The wind had become much worse and I was seriously worried about getting back down the exposed hill. We both made it safely and hit the shops. At one of the craft shops there was a fascinating demo of glass cutting -- Waterford Crystal style. We also went to the small local museum housed in a redundant church just above the berth. Caryll stayed ashore to find WiFi and headed back to the ship to pack as we were disembarking the next day -- we thought!
Both of us having pretty much completed packing, an announcement came over the tannoy again -- not the captain. There was no way Discovery could sail tonight in the high winds so we would stay in Cobh and they would assess the situation at 1am. Passengers were free to go ashore until that time. Great I thought -- a night in an Irish pub, great music and a pint of Guiness!! I stood and looked down the gangway -- the wind was lashing the ship, waves were flooding the pontoon we were moored against, rain was horizontal -- nothing was worth facing that! In fact one lady was blown over on the quayside and injured her wrist.
However -- having made that statement -- nothing was said about what to do next -- should we unpack? When were we likely to get home? It was probably a good hour before another announcement was made -- we should keep our luggage and put it out at midday on Thursday.
Next morning we switched on the bridge cam (our deadlights have been closed over our portholes for days now) to see us still moored in Cobh! We finally left at 8.30am due in Avonmouth at midnight so luggage to be out before midnight. Once again, full information wasn't prepared before the tannoy announcements which left passengers confused as to what they should do. We asked at Reception when we would disembark and were told Friday am. Someone else put the same question just after us, to a different person at reception and was told as soon as we dock you will be disembarked -- at 1.30am ?? This put elderly people in a total panic as to how to get a taxi at that time, or let relatives know.
So, we had our second sea day and a bumpy one it was too, but Discovery was amazingly stable and although when I sat in the stern lounge I could see the horizon go from above the ceiling to below the deck, at no point did it feel that uncomfortable.
A new programme of activities was arranged -- but the printed version didn't reach us until midday, despite asking at reception twice. I fully accept the weather was beyond anyone's control and we had to stay in Cobh. It was how that was handled I wasn't so happy with. I was supposed to be at work Friday so needed to tell people. I also had other urgent things I needed to deal with so I asked if, in the event, I could have free internet access or just purchase half an hour (the minimum purchase was 2 hours) -- No. The suggestion was that I went ashore to find free wifi -- in that weather??
In the event, both were correct. We berthed at midnight. If you could manage your own luggage you were free to disembark (having previously arranged to do so with the tours office), or you could stay on board, sleep, have breakfast and debark the usual way from 7.30am -- called deck by deck. We decided on the latter.
So -- would I travel Discovery again -- I can only say maybe. She does visit interesting small ports and that is what might sway my decision. That and if it was cheap and not too long in duration as I really didn't sleep well in the narrow bed. The weather can't be helped but neither of us found the passengers very sociable and if we had been travelling solo would have been very lonely. It may be that was because a very high number were first-time cruisers. I had a similar issue on my Fred Olsen cruise and thought it might have affected the atmosphere. It wasn't so bad that I would say never again...I think!