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8,268 Baltic Sea Cruise Reviews

First sailing following the Star fire incident. I was scheduled to sail on the transatlantic crossing. But, due to the fire damage and repair, I selected the first cruise in the Baltic. We arrived on schedule at 8am in Copenhagen thought ... Read More
First sailing following the Star fire incident. I was scheduled to sail on the transatlantic crossing. But, due to the fire damage and repair, I selected the first cruise in the Baltic. We arrived on schedule at 8am in Copenhagen thought it was interesting that since the ship was out of service and there were no departing passengers, we were not allowed to board until noon. This involved a long 3-4hr wait in a warehouse. My first problem was that all four of my bags were not sent to Copenhagen. It took three days for the luggage to catch up in Stockholm. Princess, to their credit loaned me a tux and my wife a dress for the first formal night. Once on board, I was amazed that Princess was able to pull this sailing together. My cabin was on the starboard which was not damaged. There was no smell of smoke anywhere on the ship. The port side which was fire damaged was repaired but you could still smell the paint. Passengers in these cabins were not happy. Otherwise, nowhere on the ship could you detect that the ship had been damaged. Ports: B Stockholm was nice and scenic. C-Helsinki was a bore. The real payoff was St. Petersburg. Yes, it's as grand as advertised. A+ Spectacular palaces and churches too beautiful for words. The Hermitage alone is worth the trip. Summer Palace and Church of the Spilled Blood breathtaking! You need at least two days in St. Petersburg. Next, was A- Tallinn. What a wonderful stop. The real surprise was A+ Gdansk, Poland. What a grand city. Magnificent old town. Good buys on amber. Last, was Oslo. The Verigen Outdoor Park is remarkable. What a visionary. Dining: Food was was inconsistent. I had some great meals, (veal chop & king crabs). And, some really poor food preparation. (Sent my filet & prime rib back due to taste and toughness of the meat.) I've sailed the Golden Princess and Grand Princess the past two years and the food was better. This was the first time there was No Baked Alaska Parade. Also, take note on the 'lobster & filet night' order the lobster dinner with a filet, on the side. I ordered the filet with a lobster tail extra. It was evident that when added to the filet you received a lobster tail 1/2 the size of the lobster on the lobster only dinner. Entertainment: The on board dance team was great. Also, a two person duo in the Wheelhouse was excellent. All other entertainers were poor! Overall: This cruise was a solid B due to itinerary and terrific ports. Read Less
Sail Date January 2000
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical ... Read More
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical cruise ships, it was nonetheless a terrific experience and a great vacation. Approaching the ship in Amsterdam, the first thing that occurred to me is that there were "no people" waiting to board!! We walked right up the short gang plank into the lobby where the Uniworld crew welcomed us with warm smiles and keys to our cabin. Check in was quick and easy and we were in our cabin within only a couple of minutes. The ship holds 138 passengers, and has 5 passenger decks. Deck 5 is the "Sun Deck" which is mostly an open air viewing deck with chairs and lounges. There is also a glass covered sitting area so that even in inclement weather you can have a panoramic view. This is where the "bridge" is located as well, and towards the very front are tables and chairs. We often brought drinks to this part of the deck and watched the countryside slowly pass us as we relaxed. Deck Four is where the beautiful dining room is location (more on food later!). Also, all of the ship's suites (4 of them) and top-graded cabins with floor to ceiling windows are on this deck. Towards the front is the bar/lounge which is the meeting place for port talks, captain's welcome aboard party, etc. Deck Three is cabins, and Deck Two is cabins, along with an area (indoor patio) for 24 hour coffee and tea, a small boutique shop, the gym/sauna and the hairdressers. Deck One is cabins, along with the small launderette (2 washers, 2 dryers which are free—soap is available for $2.50 for 2 loads). From top to bottom, the ship sparkles. Although much smaller and cozier than a cruise ship, they have all the bases covered with great cabins, a spacious and bright dining room and the services mentioned above. The Itinerary: Holland is really beautiful at tulip time. The trip begins in Amsterdam, sails north to Hoorn and Volendam, then heads back south to Rotterdam, Delft, Arnhem, and Schoonoven. I won't go over each and every detail of the ports (Uniworld's brochure does a terrific job of that!), but instead will provide some of our favorite activities on the trip. Amsterdam: We were lucky that the cruise spent a night in Amsterdam at the beginning of the trip, and 2 nights at the end. There is a lot to see and do, so don't worry that there is too much time there. We boarded the ship about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and spent an hour on board getting unpacked and touring the decks. Went to visit the Anne Frank House (well worth the 15 minute wait to get inside) and walked around central Amsterdam. We had tried to go to the Anne Frank House earlier in the day, but the lines were too long. At 5:00, they had diminished quite a bit and I had heard that the later you go, the shorter the wait. The next morning, Uniworld took us to the world's largest flower auction just outside of Amsterdam. It is called the Aalsmeer Flower Auction and it is similar in many ways to the New York Stock Exchange, except that in place of stocks, the product is flowers. This place is HUGE and you walk ABOVE all of the action and look down at flowers, the actual auctions (where the prices are set for flowers WORLDWIDE) and the logistics of getting the flowers in and out of the auction center. We returned to the ship midday and as we were eating lunch we sailed up to Hoorn. Zaanse Schans is an outdoor windmill museum and they also give demonstrations on how to make wooden shoes. Great photo opportunities here, and also on the bus ride through the multi-colored fields of tulips that extend as far as your eyes can see! In Delft we toured the Delft pottery factory and then spent time downtown. Many old and interesting churches, and a huge plaza with nice outdoor cafes. The Dining Room: Open seating at all meals. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style. However, at breakfast, you can order an omelet of your choice from the buffet and at lunch, you are offered soup and and desert from your waiter. Dinner includes a starter (every night is different, and they are really creative!), soup, a main selection (either meat, fish or vegetarian), a nice desert choice and cheese and fruit from the buffet. The food was all outstanding and there is something for everyone. If you cannot find something, they will make something for you e.g. steak. The food overall was high quality, tasty and delicious. The cabins: At 154 square feet, not overly spacious but certainly adequate. The cabin layout was very nice and they managed to fit in bedside tables, a sitting chair and table, and a bathroom with nice shower (that consistently had great temperature control and water pressure). Very clean and new, and the cabin service is excellent. Ten reasons to choose a river cruise over a traditional cruise: To begin, I believe there is a market for both types of cruises. However, here are 10 reasons why I would travel on a river cruise again with Uniworld: 1. The crew. They can make or break a cruise, and hands down this crew (of only 36) did an outstanding job in every way. We had great service from the cruise manager, the officers, the front desk personnel, the cabin attendants and the dining room staff. 2. The ship. Although much smaller than traditional ships, the River Empress had a great deck plan and above all, was sparkling clean. Everywhere. 3. The food. I was never disappointed with any of the meals. There was a lot of variety, and portions were the right size (although you could order seconds if you wanted). 4. The destinations. Although Amsterdam is a large city with an adequate port, most of the other destinations we went to were too small for traditional ships. This trip gave us an opportunity to experience, and explore, ports that we otherwise would never go to see on a cruise. 5. The tours. Every one is included with your cruise fare. Just show up when they tell you to, and a first class tour bus is waiting for you just a few feet from your ship. Not only did they leave and return on time, every one had a knowledgeable and friendly tour guide, along with an experienced driver. Do not underestimate the value of having all your tours covered in your cruise fare, particularly when the conversion rates for dollars to euros are so poor! 6. Easy on, easy off! These river ships are more like hotels when it comes to arriving and departing guests! Whenever the ship is in port, it is easy to just walk off and on without great fanfare...it reminded me of going to and from a hotel. Quick and easy, in and out! 7. Other passengers. With such a small group, it is easy to meet others and we found that over the week we made many new friends. 8. Relaxation. There is something remarkably soothing about sitting on the top deck and watching the nearby land go by. 9. The other itineraries. Uniworld has many ships sailing throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Now that I've had my first experience with them, I'll definitely be back to another river cruise. 10. The small things. Umbrellas in the cabin should it be raining out. Juice, coffee and pastries at 6:00 a.m. for us early risers. A small vase of fresh flowers in every cabin after the cruise begins. Free washers and dryers. Welcoming smiles from the crew in the lobby every time you come back on board. What a wonderful week we had seeing Holland on the River Empress. I'd do this trip again if there weren't so many other places I want to see first! Read Less
Sail Date May 2000
5 of us (all from Switzerland) sailed on the Nordnorge from Bergen to Kirkenes in mid June 2002. We were delighted with the boarding process which was really easy. Our luggage was taken from us at the dock and we went straight to our ... Read More
5 of us (all from Switzerland) sailed on the Nordnorge from Bergen to Kirkenes in mid June 2002. We were delighted with the boarding process which was really easy. Our luggage was taken from us at the dock and we went straight to our cabins. We then sorted out dinner reservations and were able to secure a table for the group, without other people assigned to it, by opting for the second sitting (7.30pm I seem to remember). The Hurtigruten is a working line, and everything went like clockwork. Loading finished on time and we sailed on time, enjoying the view from the observation lounge of the archipelago as we left Bergen. The cabins, for junior suites, were small but adequate. We had a sitting area, bathroom with shower (bathroom was really small!) and a comfortable king size bed with nice duvets. Everything was spotless. One member of our group has a single cabin - which was in fact a standard double - and she found this really small. If two people had been in it, with both beds down (one folded up in the daytime, and for single use) then there was really no room to move! The only other comment about our cabin is that the window was really high up and you could only see out of it if you stood up. Too bad - it would have been lovely had it been lower! The meals on the ship are typically Norwegian - very copious. (Would suite Americans I suppose but for European travellers servings were rather large!) Breakfast and lunch were buffets with loads of fresh seafood and, to my husband's delight, make-it-yourself waffles at breakfast. Food at dinner was served - the waiters did morning duty as cabin cleaners and were mostly all charming young Norwegian students - and quite bland. Potatoes came with everything!! As I said, this is a working ship. It makes something like 36 port calls from Bergen to Kirkenes, transporting all sorts of things including people. We had been warned that we might hear noise in the night as cargo was loaded and un-loaded. In fact we heard nothing and slept like babies!! But, being a working ship, people keep getting on and off and there seems to be no policy to stop the young from sleeping anywhere on the ship - including the nice swivel chairs in the Observation lounge!! I found this rather tacky. Our itinerary was great. We stopped at Trondheim and took a ship-organised excursion to visit a museum of musical instruments, which was fascinating. We also cruised the Geiranger Fjord - truly beautiful scenery. I think this was added as part of the attraction for foreigners as the ship didn't seem to stop anywhere or load and unload. We stopped at other little (and I mean little!) towns and then sailed to the Lofoten Islands. These are truly spectacular and we enjoyed the couple of hours in port. Another tour we took was at the North Cape, which is Europe's most northerly point. We were bused to the Cape where we had time to see a really good film on it and walk around. We also visited a Sami (Lapp) encampment. I could have done without this as, like American Indian pueblos, it is quite depressing and you hate to see the Sami being exploited as a tourist destination. We were on board on June 21st, way into the Artic Circle, and experienced the sun circling around us instead of setting. Really impressive!! In sum, we all enjoyed the trip. It is not a luxury ship by any means, but it is comfortable (A/C works perfectly in the cabins) and the scenery is fabulous! Read Less
Sail Date June 2002
My husband and I just completed this cruise (may 18 - 25th) and had a wonderful time. we arrived in athens a day early and were able to wander around the plaza and have dinner at a scenic taverna that evening, spend the night, go on a ... Read More
My husband and I just completed this cruise (may 18 - 25th) and had a wonderful time. we arrived in athens a day early and were able to wander around the plaza and have dinner at a scenic taverna that evening, spend the night, go on a city tour of athens (including the acropolis/parthenon) that morning and then board the windspirit after lunch. we had been told that was all we needed to do in order to see the best of athens and i believe it. some people on our cruise had spent more time there but they had used it as a base to travel to neighboring sites. some advice about the ports (and the tours offered by the ship): mykonos: the tour to nearby delos is worth it. delos was revered by both the greeks and the romans as the birthplace of apollo and served as a major trading port to several ancient civilizations. wear sunscreen and a hat ---no shade. the tour goes until lunchtime and you can either return to the ship for lunch or eat out. we had already decided to eat "local" whenever possible to get as much of the experience as possible (btw the food on the ship is excellent). afterwards, there is time to visit the shops or the beach; the ship doesn't sail until late. santorini: because this route arrives here on monday, the ruins at akrotiri are closed. the only tour available takes you to the picturesque town of ia (or oia in some books). visit the town on your own --- don't bother with the tour. this is one of the two big regrets of our cruise (the other was not staying longer in istanbul). this tour took us to the highest point of the island, the profitis illas mountain, where you can see both sides of the island, which was not uninteresting but it was a big time-waster considering that the ship has to set sail at 4:30 pm in order to make rhodes by the next morning (shortest port time on the cruise) by the time we arrived in ia, we only had an hour and a half to see it. another couple invited us to rent a taxi with them to go directly to ia instead of the tour and we declined. big mistake on our part; they had time to see the whole town and do some shopping as well. rhodes: we took the tour to the acropolis at lindos and enjoyed it. the tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the area and from what i heard later had good advice about places to eat and shop in the town after the tour. once on our own, we paid the admission so we could walk on the top of the walls around the old fortress (again, no shade, need good sunscreen and a hat) and visited the "palace of the grand master" at the fortress -- probably the worst of the sites we visited because the pamplet and the signs explained little about the displays and the docents (if you could call them that) just said "i don't know" about everything we asked. perhaps they didn't speak english but if so, they were among the few people we met who didn't. btw: we shared rhodes and bodrum with the passengers on the sister ship windstar (the istanbul-to-athens route). we didn't have many opportunities to interact with them, but it was neat to see the two ships side-by-side in the ports. bodrum: the most relaxing and longest tour of the cruise. we hesitated taking this tour because it takes up the whole time the ship is in port and is the most expensive but it was worth it. we were broken up into groups of only 10 and taken to the port-side museum of underwater archeology. very few of the artifacts there are reproductions and span several centuries and civilizations. then, we were escorted on board a small sailboat (called a "gullet") and taken to a quiet cove where we were invited to change into bathing suits and swim (water was a little too cold for me though) and sunbathe while the crew fixed us a wonderful lunch of local dishes. we spent the rest of the day relaxing and sunning on the gullet. we needed that after 3 days of sight-seeing. when we got back to the ship, we were entertained by a troupe of local dancers along with a belly dancer in the ship's lounge and then it was time for the pooldeck bbq. tons of fun and great food and dancing under the stars. we also got the see the windstar put up her sails and head to santorini; good picture taking opportunity since you can't really get a good picture of the windspirit with sails up. many of us agreed that this was the best day of our trip. kusadasi & ephesus: before starting the cruise we booked a tour from a local company called byzance. we can't say enough great things about them and the tours they provided. guide was waiting for us at the port, ready to begin our day. i requested that we try to avoid the ship's buses, and they did everything possible to make sure this occurred! it was a pleasure to enjoy the same places that the ship offered at our own pace, staying as long or as short as we wanted for a fraction of the cost! the fact that we were "alone" made it much more personalized. on most of our tours, we had around 30 people and each and every one of them raved about the great time they had. it always seems there is usually someone who may have a concern or complaint, however this was not the case with byzance. our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. we will most definitely use them on future cruises and from comments made from our group, i can assure you they will also! their web site is http://more.at/byzance the sea day: we needed this time off at this point. we were just about "ruin-ed out" and needed a break. we took the tour of the galley that the chef offered and had massages in the beauty salon. the dinner that night included beef tenderloin and lamb chops --- both were excellent and we celebrated over a bottle of champagne our last evening on board with two other couples we had become fast friends with. istanbul: you will regret it as we did if you do not spend a couple of days here. we used byzance here too. i could not be happier with the service we received from guide, i have never had a more positive experience with any company of any kind -- ever! i don't know what more i could say. we had to leave very early the next morning after our arrival so we only had time to see the blue mosque and the hagia sophia and walk through a small part of the grand bazaar. that means we missed topkapi palace entirely (it takes 4-5 hours to tour properly) and several other places we wanted to see. this is definitely on our list of places we wish to re-visit one day. we later debated "what if we had taken the istanbul-to-athens cruise instead?". the other route no doubt saw more port time at santorini (& would have been there when akrotiri was open) but on the other hand, their sea day came early in the trip instead of at the end when we felt we really needed it to recover and appreciate istanbul. the choice is yours. i hope this helps anyone considering this cruise. it was the trip of a lifetime for us and we have wonderful memories of the people we met and places we visited. 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Sail Date May 2003
I have just returned from the most wonderful cruise aboard the COSTA ATLANTICA and would like to share my thoughts and opinions with you, so here goes :- TRAVEL AND EMBARKATION We were due to go on vacation on 20th July 2003 . The day ... Read More
