The Christmas Cruise on MV Columbus proved to be unpredictable but enjoyable. On the day prior to departure, I received a text and phone call from CMV advising of a change to the embarkation. The ship was now to depart from Dover and not ... Read More
The Christmas Cruise on MV Columbus proved to be unpredictable but enjoyable. On the day prior to departure, I received a text and phone call from CMV advising of a change to the embarkation. The ship was now to depart from Dover and not Tilbury due to a ‘minor technical issue’. This didn’t affect me too much as the transfer from Victoria Coach Station would now go direct to Dover, rather than Tilbury. Dover is actually a much nicer Cruise Terminal than Tilbury. Changes to embarkation were notified to me in a timely and informative manner by text and phone and the coach transfer to Dover and embarkation was smooth and efficient
The ‘minor technical issue’ was later revealed to be related to the starboard propellers and repairs were due to be carried out in Dover prior to sailing, but we were later to find out this was not possible due to the poor sea conditions and bad weather.
Columbus set sail for Amsterdam later that evening, arriving early the next day. Amsterdam was lovely; vast arrays of Christmas lights; huge Christmas market and a very comprehensive and informative city tour by coach and canal boat. The Shore Excursion Team’s organisation landside was efficient
Once we had set sail from Amsterdam, we were advised that due to the fact that the repairs could not be carried out in Dover, Columbus would not be calling at Gibraltar and would go directly to Tenerife where she would stay for 24 hours whilst the repairs were undertaken. That meant 5 days at sea! Many passengers were upset over the missing out of Gibraltar but I wasn’t too concerned. We received compensation for the ‘missed port’ and Columbus proceeded fairly slowly with a very noticeable judder which I assume was due to the imbalance of the propellers. This was most noticeable in bed (as it rocked us to sleep!) and in the Waterfront Restaurant.
MV Columbus was suitably and imaginatively decorated for a Christmas Cruise and gifts in the cabin on Christmas Eve were a nice touch. The staff and crew were proactive in wishing guests a ‘Merry Christmas’ and the public areas of the ship were always kept spotless, especially the toilet areas where a member of staff seemed constantly to be in attendance
During the 5 sea days there were a full range of activities, lectures, quiz and game shows organised, but probably no more or less than would have been offered anyway. A film was shown in the Palladium Lounge most afternoons, as it was too cold to use the deck screen. The Cruise Director, Iain Bagshaw, gave a run-down of the daily programme twice a day and held a 15 minute ‘Chat with Iain’ each afternoon. He was friendly enough but one got the feeling that ‘it was just a job’ and he didn’t really show any genuine enthusiasm. The lucky and observant ones saw both whales and dolphins.
The weather remained cold and wet and most of the time the open decks were closed due to high winds. Cruising through the Bay of Biscay wasn’t too rough, but certainly not a millpond. Even with her damaged propellers, Columbus managed to remain fairly stable in the rough weather.
There was nightly and sometimes afternoon entertainment presented by the Columbus Singers and Dancers or the ‘Guest Act’ which for the first half of the cruise was the comedian / impersonator Christopher Gee, who was actually quite good. Entertainment was very mixed. The team were pleasant to talk to and enthusiastic, but seemed to lack professional training. Angelina stood out and boosted the credence of the vocalists. The ‘Abba’ and ‘Round the World’ shows were probably the most notable. The dance team’s coordination was generally quite good; the 2nd Guest Act (who transferred from Marco Polo in Lanzarote), the comedian Les Bryan was embarrassing to watch.
The food and service in both the Waterfront Restaurant and Plantation Bistro was of a continually high standard. Christmas Eve Dinner was excellent. My Cabin Steward always had a smile and time for a chat whilst providing a faultless standard of service. The inside cabin on Deck 10 was spacious and perfectly adequate. The vast majority of bar staff were pleasant and attentive, although some needed some additional training in their job and demonstrated poor customer service skills.
We arrived in Tenerife at about 20:00 it was very nice to be able to get off for a few hours and have a drink in a local café. Columbus berthed at the improved cruise terminal which is now a good 20 minutes walk from the town centre. Coach transfers were provided for those with walking difficulties on the next day, although I walked in and out on each occasion. Immediately after we berthed, a specialist team and local divers arrived and started to work on the propellers. They completed their work about an hour before we departed the next day and we have to assume that they were successful, although no mention of the success or otherwise was made by anyone on the ship.
The weather was partly sunny and temperatures in the low 20’s. I did not take an organised excursion, but took the local bus to Puerto de la Cruz for an enjoyable day of exploration costing €8, whereas the same cruise excursion transfer was priced at £22. Local knowledge comes in handy!
