As independent travellers to tour packages/companies I felt we were not given consideration nor treated in the same way as other passengers, I felt we lost 2 x half days of our holiday due to the embarkation/disembarkation process.
I write below our honest/factual story which did detract from the wonderful 6 days we had on board with no other issues. If you are aware in advance and build it into the planning of your holiday then I hope you find this helpful rather than wasting your precious holiday time.
We had already stayed in Barbados and as our flight was not until 5pm so we were determined not to waste yet another day of our trip. We took a taxi back to our previous hotel 20 minutes away from Port for 20 US dollars and paid a day rate of 60 US dollars which gave us a room, shower, towels and beach towels. This should not have been necessary! However please look up Oceans 15 on the internet if you feel you may want to use them as we did. They are located at Christchurch a 5 minute walk away from Dover Beach. We then paid a further 20 US dollars and took another 20 minutes taxi to the airport later in the day.
We arrived at the port at 12 p.m. and took our luggage to the designated area. Long queues with no seats followed. Disabled assistance was obtained at the front of the queue not ideal when standing for any more than a short period was not ideal for my disabled mother, one problem with disability is that people cannot see what is going on inside the body with the heart and the head! One Horizon man was patient and polite and deserved praise for being alone handling in excess of 120 people for embarkation. He gave us forms to complete - immigration, health and expense account. These had to be done right there standing in the open hall. There were no chairs and I found myself grovelling on the floor or standing bent over a table crowded with other people and no privacy. This is where I managed to get bitten up my legs for the first time of my holiday and I believe this was from grovelling on the floor to fill in forms. After completing and returning the forms we finally went to the ship reception area at 145pm, unnecessary duplication of process. Again we had to queue for a lengthy time and the receptionists were surly and inefficient. We didn't manage to do the expense form at this time as the queue was so long. We were also advised if wanting cash account we had to pay 150 euro in advance or swipe a card for credit account. I had no issue setting up a credit account until checkout when I had been charged an additional 72 euro per person without my permission and with disinterest again from reception who said it was a compulsory charge and would not refund it, blaming my agent for not advising me, I am still dealing with my agent to get this refunded. We had been advised that bills would be put under our door at 5am and not to contact reception, we didn't get our bills and clearly this was because the fraudulent charges had been put onto our accounts. I have no problem paying tips had Horizon in advance made us aware of this as the staff were very deserving of them but this was classed as a service charge which we had already paid to our agent. However I would not have paid 144 euros in tips for what ended up being a 6 day holiday. Reception were adamant it was our problem not their's though I wasn't surprised as their attitude from the beginning had not been customer focussed. I am generally a very calm person working in a busy department with in excess of 300 people running teams of people from 18 to 60 years old and at least 30 different nationalities but this was the first time I found blank smiles,felt I was unable to get answers and felt I wanted to be rude towards them so often walked off from reception in frustration. I also found it odd that our passports would be confiscated and only returned at the end of the cruise just before we were escorted off the ship.
I had a big issue with our luggage as we left hand luggage with our cases which contained medicines needed and didn't expect the luggage to be longer than an hour or so, how wrong I was, it was left abandoned outside our door after 530pm, I was miffed at this as some of it was not locked and one bag had been opened but I must stress that nothing was missing. I had to keep going back to the room to check as medication was needed as I hadn't anticipated over 5 hours for the luggage to arrive when I saw it be loaded onto the truck before we had left embarkation! I was equally miffed at disembarkation we were clearly told luggage would be collected once only and had to be outside our room at 3am! This was prior to us being marched off ship at 9am. I must say collecting our passports was disorganised too with people pushing and shoving as noone would queue, I felt the staff should have a queue system in place. It was made clear to us that we should not stay on board and anyway our luggage would be left unattended in the port!
We finally got to our rooms on deck 6 although it is an older ship the inside was fairly spacious more than we expected. Our cabin steward was excellent and cleaned the room every day replacing towels when needed. Had 2 double wardrobes and sufficient drawers for 2 to share both at a spacious dressing table and in one set of the wardrobes. Which also contained a safe and lifejackets. Small but clean bathroom and good shower. We had a double bed when twin beds were requested, I didn't want to share a double bed with my elderly Mother so spoke to the steward and he sorted the beds out within 30 minutes for us.
