We are from New Zealand and had 2 nights in Singapore before boarding the ship, so this gave us the opportunity to start acclimatizing to the heat and humidity. At 2pm on Saturday 5 September we checked in at the Singapore Cruise Center, opposite Sentosa Island and boarded the ship. Check in and boarding went very smoothly with plenty of Costa staff in the terminal available to assist. Our cabin was on deck 4 (Lautrec) near the front (cabin No 4007). It was quite basic but comfortable (single beds despite requesting a double when we booked). We had chosen our room location so we would have no engine noise/vibrations to worry about. The sound proofing between cabins is almost non existant and we could hear every word spoken in the ajoining cabins which was annoying. The shower leaked onto the cabin carpet and we had wet and smelly carpet throughout our trip. We complained to the information desk 3 times about it but nothing was done to fix it.
We were soon sailing from Singapore and enjoying the amazing views of the skyline and harbour. Oddly there had been no lifeboat drill prior to leaving port (we had become accustomed to this on our two previous Star cruises out of Singapore). As we were soon to discover, this was an Italian ship and they did things a little differently! We eventually had an emergency “assembly” drill 2 days into the cruise, but we never went near the lifeboats and to this day I still have no idea which one was ours! Fortunately we didn’t need them.
First impressions of the food on board looked promising and were proven so over the next 2 weeks – it was just superb – I would rate it 4-5 star, especially the service. We had pre-purchased the X1 drinks package (NZ$300 each) when we booked the cruise, as we had heard drinks were very expensive on board (NZ$15 per glass of wine or beer). Everything on the boat was in Euros so very expensive for us Kiwis! We also brought a bottle of duty free booze each and cans of soft drink on board so we had no need to buy any additional booze on board. The drinks package gave us unlimited softdrinks, bottled water, tap beer and house wine by the glass at meal times and turned out to be the best deal ever! We certainly got our money’s worth out of it and it had paid for itself by the 3rd day! Once the waiters got to know us they just brought us a continual stream of drinks (wine by the bottle in the end!). After dinner we always ordered a fresh bottle of wine each and then took it to the show or up on deck.
The officers, senior crew and entertainment staff were all Italian. All the waiting and housekeeping staff were Asian (cheap labour) and very friendly. Every announcement on board was repeated in 6 languages, even though 80% of the passengers were Poms, Aussies and Kiwis! Unfortunately we found most of the Italian crew to be unhelpful, rude and arrogant. We noted they treated their fellow countrymen passengers quite differently to us. The entertainment on board was a big disappointment. There was plenty of it but apart from a couple of acts they were pretty poor quality. They really needed a good Philippine band and singers to get things going. Instead we had to listen to tired old Italian singers, who couldn’t sing in English to save themselves.
Our first port of call was Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam (the old city of Saigon). The Allegra is small enough to sail right up the Saigon River almost to the city itself – a 4-hour trip. This was very interesting. Unfortunately it was a very wet day, which was to become a feature of most of our port days. As Murphy would have it the sea days (bar one notable one!) were all mostly fine and sunny. The ship organized shore excursions were horrendously expensive so we just did our own thing and either walked or used local taxis and buses at all the ports of call. In most cases we went to all the same places as the ship’s tours but for a fraction of the price. The traffic in Ho Chi Min City is something to experience, especially when crossing the road. You just walk out onto the road and the traffic (mostly scooters) just weaves around you! Quite scary to begin with but once you get the hang of it it becomes second nature! We visited the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace (the old South Vietnam Presidential Palace in the war years). By then we were soaked to the skin and had had enough of the traffic and beggars, so headed back to the ship. We sat up on deck for the 4-hour trip back down the river and enjoyed some amazing sites. The next day was at sea transiting to Da Nang, another former South Vietnamese city.
Da Nang turned out to be the highlight of the trip. It was a beautiful area and much nicer than Ho Chi Min City. Nine of us hired a van and guide for the day (US$100) and visited nearby Hoi An, Marble Mountain and China Beach (where the US Marines first landed in 1965). It was raining on and off most of the day and there was a lot of flooding in Hoi An, but we really liked the area and would like to return there one day. There are a lot of resorts and hotels being built all along China Beach. It has all the makings of another Phuket or Bali. That evening we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the harbour before we sailed.
The next day we were at sea heading for Hong Kong. We had a late start and another sumptuous lunch, but as we finished lunch I commented that the wind seemed to be picking up and it looked like we were in for a storm (the sky was VERY black). The ship’s weather forecast had stated some rain was expected and the sea would be “slightly rough”… little did we know what we were in for for the next 18 hours! During the afternoon the wind got stronger and stronger and the sea rougher and rougher. It became difficult to walk around the ship and impossible to go outside. At 3pm we went to a scheduled presentation in the Theatre (right in the bow) on what to expect in Hong Kong. During the presentation the ship started pitching very violently - the vertical accelerations up and down were like being in a lift or on a roller coaster. Every time the bow crashed into a wave there was a HUGE bang and shudder. Cups, glasses and bottles in the Theatre bar started falling off their shelves and smashing on the floor. Many people (including the crew) were sick and looking worried (it’s not a good sign when the crew look worried!). There had still been no announcements to say what was happening, to batten down the hatches, or to stop serving drinks, so the bar staff just carried on trying to do their job as best they could. As we left the Theatre I noticed the ship had virtually stopped and appeared to just be riding it out, keeping the bow pointing into the wind and waves, which were HUGE (at least 30m crest to trough I estimated). I grabbed the camera from our cabin (which was still all in one piece at that stage) and headed down to the Casino at the back of the ship to take some photos (it had big windows looking out the back). While standing at the windows in the Casino looking out the back we hit the biggest swell yet and I was thrown off my feet as the stern reared up and then came crashing down with an almighty bang. Everything fell down around me - ceiling panels fell in, lights came crashing down, pokie machines and card tables fell over, glasses and bottles in the bar smashed and people started screaming. There were gaming chips from the tables scattered all around the floor so everyone was ordered out immediately by the security guards. I tried to get a photo of the mess as I left but was pushed out the door by security with a curt “no photos allowed”.
