Discovery Cruise Review by Sue Creasey: Three times lucky!
Three times lucky!
Being laid up in bed for a while I have had a chance to read all the reviews of Discovery so thought it was about time I wrote one myself. A fair proportion of the complaints I have read seem to have come from American passengers - maybe they are used to higher standards or larger portions at dinner but Discovery seems to suit British travellers quite well. OK the ship is not in the first flush of youth but at least she isn't a floating apartment block and can get into places where those monsters can't go. She is meant for discovery and adventure and does it well. The age profile is about right for us (I am 64, my man is 62), mostly about our age, some younger, a lot older but all very active.
My partner and I have cruised on the ship three times, in 2003 or 4 (can't remember!), 2007 and 2010. Last time we met a couple who were well into double figures and have probably notched up 20 cruises on Discovery by now. So it does have a loyal following! The ship has several things More that really make it stand out: the crew, mainly Filipino in the cabins, restaurants and bars, who are all unfailingly cheerful, helpful, polite and smiling at all hours of the day or night. They keep the ship spotlessly clean with the same attitude. Another good thing is the lecture programme, arranged to complement the itinerary with a few general topics as well. The lecturers are top notch experts in their field and I have always found them very approachable as well. There are so many lectures etc that it can be difficult to fit every thing in!
As for facilities, OK the pools are laughable, there's no ice rink or climbing wall, but thank goodness for that. There are plenty of public spaces with comfy chairs where you can sit with a book or just watch the world go by, there's a library and cinema, and there are quizzes and lighthearted talks by crew members about such esoteric topics as napkin folding! There is always a monster jigsaw on the go (addictive - can keep you up till the small hours!). Sometimes there are art classes or a choir and if you like bridge there is plenty of opportunity to play with a dedicated room and tutors to help you. I have not tried the spa but it is reputed to be good and the gym, also not my scene, has a huge panoramic sea view window to gaze out of while you are getting hot and sweaty. There is also a shop selling basics such as toiletries, jewellery, clothes and souvenirs from previous ports.
Entertainment is not lavish or in your face but in the evening there is always a show or a concert and during the day the musicians are usually to be found playing somewhere or other. There is usually a troupe of about eight dancers/singers who perform cabaret style shows with superb costumes, a small orchestra, a classical group and a duo or pianist performing lighter easy listening type music (of varying quality!). Most of these people do other things as well such as supervising deck games and accompanying excursions and like everyone else on the ship they all work very hard. Mention has been made by others of Cafe Concerto Strings, a Romanian classical trio led by the amazing violinist Marcel. We were lucky enough to have them on two of our cruises and in 2007 befriended their then pianist, with whom we sat up late on the last night introducing him to malt whisky! Another memory is of the Russian orchestra on our first cruise, a lugubrious-looking lot, all classically trained, playing Gilbert and Sullivan and wearing various hats in quick change to denote the different operas. I don't think they had a clue what that was all about! Also on that cruise, the lounge pianist spent a lot of time with a little girl of about ten, the only child on the ship, teaching her the piano, which we thought was a very nice thing to do. He was also trying to get one of the classically trained musicians to play jazz, with less success I think!
I notice that the food on the ship has had mixed reviews, maybe due to a change in chef or caterers over the years, but we have always enjoyed it. I just find it mind boggling that they can feed so many people 24/7 and wonder what it's like behind the scenes. On our 2010 cruise the food at dinner in the restaurant was quite imaginative and the portions were not too large which I think is a good thing. If you go for the late dinner sitting (8.30) you can have a rest beforehand and take in a show afterwards which fills in the evening nicely. The Lido buffet area leaves a lot to be desired in terms of ambience but I don't think much can be done about that. The food is always plentiful however and I especially like the fact that I can gorge myself on melon which is one of my favourites. There's also plenty of other fresh fruit and salads available. I can't comment on the Yacht Club dining experience as we never felt the need to go elsewhere than the main dining room in the evening.
On our three cruises we always had a standard outside cabin, quite adequate for the 21 days of our longest cruise, but perhaps if you were going for several weeks or months something more spacious might be advisable. As others have noted, the bathrooms are small but the showers are brilliant.
And now for some details about where we went and what we did. Our first cruise was the first ever by Discovery, ten days round Britain. There were teething troubles of course, which we put down to experience, but several passengers got very upset and threatened to complain. Whether they did or not I don't know. We did not go to three ports, ostensibly due to weather conditions but we suspect it may have been because homework had not been done properly and a suitable berth was not available. The biggest disappointment for several people was that we did not get to land on St Kilda, which for some had been the whole reason for the trip, but when the resident warden on the island heard that 300+ people wanted to land a firm No was the answer. We did get a boat ride round the island accompanied by several thousand puffins, and we could see the deserted village very well from the sea. We did land on Orkney and Shetland, though there was some trouble with lowering the tender boats at the first port of call. One of the good things about cruising is that it gives you a taste of many different places to which you can return at your leisure, which we have since done by spending a week on Orkney. For part of the time the ship cruised very close to the coast and it was possible to pick out features, helped by commentary from the resident lecturers. The cruise was also aimed at bird watchers so there was quite a lot of twitching going on too!