I have just returned from the most wonderful cruise aboard the COSTA ATLANTICA and would like to share my thoughts and opinions with you, so here goes :- TRAVEL AND EMBARKATION We were due to go on vacation on 20th July 2003 . The day finally dawned and we set of. Our flights were with British Airways from Glasgow via London Gatwick to Marco Polo airport in Venice our flights were right on time and were great, flying over the Swiss Alps etc on a beautiful sunny day, THEN just coming into land in Venice was a sight to behold, we could see the whole of the Venitian Lagoon with St Marks square etc and we could also see our ship sitting in dock patiently awaiting us.It was truly a wonderful sight quite awe inspiring !!!! We were then quickly into the airport terminal and awaited our luggage (helpful tip- if you are arriving here try your best to have a 1 EURO coin for the luggage trolleys) we waited the grand total of 10 MINUTES for our luggage (the best ever) walked through passport control and right in front of us were about 3/4 Costa Reps to guide us to a desk, at the desk we provided them with our transfer voucher and were informed that a coach would be there in 10 mins to take us to the port. It was then a pleasant 20 minute drive to the port itself. NO PROBLEMS so far. On arrival at the port and still on board the coach we were then given a card with an embarkation number and told roughly what time we would be able to board ship -if my memory serves me correct we were given #10 &12 - we were then told that those numbers would be boarding around 4.30 p.m and that if we wished we could go for some lunch or catch a waterbus into Venice (our luggage was taken care of) and as it was only 12 noon I think most people on the coach were going to do just that. BUT - thanks to these boards I remembered that someone had said to mention that we were in a suite and that we would have priority boarding - excellent advise THANK YOU !. I called the girl over and explained and my embarkation card was swiftly changed for # 1 and we were informed that we could board in about 30 mins and just to go right into the waiting area dock # 107. This area was a bit congested with numerous little trolleys/desks which appeared to be selling wine packages or similar, most of them had signs but only in Italian, so we headed for the Information desk where they spoke excellent English and they directed us over to another area where a rather disorderly line had formed but we managed to make our way to the front and show our cards and were told to come right through _ the other people in line had numbers as high as fourteen but obviously were willing to wait there until called. This part is not a complaint in any way but I would say that a few notices dotted around or the odd announcement might solve this problem. only my opinion. We were then shown through a set of glass doors where the obligatory Photos were taken (mines was actually okay for a change I normally look like martian or something after travelling so Costa were off to a good start) We had to be shown to a tender/water taxi as due to the Festival of the Redentore our ship was not going to be able to sail down the grand Canal (pity) but was docked over in Mestre. It was a pleasant trip over to the Atlantica and we were very quickly on board after the first of many smiling Buon Giorno that we would hear on our cruise. Within 2 minutes of boarding I was IN LOVE with the Costa Atlantica -the ship was beautiful,spotlessly clean,wonderful and cool after our trip on the tender and every member of staff had a smile. I just hoped that the rest of the cruise was going to be up to our expectations :- READ ON FOLKS THE CABIN,SHIP AND THE SERVICE. After a never ending walk along the hall ( this is when we realised how BIG the ship really was-good for the waistline though haha) we finally reached our Suite # 5293 and our cabin steward Dedi was already outside in the hallway to ensure that we had everything that we needed.- I have a heart condition and need to sleep with a few pillows for comfort , I had hardly closed the door when Dedi appeared with 4 extra pillows - definitely points to him for quick service., Our Suite was wonderful, on entering there was door to our right leading into a dressing area with a large double wardrobe, and a dressing table with huge mirror surrounded by lights, a marble top and some drawers to the side - the hairdryer was in the top drawer. A further door of of this area led to the Bathroom with double sinks (again with marble tops) a bath with jacuzzi and and an over bath shower (excellent power) the bath had a full sized glass screen and also a small line to hold wet bathing suits etc. Toiletries consisted of a can with the Costa logo beside each sink holding small bottles of shower gel,shampoo and after sun, shower cap and soap. The rest of the suite was on par sized with a decent hotel room and again all surfaces were topped with marble, another dressing table/desk night stands and a table with adjustable height, another double wardrobe, more drawers, a couple of cupboards,a mini fridge which was stocked (we emptied it into one of the cupboards and put our own soda and water into it, even a couple of beers and there was no problem) There was also a leather sofa which i understand converts into another bed if required, a king sized bed and an easy chair. We thought the room was great.Our balcony was approx. 18feet long by 41/2 feet wide and it had 2 adjustable wooden chairs and a wooden table, I think standard cabins have plastic furniture on the balconies. we found the chairs very comfortable and they reclined incase you wanted to do a bit of sun bathing. The front of the balcony is made of blue glass which lets you see through it out to the ocean even from your bed (there is a floor to ceiling window just next to the bed) and from now on a balcony is a must for me !!!!! Our butler already had a bottle of champagne on ice for our arrival but he came and introduced himself as Daniel , brought us the list of shore excursions menus etc and explained what he could do for us, e.g book our excursions, table reservations for the Club Atlantica, room service etc and bring us breakfast in the morning - this sound good to me !!! We then went for a quick browse around the ship (our luggage hadn't arrived yet but is WAS only 2 p.m. had a snack from the welcome buffet, went back to our cabin and as our luggage was there, unpacked and changed, in time for our sail away followed by early seating dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed our sail through the lagoon and we could see the famous landmarks of Venice in the distance. The only snag being that we had to go for dinner before we had seen all of the sail down the lagoon. But we knew we were coming back the same way so it wasn't a problem FOOD AND DINING AREAS We were first/early sitting which was at 7 p.m. main sitting was 9.45 p.m a bit too late for us. We had a table for 8 and had very nice table companions for the whole week.Our waiter and busboy were excellent although our busboy was quite new but he was ssooo eager to please. The food was excellent throughout to the point where as I can only manage 3 courses to remain comfortable after dinner I was in a real dilemma deciding what I could do without, I always had a starter but as I loved there soups AND their pastas it was a hard decision which one NOT to take, all main courses too were great.Just keep in mind that this a European ship with tastes to match in cooking (dont expect food to have an American slant, just as if you had gone to europe you would not expect to find American steak houses etc so enjoy the european slant on things) THE FOOD IN MY OPINION WAS SUPERB !!!! Our waiter was also very good in that if you choose something that he perhaps felt wasn't a good choice he would suggest something else e.g one evening for dessert we choose a lemon ice cream something or other (sorry i dont remember what it was called) and our waiter said "can I suggest that you choose something else" why we asked has it all gone or something "no he said, it is just that is is not made with real lemons but artificial flavoring and gelatin, but if you really want it i will order it, but I would suggest another choice" once again points awarded here for honesty and helpfulness. The food on the buffet stations too was excellent, but this is my one and only complaint from the whole cruise!!!! The restaurants at the buffets were CRAZY at meal times we could hardly get a table for the four of us at lunch time -my reckoning is that ;- 1.WE were in a minority being 4 of only 118 english speaking passengers,with the majority of passengers being Italian (not a problem in itself) BUT 2. The Italians on a whole love to eat, love to talk and love to take forever with lunch, this is where i feel the problem lies, as they have their lunch but remain at the table for AGES after they have finished eating to talk and talk and talk, So it does get a wee bit on the noisy side and tables are taken up for ages with them. But hey!!! its their vacation too ! so we just had lunch either later just before the buffet closed or went to the main dining room. 3. one other down point - sorry any Italians reading this - but they dont believe in waiting in line, if there is a line they think you have to join it at the FRONT !!! Other than that they were very courteous and always had a smiling Buon Giorno or Buona Sera when ever you passed them. WE took the opportunity to dine in the Club Atlantica as we could dine free as suite passengers, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, there was only 3 other tables occupied, service, food etc were excellent and with a pianist playing and the stars shining in through the glass roof we were enchanted. Dont miss it. The theme nights in the main resuraunt were not to be missed either, on one occasion they dim the lights and the waiters come around carrying candles and then start to sing O SOLE MIO and dance with every lady guest, it was a lovely touch. The entertainment was great and varied and they had a talent show on the last night for passengers, very good! The staff were all warm and friendly and were actually pleased to hear an English (or rather SCOTTISH) accent apparently the europeans on a whole tend not to have much to do in the way of speaking with staff, they very much just see them as waiting staff and are not too friendly towards them. But we found that when they heard anyone speaking in english they were only too happy to chat with them and we found that we had better service too!! EXCURSIONS We booked 2 through Costa. Istanbul and Athens, had no problems what so ever with them. Excellent english speaking guides and our reservations were made on our behalf by our butler, so no waiting in line at the desk.They were reasonably priced andmost enjoyable.The other ports we just jumped in a cab and went to wherever we wanted. again no problems. DISEMBARKATION This to was swift and painless, we were given coloured tags for our luggage and an approx time that we would be off ship. and asked to be out of our cabins for 8.30.a.m. we could then wait in the Club Atlantica -suite guests- or a designated lounge for other passengers. We went onto the top deck for the sail up the GRAND CANAL -AWESOME truly amazing and the perfect ending to our WONDERFUL cruise. We then went up to club atlantica where pastries and soft drinks were provided, a Costa rep asked which colour tags we had (dark blue) and she came over to our table at 11a.m. and told us that we could now disembark. We were off ship and had our luggage in our hands by 11.15 a.m. PERFECT. I know this has been rather ? long so I will just add a few short notes to cover any points that I feel I may have missed. Smoking - No problems here smoking is NOT allowed in any of the theatres or dining areas or elevators, I hate smoking and never had any problems here at all. announcements - Again no problems here, very few announcements were made and any that were , were said in italian then english. The only exception being the lifeboat drill which was done in 5 languages but again this was not a problem . English speaking passengers - yes we were in the minority but we enjoyed the feeling of being in Italy (where we went for 10 days after the cruise) we actually felt that we were ABROAD . We were never made to feel as if we shouldn't have been there and actually managed to learn a few more words in Italian ! HELPFUL TIP FOR ANYONE WONDERING ABOUT CRUISING WITH COSTA - if you are the kind of person who likes things to be the same as home, surrounded by familiar things, foods drinks and people, Take a vacation in your back yard. BUT if you are the kind of person who likes to try new things,see new places, talk with new people and basically enjoy life. THEN get on a Costa cruise. I could have my suitcase packed and be there again in a heartbeat if I could. If there is anything at all that you feel I have missed, just Email me and I will do my best to help. Kindest regards from Scotland Sandra aka happy cruizer Read Less
Sail Date July 2003
Our family of four sailed last summer on the Grandeur for 12 nights out of Harwich on their Baltic cruise. We flew into London the morning of the cruise, and there was little difficulty meeting up with the RCCL folks at the airport and ... Read More
Our family of four sailed last summer on the Grandeur for 12 nights out of Harwich on their Baltic cruise. We flew into London the morning of the cruise, and there was little difficulty meeting up with the RCCL folks at the airport and getting our bus to the cruise. We were among the first passengers to arrive, and we were able to board even before noon. Our cabins (inside for the two teenagers and small suite for mom and dad) were just as advertised. We've sailed before on the Rhapsody, a sister ship of the Grandeur, so everything had a vague familiarity. Our only complaint about our outside cabin was that we smelled far too much smoke from our immediate neighbors. There must be a shared ventilation system, or something. It's a joke that cabins are "non-smoking," as I think that's all that our neighbors did the entire cruise. Likewise, it was sometimes hard to enjoy our wonderful little balcony, since one or both of them were always out there! Dinner (late seating) was at a table for 10 with some of the nicest people we have ever had the pleasure of cruising with. Our waitress and assistant waiter were the best we have ever had --- her name was Katrina, and she would make recommendations every night on what was and was not "good." If you didn't take her advice, she would bring extra of what she recommended and give it to you instead! I remarked more than once that the Grandeur staff seemed happier in general than any other cruise we have sailed on. Everyone aboard greeted you with a cheery hello, and I just felt like they were happy. I asked Katrina, and she said that it was because they all really liked the captain. Ports of call on this cruise included Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Tallinn, and St. Petersburg. We are not real fond of ship shore excursions, preferring instead to do our own research and venture forth! It makes the anticipation of going on the cruise all the greater when you read about the places you are going in advance. In Oslo (our first port), we bought a travel pass at the Tourist Office, allowing us all-day access to transportation. We rode the bus, the subway, and a water taxi, so we got our money's-worth! It was a busy day with stops at Vigaland (sp?), the Munch Museum, the Viking Museum, and the WWII Resistance Museum. Not much time for shopping here, but everything was very expensive, so that didn't matter. We were lucky to hook up with two or three other families, with whom we shared most of our shore expeditions. It was fun, and we are still great friends with some of them. Helsinki was a bit more grim-appearing than the pretty Oslo, but we still managed to hoof it all over that town. It looks like the Cold War era Russia we see depicted in films - in fact, many are filmed there for that reason. We did some department-store shopping here, and we ate Italian food for lunch. There is a smallish flea market near the port that had some nice jewelry items, and it was a cheaper city than Oslo. Copenhagen is such a pretty stop! We took a boat ride the evening we arrived, getting a view of the city from the canals. Following that, we went to Tivoli, where the kids enjoyed some of the rides. I would not recommend arriving there after dark, since there clearly were some lovely planted areas, but we couldn't much see them. The next day, we took the double-decker tour bus around town, getting on and off at will. In Stockholm and in Copenhagen, our teenaged daughter loved getting to go to the H&M stores. There are several really high quality shops right on the pier where we were docked, and they sold the finest quality amber that we saw on the whole cruise. I wear Dansko clogs, and there was a shop that was full of them there right on the pier! In Stockholm, my husband's favorite place was the Vasa Museum. It is a sailing ship that sank on its maiden voyage right there in the harbor. After hundreds of years, it was salvaged and placed in this museum. We also toured a nearby museum and did lots of shopping and walking around the old town area here. It's a very pretty city. Tallinn was the surprise of the cruise. It's a great little stop, and we all enjoyed a walking tour that we put together with all of our individual guidebooks. Tallinn is a good place to buy amber as well as handmade linens, although I thought the amber in Copenhagen was perhaps a bit nicer. The highlight of the trip was St. Petersburg, where we spent two full days. We went the route of getting our Russian visas before we left which was pretty daunting - you have to send your passport to the Russian Consulate in New York. It all went as they say it does, and we had them back in the prescribed amount of time. We hired a private guide, driver and van, and we were able to see far far more than we would have seen had we done ship shore excursions. There were some on our cruise who went the ship-tour route, and when their museum was closed unexpectedly for the day, they had no alternative but to sit on the ship all day, since you cannot get off the boat unless you have a Russian visa. We saw Peterhof, Pushkin, Catherine's Palace, the Hermitage, and far far more. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and she even kept our teenagers interested. We also were able to take a ride on a Russian subway down the steepest escalator I have ever been on. We went to a Russian fast-food restaurant for lunch, visited a Russian market, a candy store and a pharmacy. It was all very interesting! There were three at-sea days on this cruise, although there were a couple of days where we did not arrive at a port until late afternoon and left the next afternoon. In every port, we docked at a pier, unlike in the Caribbean, where we were "tendered ashore." Email me with any questions! Kathy M Galveston, TX Read Less
Sail Date July 2003
This was our first ever cruise, 7 days on sea dream 2 It took place in the Med, august 2003 Here is our impression of this ship Cabins: They are quite small. They are however, very comfortable, well furnished and clean. The shower room ... Read More
This was our first ever cruise, 7 days on sea dream 2 It took place in the Med, august 2003 Here is our impression of this ship Cabins: They are quite small. They are however, very comfortable, well furnished and clean. The shower room and toilet is small, but with mirrors and wall to wall marble, looks much bigger than it is. Shower is nice. Don't sit on the toilet and press the flush, you might get sucked away, its viciously efficient. You get a dvd player in the room, quite useful if you get a bit bored. ( they could not come up with the instruction book when asked ). The bed is really comfortable. Don't be put off by a room with portholes,( which are slightly cheaper.) it gives the room a nice nautical feel. The only negative point is the silly corporate video that runs constantly on one of the TV channels, where someone who sounds like an American car salesman, tells you how lucky you are to be on the ship, and how you can hire the ship out if you like and put family portraits on the walls if you do - listen to too much, and you will want to vomit. Service and staff: The staff are really pleasant and helpful. Even the boys who clean the decks at 6am in the morning stop and say hallo, if you want them to, and proudly point out local sites. The waiting staff are really eager, sometimes a bit too helpful! Its unlikely that you will ever have a problem with service on this ship. I am impressed with this. The Food: The food served on the ship is very excellent. Although they can't make fish and chips to save their lives, I would not hold that against them. You don't have to dress up like a penguin just to eat your evening meal. The ship often spends a night in port. We ate on shore occasionally, just for a change of scenery, not due to the quality of the food. Ignore the restaurants recommended by the ship, they will be expecting hoards of rich American and charge accordingly, but get a lonely plant/rough guide/cadogan guide and pick a real local eating place. You get a house wine, otherwise you have to pay for an item on the wine list. They are quite expensive. Try buying one on shore and drinking that, which is more interesting Drinks: All drinks are included, except for the wine list. Experienced cruise people tell me this makes for a more relaxed atmosphere, when chatting and drinking with fellow passengers. The top deck bar is the best. Efficient and friendly bar staff, excellent cocktail knowledge. I wish I was a big drinker ! Entertainment: There isn't very much at all. Great for honeymooners!. Someone plays a piano and sings every night, apart from that, you can play with the other guests. Otherwise its the DVD collection. Its extensive, though you might want to bring some of your own. The ship: There is a small swimming pool at the rear and sun deck. You can't swim very far, but it becomes a social centre if its too hot. The staff will serve you drinks by the pool. The top deck suffers from limited shade, apart from that is very nice. Gym is quite large. Restaurant feels a little closed in. Water sports: The organisation of the water sports seems a little chaotic. This does not happen in every port of call. On our cruise, about 3 times in 7 days. There was only one jet ski operating, which is in huge demand. They ask you to sign silly American waiver forms, and then don't tell you how to use anything. They could be a little more imaginative and offer to ferry guests to some of the remote beaches near where the ship anchors. You of course get ferried to the port continuously.The boatmen who do this are again friendly and very helpful Ports of call. The Mediterranean ones we visited (Corsica, Sardinia, sorrento, capri) were not really that interesting. Try hiring our a car in the port, (via the internet which is cheaper than the walk off the streets tourist rates) with AVIS etc. Then you can explore the country side and escape the tourist hoards. Tips: All tips are included. Its not like an american hotel, where the staff are begging for money at every opportunity. However, if you do tip someone, they won't complain :) ! ( as the chief steward informed me after I had asked ). I did, and hats a rare event. Other guests: On our cruise at least 50 percent were europeans. The remaining americans were fortunately not the typical american tourist (that is, very fat with loud mouthed children, all of whom are called Amy ). Negative points: There are very few. The tours are predictably over priced. The captain certainly never leads people snorkeling, ( he could not swim ) as the promotional video suggests. The transport arrangement from the ship to your airport / hotel are a rip off. They wanted 150 us dollars to transport people from Civitavecchia to Rome airport. A distance of only 40 miles. I hired a car one way. The locals thought this price was ridiculous, and suggested it was because they were hoping to rip off a pile of rich americans. (some people - though not me- had saved up for months this trip ). There is a direct train from Civitavecchia to Rome airport. The tour director seemed put out when passengers discovered this, and implied you would have to walk to the station, as the taxis would refuse to take you. no surprises there. Considering how much people pay to go on this cruise, I would have expected them to lay on a minibus. They can hire one from AVIS or others for very little. Why spoil an excellent cruise with a crap attitude at the end. Other. We were reject for one cruise (silver seas) as my girlfriend was pregnant (28 weeks). From their web site, they appear not discriminate against pregnant women. So we didn't tell them and just got on, having told my girlfriend not to stand sidewise and to wear baggy clothes when boarding. No one complained. Its an ideal cruise for someone in this condition, however, you wouldn't do this in Africa, or if you had several days at sea continuously. Buying your ticket. Experienced cruisers will not buy a ticket 5 days before as I did. One cheaper source was internet auctions. Several american passengers bought their tickets this way. positive points. This cruise is like a long a lazy sunday afternoon, where nothing goes wrong or bugs you. The experience is similar to a large private yacht. I'd recommend it Read Less
Sail Date August 2003
Here is my review for our sailing aboard the Carnival Glory on 9/6/03. If you are a stickler for spelling, grammar, and punctuation, this review is not for you. It is late and I am quite tired of staring at this computer, so please forgive ... Read More
