As reasonably experienced cruisers from New Zealand, we thought we were prepared for what this ship had to offer based on reviews read, but in reality the whole trip was a surprise!
I should say to begin, we were surprised to discover that out of about 2500 guests, we are two of only 20 Caucasians on board. The others are 50% Indian and 50% Singaporean & Chinese. So were quite a minority on board, and the ship is totally geared to only the needs of their Asian clientele, which is very different in our experience. Most of the Singaporeans and Chinese are on the ship to gamble.
There is no real start or finish on this ship - it cruises continuously and there will be people on board who started their cruise a few days earlier and also you will pick up people at almost every port, so it is quite chaotic.
To start with, we were told we could board anytime after 12 midday so we arrived at 12.30.
We taxied to the ship, were taken straight to baggage drop off which was very efficient, then to check in which had no queues, but then when we got to passport control we discovered that it only opened at a set time and there was a whole room full of people waiting to board.
As we booked a balcony cabin, we were directed to a priority area but we still had to wait about 45 minutes. After this it was pretty easy.
In the lobby of the ship it was chaos, people everywhere and no one to direct us. We just sat down and waited for the crowds to disperse then went to our room, which was not ready, but we were told we could leave our hand luggage in there. I do not recommend this, as the room was left open for "cleaning" ( more on that later!) and some complimentary gifts were stolen from it, which housekeeping said was normal as there are guests on board who have either not checked out yet from the last cruise or guests who are staying on board and they enter the rooms.
The queues at reception for check out are simply massive - on the end of the Malacca leg there were huge queues for 6 hours solid and a lot of people do push in and they crowd the desk 5 deep and 30 across - really really hard to cope with so I do suggest you fill out the express check out form. The queues at the end of the Redang leg were a lot less.
I suppose because of the sheer volume of passengers, ( the ship was very full and you sure noticed it too) and people on board who are at various stages of their cruise, there are really annoying rules on the ship - such as you cant take a coffee out of the buffet, so you are forced to listen to Polly Wolly Doodle done on a Greek piano accordion full volume at breakfast 3 times in its entirety while you drink it in the designated area, you cannot sit wherever you want - tables are allocated, there is no free food from 4pm till 6pm so if you come ashore starving at 4pm tough luck, all public outdoor areas are smoking so you cant have a drink or relax anywhere outside to sit and read a book unless you count the casino, in which you can also smoke so that was useless to us too.
This ship really lacks a viewing lounge, and a nice public area to sit and just some "space" to get away from everyone - it is just so crowded.
Oh, and the most popular song on the ship?? Happy Birthday To You!!!
This surely has to be the only ship in the world where you have to queue for hours to make a booking for the gala dinner - we were told we could start queuing at 10am to book, but the queues were already about 200 people long at 8.30am!! We gave up on the whole idea and ate in the buffet that night. I think it's an offensive system and indicates to me that perhaps they don't think much of their guests if they expect us to queue for a whole morning just to make a dinner reservation.
Our room was a balcony cabin on the 10th floor. It was filthy when we boarded - muck all over the floor, chewing gum stuck in the carpet in 3 places, every surface dirty and sticky, urine on the toilet seat, and we made the mistake of looking under the bed - my goodness! 5 shoes, empty water and coke bottles, loose peanuts and chips and other food at various states of decay, sticky stuff all down the front of the drawers and two drawers we could not use as they were so dirty inside. We asked for it to be cleaned again, twice, but all that happened was the surfaces were wiped.
I think we might have been unlucky, but you just don't know - a brief look into other rooms nearby showed them to be in a similar state. Our room was never vacuumed for the entire cruise.
Our room also vibrated all the time - whether the ship was moving or not - like a super fast vibration that meant you could not even read a book in bed, it shook so badly. We have never encountered this on a ship before and suspect that there were some mechanical problems below, but all our many requests to move rooms were ignored. Needless to say, we did not get much sleep on this cruise and could not use the room for relaxing at all. Oh, and no fridge, but they do give you tea and coffee making facilities.
