The first thing to point out to anyone reading this is that this was our first cruise together so we do not have the advantage of some reviewers of being able to compare and contrast this cruise against other ships and or operators. However, from talking to other cruisers on our ship we tended to find that experience does not always bring happiness, and this seems to be reflected in some of the reviews I have read. We were repeatedly afflicted (particularly at the dinner table) with a certain species of cruiser who I would call the 'cruise moaner'. They have been on 10/20/30 cruises and nothing is as good on this ship as it is on P&O/Royal Carribean/Cunard etc etc. So if they are so experienced why have they chosen such a 'substandard' ship/line, and how did we end up sitting opposite them?
OK I've got that off my chest, now for our impressions of this cruise. Some have criticised the time it took to embark. What they failed to point out was that this was due to HM Customs deciding to carry out a full ship inspection before anyone was allowed on board. Others have said it but it bears repeating - the staff were excellent. Nothing was too much trouble. Efficient friendly service - plates cleared away as soon as knife and fork put down, cabin towels changed twice a day, public areas always clean and tidy. Almost without exception we received a 'good morning' and 'how are you' from every crew member we met, even the technicians and backroom staff. I would contrast this against the often rude and surly attitude of some of our fellow passengers (almost all of whom were British).
I did not experience any of the issues with the fabric of the ship or the food described by another reviewer. The ship was very clean and well maintained. Even the carpets in the lift were being replaced while we were cruising and they didn’t seem particularly worn. The sheets and towels were always pristine and crisp. I can see that for some passengers with limited mobility waiting for a lift would be a problem. At peak periods such as meal times and when going onshore there were waits although we didn’t see many signs of broken lifts and those that were seemed to be quickly fixed.
The food was of an excellent standard and well presented. We tended to eat in either Da Vinci or Michelangelo dining rooms and never had to queue for more than 5 minutes. Of course if like a lot of passengers you were desperate to eat between 5.30 and 6pm you could expect to wait longer, but by 8pm it had calmed down and made for a more relaxed dining environment. Yes the service was a bit slow at times, but so what, half the fun was in meeting and talking with new people, and there were 3 shows a night so I don’t get the reviewer who talked about leaving the table early to catch the show (unless of course you wanted to be in bed with a mug of cocoa by 10 o’clock).
We only used room service once. The choice seemed a bit limited and the hot water for the tea wasn’t hot enough. Always worked better to scoot along to the International Café and get a take out in the morning (free with the good value coffee card).
Some of the entertainment was a bit underwhelming particularly the stage shows by the Princes Cruise Dancers. I don’t doubt the hard work and dedication but it was all a bit ‘passe’. There were some excellent game shows and Lisa and her team were tireless in injecting some fun into the evening routine. Some of the acts were better when they did a set in the smaller venues and Roger Wright was a particular hit although his show was sometimes quite difficult to get in to such was its popularity.
I would agree with others that the shore excursions were expensive. We only went on two - to the Lipeca Stud Farm in Slovenia and to Seville. The first one was interesting and the tour guide on the coach was really informative about the area. As well as the farm there was a short stop on the way back to a medieval church with amazing wall paintings depicting the ‘dance of death’. We chose this tour because it wasn’t easy to do it yourself and we are unlikely to go back there, but at approximately £80 each it wasn’t cheap. Seville just involved a coach trip and then we went our own way. As Seville is a 90 minute drive from the port of Cadiz it would be difficult to get there under your own steam. We did Venice on our own and spent 1 Euro each on the monorail from the cruise port walking the rest of the way to St Marks Square before buying a ‘go anywhere’ Vaporetto ticket which we used to ride round the lagoon and went to Murano Island (where glassware is produced). Of course having saved money getting around my wife made up for it in the handbag shop the mask shop and the glass shop!
One little moan which others have mentioned is the sometimes irritating attempt to sell things such as special coffees spa treatments and photos (especially photos taken with over enthusiastic members of the crew dressed in embarrassingly bad ‘local’ costume) as you disembark the ship. The photos are worst because short of pushing them in the dock, it is hard to get past them without being grabbed and pushed in front of a camera. On the plus side, when we chose to buy something, a watch, it was good value and we have since seen the same model locally for more than twice the price.
In the general scheme of things these are minor irritations. You don’t have to buy anything (even the photos). We loved our cruise, we loved the places we got to visit, and we enjoyed the company of some interesting people. The ship and its crew were fantastic and we had a really relaxing time. It was an eventful trip we took a detour to help Syrian refugees and missed Corfu as a result (their need was greater than ours), we went to Cadiz twice the second time to drop off a sick passenger, and we watched as a very drunk passenger tried to throw himself into the dock at Gibralter and was rugby tackled by members of the crew. We will definitely cruise again and would recommend this ship, this itinerary, and this cruise line to others.