This was listed as a Pullmantur cruise on Cruise Critic, but we received communication about it from "Crosiere de France" . We (age 55 to 61), have done about 23 cruises on many different companies, but never this one. We left Marseille 26th April for 7 nights, the only primarily English speaking guests - we think.
Over all, our experience was quite frustrating although there were some great things too about the trip. In the end we decided that frustration was not going to be helpful! We should just see it as entertaining and hilarious !!
We chose this cruise out of Marseille on the Zenith a ship of the Crosiere de France because it suited our time (I had business in Paris after the cruise) and offered an interesting itinerary; Tunisia, Malta, Messina, Sicily, Certiviccia (Rome) and Corsica. We had already booked the cruise when some friends told us they had been on a group of six who had done a cruise on this.
Soon after we arrived on the boat we were advised that an international hostess was appointed to help us. They failed to tell us she neither spoke nor read French!! She didn’t tell us this either but seemed to make up her understanding of French which was not as good as mine (learned 45 years ago at high school). Some lovely French people we met were quite apologetic about “the French” approach to tourism. They indicated that in other countries they experience much better customer service than in France or by French companies. What a pity ïŒ
Despite the above, the following comments about our experience are offered with an attempt at a balanced perspective. There are some things we really enjoyed (the venue, sunsets, sunrises and some lovely, lovely staff ïŠ and some very kind and interesting fellow passengers); the comfortable bed, the food in the main restaurant and particularly Moka, where the café was very predictable and mostly a very pleasant space (except at peak time when it seemed to become a children’s playground – dodging waiters delivering both hot drinks and alcohol in glass with children under their feet). We particularly enjoyed the 7am cappuccinos! We were very surprised to find many of the service staff did not speak French (we later learned this was more than 50%); some staff told us they got by on some key words (No wonder they looked dazed and stressed at times). Some seemed to speak better English than French; they spoke Arabic, Spanish, other Asian languages and Tagalog (Phillipines). Staff seemed very happy to be able to talk in English to us, but some struggled with understanding what we had said – for example, chicken came instead of prawns, and ice-cream instead of a different dessert; but always willingly changed with good humour!!
This was school holidays so one expects lots of children, however, the cruise ship rules said the parents are responsible for the children and the children should be supervised by the parents. The children dominated bars, smoking areas, casino, elevators and.. many of them appeared to be unsupervised. They were not supposed to be in elevators without parents but about 80% of the time, no parent could be seen. The gym was supposed to only have over 18 year olds! My horror was to see a 3 or 4 year old wandering around the treadmill on which an adult was running and others in the gym. I saw two children sitting in a bar, unsupervised eating their way through the packets of sugar on the table and when I pointed them out to the security person, he laughed at them, then wagged his finger and laughed some more! Children ran through corridors, through rooms where drinks were being served and through restaurants. One small group of 10 year olds were unsupervised running through a room and the last one jumped up to punch the fire alarm- fortunately she missed!! There appeared to be a range of declared rules which were not enforced or supported. Whenever we wanted to ask a question in person or by phone, they referred us to the ‘International Hostess’, a lovely person who made the required reports and acted sympathetically towards us but definitely took the ship’s line and I am actually not sure that she understood our concerns .. I actually think English was not her language (nor French – as mentioned above!)
As well as selling cigarettes at a cheap price, all outdoor space had smokers, even on a tour bus, (against the rules), on balconies (also against the rules) and in doorways (no rules)! The outside parts of the ship are all smoking areas, this includes eating areas, around children, and around recreation spaces such as pools, spars walking areas etc. We did not frequent these!! We tried to find outside air space without smokers – but one always found us – looked sideways at us, then lit up!!
