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28 Dover to Europe - All Cruise Reviews

Saga Cruises have been on my radar for a while now. I have visited Saga Sapphire and overnighted on Saga Pearl II but my friend and I both felt we weren’t ready for the Saga experience at the time. However, the launch of the first of ... Read More
Saga Cruises have been on my radar for a while now. I have visited Saga Sapphire and overnighted on Saga Pearl II but my friend and I both felt we weren’t ready for the Saga experience at the time. However, the launch of the first of their two brand new ships, coupled with some health issues that forced the cancellation of a very long cruise earlier in the year, saw me booking a 10 night cruise on Spirit of Discovery around the Bay of Biscay Ports – yes, I know – a risky venture in October. Embarkation: One of the best things about Saga Cruises is the included transport to the port and return home. My shared car arrived 10 minutes early (the driver would have waited but I was ready). It was a smart leather-seated Mercedes people-carrier. Once I was settled and my luggage loaded, the driver checked I had my passport, gave me a bottle of water and explained we could stop anywhere for any reason should I request it. We set off to pick up another couple since I was outside the 75 mile limit in which you get a private driver/car. After a brief stop at Fleet Service (where the driver bought us coffee and cake) we arrived at Dover just over 4 hours later. I had booked a guarantee cabin so hadn’t received a cabin number but a lady with a clipboard was issuing these and marked up my luggage labels while I went into the small, charming cruise terminal. I had booked assisted embarkation so was shown where to sit and a lady came over to check me in. I got given my cruise card and deck plan as with other cruise lines, and after a very short wait, a man came with a wheelchair to talk me on board via a long zig-zag airbridge. Once on the ship I abandoned the chair and waited in a short line for a steward to take my hand luggage and show me to the cabin – just like my early Cunard cruises. So far so very good. It was around 2pm. Cabin: I had booked a standard single cabin on guarantee and ended up with a standard twin on E Deck. This is an all-balcony ship and I was impressed, with a few minor niggles. The beds were set up as a kingsize – it was huge! Bedside tables were good with two drawers, a middle shelf and the top surface. There was a bedside light plus a directable reading light plus a USB port for charging phone set. Being in this position meant you could still use your phone or table while it was charging. The wardrobe was reasonable with full length hanging on one side, with a slated shoe rack at the bottom, and half-length on the other side with two large drawers and the safe. The safe had a light and was huge – easily large enough for a laptop. In the wardrobe were the lifejackets, a lap blanket for use on the balcony, a golf umbrella and a basket with long-handled shoe horn, clothes brush, hair dryer, laundry bags for him and her and a pair of Olympus binoculars. The other furniture consisted of two comfy chairs, a coffee table, standard lamp and dressing table with illuminated mirror, kettle, teas and coffees, two shallow drawers and two deep drawers. A huge TV was at the food of the bed and offered Freeview channels, some films on demand, port lectures and, best of all, the shows in the theatre were broadcast live to your cabin. The bathroom was a good size with glass-doored shower, good-height toilet and basin. Under the basin were two large cupboards with shelves. The light around the mirror stays alight at a low level to provide a nightlight should you need the bathroom at night. There was also a very narrow fridge with a carton of UHT milk. The balcony had two rattan chairs and a small table. One minor niggle – no washing line in the shower but I understand this is being rectified. The cabin steward introduced himself and asked which fresh fruit I would like in the cabin. The apples and red grapes that arrived later were perfect and just ripe enough. Food: I usually ate breakfast in The Grill (buffet). You were shown to a table, each of which had number on. This was in case you ordered a hot dish cooked to order or for those few passengers who got lost! The tables were fully laid with milk and preserves. There was waiter service for teas, coffees and toast and, if asked they were happy to get you anything else too. The choice was very good with fresh and tinned fruits, meats, smoked salmon, cereals etc. As well as tea and coffee, fruit juice was available all day as was ice cream (either self-serve on Lido Deck or from The Living Room). In the main dining room breakfast was a mixture of buffet and menu items as was lunch. I had opted for the equivalent of Freedom/anytime dining but, as a solo, I could have had a dedicated table. Waiters offered you an arm as you were escorted to the table. Sizes varied from 2 to 10. Wine and beer at lunch and dinner was included (the ships will be all inclusive from Nov 2019) and was reasonable quality – mostly new world Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot. Good for me as I prefer Chilean or South African wines. There was red, white or rose. There is also a wine list if you want to pay for something else and again prices were very reasonable from around £12 a bottle. Spirits in the bars were £2.90, cocktails around £3.70. I found the food excellent quality and always very hot. One gala meal offered caviar on blini and roast venison that melted in the mouth. I gather the chefs are given full rein to develop dishes and fresh local food is brought on board – crates of fresh strawberries and peaches were waiting by the gangway in Bordeaux. As well as the main restaurant, there were three alternative restaurants – The Club (a steakhouse), Coast to Coast (seafood) and East to west (Asian fusion). All are included in the cruise price, but need to be booked. Plus the buffet. All except The Club and MDR have outdoor terraces should the weather be kind. Room service is free and in the evening you can choose from the MDR menu. Other passengers: I feel Saga has an image problem! Before I went I got the usual jokes about what SAGA stands for, don’t want to sail on a ship full of elderly people etc. However, I found fewer people with wheelchairs, scooters and mobility aids than on P&O (I should add I use a walker so am not discriminating here). Yes you need to be aged over 50 to travel (unless accompanying an older person as a carer) but tours generally catered for active and curious people. One tour was led by a celebrity chef (Daniel Galmiche) to a French market to choose foods to cook on board, others included hiking and cycling. Most were well-travelled, interesting to converse with and passionate advocates for Saga Cruises! Hand gel was well-used and well-policed! Entertainment: This was probably less than on other lines I have sailed with but since we only had two sea days may not have been typical of a longer voyage. Spirit of Discovery has a large theatre plus a show lounge. Shows were usually at 9.30pm and another performance – singer, magician etc – in the Britannia Lounge about 9.45. What I didn’t like was that the theatre doors are shut as soon as the show starts and you are not allowed in. As well as not disturbing the audience, this is also due ti health and safety as they don’t want people falling down the steps. This is where the live broadcast to the cabin comes in handy sometimes. There were port talks, free craft lessons, bridge, putting, table tennis, golf, quoits, shuffleboard, ring toss, darts, free bridge visits, cookery demos and quizzes. I attended four parties (with canapes and plentiful alcohol) – a welcome aboard, farewell, newcomers (to Saga) and a midday day one for solo travellers. A nice touch at the latter was waiters going round taking bookings for the other restaurants and making up solo tables – a nice way to meet others. Decks: There was plenty of open deck space with lots of sunbeds and garden style rattan chairs and sofas. Deck towels and blankets were available from lockers. All decks can be accessed by lift and automatic doors. A row of jars near the Grill offered free boiled sweets all day. Tours: I only did two tours. These were much as any other company except that as we returned on the coach, the Saga tour escort came round offering Werthers butterscotch sweets and hot or cold flannels sprayed with eucalyptus. The escorts also stayed at the back of groups to check no-one got left behind or lost. Disembarkation: Again I had booked assisted disembarkation so went to my allocated area to wait. Sensibly (and unlike P&O) people were taken off in tag order, not the order in which we arrived in the venue. We had all be allocated a number between 2 and 16) which went on luggage. Luggage had to be out from 9pm till retiring the last night). Crates were filled with luggage with the same numbered tags and stayed in this crates until shortly before that number was called to disembark. As well as a man with a wheelchair to take me off, I was given a crew member to carry all my hand luggage until we arrived in the baggage hall and a porter took over. Because some luggage was still in crates when I arrived, it was quick and easy to locate my case. My driver was waiting outside and soon I was on my way home. Would I travel with Saga again – absolutely. The new ships are a perfect size for me and offer all you need. The décor is subtle but classy. There is none of the hard sell other lines practise. For example, I had a manicure but that was it – no selling of products and no gratuity added either. I love the forward observation deck, unobstructed by tinted glass. Minor niggle – the decks are composite, not teak. The service was exemplary but subtle. You stood to pull a chair in and a waiter would appear behind you to help. Yes, the upfront cost appears on the high side, but it is a quality product with a lots of undefinable extras thrown in that would be charged for on other lines.I am now looking forward my cruise on her sister ship next year. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
We've cruised the Mediterranean twice before and have been on many other cruises. We chose this trip because friends were going and we had loved visiting Spain, France and Italy in the past. We had never been to Gibraltar and really ... Read More
We've cruised the Mediterranean twice before and have been on many other cruises. We chose this trip because friends were going and we had loved visiting Spain, France and Italy in the past. We had never been to Gibraltar and really knew very little about it - yet it turned out to be our favorite port! We upgraded to a Balcony room so we could enjoy quiet time to ourselves - turned out to be a waste of money. The Pacific Princess is a very small ship - easy to get around, however, not much to get around too. The staterooms were typical, however, no special touches or service from the staff. The entertainment was VERY limited and honestly poor quality talent. Cruise director staff was the poorest and most boring we have ever experienced. There was no energy or enthusiasm on the ship - no dancing, no "playing". Even in the casino the staff was not engaging. If you are looking for a very quiet ship, basically in bed by 10 - this may not have been the disappointment it was to us. We found the quality of the food to be below average as well as the service. This was our first Princess experience, so I don't know if this is typical of Princess, however, when we get together with our friends and/or family to decide what our cruise will be next year, we will make a pretty strong case that we would prefer not to sail again on the Princess line. No special touches or special care in ANY of the aspects. Poorly scheduled and planned activities, excursions were very generic and the tour guides for the excursions spoke very poor and accented English so it made it very hard to follow. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
This was the second of back to back cruises on this ship. The first was around the British Isles and this one was to Scandinavia. Both cruises started and ended in Dover. Transit arrangements were seamless, there were no custom ... Read More
This was the second of back to back cruises on this ship. The first was around the British Isles and this one was to Scandinavia. Both cruises started and ended in Dover. Transit arrangements were seamless, there were no custom clearance requirements at Dover. We could stay on the ship or walk on and off anytime we pleased. As I reported on my British Isles cruise review, the ship is great. The small ship means everything is close, the crew seem less stressed than on the larger ships, and the food is also just that little bit better than on the larger ships. The highlight of the cruise was St Petersburg. We were right near the end of the tourist season, which meant less crowds at the popular attractions. The weather was cold, but there was no rain. We did a private tour through Viator, which used local company SPB tours. We had a small group of 14 which made it easy to get around to all the attractions Other places, which surprised us were Riga and Tallinn. The old town areas in these ports were well preserved and very interesting to visit. Copenhagen and Stockholm were other interesting ports. Helsinki did not have much going for it, but that could have been that it was the first port after spectacular St Petersburg. Disembarkation was a straight forward process. A lot of people were staying on the ship for the next cruise, which meant it took less than 15 minutes to clear the ship, pick up luggage and head out of the terminal. Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
This was a Mystery Cruise the only clues we had were the vague descriptions of excursions in 4 ports one of which was overnight. The Captain gave us confusing descriptions each day from 28 Deg in our next Port to Heading for Florida, 12 or ... Read More
This was a Mystery Cruise the only clues we had were the vague descriptions of excursions in 4 ports one of which was overnight. The Captain gave us confusing descriptions each day from 28 Deg in our next Port to Heading for Florida, 12 or 18 knots overnight speed etc. Our electronics were no help. Everyone woke up one morning with a message on their Mobile giving the cost of calls from the USA ! The ShipMate App could not find us. We ended up visiting Oslo, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and overnight in Amsterdam. His weather button worked a treat we had excellent weather in each port and other than Gothenburg were able to walk into town (City). Neptune was sleeping so our time at sea was extremely smooth even though we were in the vicinity of the Viking Sky. Definitely a cruise for the "Older" cruiser, the entertainment was average but the intrigue was excellent throughout the ship. Some did not even realise we were in Amsterdam just as we were docking !. Our Cabin was one of the best we have had for the Class with the exception of the Showerhead. Chinese Water Punishment comes to mind. The staff were excellent and the new updated IT facilities made a big difference. The ship is 74 years old but has been well preserved. Nothing like a Mega ship but enough space to find your own comfort area when needed. Would we go again...Yes ! Read Less
Sail Date March 2019
We choose this cruise because of the itinerary and the fact it sails from Dover, close to where we live. We had never been to 4 of the ports, and so were looking for new experiences, we had visited 3 already, so knew what we wanted. We ... Read More
We choose this cruise because of the itinerary and the fact it sails from Dover, close to where we live. We had never been to 4 of the ports, and so were looking for new experiences, we had visited 3 already, so knew what we wanted. We had cruised last year with FO to Norway...what a difference! Good bits....the restaurant staff were the usual helpful, attentive and able selves. Embarkation at Dover was simple and fuss free Some of the places we moored were excellent....Las Palmas, Funchal, Lisbon and Vigo...close to the town, and not too grotty. Of course FO need to moor where the port allocates them. One of the lecturers was very good...low key, but accurate and interesting. Adequate....food of a lower standard than the Norway cruise.....desserts at lunchtime very poor, better at dinner. Menu OK, but unimaginative...maybe suited the age and nationality profile of many of the passengers. House wine no better than adequate, at OK prices. Cabin fine, not too good in rough weather (force 9) but not a problem. Poor.....some meals were just bad, or weird. Schnitzel with peas and carrots? One day was awful: I complained, but got no real response. Customer service desk was hopeless....defensive and not given any updates on pool problems etc. Shore tours laughably overpriced. To ask for £10 per person for the shuttle from the ship to Arrecife (on a Sunday, when the town is closed) is taking the mickey...its buried in the T & Cs, apparently. Arrival at Vigo as Siesta time is starting and departing at 5 pm is incomprehensible. One lecturer was inaccurate, a little Englander and mumbled. No, we will not use FO again for a sea cruise Read Less
Sail Date March 2019
The ship is the smallest and oldest in the Princess fleet. After many cruises this one was somewhat disappointing. The main issue was the dining. The food and service was sub-par and not up to the standards of most other cruises we have ... Read More
The ship is the smallest and oldest in the Princess fleet. After many cruises this one was somewhat disappointing. The main issue was the dining. The food and service was sub-par and not up to the standards of most other cruises we have been on. The cabin was what I expected and did have a lot of storage. The bed was comfortable. The bathroom was especially challenging to use with water leaking out every time we used the shower. We were especially disappointed that we entirely skipped one port due to weather. No substitution just a port missed. We had an unlimited drink special and were made to feel like criminals every time we asked for a drink. I think a sticker or special cup or something would be better than the stewards having to take your card to go check every time you want a drink would be much better. I specifically will not chose a trip with this ship again. Read Less
