The Muster Drill
Given the Costa Concordia tragedy, I will open with a few comments on the importance of the muster drill. As a former holder of a US Coast Guard Masters License I have observed these drills with a critical eye. In recent years I have cruised on Crystal, Oceania and Silversea and all ships had full muster drills prior to departure. Having only been aboard only a few hours, the muster drill gives the passenger the opportunity to locate their life jackets, get familiar with them and become knowledgeable with the location and procedures of the life-boat stations. A critical aspect of the drill is that the crew station themselves on the stairways and hallways to give directions to the passengers. Since everyone is wearing a life jacket, the crew ware brightly colored hats which distinguish them from the passengers. The crew on Crystal and Silversea took their duties seriously and were easily identifiable by their hats. On Oceania the crew were more casual about wearing their caps and often grouped together chatting. On our trans-Atlantic on the Whisper last spring the crew was superb in performing their responsibilities, but once on deck the muster officer in charge did not wear easily identifiable clothing or headgear. With his uniform covered by his life jacket he looked like any other passenger. I spoke with him latter and he felt that his hand-held radio on his belt ( where I have my cell phone ) distinguished him from the passengers. In a crisis environment the passengers would not have known which individual was in command. The ships officers need to be required to be easily identifiable, and if they object, the cruise lines should have them replaced.
How to accommodate a passenger
One of the guests on our passage was a delightful gentleman in the 80's who was confined to a wheel chair -- he need water/aerobic therapy and apparently had pre-determined that the depth of the pool would accommodate his requirements. Alas the pool was about 6" too deep -- but the ship engineers would lower it daily for his swim. Now that's taking care of a passenger! Bravo !! In contrast was the pool of the Shadow during our Alaska cruises in the Spring of 2010. The pool was seldom heated and was treated with chemicals which would quickly cause a skin rash. After complaints -- the Shadow's engineers found the answer to its passengers concerns -- they closed the pool.
Dining on the Whisper
We had a most enjoyable food experience with the exception the Le Champagne. The food and service in the Main Dining room was superb. The wait staff quick learned our names and special requests. The house wines were mostly adequate and the wine servers would offer alternatives if requested. There seemed to be an emphasis on South American wineries ( perhaps because of their price value ). With the exception of the breakfast fruit bowl ( mostly water melon with few berries) the La Terrassa was most enjoyable. They feature Italian cuisine and it never disappointed. The Hot Rocks was better than we anticipated and would repeat.
To be disappointed one had to dine at the Le Champagne. The room has the charm of a morgue -- no carpet, white table coverings and the room is surrounded by glass doors of the wine coolers. We did a better job with the decoration of our high school gym for the senior prom. The restaurant features rotating menu each day and being aficionados of classical French cuisine, we choose the French experience "The Best of Burgundy" featuring escargot and Chateaubriand. Oh my! The escargots were not the classical bourguignon but instead were in a crusted pastry much like a chicken Kiev. Uggh. Chateaubriand was again not the classical French receipt which was originally created for Rene de Chateaubriand the French ambassador for Louis XVIII. Instead of being sliced was served Texas style -- a single chunk roasted meat on the dinner plate. The staff also missed an opportunity for a dining presentation where French table side service would be a special treat.
The food was a disappointment and not worth the premium. The word spread quickly on the quality and lack of value of Le Champagne and on a typical night they had 8 or less diners. If the cruise had offered "ships credits" they probably could have filled the restaurant as they could actually being paying the guest to dine!
The typical cruise ship is designed for dining/entertaining, sleeping and typically in port during the day. Only when one takes a multi-day passage
( trans Atlantic) to discover the inadequacy of the public seating areas. The library had only two chairs which were suitable for reading. The best chairs
(largest and most comfortable) were in the smoker's lounge! Otherwise the only other comfortable seating was in the observation lounge next to the spa. The bar lounges and entertainment venues featured low back club style seating which was not where one would want to spend a day reading at sea. Perhaps the Whisper is better ship for port to port cruising than ocean passages.
With the short comings mentioned, the Whisper and its staff provided the ambiance and superior service for a most enjoyable cruise. We will return.