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5 Europe - British Isles & Western Holiday Cruise Reviews

This review will be quite detailed and is only my opinion but, as I'm a bit of a compulsive note taker, I have recorded information on the ship and ports which may be useful to others so here goes........... Background This was our ... Read More
This review will be quite detailed and is only my opinion but, as I'm a bit of a compulsive note taker, I have recorded information on the ship and ports which may be useful to others so here goes........... Background This was our first Fred Olsen cruise but our 30th ocean cruise...... can you tell we like cruising? My husband and I are in our mid 60s and I have some mobility problems. My husband and I are from the Midlands in the UK and we chose this cruise because it was very reasonably priced and fitted in with our holiday dates. Travel arrangements We travelled down by car from our home on the day before the cruise and stayed at the Premier Inn Central in Basingstoke which is roughly 30 miles from the dock in Southampton. I booked this hotel well in advance and got a room at a very reasonable rate (£36). The hotel is conveniently situated about 1mile from the town centre and within a leisure park with cinema and chain restaurants. Car Parking We pre-booked car parking with 'Cruise Parking' which is situated a 20 minute mini bus drive from the port area. The cost once again, was reasonable, especially compared to the port 'on site' car parks. The whole process was very straight forward. We drove into the site, handed over our keys and transferred our cases onto the mini bus trailer. From drop off to arriving at the port terminal took no more than 30 minutes. On arrival back in port we saw a representative from the company standing right outside the customs clearance area and he directed us to a waiting coach. Once again, it was approximately 30 minutes from getting out of customs to getting into our car. We will certainly use this company when cruising from Southampton. Boarding Unlike many other cruise lines, it is not worth arriving early at the terminus as the ship did not start boarding until just after 2.00p.m. We had been given 2.30p.m. as our embarkation time and we actually got on board at 2.45p.m. - Check-in was fairly quick -- about 20 minutes from arriving at the terminal (cases were whisked away) to completing the security checks and sitting down in the lounge. - There is a magazine stand just outside the departure lounge with many free travel and concept magazines. - There is plenty of seating inside the departure lounge together with toilet and snack facilities. - There was a stand advertising 'silver service afternoon tea' at £6.50pp. The same food is available without charge in the Palms Buffet. - Passengers are given a boarding number and groups of 20 are called to go through. This prevented a mad rush to get on board. - Once on board we were directed, not shown, to our cabin. Balmoral - the ship. My husband and I actually sailed on this ship in 2005 when it belonged to NCL and was Norwegian Crown. When it was sold to Fred Olsen the ship was stretched to add extra cabins and some new facilities. It was good to see that some of the original features still remained and we recognised the dining room, rear pool and buffet area. Balmoral is 43,500 tonnes with 1,300 passengers and 500 crew so a relatively small ship in comparison with many of today's liners. I felt it was geared towards the more mature passenger and had a definite British ambiance although there were a few guests from other countries on board and, as it was half term for many UK schools, there were over 50 children who appeared to be well catered for by the designated crew members. Muster Drill This took place immediately prior to sail away and the muster stations were all indoors. We took our life jackets, listened to the safety talk and then were asked to put on our life jackets. Dining options Palms Buffet - Food is not available 24 hours in the buffet. - The set times for breakfast 07.00 -- 09.30 Lunch 12.00 -- 14.30 Afternoon tea 15.30 -- 16.30 Dinner 18.30 -- 21.00 - IMHO the food was generally good with a fair variety of hot and cold dishes. - I did like the fact that the tables were set with a flower decoration, table mats, fabric serviettes, side plates and the correct amount of cutlery. Dining rooms - Evening Dining is traditional set times and tables -- early sitting is 6.15p.m. and late sitting is 8.30p.m. - Breakfast and Lunch servings are open seating in all 3 main dining rooms. Breakfast 08.00 -- 10.00 and Lunch 12.00 -- 14.00 - There are 3 dining rooms -- the largest, Ballindalloch Restaurant, is on deck 6 and the 2 smaller ones, Avon and Spey, are on deck 10. - There are several tables for 2 available. - I found the service to be efficient without being intrusive. - The menus were varied and always included a 'British traditional favourite'. - Food quality varied but I never had a bad meal. There are no speciality restaurants. Entertainment - There is no casino but there were a couple of Roulette and Black Jack tables available in the evening in one corner of the Lido Bar on deck 8. - The 'Morning Light Pub' was the main bar with comfortable seats and musical entertainment in the evenings. - There is a large Library with comfortable chairs, a good selection of books available to borrow, British news paper each lunch time and quizzes, crosswords and Sudoku challenges each day.