Finally an announcement came over the PA system “We are sailing safely, but the sea is very rough (no kidding!), please take care when moving around the ship”! That was it – no other information, no explanation. By now every wave was causing the bow and stern to crash and shudder and the ceiling panels were falling in throughout the ship. One just missed us. Everything that wasn’t bolted down was being smashed and thrown around. Even things that were bolted down got ripped out of the floor. Unbelievably the bar we were in remained open, despite almost every glass and bottle in it having been smashed! The floor of the serving area was awash with a cocktail of spilt booze and broken glass and the staff were still trying to work amongst it. There were a group of Poms in the bar who were totally drunk and thought the whole thing was a great joke and kept demanding drinks. At around 6pm they finally announced that all the restaurants and bars were closed “for safety reasons” and that there would be no meal service that evening. We later found out that the main restaurant below the Casino at the back of the ship had been totally trashed. 2000 plates and glasses set on the tables were smashed and all the tables and chairs ended up in a heap in a corner.
I went back down to our room to check on things and found everything had been thrown out of the wardrobes, including our life jackets (so I left them out just in case!). Our container of washing powder had fallen out and spilt its contents all over the floor and was mixed with the contents of 2 cans of soft drink that had exploded on hitting the floor! Others had flooded cabins and smashed TVs. While down in the cabin I checked the boat’s weather channel and noted the wind speed at 146kph! Shortly after that the wind information went blank – I don’t know if they turned it off or it broke! On my way back up from our cabin I witnessed a crewman loose the end of his finger in a door that slammed shut on it - ouch. We hung on in the bar until around midnight and then went down to our cabins. We tried lying on the beds but every time the bow hit a wave you almost got thrown out of bed. More disconcerting was the flexing of the whole structure/hull of the ship and internal fittings in the cabin. It was like being in a bad earthquake with the flexing running up and down the ship from the front to the back, gradually dissipating until we hit the next wave and then it all started over again! The flexing of the hull had me worried about the structural integrity of the ship. Little or no sleep was had.
Eventually around 6am things started to calm down so I went up top to have a look outside and we were coming into Hong Kong harbour. The sky behind us was black and nasty looking and it was a relief to know we were safe. Walking around the ship the carnage was unbelievable, but it was “all hands on deck” for the whole crew and they quickly had the worst of it cleaned up and by 8am had opened the buffet restaurant for breakfast. Much of the ship’s carpet was saturated with water that had leaked in from outside (I suspect that from now on the ship will leak like a sieve every time it rains as many joints were opened up with all the flexing of the hull). The saturated carpets never dried out the rest of the time we were on the ship and had started to stink badly. Over breakfast word soon got around that we had sailed through a Typhoon. The crew were on their cell phones calling home letting their families know they were alive! Some Aussies were talking about making a formal complaint to the Captain about the lack of information and wanted an explanation for why he put the ship and everyone on board in danger like that. Eventually several days later we got an explanation of sorts but the Captain just blamed the weather forecast and said he had a schedule to keep! As we left the ship in Hong Kong we noticed the bow had been damaged by the storm - one side of it was buckled and pushed in! The Casino remained closed for the next few days as they had major damage in there. The main restaurant was reopened the night we left Hong Kong. One of the swimming pools was found to be the cause of all the wet carpet – it had split open and dumped its contents into the ship and was closed for the rest of the trip.
Pulling out of Hong Kong we wondered if we were in for a repeat of the previous night as there were reports on the TV news of another Typhoon striking the Philippines, our next stop. Fortunately the transit to Manila was relatively smooth and all we got was heavy rain. It was my parners birthday at sea that day and the restaurant staff made her a cake and all sang her happy birthday at dinner that evening which was very nice of them. In Manila I took the ship organised tour of Corrigidor Island (an old historic fort where the US made its last stand against the Japanese in WWII in 1942). It was well worth the 86 Euro cost.
Next stop was Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia (Borneo). While in transit my partner came down with a nasty tummy bug, which resulted in her being put on a drip in the ship’s hospital for the next 24 hours. The Doctor and nurses were very professional and competent, although the bill at 400 Euros was a shock. She was still unwell when we arrived in Kota Kinabalu so missed that stop. We experienced out hottest weather there (it got up to 46 degrees), which was unbearable. We went for a walk into town but it was just too hot to stay out long. We visited the local fish market, which was quite a sight and smell in that heat!
Next day we arrived in Brunei. Again it was very hot so we all headed into the city on a local bus (S$2 return - the ship organized bus was 32 Euros!). We got a water taxi to the floating village where all the locals live and caught a glimpse of the Sultan’s Palace. I thought there would be less poverty and pollution in Brunei being such an oil rich country, but it was no different to next-door neighbor Malaysia. The Sultan clearly doesn’t throw any of his spare billions the way of the poor people, or try and clean up the pollution! There wasn’t a lot to see or do, as it was Ramadan so nothing was open and you couldn’t buy a drink anywhere. So we headed back to the ship for a late lunch and our X1 beers!
Next stop was back in Singapore. By now the sea was back to the glassy calm that is the South China Sea and was very pleasant sailing. We had 2 days in Singapore (staying on the ship) before leaving and flying home last Sunday. We just used the ship as a base and went out and about between meals.
Overall the cruise was to our expectations (3 Star). Some aspects were better than expected, particularly the food and resturant service. Others were lower than expected, particularly the entertainment and port of call information.