I have wanted to go on a cruise for as long as I can remember but have never had the opportunity before so when a fabulous offer price coincided with half term ( I work in a school) and my mother in law offered to have the kids, it was too good an opportunity to turn down. I was a little concerned before we went as the price seemed very low for what was included and I thought the ship might be over run with kids as it was half term. Having decided to leave ours at home I didn't really want to spend the 5 days getting irritated by other peoples children. However I couldn't have been more wrong. Although there were apparently 600 children on board I didn't really notice and the children we did encounter were incredibly well behaved and polite. I half wished we had taken ours along too as the facilities for children seemed excellent.
Embarkation was incredibly smooth. We had paid for port parking with CPS and were very impressed with this service. We had to wait approximately 30 mins in a queueing system before we were processed. This was very efficient. Once you get out of your car your cases are whisked off in one direction and your car in another. It's then a few paces into the terminal where you wait to be issued with your cruise card. We couldn't fault this process at all.
We got on board about 3pm and were able to go straight to our cabin which was located on B deck (level 11) and had a balcony. It was very spacious and had a fridge and tea and coffee making facilities.
We had asked for 1st sitting club dining but were in fact giving 2nd sitting in the Saffron restaurant. The disadvantage of this was that we could only see one show in the evenings as they seemed to run two slots 8:30 and 10:30 when all the shows rotated. An earlier sitting would mean you could take fuller advantage of all the entertainment. However eating later meant that we could skip lunch and have afternoon tea (at 3:30) then not feel too full for dinner. We did this on both of our port days when we left the ship at around 10am and arrived back before 3pm.
The restaurant staff were incredibly helpful. My husband has several food intolerances and they were great at adapting the food for him. We thought he might have quite restricted choice but in fact they were happy to adapt anything he choose from the menu. He was giving the lunch and dinner menus the night before and choose in advance. They even made sure that there were specially adapted cakes and sandwiches available every afternoon for afternoon tea whether we went or not. Because of my husbands dietary requirements we didn't try any of the other restaurants. We were more than happy with the saffron. We were sat on a table for 7 at dinner, this was great as you got to know some of your fellow passengers quite well and could swap stories of your day each evening. We were sat with similarly aged people and discovered on the last night that we all came from the Coventry area, spooky.
Bruges was a joy. Being cruise novices we weren't sure whether to book excursions or not but after a little research decided to 'do it ourselves'. It was so easy (& cheap). A free shuttle bus was provided to the local town of Blakenburg. From there it was a 10 minutes train ride, trains are 1 an hour and it cost 5.60E return. Bruge train station is about a 15 minute walk from the market square but it is a lovely walk and there is so much to see on the way. I would very much like to go back to Bruge. People told us the canal boat trip is well worth doing. We just had a lovely wander round in the unexpected sunshine, ate waffles and bought chocolates, delicious. Getting back to the boat was equally easy and we returned in time for afternoon tea.
Our sea day was gloriously sunny so we shunned the talks, movies and other entertainment in preference of sitting in the sun and reading. There were lots of waiting staff around on deck ready to take your drinks orders, my criticism of this would be that if you just want the free tea, coffee and water you need to walk down to the beachside and waterside restaurants at the back of the boat. It would have been useful to have more places where you could get water, particularly on hot days. Our experience of bar waiting staff was that they were very efficient and returned relatively quickly with your drinks order.
I thought the entertainment was good, I don't think it's what you get if you were to go to the west end but it was very entertaining and there was a good variety. We saw one show in the theatre and a comedian in Havana and well as various singers in bars around the ship.
One of the nicest aspects of the cruise was meeting lots of different people at meals and in the bars. It felt like a very social way of holidaying. I wouldn't have any reservations in asking to be sat on a large table again and people we met who had dined alone said they wished they'd asked for a larger table.
It was a bit overcast in Guernsey. We had to wait about 30 mins for our tender and left the ship about 10am. Crossing was a little choppy but not too bad. We just went to the occupation museum in St Peter Port and then had a wander around town. If I went again I might do the round Guernsey bus. I think Guernsey would be better enjoyed in the sunshine. Didn't have to wait to get back on the boat just walked straight onto a tender and left.
We talked to a few people about disembarkation on the boat and decided as we didn't have much luggage the best thing to do would be to do it ourselves. This was incredibly easy. We walked straight off at 7:45, picked up our car key and drove straight out of the port with no queues. Definitely the easy stress free option. We were home (in Cambridge) by 10am.
Obviously as a first timer I have nothing to compare our cruise to but we thoroughly enjoyed it and would not hesitate to book another with P&O