Sail Date October 2018
I wanted a trip that my young nephews could go on and so could older members of the family through Saga. The average age of passengers was probably 70 but there were a few younger folk. The ship ran a 'Young Skippers Club' ... Read More
I wanted a trip that my young nephews could go on and so could older members of the family through Saga. The average age of passengers was probably 70 but there were a few younger folk. The ship ran a 'Young Skippers Club' which catered for children 5-11 and this worked very well even though there were only 10 in it the 2 staff worked very hard. The ship itself could do with a bit of an update some of the carpets were threadbare and sometimes there were the odd strange smells (possibly sewage and petrol or cleaning fluid). My cabin was a single inside one so no porthole. It was quite small but adequate. Air conditioning actually worked in fact I couldn't turn it down but that was ok for me and it was quite noisy. Food was very good and the small swimming pools and hot tubs were a hit with the kids. There were shuttle buses running to and from the ports every 15 mins which were a great help. Read Less
Sail Date August 2018
A first experience of a Saga cruise - for a child-free quiet holiday. Much enjoyed. The standard and quality of the ship and what it offers compares well with our experience of Cunard. The incentive of chauffeur-driven transport to and ... Read More
A first experience of a Saga cruise - for a child-free quiet holiday. Much enjoyed. The standard and quality of the ship and what it offers compares well with our experience of Cunard. The incentive of chauffeur-driven transport to and from Dover was very appealing and worked perfectly. The cabin was very spacious and comfortable (without balcony - but that was our choice and they are a lot less of them on the Saga ships). The steward was attentive and looked after our cabin well throughout the cruise. The dining experience was excellent throughout. Lunch and dinner were accompanied by good wines so that it was not necessary to purchase off the wine list. I was most impressed that the evening when "reserved" table service was suspended due to planning for a late night buffet after the return of those passengers who had attended the Edinburgh tattoo, but the maitre d' approached us and kept our table for us (we had chosen to dine on a smaller table for each meal). Very relieved and amazed that he remembered to do this for us. A great plus. WE didn't attend much of the "formal" entertainment: though some of it happens more casually around the ship during the "Edinburgh Fringe" theme of the cruise. What we saw and heard was very good - just not our "social scene". My gripe about all the cruises we have been on - the dress code is clearly explained both before and during the event. At least one evening is "formal" - so why can't people abide by this rule? Evening dress means evening dress - not just a jacket with a bow-tie! The ladies (generally) make the effort - why can't the men? Even on the less formal nights, I feel it would be polite to wear a jacket even if no tie is worn. Saga doesn't have a policy of certain parts of the shop being free from these rules (unlike Cunard) so people ought to come prepared for the whole "experience". The trips we went on were well organised, and well executed with some excellent guides (esp. the trip to see Hadrian's Wall and Chesters). Saga didn't make much of visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia as we were docked right by it. But we made a private visit and it is well worth seeing. Perhaps the ship ought to make more of this - by planning "blocked booking" for the ship's passengers as clearly it gets very busy and the queues looked long at times (luckily we went first thing in the morning). Overall. a very good experience - though (personally) I did find the age-profile rather higher than I was expecting and it did slow-up (particularly) the trips on coaches on days in port. Some people had clearly not read the notification that there was walking involved. Getting (older) people on and off coaches takes time (and effort): so planning for a "ten minute stop" to see one site actually took thirty minutes!! This timing needs to be built into the programme as at times things seemed rushed. Some of the passengers were disappointed about the Edinburgh Tattoo - expecting to be able to obtain tickets - either privately or via Saga - only to find they were sold out. A shame if this was the sole reason who had come on this particular cruise. But we enjoyed what we saw and experienced. Thank you. Read Less
Sail Date August 2018
This is our second cruise on Boudicca since her refit and we have noticed several "economy measures" this year. Gine are the chocolate left on the pillow with the turn down service, more often or not its a boled sweet instead, ... Read More
This is our second cruise on Boudicca since her refit and we have noticed several "economy measures" this year. Gine are the chocolate left on the pillow with the turn down service, more often or not its a boled sweet instead, a humbug is not quite the same Fred! Trimmings in the cocktails , a pina colada with no cherry just a slice of pineapple and a leaf. No theme nights such as Indian, Chinese or Asian but still they persist in the dreadful "British Night", probably as an excuse to serve cheap food such as bangers and mash and cottage pie. Personally I find the concept of elderly, overweight women in John Bull bowler hats and waistcoats singing Land of Hope and Glory quite nauseating, particularly as my husband is Irish. How would they feel if he acepted the invitation of wearing national costume by coming dressed as a leprechaun singing The Wearing of the Green, after all fancy dress is fancy dress! Read Less
Sail Date June 2018
During the bleak November short evenings an e mail arrived in my inbox from Fred Olsen advertising a mystery cruise for 5 days over Easter. Where were we going ? Don't know! So of course we booked on! Driving down to Dover from ... Read More
During the bleak November short evenings an e mail arrived in my inbox from Fred Olsen advertising a mystery cruise for 5 days over Easter. Where were we going ? Don't know! So of course we booked on! Driving down to Dover from the Midlands is always fraught with delay so we went down the day before and stayed at the Best Western Hotel on the seafront. Nice hotel and a good bar meal. Taking a walk I looked over to the port and there was the Boudicca, tied up in the docks. Over breakfast we could see the steady arrival of lorries replenishing the ship which had been undergoing a refit for the previous two weeks. We boarded at 2:30 pm after a trouble free check in. We had a wheelchair and were taken on to the ship with as much help as we needed. A quick visit to the Secret Garden on deck 6 supplied the first of our tea and cake stops. There were sandwiches for those who were more hungry. The lifeboat drill was our first event and it passed the time until dinner. I was getting a little worried as the ship was getting underway and our bags were not in the cabin. However I need not have worried as they turned up shortly afterwards. Our first port if call was Ghent in Belgium which is a pretty town and accessible for visitors. There is a chocolate shop there where you can see chocolates being made and they are the best in Belgium. There was a shuttle bus from the port and our driver was a star getting the large coach through the narrow turnings and obstacles. The second port was Amsterdam which we accessed by a taxi. It was really busy and a frightening experience, but we are glad we went as we have never seen so many bikes. To be honest I never want to see that many again. Rotterdam was accessed by the port shuttle bus and was quite nice with an outdoor market and an indoor food hall but I think quite a lot of the town was shut as it was a Bank holiday. However we came back laden with cheese. We booked two outside cabins on deck 3 with port holes. We like deck 3 as it is the evenest place to be on the ship when the weather is bad. It is also good when the boarding is at deck 3. Boudicca is a small ship which means that you can find anything you want and you don't lose your family or friends for too long! We tend to hang around the same areas such as the library so we can find each other. The ship has had some changes since we were on her in August. Most noticeable is the Indian Ocean Restaurant which is now a light and airy place to eat and the oriental tea room on the way to the Neptune lounge. Again this is light and airy. There is a new TV system which seemed to work and had some reasonably new films on it. There did not seem to be the controlled chaos which followed the first trip on Black Watch after the refit . ( We were on that too) There is no 24 hour dining on Fred Olsen ships but I can't think why people want it anyway. Breakfast is available in either the main restaurants or the Secret garden at the times displayed in the Daily Times. There is probably everything to eat that you have at home and everything that you could wish for, from cold meat, cereals and porridge through to the full English. Lunch is a choice, you can go to the buffet and choose what you wish yourself or the waiters will serve you. We tend to do a mixture of both as my husband is very keen on the soup which is waiter service only. Afternoon tea is served in the Secret Garden which is the self service restaurant and is available without booking. There are a selection of sandwiches and cakes for those who have an appetite. Following this there is dinner which can be a 5 course extravaganza if that's what you fancy. There are limited options to choose from but the food is usually good or excellent and I have yet to find an equal at home. There is a supper club but I am usually tucked up in bed by then. Service is good in the restaurant and the bars and I noted that there were staff taken on to provide some activities for children. Would we go again? You bet! Would we go on a mystery cruise? Yes! Read Less
Sail Date March 2018
Once upon a time I was working at a shipping agency in a South American port, when a brand-new ship come into port. It was the Crown Odyssey, which belonged to the Royal Cruise Line and we were appointed agents for four calls during ... Read More
Once upon a time I was working at a shipping agency in a South American port, when a brand-new ship come into port. It was the Crown Odyssey, which belonged to the Royal Cruise Line and we were appointed agents for four calls during February and March 1989. The ship impressed even the experienced pilots by its easy manoeuvrability. Visitors and passengers were also impressed by the then ultra-modern décor, which was a bit dark and made extensive use of mirrors and brass surfaces. I recall that the authorities were received on what was called Theo’s Bar (Theo been a well-known barman for that line) and the entrance to it had a curved space, full of mirrors and in the middle a peacock on a golden cage. The whole peacock was covered by fibre optics which made it change its colours every minute or so. Nothing new nowadays but then it was a wow factor. Fast forward 28 years and I find myself, from the Western Heights in Dover, looking at the now Balmoral. The ship has been stretched and the colours have changed as well as a spa added to what was an open deck before (and spoilt her lovely lines besides making her top heavy… Thanks NCL…). And soon I was on my way to board the ship for a cruise to Northern Spain, calling at four ports which would be new to me. Unfortunately, Dover was not giving its best impression. I arrived the day before, stayed in a lovely guesthouse, but the town looked sad, with the High-Street empty on a Saturday and many shop spaces closed for good and for some time. Quite different from the town I used to visit 15 years ago. The cruise terminal is, in a way, walkable from the main train station (Dover Priory – about 30 minutes away), but Dover has a shuttle bus which operates on days when cruise ships are in town with transit passengers, and, at 2 GBP, it made sense to take on their offer. It departs from near the Museum (which is worth visiting) and drops passengers on Terminal 2, which is close to Terminal 1. So, after checking in my luggage, went in and sat in the lounge which was not crowded. The cruise terminal is a modern building and they do offer some catering. I was soon called to check in and not long after to embark. It was a bit of an emotional moment to approach the main hall on deck 6 once again. The Balmoral was to be one of two ships built at Meyer in Papenburg (then at the beginning of their stellar success in building passenger ships) but the sister was cancelled. At that time, it was on a fleet with the Golden Odyssey which was a charming yacht-like ship. Nowadays Balmoral is in a fleet with another three ships, in which it is the ‘youngest’ and the largest. It is a nicely built and comfortable ship carrying not too many passengers, and taking to the seas well. The ship has 8 passenger decks, with classical names like Lido, Bridge, Lounge, etc. My cabin, on deck 3, described as an Ocean View, had two single beds on a L configuration, and it was mostly original (new carpets and curtains). There was a glass table and chair and the wardrobe (mirrored doors) was large enough and there were a lot of storage space and options. The beds, however, are practically fixed on their settings and there was not enough space for my larger suitcase under them but not a major problem. Bathroom was large and original with the shower behind a glass and plastic curtain mix. The stewardess was attentive, efficient and friendly but rarely to be seen, which was not a problem. On the same deck, there was also the medical center (large) and an Arts & Crafts Room (which was used mostly for games but had almost a daily programme for it). Decks 3, 4,5, 6, 8,9 and 10 are almost exclusively dedicated to cabins. On deck 6 there is an Main Lobby/Atrium, where there are also the reception, excursions desk, photo shop and a small shop selling toiletries, and also branded items. It also has access to the MDR Ballindalloch (aft), which operates two sittings for dinner and open sitting for breakfast and lunch. This restaurant, apart from chairs and carpet, is mostly original with mirrors on walls and stained glass on ceiling. Deck 7 has a lovely wraparound promenade deck with real wood flooring. It can get a bit narrow at certain points but it was a pleasant (and popular) spot for sun bathing or watch the manoeuvres, etc. This is also the Lounge Deck, with the Neptune Lounge forward (the show lounge, which also incorporates what was Theo’s Bar), the boutiques and the future cruises desk (surrounding the staircase that leads to the reception lobby, mostly original with lots of brass and glass), the card room (a popular place where bridge classes took place), a kind of gallery with some comfortable sitting which, at times, reminded me of a similar space on QE2, the Bookmark Café (another popular venue, which included the nice library where summary of the news were copied and distributed at midday), the Morning Light Pub (a nice venue but more like a lounge than a pub) and the Palms Café which is the buffet venue, operating where the Yacht Club was in the times of Crown Odyssey (the pictures of the yachts are still there). The Café had a kind of veranda lido at the back, in which the glass doors were fully opened on warm days and leading to the swimming pool and Jacuzzis aft, with plenty of open deck space around it. One deck above is where the Lido Lounge is, a venue for quizzes, music and dancing which looked a bit dark but worked well in the evenings. It occupies what used to be three venues when the ship was new: the card room, a cinema and a small lounge also called Lido. A conservatory style area, at the back of the Lido Lounge was a very popular area on sunny days, with comfortable seating and a bar nearby. On deck 10 one can find the Spa and gym forward, with some nice views but unfortunately no sauna, and two other restaurants, Speyer and Avon, with modern décor, good space, and nice looking seats (although some were a bit stained, which is a normal part of wear and tear). These restaurants occupy what was before an open deck space for the then only set of balcony cabins which were also the top suites. Nowadays the ship has a variety of balcony cabins to offer, although most of the external cabins are window only. Deck 11 houses the Observatory Lounge (a popular venue day and night, which used to be like a night club on the times of Royal Cruise Line and still retain some original features), with excellent views, forward. Aft there is a charming bar called Marquee Bar which feels just like swimming pool bars used to feel once upon a time. Here one finds another swimming pool as well and another set of Jacuzzis as well as lots of open deck space. Aft there is space for deck games. The other passengers were 95% British with some small numbers of other nationalities with very few children. The passenger profile was almost entirely elderly, experienced cruisers which enjoy some of the old-fashioned traditions that Fred Olsen still offers. They also come for the service, which is attentive, not pushy, friendly and adaptable to some pax restrictions. The food was good, some British traditional dishes as well as the occasional modern creation. It all worked well and the Gala menus were not too extensive but well done. There was an extra tariff offer (The Grill, occupying a space on the aft part of the Palms Café) but have not spoken to anyone who tried it. I had an excellent table for dinner, all solo cruisers, but varied a bit the venue for breakfast and lunch. Entertainment was good, given the limitations of the lounge which is more than 20 years old, and Fred Olsen is good in bringing varieties (lectures, comedians, musicians, dance troupe) and has an excellent orchestra. There were also daily quizzes, trivia, bridge classes, deck games, etc. The cruise itinerary was: Dover – La Coruna – Gijon – Santader – Bilbao and back to Dover From La Coruna, I took a