Normal convention with cruise reviews is to review the ship first & ports of call last. However in this case I must say a few words about Greenland before the detail of the cruise review. Greenland is 10 times the size of UK & is 83% covered in ice. 4 million cubic kilometers of ice, enough to supply everyone on earth with a billion litres of water! The ice free area is equivalent to the size of France. Only 56000 people live in the entire country with just 14500 in the capitol Nuuk. One lecturer said "you are going to the edge of the civilised world" & in the sense that there is no habitation north of Greenland, this is right. They do not have many resources & most things are imported, meaning expensive. We encountered all weathers except snow, missed things we hoped to see but still had a magical time. The 24 hours in Disko bay area was worth the trip alone! My wife only went because I wanted to see icebergs again, now she tells everyone "she would not have missed it for the world" to make that sort of impression on someone you just have to be very good indeed! We are retired & have cruised the Chilean fjords, Norwegian fjords & Alaska, in our opinion this exceeded them all in scenic splendour. I have photo albums of Icebergs etc, Greenland & Reykjavik+Thorshavn on webshots, link to Icebergs etc is http://community.webshots.com/album/174660450yJHkWp enjoy the splendour & majesty of the ice! So on to the rest of the review.
Getting there...we parked our car at Manchester airport (ready for return flight) & had a long coach journey to Harwich made longer by a diversion for an accident blocking the road. Coach pulled up at 3.15pm right along side the cruise terminal. We handed in our passports & were given our ships cards with minimal formality, through security check & we were onboard, baggage was never seen after putting on the coach until it arrived in our cabin. Welcomed aboard & escorted to our cabin.
The Ship... Formally the Island Princess (one of the two sisters of "love boat" TV show fame). Now 32 years old but well maintained, we would give it a 3*+ overall as while some public areas are superb, some are not up to the latest standards. We liked the quiet Palm court lounge area but part of this was partitioned off at night for the Bridge players as card room on Promenade deck was considered too noisy. Discovery lounge was used for everything from golf putting through bingo to cabaret & tea dances, the explorers bar off this area seemed to attract the smoking passengers. Thought the library was good for size of ship. Small casino & a night club were not used by us or by many other passengers! Carousel lounge was the show lounge, also used for the very popular lectures. For lectures there was not enough seating & if you were late arriving you could not get a seat with a view of the screen, though all lectures were repeated on cabin TV. Sight lines were fairly good with only 4 pillars to contend with & leg room between rows of seats was very good. Reception area on Bali deck was quite nice with the shop above on Pacific deck. . There was a small internet centre on Promenade deck that we did not use, nor did we use the health centre or beauty salon. The seven continents restaurant has a slightly lower central section that enables there to be 4 rows of bench seating, tables along these did not have much space between (only about 15") seemed to us the round tables were to be preferred. Having a fairly low ceiling also seemed to make it fairly noisy. Outdoor decks had several sheltered spots, very useful on this cruise! Pool on Riviera deck was small but deck loungers mostly had pads on them & some teak steamer chairs faced the stern. Promenade deck was not walk round but had some good viewing areas. Two viewing areas are right behind the Bridge wings & very useful to overhear the bridge deliberations when they were on the wings. Spa's & a good stern viewing position were at rear of sun deck, while the top sky deck gave a good all round viewing position with some shelter from the wind available. There is a forward observation deck in front of the yacht club but access is by going down to bridge deck then up. However this does slope up & consequently obscures the view a little if you are using the yacht club as an observation lounge. Lido has a small pool & is the ships buffet area, there is a sliding cover but we thought it noisy & only used it a few times.
