We have previously cruised quite widely on ships of a similar size to this from a number of cruise lines (mostly Fred Olsen, Voyages of Discovery, Swan Hellenic and less recently, P&O). We always choose a cruise because of the ... Read More
We have previously cruised quite widely on ships of a similar size to this from a number of cruise lines (mostly Fred Olsen, Voyages of Discovery, Swan Hellenic and less recently, P&O). We always choose a cruise because of the itinerary, choosing unusual destinations and smaller, less visited ports. Hence, I am writing this from a different angle than most other reviews of Cuba Cruise and will focus on the differences and similarities we saw with the ship and this specific cruise. We went on this cruise as part of a month in Cuba, with ten nights in a Havana Hotel, (one of which we spent in a casa in Vinales) and 11 nights in Varadero. It was our second visit to Cuba.
We arrived at Havana port about 3pm and there were very few other people around, which allowed us to pass through the embarkation procedure speedily. There was no one on board to direct us to our cabin as we are used to, but we knew where our cabin was located so had no problems finding it. Other queries/requests had to wait until that evening when cabin staff appeared. We just managed to get a quick lunch, which was served until 3.30pm in the buffet. We then registered our credit card easily as there was no one else at reception and our bags had arrived in the cabin by the time we returned.
Our cabin benefited from one of the new balconies and we found the cabin in good condition overall. The wardrobe space was sadly lacking from our point of view, as there was very little hanging space and most of the fixed position hangers were in a section of the wardrobe where the hanging rail was only about a foot above the top of the fridge so that wardrobe and those hangers were not useable. We were able to manage by utilising our cases for extra storage and we had brought some spare hangers with us. For someone who was only away for one week the space would have been OK, (though not what we are used to finding on similar ships). Our cabin stewards Zulema and Quarry were good.
Muster drill was very interesting. Our muster station was on the open deck at the very front of Prom deck, so a really good place to be in the event of an emergency! As we arrived there was some gabbled information in about 3 different languages – even the English was so indistinct it was hardly audible. Very swiftly we were dismissed. Certainly not giving confidence on how the ship would be managed in a real emergency.
The public rooms were well presented, but the accommodation was not sufficient for the number of people on board. This was not helped by the lack of tables and chairs in areas which could have been used (e.g. the large open deck to the rear of the self service restaurant which had no furnishings whatsoever). The pool deck was constantly overcrowded as there were far too many tables and chairs crammed together there to use for both buffet meals and a bar. The pool deck also had a cover over the top, part of which could be retracted, but was usually partly closed making the area very hot, humid and smelling of cooking fumes if food was being cooked there. There were very few sun beds available on the ship as most were tightly tied in piles and there was little space for them to have been put out anyway. We were not on the AI, drinks and trips package so were able to eat at less busy times during the day and were very thankful of that.
We had no wish to sit in the lounges because of the overcrowding so tended to bring soft drinks on board and drink them on our balcony when we wanted to relax. So I cannot comment on bar service.
Overall the service in the restaurants was lacking. The staff in the buffet were OK, but most were not particularly friendly or efficient. Many of the waiter service staff were slow, completely disorganised and there were occasions when staff were distinctly rude, like the time my husband asked for a knife and fork and was gruffly told to ask someone else! One day we sat in a restaurant for half an hour and had not even had our orders taken – we left and went to the buffet.
As a very marked contrast to this, there was one member of the restaurant staff who clearly surpassed the other staff by his ability, efficiency, speediness of service and persistent hard work. He also had an extremely pleasant personality. This was Sahil Dishiraj Haurheeram, who was from Mauritius and he worked at the far end of the Olympus Restaurant with Renaldo. They worked well as a team under Sahil’s guidance. They also worked in the buffet restaurant during the day.
Other staff on the ship were mixed, but the ship did not have the normal hard working, friendly staff that we are used to seeing on cruise ships. This may well be because tips were include or pre paid for many passengers.
We booked this cruise as soon as it went on sale, as we were sent an alert, which we had requested from the Canadian company who were then running it. Sadly the itinerary changed the next day, with less time in both Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos and the loss of Antilla, (from where we had hoped to do a trip). There was also a beach day, (as was previously the case), which was a waste of time in our opinion and also in the opinion of a number of other passengers. We did not rush for a tender on the beach day and proceeded to go ashore after there had been an announcement that tender tickets would not be needed and that tenders would run every half hour. A tender left at 10.45am for a trip and there was then a decision that they would not bother sending another open tender at 11am (when one was due), but would leave it until 11.30am. This was typical of the management of the ship – a could not be bothered attitude. Tenders back were equally chaotic with lengthy queues building up.
There were no port talks at all and neither information on the ports or port maps were available on Board. It was not easy to find information ashore either, so we were pleased we went equipped with information and maps.
Food was OK, but certainly not up to the standard of other cruise ships or the hotels we stayed at in Cuba on either of our visits.
Entertainment was typical of the entertainment we would expect on cruise ships with a daily show and lounge musicians. We did not think it particularly had a Cuban feel to it, like we had experienced ashore.
The ships we had previously travelled on have been the same age and many even older than the Crystal and we have never before been asked to put toilet paper in a bin. The French version of the cabin sign about this said the pipes are too narrow. The rest of the ship has been maintained, so I see no reason for them not to change the piping. In fact we only used the bin if the paper was just wet and we had no problems whatsoever, although I usually flush ship’s toilets twice if there is solid waste present. Sometimes old ship’s plumbing does get blocked but they then send a plumber along within about ten minutes to sort the problem from the plumbing access cupboard in the corridor. I think it is quite possible that Celestyal just cannot bother sending plumbers to maintain the system. They are only able to get away with this in the summer season as Greece is well known for it’s plumbing problems, so there will presumably be different expectations there.
Disembarkation was better than our previous experiences. We had to be out of the cabin by 7am, which was earlier than usual, but the restaurants stayed open for a long time after that and we were not rushed to disembark. In fact, we were allowed to go into Havana and spend some more time there before returning for a quick lunch and then disembarking at leisure. We have experienced this before if on a cruise company’s flight, but Celestyal were very good letting us, (as independent travellers), disembark so late. We did need to collect our cases on the way out that morning, but there were staff at the port who could look after our cases and one of our hand luggage bags until we wanted them, for 2 CUC’s per bag. This worked well.
There was someone at the port who was able to arrange a taxi transfer to Varadero at a reasonable cost. We originally asked the Cubanacan rep at the port when we embarked and she introduced us to him as she was not going to be present the next week. Snag was that it was an old American car, but luckily it did get us there and the driver stopped where we had asked for him to stop for a break. We do not speak Spanish, so help in arranging this was appreciated.
Overall we did get enjoyment out of the cruise, but it could have been much better. Read Less