We were looking for a relaxing cruise that was value for money. This cruise fitted the bill rather well... but don't expect great food or "modern" entertainment and activities.
The drinks vouchers were good value for money. We bought the coffee, cocktail and "all drinks" packages. The cocktail package didn't make much sense: the "all drinks" package was more versatile and costs less. If we bought the vouchers again, we would get the wine package (bottles of wine and water).
It would have been more efficient if the drinks vouchers were loaded on the cruise card: carrying paper vouchers was cumbersome.
PORTS OF CALL / EXCURSIONS
Most of the ports of call were very good (Valletta was our favourite, Walvis Bay / Swakopmund was average, while Dakar was disappointing).
The unplanned stop at Gibraltar was a pleasant surprise.
The Dakar MSC excursion (Goree slave island) was not value for money: our bus travelled about half a kilometer from the ship to the port entrance and then broke down. We walked the 200m to the train station entrance and waited an hour and a half for our ferry (it was almost an hour late). The tour guide gave almost no information on Dakar or Goree Island. Most of the information came from the curator of museum. This was very interesting, but relatively short. We then walked to another history museum approximately 500m away, with no further guidance (all the installations were in French).
The public areas in the ship appear a little worn out (seating, table tops and carpets), but were spotlessly clean.
Our cabin was comfortable with sufficient space, although the clingy shower curtain was an irritation. Our cabin attendant (Ferdinand) cleaned the room twice a day and was always helpful and friendly.
The beds were less firm than we are used to, but the spring mattresses did the job.
Our dining experience was the highlight: our dining companions were wonderful, the service attentive (Adi and Ashwara from Indonesia) and the food ranged from merely average (bland and repetitive) to very good (some of the meat and vegetable dishes were very good). The soups and risottos (a staple of an Italian cruise line you would expect) were awful: the soups were always watery and devoid of identifiable ingredients (including the chowder) and the risotto used the incorrect rice night after night and were stoggy. The seafood was generally very food (especially the fish), but the prawns were undercooked (causing diarrhea in our dinner companions) and were not deveined (as is the norm in South Africa). There were limited vegetable side dishes, and the vegetables always tasted as if they had been frozen (watery and tasteless). The best vegetable dishes were baked (such as the delicious aubergine / tomato / cheese bake).
The wine and spirits selections became limited within the second week of the cruise: Aperol and Bells Whiskey had run out early and were not replaced. Amarula liqueur ran out for one week in the middle of the cruise. Some of the South African wines ran out, but were replaced by Italian ones in the Canary Islands.
The buffet meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) were acceptable but generally uninspiring. Vegetable dishes were invariably quiche-like dishes.
The Shellagh's Bar has a separate smoking / cigar room that seats approximately 15 people. This was always empty, with patrons smoking in the open areas of the bar (on the starboard / right side). The staff told us that the port / left side was the "non-smoking" area. The only problem was that the lounge does not have doors separating these halves (or to the rest of the ship) nor separate air conditioning systems. So there was no difference between the smoking and non-smoking sections.
I raised this with Guest Relations, but was told this was "normal". Smoking laws in South Africa or western nations prohibit this.
This would be fine if the products available there were available elsewhere in the ship, but they were not (two types of beer on tap were exclusive to Shellagh's).
ENTERTAINMENT / ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES
The majority of cruisers were over 60 years of age, originating from South Africa (+/-40%), Germany (+/-25%), France and Italy (the latter two based on the languages used in announcements). We met other English speakers from the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
There were exactly 17 children on board (out of less than 1900 passengers). The under-50s segment was a really small one.
The entertainment therefore catered well for this older multi-cultural passenger make-up. For the few of us under 50, the entertainment and activities mostly missed the boat (excuse the pun!): it included music from the 1950s - 1970s (with a sprinkling of Adele and Michael Buble), classical music (generally very good), opera (also good), origami lessons, foxtrot / cha-cha / salsa dancing, etc. The shows also included Cirque du Soleil-type acts and dancers performing "Moulin Rouge" and other types of show-dancing.
Inside cabin: dark and quiet. Located in the middle of the ship, we felt less of the effects of choppy seas.