Here is my review for our sailing aboard the Carnival Glory on 9/6/03. If you are a stickler for spelling, grammar, and punctuation, this review is not for you. It is late and I am quite tired of staring at this computer, so please forgive the errors. quote: ---------------------------------------------------------------------- -------- In the words of one of my many Big Cats friends... Hi y'all The following is my families account, and solely my family's account, regarding our cruise on the Carnival Glory on 9/6/03. This is also my first time posting a review, so bare with me. While I am a veteran on the boards of Cruise Critic, I am a rookie at posting reviews. This was our fifth cruise, fourth aboard Carnival. We are a family of three, consisting of George, Anne, and our little princess (as she became known by fellow big Cats) Arrielle. With the exception of one cruise, all of our cruises have been to the Caribbean. We hail from the "Valley of the Sun", otherwise known as Phoenix, AZ. There is something about escaping from the desert (although Phoenix is the fifth largest city now) to the tranquil blue waters of the Caribbean. So, with all the formalities out of the way, here is our review... Flight: We flew in a day early on Sept. 5th so that we would be well rested getting on to the ship and wanting to avoid any possible flight problems. Flew out on American Airlines and actually arrived early in Orlando. Nice change if you have been used to flying on Continental or America West, as we have. Note to anyone who got sucked into their promos about extra space between their rows of seats..."BULL"! I'm 6' 5'' and I did not see any difference from any other airlines that I have flown. Port Canaveral/Budget: We rented a rental car from Budget (on a side note, Budget is now the closest Rental agent to the port, now that Avis has been exiled from the Radisson), and had absolutely no problems with them. On the drive to the Radisson we hit a wall of rain that was so violent, we could not see an inch in front of us. I now what its like to drive blind. We really like how everything is laid out on Astronaut blvd; everything is quite simple to find. Radisson Hotel/Grill's Restaurant: The Radisson is a great hotel. I know this hotel has gotten some recent bad reviews, but we found both the grounds and our room to be quite clean. They have a great pool, but unfortunately, due to the weather, we were unable to enjoy it. I highly recommend this hotel to anyone. That night, we met up with fellow "Big Cats" Dawn, David, Jacob and Marie at Grill's restaurant for dinner. We had a great time and the food was excellent and quite reasonable. Grill's is a can't miss if you are looking for somewhere to dine by the Port. First Impression of the Glory: I stopped off at a store not far from the port to pick up some "spirits". A gentleman walked in quite disturbed because he could not find the Disney cruise ship as I was walking out the door. As I came up on the Glory, I could not believe the size of this ship. And as I passed it, I noticed the Disney ship, dwarfed in comparison to the Glory that the gentlemen in the store had inquired earlier. There is something to be said when approaching a brand new ship with fresh paint of that magnitude...wowwwww! Embarkation: I don't know what Carnival and Port Canaveral did, but whatever it was, it works. We took the Budget shuttle over to the Port around 10:45 am and we were walking on the ship before noon. No problems with luggage, no bus rides, very painless process. We were so impressed with how quickly everything went we will be taking our next cruise from Port Canaveral also. Walking on the ship: From the pictures that I seen on the internet, the Glory came off as almost gaudy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ship is quite beautiful in both color and decor. Pictures do not do this ship justice. I will say this though, while I liked the colors, I did not like the layout of the grand atrium. It seemed quite small, and that center pillar spiraling up through the center is a waste of space. Our Room: We were in stateroom #7373, which is a category 8B with a balcony. Our cabin was a quad cabin, located about twenty cabins from the back of the ship, with both an overhead bunk bed and a couch that unfolded into another bed. It really is nice getting to sail on a new ship; our cabin still had that new look and smell to it. The only negative about it, was the side to side movement that we experienced throughout the cruise. With that said though, we pretty much experienced the movement throughout the whole ship; the movement just increased steadily the further back you got. Muster Drill: Once again, quite quick and painless when compared to the cruises that we have taken out of Miami. I don't think we were outside in our life jackets longer than ten minutes. Meeting the Big Cats: All I can say is "what a great group of people". From the Cruise Critic boards we had no idea how much fun this group of characters would end up being. Without mentioning names, because they are to many to list, these people made our cruise experience the best one for my family and I. We had so much fun that several of us are hard at work pricing cruises for a reunion next year. We have truly made lifelong friends. We were quite surprised at the large turnout that we had. Almost the entire group made it. I would like to go into some of the escapades of this group during our seven days, but they are many and it would take a book to write. I have a lot of photos of the group that I will share, as soon as we get things caught up around the home. Pool Areas: Yes, they still are saving chairs with just about everything that you can imagine. Some days we were on the lower level, some days we were up high. It wasn't really an issue for us; we just accept it as part of the cruise process. It's not worth getting worked up about, you will still be able to find a chair, just don't expect poolside every time. Also, make sure you watch your towels, or it could grow legs. Cabin Steward: We did not meet her until the third day of the cruise, and that was because she had to have us sign off on a piece of paper that we had met. I don't recall her name; but then again we did not see much of her during the cruise. With that said though, she did come to our room once in the morning and once in the evening to tidy things up. She did her job; she just was not a personable type of person. I think we got spoiled with the all the past room stewards that we had from previous cruises. We really enjoyed getting to know them and share stories of our families and our homes with one another. We made the mistake of assuming that this room steward would be just as approachable as those that we had in the past. Dining Room Team: We were lucky enough to change tables to one that seated all but one Big Cat. Unfortunately, that was the only good thing about being at that table. Don't get me wrong, we wouldn't have taken another table in its place, just another table waiter. We were in the Platinum dining room, seated at table #438, 8:00 pm main seating. Our table waiter was Kim, and his assistant was Monica. We closed the dining room out each night, and it had nothing to do with our eating habits. Heck, we were lucky just to see the food finally arrive. We were getting out of the dining room each night between 10:30 and 11:00. I can't begin to tell you how bad the service was from mostly Kim, it almost seemed deliberate. All I can say is that even the Maitre'd got all over him to pick it up and constantly had to apologize to us for him. Kim also seemed to have a problem with showing any kind of respect for both his boss and his assistant Monica. Kim was seen and heard by all at the table belittling Monica on numerous occasions, really felt bad for her that she had to put up with that kind of abuse. Several of us complained throughout the cruise, and it took the Maitre'd Ken till the sixth night to finally replace him with a lady by the name of Petra. What a team, they really complimented each other quite well, and made our last two nights of dining memorable. We do somewhat hold Ken responsible for letting Kim go as long as he did, it should have never went past night two, and Kim was obviously not qualified to be a waiter. I will say this though, Ken is the most entertaining/visible Maitre'd you will ever find. He sang for everyone every night, and could be seen mingling with everyone throughout our dining. I think we would have been screaming a lot more, if it had not been for the company and conversation that went on at our table each night. Food: Lido deck - We saw a big drop off in quality and selections of food, when compared to our last cruise on the Paradise. The grill is still great for burgers and hot dogs, and the Pizzeria is good as ever. Also, big drop off in desserts and the salad bar. Platinum Dining room - Quite pleased with the food in the dining room, especially the seafood selections. I can only think of a few items that I did not care for the whole week. Sports Bar: What kind of sports bar only has one channel? Guy's, if you are thinking about seeing the games on Sunday...forget about it! I'm getting tired, so I am going to be brief on the islands. If you have any questions, please ask. I will be more than happy to answer them if I can. Nassau: We visited Nassau last year, and really didn't care to visit again. We mostly walked around taking in the sights and doing a little shopping. Very little shopping that is, we were there on a Sunday, and almost everything is closed. A word to the wise be careful in the straw market. Things can get quite heated between the vendors when they are arguing over your business. St. Thomas: Anne and I took the Paradise Point tram up to the top. You will not find a more picturesque place to take photos than the top of Paradise point. Awesome ride up, although Anne didn't think so due to her fear of heights. I'm proud of her, although she did not look at anything other than her feet all the way up, she still had the guts to get in that tram and go all the way up there. As far as shopping goes, the best shopping is pretty much right they're by the ship. Probably around one hundred stores to choose from, with something for everyone. St. Marten: Easily our favorite of all three islands. We spent the day with several other Big Cats on a tour of the island. We hired our own driver for twenty bucks a head, ten for children, and went on a three-hour tour of both the Dutch side and the French side. A great way to see the island if you are not on an excursion. Closing: Sorry I am being so brief on the islands, I'm just tired of typing. In closing, we truly enjoyed this cruise. I think the Big Cats and our frame of mind played a much bigger role in that, than the ship itself. While the ship is beautiful, it's quite harder to find your way around than the Fantasy class ships. We will sail Carnival again, just not next time. We will probably take a break from Carnival and try RCCL for our next one. I hope that my review was helpful (did I mention this was my first review) in some way to you. Like I said earlier, this was our experience, and I am sure there are others who have also sailed the Glory, who will have had an entirely different experience than we did. I need a Miami Vice... Read Less
Sail Date September 2003
Ship was beautiful. No question about it. Cabins are good...not great. But what the Constellation suffered the most from is poor quality food that lacked any real flavor. The meals were boring and at best reminded me of first class airline ... Read More
Ship was beautiful. No question about it. Cabins are good...not great. But what the Constellation suffered the most from is poor quality food that lacked any real flavor. The meals were boring and at best reminded me of first class airline food. The formal dining room for breakfast and lunch were terrible. Meats were chewy and tough. It was obvious that the food had been sitting for a long time before it came to the table. The cruise lines have dumbed down cooking to the art of the "bland" that offends no one but has little flavor or meaning. What I would expect once I hit nursing home age. By then end of the first week, we made a point of eating lunch off the ship in each port because the freshness and taste were far superior than what we got onboard. As well it is also apparent, that the cruise line do not seriously want to help or support travelers who do not wish to spend a fortune on their overpriced land excursions by providing real information on how to reach a local bus or train to go into the cities such as Florence, Rome or Messina. The agents at the exit will point to the direction of the train or tell you to take a taxi but never seemed to know how much we should spend, or what a train ride would cost. This is because the cruise line outsources the shore excursions and to provide alternative and cheaper ways into the cities, would cut into their profits. Most people do no realize the ships outsource the shops, spas, tours and just about everything else that is not welded to the ship. I have taken 7 Celebrity Cruises and the quality of the food has gone down hill considerably from even 3 years ago. Read Less
Sail Date October 2003
I have to agree 100% with Melinda Hopp on her EXTRAORDINARY review of HAL's OOSTERDAM. This was our 2nd cruise with HAL. The first, to the Baltic, was one of our finest cruise ever. Having taken more than 20 cruises in all major ... Read More
I have to agree 100% with Melinda Hopp on her EXTRAORDINARY review of HAL's OOSTERDAM. This was our 2nd cruise with HAL. The first, to the Baltic, was one of our finest cruise ever. Having taken more than 20 cruises in all major cruise lines (from Royal Caribbean, Princess, Renaissance to Silver Sea & Radisson ), for my birthday, we booked this cruise with great expectations. We figured that a bigger, brand new ship had to be much better. Big, huge mistake.It had nice things, but the negative ones outnumbered the good ones. The first impression of the ship was one of mixed feelings,it's not a beautiful ship, doesn't have an impressive atrium, just a mid size gold staircase with a hanging world globe as the centerpiece. There were art collections around the ship, along with Indonesian & Filipino wood benches and gorgeous metal art covering completely the main door elevators. Fresh flower arrangements with orchids and cala lilies were displayed all over the ship, and they gave the dark, low ceilings a touch of beautiful color. Our room was a large room with a balcony with a simple decoration, a full size tub, 3 closet doors that lacked drawer space, a vanity chest with the TV on top leaving no space to put the cosmetics.The room was not neatly clean, the life jackets were under the bed (had to go to the drill without them), the toilet got stucked 3 times, problem with the ventilation system, specifically the smell of sewerage, one night there was no running cold water, only hot..hot water. Yes, after we complained everything was fixed, but indeed all those small details is what makes a cruise to be a memorable one. Regarding service, also mixed feelings. Overall the Indonesian & Filipino crew were friendly, attentive and well trained. As HAL's policy of no "tips required", their service was truly genuine. We got bad luck.The room stewardess, the dining room waiter, his assistant & the head waiter were the worst ever. The entertainment was mediocre, only "pianist extraordinaire" Paul Pappas, with two performances did a great job. The gym was O.K. The fitness coordinator Johan did a great job with my husband, with private exercise classes. The Spa was great, the Hot Stones massages were superb. For $250 per person we got unlimited access to the talasotherapy pool, the sauna & the hot tile seats with its spectacular view. I know all this treats cost $$$, but it's your vacation, so you deserve to be pampered. My biggest disappointment was the food. After having caviar, fresh strawberries & flambee desserts every single day on my previous HAL cruise, nothing was compared to that. The only dinner that deserves a mention was the Farewell dinner, that served caviar & lobster tails. Their signature "bread pudding with hot vanilla sauce" was sinful. But the most absurd thing of this cruise was that(according to my head waiter) HAL's new policy is to make flambee desserts (cherries jubilee, banana flambee, crepes suzette or peach melba) in a different venue than in the main dining room. My husband loves this types of desserts, so every night after dinner we had to go to the Explorers Lounge, order the dessert,listen to a terrible music, have a coffee and an after dinner Port wine or Sambuca. On one occasion the dining room waiter brought us the dessert to our table. Why not every night? I think that with that policy, they only make 30 or 40 flambee desserts. If done at the main dining room, they must do 200 or more. Overall it was the least enjoyed cruise I had have,& I think this cruise ship should not be rated 4.5 -5.0 as HAL's ship often gets. Maybe this mega ship is new for HAL, accustomed to smaller ships. If asked to travel with HAL again, I doubt it. There are numerous options out there. I hope this review will help anyone who has the OOSTERDAM ship on their plans. Sincerely, Doris Garcia Read Less
Sail Date October 2003
Olympia Countess Sailing Date: October 6, 2003 Itinerary: Aegean Classic - 4 day cruise from Piraeus throughout the Aegean Since reviews for the Olympia Countess are few and far between, I thought I might take a few moments to ... Read More
Olympia Countess Sailing Date: October 6, 2003 Itinerary: Aegean Classic - 4 day cruise from Piraeus throughout the Aegean Since reviews for the Olympia Countess are few and far between, I thought I might take a few moments to share a few thoughts and observations. I booked this cruise because of the wonderful Aegean Sea itinerary, and because the cruise fit well with other travel plans. Overall, I had a wonderful time on this cruise, but my positive experience was not because of the ship itself. Because so many cruisers focus on the ship, I though my observations might be helpful. History This ship came into service in 1973 as the Cunard Countess. Though listed as 18,000 tons, the ship feels a bit bigger. The vessel holds 814 passengers - quite a large number for the advertised tonnage. Embarkation/Debarkation Embarkation was very smooth. I was on the ship within 15 minutes of arriving at the port. A representative showed me to my cabin. Debarkation was an equally satisfying experience. Cabin The cabin (Number 73 - Outside - Poseidon Deck) was a bit larger than I expected, with two twin beds (with worn and somewhat rough sheets) and a pull-down bed on one wall. The cabin was well worn with fraying bedspreads and a dented ceiling. Many layers of paint on the cabin trimmings suggest an older vessel with many miles under its belt. Shallow metal drawers painted battleship gray provide enough space for one person on a 4-day cruise, but couples on longer voyages might need more space. A peek at other cabins revealed larger wooden drawers, so expect variations from cabin to cabin. I had no television in my cabin, but I notice that other cabins included TVs. The bathroom was an average size and fairly clean. I did not notice the noise problem from surrounding cabins mentioned by reviewers on other websites, although I was plagued by loud engine noises throughout the cruise, forcing me to wear ear-plugs to sleep. The noise was noticeable in the hallway, but diminished greatly only a few cabins forward. I suspect my noise problem was restricted to a few cabins toward the middle of the Poseidon Deck. Public Areas DEcor and ambience are covered below. As for the ship's amenities, a salt-water swimming pool and two hot-tubs are located mid-ship. The deck space surrounding the pool is a bit crowded, and one should expect to search for a deck lounger during peek sunning hours. Several lounges/bars are available. Depending on the hour and activities planned, the smaller lounges can provide a quiet and intimate retreat from the busier areas of the ship. A small exercise room is available. Several small shops can be found adjacent to the reception area, but a lack of space and stock will surely disappoint those used to promenade shops found on newer and larger vessels. DEcor and Ambience I usually enjoy the ambiance and character of older vessels, but the Olympia Countess has very little in the way of a charming atmosphere. This ship was built in the 1970's, so it lacks the ambience of ships built in the 50s and 60s, but without all of the glitz and modern conveniences of ships build in the 1990s or today. The overall color scheme is a boring beige with touches of gray (especially in the corridors). The colors in the lounges are warmer. I found no wood on the interior of the ship (except for the doors leading to the deck), but rather lots of painted metal and a few touches of wallpaper. Though overall quite dull, the ambience improves in the evening with indirect lighting, becoming almost romantic in the lounge areas. Food I found the food in the main dining room to be quite mediocre with little attention paid to presentation. Think of a Rotary Club luncheon at the local Holiday Inn and you will get the idea. The soups were a high note, along with the assorted flavors of sorbet. The popular buffet served on the aft deck was a bit more interesting with some fresh salads and vegetables with Greek seasonings. Cruisers on the Countess should closely review the daily bulletin for dining times, as food in not available between meals. Are you looking for free beverages? Tap water, hot tea and coffee seem to be the only choices. Service Service seemed inconsistent. Some of the dining room staff were friendly and attentive, while others weren't interested in doing anything extraordinary. My interactions with the reception/information desk also varied. Some staff were helpful, while others seemed to simply tolerate my requests. I received the impression that they would help with simple tasks, but I'd be pushing my luck with anything out of the ordinary. Entertainment A lackluster offering of entertainment continues the theme of mediocrity. I lasted only about 5 minutes at one of the lounge shows; sleep seemed to be a better use of my time (perhaps the show brought on my urge to sleep). The musicians stationed in the lounges were better than the stage acts. As for other activities, I don't usually participate in them, so I can't provide you with a fair opinion. Itinerary This is where the cruise becomes alive! The Aegean Sea itinerary has to be one of the best available with visits to Mikonos, Patmos, Turkey, Rhodos, Crete and stunning Santorini. All of the Greek islands were picturesque with plenty of opportunities for historical sightseeing, shopping and dining. Several islands had beautiful beaches with amazingly clear-blue water. The shore excursions were all first-rate and well organized, although quite tiring. With six ports visited in only four days, you will get the idea. Fellow Passengers This was a very international crowd with fairly large representations from the US, Canada, Spain, Greece, Germany, Italy, Australia, and the UK. Since this cruise took place in October, I found not children on board. The average age of passengers seemed about 40, with even distributions between 20 and 60. Overall Impression Again, I took this cruise for the itinerary and not the ship itself. Since my expectations (for the ship) were low to begin with, and since my overall objective was to efficiently visit a number of Greek islands, I was not disappointed. You might think of the Countess as a tourist-class European hotel that floats. If your main objective for a cruise is the ship experience, then you should avoid the Olympia Countess. If you happen to be in Europe and are looking for a great way to see many picturesque and historic islands, then you might want to consider the Countess. That said, I would have a hard time justifying a trans-Atlantic trip with the sole purpose of taking this 4-day voyage. Fit it into your larger plans. For a cruise-only experience, choose at least a 7-day excursion on another ship. This ship is used for much longer voyages to Africa, but I truly could not imagine living on this vessel for much more than the 4 days I was aboard. Read Less
Sail Date November 2003
We took the cruise down the Danube which was fine until a certain point. They neglected to tell us there had been a drought on the Danube for several months, & had run into a problem with other cruises. We found out we could go no ... Read More
We took the cruise down the Danube which was fine until a certain point. They neglected to tell us there had been a drought on the Danube for several months, & had run into a problem with other cruises. We found out we could go no further to finish the cruise & had to be bussed for 4 hrs each way back & forth to the ship. The personnel on the ship were not accommodating at all. They would not even consider you making a phone call to make other arrangements. They made us pay for a hotel in Nuremberg which was not on the agenda, just so we did not have to be bussed back & forth 4 hrs ea way. They made us pay to have our luggage transported & were not even going to have transportation for us to get to the airport. So, instead of cruising down the Danube, because the ship could not get thru, we were bussed to our other destinations. We wrote to the cruise line several times to ask for reimbursement & were refused each time. I would never recommend Viking for a river cruise. Other people on the ship were on previous cruises & were given free cruises for the inconvenience, & they say they knew about it before we booked. We should have been informed & given a choice if we wanted to take the chance. Read Less
