Car park/Meet and Greet
Arrived early at around 10.50am and the CPS car park person gave us a card in exchange for the key. The baggage handlers were also very efficient and took our luggage from the car.
Arrived in the waiting hall and was given a card with the letter C on which was to be used when we started to board to ensure everyone boarded in the right order. They started to call people from 11.20am. What annoyed me was why they felt it necessary to have half a dozen people keep checking our cruise cards. Once or twice, Ok, but it was a bit over the top. Also the people on the x-ray machines for the hand luggage were painfully slow. As the queue got bigger and bigger and people got impatient, they opened up some more! Went straight up to the Belvedere self service restaurant for lunch which was packed full by 12.30. Top tip -- go next door to the Neptune grill for a burger, fish & chips or a jacket potato instead.
The cabin stewardess was the friendliest person we saw on the boat the whole trip although I nearly got very cross when she tried to tell me the damp smell in the bathroom was the rubber mat in the bath or indeed damp towels!
Cabins were opened around 2pm. Luggage was abandoned by the lifts and it seems the people delivering them to cabins cannot read left or right. Most people went looking for their own luggage. We found one case which was then moved to another cabin as I turned my back! I found the other case on the end of the corridor where anyone could have taken it. Not impressed!
Flat screen TV's in the cabins -- although tiny. On the positive, I did notice the carpets and sofa were the cleanest that I have seen on a cruise ship. Nice toiletries which were actually usable! The air con in the cabin was however very loud which could annoy some people.
The electric socket in the cabin was not high enough up off the table to allow my mobile phone charger to be plugged in so we ended up going to the computer room (Horizon) on deck 3 next to Caffe Vivo (a very nice little coffee shop tucked away with nice cakes) to charge the phones. Beware the Ship switches to its own mobile network when at sea which is between 99p and Â£1.99 per minute on our trip so avoid using.
Also avoid balcony cabin A38 on Australia deck. The funny thing is we booked 2 Ocean View cabins but were upgraded to balconies after the Oriana cruise was delayed and then cancelled. It smelt of damp and mould in the bathroom and after a good sniff, I decided it was coming from the bath. I then spent the next 3 days trying to get it sorted and asking to move cabin. I was told it was the drains, then the pipe under the bath, then the drains again. Saturday evening they finally conceded it was a leak under the bath which they cleared out and mopped up. Now I had to smell the chlorine and bleach they used. Sunday morning I asked to be moved yet again and only after I said I would also put in a complaint when I go back, at 2pm I was told by the deck supervisor that I could move but I had to pack up everything and unpack just to re pack later that evening as it was the last night. They would not allow me to just take a few items I needed and just pack the once. I was told the cabin may be needed for an emergency. This did prompt me to ask what they deem an emergency as clearly a leak is not! I refused the move as I had no intention of packing twice the last evening. When I complained at reception again, he said they always tell people they are full or they would have everyone wanting to move for little reasons! He then went on to say they always have some cabins free for emergencies even when they are 'full'. So, basically if this happens to you, shout and scream at reception and the deck supervisor (make them come to reception) and refuse to move from reception until they move you to another cabin!
Sadly, not very good. We had a table for 2 in the main Meridian restaurant but not by the window but this didn't matter as we had plenty of space around us but the window tables were crammed together.
The best of British theme night in the Belvedere on the 1st night was not up to much. The stuffing and gravy never did appear as advertised on the menu. The Belvedere was empty with only a handful of people which is ideal if you want quiet. It opened for dinner at 6.30pm but they never got any food out until 6.45pm yet we noticed they soon closed on time when sessions were finished!
Every time we sat down for dinner, or at any of the bars or tables on the boat, we were asked if we wanted drinks. I saw another review which said the same -- they were a little pushy. I said just water please one night when asked as they had jugs of water in the Belvedere at night. She looked horrified and got the man who clears the plates away to pour it. She would not lower herself to such a request it seemed -- clearly not her job!