ship excursion to visit the famous Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral, etc. A journey worth doing. Unfortunately, by the time we came back to the ship there was no time to visit La Coruna, which is a pity as it looked like a nice town. Gijon is an important port in Asturias, with a small, but interesting historical city centre, the rest of a fortress up in the hill (with great views of town and sea) as well as a nice city centre beach. It has also the remains of a Roman Bath underneath the historical centre which is one of its main attractions. Santander is the main port for Cantabria and a dynamic city, which suffered a horrendous fire in 1941 which destroyed a good deal of its historical centre. Nevertheless, it still has an impressive cathedral (with a lower church as well), some modern and nice museums (the maritime museum is definitely worth a visit and has a nice terrace overlooking the sea), as well as the Magdalena Peninsula where a palace was built for the King and Queen of Spain in 1908 (at that time Queen Victoria Eugenia, a British born princess of the Battenberg line). It is a large construction now occupied by the local university (the royal family gave the property back to the city in 1977). Near the palace one can see some amazing mansions, mostly around a century old. Getxo, a lovely and upmarket suburb of Bilbao was our last port of call in Spain. From there it is easy to reach Bilbao on the underground line and the journey is worth it. Bilbao is another dynamic city, with a lovely historical center (which suffered a disastrous flood in 1983), some imposing buildings, as well as the famous Guggenheim Museum (great building but the collection failed to impress me). It Is mostly walkable but there is a good service of trams and buses. I had pintxos (the local version of tapas) at the restored market, by the river, which is also an impressive building. The weather was sunny for most of the cruise and the ship sailed smoothly for almost all the cruise (a bit more rolling when crossing the Bay of Biscay on the way to Coruna but that was mild compared to other Biscay crossings) Service was excellent in the cabin, which was kept spotless, restaurants, a bit slow on the bars but still ok, and the usual hit and miss at the buffet and open deck areas but almost not noticeable. Staff was mostly friendly and came from a variety of countries, majority from the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Disembarkation was ok, on time and smooth apart from the fact that the taxi queue took a bit too long as some pax had pre-ordered taxis (and there are not that many in Dover). One could walk to the station but it was windy, relatively cold and with some drops of rain. The way to Heathrow was by train to central London and the underground. Odd to think that there is no direct link between Dover, the main channel port and Heathrow, one of the largest airports in the world but then again it was never my favourite London airport and with good reason. It has a chapel near Terminal 2, which has some touching plaques recalling past employees but also the crew of the Pan Am flight which was brought down over Lockerbie. Some nice restaurants airside on this terminal too. Fred Olsen, at times, charges well more than the mass tourism cruise companies but it also delivers more. The ships are of a good size, so the restaurant is hardly a long walk from a cabin, the entertainment is good and suitable for its passenger profile. Food is superior than the one found on the mass tourism ones and service is generally better. It makes it easier for its pax by naming the lounges with the same name on different ships (Neptune, Lido, Morning Light) and keeping the décor on similar lines. Comfortable seats everywhere and some items from the family art collection (mostly modern) gives it almost a homely feeling and I would say it works given the high number of repeat passengers. All in all a company which is going against the trend of the industry (bigger newer ships which one day risk over capacity) and succeeding by serving the market it has chosen well. Read Less
Sail Date May 2017
Mid-size ship (650 passengers) that went to a lot of ports I'd never visited, at a beautiful time of year. The cruise completely lived up to its title - European Explorer - and its excellent reputation. I had special diet requests, ... Read More
Mid-size ship (650 passengers) that went to a lot of ports I'd never visited, at a beautiful time of year. The cruise completely lived up to its title - European Explorer - and its excellent reputation. I had special diet requests, and they were met and exceeded. The excursions were all wonderful. The captain properly avoided one port because of stormy weather and the crew adapted beautifully to the change in itinerary. The Princess cruise line appeals to Baby Boomers and older, and its activities and entertainment meet that demographic. There were a very few young adults and teenagers on board, and they had to make do with the ping pong table, fitness center and track. "Strenuous" excursions involved a fair amount of walking and some steps. I travelled solo and was one of very few passengers who did so. The cruise held a couple of get togethers for such solos but few attended. And I had a lovely time - A cruise full of wonderful memories for me. Read Less
Sail Date September 2016
We wanted to treat our family group of 12 to a mini cruise which would involve no expense whatsoever to them, and stumbled across Saga with whom we had never considered cruising before, despite having enjoyed over 25 cruises with 9 lines. ... Read More
We wanted to treat our family group of 12 to a mini cruise which would involve no expense whatsoever to them, and stumbled across Saga with whom we had never considered cruising before, despite having enjoyed over 25 cruises with 9 lines. A dedicated group travel consultant at Saga dealt with every aspect of our booking. Cabins were reserved without deposit until bookings were confirmed, and there was a group booking discount of one free place. He was also the point of contact for any queries we had before sailing. Much more than usual was included in the price of this cruise- free travel insurance for us all including several of our party with medical conditions which normally attract a considerable premium, chauffeur service to and from Dover or free parking for those who choose to drive themselves, all on board gratuities, free 24 hour room service, bottled water and packed lunches for those on excursions, free shuttle buses in all ports, free Wi-Fi, and generous helpings from a choice of over 10 wines or soft drinks at lunch and dinner. The published cost of the cruise may appear to be higher than on some lines, but is offset by the included extras, and several of our group disembarked with a "nil" on board account. We sailed from Dover in warm sunshine, sipping complimentary champagne and were treated to a surprise flying display by a WW2 Spitfire, and Vera Lynn singing The White Cliffs of Dover. Cabins were clean and comfortable with adequate storage, fridge, T.V and DVD player, and even pillow chocolates. Bathrobes, good showers and full sized bottles of toiletries were provided. Saga Pearl caters to the over 50's and carries a maximum of 450 passengers and 250 officers and crew who were unfailingly helpful and friendly. The atmosphere is relaxed and sociable but even on this 4 night cruise there was one formal night, giving the opportunity to dress up if one wished. Entertainment was low-key, as there is no theatre and the on board singers performed in the Discovery Lounge. On the final evening we were treated to a performance by Beyond the Barricade. The library carries a huge array of books and magazines to which you are trusted to help yourself, and there is a small cinema, gym, and beauty salon. One of the most impressive features of the cruise was the fabulous food which was outstanding in both variety and quality. Seating is mainly open, but as a group, we were allocated two tables for six, and a very good selection of gluten free was offered in addition to a diabetic menu. Having experienced Cunard Queen’s Grill and Silversea we felt that Saga ’s food was undoubtedly equal, if not superior. We are wondering why it has taken us so long to “discover” Saga, will have no hesitation in recommending them to our friends, and will definitely sail with them again. Read Less
Sail Date July 2016
We chose the Grand Voyage to the Rivieras (London to Rome) on Aegean Odyssey in June-July 2016 because it was a small ship which promised an educational program and visits to antiquities. Selecting a four week cruise was always going to be ... Read More
We chose the Grand Voyage to the Rivieras (London to Rome) on Aegean Odyssey in June-July 2016 because it was a small ship which promised an educational program and visits to antiquities. Selecting a four week cruise was always going to be a stretch for us because we usually prefer a more active style of holiday, however the itinerary indicated that we would primarily be in port participating in excursions during each day except for 3 days at sea and the fact that the ship was small enough to dock in smaller harbours adjacent to old towns really appealed to us. The reality was quite different and very disappointing. Excursions: The pace of the excursion program was much too slow for us (we are in our middle 60's and are fit and active) seeming to cater for infirm, older passengers who don't like to be inconvenienced by getting up and out early and who have an inherent fear of stairs and walking any distance greater than 100m. The excursion organisation seemed at times to be poorly coordinated. We have been on other shorter cruises where within moments of the boat docking in port, passengers were whisked away to coaches on their excursions with no time wasted. On the Aegean, shore excursions rarely started before 9am even though the ship had docked hours earlier. Most of the shore excursion staff were young and seemed disinterested and inexperienced in customer service and public relations. The shore visits we enjoyed most were when the ship docked within walking distance of the old town and we could do our own walking tour. Just something to note: We booked our cruise in Australia with the price quoted in Australian dollars yet the booklet provided to us by the Australian agent which outlined shore excursions had the cost listed in $ but did not specify which country. Having been provided the information in Australia we presumed that the excursion price was Australian dollars but how wrong we were. On boarding we discovered that the excursion prices were actually American dollars. With the exchange rate that means they cost much more than we anticipated and really equates to false advertising...Beware! Cabin: We booked Room 711 a Premium Outside Room which had a fixed double bed and a view restricted by a lifeboat but which was in the middle of the ship for stability and well away from the propeller. Even still the vibration could be felt in our room. This old ship does not have the stabilisers that newer ships have so it certainly rocks and rolls even in a small swell which meant that we missed one scheduled port because the captain chose to travel away from the coast to make the boat more stable. The ship also travels considerably slower (9-15 knots) compared to larger ships which travel up to 23 knots. On viewing other rooms we were glad that we did not spend further money on larger rooms as they didn't seem worth it. The room and ensuite we chose were more spacious than we were expecting. I have rated the cabin average because the towels were stained, white-grey in colour and often with frayed edges and should have been tossed out ages ago. Ship: The Aegean is an ageing ship which struggled to provide the premium quality experience we paid for and which was advertised. While we did not have any real problems, other guests shared their experiences of burst water pipes, continuously flushing toilets , sewerage seepage. It seems unbelievable that a cruise ship which includes river ports in its itinerary is actually incapable of processing the silt from the river. The two days we were in port in Bordeaux we had to "manually flush" our toilets with a bucket because the water to the toilet cisterns was turned off because the silt was causing problems in the plumbing. I don't recall that being mentioned in the promotional information! Add to that the fact that we were only cruising half-an-hour from embarking in Dover when we had to man our muster stations for two hours while the fire crew put out a fire in the engine room. The ship is due to go into dry-dock in November 2016 but I doubt that anything short of a re-build will solve the problems long-term. Ports: Due to the fire our itinerary, excursions and service were all compromised. While the crew did their best to manage the situation by providing an open bar (a bit lost on us because we don't drink alcohol) and hot water was limited to a couple of hours each day. The fact that we were docked in an unscheduled port for three days while the ship underwent repairs meant we were unable to participate in a number of excursions and a number of ports were eliminated which was very disappointing to say the least. We have been promised compensation for this loss but at the time of disembarking, no one would specify what the compensation would actually would be, which is a poor response. Dining: Meals in the Terrace Cafe did not meet our expectations with most food bland, and soft. We like more texture and taste in our food. Again, the ship was probably catering to the geriatrics that were on board. When booking our cruise we identified that we were vegetarians but somehow that information was not recorded by hotel services and never passed on to the shore excursion staff. That meant when we were invited to attend a special meal in the Marco Polo Restaurant we RSVP'd requesting two vegetarian meals BUT what we got was they just skipped the three seafood courses meaning we got less than everyone else... really! Even though I directly advised the shore excursion staff each time our excursion included a meal that we needed vegetarian food, it took a full two weeks before the message was acted upon. Crew: The hospitality and service crew were from the usual mix of Asian countries and were always friendly, helpful and went out of their way to please. Entertainment and Activities: The Cruise Director, Richard Sykes,was a bundle of energy who never seemed to sleep and seamlessly coordinated the entertainment as well as contributing to the program himself. The expert speakers were entertaining, intelligent and interesting. The Library provided a country-specific news summary every day which was useful given that the WiFi was woeful and there were plenty of books, both light reading and educational available. We would not choose to cruise with Voyages to Antiquity again because the style of cruising, the clientele it attracts and the intense focus on antiquity, does not suit us. Read Less
Sail Date June 2016
Cabin 7020 is a large cabin that has been created by joining two cabins. Cabin 7022 is missing from the deck plan. Though big there is a lot of waste space. The cabin that would be the original 7020 has no window but an angled outer wall ... Read More
Cabin 7020 is a large cabin that has been created by joining two cabins. Cabin 7022 is missing from the deck plan. Though big there is a lot of waste space. The cabin that would be the original 7020 has no window but an angled outer wall leaving a recess that is unfurnished and of no use. Though there was a lot of space to use the design is unimaginative and the bathroom that juts into the cabin between the two original ones is minute even though there was enough to create something more appropriate for the suite that would also improve the layout of the room. In the bathroom you have to breath in to close the door. That is not quite true but toweling yourself dry after a shower is a restrained exercise. There is no bath. There were no loose amenities but soap and body lotion by Cole and Lewis, London, (no, me neither) are in bottles fixed to the wall and in the shower there is also some shampoo. There is a very large balcony that has an interesting shape and is furnished with recliners, chairs and a table. It is an attractive feature. The deck above overhangs the whole of the balcony so it will be shaded for much of the day. The room is silent and free of all engine noise and vibration. Very few sounds are heard from elsewhere. It was a northern cruise in cool weather so the open deck above with pools and loungers,was not used but occasional footfalls were heard and they could be more persistent in warm weather. The beds were comfortable though the pillows are very soft without much bulk. Loads of electrical outlets are scattered about. Storage is generous with plenty of drawer and hanging space and more hangers than could be used. The TV is wall mounted quite high up alongside the bed. It is a small screen, about 23" though not measured, and viewed from the opposite side of the double cabin the distance is too great for really comfortable viewing. Though the design is unimaginative and the bathroom pokey it is a comfortable room and we would be happy to use it again. FOOD The menus are attractively put together and you can eat well but not entirely consistently. The variability reduces the best grade to four star. The chef's strong point is soups and meats and we enjoyed good Beef Wellington, duck, lamb shank and liver cooked Berlin style, as well as steak sandwiches. These were up to five star cruise standard. Fish was not so successful and on the two occasions I tried it was overcooked. Salads were excellent, crisp, bright and interesting with well made dressings. Vegetables were variable and often overcooked, broccoli which seemed to feature on most main dishes, was cooked until it had lost its colour and become limp and tasteless. Mashed potato was a mystery that shouldn't be allowed. It was part of many evening main courses and was consistently left untouched without any of the staff asking why. The baker produced wonderful croissants and good breads. The scones get only a 3/10. Maybe a only British housewife who makes just a small batch at a time can make