Sail Date November 2003
Call it: M/V The Condemned (instead) PROS: The ship did not sink CONS: The ship still sails BOTTOM LINE: Avoid this freighter masquerading as a cruise ship. You know that old saying: "You get what you pay for" ? Well in this ... Read More
Call it: M/V The Condemned (instead) PROS: The ship did not sink CONS: The ship still sails BOTTOM LINE: Avoid this freighter masquerading as a cruise ship. You know that old saying: "You get what you pay for" ? Well in this instance, I didn't. Not even close. My Travel Experience: -4 cruises (to the Caribbean and Mediterranean) on new, mega-ships (Celebrity and Royal Caribbean) and a small, luxury ship (Silversea). -Visited over 30 countries for business or pleasure. Why this Cruise: I purchased an 11-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise on M/V Azur, owned by Festival/First European cruise line. I chose the cruise for the itinerary - I wanted to see the Pyramids/Sphinx, but was not willing to do a land vacation to Egypt at this time. Itinerary was quite appealing (included 3 countries I had not visited before). -Venice, Italy -Dubrovnik, Croatia -Olympia (Katakolon), Greece -At Sea -Cairo (Alexandria), Egypt -Limassol, Cyprus -Antalya, Turkey -Rhodes, Greece -Athens (Piraeus), Greece Corinth Canal -At Sea -Venice, Italy I knew this was primarily a European-targeted line, that it was an old ship, etc. I did as much research as can be done using the web. As such, I had set my expectations appropriately, which is to say, I set them extremely LOW. Little did I know how much lower the "ship" experience would scrape the bottom. THE GOOD: 1) Price: Cheap 2-for-1 special; I booked one of the 13 "suites" on the ship. 2) Transfer from Venice Airport to Ship: Agents with signs were placed right outside customs to herd the cruise passengers. 3) Embarkation: Process was managed quite well. 4) Excursions: I signed up for only 1 shore excursion (Cairo -Pyramids/Sphinx/Museum). Bus, tour guide and overall experience met my expectations. 5) Crew: Steward, Waiter, Busboy, Animation Team, Reception folks were friendly, capable, helpful. THE BAD: 1) Ship: Like an aging woman who badly needs (and wants) major cosmetic surgery but somehow cannot pull the funds together; instead settles for the affordable, occasional Botox shots which do nothing to hide the ravages of time... Very small ship, low ceilings, old faded carpets, dated furniture, peeling paint, rusting everywhere. Narrow stairs. Elevators are practically death traps, so tiny the claustrophobic would die a quick death. Seemed like no stabilizers were installed on this ship - you felt every wave! Passengers held on to railings and had to tread carefully in case doors slammed on their foot or hands. You could hear every rattle and creak, and feel every roll on this ship. You could definitely hear the neighbors in the next suites, and anyone walking or talking in the hallway. In 5-6 languages, continuous loudspeaker announcements starting at 9AM everyday ("Bingo! Bingo! Bingo! starts right now at the Pacific Lounge" or "We are today offering 10% off hair products at the salon"). There was a very obtrusive and unwanted photographer. Everything was for sale and the staff left no stone unturned to enhance passengers' awareness of this fact. Definite tone of nickel-and-diming the passengers at every turn. And this ship was small, much smaller than I had expected. 2) Passengers: About 99% European. I heard from an officer there were only 3 Americans onboard. Majority were German, French, and Italian with Swedish, Spanish and British thrown in. Usual suspects of loud, inconsiderate and rude folks. Met some wonderful people, of course, and enjoyed my time with them. 3) Food: About 50-50% hit rate. Soups were good, but everything else was okay. I remember only 2 good dishes from the whole trip: spaghetti bolognese and beef brisket. The others were either very forgettable or very bad. Extremely limited options for dining (seating in formal Riviera Dining Room, and buffet at the informal Tahiti Lounge). Continental breakfast offered in your room, but after one breakfast, you're willing to fast (seemed like leftovers from the previous day). No room service was offered. On some days, they offered tea at mid-afternoon; cookies and finger sandwiches weren't great, but at least you got fed. 4) Room: My "suite" at first sight was okay - picture windows, mid-sized bed, tiny TV, 2 chairs with a table bolted to the floor, fridge with overpriced drinks and snacks, ample storage, bath/shower. Upon closer inspection, you could see peeling paint, rusting, faded carpet, and there was a tear in the bed sheets (thankfully, I always travel with my own lightweight sheets and towels). The bath towels were thin and looked more grey than white, and the bathroom fixtures were antiquated. To flush the toilet, you had to close the lid and reach behind the bowl. Another odd European contraption, for sure, but it was very annoying (think about it: at night, you had to turn the light ON to make sure you hit bulls eye when flushing). 5) Activities: I give the entertainment team (dancers, magician, etc) a "B" for effort, but a "C-" for results. Their shows would probably be off-off-off strip at Las Vegas. A funny note: at the Azur Lounge, the ceiling is so low that the dancers' costume hats hit the ceiling, sometimes threatening to fall off! There were these pathetic vegetable carvings in the afternoon using maybe 1 watermelon or some carrots. It was either funny or sad, depending on your outlook. 6) Lifeboat Drill: Not taken very seriously; I shudder to think what would have happened if there was a real catastrophe. The passengers just jabbered in their own languages, and ignored the loudspeaker instructions (quite an interesting tableau to watch). 7) Officers: Not as friendly or as ready with a smile as the Crew. Not a big deal, but these people could all take a hospitality course. THE UGLY 1) Ship: Good Lord, the smoking was so prevalent if you didn't have lung cancer or emphysema yet, you sure felt like a carrier after walking past the Azur Lounge. The ONLY smoke-free areas were the Riviera Dining Room and the library (which was situated on the topmost deck, where if the waves did not get you, the boredom did). 2) Lies, Lies, Lies: Weather turned nasty at Cyprus. We had to stay another night at port -the worst rocking and rolling I've ever experienced in my life (turned out the Mediterranean had the worst storm in 20 years). The next day, the skies cleared and the seas calmed, but the Captain announced we won't sail to Antalya. Then a rumor spread -we won't sail to Rhodes. Then another rumor -we won't sail to Athens and the Corinth Canal. Some of the passengers received text messages from family and friends that 3 of Festival's cruise ships have been impounded by authorities for financial reasons. No Officer or Crew could tell us anything (most probably did not know what was going on). The mutinous passengers were beside themselves, notably an agitated German lady trying to foment a coup. Net-net: We sailed aimlessly, finally stopping at Heraklion, Crete for 4 hours and then sailing off again. Rumor was the ship was trying to avoid the same fate as her impounded sisters! Finally, the Captain announced we would indeed miss Athens and sail directly home to Venice due to bad weather and a technical problem on the ship's rudders or something (to which a few passengers -whose sole purpose on this cruise was to sail through the Corinth Canal- just lost it). Agonized cries in 5 languages drowned out any additional announcements. So this is Hell I thought, it is the Tower of Babel, on a condemned ship. 3) Debarkation: Last 4 days were spent at sea (running from the creditors?). People read, slept, spent time with newly met friends, but mostly people drank a lot -to the advantage of the ship's coffers. The final night, we went through the whole rigmarole of leaving our luggage outside our rooms before 1AM, waking up by 6AM, breakfast by 7AM, because we were supposed to arrive in Venice by 7AM and disembark by 8AM. Well at 7AM, we were nowhere near land! We were still in the middle of water, with no land in sight! Then the engine was turned off, and we were literally just floating in the Mediterranean Sea, like a rubber ducky in an immense bathtub. After hours of rumors and confusion, the Captain announced that instead of Venice, we would make land in Ravenna in 2 hours. And oh -lunch will be served, and oh yes, wine and beer will be free!! During lunch, the engines were turned back on, with horrendous noise, and the dining room ceiling shook so badly we thought it would fall on us as we were eating our last meal and imbibing the fizzy wine and beer. But at least we were sailing! Ravenna turned out to be an industrial, backwater and utterly desolate port (rumor was that the port authorities here were more "amenable") . Buses waited for us, each labeled with final destinations (Airport, Train Station, San Marco, etc). Our bags, hundreds of them, were disgorged from the rear of the ship, amidst mass confusion and shouting and the inevitable lost luggage and torn labels. I boarded a bus for the 3-hour ride to Venice. Turned out I was in a bus with only Italians, none of whom spoke English. Over the din (the Italians were VERY agitated and gesticulated wildly, I wasn't quite sure if they were happy to be back on terra firma or mad that it was 150 miles from the correct destination), I shouted: "San Marco ? San Basilio Vaporetto? Nessuno problemo?" Seeing nods, I could only hope for the best. The bus driver drove us back to Venice, and attempted to unload us by the parking lot at the other side of the port. At this, all the Italians shouted and pounded their fists. I could catch: "San Basilio blah blah blah", which meant that the Italian passengers insisted on this final drop-off point (I hoped). Otherwise, it would be a tortuous 2-mile trek (over the parking lot, the highway and more streets, to the Vaporetto stop) in the rain and cold, whilst dragging heavy suitcases. A debate ensued, getting louder and louder, until the driver backed down and drove us to the right place. Note: We saw hapless fellow cruisers lugging their suitcases in the highway, apparently they didn't fight with their bus driver! All I can say is: That is the first and LAST time I will sail on this cruise line. I have ample horror travel stories to last me a while... Read Less
Sail Date January 2004
This ship was nice enough, although not nearly as lavish as some we have cruised on. We had an inside room ( a first for us), and it was comfortable with a workable bathroom. The ports of call were interesting, especially Egypt. We had 3 ... Read More
This ship was nice enough, although not nearly as lavish as some we have cruised on. We had an inside room ( a first for us), and it was comfortable with a workable bathroom. The ports of call were interesting, especially Egypt. We had 3 couples traveling together and we didn't want to do the "herd thing", so we hired taxis and found a great adventure everywhere we went. Salvador in Naples was a romantic. Guiseppi, Abdul, Dionisis, to name a few! We rode through the "old town" section of Alexandria with Abdul, the godfather of taxi drivers in Alex and Cairo! The ship paper reported that Euro and Dollars could be used in Egypt, but we found they really couldn't. Need to exchange to Egyptian money. Other places took the other fine. I was surprised that all the taxi drivers spoke enough English to give us some good information and to converse. We were all extremely disappointed in the quality and variety of food on this cruise. You know how you usually look forward to dinner in the evenings?...well, we didn't. The service was good, but the food was bland, even desserts were not especially creative or flavorful. The shopping was not very good on this ship and the over the counter medicine selection was very limited. You have to go to the infirmary to get dramamine,etc. One of our group members was very ill one day with a kidney stone and spent the day in the infirmary where she received wonderful attention. This is the first ship I've been on where people began crowding against the door and hour early to see an after dinner show. Many guests on board were rude and paid no attention to lines and pushed ahead.. or elbowed out of elevators. Guess my Southern upbringing just does not understand that! Shows were mildly entertaining, the young variety dancers/singers did a good job, but the rest was rather blah. If you are into big "groupie" events, that seems like the hit on this ship. At the end of the cruise we had an overnight in "Milan", which turned out to be a small town outside of Milan. By the time we arrived at our hotel in Cardano and hauled all our luggage up a couple of flights of entrance stairs, (hotel was cool by the way), it was too late and too complicated to get into Milan. I would have liked to have done some good shopping there. It was disappointing to be stuck there for the evening without even a good place to eat. We did have a good time overall, but mainly because we were with good friends and visited interesting ports. I would not choose to sail with Costa again. I guess we have been spoiled on other ships! Read Less
Sail Date March 2004
We are just back from 26 day Miami -Barcelona cruise aboard Regatta. Perhaps our expectations were too high, but this cruise line did not live up to the rave reviews we had seen posted. A number of incidents on this cruise that made it ... Read More
We are just back from 26 day Miami -Barcelona cruise aboard Regatta. Perhaps our expectations were too high, but this cruise line did not live up to the rave reviews we had seen posted. A number of incidents on this cruise that made it less than enjoyable for us. The following experiences and impressions are the personal observations of my wife and I only, and certainly may not reflect the feelings and experiences of other people on the same cruise who were more lucky than us. We do a great deal of cruising and had booked on Regatta because of the positive reports, and the fact that Joe Waters from Crystal had and interest in the operation, and that this line was going after a niche market priced below Crystal but offering similar luxury. We were upbeat and excited when we arrived at the Oceania desk in Miami - as we all know it is always an effort to get packed, travel and finally get to the ship. To our dismay the girl at the Oceania desk never looked up, only grunted instructions like "passport", "tickets" etc. we were taken aback by the gruffness - so we boarded the ship with the wind taken out of our sails. Little did we know that this was only a precursor of what was to come. We sailed at 9pm after a 3 hour delay, caused by some passengers who experienced a flight delay from Vancouver. We were pleased with our cabin, but unlike other cruise ships our steward never came by to introduce himself. I made a point of introducing myself to him the next day, he was a fine young man and, as it turned out, did an excellent job. We were in cabin 7049 and although we had a veranda, the plastic "Wal-Mart" chairs were so uncomfortable that it made use of the veranda for more than 10 minutes at a time difficult. Two days out of Miami, I decided to have a massage - $99 plus $15 tip. The next night on everyone's bed appeared a flyer offering $20 off "for the rest of the cruise" on the very massage I had the day before. I felt this unfair & went to the Spa suggesting that if they would refund the $20 it could go directly to my cabin steward. I did not want the money, but out of principle it just did not seem right. The Spa turned me down flat. I went to the front desk to plead my case, never thinking I would have a problem. I repeated my proposal to the lady at the desk who was most understanding. She brought out the General Manager, Mr. Volpe, who took an immediate confrontational attitude saying, and I quote his words exactly "I approved that, and I don't know why you are getting so upset over such a small thing. For example if you booked a cruise today and we dropped the price tomorrow you are out of luck". I gave up at this point and walked away. Now I was angry and depressed, thought that we still had to endure over 20 more days on this ship. One of the reasons we go on a cruise is to relax, and here I was being aggravated no end by the employees. That was the end of this matter, there was no follow up by the General Manager, who obviously had a "don't care" attitude. We had similar "attitude" shockers from the Destination Services desk on a couple of occasions. The casino staff were not a happy lot and most unfriendly. Example: One fellow, who had a personality clash with the manager, was in the casino every day for hours. All of a sudden toward the end of the cruise the casino would not cash his travelers cheques because the manager said all of a sudden his signature didn't match that on the cheques. He showed them though - he won $1,800 on one machine and $2,500 on another - he didn't need to cash any travelers cheques after that. This is far from my definition of the luxury cruise line that had been advertised. I kept justifying my displeasure by telling myself "you get what you pay for". This was a relatively inexpensive cruise compared to the luxury cruise lines. I should not try and compare the two for it would be like comparing apples to oranges. I say it was inexpensive, but by the time you get finished paying for every little thing (other postings show it as nickel & diming) I'm not sure how much less expensive it really was from a luxury cruise. We love sea days, and having done consecutive sea days often. For instance: New Orleans-Hawaii; LA-Hong Kong. There were always activities if you so chose to participate. Regatta is about destinations, so on our first segment which involved crossing the Atlantic it was boring, very boring. There were lecturers but the topics were poor (Reorganizing the Pentagon" & "Transforming the Army") so unless you wanted to take bridge lessons or play bingo at $15 per card, there was virtually nothing to do for 8 days other than read, eat, drink and hang out in the casino. Most nights there were long waits to get into the dining room if you went around 7:30 to 8pm. We solved this by eating at 9pm, but then missed most of the shows which started at 9:45pm. There is no extra charge for the specialty restaurants. This is understandable, because the food is equally good at all three venues, Toscana, Polo and the Main Dining Room. We went to Tapas only one night, because we are not fans of buffets for dinner, but the food there was also very acceptable. We differ with the claim that the food is "the finest at sea". I think it is good and compares favorably with Crystal and Raddison, but a notch below some of the best specialty restaurants like the "Olympic Restaurant" on Millennium. The service was inconsistent in that Oceania was apparently staffing Insignia at the time and half of our crew were new, and although they were trying hard they were definitely on a learning curve. The second segment Lisbon to Barcelona was better in that we had numerous ports to occupy our time. I heard complaints about the cost of the tours, but I can't comment because we have not cruised in this part of the world before and cannot compare the tour prices on Oceania with those of other cruise lines. Examples of a couple are: A 90 min bus ride to Seville and back with a tour of a cathedral and a couple of hours free time to shop was $125US pp and the Vatican was $150US pp for the day. We took seven tours, and found the guides ranged from good to mute (hardly talked). Speaking of ports, I noticed on various postings here that shortly before we boarded people complained of a virulent upper respiratory virus infecting many passengers. With this in mind we were surprised (or perhaps not surprised) to see there was no disinfecting of hands when boarding the ship at various ports and no disinfecting of handrails on the gangplank as has been done on the 5 cruises we have been on since the SARS outbreaks. The shows were done on the cheap, but we thought they were very good. Singer, John Paul Almon (who ran the shuffleboard during the day) did a couple of shows and was sensational. The pianist from the Martini bar did a show a couple of nights and the assistant social hostess Diana Dimarzio did a show, as did a group from the Orchestra, plus the Orchestra itself did a show. In all our years of cruising, we have never counted the days until the end of our cruise - this time we had a countdown going before the cruise was half over. The highlight of our cruise was the day we disembarked. Read Less
Sail Date March 2004
When and where: Star Princess -- Mediterranean 12 day Rome to Venice on April 22. Who: I'm Robin (R) single mom, pushing the big 50, my friend Beth (B), single, 40's. We've both cruised before but not together. We were ... Read More
