We travelled to Bristol from the north and stayed in an hotel overnight before embarkation. Having tracked down the access roads into the correct part of Avonmouth docks, further signage to the check in point within the site ... Read More
We travelled to Bristol from the north and stayed in an hotel overnight before embarkation. Having tracked down the access roads into the correct part of Avonmouth docks, further signage to the check in point within the site was quite inadequate. From time to time as we searched through the docks we could see the ship. She looked so elegant. We have admired her previously when she has docked in Funchal and were excited at the prospect of sailing on her. The ‘cruise terminal’ didn’t warrant that title – a dilapidated shed and drop off forecourt in a post industrial wasteland. Having parked the car in a rudimentary, but fenced off area we proceeded to the shed.
Many people were waiting on rows of chairs, some holding glasses of what looked like mulled wine, however we boarded without delay and were soon in our cabin. Our ‘superior twin ocean view’ cabin on deck 10 was clean, of modest size, but perfectly adequate, which was just as well as we were required to spend quite a lot of time there. I had taken for granted (note to self, don’t assume anything) that there would be a fridge and my partner had insulin to store and I was needing to use to an ice pack several times a day. There were 2 bottles of water provided (not complimentary). The view from 2 small windows onto a Promenade deck was largely obscured by lifeboats on the deck above. The shower room was small but adequate, the water often had an orange tinge.
The ship was very clean and staff could be seen cleaning and wiping surfaces the whole time.
Changes to itinerary
There was an announcement that the 4pm departure from Avonmouth was cancelled because of the ‘blustery conditions’ and we would be going out on the morning high tide. As a result we would ‘avoid the worse of the adverse conditions forecast’. Sadly, this proved to be untrue.
There was no option (Head of Customer Service at Head Office) told us in a letter delivered to our cabin, ‘but to cancel scheduled calls at La Corunna (0800-1700) on 24 December and Gibraltar (0900-1700) on 26th December’ (this on the 22nd remember). Also, the Lisbon visit due 2nd January was rescheduled to 26 December (and be “a full day” ie 0700 -1800 hours in place of 1100 - 1700). ‘A short evening stay (2100 hours) at the port of Vigo’ was to be added on 2 January.
We were assured that the safety of passenger and crew is their top priority and our patience and understanding were very much appreciated. Having apologised for the disappointment and inconvenience caused and leaving our holiday plans in tatters (and remember we haven’t put to sea yet), Bob wished us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – then presumably locked his desk drawer and went home to enjoy his well earned break. Thanks Bob.
In fact we were told later by passengers from the preceding mini cruise, that they had been unable to go to Dublin as scheduled, but were rerouted to Cork due to inclement weather. They were told then that the ship would not be sailing from Bristol as scheduled on 22 December. In the full knowledge of this, the company allowed us to board it without any warning of this decision.
Food Day 1
We began to explore the ship and went to eat lunch in the Bistro. There was a varied self-service buffet in Marco’s Bistro. Mindful of 14 days of cruise eating ahead, I ate moderately – soup, a roll, lettuce and tomatoes. Fine.
We had requested early sitting (6pm) on a table of 6. Our table, sited close to the entrance to the Waldorf restaurant had 8 settings. Very quickly, it was clear that there was insufficient room for the serving staff to move around it. Other tables in the row seated 6. One (frail) guest was knocked forwards with every pass made around it and her head was bumped. This continued throughout the voyage. My seat was almost impassable and although on subsequent days I swopped places with my partner, we were all uncomfortable as the waiters struggled around. White wine was banged on the table (no bucket forthcoming), waiter thunderous as a table of 4 behind us arrive an hour late. A neighbours “mozzarella cheese tart’ is a 2x2 inch square. My salad nicoise (5 tiny pieces of potato, almost a whole olive, a 1 inch slice of green bean, a scrap of tuna and a slice of hard boiled egg) was so memorable that I photographed it and this is available on request. My (insulin-controlled diabetic) partner’s cheese plate consists of slivers of unidentifiable cheese and one single Ritz cracker. Unfortunately, He’d eaten the cracker before I thought of photographing it.
I complain to the restaurant manager (I know, not the best start) who assured us that tomorrow will be better. [Actually it wasn’t, because by tomorrow my companion was sea sick and didn’t eat, but by Day 3 there was a change – the cheese and biscuits he ordered had a single digestive biscuit (Graham cracker as they say in the USA) instead of the Ritz biscuit]. Apparently there was an ongoing shortage.
