Recently back from a 6 week Grand Voyage Asia to Africa on the MV Discovery from Hong Kong to Capetown - January to March 2010
DINING: Overall the food was good; with a few deficiencies.
BREAKFAST was served in the main dining room with very nice selections. Buffet was available on the Lido deck and early riser self-serve continental items were available in the indoor Yatch Club dining venue, as well as room service.
Just about everything one would want for breakfast was available all days. Eggs cooked to order, pre-cooked, ham, bacon, hot side dishes, oatmeal, cold cereals, cold buffet meat items, yogurts, fresh fruit, granolas, excellent baked goods. No complaints at all about the variety and quality of breakfast.
LUNCH: Similar set up: main dining room for multi-course selections, room service and Lido buffet. Salad bar, cold meats and salad accompaniments, hot full lunch buffet items, specialty menus on different days (pub, german, asian, etc). Good variety and good quality ingredients. Lousy hamburgers (if you are an American). Ice cream cart for sundaes and cones - pretty good. Usually 4 or so varieties available each day and changing.
TEA: (4-5pm) Tea and biscuits in the Palm Court. Full buffet at the Lido with a sandwich bar and variety of desserts, specialities and scones. Unlike many cruise ships, the desserts often tasted as good as they looked.
DINNER: Varied and nicely presented four courses, with meat, fish and pasta choices for entrees. A full four course vegetarian option. Sugar-free (but artificially sweetened) and gluten-free dessert options. Ice cream and sorbets always available, of differing flavors.
Appetizers often quite good, sometimes average, soups universally excellent both hot and cold, entrees good except for meat quality too often lacking in flavor, tenderness and menu descriptions which were enticing but not well-executed for the initial descriptive promise. This was the single dining disappointment.
Portion size was very sensible and half-size was always available by request which in fact was a even better option due to all the day's accumulated eating, as well as the basically disappointing execution of the main course.
LATE BUFFET: Very enticing array of finger foods and hot appetizer items but late hour after busy days and full schedule eatings through out the day left little room for this very lovely offering of both sweets and savories.
ROOM SERVICE: Major deficiency. You had to pick from the day's menu which meant you had to go view the menu first at the dining room entrance and then order from that, which did not work if you were feeling sick in your room.
Only that day's menu items could be ordered and there was no "sick tummy" type menu or stock items except what were "always available" on the menus (minute steak, chicken breast, salmon, baked potato, Caesar salad).
The worst part is that they would only be delivered after the start of each dining room sitting so these could not be ordered at random when the need/desire arose. However, when delivered they were nicely presented and enjoyable.
24 HOUR COFFEE/TEA/HOT CHOCOLATE SELF-SERVICE - Lido deck. DH is a critical coffee fan and claimed the MV Discovery coffee on the Lido deck was the best he ever tasted. I loved the variety of teas - good quality English teas.
LONG CRUISES: There was never a feeling of repeated dinner menus though the Lido buffet items were repetitive, but there was so much variety this was not an issue. What became increasingly oppressive was the lack of a flexible, evening "light" dining option. It was the formal dining room four course or the limitations of room service, or else. Plan accordingly.
Formal dining room evening dining was a delightful part of the cruise experience and would always be welcome on shorter cruises, but it did become an unwelcome daily requirement on a long cruise.
Ideally on the longer cruises, for me I would have preferred taking a larger lunch and then having some lighter, less formal options for the evening. Some took to preparing a good sandwich at the 4-5pm tea for later "dinner" dining in lieu of going to the formal dining room.
YATCH CLUB SPECIALTY DINING (No extra charge, but limited reservations to one per week): Some dining menus themes were more successful than others. Both the Jazz (contemporary French) and the SE Asian menus were excellent. The Asian less so and the Italian (tried twice) was downright awful.
Nor did the African menu look particularly appealing which was over-booked by the time we tried to make reservations so not sure this was an unfortunate missed opportunity for us or not.
The concept is nice, but the Italian menu needs to be totally reworked ..... or avoided.
Overall, I would give the MV Discovery a B to a B+ for dining.
ON BOARD ACTIVITIES:
Usually 4 excellent lectures, including and upcoming port lecture, by distinguished enrichment speakers giving rich historical, cultural, scientific and context content talks about the areas we are visiting. Since we were travelling primarily the Indian Ocean, we had a lot of background on the British Empire trade routes.
As most passengers are British and Commonwealth nation residents, the talks assumed you knew your British history and institutions so some of it was a very pleasing stretch of our American memory banks. I found them all intellectually challenging and fascinating.