When and where: Star Princess -- Mediterranean 12 day Rome to Venice on April 22. Who: I'm Robin (R) single mom, pushing the big 50, my friend Beth (B), single, 40's. We've both cruised before but not together. We were joined by Beth's retired parents Pete (P) and Louise (L) who've cruised from the US, but have never been to Europe. Pre-cruise: Three nights in Rome at the bed and breakfast offered by Remo and Angela. Remo and Angela define gracious entertaining - they treated us like family and we got to know there's as well. Remo had his drivers pick us up at the airport on the 19th and deliver us to the ship on the 22nd. The extra charge was well worth the first-class treatment. (We had a fair amount of luggage). Though Remo's house is farther out in the suburbs than we'd hoped, it worked out well for us and they were always available for rides to the subway on our schedule. We were too tired from the flight to do any late sight-seeing. We took advantage of the optional dinner for the last night - Angela is a wonderful cook and it was the perfect ending to our stay -- much better than any restaurant (Even Remo's brother's pizza). We may not have seen all the touristy sights but we got to know the family culture of Italy as few do and for us, that was a better choice. For "in-town" sightseeing, we used the ACTV Line 110 double decker hop on/hop off bus and definitely got the most for our money!!! It's a great way to rest when you're tired and still see the sights. Even if you go around more than once, there's something new to see every time (We did make it to the Vatican for Mass and to see the Sistine chapel. Our "must do's). Ship: The Star Princess is gorgeous! Perfectly clean, you'd never know there were nearly 3,000 passengers on her (and we sailed FULL) at any given time. Passenger mix was mostly couples in the 50+ range, but I'll bet every possible demographic group was represented. Mostly US, with a large contingent from Vancouver, Toronto and Great Britain (where I understand this sailing was heavily discounted). I loved the two fresh water pools, one outside, one inside. No smell of smoke or anything else unpleasant anywhere. I love productions shows, so I saw Dance!, Give My Regards to Broadway (in Vista Lounge) and Da Beat twice each! The comedian Don Ware produced the Cosby show, and he was a Cosby-clone. Funny without being very controversial. Didn't like the lounge singer (forgettable name) but L loved the "all purpose" band Amante. Went to a few theme dances in the Explorer Lounge and had lots of fun. Didn't notice a lot of late night activity, but I was asleep by 10:30 most night myself. The CD Tim Donovan and staff (mostly British) were very spirited and I was surprised they were able to call me by name whenever they saw me, even though I only went to a few events. Did ceramics-at-sea one day and it was pricey, but fun to paint a ceramic cup as a souvenir! Food: Did early traditional for P and L's benefit. Ate mostly in the Horizon Court for lunches and breakfast. Our servers Joe and Monica were great fun and earned extra tips. Food was very good, but I think Carnival's food was a tad bit better. (After 12 days, I got sick of seeing the same pineapple.) My favorites: the Veal Chop and the Alaskan King Crab and the soufflEs for dessert. Loved having real eggs and eggs Florintine for breakfast even in the Horizon Court. Did a few dining room breakfasts, but this is such a port-intensive trip that we often didn't have time. Food was hotter there (it was pretty cold in the H/C by the time you found a good seat) but otherwise pretty much the same. But I didn't have to cook for over 2 weeks, so I'm not really complaining. I actually lost a pound on the trip so I must have done more walking than eating. Ports: We had different things scheduled in different sub-groups. We did some Princess tours and some just walking around ports. We never got around to booking tours on our own. Others on this cruise who post here did, and I hope they will chime in with their recommendations. Naples. Traffic is horrendous and needs to be accounted for if you're going on your own. Allow twice the time you think it will take, take the train, or book a ship tour. B did the Deluxe Amalfi tour, which was a bus for 15 only. She said it was very relaxing and the highlight of her trip. P and L did Princess tour to Sorrento and Pompeii. I did a 16 euro hop on/hop off tour of Naples and the Bay that I enjoyed as much as they did their tours, and I got to spend most of the afternoon watching the clouds gather around Mt. Vesuvias from the ship. We all thought we got the best tour of the day, so I guess you can't go wrong. Messina: B, P and L did the "Essence of Sicily" to Taomina. I got an excellent map of Messina from the info booth next to the ship. Walking is easy and fun, compared to Rome and Naples. If you do this, be sure to get to the Duomo (a church about 4 blocks from the ship) before noon for the "clock tower" show. Bring your video camera if you have one. It's sort of a big religious cuckoo clock that defies description! (They say it's the only one in the world.) Again, we all had a great time. Valetta Malta: R and B did the Panoramic Island drive, which we enjoyed very much. Our guide Doris was a riot and made the tour special. In the afternoon, I walked up to Valetta (it's easier than it looks) and just walked around the city. P and L took the Valletta and Mdina tour, which was way too much walking for them. They would have enjoyed our tour better and I'm not sure why we booked it this way. Santorini: We all took the village of Oia and Santorini Island tour. I think this is a good one to do on your own instead, though you'll have to arrange a taxi or rent a car to get to the end of the island. Akirtiki was closed for renovation or I would have enjoyed that - it was my original idea. The trip to the winery was boring and most of the rest of it was pretty much on your own anyway. Our guide had just returned from Athens and the tour was rather uninspired. But we had fun, nonetheless and the island itself is gorgeous! Kushadasi: B slept in. I went to the Market and bought two cashmere pashminas for less than 10 euros each and lovely little silk purses that look like miniature rugs for 1 euro each by bargaining hard. It was worth the hassling you get when you shop. If you want to shop with less hassling, try the wide street just outside the market. P and L took the standard tour to Mary's house, which they enjoyed but I think they were starting to suffer from too many tours starting to look alike. Athens: B took the tour that included the temple of Poseidon, which she enjoyed much more than our (R, P, L) tour of Athens and the Acropolis. We got delayed by a traffic jam and when we finally got there it was packed with school groups and we couldn't keep up with our guide who was trying to keep on schedule. B got to the Acropolis about 90 minutes later and the place was almost deserted. Timing is everything. I think this stop will be much better AFTER the Olympics. Now most sights are scaffolded and traffic is a nightmare as they reconstruct roads. If you're going for the Olympics, good luck!! Katakolon: We were getting a little cranky from over-scheduling, so we decided to call this "A sea day with shopping options." We slept late, had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room and just took it easy. After lunch, we walked into the tiny port town for a little more souvenir shopping (we hadn't done much in Athens itself.) L bought a great hat and I got some good T-shirts for about 10 euros. There's a couple small "all purpose" grocery-like markets there if you need something the ship can't supply. Corfu: A gorgeous island like a Greek version of Capri. I did the "Hidden Greece" tour. It was my favorite day because it included a stop at a restaurant for a folkloric show. EXCELLENT! P and L did "Leisurely Corfu" which was almost the same tour without the restaurant. B walked to the Old Fort - a long but easy walk. Want to retire there! Dubrovnik: The biggest surprise of our trip - it was stunningly beautiful. Princess offered a shuttle bus to the walled city for $10 round trip. Take it as taxis are scarce as hen's teeth. City is beautiful and can be done on your own pace rather than taking a tour. There is a charge to walk the wall - about 5 euros and another few if you want to rent an audioguide. I would because maps are scarce and not very descriptive. I wish I'd known more of what I was looking at. I'd go back on my own anytime! Venice: Be out on deck for the entrance into the port if you can. No matter how long you are in Venice, it isn't long enough. Now wish we had started there instead of ending there. Princess provided a water shuttle from the port to San Marco for $20, I think. Short walk to the vaparetto stop from there. The vaporetto is easy to ride and you see more than in a pricey Gondola - though it's not very romantic. Get a good map and dare to get lost. It's the best way to see the city. Never had time to see more than San Marco Square, though and I plan to go back to see more someday. (We did go back at night for a completely different view! Worth it!!!) That's all I can think of for now. Any questions I didn't answer? Robinzhere Read Less
Sail Date April 2004
We are, or were, first time cruisers and did not know what to expect. The Star Princess Greek Isles trip April 10-22 was a dream. The Star Princess was a beautiful ship and as everyone has mentioned, despite the number of people on the ... Read More
We are, or were, first time cruisers and did not know what to expect. The Star Princess Greek Isles trip April 10-22 was a dream. The Star Princess was a beautiful ship and as everyone has mentioned, despite the number of people on the ship, it never felt crowded. The only time we ever felt like we were in somewhat of a crowd was occasionally in the evenings on the Promenade Deck. Horizon Court would also get a bit crowded at peak times, but not enough so that you couldn't get your food and find a place to sit and eat. The Fitness Center and jogging track were impossible to use in the early morning, our preferred time to work out, so we just decided to let all the walking in port be our exercise for the trip. I guess the fitness facilities were the only areas I really felt were not designed to handle the number of people on the boat. We thought the food was excellent for having to feed that many people. Naturally there were a few selections that were so-so, but also many selections that were very good. We loved the freedom of Personal Choice and the 24-hour food at Horizon Court, especially the constant selection of freshly cut fruit. What a treat! We were able to eat on very odd schedules, which suited us just fine. We only ate in the dining rooms for dinner a few times during the cruise, and only once for breakfast. Never having experienced traditional dining, we found the different tablemates and servers to be just fine, and enjoyed meeting different people. The entertainment on board was constant and covered the entire spectrum. I was amazed at the variety of activities they had going on. The production shows with their singers and dancers were quite good, but we found some of the other acts to be more mediocre. Our favorites were the mock game shows put on by the cruise director's staff - always very funny. The public rooms of the Star Princess are all nicely appointed, and always very clean. We enjoyed the low-key, elegant atmosphere of the ship. The only wear and tear noticeable to me was the worn carpet that pervaded the ship. Otherwise, everything looked very well maintained. One of our favorite spots was Skywalker's - day or night. Loved the atmosphere and views from up there. The indoor pool was popular, and was actually the only one I saw being used on our cruise. Of course it really wasn't warm enough yet to use the outdoor pools. The hot tubs also seemed quite popular, though there were so many of them spread around, it seemed you could usually find a deserted one if you were willing to go the distance. With the breezes and it still being April, the decks were not really used all that much from what I could tell. We certainly did not feel the temps were comfortable enough for lounging outside. We had a balcony cabin more aft on the Baja Deck and it suited us just fine. It was certainly bigger than many hotel rooms I've had in Europe. The balcony was roomy enough for our needs - a table and two chairs and we thoroughly enjoyed the views from the balcony. I've never cruised before but I probably would not be able to do so again without the balcony. We woke up each morning in a new port and it was so fun to jump out of bed and see where you were. Then, when exhausted after our day in port, we could relax and enjoy the sail away from the balcony without having to move our tired bodies somewhere else. Our cabin steward, Jaime, was great and kept the place spotless. The only negative we had on the room was that twice during the cruise a horrible sewage smell permeated the cabin. We determined it was coming from the air vent and that was a bit disturbing. Thankfully it didn't last too long and only happened twice while we were in the room. The reason we picked this cruise was because of the time of year and the itinerary of the cruise, and it all exceeded expectations. The ports were not too overly crowded for the most part (Venice being the exception, but it was also Easter weekend when we were there) and the weather was perfect for site seeing - mostly right around 60 with a breeze. Except in Venice, Athens and Rome, we were also the only cruise ship docked at the ports, and I imagine that changes during the summer with more cruises in the Mediterranean. A brief remark on each port: Venice - Venice was beautiful as always and the sail away is not to be missed. It was awfully crowded for Easter weekend when we were there with long lines for all the sites. We paid the $10 per person for unlimited use of the shuttle to and from the Star Princess to San Marco Square. We arrived via a bus from the airport at Piazzale Roma and tried to walk to the boat but could not find the way. We ended up taking a taxi for the 5 min. ride. I think it cost maybe 10 Euros. Dubrovnik - One of our favorites of all the ports of call on this cruise. The medieval walled city is picture-perfect. Transportation from the port was a bit interesting. We ended up paying the $10 per person for the cruise-arranged bus. It may have been walkable, but the bus trip took 20 minutes. Corfu - We walked the two miles from the ship to Corfu Town and spent the day there and walked back. Taxis were available but no bus. Katakolon - We did a shore excursion to Olympia and enjoyed the guided tour and not having to worry about transportation to Olympia - about a 30-40min. drive from Katakolon. Piraeus (Athens) - We also did a shore excursion, though I've been to Athens and Piraeus before and had no problems getting back and forth. We wanted the guided tour of the Acropolis and Athens. Traffic was awful and we ended up spending a lot of time in traffic. Perhaps that could have been avoided with public transportation? Mykonos - It was very windy the day we were in Mykonos. It was about a 30 min. walk from the dock to the town. There was a cruise-arranged bus available and just a very few taxis. Since we didn't try to go to Delos, we didn't spend much time on shore in Mykonos. Walked around the town, enjoyed a cafe for a spell and walked back to the ship. Kusadasi - We did a shore excursion to Ephesus and had an absolutely wonderful guide. She really made the ancient city come alive. It was a half-day excursion and so we had the afternoon for shopping and walking around in Kusadasi. The boat docks basically right in the town, so it is easy access to everything. The vendors seemed desperate for the tourist $ and since we were pretty much the only game in town, there was a lot of yelling to get you in their shops. Security was very tight for the entire cruise, and the only visible difference I noticed in Kusadasi was a police boat, which patrolled around the ship while we were in port. As in all ports we had to pass both our person and bags through x-rays and dock access was limited. No one needed a visa for Turkey. Rhodes - Rhodes Town is charming and the boat docked close enough so it was an easy walk to the old town. There was a bus station in town, just outside the old city walls, with local buses to Lindos. It was Sunday and they were not running very often and unfortunately we felt it was too late in the day by the time we got there to try and get to Lindos. I saw a sign saying a taxi to Lindos was 30 Euros. Santorini - This was another of our favorites. Such a beautiful island, and so dramatic with the calderas and towns perched on the edge of the cliff. This was the only port where tenders were required. We found that whole process to be very smooth and didn't have to wait at all to get on one. We took a local bus out to Akrotiri, but unfortunately had not done our homework and it was closed for all of April. We ended up riding around with some friends from the ship in the car they rented for the day. I think it cost them $25 to rent it for the day. Day at Sea - and boy were we ready for it! We ran into a storm that evening after passing through the Strait of Messina. I guess the swells were 8-12ft. Though the boat was rocking a bit, I did not think the motion was bad at all. And this is coming from a person who has been seasick before and who vowed never to let that happen again! I did not take any medication or anything and did not feel sick in the least. Mostly I didn't think you felt much motion on the boat. Generally I could tell we were on a boat when we were at sea, but there wasn't much rocking. More of a steady vibration I guess. Naples - We walked about 20-30 min. or so from the dock in Naples to the train station and caught the train to Pompeii Scavi. As it said in my guidebook - Naples is not for pedestrians and it was not the most pleasant walk, but the price was right. Once at Pompeii we got in with a small group and local tour guide. I don't know if he was an official tour guide or not, but he took us to the highlights of Pompeii and at least seemed to know the basics of what we were seeing. Because Pompeii is so massive, it was helpful to have him take us to the more major sites and then we spent another hour or so exploring on our own which worked out perfectly for us. I have to say, having visited Pompeii around the same time of year about 10 years ago; I was amazed at the number of people. Maybe we lucked out before, but 10 years ago we had the place to ourselves. Not this time - and the crowds weren't from the cruise ship. It seemed to mostly be school groups. Civitavecchia (Rome) - We arrived at 4am and our color/letter assignment was called at 7:30am. We walked the 30min. to the train station, which even with our rolling suitcases wasn't too bad of a walk (it was probably 30 min. because we had our luggage to slow us down). Otherwise there were some taxis available. We were in Rome by 10am and had the whole day before us with our flight home not until 10:30 that night. We had just been in Rome a few months before so we had seen all the sites and so spent our day revisiting a few of our favorites and enjoying the fabulous weather and a good book on a park bench in Villa Borghese. All in all it was a fabulous cruise. The only negative, and I shouldn't even call it a negative, just a possible improvement I guess, is that Princess really didn't make an effort to provide any local culture. Some Greek specialties in the dining room, or some Greek folk dancing, etc. would have added to the whole experience. But that probably also adds to the price. Definitely a vacation to remember and hopefully we'll be doing another cruise one of these days. As cruise director Tim Donovan was apt to say, it was a "cracking" time. Read Less
Sail Date April 2004
BRILLIANCE of the SEAS Transatlantic & Mediterranean Cruises April, 30 to May 26, 2004 By Mary & Vincent "Con te partiro` su navi per mari... (With you, I'll leave on ships for seas...)" as Andrea Bocelli sings, ... Read More
BRILLIANCE of the SEAS Transatlantic & Mediterranean Cruises April, 30 to May 26, 2004 By Mary & Vincent "Con te partiro` su navi per mari... (With you, I'll leave on ships for seas...)" as Andrea Bocelli sings, this is exactly what happened: We departed from Miami April 30th, after a slight delay when a routine engine check revealed a wiring oddity; however, we confidently sailed once again in the capable hands of our friend Captain Michael Lachtaridis (Samos, Greece). We had sailed with him last year on the Grandeur of the Seas from New Orleans to Harwich, England and then on to the Baltic capitals. This extremely competent master is beloved by the passengers for his droll and humorous daily noon reports on the ship's position and the weather. This cruise had calm seas all the way. Since we have already published a review of the Brilliance of the Seas' maiden Transatlantic Voyage (Sept. 2002), describing in detail the ship, this review will concentrate on service, food, activities and the many European ports of call. THE SHIP The Brilliance is the second of the Radiance class. The first was the Radiance of the Seas (2001), then the Brilliance (2002), the Serenade (2003) and finally, the new Jewel of the Seas, which will make her Maiden Transatlantic voyage from Harwich to Boston (Sept. 2004), with us on board, God willing! This Panmax ship is 90.090 tons, 962 ft. long, a beam of 106 ft. with a draft of only 26.7 ft. and a top speed of 25 knots. Several times Captain Lachtaridis announced that, if we were to make the next port on time, and we always did, then he would have to put the proverbial "pedal to the metal." Top speed is most obvious to the passengers when riding one of the four elevators overlooking the ocean: The sea rushes by horizontally as the elevators go vertically ---- This is a very heady experience, which many cruisers miss, since they, like robots, face front to the elevator doors. We are usually facing the sea, since it is difficult to turn the wheelchair around when other passengers are in the elevator with us. Oh, the unexpected delight of viewing life from a unique angle! The Brilliance can accommodate 2,501 passengers and she is just as beautiful now as when she was launched. She is kept in excellent condition and her service is top of the line under Hotel Director Gordon Shenk (USA) and Food and Beverage Manager Rinaldo Lemma (Italy). These two welcomed us and shared information about the new menus, dining times and other particulars about the ship; thus, we learned how RCI regards passengers' needs by adopting new menus and dining schedules to suit their customs and habits. EMBARKATION Crown & Anchor members never have to wait on line; this is the best reason for being a RCI repeater. After ten cruises you will be greeted in the C & A room and processed quickly. It makes a big difference if you are travel tired. We arrived at 12:15pm, were checked in shortly, and in our cabin by 12:30pm, left our hand luggage (rooms were not officially ready until 1:00pm) and went to the Windjammer Buffet. After lunch we always go by the dining room to check our table assignment for dinner. We met the very capable Maitre D' Paulo Barbosa (Portugal), who arranged a table for two for us near the entrance. Excellent! This stop is a must, or at dinner time you may find yourself in a long line of grumpy, tired and hungry people. SHIP'S PUBLIC AREAS As mentioned in our first Brilliance review, this ship is beautifully and tastefully decorated with light and dark woods, lots of brass and marble, and an eclectic art collection. The public areas catered to cruisers' needs and comfort. For a deck by deck description see our Sept. 2002 review at this web site. The eight deck tall Centrum was the center for some of the best music on a ship ever. The relaxing guitar of Voytek (Poland) was enhanced by his wonderful repertoire of classical songs. The "Romantic Strings" and "Frank's Company" were magnets for passengers. We kept saying that this was the best musical cruise we've ever had. This cruise began with Seven Sea Days, and we were never bored. Our routine began with breakfast in our cabin at 7:00am, then we went to the Solarium where Vincent enjoyed the Hot Tub and Mary the Lap Pool. At this time of day it was all ours. At 9:00am, when it was getting crowded, we would leave and visit Chris Hou in the Concierge Club (reserved for Suite occupants and Diamond members) for an espresso or cappuccino and a cream cheese bagel. There is always a brunch set up here. There are two computer stations, and the daily newspapers in brief. We like to compare how the news differs from various countries, (i.e., France, England, Spain and United States). Concierge Chris, is extremely capable and helpful by getting excursion and tender tickets, etc. From here we usually go to the Library on Deck 9 and pick up a daily Trivia Quiz to check it for errors. It's the habitual teacher thing in us that we can't control. Ah yes, lunch at the Sea View Cafe (Deck 12), fish 'n' chips, chili, soup, salad and apple pie or brownie; then an afternoon movie or nap. At times, before dinner, we would go to the Concierge Club where from 5:00pm to 9:00pm there is a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres set up; then dinner at 6:30pm, theater at 9:00pm, and after that we may go strolling on the Promenade (Deck 5). With a schedule like this there is no time for boredom or hunger, since there is always 24 hour room service (fast, friendly and excellent). Some of the crossing's highlights included the Captain's dinner on Day 2. There is no better place to dine than at Captain Lachtaridis's table: Crostini and mushroom tapanade, escargot with sautEed onions and fresh tomato concasse in puff pastry, Sea Bass stuffed with jumbo shrimp, and a dessert cup crafted out of caramel and almonds, filled with wild berries, rum and creme anglais. Captain Michael confided that on the very next Mediterranean cruise, he would accomplish a life long dream: to sail into Piraeus (Athens) as commander of a ship. As captain, he had sailed into many ports all over the world, but this would be his first time into the capital of his homeland. We wished we could have been on board with him. The last time we sailed there, the water was a beautiful blue with delicate, bridal veil like medusas (jellyfish) floating in it. Day 3. We had a plumbing problem which Chief Purser Tatiana Cortes Berglund (Sweden) handled with aplomb; that evening there was a red planet on the horizon at midnight. Breathtaking. Day 4. Tatiana moved us to Suite #7672 (2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 TV's, dining room, living room) in the rear of the ship and with white caps on the seas, we had a bumpy and noisy night. However, we do suggest this accommodation for a large family or group. Day 5. We moved to Suite 1542 and finally settled in for the duration. This was an excellent experience, since we became familiar with several types of staterooms. Day 6. The sea was tranquil all day and dolphins and sea terns were visible as we passed closely to two of the Azores' islands. The first was a volcano rising straight out of the ocean, and the second was a long, low lying island. At 7:00pm the temperature was 62 F. We had lost 20 degrees since Miami, and several hours by moving the