Still eating modestly (I had ordered 3 courses which seemed as if it would be plenty) by 9pm I was starting to feel hungry. I consulted the daily programme and saw that no food was available until 11pm. Visiting the tea and coffee station (open until midnight), the hot water boiler was empty, there was no milk and no clean cups or mugs.
At 11pm I went in search of the promised food. To my surprise I discovered there is no buffet available anywhere on the ship (I’d never experienced this before on a cruise) but ‘Light Bites’ are ‘Around all lounges’. What did that mean? Well what it turned out to mean, when 10 minutes later I finally tracked down a member of staff in the Bistro carrying a single tray of food, was a paper napkin, a meatball, a fried chicken bite and a mini spring roll. I don’t eat meat so I’m afraid I was disappointed (and still hungry). And there we have it. That sadly, is an example of the rather penny-pinching approach to food, drink and customer satisfaction that pervades on this ship.
I worked in catering for decades so I know a lot about the subject and the practicalities involved. I am health conscious as anyone and particularly averse to wasting food when so many people in the world don’t have enough to eat, but its not that there is no food wasted on this ship, its that the provision of it simply isn’t anywhere near good or available enough for a (literally), captive audience
By the way, I had dutifully told the company in advance that I was vegetarian and my partner a diabetic.
After a few days I formalised a variety of my concerns about poor service, food and a penny pinching approach in a meeting with the Guest Services Manager. She was very professional and listened carefully.
One of her observations was that the dinner menu had 6 courses and suggesting that all of these be ordered – and that’s pretty much what I did – I ate soup and salad and an entrée and whilst portion sizes were modest and vegetables rather lacking, I can’t complain of being hungry in the late evening again. But really, that’s not a satisfactory strategy for customer care and it’s a long way away from the promised sumptuous dishes and carefully constructed menus that were going to make our mouths water and which are so described in C&Ms cruise brochure.
At this point I might mention that perhaps because we were almost as far from the kitchen as we could be; were a large table; that the 5 women on it were served before the 3 men and because we were always the last table to be served by our harassed waiter; the food (which was carried the distance from the kitchen en masse for 3 or 4 tables) was barely tepid, and my partner (a stickler for having a hot plate with his hot food) invariably served the last of the 8 covers, did not enjoy a single meal. Luckily our table companions were a jolly bunch or it would have been completely dire.
Denis, our eastern European Cabin Steward was excellent. Cheerful and attentive, he was rarely seen but kept the cabin in good order, turning down the beds each night and making it look attractive. Extra hangers and softer pillows were promptly provided on request together with an ice bucket for the ice pack
I had my hair done and the hairdresser was excellent. I planned to go to her again but events and bad weather overtook me
I found some staff much less impressive.
For example: In Marco’s Bistro, there was relentless clearing of tables by staff who did little else (the comedian raised a gale of laughter when he referred to this in his set - glance aside and your plate had gone without your being asked if you had finished; or, find a table, leave your plate of food and go for water (or vice versa), and it had disappeared leaving you to start again) More worryingly, I was shocked in the first few days to see how staff completely ignored the people struggling day after day with the high seas and undulating decks whilst juggling food and hot drinks (and just getting milk out of the ‘time dated’ vacuum jugs required high levels of strength and manual dexterity at the best of times and you had to do this whilst rocking about). No assistance was offered with carrying trays, no steadying arm proffered or help back to ones seat. No interaction, few smiles. I have never seen this before on any cruise line - waiting staff are usually so helpful to passengers. Not here, (and bear in mind there was a high proportion of people on this cruise using walking sticks). No empathy demonstrated.
[I mentioned this lack of help with carrying trays during my meeting (mentioned above), and noticed that things did change, inasmuch as later in the cruise all the trays for the use of passengers were removed from the Buffet, so that sorted that problem out – but not quite as one might have hoped or anticipated]. Of course clean tables are necessary, but there needs to be a balance of this with customer service and a helpful attitude adopted. It has to be said that some individuals were working tirelessly (see below), as was the Manager.
The Waldorf Restaurant (formal dining)
We were seated at the far side of the entrance to the room, but from what we could see, waiters appeared to be rather overworked and didn’t seem to have an assistant, but themselves did all or most of the running to and fro the kitchen.
As the fortnight progressed matters failed to improve materially, our fellow diners were still bumped and squashed and one of them existed on bread rolls and soup when he was able to leave his cabin. The cheese and biscuits plate however, grew in size over time and eventually the whole table enjoyed its’ generous portions of cheese and (amazingly solid) cream crackers. I think this was a bit of fun on the part of the senior staff.