the perfect one. On board, they were over mixed, dense and leaden, smooth and shiny buns and to make matters worse were served with jam and a white substitute cream. My best guess is that it was made with milk powder and a little water frothed up with nitrous oxide gas.Dreadful. Pastries were rather hit and miss. We enjoyed some fine tarts for desserts but the Sherry Trifle served on British Night was disowned by all the Brits on the table. The pastry lid for the rather fine steak and Guiness pie was an under cooked dough. Tea during breakfast and after the other meals was served from flasks. Refills were frequent and were always hot. The tea served was Twinings made with tea bags. There was a good selection of tea bags if you preferred to make your own. We did not purchase a drinks package but bought wine by the glass from the list. The list was a five star creation of wines by the bottle or by the glass and the prices were modest. We had some good stuff. People on the drinks package could purchase wine from the list at half price. LIFTS There were two lifts forward and two aft. A total of four in all. One or other lift was frequently out of service and very occasionally both lifts forward or aft were out together. PASSENGERS The cruise out of Dover to the German Hanseatic Ports was sold as an Adults Only one. The ship seemed fully booked and most if not all the passengers were from Britain. They were also quite elderly and I spotted maybe four or so who might have been under forty. Most were well over that and mobility aids were in good use. They put a high demand on the available lifts. CREW The hotel staff is 80% Filipino and without exception the ones we met in the room, restaurants and bars were as pleasant and accommodating as any we have met on any other cruise. LECTURES I missed the first two lectures on the ports that were to be first on our itinerary. They were in the morning about 10am. We had two full sea days before the first port and with the clock going forward soon after sailing I though it was an opportunity to take things easy. Also, even though it was not stormy, the North Sea was lumpy and the ship's motion on day one was unpleasant. I heard that the first lecture was delivered seated. I preferred a more horizontal position myself with a late breakfast in the room but nevertheless the theater was full for the lectures. No bio of the lecturer was published in the ship's daily programme so I have no idea who he was. The talks had good practical information including help for those who were inclined towards DIY visits avoiding the organised tours. PA ANNOUNCEMENTS At sea these were limited to the Captain's noon report. A very good arrangement that some other companies might take note of. SAFETY DRILL DOT sports, the muster drill, was briefed in detail on how to enter the lifeboats and what to expect. There would be 150 on board each and they would be crowded but there would be a seat for all. Soon after launching a seasick pill would be issued to all on board. Once one person threw up it would be followed by more. The briefer was asked what the pills were but was not able to answer. Some of the older passengers said that they were unlikely to take unknown medication, presumably because they were on a complex regime already. PORTS The cruise began with two sea days and dinner was formal on the second night. In the Grampian Restaurant (the smaller of the two restaurants) at the second sitting almost all the men were in black tie. The first port was Flensburg which sits on the border between Germany and Denmark. The berth was about 3k from the town centre and two shuttle buses were laid on (fee). Boarding cards for the bus departing the ship were issued and passengers were called when theirs was loading. It took about an hour for us to get away after we were ready. Flensburg is a compact Northern German town that could be explored easily in two or three hours. From its time as one of the important Hanseatic ports it is proud of its association with rum from the West Indies. Most of the restaurants serving lunch seemed to be cafes and fast food outlets so it would have been a good idea to have done some research beforehand if something more formal or German was preferred. Travemunde is a small seaside town at the mouth of the River Trave and is now a suburb of Lubeck. The ship moored in the centre of town and it was a ten minute walk to the rail station. There was an hourly train into Lubeck (22 mins) but alternatively there was a half hourly bus (40 mins). The Old Town of Lubeck is a UN World Heritage site. It sits on an island in the river and is a ten minute walk from the station and the bus terminal. When Germany was divided into East and West the line ran through the Old Town. The pedestrian signals at various traffic lights were still a mix of former East or West German styles and give the visitor some idea what the town was like before reunification. The town is renowned for Marzipan and Niederegger's shop in the Market Place is a must-see. The marzipan is a paler shade than the more yellow paste seen in the UK and has a less intense almond flavour. The Marienkirsch , also in the same area, is one of the most beautifully impressive medieval churches in Europe. The Ratskeller, below the Town Hall, is a warren of cubicles where you can get a good, if simple, lunch. They had an English menu and the big thing was schnitzels and also asparagus. No sausages nor saurkraut of any description on this menu and nor were they seen on any in Flensburg. I thought sausages were a staple of all German restaurants. Lubeck has a community-wide free WiFi service with a good signal in most places (Not in the Ratskellar) Thirty hours in Hamburg saw us alongside at the Cruise Terminal that is well served by a U-Bahn station and two bus routes. The full day was on a Sunday that was also May Day and the City was quieter than usual. The final port was Bremen which is several hours cruise up river from Bremerhaven. The berth was in an industrial area about twenty minutes by frequent tram from the Old Town. A shuttle bus connected the berth to the tram. Lubeck (from Travemunde) followed closely by Bremen were our two best ports. The long stopover in Hamburg coincided with a Sunday that was also a Public Holiday so lacked some of the buzz of a working city and put extra pressure on the attractions that were open. Flensburg is very compact and it was the one port where we might have benefitted from an organised tour. Read Less
Sail Date May 2016
Overall a good cruise, but we will not be tempted to sail anywhere from Dover in the future! It's access and the lack of decent hotels and taxis in the area is an absolute nightmare. As we were travelling down by train the day before ... Read More
Overall a good cruise, but we will not be tempted to sail anywhere from Dover in the future! It's access and the lack of decent hotels and taxis in the area is an absolute nightmare. As we were travelling down by train the day before the cruise we wanted a hotel in Dover, and we booked a sea view room at the Best Western as it was the only way we could be assured that we would not have a trail of lorries outside our window all night. We did not have the lorries but we did have a cars wizzing along the promenade every few minutes (presumably to avoid the busy road to the rear of our hotel). The hotel was also very hot with no air conditioning, so we had to endure either the noise or the extreme heat, so I only got about 4 hours sleep. Our express train to London on the return had people standing from Ashford as there were not enough seats. Also, we had to get a rail replacement bus between Dover and Folkestone and the only way we knew about that is because it was announced on Fred's website - our tickets gave times and journeys to/from Dover with no mention of a bus and different times! The replacement busses were chaotic, being overcrowded with no proper storage space for luggage and there were no directions from the station to the bus stop (and vice versa), yet the bus did not stop outside the station in Folkestone so was very difficult to find. We got a taxi to the port and embarkation worked efficiently as we were prioritised as gold oceans members on freedom fare, so we were soon on board. We have travelled on this ship a number of times before and it is our favourite Fred ship. Luckily the seas were calm as this ship it is not very stable in rough seas, though we had booked a very central cabin in case of that. The staff were excellent as usual and it was good to be back on board what we always find to be a very happy ship, as the staff just continue to work hard and remain happy and pleasant at all times. I would like to particularly mention Somkhit, our cabin stewardess, who kept the cabin spotless and worked very hard throughout the cruise. I would also like to mention Chaider, from the Palms restaurant who is always working hard whenever we saw him on this and previous cruises, yet he always has a friendly smile and greeting for us. Unfortunately we could not book the Grampian for dinner this time, but we were well served in the main restaurant by the staff, many of whom we have met previously and they remembered us. Rommel runs a well organised restaurant service. The public areas of this ship are well maintained and it has a lighter more airy feel than the other Fred Olsen ships as it is slightly more modern. We had booked an inside cabin on deck 4 for this cruise, which I will review below though it was hotter than we would have liked most of the time. There were quizzes and other daytime activities, but we did not partake. We do not often go to the shows either, but we saw part of one by the comedian/magician (Aidan Murphy) on our cabin TV and were not impressed. There was a pianist in the observation lounge and musician in the Morning Light Pub, yet the large seating space in the Bookmark cafe was eerily silent because the Rosario Trio who used to be there is sadly no longer present on this ship. They were always our favourite musicians on board so they were sadly missed by us. The young band, called ‘The Revolverlites’ who played in the Coral were extremely good and were happy for us to use that dancefloor for ‘disco’ style dancing whilst they were playing, so all venues were not taken over purely by the Ballroom dancers as often happens on Fred’s ships. The hot food was disappointing this time, especially compared to what we have previously experienced on Fred’s ships, although the cold buffets for breakfast and lunch were still pretty good. We were on early sitting, but we wanted to eat later on two days because of port times and unfortunately those days were the ones when the Asian and Indian buffets were being served in the Palms restaurant. This meant we had to book ahead for the set time of 8.30pm to eat there rather than just go in as we wished. The food for those special buffets could only be described as bad – we have never had such poor offerings for Indian and Oriental food and it bore no resemblance to food we have eaten either in those countries, or in restaurants in the UK. The only saving grace was the papadoms and the sweets, (apart from the banana fritters which would have been better called Banana soggys). We had taken the AI package this time which, despite the limitations, we found to be adequate for us. We thought the bar service may have been slow as the ship was very full for that cruise, but found it was quite promt, so were pleased about that. There were problems getting served in some areas out on deck, but we have found that to be the case on all Fred Olsen cruises. This was a Maiden Port Mystery Cruise and we had booked because the ports were all maiden calls. I had done a lot of searching the internet and thought I had got all ports identified, but I only got two, which were Wismar and Fredericia. The only ship’s excursion we did was a seal watching boat trip from Lysekil and that was excellent. I got 'seeking seals' right but not the port! The set up was that the ports had always been referred to as "mystery port 1-6" and the trips were known as "mystery trip A to M". We were given a daily sheet as usual the night before, which gave "mystery port x" or a sea day. The trip departures and their meeting times were denoted as "mystery trip x". As we arrived in port, it was either the captain or the cruise director who announced the port name and usually the country, although we had to wait a bit longer for the country one day. The trips were still referred to as "mystery trip x" and we were not told we were looking for seals on our trip until they were sighted – a real mystery trip! A sat nav used on the open decks to determine co ordinates before retiring to bed and a photocopy taken from our atlas of the area around Denmark was also useful from our point of view! I was fairly certain we were going to that area, given the 'clues' we had been given regarding number of countries, UNESCO sites, trip descriptions and Fred's brochures for the next two years showing ports to be visited subsequently. We were obviously heading for Sweden from Fredericia for the last port as we still needed our fourth country and we were going north. We also knew we were in port the next day, with the final day being a sea day . As the ports were all maiden calls for Fred and most were rarely, if at all done by other cruise companies, I will review each port here in detail:- Larvik, Norway This was a bit of a a problem as Fred sent their shuttle busses to the centre of town, which was a shopping area, rather than the sea front which was the tourist area. We also we had no useful tourist information. The sea front area was very pleasant for people who could walk down the steep hill to the sea front and back up to the shuttle bus point as there were things of tourist interest and a couple of bars/restaurants there. There was also a view point and lovely woodland area nearer to the shuttle drop. When we returned to the town centre there was a band playing in the square, so we bought an ice cream from a kiosk and sat in the sun for a while. We enjoyed the port a lot once we found our way round - but we are able bodied, unlike many of Fred’s passengers. If the ship’s shuttle bus had stopped at the sea front and if we had been given good tourist information, I believe many people would have liked this port, but with the circumstances as they were, many people were not happy. It was also a couple of weeks prior to the main tourist season, so a number of tourist facilities were not open, though we liked that as it meant the town was quiet and peaceful. Hundested, Denmark The people of Hundested have to be given 10/10 for trying. They put on displays of Viking fighters and gave us a really good send off with singing, a cannon firing and lots of waving. It was just a shame the facilities are not there to accommodate 800+ cruise passengers at one time. The small local shuttle bus was not easily accessible because there were too many people wanting to use it, and there were no taxis available in the town if you could not get on the shuttle bus. There was also a lack of good bars/cafes, (or even drinks kiosks), were they were needed, (particularly by Knud Rasmussen’s house). Ramussen was an explorer and we paid entrance to the house, but felt there was very little there for the price paid and what information boards were available were mainly in Danish. We had eventually been able to get the shuttle bus to there and after our visit, we walked on to Kikhavn, (an old fishing village), where one of the residents had kindly opened their garden to provide tea and cakes for the Braemar passengers with just a contribution box present. The walk was along a pleasant coastal path and indeed a few people had walked there from the cruise dock. Had we known facilities would have been so limited we would have taken a lot of water or other drinks/snacks with us, but we found our small bottles of water were not enough and there were not even any shops to buy drinks – even at Ramussens house, though there were toilets. Hence we spent much of the day feeling incredibly thirsty as it was a hot day. The immediate port area was an old industrial location which had been developed with craft workshops, a micro brewery and a couple of restaurants. It was heaving with people, which was worse because it was a sunny Sunday with lots of Danish day trippers as well as our ship mates from Braemar. Hence we did not linger in that area. We were the first cruise ship to dock in the new cruise dock, so I expect things will improve in the future, but meanwhile the port is not really suitable for a ship full of cruise passengers – even a small one like Braemar. There was nothing in the town at all for tourists. Nyborg, Denmark This was an exceptionally good port and in our opinion the best of the cruise. It was a beautiful historic town, with many characteristic buildings and also a lovely moat and lake that could easily be accessed from the town by walking through a tunnel under a grass mound by the castle. There was a path along the moat and also plenty of seats so we bought some food from a local shop and returned with a picnic lunch to this lovely area. We also had a couple of drinks in local cafes, all of which were very pleasant. The people in the city had really gone out of their way to make us welcome by opening attractions that are normally closed on the day we visited and letting us have free entry to them. There was a Castle, Water Tower and a really interesting museum. The normal entry charges to those places were not high, so even with payment I would suggest a visit to all or at least some of them would be worthwhile. A special program was printed for us with details of the city and the places I have mentioned. It also had details of walking tours of the city and/or the Castle which we could use if we wanted. Instead we chose to use the comprehensive walking guides which had been made available to us and just stroll around. So there were lots of things to do in the city and it was compact, so it was easy to relax and just enjoy that day, which we did immensely. The people in this city were also very friendly and helpful at all times and there was even free wifi by the tourist information office. I can see it becoming a very popular cruise port in the future, so it was nice to visit now before