We proceeded to both Las Palmas in Gran Canaria and then Arrecife in Lanzarote on the following days, for about 6 hours in each port. Transfers were arranged in Arrecife, but not needed in Las Palmas, as we berthed close to the entrance. Whilst walking along the coastline in Arrecife, Marco Polo could be seen approaching the port – she looked surprisingly impressive! The now familiar judder was gone, so whatever had been done to the propellers in Tenerife must have been successful. Arrival and departure in both ports was as per the itinerary. The weather was disappointing with mostly cloudy skies, quite a strong win and only a few short periods of sunshine. This was certainly not what I had expected or what I had been used to in Tenerife over the last 25+ years at this time of year.
Columbus was joined by Marco Polo in all the Canary Island ports and was dwarfed by Columbus when berthed alongside. We also had two huge TUI ships and a German ship with us in Tenerife and Lanzarote.
The penultimate port was Madeira which turned out to be the most memorable, but not for the reasons we had expected. We anchored early in the morning to the right of the terminal quite near the Queen Victoria. Again it was overcast, light winds and a small swell. However there was a forecast of rain in the late afternoon. The Tender Service stared at 09:00 and passengers with mobility issues were advised to observe the procedure before deciding if they were capable of transferring to the tender with minimal assistance. I found it surprising that many with ‘walkers’ and ‘Zimmer frames’ were allowed to use the service.
I transferred at about 11:30 and by that time the swell was increasing and getting onto the tender was quite tricky. Many people in other tenders were sick on the 10-15 minute transfer to the dock. Within the dock area, the swell presented a few tricky moments when trying to get off onto land. The two TUI, the German (Avia?) and a Fred Olsen ships were berthed, although the Fred Olsen ship left early evening to view the fireworks from the bay.
I spent a couple of hours exploring the Christmas Forest and Market, checking out the restaurants and viewing (but not taking) the cable car, as the clouds were obscuring the mountain from about half way up. They certainly take Christmas seriously and put together a fantastic display – really capturing the Christmas Spirit.
I then decided that as it was getting quite cold and windy and the clouds were gathering quickly, I’d make my way back to the dockside to catch the tender back to Columbus. It was New Year’s Eve, so being on board early would allow sufficient time to prepare for the New Year’s Eve Dinner at 17:45. On arrival at the dockside, I was met with a queue of about 150 people who were also waiting to return.
It transpired that the Tender Service and all afternoon excursions had been cancelled by the ship at noon, as the weather had deteriorated making tendering not a particularly safe or viable option. There were about 600 passengers on Madeira with no idea of how they were to get back on board, or even if that was going to be possible.
Columbus was observed steaming up and down the coast trying to find a more sheltered location to re-commence the Tender Service. Those that were not aware what was happening could have been quite traumatised by seeing this, thinking that the ship had left!
We understand that there were frantic conversations between the ship and the Harbour Authorities trying to find a solution to get the passengers back safely and the result was that the only option was to commence the tendering service, with the assistance of a tug to try to keep Columbus in a stable position.
My utmost praise and admiration must go to the crew on the Tenders in Madeira who, despite a huge swell, successfully managed to get passengers back on board in atrocious conditions.
Once back on board (some 7 hours after I had intended), cold and wet with dampened spirits, it was too late to attend the New Year’s Eve Dinner, which was to have been one of the cruise highlights.
Many passengers suffered sea-sickness, cuts, bruises and emotional trauma. One tender made three unsuccessful attempts to set passengers onto the platform, totalling nearly 2 hours of bobbing about in the huge swell. One 93 year old, complete with ‘walker’ suffered bruising to one arm and cuts and a sprain to the other during the re-boarding. He was certainly a character and said that it was the best adrenalin rush he had experienced in years! A few were shouting, verbally abusing the Madeiran dockside staff, ship’s representative and other passengers and demanding to be flown home and their money back. The vast majority of the Brits just quietly queued in the freezing cold rain and waited patiently until a solution had been devised.
The New Year’s Eve firework display on Madeira was indeed impressive and helped to brighten the spirits of those who had been stranded on Madeira. There was free champagne and although it was still quite windy with light rain, it was definitely worth seeing.
Columbus then cruised on to cold and misty Lisbon for half a day and to our surprise duty free goods in the new terminal building here were much cheaper than they had been on the Canaries. The mist lifted as we left and Columbus left bound for another 2+ days at sea through a very a very stormy and rough Bay of Biscay.
It is just as well that I quite enjoy the days at sea, as we had 10, but I prefer them when the weather is warmer. A Christmas cruise has always been something to look forward to, something special and memorable. Unfortunately this cruise will probably be remembered by some with more negative than positive thoughts although they should probably remember that the weather and sea conditions are unpredictable and that CMV cannot be held responsible for these.
Despite the weather, missing Gibraltar and the difficulties in Madeira, the cruise was enjoyable and value for money. The Columbus made a magnificent effort to capture the Spirit of Christmas with decorations, carols, displays and themed events. Read Less