My mother dreamed of traveling through the Panama Canal and when the opportunity came to combine it with a visit to the Galapagos, it was too much to resist. We researched the trip and booked the final arrangements through an on-line travel company. We were happy with the travel agent and would recommend them highly. Our group consisted of my 70-year-old mother, my husband, me and our two children, 23 and 25. We were supposed to start in Quito, Ecuador, travel to the Galapagos Islands then on through the Panama Canal. The Galapagos Island portion was restructured from a boat trip to an airline trip because the cruise line lost its permit to travel through the area. What was supposed to be a relaxing cruise through the islands turned into a tense, hours long plane ride leaving little time to enjoy the finer parts of the area. The Panama Canal traverse, the point of the trip, was worth the experience. We were fortunate to have spectacular weather and the timing was perfect to through the canal from sunrise to sunset.
The only thing good about this ship is its itinerary. The food, accommodations, entertainment and ship itself were poor.
Pre Cruise: We spent two days in Quito, Ecuador prior to sailing from Manta. The cruise company arranged with Condor Travel for extensive tour options throughout the area. We enjoyed the excursions and would work with Condor Travel in the future. Ecuador was a beautiful country with many wonderful places to visit. We were welcomed and treated very well.
Embarkation: We started in Quito and traveled by bus to Manta, Ecuador. Our departure from the hotel was changed to an inconvenient 11:00 for a three-hour ride to Manta. Before leaving, we verified the food options, as we wanted to be prepared, and we were told we would have food available on the boat when we arrived. Unfortunately, we did not arrive until well after 2:00 and then were told we had to wait until the 4:00 tea time before food would be available. This was very frustrating and when we finally were provided food, it was pre-made sandwiches with heavy mayonnaise and tasteless side dishes.
The actual process of embarkation was one of the easiest I have experienced. We filed in, they handed us our room keys, took our pictures and we were done. All other services were up to us to go to the Bursar's office and arrange at our leisure. This was efficient for getting on board but lack of information on what and how to finish the process created confusion. We needed to stand in line at some point to provide credit card information, arrange tours and arrange Internet access.
We did not realize before sailing that about half the people on board were continuous cruisers already established in cabins. This cruise line allows passengers to stay on over several cruises with people arriving and departing at different ports.
Dining: Several reviews pointed out that if you expect little you will be pleasantly surprised. We expected little and got even less. Breakfast was always undercooked, dinner over cooked and lunch was leftover of the dinner before. There was no food available from 10-12 in the morning, 2-4 in the afternoon and after 10:00 at night. Our tours often started or ended at times that gave us no food options. Our 23-year-old son is a constant eater and the search for food at odd hours required pre-planning. Overall the food bland, tasteless and repetitive. It boggles my mind that people would be on this ship for 40 plus days eating the same food day in and day out. I was desperate for alternatives on the second day. The high point of the food was the "The Yacht Club" dining. The food was excellent and the service superb. Unfortunately, they served the same two dishes the entire cruise so you only wanted to eat there twice. Our second time, we had rough seas and the restaurant is on the top of the ship. Two of us were not able to enjoy the food with the swaying of the boat. I have been on several cruises and this is the first time I was on a boat that could not handle even small waves.
Public rooms: While the ship may look good and have classic lines, it is really just a polite way to say old and uncomfortable. While at sea, the vibration of the ships engines is unbelievably strong. The beds are hard and accompanied by the vibration, challenging to sleep. The public rooms were clean but then again, not particularly well used. The Internet was inexpensive compared to other cruise lines but the usual slow connections required more patience than usual, bring a book to pass the time. We asked other people using the Internet what to do and received our instructions thanks to other passengers rather than anyone from the cruise.
Entertainment: The actual shows were good but they only played music, orchestra, string quartet, piano duo, from 7:00-10:15. The dance shows, comedy shows and singing were all after 10:15 and then poorly attended. Most of the excursions were set for quite early in the morning so late evenings were a challenge. The timing of the shows should have been alternating to provide the best opportunity for everyone to enjoy each show. The advertised lectures only happened during the day when you were at sea so you only had one day of lectures and then you missed other things to attend. They packed in three guest lecturers who lectured one after the other on our one official day at sea. The lecturers easily could have lectured one each evening and provided much better entertainment options over the entire cruise.
Cabins: We each had superior outside cabins (three cabins), and I cringe at the thought of anything smaller, especially if going for longer than a week. As already mentioned, the beds were hard and the continuous vibration from the engines made sleep challenging. Because of the age of the ship, every door had a high sill that needed to be stepped over for both entering the cabin and the bathroom in the cabin. My mother tripped on the bathroom sill and suffered with several large bruises for the rest of the trip. The bathtubs were very high and anyone with bad knees or hips would have trouble entering and exiting. The showers were very low and even my 5'4" daughter had trouble getting under the shower and my 6' son needed to bend over to wash his hair. Each of our rooms had small issues with electric outlets, water drainage, using the safe and numerous other details.
Service: We tried both the room service and the laundry service just once. The room service mixed up the sandwiches and took a long time to arrive. They offered to fix the sandwiches but we were hungry did not want to wait the extra time. The laundry service was very expensive and took a long time to return. My daughter sent out two t-shirts to be cleaned and it took three days to return. She called numerous times because we were departing and concerned they would not be returned before we needed to leave. The cabin stewards were very professional and friendly. The information provided by the Customer Service desk was often incorrect or not explained well. We often made decisions based on false information and then had to change our plans when we learned the correct information. Our last night on board there was a time change but we were never told and when we asked about it we were given incorrect information.
Shore Excursions: The tour companies in each port were excellent. Every guide was friendly, well educated and professional. We never felt rushed or were disappointed. On the other hand, the ship frequently changed ports, canceled ports and did other things that prevented us from participating in some scheduled activities. Every cancellation included an apology and on board credit. On board credit is wonderful if you can use it. On our final night on board we spent over $700 in the store because they canceled our last excursion and would not give us a refund. It was a waste of our money and our time.
Value: The financial issues are too numerous to list here but needless to say we lost significant amounts of our money on lost ship credit. They provided little information and pushed off decisions until the final day giving us little time to look for alternatives while on board. They told us we could use ship credit for other services and then changed their minds at the last minute. They gave information that led us to believe we could do tours on the day of departure and then told us we could not the day before. They told us we could use on-board credit to apply toward our own arrangements for the tours and then told us we could not.
The value of the cruise is diminished by the issues we had and while the places were wonderful, the rest of the trip was not.
I would never sail with Discovery again.
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"