Our waiter seemed to take life very seriously and to be baffled by any requests and reluctant to ask the kitchen for anything (‘what can I do?’ he asked). In fairness, guests elsewhere assured us that their waiter was great so perhaps it was a lack of experience and confidence which will grow over time. There is of course considerable pressure on staff to clear and relay tables for the 2nd sitting so time is of the essence. There were also visible shortages of cutlery. Soup spoons replaced desert spoons across the ship throughout the cruise. This made eating a yoghurt or a desert from a minature ramekin interesting. There were ongoing ‘short outs’ of various foods and drinks. Apart from the aforementioned cheese biscuits, at various times I myself was told that there was no pineapple juice, lemonade, Baileys, lemons and juice in the bars and there were many other examples. Strange.
Captains Club Bar
Apart from the Marco Polo Show Lounge where shows, lectures and dancing took place, this was the largest space to congregate, with comfortable sofas, tables and chairs and a piano. A duo played a variety of music several times a day. The waiters working there seemed to have organised themselves to have the easiest jobs on the ship. There were frequently 5 or 6 talking amongst themselves around the bar with their backs to the customers. Generally, I found their attitude to be very poor and it was hard to get served. No two drinks served resembled the one before. Every successive cocktail served looked and tasted different to its predecessor – even coffee was non standardised and as a result we spent less time and money there than we might have otherwise.
Other bars and lounges were noticeably better and the female staff seemed to be more customer focussed than male counterparts.
Senior Officers who managed the hotel/restaurant side of operations were impressive, with an excellent style of customer interaction. Unfortunately, their subordinates and counterparts often did not follow this through and appeared unhappy (some actually vocalising this to guests). Was this a problem of management? Why so indifferent? Were they home/seasick? Were there communication or cultural gaps between managers and staff? It was difficult to know and I tried to make allowances but they were frustratingly abrupt and unhelpful at times.
What was clear - because there were passengers on board who had sailed multiple times on the ship and we had conversations with people who had experienced a fantastic 50+ day cruise on her in February 2015, was that things had greatly changed for the worse. Many staff (including the famous Richard Sykes) had been transferred to the Magellan or moved on. The team that remained, included far too many people with no interest or experience in customer service. It would be interesting to know the repeat business % following this cruise. I wondered whether the 15% goodwill future cruise discount offered in the CEO’s final letter to passengers will influence matters? If the ‘never again’ comments made during this cruise are to be believed, it may be unlikely).
Because of the 2 cancelled calls, we were at sea for 4 days before reaching the rescheduled Lisbon stop. This meant there was lots of extra time and work for the Entertainments team. I was thoroughly deflated and felt quite trapped, but determined to stay positive and make the best of what was on offer in the daily programme of events. The usual fare of bingo, quizzes, TV game shows, jackaroo etc were offered but aren’t quite my thing but I thoroughly enjoyed the (extra, unscheduled) art and craft demonstrations as well as the watercolour classes and amusing talks by Jenny, Peter and Anita. There were skilful and interesting. The ‘ships choir’ singing sessions were enjoyable and informative – led by Sophie, her talent and musical knowledge together with her willingness to share her expertise to get the best from our voices was truly impressive.
The new (?) Entertainments Manager Ross Roberts grew in stature and confidence as the cruise progressed. I can’t imagine what the ship would have done without him, as I saw him pour oil on troubled waters and to rectify problems several times.
There was a small troupe of 6 dancers – 4 women, 2 men who performed brilliantly in adverse conditions each night. A range of musical shows was performed including Mama Mia, Queen, Music of the Musicals, Russian themed etc. Colourful costumes, considerable talent and unfailing cheerfulness were on show. Only on the last night when sea conditions were so dire that it was a struggle to stay upright did they (wisely) fail to perform. There were 3 female singers (one was brilliant, another was a good actress with great comedic potential and the third was beautiful but rather tuneless) and 3 guys. This small team performed 2 shows a night and these were supplemented by a Magic Duo (I didn’t see them but they were much praised), and comedian Al Brown who did 2 nights before moving onto Magellan. He was very funny. The band was ok.
The lifeboat drill was well conducted and all passengers expected to participate (unlike on an Italian ship I travelled on some years ago – well before the Costa disaster). In other respects though I thought the safety of passengers was put at risk in different ways on many occasions.