We are lovers of travelling, taking journeys to many parts of the world. For example, we enjoy buying local produce to have when travelling. This is a practice which has been and still is allowed – in our experience - by many different cruiselines! We also noticed that the nearby-parked Costa crew and passengers brought food on when at Citaveccia. However this was seen as a big no no on the Zenith. There was no sign or information about this prohibition – until the day after we brought two small cakes on board. These were initially confiscated - until I protested strongly…. We were then allowed to take them to our room, with the instruction to eat them quickly ??? cakes ???? I had already brought cheese, biscuits and local macaroons from Marseille which were for some reason not detected and we had been happily enjoying them at various times with our cups of tea. So.. two days after the cake incident we headed to the home of produce, Corsica!! We resisted – feeling traumatised by the perspective that we had broken an undeclared rule. By the way, a sign appeared the next day, which had a picture of fruit, a picture of a pastry and picture of meat. Each with a cross through them and an instruction that one could not take them on board. We ate our patisserie purchases in Corsica before getting on board but then noticed at least 10 people passing us and getting on board with plastic bags of cheese, sausage, etc in see through plastic bags guess what ! None was confiscated !! ïŒ
Overall the on-board food was good, when we didn’t like a meal, a replacement was offered. Every evening had fish, meat and vegetarian options as well as bread and desserts. Our waiter was fabulous and every night remembered we like olive oil with bread and lemon with fish. They ran out of butter on day 3 but offered margarine instead. On day 7 butter was proudly produced. There was free house wine, house beer and house cocktails which we enjoyed occasionally. They used very sweet cordials and getting drinks apart from diet pepsi without sugar is difficult. It seems that drinking unsweetened soda water is not common and tonic water was very sweet. Sparkling water was available and bottled water available at a reasonable price. We resorted to this as with the passing of days the tap water tasted increasingly salty and unpalatable. On the last day, we were asked (I think accidentally) if we wanted sea water or bottled water – an accurate description.
The meals are available in the deck 11 cafeteria, through room services (pretty good with 30 minutes wait), and for dinner in two sittings in a restaurant. We were initially offered the late 9:15 sitting but were able to change it on Day One to the 7pm sitting. In fact no dinner food was available until 7pm when the same menu is offered in the cafeteria as well.
The buffet breakfast is also available in the restaurant and in the deck 11 buffet. A la Carte was offered in the restaurant but not well advertised and there was some surprise when we ordered off this table menu. Overall breakfast was a pleasant experience and we met some lovely passengers and crew at this time.
We were in room 1005 very close to the front on the ship. There were some good and bad things. The bed seemed comfortable and storage space was good except for baggage space – there was none that worked for our bags. A folded up overhead extra bed was tricky to get around if you weren’t looking. A very small TV in the corner of the room worked well. The balcony was lovely but a bit grubby – looked like it had not been washed down for some time. However we enjoyed some days with warm weather – so room service lunch was great - usually Chicken Caesar salad and a good cheese plate.
The bathroom smelt pretty bad – and there was a black stain in the toilet which was it seems from a plumbing repair. It was a while before I also figured out that it was the drain that seemed to smell. I sprayed some of my body spriz a couple of times and that helped a lot!! When we arrived, the shower curtain was worse for wear, the wall next to our room had a suspicious brown mark. Here is the good part – we – co-incidentally – ran into an executive chef for the line, the morning after our first night and jokingly made our comments – a new shower curtain emerged!! And we were allocated a new room steward who was on his first week with this cruise line and desperate to be helpful and to please!! When I asked if he could vacuum the floor, he did, he cleaned and changed the linen and did all the things one hopes a room steward will do - even replaced the water - when we asked. He did ask us to not tell anyone except him if there were problems… therefore also coped with my requests for things to be attended to.
Maintenance requests from us were generally seen as a nuisance. We stopped one outside door rattling about 3am with pieces of cardboard, the bathroom lock was missing two screws, and the rubber seal on the sliding door to the balcony was inadequate - adding cold wind through the door some nights.
The Itinerary and day visits
On all cruises except one Baltic Princess Cruise I have been frustrated by the poor information availability provided by cruise line staff abut ports and excursions. This journey was no exception. They would not give us maps or information until the day of the port visit. Perhaps this is for marketing and sales reasons. Our port experiences are provided below as examples.