Cabin...We had an inside 4404, with L bed configuration & quite small but adequate circulation space. Probably because the beds are only 30" wide, this does not make for comfort & we would have liked normal 36" single beds with a bit less floor space. Bathroom was small overall but shower was good size. Cabin had a good closet with wood hangers & 4 drawers in a dressing table. Hair dryer in slim drawer was quite good. Suitcases would fit under the beds. Decoration was plain & could have done with a brighter lick of paint. TV was mounted high from the ceiling, so required an effort to watch, would not have liked to watch a film on it as bed did not convert to couch so no back rest except 2 small loose cushions. Most of time we were out of satellite TV coverage on this cruise anyway. Our steward was Romy who was always friendly & kept the cabin spotless. We usually ordered a pot of coffee for delivery first thing, sometimes good & sometimes not so good, delivery also varied from requested time slot by + - 15 mins. There was no noise from the engines although from deck plan we seemed to be right above them,
Food & Service...Overall we thought very good, although we mainly ate in the dining room. Only ate in Lido buffet a few times, once for breakfast, twice for lunch when we were pressed for time. Breakfast was not hot enough, lunch menu's not very special & on those occasions we carried our trays into the yacht club to eat in peace. We never used the yacht club at night when it was an alternative restaurant (no charge) as it was an Oriental menu. Breakfasts in dining room had a similar format to Fred Olsen lines with standard items available from a menu served by waiter & a buffet of hot & cold items at end of room. Good supply of fresh & preserved fruits with cold meats, cheese, breads & cakes etc on the front table with hot items behind. Now I have to say these provided us with the best "British" cooked breakfasts we have had on a cruise ship! Properly cooked English back bacon i.e. not burnt to a cinder, best sausages we have had on a cruise ship + the usual scrambled egg, tomatoes, Baked beans, potatoes & very good "black pudding". The scrambled egg with herbs & smoked salmon from the menu were superb. Lunch in dining room was a full five course waiter service affair & usually very good. Dinner in dining room was again very good overall. Starters were probably only average but well presented, cream soups were good but consomme soups tended to be over spiced, salads were very good. Main courses were excellent, I mainly had the fish & the swordfish was the best I have had, Venison, Beef Wellington were also very good, my wife did say one lot of beef she had was a little on the tough side but we were well satisfied overall. However the weak point of the menu was the desserts, some were quite good but anything described as a "crumble" was best left alone--not a crumble as we know it! The "cherry pie" one day was awful & was exchanged for ice cream. The ice cream was very good, as good as we have had on any ship. Our waiter was Vik from the Philippines who gave very good service & his recommendations could be relied on. As we said before we did not like the Lido buffet, could do with updating & better tables & chairs than the current plastic ones. Beverage station was in a corner here & was quite crowded at times. Variable coffee strengths from very weak to stand your spoon in it! Only alternative was various tea's but no iced water, juice drinks or even hot chocolate at night (had to ask room service for that). However the scones & jam at teatime were very good & very welcome if you had been ashore thus missing lunch. Overall we thought the service levels & friendliness of all the staff from Officers to deck staff to be excellent.
Who goes...On this cruise, people who wanted to go to Greenland, a surprising number of who were first time cruisers & quite a lot of single travellers. Ask them why they chose this cruise & the answer was always the same "we wanted to see Greenland" some had left wives & families behind, some had been trying to get to Greenland for 15 years. Most were from UK with a few from USA & Australia. There are no children's facilities on the ship but there were a few teenagers + a few "pre-teens" all extremely well behaved, well they would be with parents who wanted to go to Greenland! To sum up, very friendly people who it was a pleasure to cruise with. Only 2 formal nights & standard of dress was high, around 75% in DJ etc, 3 informal nights with jacket & tie rest casual.
Entertainment... You do not expect full production shows on a small ship. The carousel lounge has limitations, just a level dance floor to put the shows on with no attempt at background scenery. However the company of 4 Russian dancers + 3 UK singers/dancers did a very good job, putting on some excellent shows in sometimes rough seas while keeping in step. They work very hard as they have to do duties around the ship such as library, sports & games, bingo etc as well as rehearse for the shows, the singers also did their own cabaret show. There are no entertainers brought on just for a couple of shows. Altogether they put on 6 different shows, 3 being very good, one average & 2 we did not see as the theme was to "old for us". There was a pianist in the explorer bar, a trio from Minsk in the discovery lounge, who also did a Russian folk music concert & a piano recital. A five piece band from Budapest played for dancing & for the shows & were very good. On a small ship I think the entertainment was up to the standard expected. However the lecture series was superb, some outstanding lecturers. Dr Alan Batstone covered the ports, we think he does a great job, we have met him on other ships & can highly recommend him. Professor Derek Blundell did geology, Greenland ice & global warming etc in a well illustrated & informative way. Brian Ford did science & amusing stories from his work. David Saunders was the wildlife & birds expert, again enjoyed very much & always willing to talk when on deck. We heard good reports of two other lecturers that we did not see, Carol Bunyan on Theatre & Georgette Conway-Toms on art.
