I used this forum a couple of years ago, when I took a cruise to Alaska on Crystal -- since this would be my first cruise ever, before sailing I wanted to find out what others felt about Crystal. When I took the cruise, I wasn't disappointed. As advertised, Crystal proved to be an excellent cruise line.
This year I just returned from a cruise on the mv Discovery, operated by Voyages of Discovery in the UK. http://www.voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk. I went with this line because they offered a three-day stay in St. Petersburg, Russia, versus two with other cruise lines. Since I was particularly interested in a comprehensive visit to the Hermitage museum, I decided this was a good choice.
I had read reviews of the Discovery, in this forum, which gave it mixed reviews, but decided to go through with the trip anyway because it seemed to meet my needs pretty well. Here are my impressions after the trip.
Food: C plus. Compared to Crystal, the food offered falls short in many respects. Don't choose this line for the food. While a few of the dishes offered in the dining room were excellent (I really liked the Eggs Benedict at breakfast), most were disappointing. The chef is competent, but no genius. A particularly bizarre dinner I had was the so-called Mexican dinner offered in the Yacht Club -- Discovery's specialty restaurant (no extra charge, but reservations required). It was evident that the chef had never been to Mexico. No Mexican (or Californian) would recognize this food as Mexican. I mean, tournedos of beef with a slight chile sauce? (At least the meat was good!) No refried beans? No enchiladas? No rice? No tortillas? Need I add that the Spanish on the menu was also misspelled?
Wine selection in the dining room was also disappointing. Virtually no California wines, mostly French and Italian. The wine pricing was reasonable for a restaurant, but, compared to other cruise lines, the number of good wines you could order by the glass was very limited. As is usual on cruises, you can order a bottle, drink some of it, then have the waiter put it away for you until the next day, but I honestly couldn't find any red wines that I thought would be good the next day. Like, California Zinfandel keeps well until the next day, but they offer no Zinfandel at all. French Cabernets and other Bordeaux type wines do not keep that well, but that was mainly what they offered by the bottle.
The only wine I consistently ordered was a nice Madeira for drinking with dessert. Very good and reasonably priced at 3.90 pounds a glass. (Everything on the boat is unfortunately priced in Pounds Sterling, which makes it a little more expensive for us Americans.)
Since this is an English boat, teatime was one of the best offerings. Lots of nice scones and other sweets, English cucumber sandwiches, etc. The tea, however, was bag tea (Twinings, Tetley, etc.), and you had to get it yourself if you didn't want the generic tea that the waiters offered. The coffee was awful, unless you wanted to pay for a latte. (By contrast, Crystal has free lattes.)
Cabins: C. The cabins are small and the beds too narrow, plus they are not long enough for a six-foot tall person like myself. Very low rating on that, as I had a difficult time getting a comfortable night's sleep. The sheets and blankets are also showing their age. Some real improvement needed here. Cleanliness of the ship and cabin service, however, was excellent (see below).
Service: Discovery gets an A for this. Their staff are very friendly and accommodating throughout the boat. They genuinely want you to have a good time. The Captain is also a really nice guy, and it's evident the crew is very professional and experienced. No problem here.
Discovery also handled a major problem quite well, when on our return to the UK at the end of the cruise, we missed our flight back to the USA because the boat was four hours late. They gave us a hotel for the night, including dinner, and put us on new fights the next day. Considering it was the high season in London and both hotels and airline reservations were hard to get, they did an excellent job. The delay was not their fault -- the boat had to take the Kiel Canal to get back from North Germany, and the canal was unusually busy with shipping traffic, which resulted in the boat getting behind schedule.
So, you can be assured that Discovery is a reputable company and will not leave you in the lurch if things go wrong. If you elect to take their package deal that includes air transportation and transfers, they will handle everything. They were also very good a checking to make sure that nobody was left behind, or goes to the wrong place. They had a Discovery employee who stayed all night with us at the hotel, to make sure everyone got to their proper destination the next day.
Internet, cabin TV, movies: C. While I try to stay away from computers when on vacation, once and awhile I need to check my email and do a few things on the Internet. I know that Internet on ships is slow, since they rely on satellite communications, but my honest impression is that this was the slowest Internet I had ever experienced -- it was worse than a dialup modem, and unreliable. And, this was using the computers in their Internet Center, which is, by the way, unstaffed. I mean, there is no help at all if you can't figure out how to use their computers, which have a somewhat weird setup. Several customers not so knowledgeable about computers in general as myself had to ask me for help.
You pay for Internet at the front desk. Compared to Crystal's Internet, it was a joke, and I can't imagine what the "wi fi" (which they also supposedly have throughout the boat) service was like!
I was also very disappointed at the cabin TV, which had only a few channels, and no DVD player. While I don't watch much TV on a cruise, I do like watching the news once and awhile, but the only news channel they offered was Sky News, a terrible British news service with tons of commercials and not very informative. Why no CNN? That's pretty standard on cruise boats these days. They are cutting corners with this and it makes it difficult to find out what is really happening in the world. They do distribute to the cabins a daily news sheet called "Britain Today," but it focuses only on news in England. By contrast, other boats usually offer news summaries in several languages and areas of the world.
Entertainment: I would give this a B or B minus. Don't expect "big boat" entertainment, but their shows are pretty nice, although rather tame. They have a small troupe that does things like Broadway musical selections, jazz, etc. The "Discovery Orchestra" consists of a pianist, acoustic guitar, a percussion player, a trumpet, and a clarinet. There are also two "light classical" trios that play at times in the Yacht Club and other venues. They are not very good, in my opinion, and don't offer any serious classical music. Disappointing.
At the end of the cruise there is also a special show put on by the all-Filipino crew. That was fun. Unusual Filipino dancing and music I had never seen. There are also very informative presentations about what to expect at each port of call, plus some lectures on local history and other things. Discovery cruises do have an educational focus, and in this respect they succeed pretty well.
Shore Excursions: These were very good and reasonably priced. In every country we visited on the cruise (Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Russia, Poland, Germany) the tour operators were very professional and informative and spoke good English. They were also careful to count heads and make sure nobody got lost and couldn't get back to the ship. Considering the propensity of some people to ignore instructions and not show up at a meeting point when they are supposed to, they did a great job.
Overall cruise experience: B to B minus. Some things are very satisfactory, others not so satisfactory. The mv Discovery boat itself is rather plain and, while well maintained, shows it age. (It was originally called the Island Princess and cruised the California West coast and to Hawaii.)
Discovery is a fairly new company, and I understand they have plans to either purchase or lease some other boats -- plus, they have just made their first acquisition of another cruise line (don't remember the name). As to company grows, I hope they will have better boats and offer a somewhat more "upscale" cruise experience.
Community Manager's Note: 'This review was written when the ship sailed for Voyages of Discovery. As of February 2013, it is now sailing under the Cruises & Maritime banner"