Southampton Port is easily accessible by road and rail. We arrived at the port car park gates at almost the exact time recommended in the cruise joining instructions. However it then took a further 40 minutes to finally park – it may be that the flow of vehicles had to be regulated to avoid the porters being overwhelmed but we were not told why there was a delay.
This large ship is not really a conventional cruise liner. It would appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the facilities and entertainment packages provided by a large holiday camp complex but with the additional benefits of a vastly superior food and restaurant provision; impressive staterooms and service; and different destinations in generally sunny and warm locations.
This is a family oriented ship – on this particular cruise there were 600 children of all ages on board but these numbers can increase considerably in the summer during school holidays.
The ship is huge but there were plenty of staff to support its 4000+ passengers. Even with this many passengers the ship only felt crowded on a few occasions such as formal evening photograph opportunities; watch and jewelry sale events or when special shows were taking place or had just finished. However if all passengers were obliged to remain inside the ship due to adverse weather conditions, say, then things could be different.
Without exception ALL of the staff on board were always helpful, friendly and polite.
The stateroom/cabin service was first class with rooms always being kept immaculate. Rooms and furniture were all really comfortable and well organized and the shower/ toilets were very well designed and laid out. The storage facilities in the cabins were excellent.
The food was good both in terms of quality, quantity and availability. As well as a main restaurant offering an a la carte menu there was a large buffet style restaurant/café providing a range of meals throughout the day and well into the evening – the most popular food counter seemed to be the Burgerama Station.
In addition there were two specialty restaurants providing a more intimate atmosphere with different menus although at an additional cost of $20 -$25 per person. However it was a pity that anything other than a regular coffee to finish a meal came at a poorly advertised extra cost.
There were also a variety of other cafes and snack bars open for most of the day throughout the ship – although some did incur an additional cover charge cost.
Drinks were available throughout the ship in a variety bars but be careful about prices – the drinks in some bars were twice the cost compared with other bars. Spirits and cocktails were relatively inexpensive with generous measures; however beer prices were closer to London city bar prices. Wine was particularly expensive with prices in the range $45-$50 per bottle being not unusual.
Passengers who enjoy wine with their meals would certainly benefit from purchasing one of the wine packages which cost around $25 - $30 per bottle
The evening entertainment theatre shows; live music lounges and disco type clubs were varied and of a pretty good standard but for adults things could get a bit repetitive during the day if you always stayed on the ship although there was some attempt at providing a varied programme of events during the day.
The ship had a well equipped gymnasium/fitness centre and on this cruise it was never crowded. However it was disappointing that most group exercises all seemed to come at an additional cost
The shore excursions were satisfactory and well organized but by necessity they were a bit rushed because of the limited time at most ports of call. In Maderia it is worthwhile, albeit a bit pricey, to try to book afternoon tea at Reids Palace overlooking the harbour which then leaves a relatively short downhill walk back to the ship. In Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, the local open top double-decker tourist bus probably offers best value for money for a town tour. In Anceriffe, Lanzarote there is a tourist mini-train from the bus station but there was not much to see. Vigo provided a tour to Santiago di Compostela but because of the distance it was time constrained – however this visit is not to be recommended for anyone in a wheelchair or with limited mobility whatever the trip description might suggest.
Where simple shore transfers ($6.00 per person) are offered from ship to town centre it probably make sense to use local taxi services if your party has three or more guests.