clock ahead an hour almost every evening. That night we had dinner at Chops Grille with Gordon and Rinaldo, our interesting new friends. Chops has a terrific menu: crab cakes, New England clam chowder, interesting sides and salads, filet mignon, veal chops and Mississippi Mud pie for dessert. Excellent! Day 7. There was a Crown & Anchor Society cocktail party; the Champagne flowed freely and the hors d'oeuvres were hot. We were sailing through the remnants of a huge storm over Ireland, we felt some movement, not too bad, but just enough to make walking amusingly unsteady and to be gently lulled to sleep. Day 8. The sea was much calmer, the sun was out on this last sea day of the Transatlantic crossing: tomorrow Lisbon, Portugal. The ports will be discussed later. FOOD & SERVICE When people ask, "How can you stand being confined to a ship for seven days?" We answer that unless the port is new or worthy of many returns, well, there is no better destination than a beautiful ship. Maitre D's Paulo Barbosa (Portugal) and Emmanouil Kampanakis (Greece) go out of their way to please passengers not for just one meal, but for weeks on end. A table for two, just in front of the lovely stair case, being serenaded every evening by the melodic guitar of Vortek or the Romantic String Trio, is always a beautiful experience. Believe us, we never missed land. According to Gordon Shenk, RCI has instituted new menu initiatives which strive for uniformity in plating, ingredients and preparation. There is a new dining room luncheon menu listing the following: 2 soups, 3 salads, 2 appetizers, 6 different entrees and a "Tutti Pasta" set up, where one can choose a variety of sauces for pasta. Finally, don't forget the dessert, five including creme brulee. The evening menu offers even more varieties of meat, fish and fowl selections. Keep in mind this is only the menu in Minstrels main dining room. You may want to eat in the Windjammer Buffet (Deck 11) or the Sea View Cafe (Deck 12), pub style diner. During the transatlantic crossing, the Minstrels had a 6:30pm main seating and an 8:30pm second seating. However, in the Mediterranean, the formal afternoon Teas became Tapas on the pool deck at 4:30pm and the evening dining room hours were now 6:30, 7:30, 9:00 and 10:00pm, to accommodate the large number of European passengers who prefer dining late. RCI portions are generous. We keep begging for one-half portions. However, anyone can be satisfied by ordering more, less or sharing. Service at our table was excellent: During the transatlantic crossing, our waiter was Leane Kershaw (S. Africa) and Cetin Devrim (Turkey) her assistant. In the Mediterranean, waiter Hakan Pamukcu (Turkey) was wonderfully assisted by Kadir Oz (Turkey). Hakan was a competent teacher to his new eager assistant. Among the many courteous waiters, we remember Ismael (Mexico), who was always sociable and helpful in the Windjammer Buffet. The Minstrel Dining Room is beautiful with a birchwood balcony, a waterfall behind the curved staircase, and a two deck tall mosaic of wandering minstrels at the aft end. The blue, gold and green decor is elegant, while food, service and ambiance rival any four star restaurant on land. Food & Beverage Manager Rinaldo and the two maitre D's Paulo and Emmanouil are brilliant in their dedication to pleasing passengers. After all, as Gordon says, "That's what it is all about." This attitude radiates all the way down from the Captain, whose genteel manners made every passenger feel at home. We observed him even checking the pool water temperature on his early morning rounds. Great service is noted in the details; whenever we tendered or disembarked the ship's crew was exceptional in assuring our safety, especially with Vincent's wheelchair. CABINS We occupied 7110, 7672, 1542 and 7610. All were balconied cabins and the decor of 7110 and 7610 were exact. When entering on the left there was a double armoire with safe, a long mirrored desk/vanity, TV console, refrigerator and a sofa bed. When entering on the right there was a 6'X6' tiled bath, with mirrored medicine cabinet and safety rails appropriately placed. Then, there was a king sized bed, a large coffee table and a glassed wall to the balcony holding a small table, two chairs and a chaise lounge. Both cabins had the same two pictures: one was lemons and sunflowers and the other orange day lilies and red peppers. 7672 we've already described and 1542 was similar in size to 7110 and 7610, only there was a tub in the bathroom and the dominating picture was of a reclining woman in a white sun dress. Basically, the cabinets were maple wood with dark mahogany trim and the color schemes were variations of navy blue, maroon and gold -- very nautical. All four cabins were comfortable, but only 7110 and 7610 had automatic door openers for wheelchair accessibility. All of our stewards were excellent and efficient: Elvis, Florian and Anthony, thanks once again. ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Directors Peter Benfield (England) and Bill Brunkhorst (USA) were both friendly and engaging. The ship has sport facilities like rock climbing, basketball, golf, ping pong, shuffle board, swimming and a great gym and health spa, not to mention dancing all night. The RCI singers, dancers and orchestra performed Broadway style shows with energy. Headliners included violinist Gary Lovini (UK) who put on a spectacular virtuoso performance: WOW. Crowd pleasing were also two tenors: Frank Tenaglia (USA) had a wonderful voice (he should sing more and tell jokes less and his repertoire did not do justice to his great voice); and Renato Pagliari (Italy), whom we have seen before. Pagliari also sang in the centrum one evening and the eight decks of balconies were packed. Every one was impressed with his Caruso style performance. Bravo! "Dancing Fools" the Taylors, a husband and wife team, were sensational. At several ports there were local talents. But in Naples, most impressive was the mini concert by singer Roberto Rossini with his guitar accompanied by a mandolinist in the Centrum. He sang many of the classical Neapolitan favorites with style, and Vincent had tears in his eyes. RCI, please note: He is wonderful and really radiates Neapolitan musicality, a nice touch during the Mediterranean cruise. Other passengers said that he had also performed on the dock and drew admirers. The Brilliance also has self leveling pool tables, bingo, the Casino, sports bars, lounges and poolside activities ---- something for everyone. PORTS OF CALL Day 9. Lisbon, Portugal Arrival: 7:00am Depart: 3:30pm Departure was delayed for late passengers. We have visited here many times and we suggest that you watch your wallets and handbags. Every cruise the pick pockets warmly welcome the tourists, as they did this time. Our acquaintances had their bag stolen from their wheelchair (passports, wallet, cash and personal check book were all taken). We never bring these items ashore, and since American Express checks are safer, we never bring a personal check book. Try to travel with less valuables and as light as possible. Tour LSB1, City Panoramic Drive, $39, 2 hrs, is a nice tour for those with limited mobility and the first timers. More interesting is tour LSD1, $44, 4 hrs, visit to the village of Sintra with the old Royal Palace and the resort town of Cascais. Day 10. Malaga`, Spain Arrival: 11:30am Depart: 8:00pm This is the second time we have visited this resort on the Sun Coast and always on a Sunday; thus, we have no idea what real shopping is like here. It is the birth place of Picasso and the best tour would be to Granada. Some of the interesting tours: Tour MGA1, $118, 8 hrs, a drive through the Andalusian countryside and Granada and visit to Alhambra Palace & Gardens. Lunch is included. Tour MCE1 $42, 4.5 hrs, scenic coastal drive and visit to the famous Cave of Nerja. Day 11. Alicante, Spain Arrival: 9:00am Depart: 3:30pm Alicante is linked historically to Africa through trade; there is lovely Baroque architecture; all the tours were walking over uneven surface for over one mile, an impossible task for those with mobility problems. We took the shuttle to down town to the Bay Walk, a wide tiled promenade at the base of the terra cotta colored Castle on the Mount. Tour ALB1, $40, 5 hrs, this is a breath taking ride along a curvy mountain road through lemon and orange groves to Guadalest, a mountain top village with Islamic origins. Day 12. Barcelona, Spain Arrival: 7:00am We disembarked here for three days and booked a hotel in the 13th century Gothic Quarter in order to be in walking distance to Las Ramblas, but it was rainy and cold the first part of our stay. We did get to see much of Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia of Gaudi fame, the Gothic Cathedral and other sites. Interesting is tour BRF, $42, 4 hrs, visit to Monteserrat. This goes through the Cataluna countryside to the monastery, which has "La Moreneta" (the Black Madonna). PART II May 14th. Barcelona, Embarkation Depart: 6:30pm Barcelona has fine modern port facilities. The porters were fast and efficient. Going back on board, we felt like we were returning home. So, we began the second leg of our cruise by sitting on our balcony contemplating a slender silver moon. Day 2. Villefranche, France Arrive: 10:00am Depart: 11:00pm We booked Tour VFG1 $49, 3.5 hrs, Scenic French Riviera, which departed from the old port's Citadel on the Lower Corniche road slowly climbing to the Middle Corniche and finally the Grand Corniche. From here we viewed Cap Martin, Monaco, Italy and Nice. Our driver Gianluca and tour guide Sophie were terrific and very knowledgeable in both history and current events. The Monaco Grand Prix preparations and time trials were going on and we got close enough to see and hear the racing cars. But, Monte Carlo was cordoned off, so we had to be satisfied with an aerial view from the Grand Corniche. We also saw a collection of former Grand Prix winning cars. Sailing out of Villefranche was beautiful with the golden lights of the town offset by bright white shafts of light coming from the lighthouse on the promontory and again that slender white crescent moon. Day 3. Livorno, Italy Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 6:00pm There were tours to Pisa and Florence from here, but we've been to both before; thus, we settled on the Tuscan countryside: Tour LVF1, $52, 4 hrs, Scenic Drive and Wine Tasting. There were bright red poppies all along the road side and beautiful huge roses in many garden. We drove through medieval towns with olive groves and vineyards. At the Michi Villa we met Wanda and Vincenzo the owners and toured the villa gardens and the winery. They produce cold pressed virgin olive oil, a lesser red wine, and a finer white vin santo (dessert wine). Vincent spoke with the loquacious, elderly Vincenzo. They talked of using the chestnut casks for the young wines and the oak casks for the finer aged wines. The Michis planted the vineyard after WWII and enjoy the visitors. Sail away was after 6:30pm and by 8:30 there was a glorious sunset. We passed Elba, the island of Napoleon fame, and at 10:00pm there was the very bright Venus in the NW sky. Day 4. Naples, Italy Arrive: 8:00am Depart: 8:00pm There are many beautiful tours departing from here: The Isle of Capri, Pompeii Ruins, Herculaneum Excavations, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Drive. All of which we have done, since Vincent was born near Naples. Instead we were met by relatives and friends who treated us to a lovely private concert during a drive along Naples' "Lungo Mare" and Posillipo, then topped it off with a great dinner at Giorgio Rosolini's "La Cantinella." This picturesque restaurant, with a view of the bay and the Vesuvius, served exquisitely prepared seafood: Spaghetti e vongole, delicate sautEed fillet of sole, and delicious rum baba. At sunset we sailed out of the port of Naples with a beautiful red sunset in the west. "Vedi Napoli e poi muori" (see Naples and then die), as the old adage goes, once you have seen the beatiful Naples, you've seen it all. Day 5. At Sea After four port days in a row, the passengers were happy just to stay on board and relax. Days 6 & 7. Venice, Italy Arrive: 1:00pm, Overnight, Depart 5:00pm The Captain's cocktail reception for Platinum & Diamond Members was set for 10:30am on the second day in Venice at the Starquest Disco on Deck 13. This was the perfect vantage point from which to view the unfolding panorama of Venice, as we slowly sailed by the wonderful buildings and canals spread out before us: The Campanile, Dogi Palace, St. Marks Cathedral and the Bridge of Sighs. There are terra cotta roofs, trees, canals and the music of the Romantic String Trio: Bellisima. Never mind the camera, savor the passing splendid view. We have to thank the Captain for this slow measured entrance into this magnificent city, when repositioning the ship on the second day. We have visited Venice before, so we went out on our own. In order to get the vaporetto (water bus), we had to traverse two bridges, since we went off forward. We strolled through St. Mark's Square early in the morning before it was glutted with tourists. We went to Cafe` Florian and saw its many beautiful rooms. Then we ate at "Al Chianti" Ristorante Pizzeria, on Calle Larga S. Marco, near Piazza San Marco. This is where the Venetians eat. We had Frittura mista of fresh Adriatic sea food, Spaghetti vongole, almond pie for dessert, a beer and a lemon soda. All this for only 34.30 euros. On the return, we took the vaporetto (3.50 euros) to the exit past the ship, and only had to traverse one bridge. A great day for sights and memories. Day 8. Dubrovnik, Croatia Arrive: 9:00am Depart: 6:00pm We sailed into this perfectly preserved medieval town, which looks as if Disney could film fairy tales here without making any changes (a walled city with charm). The main street, Placa Stradun, was paved in large smooth stones. It was neat as a pin. The very narrow side streets had hundreds of stairs leading up to the mountain. The Croatian Kuna was six per dollar, and they accepted both euros and dollars. Prices here were very reasonable and the people sweet. The ship had wonderful tours, priced reasonably, but alas all included strenuous walking; thus, they were not for us. We entered the old town, which is a pedestrian island, and got around with the wheelchair easily. When we sailed out of Dubrovnik, Captain Lachtaridis blew the ship's horn to acknowledge the friendly waiving by the Croatians, who were flying their national flag from the ancient city walls. That night the ever crescent moon was beautiful over a very bright Venus in the NW sky. This was picture perfect. Day 9. Corfu, Greece Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 7:00pm This island 18 miles wide by 36 miles long is one of the most beautiful of the Ionian isles --- it is densely populated and lushly vegetated with olive, fig and citrus trees. We took the shuttle bus to the Old Fort, from where we walked down Dousmani to the center. Very nice ambiance with outdoor cafes and some good shopping. Both Dubrovnik and Corfu had an abundance of shore excursions all of which involved walking over rough terrain; thus we enjoyed both cities and eschewed the country sides. Day 10. At Sea We passed through the Straits of Messina and by Reggio Calabria (near Grotteria, the birth place of Mary's father). Later on we sailed nearby the volcano Stromboli with clouds shrouding its peak, and a tiny town at its feet. Day 11. Civitavecchia (Port of Rome) Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 7:00pm We have lived in Rome, so we had a reunion of family and friends planned at Ladispoli, a sea side resort near Civitavecchia. Nineteen of us ate at the Grazia Deledda Ristorante (moderately priced). We all enjoyed the delicious seven course dinner, reminisced, laughed and when it came time to leave, we all cried. Arriverderci Roma! The ship's tours here are many: Tour CVA1 $179, 10.5 hrs, Rome the Eternal City. Basically, it visits Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican Museum, and the Sistine Chapel, lunch at a local hotel or restaurant, then a drive through the city to the Colosseum. Tour CVB1 $150, 10.5 hrs, Imperial Rome. It visits the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and St. Peter's Basilica. Our new acquaintances, the Neimarks took this tour and enjoyed everything seen, but were dismayed over the included lunch. They felt that in Rome lunch should have been at a "local restaurant" as the description states. Instead, they were taken to Best Western and served what someone thought was American fare, with overcooked pasta which no Italian would want to eat. They felt it would have been better to have a local pizza, than the inedible meal provided. Only the "rosette" (Roman bread rolls) were good. When in Rome, eat as the Romans eat ---- after all Americans may eat at Best Western any day at home, but these cruisers were in Rome for only a day. Tour CVC1 $82, 9.5 hrs, A Taste of Rome. This guides the tourist to a partial independent exploration of Vatican City, St Peter's, the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Here lunch is on your own! Tour CVE1 $52, 5 hrs, Panoramic Rome. This is probably the best brief tour of the Etruscan countryside and the highlights of Rome, including the Vatican, Villa Borghese, Via Veneto, the Colosseum, etc. and lunch on your own. Sailing away from Civitavecchia, we enjoyed a spectacular sunset, while admiring the promontory of Argentario, the islands of Giannutri and Giglio. The visibility was so good that we could see the profile of the distant island of Monte Cristo. Late in the night we passed the straight of Bonifacio, between Sardinia and Corsica. Day 12. At Sea Day 13. Barcelona Arrive: 6:30am Disembarkation in Barcelona was a dream and very orderly. Those in need of assistance waited in the Centrum until their baggage color was called and then, they were handily dispatched. There were many porters to assist with the luggage and taxis were assigned on a first come first serve basis. Make sure the taxi driver uses the meter and doesn't con you. CONCLUSION We love these back-to-back cruises which include one leg with many sea days and the other with port intensive itinerary. This was the second time we have booked a transatlantic crossing followed by a European cruise. Both trips we had sufficient sea days for rest, relaxation, enjoying the ship and the sea, and then the excitement of visiting beautiful and historical ports. It surely made a superb long vacation. Now we look forward to enjoying an Alaska cruise tour on the Island Princess (July 2004) and then another transatlantic crossing on the newest RCI ship, the Jewel of the Seas (Sept. 2004). Happy Cruising! Please enter your review. Read Less
Sail Date April 2004
We sailed on the Triton on May 3, 2004 and were very pleasantly surprised. Most of the reviews we had read were not good. Royal Olympic/Olympia Cruises has been going through some tough times. We went on this cruise and expected it to be ... Read More
We sailed on the Triton on May 3, 2004 and were very pleasantly surprised. Most of the reviews we had read were not good. Royal Olympic/Olympia Cruises has been going through some tough times. We went on this cruise and expected it to be only a means of transportation from Piraeus, Greece to the islands of Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, and to Kusadasi, Turkey. The ship is in good shape, the food was good and had a varied selection, the staff was very friendly, the entertainment was good. Really, our only complaint was that the ship's photography staff was not very good. We usually purchase a photo or two on a cruise, but the quality was so poor on the Triton that we did not purchase any photos. The itinerary is very hurried, but this is to be expected when you have six different ports-of-call in four days. Some of the organized tours left the ship at 7:00 a.m. We have sailed on many nicer ships, but for the price and the itinerary, this cruise is well worth the money. Read Less
Sail Date May 2004
Just returning from the Costa Cruise line's Mediterranea yesterday, I have contemplated strongly just how to write a fair review of this cruise ship, the Costa cruise line, and the locations visited. Firstly- I am an American living ... Read More
Just returning from the Costa Cruise line's Mediterranea yesterday, I have contemplated strongly just how to write a fair review of this cruise ship, the Costa cruise line, and the locations visited. Firstly- I am an American living in Italy, familiar with the Italian culture and lifestyle. I speak enough Italian to communicate effectively and live in an Italian town without any problems. That said, I am writing this review geared towards any Americans considering flying over and using Costa for a cruise. Did I enjoy the cruise? Overall, yes. The destinations were tremendous and somewhat surprising once we got there. The ship was overall excellent, very clean, with an excellent mix of European and American passengers. Would I ever go on a Costa cruise again? Absolutely not. The "Italian hospitality" that the cruise line markets itself on is neither Italian, nor hospitable. I will site some of the many problems this cruise line has concerning customer service. Take note- I am an American, and our standards of customer service do differ drastically from European, and specifically Italian standards in many regards. Not all of these gradients are necessarily bad, as I have experienced many delightful experiences traveling all of southern Europe, extensively in Italy itself. Since I live only 45 minutes from Venice, travel to the port was easy and hassle-free. Those flying in will be jet-lagged and may have several hours to spare in Venice at the port, since you cannot board the ship until at least 2:30pm, which our travel agent was wrong about (she said noon was the time to board). We arrived at noon expecting to board, and had to find a way to burn 2 1/2 hours with a toddler. Not a problem- if you also arrive too early, take a brisk walk (don't get ripped off by a taxi) to the parking garage about 5 minutes from the port, and on the other side take a water taxi to Venice, and enjoy Saint Mark's square for the remainder. The ship is massive and impressively clean. Being my third cruise (one on Carnival and one on Norwegian), I found the ship's amenities to be on par with other cruise ships. Ship's services and features: Child services: Under 3, nothing. Over 3- a dumping ground for parents that want to drop their children and run. I spotted the "squawk" groups during the cruise being entertained by Italian babysitters, doing mindless games and eating snacks. If you are taking your children on a cruise, don't subject them to this extremely lacking and pathetic treatment- leave them at home, or incorporate them into the cruise and excursions- we did it with a 2yr old, and it was quite acceptable and enjoyable. Get a baby-backpack, do not use a stroller- Istanbul was incredibly crowded. Ship excursions- Costa offers these packages for each port- they range in price from 30 to over 100 euros for tours of the various sights. We did just one in Greece, in Olympia- because Costa neglected to tell anyone that the ruins of Olympia are over 45 minutes away from port. We jumped on a tour at the last second and found it terrible. We learned from the Greek trip and did everything else on our own- and had a blast. The tours are overpriced- the English speaking tour guide was hard to understand, rambled on longer than this review, and moved slower than pond water through the sites. Bari was the first stop- and since we live in Italy, we were disappointed. Other American visitors were as well, since Bari has little to see within walking distance of the ship aside from the famous castle and a few "ho-hum" cathedrals. My recommendation to Costa would be to shift the Bari stop to a further south Italian location- something with beaches or more history or something better than Bari. Olympia was the next day- we realized we needed transportation when an employee overheard us and told us the ruins were 45 minutes away. Another couple was in the same situation we were, and they jumped in a taxi. We did the excursion, and even ran