The day you embark you attend a safety presentation at which you are supposed to take your life vests. This however wasn't in any of our documentation and as I was at reception just before the meeting the advice from there was to wait in our cabin! Completely wrong.
There was no mention that pool towels were not in the room and had to be signed for on the pool deck.
The decks were kept clean and tidy.
There was a great daily newsletter. I would have liked to have seen more about the staff in here too.There was also a information newsletter left in the room on arrival which with a few tweaks in some sections would have been much better. The sections I believe that need improvement or inclusion are:
Which decks WIFI available and at what cost the WIFI is and how to set it up as I wasn't given options on my phone and again reception could not help me so I went without WIFI.
A section on pool towels and where to collect them. These are not in the room as suggested but on deck 11 by the pool.
A section on the safety meeting and to take the life vests along.
Breakfast and lunch were very good with a good choice of food. There were the traditional breakfast items and lots of French pastries/breads, the omelettes were prepared before hand and served in squares with filling such as salmon or onion.. Lunch also was good - salads, vegetables, meats and fish and lots of fruit. Of course wine and drinks were free all day long and branded drinks too. We found 3 course dinner very good except for one evening receiving a chicken leg/thigh as the main meat it was meatless and stringy so we chose our meat carefully after that and all meals, chicken breast beef medallions, lamb were beautifully cooked.
All the waiters and assistant waiters were extremely efficient, polite and helpful as were all the staff in whichever restaurant, bar or part of the ship we attended except for reception, we spoke with 4 different receptionists and found them all to have attitude and to be rude/unhelpful. We also always had to queue. I asked for a complaint form and it took me 3 times before they would give me the form to complete then as it had to go back to reception I didn't bother taking it back as felt it would not have been handled anyway.
Table numbers was an issue as few English speaking people on board and an elderly Mother with digestive issues we booked a table for 2 in advance. Again we were not bothered where this was just that we did not share with others. This did not happen so on the first night we were helped to move and given a table for two and advised we could keep it for the week we were there. This worked well for 5 nights until new people boarded and our table number was duplicated with someone else who was very insistent they had the table. Night 6 we were already eating bread and had drinks when rudely interrupted in French with finger poking and gesticulation to get up from the table. Fortunately the waiters handled this for us especially as it was a birthday and we had birthday items obviously also on the table. The last night the table was already taken by the same rude woman when we got there and it delayed us appox 10 minutes whilst the waiters/manager found us another table. We didn't even speak to the woman on our table as had no intention being as rude as She was the previous evening however it would not have taken much for me to remove her from the table myself!
The lounges are quite nice but small and seating is limited, so while the music especially in the Rendez-Vous lounge was good, both the band and the singer, it was not possible to get a seat every night and people would have to stand around. The dancing also looked good fun too and i'm sure with a bigger area more people would dance. We also enjoyed the atmosphere and staff in Café Moka and the cocktails and coffees etc....
Dress code at times in the evening was more casual than casual, I'm all for not going formal every night but some people were still in their smelly day clothes! I felt the standard of casual could have bee a little higher. There were some lovely outfits on the formal gala night for photos with the Captain, well done to all these people for setting standards.
The announcements were made first in French, then in Spanish and finally in English so we were always aware of what was going on. However in the theatre the jokes were in French or Spanish only so obviously English speaking passengers were at a loss. The shows were quite entertaining, with songs in all three languages. One night there was a tribute to Michael Jackson and another to Abba. The shows were a little arty but entertaining none the less. Each evening we had to sit through the introductions taking at least 10 minutes when a simple poster at the entrance to the theatre in multiple languages would have been sufficient.
The trips were a little pricey and had to be booked 48 hours in advance, one point from our perspective was that some of the trips were timed too long for elderly/disabled passengers and that combined with sea sickness and not knowing how well we would be in 48 hours meant that we didn't book any trips in advance. Some Ports however once you left the ship had plenty of variety for trips and we arranged some ourselves more suited to our timings/budget and what we actually wanted to see. Some tips on the trips follow:
At La Romana, it wasn't easy to avoid expensive taxis as the Port is set a good walk out of town.
In St Kitts good choice of trips but the trips to The Baths for example had to be booked in advance.
Again in St Lucia were a good choice of trips.