It is also true that it is quite a trek up and down the very long room to look at the different counters of food, all served in tiny dishes barely a few inches wide. The food was not great by any means. In fact we nearly resorted to room service baguettes like on Ventura in May (they were very nice by the way). The plates were always cold and I had to continually ask for a hot plate and carefully selected some clean cutlery after rejecting several each time we dined. The Neptune grill was great. Nice jacket potatoes and a few other snacks. Saturday's daily guide said Indian theme night in the Belvedere but nothing materialised. Sunday said the same and it was and it was the busiest night in there. Afternoon snacks were not up to much either. Can they not make a proper sandwich! Cream cheese and cucumber really! We tried the posh waiter restaurant 1 day and it was the same as the self service restaurant but we were forced to sit on a table with 6 other people and nobody was very friendly. Breakfast was by far the best meal.
Although not the happiest of people, the cabin stewardess was very smiley but the rest of the staff never really spoke but they did clear plates away which was a great improvement than when we went on Ventura in May.
Shops were closed during the day apart from the sweet counter which really is not necessary with all the food available. Then again, we nearly resorted to sweets as the food in the restaurants was not great.
No alcohol or cigarettes onboard due to HMRC rules and not visiting an international port. I thought that was a joke at first but then when I realised it wasn't we suddenly panicked as to what we would spend all the onboard credit we had on. The last night was advertised as plenty of Christmas gift ideas and complimentary gift wrapping. Well, there was no sign of anything Christmassy except 1 children's toy nor any gift wrapping! Most things were overpriced even the fudge on offer at 3 for 2 was expensive at Â£3.49 per tiny box! I collect magnets and postcards but they only had the ship and none of where we had been.
Zeebrugge for Bruges
Clocks went forward overnight and we docked at 9am. Weather was sunny but very windy and bitter cold with the windchill. We opted to stay on board as didn't have any tours booked and it really was very cold. There was nothing in the port area but there was a courtesy bus which was a 15 minute ride to the drop off point, close to the train station in Blakenburg. Local immigration insists you take your passport off the Ship. This always worries me in case any muggers get wind of this as in Russia but that's another story (see July's cruise review for that story)! Must be a muggers paradise knowing 2000 people carrying passports around. The Ship was empty all day which made it very relaxing but was warm enough to sit by the pool at Neptune's grill due to the roof being closed.
Le Havre, France
Early breakfast at 8am, nobody around. We took the complimentary 'bendy' bus to the town which took around 30 minutes. It also stops at a very large shopping centre called Les Docks before it gets to the main town. There was also a Christmas market. On the way back a roundabout was closed off by police and we saw a parade of floats go past. I got lots of pictures from the bus. We were told to take photo ID -- either driving licence or passport. We took out driving licence but nobody asked for it. Just for info, there were no hop on or hop off buses at either port. We did see some taxis on the pier at Le Havre.
As it was just a 3 night stay we had the option to have the luggage collected the night before and taken off the Ship or take it ourselves. We opted for the latter as we had no confidence that it would appear the other side after the fiasco of getting the luggage on. They asked everyone to be out of the cabins by 8.30am and said disembarkation would be between then and 10am. We walked to the exit just before 8.30am and they had just started to let people with their own luggage off. They had not announced this over the speakers yet. Only a short walk to the car park and handed the card in to get our keys back. There was a good 5 minute queue and considering not many people were off yet, it could have been much busier soon after.
I have to say a few more signs to get out of the docks would have been useful as we got a little lost and then nearly had an 'argument' with a train or something crossing. In the end we waited for someone else then followed them, they looked equally as lost as us.
Nice little weekend away to relax before Christmas ruined due to cabin issues but would not go in December again due to the weather and then Christmas becomes a rush! If it wasn't for the cabin problem and constant battle with them over this, I would have had a much better time. Sorry to say I still think Royal C are far better.