- There is an internet room with computers but we didn't use it so I can't provide any information. - There were a few shops selling jewellery, clothes, cosmetics, alcohol, cigarettes and general items etc. - The Marquee lounge and the Observatory lounge on deck 11 provided quiet areas with good views. - The Neptune Lounge on deck 7 was the main show lounge and had sofas, swivel chairs and small tables. There was a fairly large dance floor which rose up to form a stage for the shows. My DH and I are keen ballroom dancers and we were in heaven.....there was ballroom and sequence dancing every evening and there were dance hosts (4 gentlemen and 1 lady) for people who needed a dance partner. - There were 3 production shows which I thought were among the best I have ever seen on a ship, a comedian who had most of the audience laughing (me included), a singing magician who, in my opinion, was poor and a terrific 'crew talent' show......definitely the best I have seen afloat. - There were 2 formal evenings where probably 70% of the passengers wore formal/semi-formal clothes plus a 'tropical' night and a 'rock and roll' night where approximately 30% of passenger dressed up. - There was a Captain's welcome and a Captain's farewell reception with free drinks and canapes. - There were quizzes, lectures, recitals, card competitions, craft classes, cookery demonstrations, dance lessons etc on sea days. Launderettes Wow!.......I know it is a bit strange to get excited about launderettes but, with creased clothes, modern airline baggage weight restrictions and longer cruises, I find the launderette particularly useful and the 2 on Balmoral are the best I have come across on cruise ships. - There are 2 launderettes -- 1 on deck 3 and 1 on deck 9. - They are both quite spacious rooms and fitted out in a similar pattern. - Each room has 8 front loading washing machines and 8 driers. - Deck 9 has 2 irons and deck 3 has 3 irons. - A wash costs £2 (tokens available from the reception desk) and that includes detergent which is automatically dispensed onto the clothes at the push of a button as the wash cycle starts. - Driers and irons are free. Remember to empty the water condenser at the top left corner of the drier to make drying more efficient. - If the washer door has been closed on an empty machine, there is a yellow tag to pull down on the left corner of the washing machine. - Opening hours are from 08.00 to 23.00 Cabin 5218A inside superior (deck 5 mid-ship) We were pleasantly surprised with the size, layout and comfort of the cabin. We knew when we booked this grade of cabin that the beds would be arranged in an 'L' shape so were quite happy with that. - I found the bed to be reasonably comfortable and the pillows were soft and fluffy which I like. - I found the duvet to be on the heavy side but my DH thought it was a perfect weight....everyone to their own! - I loved the fact that there was a kettle with coffee and tea sachets provided along with sugar, sweetener and milk cartons. It was lovely to have our early morning cuppa and I really don't know why the American cruise lines do not offer this facility on all their ships. - There was ample storage with plenty of drawers and hanging space in the wardrobes. - There was a bucket style chair and small glass table along with a large dressing table. - The safe was in the wardrobe and you input your own number. - The cabin had very good lighting which could be varied to make it darker or lighter. - There is a flat screen TV with BBC news, Sky news and sports channel, a film channel, bridge cam and interactive options -- pay films and access to your OB account. - There are plenty of plug sockets but they are US/European style. I brought an adapter and 4gang extension and this worked well. - I thought the bathroom was a reasonable size compared to our experiences with standard cabins on other cruise lines. - The best thing is the largish shower stall which had ½ glass wall/ ½ shower curtain so NO sticking curtain. The shower power was good and hot water was plentiful. - Toiletries were basic but reasonable quality -- liquid soap on the counter and liquid body wash in the shower. You could request things like shower caps, solid soap etc. - Towels and wash cloths were changed on request. Ports and ships tours. Our ports of call were -- La Rochelle, Getxo (for Bilbao), Aviles and La Coruna We had already visited all the ports except for Aviles. We decided to do 1 ship's tour and that was to Ile de Re just outside La Rochelle. We chose this one because a French friend holidays there regularly and we wanted to see the places he talked about. We also chose this one because it did not have 'compulsory walking' (Fred Olsen's description of their tours contains this information) and I have some mobility problems. - A set of port maps was left in each cabin during our 1st sea day. I thought this was a nice touch. - Ship's tours departed from the Neptune lounge. - All ports were industrial areas La Rochelle The dock is approximately 5 miles from the centre of La Rochelle and is a controlled area. - There was a free shuttle bus to the dock gates but there is nothing to see there and it is a very long walk from there into the town. - There is a small terminal building with a shop, toilets and tourist information desk. - FO ran a shuttle