Ports of call... We arrived at Thorhavn Faeroe Islands under low threatening cloud at lunch time on a Sunday. Except for a couple of tourist shops it was closed down. The bird watching tour to the Vestmanna cliffs was cancelled due to weather. However the afternoon stayed dry with brighter periods & we did a long walk around Thorshavn & up to the park. Though the Islands are considered treeless there are quite a lot of trees in and around Thorshavn. Climate is cold & wet in winter & cool & wet in summer, but they must have very little frost as we found fuchsia magellanica in full bloom 9feet tall. We enjoyed our pleasant stroll around this town. The ship docked in a commercial area & a shuttle bus had to be used to get to the dock gates. After a day at sea we passed Surtsey the new volcanic island off Iceland that only erupted in 1962, late that evening. Docking in Reykjavik next morning there was a shuttle bus to city centre (5 kilometres away) for 2 pounds each way (sterling accepted) but no one from tourist board to give info. After the ride into town, we found the botanic garden was only about a kilometre from the ship & could have walked there easily. Instead we walked around the old part of Reykjavik, some of the local parks & a visit to the church tower (7Ikr for two in lift cc taken) great views all round but the huge bells of the clock struck 12 while we were up there! Walked back to the shuttle bus along the sea front after deciding not to walk all way to ship, those younger & fitter than us could have done it easily. Those who had booked the whale watching trip had another disappointment when that was cancelled due to weather or perhaps lack of whales in the area. At the dock there were many Taxi's & minibus available for tours, a 7 hour tour to all the sights was around 200 pounds for 4 people, good value we thought but we found no one to share with so did not do it...next time we will! As we neared Greenland we were informed that ice conditions were very bad this year & we would not be allowed into Prins Christiansund, from the photos we saw this should have been spectacular & we did wonder if bad weather was going to follow us all the way. Next morning we saw a distant view of Greenland with two beautiful icebergs close to us & a bank of fog hiding the line of ice off the coast. Turning south to go round Cape Farewell it was cloudy & foggy with rain. Rounding the cape it blew up to force 6 then rose to gale force 8, quite hairy at times. Noon air temperature was 43F but the wind made it feel 10 degrees colder than that, sea temp was only 35F. Captain announced we would be going into fjord for Narsarsuaq at 9pm instead of 4am. As we neared the fjord the sea calmed, sky cleared, sun came out & we were surrounded by icebergs of all shapes & sizes, a magnificent sight that made up for the earlier disappointments. Then had a good sunset with lots of ice floes in the fjord. After spending the night in the calm waters of the fjord we were able to get alongside the pier (schedule had us tendering) but first a tender had to be lowered to push away a bergy bit from the pier, this is the sort of thing that happens on a trip like this. We took a gentle stroll past the airfield with a lot of wild flowers to be seen. Narsarsuaq only has a hotel, some accommodation blocks & one cafe that is also the shop & museum. A shuttle minibus to here was available for 2.50 pounds return but it was not far to walk. Leaving in bright weather after lunch we again saw a magnificent display of icebergs, later that evening we past a large one that provided a display, as part of it fell off. Next day arrival at Nuuk was 1pm when a berth was available in the port instead of tendering to the old town area. A free shuttle bus was provided from ship to town centre & the old town area. Nuuk claims to be smallest capitol in the world & has a lot of rather depressing looking flats, however the old town area is quite attractive to walk around. The museum is superb & free. There are no gardens as such but we did see one patch with a few potatoes growing in a cold frame, shows how bad the climate is! Cloudy & dull for us but those who did the helicopter trip up to the ice cap said it was lovely sun up there. However the last helicopter got stuck up there with engine problems! 