The natural history talks unique to the areas travelling were superb and we all left with an intimate understanding of the geologic history as well as its natural flora and fauna. Including the local industries such as fishing and their impacts on the environment.
We had additional talks on health and technology with supportive help for individual technology problems (cameras, computers etc - even a successful request to reprogram a computer program in Polish).
There was a volunteer choir that put on a program and had rehearsals. A very active bridge player component with experts and a separate room for playing and instruction.
Craft classes changed with each segment, but a few included beading and water color (for beginners). There were Q&A sessions with segments of the staff including the kitchen.
If anything, there was too much to do which left little time to just sit outside and watch the world go by, but a lot of people did that too. You could always get the lectures rebroadcast on the cabin closed-circuit TV so missing them live was not a detriment. I almost wished I had done more of that so I could have spent more time just being lazy when the sun was out. There were gaps in the schedules before dinner or before the shows where one could catch up on the televised lectures.
The small but highly talented entertainment group was very good. They geared their shows to the age group of the passengers and did so very competently. All shows were very enjoyable. Our talented cruise director Don put on his own solo cabaret show and it again was an excellent offering. Since we were on for three segments we did not go to all the shows at first as there were repeats with each segment, but ultimately saw most of them over our 6 weeks.
Staying up late after late dinner seating sometimes was just too much for us. Again, sometimes it would have been better to have made a nice sandwich at tea time to save for an "early dinner" and then see the earlier show on sea days. Port days usually left us ready for early bed.
And the beginning and end of each segment was a three day stay in port which was wonderful to have the extra time to explore an area more in depth. We had these in Hong Kong, Singapore, Port Luis, Mauritius and Capetown on our 6 week tour.
At first I thought 3 days in Port Luis, Mauritius would be a waste of time, but we ended up finding wonderful things to see and get to know and went back twice to a perfect little courtyard French restaurant "Le Vieux Consiel" that was a little obscure to find and would never have been enjoyed if we just had a day tour.
We finally got our credit card bill - lunch for two, appetizer, main course, dessert and drinks were total $80 for those two days. So it paid to do some in depth homework on those three day layover ports between segments.
We did dine out for lunch and often for dinner if there was a late departure and enjoyed the change of pace very much. Credit card bill for an excellent local choice in Borneo close to the port was total $ US 6 for two. Sampling local cuisines (with all due precautions) is one of my great travel joys and we were glad the schedules often offered this chance.
One problem we did notice as reported and did register as a complaint was the "hogging" of deck chairs. Discovery needs to enforce their own policy more and just clear out all deck chairs that remain empty for over one half hour. And make a few more announcements about this .... on a daily basis particularly at the beginning of each new segment.
This is less of a problem when shade is not such a premium as it was on this voyage crossing the equator so much. There are plenty of deck chairs, but most are fully sun exposed so when it is more fun to be in the sun in more temperate climates this is probably less of a problem.
Though we never used it as we brought along our own reading material or books on ipods, the ship has a very good library and a loyal daily following who gather there. It was a very pleasant spot and I know I would have enjoyed using it but most of my free time was spent in the lectures and I would have hated to miss any of them.
There is a nicely equipped gym with stunning rear ship window views as you jog, row, bike or use ellipticals. Weight machines, roomy saunas for men and women, two hot tubs which were not all that hot but pleasant for warm splashing around and enjoying also the aft deck views. There was a full fitness class program with its own instructor and a variety of group or individual activities and consultations.
I got a pedicure in the salon (which sells my favorite Biolage brand of hair care products) which while pricey, was very competently delivered. There were specials from time to time particularly on port days when they were not so busy. Best to bring your own favorite nail polish color, as the choices were limited. The full range of spa services were available - massage, facials and hair. As well as product oriented informational "talks" on various skin care and beauty topics. (Never attended so don't know about these - just that they were available).
Obviously, no youth programs on this ship and if anyone was under 45 it would be a surprise though I think there were a (very) few younger people traveling with an older adult relative for a few weeks, but none on the longer cruise programs.
Movies in the theater were surprisingly current - we even had a non-3D version of Avatar and there was a very topical selection of older and classic movies on the closed circuit TV that ran continuously - multiple channel choices but none of them live.
Daily news abstracts was delivered every day for separate British, Australian and American editions. Just a few headline stories and a lot of sports and some financial news. Just as much as we wanted while we were away from it all. They additionally ran these same stories on a close circuit TV channel.
We did not use the internet center but it was in a separate room with several computers and there were wireless hot spots around the ship as well for laptops. I understand the connection was slow which is the complaint I have always heard about ship board internet use. We did not find a lot of internet cafes in port but did finally check in during our 3 day stop over in Mauritius, about more than half way through our trip at a good high speed cafe located at the port.