it gets over run. Wismar, Germany This was quite a touristy, old, Hanseatic city, with a large central square and numerous historic buildings. It was busier and more touristy than Nyborg, but none the less it was a very pleasant place and we had an enjoyable day there. It was easy to pick up tourist information and we visited a couple of churches, which are the main tourist attractions. One old church, which was largely a shell, had a lift to the top of the tower, (which we accessed for a small fee), to get views of the city and the area around. One church had been demolished as the city was in East Germany before the wall came down, so funding had not been available to maintain and renovate it. Despite that recent history, the city as a whole was in very good condition and buildings well maintained now. We visited the ‘Alter Schwede’ bar/restaurant in the square, (which dated from a time when the city was Swedish), and it was impressive. We also went to the ‘Brauhaus am Lohberg zu Wismar’, which is a micro-brewery, not far from the port. As we were due to sail out of the port we were serenaded by a local male choir, (I think with sea shanties), and then a display of soldiers in old costumes firing of a mini cannon. Fredericia, Denmark This was a maiden call for Fred Olsen, but has been visited by some fairly large ships previously. Again a pleasant town, though more a mix of old and new. We followed the walking route we had been given of the town, which also involved walking along some of the grass mounds and along part of the moat which originally formed defences for the city. Hence it was again a chance to be in a city, yet enjoy some pleasant natural areas around. We climbed the White Water Tower for a small charge to get views around, then returned to the town for a drink before returning to the ship. This port was walkable from the ship, so no shuttles needed. Another good send off with an even smaller miniature cannon being fired by soldiers in costume and lots of waving. Lysekil, Sweden This was the port were we went on the excursion which had been billed as a ‘boat trip searching for curious marine mammals’. We were fairly sure it was seals as they are reputed to be curious, (about things), so we went armed with binoculars and a good camera. It was well worth having the binoculars as we got some really good detailed views of the seals. They would still have been visible by eye alone, but not in detail. The boat trip was very good indeed with small, picturesque, rocky islands all around and the captain gave a good commentary both as we were going and quietly when we were within view of the seals. After a quick lunch on board Braemar, we caught the shuttle bus into the town, which was a very pleasant, small town in a picturesque location. Disembarkation was earlier than usual as the ship was then sailing on to Southampton to pick up passengers for the next cruise, so we had to vacate cabins by 7am. As we were so early and there were queues for taxis, we walked back into the town and had a second light breakfast in a café to the side of the Best Western Hotel, before strolling up through the town of Dover to the train station. So overall the cruise was very good and we were pleased with the choice and variety of ports which included a selection of towns, but also quieter, scenic locations. The main reason we sail is for the ports and we do like this ship, so we will undoubtedly sail on her again. We just hope the disappointments, such as the food will regain some of it's previous quality. Read Less
Sail Date May 2016
Having travelled on over 40 different cruise ships since the 1980s and having been on two cruises this year already and not having tried Fred Olsen thought we would give it ago. First impressions were that the ship was very well ... Read More
Having travelled on over 40 different cruise ships since the 1980s and having been on two cruises this year already and not having tried Fred Olsen thought we would give it ago. First impressions were that the ship was very well maintained ,the crew were delightful and we liked the size of the deck 7 suite we had booked but were amazed that instead of a range of toiletries we were supposed to use shampoo etc from bottles screwed to the wall , very 2 star standard. However we did find that the food throughout was excellent and compared favourably with 5 star ships we regularly travel with Entertainment was not "our cup of tea" and the so called classic piano recital was "classics for the masses"and we missed a quiet corner to relax particularly when at sea all day and the lounges were all well occupied The only tour we booked on was spoilt by a thoughtless couple getting back late to the coach and so not giving us enough time at the next location Organisation throughout was flawless and the pre cruise literature was much more helpful than other cruise lines put out as they instead expect to read and print out online Read Less
Sail Date September 2015
Some background before I write this review - we have taken numerous cruises on all levels of ships around the world (small, medium, large, riverboats, etc.) so we have a lot of reference points on what we like and expect as a function of ... Read More
Some background before I write this review - we have taken numerous cruises on all levels of ships around the world (small, medium, large, riverboats, etc.) so we have a lot of reference points on what we like and expect as a function of the price point and the specifics of what the cruise line advertises and offers as compared to their competitors. Having recently traveled on Viking (river cruise in China which we absolutely loved!), we wanted to try another ship with a small number of passengers. After a thorough search, we decided to give Windstar (and the Star Legend) our business - per their advertisement - "fully refurbished boat, approximately 200 passengers, gourmet food and wine, world class gym, elegant staterooms and unique and memorable shore excursions'. So let's discuss what was accurate and what was off the mark - the pro's - very spacious stateroom, cabin attendant was excellent, on-board entertainment was very enjoyable, Candles dinning was great, majority of crew worked very hard to make the trip memorable, and select staff management (Elena and Bianca) worked very hard to listen to our concerns and to the extent practical within their control make our travels and pleasant as possible, and the people were so much fun to meet. The cons - (1) for a refurbished ship, the interior was in dire need of a fresh paint and varnish (age of the ship was not well hidden), the bathroom was not updated - pealing paint and wall tiles in shower were old and separating), (2) wine - not paired with dinner or the countries visited, wine tastings were poorly planned and executed (rushed so the room could be turned over for dinner, no wait staff to serve additional portions to the customers, and wine selections ran out during dinner, "wine expert" was not organized and could not keep the attention of the customers) - we stopped going after day four, quality of wines served were average to below average at best and had low Wine Spectator ratings, (3) on-board dinning service - very dis-jointed for the first three days - meals were late (i.e. not everyone was served at the same time), side dished were missing or wrong, and if you ordered fish it was guaranteed to arrive overcooked and dry, (4) food quality - got better as the days went by but serving three shrimps on top of rice is not gourmet, (5) bar service - with the exception of a few bar staff, very inconsistent service for mixed drinks - long wait (10 minutes), wrong order, glass half-filled - deferred to wine and beer to avoid the the hassle which was not our preference, (6) broken water system during seal day - no showers or running water - things happen at sea so my issue is not that this happened but how the ship handled the situation - the captain made an announcement at approximately 9 am and mentioned that the water system broke and we would make a stop at Brest for repairs - not apologetic in any form and tried to make a joke about it - not funny for the guests who were stuck on board without a bathroom or shower - in terms of compensation - NONE...we asked them to open the bar and provide free drinks and were denied....the system was repaired and then broke again around 10 pm (no notice from the captain) - I called the front desk and the staffer did not understand why I was mad as he did not get a chance to shower (paying customer versus employee....where is the training...), (7) off-board dinner in Bordeaux - very elegant, classical music, wine in the courtyard and then dinner - only one selection - a meat dish that was served raw to myself and three others at our table - after 15 minutes and sending it back twice I decided not to eat the dried out mass in front of me. Two wines were served of which one was a beautiful 2001 Margaux - we each had one glass and asked for another bottle - they "ran out" even then we observed other tables actively getting additional bottles, (8) world class gym - broken equipment and missing weights - need I say more, (9) excursions - unlike Viking or other high end cruise lines, Windstar only includes two free shore excursions and the guests have to pay for any other trips so desired - the selections were marginal at best with the most notable being a wine tour of a local vineyard in the Medoc region of Bordeaux - expected elegant wines and encountered less than marginal samples - would have expected a higher quality vineyard to be made available. We did email Hans (CEO) a note summarizing our experiences and have not received any reply as of this review - not terribly surprised since he already has our money and from the experiences listed above, apparently does not have a keen focus on customer service. Some final thoughts and impressions - we probably wont use this cruise line again unless Han's contacts us and don't recommend anyone else using them unless you do a full due-diligence on all high end cruise and read the review, the ship management fell flat on attention to details and building/maintaining a strong and consistent team to perform and execute their respective duties flawlessly every time, and if you are going to offer a marginal experience then charge a marginal price so expectations can be tempered with reality. Read Less
Sail Date September 2015
I found it very hard to come up with a number to rate this cruise. There was very good, there was average and there was bad. I also need to mention that we were first time cruisers as were the couple who traveled with us. We were ... Read More
I found it very hard to come up with a number to rate this cruise. There was very good, there was average and there was bad. I also need to mention that we were first time cruisers as were the couple who traveled with us. We were celebrating the wives 60th birthdays, and this is what they chose to do. I also need to say for the past 30 years I have been a special event planner, who has organized meetings all over the world, and I like to be in control. That being said, I knew that I would have no control once aboard the ship, and I was going to have to deal with it. We chose this cruise because it was dedicated to wine and culinary tourism, and Windstar was including complimentary wines from the three countries we were visiting each night with dinner, and before dinner a tasting of those wines with a guest sommelier (more on that later). I tried hard to do my research on the ports, as if I was planning to do an event there. I also did research on cruising which brought me to Cruise Critic, which I perused continually for the year before we sailed. In reading previous reviews, I learned that we were going to be the outliers, as most of the reviews were written by folks who have been on many, many cruises. As for the cruise, embarkation was a breeze. There were tons of smiles, and the sight of the Cliffs of Dover upon leaving was awesome. We arrived at our cabin, and were pleasantly surprised with the size and layout. We had been upgraded to a "balcony" suite (more on that later). The first day at sea was very nice, as we settled in and got to know the ship. We loved the size and the fact that of the 160 passengers, there were no children. I would agree with the term of casual luxury. We loved going to dinner in Aloha shirts, and wearing topsiders. The front line staff, cabin stewards and waiters were awesome. They could not do enough for us, and they always had smiles on their faces. I have always been a morning person, so even on vacation I was up at 530am, into the shower, and then up to the Yacht Club, where I was met by Yahya, had a coffee, juice and pastry. Most days I was the only one in there until 630 or so. Very peaceful and relaxing. On day three after we left St. Malo, I jumped in the shower only to find no water. Same for the sink and toilet.. I headed up to the Yacht Club to learn the water systems were down and they were working on it. The captain finally came on at 9am to say they were diverting to the town of Brest where there was a French Naval Base, and engineers who could fix the problem. We were in Brest until 3pm, and it wasn't until we departed that the Captain came on and apologized for the inconvenience. No offer of any compensation. If it was me at one of my events, the bar would have been thrown open. I know from experience that stuff happens, but the key is how the problem is addressed. As for shore excursions, we booked two of Windstar's offerings, and I booked two private guides on my own. No comparison. At El Ferrol, we went on the Windstar excursion to Santiago de Compostela. Cost $189pp. Most of the time was spent on a coach with 40 other passengers. We then marched around this UNESCO World Heritage Site following a guide listening to her commentary through a headset. Not so good. In Porto I hired Douro Exclusive and the owner Marco picked the 4 of us up, visited wineries in Douro and then had the most amazing lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant on a deck overlooking the river and vineyards. Cost $150pp.. In St. Emilion we took the Windstar excursion to Chateau Soutard. Again 40 pax on a coach. The winery was not ready for us when we got there, and were then dropped off in the old town of St. Emilion with no instructions on when to be back at the coach. I wanted to grab the microphone and take over. Not good at all. In Lisbon I hired "Your Friend in Lisbon" to take us on a port and tapas tour of town. Again an incredible experience. Cost $100pp. In addition to their "offered" excursions, Windstar included a dinner at Chateau Giscours in Bordeaux. This was a fabulous evening, with great coordination, food, classical music, and premium wines, all held in the great room of this fantastic old Chateau. This was included in the cost of the cruise, and it was fantastic. Now the guest sommelier was going to do a tasting each evening at 6pm in the main dining room. Each night there were three wines, one from each of the countries we were visiting(France, Spain and Portugal). I found the speaker a bit overbearing in his method and style. Almost like being talked down to. We went the first four nights, and then I decided I had had enough. Since we were going to have these wines at dinner, I didn't want to sit through the "talk". Our traveling companions did go every night, and said that by the end of the cruise the room was only 1/2 full. Not sure if Windstar did their due diligence on this selection. As for disembarkation, it was also a breeze. Finally my biggest gripe with this cruise is what happened on the front side. We booked in 17 months in advance. Paid the 10K final payment 3 months in advance, and then 2 days after making that payment, I was showing a colleague the cruise on the Windstar web site. I was shocked to see they had lowered the price $800pp. So I called our travel agent and she too was surprised by that amount and that she was going to call Windstar in Seattle. When she got back to me, she said Windstar offered a $100 per cabin shipboard credit, and she didn't think that was fair. Since this agency belongs to the Virtuoso organization, she told me they have pull, and was going to have her manager call. In the end they offered a $200 per cabin shipboard credit and upgraded us to the "balcony" suite. Being able to open the window in the cabin was nice, but certainly not worth the premium that Windstar assigns to those rooms. It was not so much the money (as the price we paid was what we had budgeted for), again it was the way it was handled. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I have held elite flyer status with Alaska Airlines for years. Their policy is if the fare goes down before you fly, you get a credit. No questions. As for Windstar, if I have learned one thing over this past year is that premium cruising is a very competitive business. Here they had two couples, right in their demographic wheelhouse. We are on the cusp of retirement, have disposable income and the time to spend it. And they decide to play the nickel and dime game. I'm sure their argument would be, well our cabins are highly perishable. The minute the ship leaves, it is revenue that cannot be recovered. We held that cabin for you (albeit with $1500) for 17 months, and you were able to be sure you were on the ship, and make your air travel plans far in advance. There may be some weight in that, but in the end it is very short sighted. Even before I stepped foot on the Star Legend, I was pretty sure that if I ever cruised again it would not be on Windstar. And now after the cruise, I feel the same way. Read Less
Sail Date September 2015
I have taken sometime to reflect on my recent cruise on the Star Legend, from 9/1 – 9/11. I took this time to ensure that I was being objective in my thoughts/opinions/perspectives on this 10 day long trip through France/Spain/Portugal. ... Read More
