Like many people who've written reviews for the Island Escape we booked first then read the reviews later, which meant we worried that we'd made a big mistake and believed we were actually going to Butlins-on-sea. How wrong we were ! The ship exceeded our expectations and we enjoyed a very pleasant experience.
Background: couple in early 50s who have cruised 5 times previously.
Cruise dates: 16th to 23rd August 2011
Itinerary: Escape to the Med (Palma - Trapani (Sicily) - Naples - Olbia (Sardinia) - Toulon - Barcelona - Palma)
Flight / Embarkation: No delays, smooth transfer at Palma, very efficient check-in at the quayside
Cabin: outside cabin on Deck 6. Very small, no room to swing a cat, but spotlessly clean with plenty of storage space. Shower delivered plenty of water. Shower gel dispenser on wall. Adequate storage space.
Food: surprisingly good. We were expecting school dinners hence were planning to pay extra to eat in the Oasis restaurant but, in the event, we were more than happy with the variety and quality on offer at the Beachcomber and Island restaurants. There was plenty of choice, the food was always hot and tasty, and we were more than satisfied. We found that the Island restaurant suited us more than the Beachcomber because a) it was on the same deck as our cabin and b) the ambience was a little bit superior to the Beachcomber. That said, the food was more or less the same in both places, and the ambience in the Beachcomber was far better than we had expected after reading the reviews. (Maybe we were just lucky, but the other passengers on our cruise seemed a very nice bunch with very few "chavs". Sorry if that sounds snobbish but after reading some reviews we were under the impression that we would be sharing our cruise with tattooed, drunken lager louts, which turned out not to be the case). Mostly, we went to the Beachcomber whenever we needed a light snack between meals or a cup of tea.
Entertainment: the show team in the Ocean Theatre were excellent, especially Ross, Ben Gilham and Ben Yates. If I were a member of that hard working and talented team I would be angry to read those reviews which describe the entertainment as amateurish or like Butlins. The shows we saw were far better than any show we'd seen on our previous cruises and, yes, I agree with many other reviewers who said the shows are of west end quality. Ben Gilham's voice is truly sensational.
Crew: wonderful, always smiling.
Weather: we had superb weather all week, 30 degrees plus
Ship: tired?, yes. Seen better days?, yes. Not enough sunbeds?, yes. Just one tiny pool?, yes. Previously a ferry?, yes. But once you get over the fact that this isn't a luxury cruiseship you will see the many positives. The public areas are well maintained and everything looks clean.
Trapani - well worth a visit. We couldn't believe how close the ship docked - the main street was practically outside our cabin window.
Naples - we didn't see much of Naples as we took the Capri excursion. (Capri town was too crowded in August for our liking).
Olbia - my tip is to take an excursion because the town itself is small and grubby, not worth a visit
Toulon - very nice city with loads to do. We rode the scenic cable car (fab views) and took a boat trip around the harbour to see the naval ships
Barcelona - wow. Gotta come back here for a longer stay. Great city to explore.
Disembarkation: again, everything went like clockwork. Smooth transfer to the airport, no delays.
Overall: good value. This is a basic cruise at a relatively low cost (compared to Fred Olsen, Royal Caribbean etc) and you get what you pay for. Provided that you don't set your expectations at too high a level, and you're not expecting luxury, I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised. You should ignore the really awful reviews that you may have read - in my opinion, those reviewers either had ridiculously high expectations or were just unlucky to have things go wrong. We had a great time, as did everyone we spoke to on our cruise. Enjoy!
PS. We didn't sail from Las Palmas (as stated above), it was Palma de Mallorca, however this port isn't listed in the drop-down list for selecting port of embarkation. "Las Palmas" is the closest match.