Our itinerary was Southampton to Zeebrugge (For Bruges) and return to Southampton. 25th to 27th March 2011.
Booked through a cruise agent we had used before and no problems on this. However on all the documentation I received there was no indication which berth, at Southampton, the Ventura sailed from. A few years ago when sailing from Southampton with P&O we always left from the Mayflower Terminal (Dock Gate 10), good job I phoned to check beforehand as the Ventura sailed from Ocean Terminal Dock Gate 4 !! Other passengers I spoke to had to enquire also.
Embarkation: No problem with porters taking luggage from car as soon as I arrived and parking car in short term car park adjacent to the terminal was hassle free. On entering the embarkation hall
just after 2pm (the advertised opening time) we were greeted by a mass of passengers all waiting to be checked in. We were given a coloured card with a letter denomination and had to wait for our card identification to be called before we could advance to check in. Green E was being called on arrival and we were Red B. (green & red cards only issued so you can do the maths to work out the anticipated waiting time). We waited approx. 1hr.
Checking in: Very easy, except we were informed we had a cabin upgrade from C deck to B deck, but it was just the same outside with balcony status. Seeing that our suitcase had been taken from us on arrival and was tagged with our original cabin number on C deck, I asked whether there would be a problem in delivering the luggage to our new allocated cabin. We were informed it should be OK as they have a system of cross referencing things.
On Board: Great looking ship, no complaints with accommodation, food and waiting staff. On board entertainment in the evening was very good.
However, getting back to the suitcase: our cabin steward asked if we had received our luggage and on seeing we had not and eventually grasping the circumstances (Language difficulty) he said he would chase. 1hr later still no luggage, so phoned reception to query as we ideally wanted a fresh change of clothes for dinner at 6.30pm. They would check. After a further hour, visited reception to query again, as we only had 30 mins to go before dinner. They said they would check and do a 'deck sweep.
Needless to say we had to go to dinner in the clothes we travelled in.
I checked outside the cabin we had originally bee allocated on C deck but could not find case, even checked the stray case area, allocated to missing cases, but still no joy. Eventually at 8.45pm our case arrived. 5 and three quarter hours after arriving on board. My assumption is they do NOT have a good system for cross checking of information on luggage appertaining to late cabin changes such as ours!!!
Arrival at Zeebrugge: We wanted to do our own thing, getting to Bruges, a Taxi would cost EUR 45 to 50 each way, which is a bit steep. We opted to use the free shuttle into Blankenberge (20 mins) and just behind the drop off point in the town is the Railway station. Trains to Bruges once per hour, takes 15 mins. and only cost EUR 3.60 return per person. From the station at Bruges it is a 15 min leisurely walk into the centre of the city.
On return train journey you have to be careful as the incoming train is quite a long one and they split the train, the front half goes elsewhere and 3 mins later the back half takes you back to Blankenberge. So watch out for this!!!
As mentioned previously no problems encountered with anything else on board we had a really nice time.
Disembarkation: In a nutshell a complete shambles. In my years of cruising I have not encountered anything so bad.
Options were- you could leave with your luggage after breakfast from 8.30am > 10.30am as you wished, alternatively you could leave your luggage outside the cabin late in the evening before disembarkation, which would be collected and placed shore side and you would be called off the ship in 30 min slots depending on which colour disembarkation cards you were allocated. (THEY LIKE TO USE COLOURED CARDS).
Cabin had to be vacated at 8am re new cruise preparation, we had breakfast, and by 9am waited in one of the lounges to be called off at 9.30am as indicated in the information leaflets we had been given. We were aware there may have been a slight delay as we were 20 mins late berthing at Southampton.
However apart from an announcement saying were were coming alongside and being 20mins late there was no other announcements about disembarkation at all and all the 'card' holders in waiting were getting very frustrated when they saw there allocated time slot passing by.
What the staff did not realise was the huge influx of passengers wanting to leave the ship with their own luggage and instead of an assumed even spread, they all wanted to get off at the same time completely overwhelming the system and jamming up the corridors and stairwells (passengers and bulky luggage). After waiting 40 mins past our allocated slot we joined the queue with the baggage lot and after a further 20 mins got off the ship. Low and behold our case was waiting in the baggage area for us to pick up.
I just wonder how long the other passengers on board had to wait for their turn to be announced. As I said from berthing to us getting off not one announcement was made re disembarkation.
To summarise : Cruise Excellent, Embarkation; Fair, Disembarkation; Disastrous