I have taken sometime to reflect on my recent cruise on the Star Legend, from 9/1 – 9/11. I took this time to ensure that I was being objective in my thoughts/opinions/perspectives on this 10 day long trip through France/Spain/Portugal. With that perspective I write you this letter. My wife is a travel agent and had made the decision to test out Windstar with one of her clients we were extremely excited to be traveling on the recently renovated Star Legend with its luxurious staterooms, state of the art gym, and 5 star experience. There are many things to speak about, but it comes down to one thing that you would expect from a "5 Star Experience" and that is; “it’s about attention to detail”. Here are the examples of “attention to detail” that made this cruise a less than exceptional event for her clients: “State of the art Gym”: 1 of the bikes is broken, and has been for over a month from what the staff told me. Im 6’4” I was not able to use the treadmill as my head hits the ceiling in the gym Water System: The fact that it broke is not the issue. The fact that not once after the system was fixed, and we had to make changes to the next day itineraries did the captain speak to the passengers and apologize by either having a free drink for the passengers, or any other kind of concession. Bordeaux Dinner Event: 1 choice for entrée…. Let me say that again, 1 choice for entrée for 250+ people.... Even more interesting is that it was Beef Wellington, and it was barely rare. 4 people at my table asked for it to be cooked more, and it came back burned on top and still raw/rare in the middle. The staff put the meat near a broiler to “warm it up”. Quite possibly the worst meal I have ever had. What is stunning to me is that there was not a choice of meat or fish, let alone the meal that was served. Again, no recognition by the leadership of the ship that this event was ruined. Excursions: I will not beat up on each of these, yet a few examples…. On both the St. Malo and Bordeaux excursion we drove around for a few hours and were pushed for time at the Crepe/Cider tasting and the actual wine tasting. The icing on the cake was Porto! A beautiful city, that we visited the Stock Exchange, and toured the city on the bus. We were given 18 minutes to “shop/look around” on our own. Really? The coordination here with the local tour groups has to be better, or explained in the brochures that you will not have time to tour these beautiful cities. My favorite: Day 4, a day at sea. We have had a tough start to the trip, but it is a gorgeous day. Sun is out, everyone is on the deck, the bar is jumping, and people are enjoying themselves and getting ready to put the past few days behind them. I go into the bathroom on Deck 7 and I come out laughing…. There are no hand towels to dry my hands after you wash them. I look at my wife and say “attention to detail”. Wine Tasting: The wine expert could not wait to get this event over every night, we would barely sit down and he would be saying that we need to get moving as we did not have much time. The best wine of the night on at least 3 occasions ran out. That’s right while eating dinner we were told that there was no more of that kind of wine. Scheduling: Everything was on top of each other. Wine tasting had to go quickly because the next day itinerary meeting was coming up. Trivia had to be done quickly as the room was needed for something else. Leadership: The captain has to take leadership here. While at the Bordeaux event he has to grab a microphone and say thank you to the customer. While walking the ship early in the morning to get coffee he should stop and say hi to me (since we saw each other 3 times), as this is what his role is. I have more examples and issues yet I think you get the point here. This cruise was far from the upscale experience that is advertised. I would think that Windstar has heard from others regarding this trip, along with a poor evaluation report from the survey given to the passengers. FYI We cancelled our cruise in April Read Less
Sail Date September 2015
This was our second cruise with Fred. Olsen, our first was aboard Boudicca last year. Braemar's friendly staff and quality of cuisine lived up to the high standard we experienced on Boudicca. We chose the smaller Grampian Restaurant ... Read More
This was our second cruise with Fred. Olsen, our first was aboard Boudicca last year. Braemar's friendly staff and quality of cuisine lived up to the high standard we experienced on Boudicca. We chose the smaller Grampian Restaurant on Deck 8. With exemplary waiters and large areas of glass, it offered stunning evening sunsets that provided an unforgettable ambiance. There were a range of activities and entertainment to suit most people’s tastes. In the evenings, we alternated between The Observatory Lounge on Deck 8, with the very talented pianist Enrique Cabilina playing our choice of relaxing music, and the Morning Light Pub on Deck 5 with Kieron Cox providing a livelier selection of guitar music and song. Our only visit to the Neptune Show Lounge on Deck 5 was to Braemar’s Crew Show…and what a show the crew put on. The girls (all amateur) dancing dressed in their national costumes from the Philippines and Tailand were exquisite. They were followed by the lads, dressed in naval costumes…they had a ball; their versions of In the Navy, and YMCA, had us in tears. You could see on their faces how much they genuinely enjoyed entertaining us. Finally, tears of a different kind could easily be shed in Gerard’s moving sand animation using sand and music to illustrate a story on a projected screen that ended with the scheme of the crucifixion. A massive brownie point for the cruise was the beautiful city of Bordeaux. A number of regular Fred. Olsen cruisers told us the organised shore trips were a waste of time and money; it was far better to arrange something yourself…fine, if you were offered a free shuttle bus, otherwise try to share a taxi between four of you, and see how much money you’d save…how right they were! FortunatelyBordeaux made up for the disappointment we experienced in our two shore trips costing us £174.00. There was so much to enjoy here. A delightful city in daylight, with majestic fountains and immaculate gardens was transformed after sunset. A breathtaking panorama of coloured lights along four kilometres of waterfront led the eye to distant mystical lights along Napolean’s Pont de pierre bridge. It was lovely to see families sat in the park alongside Braemar giving us a wave as they enjoyed their picnics. We were tempted to join them. No wonder the city is described: Little Paris. Our first tour: The River Erdre – Gateway to the Loire Valley. We circumnavigated Nantes’ city centre on at least three occasions, past the fortress walls and Giggs Irish Pub, our ears being bombarded with a constant flow of uninteresting names and dates by our French tour guide. One early stop to take photographs was so uninspiring half the passengers stayed aboard the coach. The second at the Cathedral, I’ll agree was worthwhile, allowing us to light a couple of candles and offer a silent prayer then crane our necks to wonder at the height and majesty of the arched roof. After two hours on the coach, and a visit to the WC, we boarded our boat. The lower deck was full; the passengers on the upper deck with the odd vacant seat here and there were packed together like sardines on plastic garden chairs. I spent the whole of the cruise three rows behind my wife who was sitting alongside two stony faced women who ignored her for the whole cruise. We were later told that the second boat that followed us was only half full. Yes, the river was beautiful, but the tour brochure states: Several castles and elegant manors. There were several elegant manors...but I cannot remember any castles. When we commenced the cruise, we immediately passed a sign prohibiting creating waves and advising an 8 kph speed limit. Reaching the limit of the cruise the sign was a distant memory as the charge for home began with the second boat in hot pursuit. To me, the most memorable sight was the countless number of low flying cormorants that crisscrossed the boat or flew past on either side. I was surprised by the elegance of their flight and beautiful lines of their bodies. Returning to Braemar after another circuit of Nantes, we were forced to queue for over half an hour while the crew assisted a large number of elderly passengers aboard up a very steep ramp. Eventually, someone must have read my mind, when with about thirty or so passengers remaining, a second ramp was provided. I dread imagining the mood of the passengers if it had been raining. Surely, with a tide table to hand this problem could have been foreseen beforehand and a second ramp provided on arrival. With due respect to some lovely people we befriended – each with heart-rending problems – Braemar attracts a large number of infirm passengers, so be prepared for similar delays. Also I wouldn’t recommend it to families with young children. Our second tour: The ‘Must Do Green Venice Tour. This was equally disappointing. Yes, it was a tranquil experience, but the waterways passed uninteresting fields, the most notable event, one duck and a number of cattle; the only burst of colour: the flowers and shrubs in the gardens of an occasional fishermen’s cottage. Disembarking, the appalling WC facility was an experience! At least the coach journey to and from the main event was pleasurable passing fields of sunflowers and variety of other crops. Think very carefully before you book any tour. I’d advise you to consult seasoned passengers on board before you do so. I recall somewhere a mention that Braemar had a degree of refurbishment in 2014…this obviously didn’t include our cabin. The power sockets were archaic; I cannot remember when I last needed adaptors for our toothbrushes and hair styling equipment. Furthermore, there was some kind of junction box attached to the dressing table with a conglomeration of dangling cables that served the kettle and hair drier. Returning to our cabin after an enjoyable evening in the Observatory Lounge, I was annoyed to read the following note left on our bed: Dear Guest, As part of our commitment to improve the standard of our cabins onboard the MS Braemar, we courteously advise you that we will be changing the wash basin drain in your cabin tomorrow…between 1300h and 1600h. If you have any objections, please contact the Reception desk. Thank you in advance for your kind understanding… I rang early the following morning and refused them access. Later, I was told other passengers had had an identical request and had agreed for them to carry out the work. I accept access dealing with an emergency must be allowed… however, it appears that Fred. Olsen was (at the expense of their guest's comfort) adopting a regime to upgrade the vessel while at sea. We spent our last day at sea sunbathing with alfresco lunch and dolphins on our port side bidding us ‘‘au revoir.’’ Bliss... The on board All-Inclusive Drinks Package was a real value for money. Without overindulging yourself, it was very easy to overtake the £10.00 per day levy. With a total of 68 miles sailing along the uninspiring River Loire to and from Nantes, I feel the cruise would be greatly enhanced if this was removed from the itinerary and a third night spent in Bordeaux. I would be interested to learn comments from fellow passengers to this suggestion. Finally, Eavesway Travel’s coaches need special mention. The coaches were so comfortable, with unbelievable leg room, reclining leather seats and for anyone needing relief between comfort stops, an onboard WC. Read Less
Sail Date August 2015
Just returned from a 14-day trip to the Shetland Islands, Iceland and Norway. This cruise was hard to review, because so many things were variable. PROS: 1. Staff were great. Everyone from the captain on down couldn't have ... Read More
Just returned from a 14-day trip to the Shetland Islands, Iceland and Norway. This cruise was hard to review, because so many things were variable. PROS: 1. Staff were great. Everyone from the captain on down couldn't have been friendlier or nicer. They went a long way to cover up some negatives that otherwise might nave been glaring (see CONS below). 2. Small ship is nice. 674 passengers (capacity is 777) meant that it never felt crowded or overwhelming. 3. Breafast in the Panorama Buffet was always nice. Plenty of choices, food was always hot and good. Great staff in there. 4. Itinerary was amazing. Shetland Islands are really worth the trip. Going all the way around Iceland gave us a very good feel for the people and the country. The two stops in Norway (Skjolden/Sognefjord and Bergen) were mostly good, though Skjolden was much nicer. 5. Obstructed-view cabin was decent size. Plenty of storage space. 6. the desserts and the breads in the Panorama Buffet were uniformly good. This was a good thing, since many nights, there wasn't much else worth eating in the buffet! 7. Princess singers and dancers were generally decent and sometimes good. they were always entertaining! CONS: 1. This ship has already been sold to Oceania, and it was obvious that Princess is doing just enough to keep it going to the end. In many places, her age is showing. The ship reminds me of an old lady that's dabbed on extra makeup, hoping to hide the years, and fooling only herself. 2. Food generally was at best average. If it weren't for breakfast, I'd say the food was poor. Lunch was usually OK in the buffet, but dinner was rarely good. I never go to formal dinners (there were 3 on this cruise), and after looking at the menus, I skipped the dining room four other nights as well. This meant that I had to eat in the buffet half of the time, which was (other than 2 of those nights) really bad for dinner. The selection was not great, and (like the dining room) if you don't like seafood, you're pretty much out of luck. Very poor choices, poorly prepared, bland, often cold food, or overly dry from sitting in the steam trays too long. It was also obvious that what they couldn't push for lunch (or dinner the night before) was often recycled into other dishes the next day. If it wasn't good today, it won't be any better tomorrow, Princess! The only really memorable dinner in the dining room, in fact, was the Italian night. The highlight of the Chef's Special Dinner menu was the sorbet: after that, it was pretty appalling. It was clear that Princess is not putting any money into this ship: just enough to keep everyone fed, but nothing interesting, adventurous or expensive. 3. Cabin cleaning. My steward was very nice, but apparently the stewards were told to only change bed linens every four or five days. My sheets were stained when I arrived, and I had those same linens for nearly a week. I think the sheets were changed twice in the 14 days. The stewards also have huge areas to cover, which means that room cleaning and "refreshing" didn't take place very often. 4. The cabin bathroom is very small and not well designed. For example, you cannot sit on the toilet normally: you have to sit at an angle, or else your knees are halfway up the wall! And of course the shower is not only very small but you cannot turn or move with encountering those clingy shower curtains. 5. The casino is a joke. Here was another evidence of Princess' early retirement of the ship. There are maybe 30 slot machines, of which 23 or so are quarter machines. The newest machine on board is at least 15 years old. Everything is packed into a very small area. There is one place where you have to sit right up to the machine, so that people can get past you to the other areas of the ship. The casino really is a wasted space: if you're not going to have a good casino, don't have one. But Princess is clearly more interested in sucking every available penny out of the passengers than in providing a modern gaming experience. These are machines that should've been retired years ago, but it's obvious Princess is just filling up the space and sending newer machines to other ships. 6. Another real weakness for Princess is the "destination expert." The lady on this ship is really bad. Her lectures are some very poorly-organized slides, with notes that were clearly googled on the internet and "cut-and-pasted" together. If I had a dollar for every time she said "I think you can go here" or "I think that's what it's called" or "I think.....", I could've paid for my cruise and then some. If she was an expert, I'm the next Emperor of China. I had done a fair bit of research before the cruise, and it was appalling to see how badly-organized this woman was. I thought I could've done a better job, and many times my ship mates agreed, as I was often asked by strangers about different places we were visiting. The comment heard often on excursions was, "I wish that lady had told us about this!" I can't say that I have ever had a destination "expert" on Princess that was much of an expert, but this one hit a new low. How she still has that job is a mystery to most of us. 7. The lounge entertainment was painfully bad. Two in particular deserve special note. The piano player in the Casino bar spent a lot of time telling us about his meth addiction (and various other addictions as well), his lifestyle, and his life in general. According to him, this is the 55th ship he has been on. I pray desperately that he will never be on another ship with me. I had to sit though his "show" because I was with friends in the casino. The "stories" are bad enough: then he starts to sing and the pain really begins. He may have once had a decent voice, but off-key singing and growling seem to be his current forte. There is also a duo (piano player and singer) that frequent the Casino Bar that should be avoided at all costs. He is a good pianist, but she can't carry a tune in a bucket. I literally avoided Deck 5 in the evenings, simply because of her caterwhauling. Boy, she was bad! Read Less
Sail Date July 2015
due to an accident they say on the freeway it took us four hours vs normal three hours from London Heathrow to get to the ship, just in time for a glass of bubbly and then put on our life jackets. Room 8038 was a mini suite, nice ... Read More