As they take on guests at most ports, life drills are held very often - they had a life drill for newly embarked guests one night at 11pm, piped at full volume into all rooms for 30 minutes, and then proceeded to advertise shows and ship services over the loud speaker until midnight. Very annoying. At no point is a roll call done at the drills so they really have no idea if you turned up or not.
Its a total shame as otherwise the ship is quite clean and nice, and the majority of the food is outstandingly good. The anytime dining policy is great and apart from Gala night, we had no problem getting in to the main restaurant. We only had to share a table once.
The shows are amazing - like nothing else we have seen on a ship before - real top quality productions and so totally different from the regular American Broadway hits fodder that most other ships serve up time and time again. They had acrobats from the Ukraine and really super modern sets and costumes and original shows that incorporated song, dance and magic and stunts - really good EXCEPT - they are simply repeated every 3 days, so once you have seen them, thats it - there are no new shows to see for the rest of the week.
The Chinese meals on offer in the Noble house speciality restaurant were not the usual Chinese food that we expected, like wonton soup or sweet and sour port or chicken fried rice, but generally something more like jelly fish soup, and other weird things. Also it's a set menu only - no a-la-carte.
The Japanese restaurant and the Italian were nice, but we did not go to the Indian as it was a set menu.
The buffet is halal, pork and lard free, semi Asian with a very limited range for dinner, and no American breakfast. You can't just pop in for a snack here - you are allocated a table & have to sign in.
Meals in the main dining room were excellent and here you can get an American or English breakfast if you are happy to wait as it is A-la carte, with a continental buffet.
You can get 24 hour food ( you pay for it) at the Blue Lagoon Caf.
We were given a very generous $500 room credit and this made it possible to eat at all the speciality restaurants which otherwise would have been well out of our price range, but I have to say they were no better than the main restaurant.
We did excursions in every port ( Malacca / Penang / Phuket / Singapore / Redang) and found the whole gathering process to be terrible - they get you to meet a good 45 minutes before you are due to leave and everyone seems to meet at once so it is super crowded and the staff seem to think it is fun to scream at you down the microphone and try to be funny but really it was just unprofessional and really made us cringe. It was made harder as the tender ports made the trip extra long, but there are no toilet facilities once you get to shore except in Penang.
Most of the excursions were poorly run with regard to being rushed and poor toilet facilities and weird local shopping thrown in, but I would suggest doing them anyway except in Malacca where you can just walk it, and Redang where you can just go to the beach. In Penang it is well worth while to do one, otherwise you will see nothing.
The Redang leg was much much quieter and more pleasant than the rest of the trip. We did the marine park as the snorkelling tour did not run in the end ( I don't actually think it ever runs!) and the park is lovely with great coral and loads of fish. Not many experienced swimmers on this ship so most of them stayed in knee deep water so we had the ocean to ourselves!
I also just have to say, that looking at the 7 night cruise you would be forgiven for thinking, as we did, that you would get an evening and then later a day in Singapore? Think again! They limit the time you can leave the ship! So for example, we got into port at 1pm but we could only go ashore until 2.30 pm and could not come back on board until 4.30 pm and had to be on board by 6.30pm even thought the ship did not leave until 9pm.
Another weird thing, the excursion desk will only take bookings in advance for the next leg of the trip - so the 7 day cruise is actually 3 cruises, and you cannot book excursions for advance legs of the cruise ( Redang was the issue in our case, as the tour desk opens at 4pm on your only day in Singapore and if you are not in the first 40 to register for snorkelling then you will miss out! So you loose all the free time you could have had ashore - terrible management).
In all, I have to say that you need to keep in mind that this is a really budget cruise and super cheap for what you get, especially as it seems the room credit is given to everyone, so despite it's faults it was good value for money.
Would I do it again? Absolutely not - it was just too hard for a whole week in such a bad room and no nice public area to use, but I think the Asian guests really enjoyed it and it's possible as Westerners, our standards are just too high for what this ship actually offers.
Would I recommend it? Yes, tentatively, as long as you know it's a budget experience, and also I think if you were a first time cruiser then this should not be your first cruise - we met some Australians on board who were first time cruisers and they were so shocked and thought all ships were like this one and said they would never cruise again.