into that couple later in the ruins. Their taxi fare was half of our excursion cost, and their taxi was parked at the entrance waiting on them- they had the better time. Olympia was less than expected- everything truly is in ruins- few of the columns are even standing. Izmir, Turkey- the third day. We expected this day to be uneventful- we planned on only walking around the immediate area of the port- when we encountered taxis right at the edge of the port. For 80 euro- they offered a round-trip transport to the ancient ruins of Ephesus- where one of the old Seven Wonders of the World lay in ruins. We gambled, and jumped in with our toddler. The hour-long taxi ride was worth it- the location was amazing- far more sights and rich history than Olympia. Istanbul- again, we avoided the tours- 100 euro for a 9 hour tour was the one we thought about; well- we did it on foot in less than seven hours (again- with a toddler in a baby back-pack), saw all the sights including more, had chai (tea) in a carpet shop, talked politics and world events with many friendly merchants, got lost in the Topekai Palace exterior gardens, hit most all of the Grand Bazaar, and walked back through the local quarter- an amazing exciting time. Grab a map, buy or use a library tour book, bring a compass (those little bubble ones you can slip on your watch band work just fine) and enjoy. Don't use Costa's tours unless you have a heart condition or just enjoy throwing your money and time away. Croatia- walled town of Dunkirk- overall very pretty- but too crowded by our own cruise tourists. The walled town is only about 1500 meters wide, and the nearly 1,000 tourists from the ship crammed it completely. We got out of the town, walked up some cliffs overlooking the city, and got amazing photos- found a nice little beach, avoided the tours and crowds. Finally- my biggest issue with Costa- Customer Service. Little things bugged me throughout the trip- but I didn't want them to bother me during my vacation, so I let them all go and concentrated on the enjoyable times- until the last day. Costa bills you a "standardized gratuity" which their guide clearly states you can adjust higher or lower, whatever you prefer. Nowhere is it stated that you must do anything prior to checking out. We even attended the "check-out day" briefing the day prior, and the woman again stated to the English speaking group that we could adjust the tip through Guest Services. My wife and I got our bill the day prior, and saw the breakdown- about 19 euros for the waiters, our housekeeper/maid, and the maitre'd (head waiter-type, for all you non-French speakers). Now, the maid was fine, and our waiters (Rex and Alex) were absolutely amazing. But the maitre'd?? For us, he would occasionally say "good evening," but he spent most of his time chatting with the Italian tables and ignored the German and English tables. I even watched as he walked around my wife's chair, and chatted with an Italian gentleman for 10 minutes while I ate my dinner staring at his backside, as it was pushed up against my wife's chair. Did he turn around and ask us how our meals were at least? Nope. So- we decided to move his tip over to our waiters, and add to it to make it an even 20 euros on top of their tip already. So, that morning, my wife went to guest services to check out and do that seemingly simple task. She returned an hour later in tears. After waiting in one long line, my wife was told to go to another line to do the tip change. After waiting in this second line another 25 minutes- the Italian woman there rudely told her that she could not do it either, that she had to go to yet another line. My wife politely expressed her dissatisfaction with the service so far, which resulted in a snide remark from the woman and a dismissing hand wave away from the desk. My wife then approached this third employee- an Italian man this time. She explained the situation- and he told her "no. You cannot change it now." She asked to speak with his manager. He then looked up at her, and said there was no manager available. He then went back to work, ignoring my wife standing over him. She was very upset by this time, and again asked if he was going to help her. This Costa cruise employee, demonstrating their "Italian hospitality" told my wife again that nothing could be done, and continued to ignore her. When she told me the situation, I took my toddler downstairs with her to take care of this myself. I approached the man my wife pointed out, and I interrupted his business to discuss the situation at hand. I had their Costa guide in my hand, and gave it to him with the area underlined stating that we could adjust the tips as we wished. He rudely told me we could not, and handed me the guide back. I asked him for his manager, and he told me "no" and went back to work. I again said "please get me your manager." He said, "no- but I can call security." I was shocked. Here I was, holding a toddler in one hand, requesting assistance with their own guidebook in my other hand, and this guy was threatening me with security???? All of this over just trying to tip our waiters more for their excellent service. Well- again, I maintained my composure and asked a third time- get me your manager. My wife found a phone nearby, and called the help desk and explained the situation. Eventually- we were directed to a manager, who would not leave his office to come see us; we had to go to his location. There- he told us that we could not change any bill amounts; it all had to be done yesterday. He agreed that their own guide book was "not correct" and their Costa briefing yesterday was "not correct." His crew was "not correct," but now he was empowering us with the "correct" information. I expressed my extreme dissatisfaction with the employee I dealt with, and informed the manager of my residency in Italy and current job with the US government, and that when fellow co-workers asked me of my Costa cruise experience- that this last day would define my overall assessment of the Costa cruise line. The manager seemed mildly interested, and very non-confrontational. He just wanted us to let it go- not change anything, stick to the status-quo. So- long winded, and if you read this whole thing; please understand that I truly enjoyed the trip, especially the Turkish ports. The food was fine, the ship was clean, and even with a high-energy toddler, we all had a great time overall until this last day. This last day may just have involved a few Costa employees that do not represent a systemic problem in Costa overall, but when confronted with their own printed regulations and their own briefings they provide passengers, they still were right, and the customer was wrong. In America, nearly any self-respecting business would have quickly helped us out, and perhaps serious consequences would have befell the rude employee we encountered- but right now, as I type this, that Costa employee is somewhere near Bari with another boat-load of passengers. Too bad those passengers won't find out until next Sunday that their maitre'd is getting his 16 euros whether they like it or not. Ben Z Read Less
Sail Date May 2004
Please enter your review. Westerdam HAL We were very fortunate to take a 12 night Mediterranean cruise on the second voyage of the Westerdam. There were high notes, and not so high notes. We had a wonderful time and would do it again, ... Read More
Please enter your review. Westerdam HAL We were very fortunate to take a 12 night Mediterranean cruise on the second voyage of the Westerdam. There were high notes, and not so high notes. We had a wonderful time and would do it again, however, this is not a five star ship. It is close to a 4. We understand that many of the problems are because it is so early in the ships life. However, unless some changes are made this ship can never be called a luxury ship. The good things first: The ship is so stable, you never feel motion. The beds are fabulous. Best we have ever slept on in a ship. The cabins are roomy. Lots of closets, hangars and shelves. The verandah cabins have bathtubs. Not only does that offer the opportunity of a bath, but the shower is twice the size of a normal ship shower stall. The bathroom is really quite luxurious and the products are excellent. The towels are large and thirsty. The air conditioning works very well. Room service is quick and available 24 hours a day. There is no additional charge for espresso or cappuccino in the dining room. The ports are amazing. They included some new ports like Samos, Greece and Malta. The stage is phenomenal in the show venue. Everything is state of the art. The curtain is covered with fiber lights, the lighting is variable and beautiful, the stage has several elevated portions that rise and lower. The two revues by the ships cast ended with indoor fireworks. Issues: The couch, carpet and duvet in our cabin were all soiled. This is the second sailing. What will it be like in two months? The full-length mirror is located on the door of one of the closets. When you open the door to use the mirror, the door blocks the light and you cannot see. The reading lights above the headboard are so low they cannot be used for reading. The light switches do not allow you to keep just the entry light on. The hairdryer is located under the dressing table. It must be used when sitting; and it is never very strong or hot. The TV is on the dressing table leaving little space for cosmetics and toiletries. It is quite far from the bed and small. There are four seatings, 5:15, 5:45, 8:00 and 8:30. Those in the 5:15 were very unhappy that it was so early; we had the 8:30 and it was too late. We missed four shows because we were still eating at 10:45 and the show started at 10:30. The service in the dining room was not white glove; no one placed a napkin in my lap until I complained to the captain. The service was SLOW. The waiters didn't remember after a week that with every dinner my husband and I drink ice tea. Again I had to speak to the captain. The food is very average. The best meal was the next to last night when caviar made its only appearance. The a la carte Pinnacle restaurant is fabulous. Great service and great food. In the regular dining room they do not seem to understand that when the breadbasket is empty they should refill it. The salads, vegetables and starches were terrible. No presentation and nothing exciting. One evening my roasted vegetables were missing and when I asked the waiter lifted up my foil wrapped potato to show me the vegetables underneath. The good news was the only way you will gain weight is from the desserts. By the way, it you want a flambE they are not served in the dining room, you must go to the lounge outside the lower level dining room and wait in line. The wait is worth it as the ship made chocolates are also served there. The ships two reviews by their cast were great as was the magician and a super singer/comedian. Some of the shows were terrible and people left in droves. The magician has signed a two-year contract so you are assured of a good show from him. The Lido pool has a retractable roof, which allows HAL to put a better chaise in there. The outside pool chaises are not very comfortable. The Lido Pool chairs are so close it is impossible to gracefully sit or stand. I signed up for the unlimited hydrotherapy pool package in the SPA. As I exited the first day, I fell as my foot hit he wet floor. There was nothing to grab onto, and I took a nasty spill. I reported it to the desk and they did not even take my name. When I experienced pain the next day I called and they told me to go to the ships doctor. He told me it was muscular and would just take time. No one from the SPA or the ship called to see how I was doing until I told customer service of my disappointment. The gentleman made it clear that the SPA does not belong to the HAL. Fine, but my accident was on their ship. Nothing was done to prevent his from occurring again and later in the cruise another passenger also fell. Her fall was much worse than mine; she hit her head on the steps and passed out. Even after that no change was made to the facility. We would travel on the ship again, but, with the understanding this is at most a four star ship. Read Less
Sail Date May 2004
We just returned from the Westerdam's 2nd voyage and it was a marvelous experience. I was a little leery of going on such an early voyage but Holland America outdid themselves on this cruise. The crew is friendlier than ever and ... Read More
We just returned from the Westerdam's 2nd voyage and it was a marvelous experience. I was a little leery of going on such an early voyage but Holland America outdid themselves on this cruise. The crew is friendlier than ever and more than willing to do anything for the customer. The ship itself is very spacious--even with a full contingent of passengers you never felt crowded. The only time I couldn't find a seat was at the disembarkation lecture so I just left and caught it later on the tv. The newly revamped Lido is outstanding. We hardly ever waited at all. The viewing from the Vista Lounge is excellent. But best of all is their newly implemented Signature of Excellence program. All staterooms have lovely linens and bathrobes. There are now 4 dining times which is an improvement. If only HAL would go to open dining so we could eat at 7:30 and with whomever we wanted--then their product would be the best in the market! But the best change was the addition of the gratuities to your shipboard account on a daily basis. This is so much fairer to all of the staff and takes away a lot of the negative feelings we always felt on the last night of a cruise. (It's hard enough to get off the ship anyway!) We participated in a lot of the shore excursions and felt they were very good value for the money. All guides were excellent and the ports were fascinating--Italy, Croatia, Greece, Turkey and Malta. We have cruised Radisson more than any other line and this experience ranked up there with those trips. The food was every bit as good. The decor was a bit more splashy than other HAL ships but very attractive. I particularly liked all the orchids and cloth towels in all the public restrooms. Treat yourself to a cruise on this ship and you won't be sorry! Read Less
Sail Date May 2004
(NOTE - There's no menu selection for Oslo, so I hope the deliberately wrong selection of Osaka will ring enough alarm bells for people to notice which was the actual port of embarkation.) INTRODUCTION This report is intended to ... Read More
(NOTE - There's no menu selection for Oslo, so I hope the deliberately wrong selection of Osaka will ring enough alarm bells for people to notice which was the actual port of embarkation.) INTRODUCTION This report is intended to be read alongside the photos from this cruise, which can be found in my Webshots album (http://community.webshots.com/album/140741580OdzpCX) for this cruise. At the end of the album there are also scans of the daily planner for the two days of our cruise for which they were produced (there wasn't one for disembarkation morning). You may also find Brandis' photos (http://www.brandis.org/fotogalerie/Jewel04) useful to look at because they show some things that I write about here, but of which I haven't posted photos. I've tried to include some links to relevant photos of mine from specific points in this report. TO THE SHIP It was too early a start, really - it was only 0500. More like the start of a particularly gruelling day's work, not a weekend off. But we had to get there, so we stirred ourselves and dragged ourselves off to Heathrow. Nothing much needs to be said about the flight, except for a great start to the day. A hot cheese and ham ciabatta roll, fruit salad, yoghurt, a muffin, tea or coffee, and your pick of the bar - all included in the price of the flight. Why would you fly any other airline, honestly? On the descent into Oslo, a small extra treat - we were sitting on the side facing the city centre, and had a grandstand view of the city including - of course - Jewel of the Seas herself. A problem, though, at baggage claim. My bag failed to turn up. It happens from time to time, but very rarely. So why today, when I was sailing in 6 hours' time? Murphy strikes again. But the Servisair (handling agent) agent had already had a telex to say that my bag had been left behind in London; it would be on the next flight. Unfortunately, it was not scheduled to arrive until 1610. A 1700 sailing was going to be close, by any standards. So I left instructions for the bag to be delivered if possible. I also asked for a cash payment to go shopping, but my luck was out again. Although possible in theory, there was no point on 1 May as it was a public holiday and all the shops would be closed. The agent was right, as I found when I got into town. If I shopped on board the ship, it was going to have to be a subsequent claim from the airline. We then headed for the Airport Express, a fast and convenient service to Oslo Central Station - every 10 minutes during the week, every 20 minutes at the weekends. There was confusion, though, about check-in. An RCI representative tried to direct us to a nearby hotel, to wait for a bus to the ship. But our tickets were directing us to go to the quay. The representative didn't know whether check-in was taking place at the hotel, she just knew there were buses from there to the quay. As I could foresee long queues at the hotel for the bus, we decided to walk to the quay as originally planned, as it was a nice day and we knew that the quay is only about 15 minutes walk from the station, even with luggage. It was a pleasant choice, and included us finding Oslo's May Day Parade, which we watched for several minutes before resuming our path towards the ship. Finally, we turned a corner and saw her in her full glory (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745553ipPJbM). And then also found a disorderly queue in the open air of several hundred people apparently waiting to check-in. It was a good thing it wasn't raining, because it turned out that these people had already checked in at the hotel and this was only the queue for security. It took over an hour. There were some RCI agents, though, who were able to check us in there despite the fact that we were not on the list of passengers who would be checking in at the quay. We were issued with a scrap of paper headed "Boarding Pass" and told to collect keys from the Guest Relations Desk, which is where we headed first. THE CENTRUM Quay level boarding gets you onto deck 2. We just walked up to deck 4. The staircase effectively opens onto the floor of the Centrum. It's a massive open space, and the overwhelming impression that it gives is one of light and space. It's a very impressive area to walk into, even for someone who is used to seeing modern ships. The enormous amounts of glass used on the outside walls of the ship certainly have an effect. The port side, where the "outside" lifts (elevators) are situated, looks just like the atrium of a skyscraper that has a glass curtain wall, through which daylight simply floods in. There's even a large area of glass near the ceiling, because there's a large glass wall that looks forward from deck 12 (the Crown and Anchor lounge) to the swimming pool. And there's virtually no floor area on any deck in the Centrum higher than deck 4. Taken together with that huge glass curtain wall, it's almost as if you are standing between two buildings, one forward and one aft, with only a few bridges acting as walkways between them. Even the Crown and Anchor lounge (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/142241493ndnJDP) is simply another suspended structure, around which there is empty space. The Centrum is used a lot for music and dancing - much more so than similar ships I have been on. On day 1, music was scheduled there for 1130-1600, 1700-1800, 1945-2045 and then 2145-0030. On day 2, there was music from 1130-1230, and then 1715-1800, 1945-2045 and 2145-0030. The sight of couples twirling on the floor by the lobby bar, visible from every level of the Centrum, became a familiar sight (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745030YKeIJX). One other effect - it makes people stop and watch, all the time. Although atria on ships have now become very familiar, this is still a design into which much thought has gone, and is in my view extraordinarily successful. A lot of thought has also gone into the lighting effects. There is a suspended sculpture which looks like strings of small organ pipes of different sizes (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745060golIUq), made of aluminium (or something that looks like it). Different coloured lights play on this - predominantly yellow with some blue during the day, but varied changing colours after dark (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745099Ucdeai). There are projectors mounted all over the Centrum, some of which are for the coloured lights and some which display pictures or messages on the blank wall that is opposite the glass curtain wall (and which hides the doors to the "hump cabins" on the starboard side) - "welcome to the Jewel", "farewell" and so on. I was captivated by the various moods that the coloured lights create, and you can see a selection of evening colours in my photos. GUEST RELATIONS HELPS ME OUT The Guest Relations Desk was staffed by some of the most cheerful crew members we saw on board, who were a cut above most ship front desks that I've come across. Not only did they quickly make some spare room keys for us (for some reason, we would have to wait until after sailing for our proper cards), but when I explained what had happened to my bag they immediately asked to take copies of all the documents so that the ship could do what it could to help. The documents didn't then vanish into thin air, because we were called in our room at about 1600 by one of the security officers, who had phoned the airport to find out the time that that next flight was expected - sadly, it was going to be about 5 minutes later, which was eroding the margin further. To complete this story out of chronological order, after we had sailed departed and sailed through the most picturesque part of the Oslofjord, we went to the shops which were by then open, to see what clothes I could buy to get me through the rest of the cruise. When we had earmarked as much as we could (the only thing that they couldn't supply was fresh socks), we returned to the room just in case the bag had turned up. There were two voicemail messages. The first apologised for the fact that the bag had missed our departure by some 20 minutes. The second was an apparently inconsistent message to say that the bag was at the Guest Relations Desk. It was comforting to know that security insisted on inspecting it before we took it away, but it was then that we were told how the bag had got onto the ship - it had come out on the pilot boat. That was an excellent piece of work on the part of all the departments that worked on the problem - it turned out to be the most impressive thing about the entire weekend other than the ship herself. OUR CABIN Sorry, stateroom. Although 8577 was just a standard inside room, this was a good size. The beds were made up as a double, as asked - the ship got that right, which is more than many manage to do. The room number plate doubles as the letter rack. As one would expect, there is a very conventional arrangement - cupboards immediately beyond the door, opposite the bathroom door. Then there is a desk/dressing table with a mirror above it. On the opposite side there is a two-seater couch and a coffee table. There is a symbolic dividing "curtain" attached to the desk side of the room - in fact it only comes out a few inches into the room - and beyond that the bed area. Electricity is provided by European Schuko sockets, and the hairdryer has a Schuko plug - I didn't notice whether there was a 110V supply, or US style sockets, but I suppose it would be silly of RCI not to have them. There is ample lighting. A nice touch is the dual bedside lamp on each side of the bed, with an area light but also a low-voltage halogen spot bulb in a rotating housing, which causes less disturbance to anyone else in the room. The bathroom is also very conventional. The