This would have been an awkward cruise anyway - with reduced passenger numbers due to covid precautions and with half of the original destinations - most of those on the strength of which we'd originally booked this holiday - cancelled, plus an unfortunate breakdown and delay at Belfast further complicating schedules. What turned awkwardness into, at times, full-throated disaster was the ship's Management's inability to explain effectively to its passengers - and at times to its own Guest Relations team - what was going on and, at appropriate points, to apologise. The unrelenting, non-explaining mood of jovial good cheer on the tannoy, even when we could see that the wheels were coming off, made many of us feel that we were being treated like children - or idiots - or perhaps just wallets.
There were positives: the pleasantness and efficiency of most (not all) of the staff; the excellence of some (not all) of the entertainment, especially the small string-group, the concert pianist and brilliant comedian Micky Zany. The alcohol prices remain reasonable by cruise standards. But a nagging sense of deterioration in quality at the Bookmark cafe - one of Fred's proudest jewels - and the arrant rip-off of the organised tours made us suspect that the bean-counters now have their claws firmly into the Fred operation. Food was strikingly erratic - at times excellent, especially at the admirable Poolside cafe and in the speciality Goan and Asian fusion restaurants; at times poor, especially - again, oddly enough - at the Asian fusion restauarant. In the spa, head massage was good (though a bit of a mis-sell? Much of it was a shoulders and back massage and hair-wash) and the sauna - free to use and often un-used - very good.
The repeated and identical covid health and safety announcements, by entertainment manager and captain, drove us to the edge of distraction - and the further reaches of parody, especially since at NO TIME did they mention perhaps the most important element of all, one regularly and worryingly ignored by many on this ship, that masks should be work over mouth AND NOSE! Put this right, Fred, or else I fear you're heading for a fall...
Compact and pleasant, though we had an odd experience early in the cruise when, one morning, we found the centre of our bed damp - neither enuresis nor (as our chambermaid suggested) sweat! It was not until several days later that we realised this had been caused by a malfunction in the heating/air conditioning unit directly above, causing gradually intensifying over-heating problems as the weather improved over the next few days. Once we complained about this, it was repaired very efficiently but we were surprised that, following our initial complaint about the wetness, the problem wasn't diagnosed and picked up through the chambermaid service. Worth future passengers being aware of this issue if you experience similar.
The perk of a terrace cabin is that you have sliding doors to the deck outside and loungers reserved for you (provided other passengers see the signs!) out there. A pleasant extra though not really worth the premium!
Lovely to be in Belfast, such a friendly, atmospheric, fascinating and in parts beautiful destination. So we didn't mind the extra time there, though the chaos and non-communication arising from this was less excusable. The organised tour to the Titanic was a rip-off that we might have (just about) been able to excuse had it not curtailed our visit to this premium attraction to an inadequate two hours. Tip - do it on your own, using the excellent local taxis to get there and back.