bus into the centre of La Rochelle for £10pp with unlimited transfers. These run from the car park outside the terminal building - The town is easily walkable with some pretty streets, an interesting small harbour area, outdoor cafes and many shops. Unfortunately, many things were closed or opened late as it was the end of the holiday season. - The Ile de Re tour was quite interesting. We saw the best of what was on offer including the Monastery ruins and some pretty fishing villages - La Flotte, Sainte-Marie-de-Re and Saint-Martin-de-Re were the most notable. There was 45 minutes free time in Saint-Martin-de-Re which was definitely not enough to explore the quaint streets and pretty harbour. Getxo and Bilbao Getxo is a thriving suburb of Bilbao and has its own charm. - Again it is an industrial port area so, although you could walk out of the port, it was a long way to the town centre. - There is a small terminal building with a shop, toilets and tourist information desk. - There were maps available in there. - FO ran unlimited return shuttle buses into the centre of Getxo for £5pp. The bus stopped 100 metres from the metro station where there are frequent trains into Bilbao. - There is a very nice beach just at the edge of the port. - There is a shopping complex just outside the port. - Getxo centre has cafes and shops. - There are some beautiful and imposing villas along the coast road. We had been to Bilbao twice before when I was more mobile and we had seen the main attractions already -- the Guggenheim Museum, the river front promenade and the Old Town -- so we decided not to do a ship's tour but to get the metro and then make our mind up what to do when we got into town. The metro was easy to use: - Ticket machines have an option to have information displayed in English. - It was €3.20pp return for the 20 minute journey. - We decided to get off at 'Abando' station which was nearest to the Old Town and was a short walk across the river. After coffees and a croissant at a pavement cafe (€3.50 which we thought was extremely good value) we caught the tram (€1.40pp single journey) along the river front to the Guggenheim Museum where we got off and sat in the sun in the park area for a while just enjoying the sunshine and people watching. - We caught the metro back from the San Marmes station We had a lovely few hours for a very reasonable price. Aviles Aviles was a revelation and turned out to be, by far, our favourite port. The old town area was very attractive with some most unusual cafes, little food shops and fabulous arcades. This is a relatively new destination and, I believe that Balmoral was the first cruise ship to use the port earlier in the year. There is a lot of building work going on to extend the dock area. - You cannot walk directly from the ship so there was a free shuttle bus to terminus at the edge of the old town. - The terminus is just a tent with a few chairs and tourist information. - It is quite a long walk from the drop off to the town as you have to cross the river and the railway line by bridge first. - There is a very helpful Tourist Information centre at the beginning of the street which takes you to the Town Hall square. - The streets which radiate from the square are all quaint and there are some beautiful buildings, speciality food shops and gardens. - The newer town is to the right of the old town and has a nice food market and a shopping Mall. - We had beautiful weather and enjoyed sitting out in a cafe and people watching. La Coruna Unfortunately, the weather changed as we got to La Coruna and it became cold and overcast with torrential rain showers. It was also November 1st which is a national holiday in Spain the vast majority of shops and many restaurants were closed. These 2 factors combined to make it a disappointing port for many passengers. Fortunately we had visited La Coruna before and remember it in better weather and as a bustling shopping centre. - The ship docks in walking distance of the town centre. - There is a small terminal building with a shop, toilets and tourist information desk. - 2 minutes from the terminal building is a huge shopping mall with cinema, restaurants and upper market shops. - There are lovely walks around the promontory and a beautiful beach at the other side of the peninsula which can be reached by walking about ½mile through the town centre. - The Old Town has a large Town Hall square with many cafes and restaurants. It's approximately 10 minutes walk from the ship. And finally We were so impressed with the Fred Olsen product as a value for money option that we have booked 2 more cruises with them. Balmoral was not the glitziest or most modern ship we have been on but she was one of the friendliest and had many things that we really enjoyed. Read Less
Sail Date October 2012
I was in two minds whether or not to write a review about this cruise, however, I have seen quite a bit of negative comment that I believe to be unfair so i want to add my point of view. Let me say from the outset we embarked on December ... Read More