In 2007 we went on an Arctic Circle cruise. This was supposed to call at the Faeroe Islands but did not thanks to a force 8/9 gale. This meant we got to Iceland at night rather than the following day so we had time to sample the nightlife of Reykjavik. We chose to go on an all day excursion popularly known as the Golden Circle tour, taking in all the touristy sights like Geysir, the Gullfoss waterfall and Thingvellir, the site of Iceland's first parliament which is actually a place where the earth's tectonic plates are pulling apart and you can see the gap between them. Quite a sight and trip is well worth doing if you only have the one day as we had, though we fully intend to go back one day with our camper van and perhaps call in at the Faeroes on the way! We did also get a very good view of Surtsey the volcanic island which appeared a few decades ago and is being closely studied to see how it is colonised by flora and fauna.
Next stop Greenland where we were very lucky to be able to sail through Prins Christiansund, very early in the morning, a magical experience in the mist with icebergs all around and glaciers tumbling down the slopes with their moraines clearly visible. Just like a school geography lesson! The icebergs were very small but they were the first most people had seen so they were well photographed, little dreaming what we would see later on! We then went on to Nuuk, capital of Greenland, quite a depressing place with high rise flats and a lot of social problems - but a good museum! Then up to Disko Bay and Ilulissat, for me the highlight of the trip. I had done lots of research on the www and bought a map of the hiking trails so we were able to walk to the edge of the ice fjord, following a trail well marked by coloured poles and passing lots of mean-looking chained up huskies on the way. The fjord, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is a sight I shall never forget. Thanks to an underwater terminal moraine where the fjord meets the sea, the fjord is completely choked with huge icebergs calved off from the glacier at its other end several miles away. Every so often one of these breaks out and enters the sea so all around there are icebergs of all shapes and sizes, mainly enormous. On the way back to the ship we actually saw (and heard) one of them turn over and break up and we have several photos of it. A truly memorable day. Later we called at two other places in Greenland, an old whaling settlement where we saw an Inuit funeral procession, and the site of a Viking settlement where we were entertained by modern Viking lady in a reconstructed building. This place is quite a long way up a fjord which was very calm and full of very small ice floes. May have been warmer In Viking times but they had still managed to grow some corn there when we visited.
Our latest trip was also to the Arctic Circle, the North Cape of Norway and the island of Spitsbergen. I had wanted to go to Spitsbergen in the hope of seeing polar bears (of course we didn't!) but it was interesting as a contrast to Greenland as all the population are incomers, there are no natives, unlike on Greenland where the native culture is so interesting. Spitsbergen was originally a whaling and coal mining area, and today the capital Longyearbyen is a thriving modern town mostly inhabited by young Norwegians. We also visited a scientific research settlement where we saw some cute Arctic foxes and one lonely-looking reindeer, and most interesting of all a Russian coal mining settlement firmly stuck in the Cold War era complete with statue of Lenin and murals exhorting the workers to great things. They also had some wonderful genuine Russian souvenirs, made I imagine by the miners during those long dark evenings!
On our Greenland voyage there was lots to see in the way of marine life and a very good position high up on the top deck from which view it, as well as two marine biologists from an organisation connected with whales, who were only too happy to answer questions. However on the way to Spitsbergen there was very little to see so the days at sea were quite boring but I now have two certificates to say I crossed the Arctic Circle and one to say I've been to 79 degrees North!
We also visited several places in Norway and saw the midnight sun at the North Cape, though when we got there about 10pm it was so foggy you couldn't even see the edge of the cliff never mind the sea or the sky and several people got straight back on the tour buses and didn't stay so they missed the sun which appeared just before midnight! It was almost as spectacular as the seafood buffet which awaited us when we got back to the ship.
In port we have tended to do our own thing rather than go on organised trips, being content to mooch around towns and take in the local colour. However we have been on a few excursions and I would recommend the Golden Circle tour in Iceland and the tour in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, which took in a visit to a Viking site with a huge reconstructed longhouse, as well as some very spectacular scenery and a pretty fishing village.
What else? Well, we have always driven to Harwich and left our car there, no problem with parking or embarkation though in 2010 we took a wrong turning on the way and were so late they thought we weren't coming! Disembarkation was also fine though the lower down the ship your cabin is, the longer you have to hang around before you get off. Gives you an opportunity to see all the stuff being loaded on for the next trip and wondering where they put all that food! Mention has been made by others of the bridge wings where you can see the captain directing operations as the ship ties up, and sometimes talk to him as well (and hear some fruity language directed at whoever is making a hash of it today). I found that very interesting. On our first voyage the captain was Norwegian, and in his daily tannoy message he always recommended the sausages for lunch. The other two times it was Captain Derrick Kemp, now retired, a large imposing man who had his wife with him, an equally large woman that we christened the Pink Lady, as most of her clothes were that colour. She even had a pink camera and mobile phone!
I think you may have guessed by now that I like the Discovery, and it was nice to go back again each time to familiar surroundings. We may sail on her again but next year we have booked to go to West Africa on Braemar with Fred. Olsen. I wonder how that will compare?? 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" Less
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