due to an accident they say on the freeway it took us four hours vs normal three hours from London Heathrow to get to the ship, just in time for a glass of bubbly and then put on our life jackets. Room 8038 was a mini suite, nice location, nice depth to the room, with the usual coach and two chairs, more than enough storage/drawers, climbing over the bathtub to take a shower was ridiculous and I not that old nor that short. entertainment-magicians were great, comedians were o.k. irish singer good, (flopped in his second show) princess singers were not good, but their dancers were. captains party for everyone and then suite members was excellent, seriously they stopped in some ports where there were only 250 residents, why.... there was nothing to do or nothing to buy, a waste of our time really.... the fact that you can just wear a nice pair of levis/jeans with nice shirt and perhaps a blazer or sweater in the dining room saved on a lot of clothes, some people still did 200% on the formal nights but we found that a pair of blacks pants for the ladies with a couple of dressy tops did just as well. food- breakfast buffer was fine, lunch buffet was fine, do not order a veggie burger as it looked like "barf" my husband said when h brought it to me, we threw it out, mexican buffet vey good, chinese/sushi buffet was good, indian was so so, best pizza was the thai and he only made it one night, dining room food was so so, quality dropped, steaks were like you would order at a coney island... we were in seafood territory and so disappointed in the lack of choice, tiger shrimp looked like something one night out of a can, desserts were o.k. variety of ice cream, internet too expensive and did not work half the time so you spent 10 minutes trying to connect, best spot, follow the crew when they disembark the ship and they will lead you to free internet.their side trips were too expensive and one of them to the funicular in bergen sweden was 159.00 for two people, we thought it was a bus trip and then to the tram,but it turned out to be an all walking trip... you could do it yourself, just walk there and pay for the tram, one side trip we booked up to the hengifoss waterfall the guide never made it up, think he was too old and walked about 1/8 of the way... he was more interested in stopping on the way down in two or three places so that we could spend money, seriously nothing to buy,other buses on this tour did not make those stops...health club, too small and no one monitored the treadmills only supposed to be on them for 20 minutes some days people were on for over an hour until I gave them a dirty look. disembarkation was easy, they showed some moves at night but hey no popcorn which we were used to on other princess ships, lack of things to do on board.....everyone was very polite and accommodating, but we remember the days when we got a daily newsletter in our slot every morning to apprise us of what was happening in the u.s. Read Less
Sail Date July 2015
BACKGROUND: I’m a mature adventurous solo traveler who has cruised 45 times on many cruise lines. Most of my cruises have been on Princess ships. I’m currently on a quest to see where my ancestors came from, and many of these places ... Read More
BACKGROUND: I’m a mature adventurous solo traveler who has cruised 45 times on many cruise lines. Most of my cruises have been on Princess ships. I’m currently on a quest to see where my ancestors came from, and many of these places are good cruise ports. This itinerary covered many places my Viking ancestors once lived in, and I’ve always wanted to visit these parts of the world. My favorite Princess ship is the “Ocean Princess”, so it appeared to be a perfect match. TRAVEL TO EMBARKATION: I enjoyed outstanding Virgin Atlantic flight service to London’s Heathrow Airport from JFK. Stayed at the London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, close to Heathrow, overnight. Went to Canterbury, England the next day for some sightseeing, and then on embarkation day traveled on to Dover with Chestfield Cars, a very good local limo service. For once the English weather was gorgeous – hot, sunny and dry, and it made local travel and sightseeing a pleasure. SHIP INFORMATION: The Explorer Class “Ocean Princess” is a beautiful small ship. 30,277 tons, length 592 feet, with 11 decks, and 338 cabins. Maximum passenger load is 672, and as my sailing was sold out, this was a full load – it never felt crowded, however, at any time. There are 375 crew members on board. The ship was purchased “used” in 2002, and refurbished in 2012. The interior is timeless classic, and looks like a stately English country home with traditional furnishings, lovely carpets and paintings, lots of wood paneling, and a gorgeous lounge with a fireplace (not real). Spacious cabins are very nice, and the small size of the ship makes getting around very quick and easy. One main dining room aft, two specialty restaurants, the usual buffet restaurant, and other dining venues. Small showroom, and other lounges and entertainment venues. Compact but well-equipped fitness center, and elegant Lotus Spa salon. Internet café and various function rooms, and a large boutique and separate jewelry store, small casino, hot tubs and pool, private adult “sanctuary deck area”, photo gallery, guest services desk in a lovely foyer area, several bars, and most of the other amenities found in older traditional ships. It’s a very elegant and refined environment compared to the enormous ultramodern ships. There is a definite vibration and rumbling noticeable in the dining room, no doubt from the engine room somewhere below and in the vicinity. For the age of the ship, it appeared well maintained but a bit tired around the edges inside and out. Internet is available, isn’t cheap (upper level loyalty guests get some free time), and is extremely slow. In this itinerary, internet and TV signals were nonexistent due to the northerly remote areas the ship cruised in at times. The ship has stabilizers, which were a blessing on this sailing which encountered some very high winds and rough seas routinely. Most of the ship is nonsmoking both on balconies and inside and some deck areas. There was only one laundry room for the entire group of passengers (elite level loyalty guests got free dry-cleaning), with 6 washers and dryers, coin-operated, and $2 for every wash, dry, box of soap, dryer sheet, etc. Coins could be charged to the room account using one’s key card. The “Ocean Princess” will be sold at the end of the year, according to Princess, and while things may not have been truly wonderful on this trip, I’m sorry to see this lovely small ship leave the Princess fleet. DINING: There were early and late traditional fixed-seating for dinner, plus other “take-out” places for pizza, etc. The Panorama Buffet has the usual big spreads for all three daily meals, plus afternoon snacks. There is room service, but with restricted hours despite stating in the customer service manual in the cabin that food is available 24/7 – you can’t get any food you want at any time. This caused some issues on my cruise, as this statement about 24/7 dining was very ambiguous and guest services did not have the correct information. There are two specialty restaurants with a cover charge, for Italian and steakhouse type foods – I did not use either this trip. The food appeared to cater more to the British sense of taste and diet, but there were the typical American foods for those less adventurous. There were a lot of Asian and Indian food items, and themed lunch buffets had something from many cultures every day. This was a good opportunity to try something you may not be familiar with or get at home. Food in the dining room came in large portions, and was served at proper temperatures. The menus got a bit “creative” for my personal taste, with a lot of peculiar names, food combinations, poor quality fish, and “always available” foods such as salmon, chicken, and other familiar American food items. A food from each group was featured on all menus – fish, poultry, meat, and vegetarian, with the usual appetizers, salads, soups, and deserts. Some of the meals appeared to be the leftovers from the night before, all mixed together and given a strange name. Tremendous overuse of fruit soaked in alcohol, red and green peppers, heavy seasoning, too much salt, and strange vegetables as edible garnishes. Deserts could have done better - lots of things full of fruit and nuts, and very little imagination other than one or two chocolate “features” which mixed too many rich ingredients into an overkill nightmare. I was very disappointed in the menu choices – it’s sure not the Continental or gourmet cuisine which used to appear on ship menus 20 years ago! I did not see the little heart symbols on the menu this cruise, which used to indicate a healthy item – it’s a relief, actually. Who wants to diet and eat “healthy” on a cruise, where food is such a big item and activity! Salad dressings seemed very weak and watery, and the regular blue cheese dressing was identical to liquid barium, really terrible. Lots of peculiar iced soups were on the menu, and it was hard to decide whether to eat or drink them out of a glass. Birthdays and anniversaries were celebrated by singing waiters and what appeared to be a very nice small chocolate cake. I know the Carnival Corporation is looking at bottom-line profit, but cutting food quality in the dining room and buffet is not the place to save money. Finding meat loaf, hamburgers, fried chicken, spaghetti, roast turkey, chili and other truck-stop or diner type foods on a cruise ship menu was either an attempt to make American cruisers feel at home, or perhaps the result of some survey where guests wanted more of what they get at home instead of “fancy” cruise ship food. Seeing ice cream as a desert offering every night was the same feeling - if I wanted to eat this way, I would stay home and get better quality. The Panorama Buffet had more variety and some interesting international-themed buffets at lunch and dinner. There was a spectacular desert buffet at the end of the cruise. However, there were fruit flies hovering over the pastries in the morning and the waffles, French toast, and pancakes were soggy, cold and stale. Plates and glasses were often wet, and I noticed dried-on specks of food on the very tired silverware. Not enough seating, especially when the tables were used as an internet café by people not eating. Good views from the enormous windows. Intermittent waiter service at best, and usually slow. Hot foods were not kept hot, or even warm, most of the time. Cold foods weren’t held properly, either, and some were room temperature. It was a good chance, however, to sample foods from other cultures and things not commonly found in typical American diets. Small plastic oval plates had to hold everything, as there were no trays and adding one more plate for a separate salad or desert maxed out carrying capacity. I rarely had assistance from a waiter when I had two plates of food and a drink glass. A lack of tags identifying various foods was a problem, and some of the waiters did not speak enough English to answer my questions about food content. No labeling identifying possible allergens such as nuts within foods, either. Deserts had some sugar-free offerings, but there was a lot of fruit and cream style items and some really peculiar combinations of ingredients. Everything was attractively presented, especially the side with the salads and deserts. However, it’s hard to make a metal pan of mashed potatoes look elegant, even on a cruise ship. While the waiters were very efficient in clearing tables, they were very slow to notice guests arriving at tables and come over to offer beverage service. Guests leaving their seats to get refills at the buffet often returned to their table to find everything gone that they had left, and other guests sitting in their seats. STATEROOM: I had a midship, mid-level balcony stateroom. Unfortunately, Princess makes solo travelers pay double, and this trip had steep pricing. The stateroom furnishings showed their age, with nicks, dents, stained fabrics. Very comfortable bed, however, with the two twins combined to a king size. If you don’t like feather pillows, the steward will find a synthetic, firmer pillow if you ask. No blankets, but a lightweight comforter duvet. Nice linens most of the time, but some were tired, and the sheets are changed every four days. Lots of wood hangers in a small closet with a door. Plenty of storage cabinets and shelving units and drawers. Love seat which doubles as a sofa bed. Small desk area with a mirror. Lighting in the room could be brighter, but was adequate. Peaceful blue and neutral color scheme. Sheer white curtains beneath patterned lined drapes – unfortunately the drapes did not close enough nor reach all the way across the glass balcony wall, and the nearly 24 hour daylight coming in at the Midnight Sun latitude at night made sleep very difficult. Decent climate control, very quiet. Phone and several electrical outlets with varying currents. Twice-daily room service. Tiny refrigerator in part of the closet. The beds are low, so storing my huge suitcase beneath the beds was not possible – found an out of the way corner for the luggage, and it did not get in the way. The bathroom is very small and compact, typical plastic module type found on many cruise ships. Decent sized shower with the infamous clinging plastic curtain, and dispensers of shower gel and shampoo/conditioner. There is soap available for the sink and shower, but beware if you have sensitive skin – the soap and shower gel are very harsh and quickly dry out sensitive skin. Elite guests get a small bag of extra bath amenities, as well as a tray of liquor miniatures and some bottled water and sodas. I do not drink, and asked to have the bar tray replaced with sodas and bottled water, and this was done quickly and cheerfully. Ice is supplied twice a day. Either some degree of soundproofing, or the tactful embarkation mention by some officer over the PA of being considerate of other guests especially at night and trying to be quiet in the corridors and cabins, resulted in amazing silence and peaceful quiet 99% of the time on this cruise when I was in my cabin. The balcony was big enough for two people, with two adjustable mesh and metal chairs and a small round metal table. There is plastic tiling on the deck, and a glass wall under the top railing outside. The entire balcony wall of the cabin is glass, providing some spectacular views. There was a modern flat-screen TV with a choice of programming depending on the day and where the ship is to receive signals, plus in-house programs available. Announcements are not heard in the stateroom unless a specific TV channel is on, but if there is something important, there is a speaker within the cabin and announcements can be heard from the captain or other officers should the need arise. I had plenty of room, all the comforts I needed, and peace and quiet. The only problem with the stateroom was a sour odor in the bathroom. No amount of cleaning, chemicals, sprays, or checking could either find the source or get rid of it. Some of the bathroom caulking and grout looked very tired, and there was possibly mold in the shower area or somewhere else. The towels were good sometimes, but most of the time they were nearly threadbare, with some frayed edges, and very scratchy to use. ACTIVITIES: From early morning to late at night, there is something to do for everyone depending on what they consider an activity. This was a very port-intensive itinerary, with just four or five sea days, and most passengers were ashore in the ports. There were enrichment lectures by guest speakers on various topics. Typical fun and often wacky “parlor games” with the cruise entertainment staff were more popular than one might imagine, especially with the marvelously friendly and enthusiastic Australian guests aboard. Bingo, trivia, port lectures and get-togethers for various professional groups were offered, and there was a lovely library for readers. Internet was accessible, albeit slowly, for the IT folks. Knitting, bridge, board games, and shopping sales kept people busy. Shopping was a big thing on the ship, especially on sea days with the captive audience more than willing to part with their money and have some fun looking at all the “bargains”. The fitness center was very busy with guests enjoying all the amenities there. Lots of spa treatments were available. The marvelous exercise disguised as fun dancing, Zumba, was offered every sea day and was well attended. There were galley tours and food demonstrations. The weather on this trip was not really amenable to sitting around the pool or using the hot tub, or even walking on the jogging track, unfortunately, but some hardy souls were outside anyway. The port days were long and busy, and tired most people out by the end of supper as far as further activities in the evening. Princess continues its scheduling of activities listed as seminars, which are nothing more than infomercials aimed at getting guests to spend money on various treatments, analyses, and products. Unfortunately, these seminars were scheduled at the peak times between meals, and normal activities got stuck in the schedule just before or after a meal, or at some really inconvenient time. This trend has gone on for years, and doesn’t appear that it will change any despite passenger protests. The casino was open on sea days and once the ship left port, but did not seem to have many people in it. Smoking was allowed, but there were some smoke-free days with better attendance. The table games seemed sparsely attended, but the slot machines had a fair crowd at times, especially the penny slots. No coins are awarded in this modern digital age, and the room key is used to establish a “bank” credit – you can charge gaming costs to your shipboard account, or feed paper bills into the slot machines, and then cash out if you have winnings at the end. The photography staff was everywhere in the ports, and did a good video DVD for a souvenir - but all photography was very expensive. SERVICE: The best service I enjoyed came from my cabin steward, a lively young lady from the Philippines. She was perfect in everything she did, and my cabin was immaculately serviced twice daily at times convenient for my personal routine. Elena in the Boutique was also amazing – always pleased to be of help, with great fashion sense and a warm, wonderful personality and good sense of humor. I remember Elena from my last Ocean Princess cruise, and it was delightful to see her once again, like meeting family while traveling. Gabriel in the jewelry boutique was also very charming and dedicated to good service and friendliness. The waiter’s assistant was a lovely young lady from Ukraine who