I was in two minds whether or not to write a review about this cruise, however, I have seen quite a bit of negative comment that I believe to be unfair so i want to add my point of view. Let me say from the outset we embarked on December 8th when the whole of the UK was being battered by very high winds and CMV and the crew of the Marc Polo have no control over that. They did flip the itinerary though visiting Antwerp as the first port and Amsterdam as the second so they did all they could to negate the effects of the weather. Embarkation was a breeze and the safety drill had the novelty of the passengers actually going from their muster station and lining up by their assigned lifeboat. We were then inspected by the Deputy Captain which was all a bit different than usual. The staff who were mainly Eastern European were friendly and helpful and were happy to chat with the passengers at quiet time. On the whole the food was very nice, well prepared and nicely served. An exception would be the breakfast in The Restaurant, it was still on a help yourself basis, and, unfortunately on the day we ate in there was only lukewarm. Marco Polo was probably the cleanest cruise ship we have ever been on and cleaning seemed to go on constantly. Entertainment was fair the three shows we saw in the show lounge whilst lacking the glitz of say the P&O show team were enjoyable and entertaining. There has been a suggestion that the whole ship smelled of diesel fuel, if it did then I certainly did not notice it. As for the two ports of call they were what they were two fairly major European Cities in winter, Amsterdam as ever was charming and quaint and Antwerp interesting. I just can't see what prompted such strong criticism of the ship and the cruise. We have cruised quite a bit and feel that what you pay for a cruise must be measured against a passengers expectations. This trip was a bargain and we had the added bonus of a free upgrade to one of the best two cabins on the ship. Overall we found the trip a pleasant winter break and whilst I would be wary of undertaking an Atlantic Voyage on Marco Polo we would certainly consider a Baltic, Fjords or around Britain trip on her. We would certainly Mini/Party Cruise on her. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
I am going to make two reviews for this cruise. One as an 'adult' couple travelling and the other one based on travelling with our children and grandchildren. Review 2 has already been published! Two years ago we took a 5 ... Read More
I am going to make two reviews for this cruise. One as an 'adult' couple travelling and the other one based on travelling with our children and grandchildren. Review 2 has already been published! Two years ago we took a 5 night Mediterranean cruise with RCI out of Malaga on the Navigator of the Seas. This time we did a 4 night short cruise to Portugal on Adventure of the Seas. I have to say how sorry I am to see the drop in standards and quality in such a short period. Embarkation was simple and well organised as last time and we were on board and having lunch in the Windjammer by 12.30. Ground staff at Mlaga port were very helpful. Disembarkation was equally good with my request for a later time being given with no problems at all. Cabins were ready by the time we had finished lunch so we went down to start unpacking. The suitcase hadn't arrived by quite late and despite asking several people and I eventually had to go and find it. I did this because everyone else in the party had theirs and I thought mine may have been left behind. Happily it hadn't. The cabin was fine and very clean and was well looked after during the cruise by our attendant. On arrival the balcony was all wet and the chairs and little table had not been dried so you couldn't sit out there whilst waiting for the cases. I didn't take shampoo, body lotions etc as last time these were supplied in the cabin - sadly no longer! The cabin steward was very nice and found some for me the next day. There would have been no problem to take my own had I known about it before. Also shame we only got 'towel animals' one night - I really liked that touch on the last cruise. The ship generally is in good condition and kept very clean. Lifts were always very busy so walked the stairs most of the time. As we were with the family we didn't get to see the shows but the ice show, which we all went to, was excellent (missed that on Navigator). Played in the casino one evening and broke even which was good. Spent some time in the lobby bar and danced a bit to Azucar Band which we enjoyed. Many of the areas on the ship are split into smoking on one side and no smoking on the other. This is something that some other reviewers may not be aware of. Whilst dancing on the no smoking area of the dance floor, two people with cigarettes in hand, came and started dancing. They were very quickly told by members of the band to move to the other section which was for smokers. I had no problems with cigarette smoke during the cruise (and I'm a very sensitive reformed non smoker!!) and it wasn't even too bad in the casino. The Spanish people on the cruise were very nice and certainly not rude or pushy. In fact the only time I was pushed a bit was in the Windjammer by a British lady. There was certainly no pushing or shoving in the lifts or anywhere else that I saw. Bearing in mind it was a Spanish bank holiday weekend and Halloween, the majority of people on the ship were probably Spanish. I loved the fact that dress codes were adhered to and on Formal night there was some very beautifully dressed people walking around and lots of people in amazing Halloween costumes (and I'm not just talking children here!!) For me the biggest disappointment was the food in the Main Dining