Our planned Excursion to Santiago de Compostela was lost. We walked miles (well more than 14,000 steps) in Lisbon for the sheer joy of being liberated and off the ship. Its a beautiful city. Arrecife (Lanzarote) was ok, Las Palmas and Santa Cruz were attractive, cosmopolitan towns with good shopping and we enjoyed lunch overlooking the impressive beach at the former. Funchal looked particularly lovely. The huge crib, multiple Christmas trees and millions of fairy lights supplemented the colourful flowers and plants. Viewed from the ship, the fireworks at midnight were ab so lutely spectacular. The short, additional stop at Vigo in the dark on a wet night was rather baffling. It may have been useful for refuelling or taking on provisions but there were no excursions and it wasnt possible to explore
I was surprised to hear mentioned in passing during an announcement on 30 December that we would be tendered into Madeira. It simply never occurred to me (note to self – ask the cruise consultant more searching questions!). I have visited Madeira dozens of times and one of my greatest pleasures (far too sad I know) is to watch the cruise ships - coming over the horizon, being met by the Pilot and manoeuvring into a berth. I must have seen it hundreds of times. I’ve never been there for New Year though, which is obviously the busiest date of the year. Inevitably, that means there must be more ships than there are berths available, but when I booked this cruise because it would be IN Funchal for New Years Eve, I thought it would be IN Funchal. So I was surprised, but what the heck, I’ve never been tendered anywhere before – it’d be a new experience. The itinerary said we would be there from 0900 – 0100h.
But then on the day there were problems; launching the first tender, it was banged against the side of the Marco Polo and 2 windows broken. Then launching the second, it too was banged and holes knocked into the hull, which meant that alternative lifeboats would be used. The PA said that there would be delay; that the sea was very rough (not so, this was the Atlantic ocean – it was like a mill pond relatively speaking); the round trip to shore would take an hour and passengers should go and view the procedure from an upper deck and satisfy themselves that they could manage it. Only the able bodied should attempt it and independent travellers were only allowed off the boat after excursions had gone and that by means of a card in strictly alphabetical order. I was planning to meet a friend for lunch in Funchal and pleaded for something earlier that the “N’ we had been given, but to no avail. We finally got ashore at 13.50 and had missed our lunch appointment. Since we were due back aboard by 17.00 (extended to18.00) our visit was fleeting to say the least. Another disappointment. I have to add that the whole process was a fiasco. Staff were less than competent and did not inspire confidence. The queueing system (shared with Magellan and the QE) to board the tenders for the return journey though was handled with considerable cheerfulness and goodwill by the Excursions manager.
There were many injuries and falls amongst passengers. Broken bones, head injuries leading to concussion the list went on. Every loudspeaker announcement by the captain (always repeated immediately by another person), stressed the need for care, holding onto handrails, passing through doors or into bathrooms, staying off open decks etc). But was impossible however to move around the ship in safety. If this ship has stabilisers they seemed to have no effect. This ship is not fit for purpose and should not be carrying passengers in winter conditions.
Furniture was unsecured and much seemed unsuitable (marble topped surfaces to tables in the Bistro were so slippery that crockery and glassware were flying off them for much of the cruise).
Passengers were thrown onto the floor and falling off chairs on many occasions and others were so upset by the sight of so many accidents and injuries that they wept. The Captain made 2 warning announcements within 30 minutes at lunchtime on Monday 4th January, the second of these to say that he was changing course to Southampton and people were advised to retire for their own safety to their cabins. The Bistro had been closed, all the bars cleared of furniture and/or locked. Passengers were told that they would be informed in due course what arrangements would be made for meals. Almost immediately things greatly worsened, the ship rolled terrifically and people were thrown about like nine pins.
After some hours, we were informed that dinner would be served in the Waldorf Restaurant and this proved to be very alarming indeed. Staff carried on impressively as tables full of plates of food and glasses smashed across the floor and onto peoples laps, furniture shifted and I saw a woman moving to the restaurant exit hurled 15 feet across it before smashing into and coming to rest (briefly knocked out) in the waiters‘ service galley.
Disembarkation went smoothly. We were provided with ‘complimentary coaches’ from Southampton back to Avonmouth. I guess we should be grateful we weren’t expected to pay our own way. This was a nuisance for many, but the arrangements were well organised and the staff on shore were helpful and cheerful.
I’m sorry this review is so lengthy, but it’s taken me ages to pull my thoughts together, I so wanted to be fair and balanced and if now I try to edit it down, it’ll be midsummer before I’m finished. We will laugh about all this one day no doubt - but not yet.
It was unfortunate (but fairly predictable), that we experienced bad weather and high seas, but the company's response dealt poorly with the situation and with us and as feelings ran high they were lucky not to have a riot at one point. Many staff were inexperienced, food was no better than adequate and the wall to wall penny pinching was very tedious. I'm appreciative of those in the crew who worked very hard and goodness knows the Entertainments team did so, but sadly this cruise did not offer us value for money. Read Less