provided gracious, poised, and beautiful service in an otherwise chaotic dining room. While the ship’s captain perhaps doesn’t offer a “service”, he was one of the more amiable and well-spoken captains I’ve sailed with. His crew obviously respected him and were very fond of him. Every day at noon, the captain reported from the bridge over the PA system, and included chiming the four bells of the noon watch for us to hear. He also was quite fond of nautical trivia, and we got some interesting and sometimes humorous information at the end of the navigational, port and weather reports. This captain was also very safety-oriented, and cancelled a port call due to very high winds. He had a very good command of Italian-accented English, and was delightful to listen to at least once a day with his broadcasts. Simon the cruise director was also a very approachable, articulate, and pleasant gentleman who had far more dignity and ability than most cruise directors I’ve sailed with. Chris, one of the production show dancers, gave 200% with every Zumba class and activity he participated in, no matter the weather conditions or how tired he must have been after the late night shows. He was always pleasant and friendly whenever encountered around the ship. The rest of the crew was average, but some of the staff had serious burn-out and “attitude”. The front desk staff tried with their English, but there were a lot of misunderstandings due to comments being lost in translation. The staff also was misinformed about things on the ship, especially the room service dining hours. The Captain’s Circle loyalty program person was a very young man with “attitude”, very pressured and not someone I would want to speak with if I were spending thousands of dollars booking a future cruise. Many of the crew in minor authority positions were obviously trying to do their job, but were not mature enough or experienced in what they were doing to present a convincing or reassuring impression. Everyone seemed to be very happy in dealings where the guest had to pay for something, but outside of this, either they could not understand English or just were too immature or burned out to work effectively. The worst service issues involved the food venues. In the Panorama Buffet, especially in the early morning, the few waiters that were there seemed comatose, just standing and staring out the windows or talking to each other, while the guests waited for beverage service. This continued at lunch, and was just as bad at dinner. I got my own water numerous times, rather than sit and wait while the once lukewarm food got colder. This seemed to wake up the waiters for a moment or two before they disappeared or went back to daydreaming. One waiter decided it was a good time to visit and kept trying to start a conversation with me when I was trying to finish my dinner and meet friends. I ate at the early traditional seating for dinner. My waiter in the main dining room had problems – a lot of them. Either this man was new, insecure, poorly trained, burned out, or any of the above, because he was very disorganized – standing at his service station organizing the silverware and menus, while we waited for menus, orders to be taken, food delivery, water refills, etc. He did not coordinate at all with his helper, and the pair of them did not seem to know which tasks should be done separately or as a team. Absolute total chaos. It did not help that others at my table arrived 20 minutes late for the sitting and we all had to wait while they got their menus and ordered. I don’t believe my waiter understood enough English to take the orders properly, as there were mix-ups quite often. I appreciate how hard being a cruise ship waiter is, and it certainly hasn’t been helped by the noticeable and steady cut-back on dining venue staffing. From what I counted, my waiter and his helper had at least 50 people to serve. What a difference from the early days of cruising when there was a waiter, helper, and bus boy for perhaps 15 people. After a few days with this waiter, all we heard from him after the orders were delivered was “quack quack” for poultry meals, and “yummy yummy” and “love it” for the other types of food, and every order placed was followed by “you need alcohol, wine, beer, you order drinks”. This same waiter did this in the buffet when I had the bad luck to encounter him there. Makes me wonder if Princess is now urging the waiters to sell liquor on top of everything else. Order placement was delayed repeatedly at the start of each dinner by the assistant waiter first showing the wine list, making recommendations, getting the wine, the guest tasting and approving, getting the glasses filled, and then, finally, we could place our food orders. Wine is great with food, if that’s your choice, but it shouldn’t hold up the entire table in ordering dinner when the service is already so slow. It got so bad that I ate the marginally tolerable food in the buffet at dinner just to escape this craziness for the last four nights of the cruise. It took almost two hours to get food at my table, and often we had not received our entrees when others with different wait staff were on the main course. The meals were not improved by the interruption of “how was your day” by the totally useless assistant head waiters. I was annoyed also to find at my first dinner seating yet another table assignment for a table of 10, which used to be called the “old maid’s table”, probably computer-assigned seating because I was traveling solo, and this keeps happening despite repeated pleas and complaints to the passenger relations department to be placed at a table for 4 or 6 when I make my cruise reservations. The Maitre’d acted very put-upon when I asked to have my table assignment changed. I know it’s difficult to do this with a full ship, but it can be done. As an Elite level loyalty member, I would expect better accommodation of my requests after cruising with Princess multiple times. Food is such a big part of cruising, but it was definitely not a highlight on this trip. It does no good to mention bad service to those in charge either, as they scold the waiters who in turn become even worse. The head chef was on vacation, and his substitute had his own distinct regional ideas of good cuisine. Unfortunately, we did not agree on what constitutes good cuisine. ENTERTAINMENT: I did not go to the shows, as the same programs appear throughout the Princess fleet and I’ve seen them all. They are great as a high-school musical level show, but not something I’d enjoy seeing more than once. The rest were vaudeville-type variety show acts, something I don’t care for. The best entertainer on the ship was Brad Stevens, a very gifted pianist who could play any type of music and had a great line of patter and sense of humor as well. He performed in a beautiful, small lounge with great views of the scenery we passed in the Midnight Sun hours after dinner. After full days in port and the terribly slow dinner service, an hour of good music was enough entertainment for me before bedtime. There were various singers on board and the usual very good live show band for music and dancing, and the variety acts in the shows – something for all tastes, but the days began early and not too many people were up and about late into the evening. Other than what the ship offered, there were a lot of people perfectly content to curl up somewhere with a good book, their I-gadgets, or for conversation. This was not a young person’s party animal type cruise, and I enjoyed interacting with the various people I encountered throughout the voyage every day and just watching the ocean roll by. Cruise ship entertainment on Princess doesn’t change much, and hasn’t through the years, and it’s not something I care much about when choosing my cruises. SHORE EXCURSIONS: There was a satisfying variety of tour offerings of all lengths and ways of getting around for this voyage. One could walk, ride on a bus, or use watercraft in some instances. Tours ranged from a few hours to all day, with moderate cost. Tours for food, history, sightseeing, shopping, and most other interests were available. I research and book private guides for most of my port excursions, and this worked out very well on my voyage Taxi No. 17 in Akureyri, SeasonTours in Reykjavik, and TourShetland in the Shetland port of Lerwick were wonderful, and well worth the cost when I heard what fellow passengers had to say about their ship-provided bus tours. The only ship’s tour I booked was a repeat of a hiking tour in Bergen, which I had enjoyed on a previous trip. This time it was a disaster, compounded by a very tiny, immature female guide who could not be heard most of the time, and who giggled most of the time. The city was also overwhelmed by summer tourists and the passenger loads of at least four large ships. It took forever to walk with too large a group through the jammed streets, and the wait in line to board the famous funicular cable car to the top of the fjord cliffs for the hike took an hour. The hike was supposed to be three and one-half hours, and by the time we got to the trails we had about 45 minutes of time to hike. I know the city and the trails, and told the guide I’d hike on my own and get back to the ship on my own, and left the group. Had a great hike, but due to lack of time and not wanting to miss the ship, I could not go as far as I had planned. I jogged back to the funicular and to the ship, so it was a great physical adventure on my own and I enjoyed it solo. The group barely made it back to the ship before it sailed, from what I was told. I asked for and received half my excursion cost back after complaining about the poorly organized and operated tour. Some of the ship’s tours were cancelled due to “lack of interest”, but that’s not what I heard from the passengers, who felt they were cancelled because of other reasons. Too many of the tours were simply too long for the senior age group on board, and most involved hours of sitting on a bus going somewhere, rather than being able to spend adequate time at the sights. Some were mainly for shopping or wine or food experiences, but if that’s what interests people, go for it. Early in the cruise, some passengers reported their drivers getting lost, as well as pieces falling off the buses, and after that the tour participation seemed to decline. Some people had better luck just taking a chance on hiring a cab and doing their own touring with a local driver. Many of the ports visited were ideal if one was a walker, and there were trails for hiking and good streets and roads for jogging or using a rental bike. From long travel experience, I know you can’t see every sight even with a full-day tour, and I would rather see a few things well than run myself to exhaustion and be stressed. DISEMBARKATION: Princess does this right. Either you choose a convenient time and are assigned that, or if you are in no hurry to get off, let Princess put you in the last debarkation group. Cabins must be vacated by 8 AM. Luggage goes out the night before, and you carry off your small personal bags. If you can manage your own luggage, ALL of it, you can opt for express walk-off as soon as the ship is cleared, and many do this. Depending on your shoreside plans, there is an option to suit anyone, be it a tour on the way to the airport, an airport transfer, independent plans, or anything else. Waiting areas are assigned, you get four pages of detailed “how to” instructions to avoid stress and confusion, and it all worked smoothly with no crowds or problems. I was off the ship in four minutes when my color and time were announced. I had a private driver meeting me, set by my own choice of time, and a form is provided on the ship asking when each guest would like to get off the ship. I chose my time, and received color-coded luggage tags and information where to wait. It worked beautifully, probably the best organized activity the ship provided. Nobody likes to see a cruise end, and a lot of people were tired and grumpy. Having a flawless, smooth debarkation at least helps ease the cruise-end depression somewhat. The luggage waits in the terminal, grouped by color, and I found mine in minutes and was outside very quickly. There is a nice staff of mature, polite, and delightful English people at the Dover cruise terminal to assist in any way needed. SUMMARY: I travel on Princess ships because they are the best I can afford and have the best itineraries for the money and time I have. I endure the dining disasters because the itineraries are so good. I can get a good balcony stateroom at an affordable price – sort of, as Princess does not give discounts for solo travelers, and I have to pay double the per-person fare. I’ve complained about this for years, but so far nothing has been done as with other cruise lines which give solo travelers a discount. Princess used to be a quality product, with elegant Continental cuisine and very good service. Since Carnival bought it, however, it has sadly declined, with the cost-cutting most evident in the food quality and level and amount of service. The ships are not as well maintained as they used to be. The massive international crew component on each ship is a great way to meet the rest of the world, but the lack of communicable English has become a problem in many instances. Carnival’s bottom line is all about profit, and they know their guests will put up with a lot to take the affordable cruises within the Carnival family of brands. It’s all a matter of personal choice, and it’s better than staying home and wishing I were someplace I always wanted to visit – at least for the time being. Princess still continues its annoying trend of trolling for good reviews at the end of the cruise. Every announcement manages to work in the word “excellent” as much as possible. Seasoned travelers ignore this and report honestly. There were fewer intrusive and annoying announcements made about seminars, sales, etc – a huge relief compared to other cruises. Overall, the ship was lovely, some crew members were truly outstanding, the itinerary was wonderful, and I had a very good time. This was a voyage more suited to mature adults with travel experience who appreciate the out of the way and unusual places, rather than a tropical climate voyage for young party animal travelers who want sun every day, lots of pool deck time, and late nights. This cruise was expensive, even at the per-person shared occupancy rates. When I inquired of the on-board Captain’s Circle loyalty club crew member why the smaller Princess ships cost more than the very large ones per voyage, I was told, with blunt honesty and a good dose of “attitude”, that the profits are smaller with less people and the company has to face the reality of economics and charge more to make more profit on these small-ship voyages. I prefer the smaller ships to today's floating cities with their amusement park activities, too many passengers, and modern glitzy architecture. "Ocean Princess" was a joy to live in for two weeks, despite the food issues, and it could get into very small ports without the need for using the tender service most of the time. It had an elegance that more mature travelers obviously appreciated, as many were repeat travelers who had the means to cruise on this ship for back to back cruises. Bon voyage, "Ocean Princess"! Read Less
Sail Date July 2015
We are very recently retired couple, and due to sensible investments we have acquired the funds we will need to ensure that our retirement is as enriching as our both extensive working lives have been. Our closest friends of the past ... Read More
We are very recently retired couple, and due to sensible investments we have acquired the funds we will need to ensure that our retirement is as enriching as our both extensive working lives have been. Our closest friends of the past 36 years 4 couples have insisted that we cruise with them on Fred Olsen Line! My wife and myself have cruised for the past 29 years and are very experience destination worldwide cruisers - and often we belong to the highest membership "tier" of several Cruiselines loyalty ( return cruisers club) We have never fancied Fred olsen before as we adore Silversea and crystal and celebrity and most of All Hal (Holland & America) However, our great friends wanted to cruise with us together as 3 coup,E'S! We thought this might be fun, - but we were still trepidation so regarding Fred Olsen!!!!??? The cabin was superb as was our cabin steward exceptional service ( suitably rewarded) The bar staff and Restaurant waiters and Maitre-D! Superb! We tried 5 excursions no problems even though other repeat cruisers told us that this was rare waitng for Northern lights! A particular nice touch was an official ( keepsake) certificate stating , the correct longitude and latitude crossing the "Artic Circle" However , and this MUST BE SAID !!!!!! the absolute HIGHLIGHT of this cruise was the visiting guest Cabaret act! First there was an old fashioned type comedian Barnaby - but then we were treated to the sublime talent's of the comedy impressionist CHRIS GEE! He was so brilliant my wife's ulcer kicked off as she was holding her stomach by laughing so much!!! And yet, not a bit of "smut" , The ENTIRE SHIP was talking about him- with the rather disappointing result that not enough people could get in for his second show!!! (which we were thrilled to witness was completely different to his initial show) Then the funniest spectacle on the entire cruise Chris Gee then did adaptive show with the executive chef " CAN'T COOK - WON'T COOK n what an amazing hysterical shambles!!!! Also, two of our ladies in our party were not able to dance as their husband's had recent knee surgeries etc, but this wonderful guy also turned out to be a very good (and keen) ballroom dancer so he danced with our gals. EVERY DAY ,which really added to the whole cruise experience. Suffice to say we are NOW!!! FRED OLSEN converts!!!! And are telling everyone at our cruise club! We are hoping to get a group booking as Chris Gee said he will be back next year with a wee bit of luck! Love the tea making facilities in the cabins too!!! Great, scenic cruising Can highly recommend!!!! Book it - we guarantee you WON'T regret it!!!! Read Less
Sail Date June 2015

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