Room. 2 years ago we came home raving about the food, how hot it always was, the quality, the choice, and the great service. Sadly the same could not be said on this cruise. The food was generally tepid, bland and choices were more limited. Some evenings we struggled to find something to order and ended up with the good old Sirloin steak standby. There was a beef dish each evening, which members of our table ordered on different evenings, which was basically the same dish with a different name. Very little fish options but must say the desserts were great. Did however miss the Baked Alaska on formal night dinner. Our waiter was actually a bit sad. He seemed to have problems with whatever we wanted to order if it had even the slightest deviation from the menu item. I actually decided in the end that maybe he just didn't understand English very well. Constantly reminding him of my daughter's seafood allergy seemed to confuse him. She also doesn't eat nuts -â€" which we told him -â€" and when the cheese cake arrived covered in nuts we asked him 'Are those nuts on top?' His reply was yes and then he just walked away!! No, 'Is there a problem, would you like something else or one without nuts!' On the plus side, Oscar his assistant, did everything possible to help us within his limited capacity. We had a 7 bottle wine package booked but it always took quite a while to get the previous night's unfinished bottle - once the waiter finally understood there should be some left or to get a new bottle to the table. Also there was only a buffet option in the Main Dining Room at lunch time which is a shame as I really believe you need a proper alternative to the Windjammer buffet which was always crazy busy. In the Windjammer the food was fairly standard buffet. Plenty of choice and nice desserts, but the floor staff were not very helpful and unless you wanted to buy drinks, didn't seemed very interested in anything you needed. On the disembarkation morning they had obviously run low on orange juice and actually served it watered down! Personally it would be better to have said 'sorry we've run out'. Last impressions, like first impressions are remembered. In general I would say that there were not too many happy and smiling crew members on this cruise. Although the staff at Guest Relations were always helpful and smiling, as was our cabin steward. Weather was lovely. General facilities and activities were plentiful with things to suite all ages and tastes. Appreciated the Crown and Anchor discount voucher book. We were docked overnight in Lisbon. The area where the ship docked was awful with no direction signs to the town centre. There was a RCI shuttle service into the centre which cost $6 each way, so if you were a family and wanted to go there both days...... There was a nicer docking area right near the main square (saw some other big ships there) and if RCI couldn't get docked there then the shuttle should either have been complimentary or at least 50% cheaper. It was also a long way away. We took a bus to the main square but decided to walk back and it took us 90 minutes! (just as well we like walking!). Our 3rd time back in Lisbon and have to say it's a very nice place visit. Gibraltar was better. Well signed for directions to town and just a 15 minute walk away. If this review sounds a bit negative it's because I believe if you're not honest the review serves no purpose. All in all, we had a really nice break away and I would not discount travelling on Adventure of the Seas again. Just that next time I would go with lower expectations. Read Less
Sail Date October 2011
After an unscheduled overnight stay in Southampton due to technical problems with a lifeboat and its certification (why is there never an inspector on 24 hour call outs,surely the cruise company fraternity can give someone a good wage to ... Read More
After an unscheduled overnight stay in Southampton due to technical problems with a lifeboat and its certification (why is there never an inspector on 24 hour call outs,surely the cruise company fraternity can give someone a good wage to facilitate such matters).So,this meant no stop off at the French port of Hendaye,disappointment for some but i was okay with it specially as F.Olsen had reimbursed us £50pp of OBC,which took care of my bar bill! Pleasant weather most of the time, though a bit rough for some as we sailed through the Bay of Biscay,lots of sick bags available on this day plus we heard the doc's surgery was busy handing out sea sickness jabs (always take your own pills).After a couple of days sailing we eventually got to Lisbon,a wonderful vibrant city.Took the Big red bus tour here (15 euro pp) rather than a ships tour of the city (£40pp) and the bus stop is right outside the terminal gate,they did not advertise that in the brochure and only at the very end of the port talk (wonder why). However we did take a ships tour in Vigo,our next port of call. Seeing it was Sunday and all but the cafes were closed though the main attraction today was the Aircraft carrier, Spain's Juan Carlos was in town and the Spanish public were queuing for literally miles to get on it as it was open to them today. Our trip was okay though as usual way too overpriced for a view of the harbour and city from a high vantage point and a trip to Bayona were we saw some ancient castle/fortress which now houses a 4* hotel (with 5* prices for drinks,2.80 