23 people + crew, they had to be ferried in a small helicopter to a settlement 40 miles from Nuuk then a boat trip back to ship arriving at 2am. Consequently we did not leave Nuuk until 4am 9 hours late. This did not give us time to do the glacier cruising that was on the schedule for that day. Instead we cruised north with cloud overhead & more fog around us. Crossing the Arctic circle around 1.30pm the fog lifted giving us a view of the mountains with glimpses of the edge of the ice cap. Air temperature was up to 49F with only light winds. After the evening show (1st seating) we started to enter the Disko bay area, I changed into my layered cold weather gear consisting of 2 warm but thinish sweaters & my golf wet & wind proof suit, this worked very well but you do also need a woolly hat & good gloves. The shapes & colours of the icebergs were fascinating & together with a good sunset (timed at 23.22!) I stayed on deck until 1.00am. Up again at 4.30am to be told I had missed some whales at 2.30am! Icebergs all around us, a magnificent sight in the early morning sunlight. We were around 6 miles off Illulissat & there was some discussion on the bridge that we might not get closer as the anchorage area looked full of ice, we could see the huge icebergs at the mouth of the fjord. We took early breakfast in dining room while the ship circled round. Back on deck in time to see a small freighter leaving Illulissat & it was announced we were going in to a small patch relatively clear of ice around 3 miles out. Passed very close to the big bergs, an amazing sight! The ship did not anchor but maintained position avoiding the bergs by use of engines & thrusters. We tendered ashore through the ice floes to the little harbour. A free minibus shuttle was operating up the hill to the town, from here we walked through the town past all the lines of husky's aiming to walk the first part of the path to Sermermiut to get a close view of the icebergs from the land side. There is no path!! It is just a scramble over rocks in the general direction of the icebergs whose tops you can see, so be warned you must be fit & active to do this trek even if it is only 1.5 kilometres! By now it was quite warm & sunny, I had to strip down to one sweater! Now I rather wished I had taken the boat excursion for a close look at the bergs! However again be warned, excursions in Greenland were not given a starting time only a letter A, B, C etc as infrastructure does not run by the clock up there. Therefore some of those who had a letter low down for the iceberg excursion did not know exact time they would leave ship & consequently could not take the tender ashore to see the town area. This lettering system applied to excursions in all ports in Greenland. We walked down the hill to the tender & having willingly missed our lunch, devoured the scones with jam & cream at afternoon tea. We had perfect weather all day in Disko bay & sailing away I stopped on deck until the last possible moment before changing for dinner. We even missed the Captains farewell drink for a last look at magical Disko bay, just writing this brings tears to my eyes at the memory of it! Disko bay I mean not the missed drink! Next morning was our last day, we entered the fjord to Kangerlussaq (80 miles long) at breakfast time. Superb scenery with small hanging glaciers & banded rocks as old as any on earth. Dropping anchor near the Kangerlussaq pier at lunch time it was quite warm & sunny, I even saw someone with shirt off! Now this is not your usual cruise terminal, baggage was taken off/brought on in cages craned on/off the ship to an old landing craft. Those of us flying to Manchester were given dinner at 5pm but it was announced this flight had a 4 hour delay. After first announcing due to infrastructure problems we had to leave ship at scheduled time of 7 pm we were later allowed to stay on ship until 10pm. Roughly 20 mins ride to the airport after tendering to pier. Noted pier had some Army type tents erected for shelter should no tender be waiting! Airport was small but modern with a couple of shops & a small cafe. Departure gate could not handle more than one flight at a time. We had a good flight home with Excel airways, landing at Manchester at 8.30am instead of 4.30am.
Conclusion... We had a great time & would go on this ship & this itinerary (at the right price) again. We went with an open mind & while we regretted missing some of the things on the schedule we knew in this area anything was possible. We are so glad we did the trip, we did have perfect weather in Disko bay & that made up for everything.
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"