LAYOUT OF THE SHIP:
MV Discovery is a smaller, older ship serving approximately 650 passengers. There are no balcony rooms and a limited variety of room size choices. We were on Deck Three - the lowest category rooms with a port hole.
The standard rooms on all decks are very small in comparison to mainline cruise ships today, but occasionally due to the configuration of the ship some of the rooms on Deck 3 can be much longer and provide very adequate space extra cabin space. Check the ship deck plan to view this possibility. We felt our choice was excellent, but we also added an extra clothes rack and drying rack and used the tiered coffee table as an additional clothes storage space. Bathroom very small and badly appointed, but with a great shower and endless hot water.
Rooms are inside, port-hole or window. Deck 3 and 4 port holes have to be covered up creating a de facto "inside" cabin during rough seas and when traversing the East Indian Ocean pirate zones. Always dreaded hearing the squeak of the closing of these windows next door and loved coming back to finding them re-opened.
Took us a while but we learned all activities take place primarily on Deck Six, Lido dining on Deck Nine and the red stair railing were the front of the ship and the gold ones were towards the back of the ship. We needed to orient around the red railings to get to our cabin and all the other activities we liked to attend (Lido dining and Carousel Lounge shows and lectures.
Our favorite outdoor decks were the forward Deck 8 sun decks which you had to enter from the red stair cases in the front of the ship. There were no wrap around decks so you had to learn which stair case to use to get to the partial decks you like to visit.
Deck 8 also provided the best viewing spots for all the docking and undocking and pilot boat activities because you could look directly down the sides of the ship to the water. The main promenade deck on Deck 7 was set back from the ships side (don't ask me how) so you did not get this direct view down to the water and the dock or the pilot's activities.
There were "flying bridges" sticking out from Deck 8 where the captain would be present at dockings and undockings so you could hear and see the real operations of the ship during this time.
The main forward viewing deck was on Deck 9 but you could not access it from Deck nine -- you had to go down to deck 8 forward and then take the forward outside staircase up to this forward viewing deck on Deck 9, which overlooked all the captain's docking activities. There was always a friendly gathering here and some fun chat back and forth with the captain at times.
This is a ship where the passengers are very engaged in all these docking activities and quite a crowd always gathered to witness the arrival and departure of the pilot.
Ship gangway exits typically took place on Deck 4, forward. (Red staircase). Once we figured out the red and gold staircases, it was a lot easier to know which way we needed to go on the ship. Signage on each floor was not as good as it should be or easy to find. Sometimes you had to know the name of the deck (Coral, Riviera, etc) or sometimes the number (3-10).
And how the ship was chopped up, sometimes you could not get from forward to aft on the wrong staircase. An annoyance at first, but because it is a small ship with limited activity venues it is fairly easy to learn where and how to get where you want. Though even after 42 days we still kept taking the wrong turn out of the elevators. Which is a good thing - keeps an air of mystery to this small but complex space.
The Discovery shows its age, but does not lack in tender loving care. Primarily in the build up of paint jobs and that crusty invasive rust that will in time have the final say.
But she was brightly painted and and crews were keeping deck boards in good repair and always clean and orderly.
There had been recent decor refurbishments in the public rooms and very successful with a very pleasing sense of traditional elegance, the main dining room particularly. The cabins got brightened up and I think the higher decks had more bathroom refurbishments than our lower Deck 3 - but it all worked. No complaints and we learned how to work around it.
Our best extra purchase in Singapore was a folding clothes drying rack the sent up like a two-tiered umbrella of plastic rods and clothes pin racks.
It was perfect and we wished we could have packed it up and taken it home and we would have had we not already packed to our luggage limit getting there and had to discard a lot to make room for our souvenir purchases. I donated it to the staff who were very eager to get these things so I hope it finds a happy home for a long time on this ship.
We never used the ship laundry and did everything for 42 days in the sink. Because our cabin was so long, there was plenty of room to stick this in a nice corner and out of the way. Not sure how much space would be available in other cabins, but its real virtue was the extension rods folded up so it stored like a pole on its tripod legs. (Like an old home movie screen)
We found it in the equivalent of a "dollar store" in the working class neighborhood department store in Singapore. We also added a lot of cheap plastic drawer organizers and baskets for storage and easy retrieval. And a great hanging shoe rack that hung in the closet facing out on velcro loop. That did make it home as it was lightweight and collapsible and unlike anything I have seen in the states.
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"