euros for a small coke!) Next up was La Coruna,did our own thing again, a free shuttle bus through the port to the port entrance was laid on,then we took a leisurely walk around the quaint old town,then into the shopping district where we stopped off for a coffee and watched the world go by.Next day was the port of Getxo for Bilbao,took a ships tour here,again our first stop was to a high vantage point to get a panoramic view of the city,this view was quite spectacular.A couple of stops in the city to a sacred church and then into the old town centre,again quaint, and very picturesque finishing off with a look only at the carbuncle of a building that is the Guggenheim museum. After each trip the weather was very good for a spot of R&R on deck 11 with its warm Pool and even warmer jacuzzis and if you did not fancy a 4 course lunch there was soup and sandwiches. We dined in the Spey restaurant were the food was excellent,service slow at times,as the waiters had a "lot on". Breakfast taken mainly in the Palms self service,they do a wonderful ham omelette,cooked fresh to your liking here. Entertainment, could not fault the visiting "pro" acts though the Balmoral singers and dancers were ordinary,probably the worse we've seen on a cruise but hey. The other entertainment staff were good,thought Juliet had a great voice in the wonderful crew show. All in all a very good cruise would recommend to anyone. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
My husband and I, with a great deal of luck and a little bit of juggling, managed to make it to Basel on December 21st to begin our Christmas Market Rhine River Cruise, which because of the timing did not include any German Markets. It ... Read More
My husband and I, with a great deal of luck and a little bit of juggling, managed to make it to Basel on December 21st to begin our Christmas Market Rhine River Cruise, which because of the timing did not include any German Markets. It wasn't a huge loss because we did shop at the Basel, Lucerne, and Strasbourg Christmas Markets and hit the "Mother of all Markets" on the Champs-Elysees when we arrived in Paris, for our Part II Vacation. What follows is our reflections on the river cruise part of our holiday and is an attempt to provide an honest and balanced account of our experience aboard the River Queen. THE GOOD The River Queen is a well appointed boat with very nice spaces, including a comfortable lounge with a cozy fireplace. Compared to cruise ships, it is very compact which means the distance from your cabin to the dining room can be all of 70 feet. The cabins are attractive and the floor to ceiling windows in ours were great for viewing the lovely scenery rolling by. The bed was really comfortable, the towels plush and the bathrobe generously cut. The food, for the most part, was good and on a few occasions very good. Lunches were more appealing than the dinners, which tended to be very drawn out affairs, reflective perhaps of a wait staff which was stretched too thinly. I would recommend the soups and the vegetarian entrees, including the stuffed crepe, the onion tart and the rosti. I especially appreciated the fact that the menus reflected the cuisine of the region. Tour guides for the included excursions were enthusiastic in sharing their knowledge of the various cities and the rich history behind each. You could partake of these guided tours or go off on your own. They did not seem to offer different tours for those passengers with mobility concerns. All of the included tours seemed to move at a fairly brisk pace. The extra cost excursions reflected good value for the price charged. They were really enjoyable, especially the trip to Lucerne and the tour of Marksburg Castle. We participated in all of the extra tours and we were glad we did. Onboard entertainment was surprisingly good. We were told not to expect much on a small boat but the performers, who we had the pleasure to experience, were marvellous. They ranged from a lovely woman who lectured about German Christmas traditions, an Edith Piaf type singer accompanied by an accordion player, a trio consisting of two violins and a guitar who performed folk music and classical music and finally, this wonderful woman who, accompanied by her husband on the keyboard, sang everything from country music to polkas to opera to swing - just fantastic. THE BAD The storage in the cabins left a lot to be desired. There was no long section in the wardrobe to hang dresses or suits and the shelves were awkwardly placed. I would strongly suggest that future passengers buy a few over the door hangers. It would alleviate some of the problems we encountered. When we called to confirm the docking location of the boat on the day of our departure, we were advised that the location had changed and we were given a different address by the Uniworld agent. We arrived at this spot along the river with a cab driver who was quite eager to unload us and our luggage on a deserted road with no boat in sight. We can laugh about it now. We gave him the original address in our cruise documents and the ship was there. Sixty francs later we were schlepping our luggage down a winding ramp and up to a boat that looked empty of passengers and crew. Not a soul was in sight, in the lobby or behind the reception counter. We pressed a button which opened the door to the ship, lugged our bags in and called out, "Hellllll-oooo-oooo!" A