Marseille (pre-cruise) – we spent three nights in Marseille and took a one day trip by local bus to Aix en Provence which was very enjoyable. We also spent time in Marseille walking, doing a one day hop on hop off exploration. We stayed at The Viex Port Hotel in a cheap no view room but it was very comfortable. Getting to the port by taxi was easy; getting on the boat was chaotic, confusing and disorganised over about an hour until they decided we were VIPS when things marginally improved. The room was not ready for another hour (until 3pm) and we spent time waiting in the deck 11 space, after a short lunch. Getting off the boat was better organised, we bought the bus transfer which was good value and an additional interesting experience when the bus ran into a truck it tried to pass in a very narrow street
Now to the journey
Day One at sea – there were no onboard activities of interest to us and we were still getting oriented to the cruiseline. We did discover the Moka Café, to our delight!! Actually there is an absence of comment about entertainment in this report because it was pretty much absent for us. Incidental entertainment worked best for us. We watched three Abba songs in an evening show. It was bit like a highschool music performance. Talking with passengers and watching the world go by was the best entertainment for us. For example, the May day eve parade in the restaurant was pretty good fun.
Day Two - Tunisia – as there had been a recent state of emergency and election, we opted for a Ship’s tour to Carthage but were advised that it would be in French – there were no English options available throughout the cruise. The local guide offered us a front seat and he occasionally made comments in English for us; some fellow passengers also assisted with English translations. The trip itself was excellent and although we missed about 80% of the commentary we were glad we did the tour. We went straight back on board afterwards as it seemed tricky to go anywhere else with the little information available.
Day Three - Malta – we were blessed with a beautiful day in Valletta. Malta appears to have been working very hard to get its tourism working well. We walked from the boat, took the new 2 euro elevator to the garden and city. We enjoyed our day of self-guided/assisted-by-locals exploration. Taxi drivers, buses and other forms of transport were not needed
Day Four- Messina – Sicily – After taking a 90 minute bus tour which we arranged on shore, we had another short self-directed city wander, which we enjoyed very much; however this was the source of the offending cakes. We bought lunch from a boulangerie and ate on the street.
Day Five - Citavecchia (Rome). The ship option was a bus trip then self–directed tour of Rome which we were warned could be shut down because it was 1st of May. After some deliberation, we opted and with no ship provided information, for a train trip to Rome. We left at 9:15 am from our room after the ship had arrived at 9am. The port offered a free transfer to the bus station and we then took an 80c euro – return, bus ride to the station and caught a train to St Peter’s Square. The whole journey took 2 hours and 15 minutes. We wandered around St Peters Square, found a little wine bar in the side street for lunch, where the ambience was better than the food, but worth the time. We walked up the hill to the children’s hospital look out, had an amazing gelato, walked back to the station, arriving at 2:40pm; we took the 3:02 train back to Citavecchia and finally arrived back at the ship at 5pm.
Day Six – a short day in Corsica – Off the ship and serendipitously onto a 90 minute bus trip – just outside the boat terminal, down town. We went upstairs on the bus, but discovered the smoking culture again – despite a no smoking rule. We moved downstairs and had an enjoyable trip until fellow passengers joined us and spoke very loudly in French over the top of the English commentary! Fortunately when I protested this reduced and the bus trip was overall fantastic. After wandering in the town, enjoying some great gelato and quiche for lunch, we then headed back to the ship for a 2pm departure . There is more we would have liked to see in this island but no more time!!
The ports were enjoyable and on the whole inexpensive.
Overall the cruise was a reasonable journey although the frustrations of poor communication were difficult. The Cruise staff found it difficult to be honest about their limited language and this made our frustration very high. As thinking travellers we sought to address concerns we had but this seemed to be resented by staff and I think understanding this and seeing it as a Faulty Towers venture earlier would have reduced our distress. We had lots of sleep catch up, some new sites to see and some time together to explore and manage challenges. That’s good enough for a reasonable holidayïŠ.
Would I recommend this cruiseline – no not until they improve their honesty and commitment to other cultures and to customer service. Did we have a good week? – yes it was an adventure in survival fawlty towers at sea! We might not have said this if we had not had some sympathy and support from staff and fellow passengers.