We were originally booked on Swan Hellenic's Minerva for their Christmas and New Year cruise to the Far East and were very upset when the cruise was cancelled for a ship refit. Fortunately, we were able to switch to a similar cruise on Discovery and so we were prime candidates to switch loyalty to another ship (we love Minerva). Whilst we had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed our trip from Bangkok to Hong Kong - taking in a number of ports in Vietnam and China - the overall experience wasn't enough to keep us.
Discovery is due for a refit next November. It needs it now. Actually, it needed it some time ago and, from comments made by other passengers, it is clear that a number of those travelling with us will not be returning in the near future because the ship is, quite frankly, extremely tired and rather scruffy. The fittings and furnishings are dated and well past their best. And parts of the ship's superstructure are badly rusted - they are covered up with a thick layer of paint, but this doesn't disguise the fact that rust is eating away the metal underneath. The Lido area must have once had a very nice teak deck - but there are very significant holes in it and such repairs that have been made are in poor order. One passenger pushed their chair back, the leg caught in one of the holes and they fell heavily. The whole area, now, is a great drafty barn with an empty swimming pool and corroded windows. It is the only place for informal eating for breakfast and lunch - there is no cafe facility on this ship for the evening meal which has to be taken in the dining room.
There is also no launderette which may not bother some people, but did mean that passengers either wash and dry things in their cabins, take a lot of clothes or use the laundry service which, whilst not very expensive, does add to the overall expense of the trip.
We have to say that, despite the shabbiness of the ship, the cleanliness could not be faulted and the indoor crew were constantly cleaning and tidying. However, outside, there wasn't the constant maintenance taking place that we have seen on other ships. On the Fred Olsen and Swan Hellenic ships, there are crew constantly painting, cleaning and repairing and this seems to be an ongoing process. We saw the odd paint roller on Discover, but nothing like the other ships and it is almost as if everyone has rather given up trying to keep the ship looking good - perhaps it is all a bit too far gone now. It is tidy, but that is about all that can be said.
The food, on the whole, is very good. And over Christmas and New Year, it was really excellent; the Executive Chef, Bill Andersen, comes from Minerva. But we don't think generally that it was as good as other cruise lines we have travelled with (Fred Olsen and Swan Hellenic). That being said, I think the catering staff do as well as possible given the lack of facilities - but serving lunch in the Palm Court, which is really a lounge, is less than satisfactory with passengers eating food from their laps as there are no tables.
The crew are really superb and are certainly the best we have ever had. They genuinely do get to know their regular passengers and their likes and dislikes and both our waiter and cabin steward could not be faulted. But they were understaffed from some crew finishing their contracts and the new ones not joining for a few weeks and so had to work exceedingly hard and long hours and this made us feel rather uncomfortable. It is hard to enjoy oneself on New Year, when the partying did not finish until 2am, knowing that the crew would not get to bed until 3 or 4am and would then be working again by 6 or 7am the next morning!
The trips were, generally, very good indeed - although they are not cheap. One or two were less than good but this may well have been because we were in communist countries whose knowledge of what Western tourists want is very limited. We did not think the port information we were given was very adequate - we would have made very different choices about trips or independent visits if we had had more knowledge. We did quite a lot of internet research before we went but without knowing where the ship will berth, it is quite difficult to make good plans. There were lectures about the ports once we were on board but the lecturer's knowledge of the areas was not up to date and although he was good on statistics and historical information, we felt he leaned heavily on the organised tours and sometimes tried to dissuade independent visits (we noted that he generally did not take the tours!).
We were rather underwhelmed with the guest lecturers. One gave quite a number of talks - but there were a lot of problems with the projection equipment and he became quite exasperated. Although the line has won awards for its lecture programme - we have certainly had better elsewhere.
One of the things that really lets the ship down is the Cruise Director. We have always had superb Cruise Directors on our previous cruises who add great value to the cruise experience through their interaction with passengers and their ability to bring impromtu local colour, such as local singers and dancers, on board to entertain passengers. We were visiting some glorious locations with long histories of performance - which we saw from our dockside greeting (the dancers and musicians at Ho Chi Min City and Hong Kong gave stunning welcome performances on the dock as we arrived). Discovery's Cruise Director is relatively new and clearly very inexperienced and she missed so many opportunities to add to the passenger experience.
There is a very mixed group of passengers - some from the USA and Canada, some from Australia and New Zealand and also a mixed age group from a young honeymoon couple to some people in their 80s. There does seem quite a lot going on for singles and there were several special events.
Reading this review back, it sounds very negative and we suppose this is because we are trying to be completely honest about our experience. We had a great time, we were well looked after, well fed and comfortable. Would we travel with them again? Yes (after the refit!) - but if we are perfectly honest, they wouldn't be our first choice.
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"