crew member did appear within a few seconds of our call and we marvelled at the difference between security onboard cruise ships and river boats. Anyone could have boarded the boat and stowed away in a number of places. It was all very strange and somewhat unsettling. One of the things that I found most disappointing on my River Queen cruise was the inconsistent service I encountered. Some of the crew were outstanding and seemed to really enjoy their jobs. Gabor, the bartender was a delight, always smiling and pleasant, greeting passengers by name and remembering their favourite drinks. Any request, and my requests are always politely made, would be met cheerfully. Sabina, our cabin attendant, was always cordial when we met and kept the cabin spotlessly clean. There was only one female member of the wait staff in the dining room and I can't recall her name, but she reflected this same level of professionalism and efficiency and was so good at her job. Unfortunately, this was not the case with all of the wait staff who managed to straddle that thin line between aloof and downright surly. One night, I decided to try an alternate dining option which included fish or chicken. When I asked the waiter how the chicken was prepared he looked at me with great impatience and said, "I don't know." Isn't that the job of a waiter, to know? Wouldn't the correct response be to say, " If you give me a moment I'll go and check with the chef to see how it is prepared." When you would ask questions, this league of waiters, and there were about half a dozen of them, would either nod or shake their heads as though uttering an answer would be a terrible waste of their energy. I was puzzled as to how the dining room manager could not see this and correct it. THE UGLY When we have cruised on ships in the past, we have had few occasions to deal with officers or management and on the odd occasion when we have had a concern it has been dealt with quickly and competently. I am very sorry to say that this was not the case on the River Queen. The first incident had to do with the hotel mangager. On the second day we had no hot water from our shower. We reported it and the officer at reception said she would look into it. The next day it was fine and we asked another passenger if they had the problem with hot water and the person said that he, too, was without hot water on the second day. A few days later, I was without hot water again. This time the hotel manager told me I didn't know how to operate the nozzle. I explained that this was not the case and I felt it might be a hot water shortage in certain cabins at peak hours. I left frustrated and when it happened the next day again, my husband insisted that the hotel manager come to room and see for himself. He arrived with the boat's engineer and they insisted it was still a problem with the faucet in the shower. When my husband turned on the faucet in the sink where there was no hot water either, they simply gave him this blank stare and shrugged. I fully expected a bottle of wine with a letter apologizing for the inconvenience, to be waiting for us in our cabin when returned from sight-seeing that day, but there was nothing. There was no follow-up to any of the three complaints of no hot water at any time, during the cruise. They never apologized for the inconvenience. The second incident had to do with the cruise director. During one excursion my voxbox, a device that transmits the voice of the tour guide to your earphones, was not working. Again, the cruise director, after trying an alternate set of earphones, just shrugged and told me to stay close to the guide so that I could hear. When I suggested that he should test the voxboxes before the bus leaves the area of the boat so that he could get replacements if they malfunctioned, he was pretty nonresponsive. Again, no apology. On another excursion, when he lost part of the group, I urged him to follow from the back and send someone ahead with the directions, he pretty much ignored me and my advice. He set a pace and never looked back to see if the passengers were with him. He just seemed unaware or indifferent. His job was to introduce the talent in the evenings and he did so. However, I don't ever remember him coming up to the front of the lounge after the performance was over to thank them and lead a round of applause. This was an individual who really lacked polish and style, as well as some basic organizational skills. THE VERDICT I enjoyed many aspects of this river cruise. I liked the itinerary and the intimacy of a ship of this small size. The passengers were friendly and there was a casual feel to the whole experience. You could dress up for dinner if you wanted to or you could wear a nice pair of pants and a sweater and you'd be good to go. However, the inconsistent service and the issues involving the cruise director and hotel manager left a bad taste in my mouth. My husband is not opposed to going on another Uniworld cruise and thinks that perhaps any of the negatives we encountered could very well be unique to the particular ship and the crew. I, on the other hand, think that there are so many other lines out there, why not try them. After this cruise, I would be hard pressed to recommend Uniworld to friends or family. River cruises I would recommend to anyone! Read Less
Sail Date December 2010

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