sink is moulded into the plastic sheet that also forms the surround. There is only one bathroom cupboard, on the side opposite the door. For a long cruise where one would unpack all toiletries, this could get a little cramped. The toilet was set uncomfortably high in the wall, which would annoy me after a while - I don't like that feeling of having my legs dangling. But the shower was a delight - a pair of curved shower doors slid together and satisfyingly snapped shut with a magnetic strip. This may be the first time I have used a ship shower without flooding the rest of the bathroom floor. And the shower controls were easy to use. There was one circular knob in the middle of the mixer unit for turning the water on, and a hot/cold mixer knob at the left hand end for adjusting the temperature. None of this single rotating lever nonsense. Small catering-size bars of soap were provided, slightly larger than the usual stuff of this type. I can't remember whether there was any, and if so what, shampoo. Soundproofing was adequate. Occasionally we could hear noises from adjacent cabins - most often the vacuum flush system operating. But more often we could hear the crew using the metal crew staircases in the vicinity. Looking at the deck plans, this surprised us because our cabin did not adjoin any crew staircases. But there was no mistaking the sound, which I think must have been being transmitted through the floor. One of our cabin stewards made a point of knocking on our door before the lifeboat drill to introduce himself. He was one of a team of two looking after us, and we saw both of them from time to time during the cruise. They did a very efficient job, although the cruise was not long enough either to get to know them or to make any demands of them. THE LIFEBOAT DRILL AND THE SAILAWAY 1630 brought the lifeboat drill, which was notable for the captain's substantive absence. The cruise director, Karen, made the main announcement about safety procedures in the usual terms. Then she asked us to stand by for an announcement from the captain before the end of the drill. So we stood and waited for the conventional welcoming words. And waited. And waited, until eventually the captain came on with the one line message that the drill was completed and we were all dismissed. Strange - I wish I'd known what was going on. We then made our way up to the pool area on Deck 12 to join in the sailaway party. The Elini Duo were playing, but cut lonely figures as they faced an empty deck area. Such of our fellow passengers as had come up to the sailaway celebrations were instead mostly congregated around the bar areas - thus underlining what we would come to see repeatedly during the course of the cruise. There were no cruise staff in evidence until well after we had moved off from the quay. Then a member of the cruise staff named Barbara made a welcoming announcement, and said that other members of the team were around the pool area. Once we were looking for them, they were easier to see - they were all standing in one group, talking amongst themselves and taking photos of each other and of Oslo as we manoeuvred to sail away from the city centre. Unfortunately, this rather set the tone for the weekend. I don't know whether this was because they knew that almost all passengers on board were not primary English speakers and therefore unlikely to engage with them. Those whom we did manage to engage and speak to, though, were perfectly friendly and chatty. They told us about who they thought the ship's godmother was going to be (accurate, ahead of the formal announcement) and why they thought no announcement had yet been made (inaccurate, although the sort of story that one could easily put together from all the true features of her appointment). Interestingly, they (and other crew members we talked to at various times) were all particularly concerned about Harwich, which will serve as Jewel's turnaround port for the whole of her Northern Europe season before she sets off for the New World - they all wanted to know (a) what there was to do in Harwich, (b) which the nearest real city was, and (c) whether day trips to London would be feasible on turnaround days. THE POOLS The main pool area isn't spacious - not for this ship the acres of sunning space around the pools of others. However, the pool is definitely more sheltered than many. Jets of water splash into it, and a statue of a stout bather throwing a ball (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745011nZYtPX) adorns one side. There are bars on the pool level (deck 11) and one on the "gallery" around it, one deck up. From there, it's a short stroll forward to the Solarium. This is another pool, covered by a retracting roof. It has an Oriental theme, although to the uninitiated it is difficult to identify precisely which country has lent itself to the dEcor. Another statue (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140744998CbNpuD) sits by the pool's edge. The area being Asian-themed, I was convinced for many days that it was a tiger. It wasn't until after I'd posted my photos online that someone was kind enough to point out that it's a lion. So much for geographical accuracy. The art buyers ought to be told the answer to the schoolboy's riddle about why lions and tigers never fight each other to death. There was a certain amount of inconsistency over the use of the Solarium facilities. Day 1's planner (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140943934EZAlcN) described it as available for ages 16 and over, but day 2's planner (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140944043nOTywh) said "adults only". Nevertheless, the rules posted in the Solarium contain detail about what children may and may not do. If there was any "adults only" rule, it certainly wasn't being enforced. There was also one extraordinarily grating feature of the Solarium. It has a food service station. This might be forgivable in this setting, if it served snacks of sophistication and quality. But no, it's the pizzeria. Yuck. Big mistake - utterly tasteless (and I don't mean the food). THE ONBOARD ART The statues remind me to say something about the art on board. There is a huge amount of it, and it is one of the most attractive features about the ship. Much of it will be lost on most people, who probably won't even notice its existence. But if you keep your eyes open, there is lots to see everywhere. It includes far more than the usual big run prints put up along the long and otherwise-featureless corridor walls. There are the statues I have already mentioned, which you find in all sorts of places (the golfer at the entrance to the mini-golf course just behind the rock climbing wall (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745208HQBoMx) is another oft- photographed example). There are also interesting pictures and objects on virtually every half- landing of every staircase. Some of the pictures are art photos. One that particularly impressed was a wintry landscape comprised entirely of holes punched or drilled into a vast silvery metal sheet (although the installation of this piece is crass and unsympathetic, with large and highly visible cross-head screws punctuating the image all over the place) - this one is definitely in Marc Benz's photo collection. Something else that amused me was the trio of flamingoes (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745355PDgDQJ) which are on deck 13, on a ledge facing the top of the "outside" lifts - although it is annoying that that is as close as one can get to them, and playing in the lifts seems to be the only way of getting a good look. Pleasingly, thought, most pieces could definitely be described as contemporary but accessible art. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to select things which will interest and perhaps inspire, but without being obviously controversial or self-indulgent rubbish. Almost, but not quite, in this category is the enormous bottle of Perrier-Jouët champagne which is attached to the Centrum railings next to the champagne bar (deck 6). The label prophetically marked the ship's maiden voyage on 8 May 2004, which did underline the nature of our cruise, fully one week earlier. Two other interesting "construction" titbits. By the guest relations desk, there is a series of plaques with a number of photos of the construction and delivery process. Some of these images will be very familiar to those of us who have been watching the ship being built, and it was quite a thrill to see them in an "official" setting rather than merely dancing around our computer screens. Also, on deck 5 near the photo gallery there is a frame (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745502iafZOW) containing a number of photos of people signing the sheet of paper (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745514uwVBWE) which takes pride of place in the middle of the frame. The stated time and place are 4 April 2004, 1600, off Eemshaven. Those who were following Jewel's delivery process will have worked out that this was after the ship had successfully negotiated the River Ems on her way from the builder's yard at Papenburg to the sea, but before she docked in Eemshaven to begin the final preparation period and her sea trials. The photos don't record who was who, nor whose signatures appear on the sheet (only a few are legible and there is one large one which isn't but looks like it could be Bernhard Meyer's), but this is definitely a piece of the ship's history which I hope will stay with her or in some suitable place for a long time. THE SPA AND FITNESS CENTRE Forward of the Solarium is the health and beauty section of the spa. I regard spas at sea as overpriced cousins of the spas on land that I would never go to anyway, so I didn't have any interest in exploring this area. However, I did stop long enough to notice that it is yet another Steiner establishment, and that the staff in the spa are about as unfriendly and unwelcoming as most other Steiner staff that I have come across. Upstairs is the fitness centre, which is nominally (and, presumably, operationally) part of the spa. The room is a good size. There is a good selection of machines and weights, arranged around the outside of the room, which has almost floor to ceiling windows affording excellent views forward and to the sides. Some of the machines (notably the bikes) face inwards, though, which detracts somewhat from the effect. In the middle of the room there is an aerobics floor, which is adequately sized but not generous. Given the number of passengers on board, and the likely age profile, I can imagine this area becoming quite crowded for popular fitness classes, particularly those like step which would require significant amounts of floor space. Until you establish that your fellow passengers have all been overcome by sloth (or perhaps gluttony?), my advice would be to go early and claim your place. There seemed to be only one fitness instructor, which surprised me; I don't know whether that will be the entire complement for a "proper" cruise. Workout towels are available in the fitness centre. There was a grand total of three classes scheduled for this cruise. It was a disappointment, but no surprise, to find that two out of three were $10 extra (yoga and spinning) - and an equal disappointment to wake up on the only full day of the cruise to find that we had slept through the free aerobics. There is also supposedly a jogging track on the same level as the fitness centre (deck 12). It runs around the outside of the fitness centre and then aft around the aft end of the main pool (although one deck up). It is clearly marked on the deck. However, the number of sun loungers and people milling about on the jogging track make it very difficult to use, even for someone like myself who prefers to power walk than run. It is a real pity that a jogging route isn't more clearly delineated and protected, because there is no true wraparound promenade deck - always the mark of a real ship, in my view! Deck 5 is blocked at the forward end on both sides. But even if it weren't, you have to climb some relatively steep stairs up one deck at the forward end, where the helipad is situated. FOOD As we were very ready for lunch by the time we had finally embarked, obtained room keys and reported the potential arrival of my late bag, we had no option but to go to the Windjammer. This is laid out in a single space across the full width of the ship, unlike most other self-service ship restaurants I have seen where a centrally-positioned galley area divides the restaurant area into two narrow halves along either side of the ship. The spaciousness allows for the installation of food service islands in the central area rather than a single long buffet counter, which means that (like at this layout's forerunners ashore) queues and bottlenecks are almost eliminated. The food in the Windjammer was as good as any buffet-style food can be. An "Asian" island produced nothing more than an unexceptional stir-fry, the difference between the chicken and beef versions offered was simply in the type of meat that had been throw into the mix. No P&O-style curries here. However, the sesame oil and chili sauce that were available there did the job of spicing up this offering. A salad bar was also perfectly acceptable, if rather thinly-stocked with some ingredients; more regular runs are needed to keep things topped up. A different hot food island produced some very boring and unmemorable dishes, which two weeks have served to erase altogether. The main point of discussion between my companion and myself was the size of the plates. They were oval and huge. Was this an attempt to make sure that people didn't clog up the service area by making multiple runs for the food? Perhaps a way of making sure that kitchen overstocks were rapidly run down? Whatever, it did seem to us that these plates were far larger than necessary - the net result of which was, for us, that we had small piles of food looking very lonely in a vast landscape of flat plastic. For our two dinners, we had made advance plans. We had been warned that the second night would be a formal night, but had discovered that Chops and Portofino require only smart casual dress even on formal nights, and that we would not be turned away from the captain's cocktail party if we were in smart casual for dinner in one of those restaurants. Consequently, we had decided to go to Portofino (the more interesting-looking of the two) on the second night, but to eat in the main dining room on the first night. A call to Portofino as soon as we arrived in our room was all that was necessary to secure a table for 2030 on the second night (the same time as second sitting dinner in the dining room). We discovered the spanner in this particular works when we collected our "proper" cruise cards at the same time as retrieving my rushed and well-travelled bag. We had requested second sitting dinner when booking. Our tickets said "confirmed second sitting dinner" on them. There had been nothing in our room to say anything different. But our "proper" cruise cards stated a table allocation in the early sitting dinner. This was pretty useless, as it was by now about 1900, early dinner had started at 1800, and we hadn't been even remotely hungry at that time anyway. (For us, 1800 is more like time for a very late lunch, rather than dinner.) This non-communication had of course been caused by the fact that we had been told to check-in at the quay, and RCI had then gone and set up check-in at the hotel near the railway station instead. Thus, we were deprived of the opportunity of trying to fix the problem during the maitre d's session on the afternoon of embarkation day Guest Relations made a helpful suggestion that if we turned up to second sitting dinner anyway, the maitre d' was bound to be able to find us somewhere to sit. We weighed up the pros and cons, including what we had discovered since we boarded - namely that we were virtually guaranteed to be sitting with people who would prefer to be speaking Norwegian to each other. (For all we know, the ship might have gone to the trouble of finding us English speakers to sit with on our early sitting dinner table, but we will never know.) There was also the inevitable difficulty about whether we would tip the dining room staff for the one night (and if so, when), or for both nights or not at all. So it was easier to see whether we could go to Chops. They couldn't do us a table at 2030, but could do one at 2115. So we avoided all the dilemmas by going off there instead CHOPS Chops is a very pleasant space, with great sea views while it's still light. Most of our fellow diners were wearing formal dress, as they did on both nights all around the ship despite the fact that the first night was supposedly causal dress. The staff were not quick enough to dim the internal lighting after the sun set and it got dark outside, but this did eventually happen. The lighting level will always be adversely affected by the open kitchen area, which is of course very brightly light by fluorescents. Service was mixed, probably reflecting the shakedown period. One of the waiters serving us had an irritatingly insecure way of pouring wine. He was so terrified of getting a drip off the bottle when he stopped pouring that he always poured it with the bottle touching the glass. As most people know, that pretty much guarantees that you will get a drip. Our other waiter, however, was a very bright and got-together South African lady who performed the menu perfectly (only after a recital do you get to look at a printed version) and organised everything very efficiently. The main courses are shown to you on a trolley, in raw form. Some people might find this off- putting. I did, but probably for slightly different reasons. No doubt for some spurious reasons of hygiene, all the meat was tightly wrapped in clingfilm when it was presented. There is nothing that makes otherwise-good raw meat look unappetising than acres of clingfilm. Why can't they just show it openly on a plate? Those particular pieces won't get cooked or eaten by anyone anyway! The food that was served, though, was perfectly good. My filet mignon was for the most part done exactly as asked; just one corner had been cooked too much. My companion's lamb chops were pretty faultless, as were the starters. The side dishes, though, are on the small side - don't be frightened to order several different ones for variety and reasonable quantity. The wine list and wine service, though, was annoying. There is a very pared-down list in Chops, although this is not pointed out to you at the time. All the selections are from the expensive end of the spectrum - there is very little below $30 a bottle. Worst of all, when my first choice (a Merlot) was unavailable, I was offered two alternative Merlots which I both knew to be astronomically priced. The waiter (the same one who turned out to be unable to pour the wine correctly) was no doubt banking on his customer being to embarrassed to ask how much they were. But I wasn't born yesterday, and it was back to the wine list for me. Despite my care, though, Chops and Portofino are expensive nights out. With one bottle of wine and a couple of bottles of fizzy water, each evening was basically $100. At home in London, it may not quite be possible to get a similar meal in a similarly good restaurant for that sort of money for two people, but it's not far off. The extra cost seems disproportionate in the context of a cruise where most things are supposed to have been paid for already. PORTOFINO - THE FOLLOWING NIGHT Again, most of our fellow diners were in formal dress, despite the suggestion expressly made in the daily programme. No wonder some of these people were wheeling on suitcases with enough space for two week's worth of cruise clothes! Again, we had the problem of the dining room being too light. This time, service was distinctly erratic. We had barely settled in and ordered an apEritif, than our orders were being taken. What we did not know was that this was going to lead to ultra-fast service of our starters and main courses, which arrived in double quick time. Some breathing space, please! But we got it after our main courses, when the plates were left sitting on our table for well over half an hour without being cleared or us being offered desserts or anything else. Timing is everything, and it wasn't happening here this evening. The food was again generally good, although one of the starters was slightly disappointing. The wine list was, mercifully, longer and had more choice at the bottom end - although it still isn't clear how (if at all) the Portofino list differs from the main restaurant wine list. LUNCH "AT SEA" Out of chronological order, a mention of lunch on our "day at sea". In fact, we had sailed to the Danish port of Skagen, which is right at Denmark's northernmost tip. We remained a couple of miles offshore all day, which seemed to be a "trying out the dynamic positioning system" day - so we spent the whole day doing lazy spins on the spot. I'd read that the Seaview Cafe (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745191fTzuWH) isn't much used, and so it proved this day. It's a lovely bright spot, especially on a sunny day, when you can either sit in or out. It's intended to have the feel of a seaside fish and chip shop, and so it does - except that it's much cleaner and more attractive than virtually every fish and chip shop I've been to. It does a variety of simple meals - fish and chips, burgers, and so on, which are freshly cooked by the team right there in the restaurant itself. There's no extra charge for this venue. I would highly recommended for lunch on sea days (and port days too, if open) as it's away from the madding crowds in the Windjammer and wonderfully placed for a nautical atmosphere. TIDES DINING ROOM  It followed that we only went into the main dining room for breakfast on disembarkation morning (a personal cruising tradition). It was pretty soulless when it was empty, as one would expect. The photos really say it all - a two deck room with a double height space in its centre (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745417wgpKYl), with an attractive water feature at one end next to a piano (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745433jQCERZ) and those trendy but effective hanging fabric "pillars" marching down the centre of the double height space itself. Disembarkation breakfast was a slight disappointment, but I don't know how it would compare to breakfast there on normal days during the cruise. THE ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES This was the greatest disappointment of the entire trip. The scene was largely set by the lacklustre sailaway party, where nobody's heart was in it and the cruise staff seemed to be going through the motions. The activities were, of course, almost all on the sea day. The fitness centre had only offered that one aerobics class which I would have done but missed because I was still asleep. I would also have done both the line dancing and the team trivia, except that they clashed and we had to pick one (we went for the team trivia). So for the first time in many cruises, I found myself sitting around the ship from time to time with nothing to do. If I hadn't had a self-imposed ban on going to the art auctions, I had a sense that this would have been a good cruise to do it on. Probably nobody buying, so I could have a go at getting things I wanted for the opening price, which in my view is the only price at which the onboard art is really worth buying. This absence of activities was also reflected in the visibility of the cruise staff - or, rather, their invisibility. It really seemed as if nobody was making any sort of effort. This may have had something to do with the fact that the ship was full of Norwegians. There's nothing wrong with Norwegians as such. But I think that the fact that English was not their first language (I suspect that fewer than 5% of the passengers were primary English speakers), and the fact that they spent much of their "entertainment" time in the bars and didn't require entertaining by the ship, meant that much of the crew just couldn't be bothered to make any sort of effort. It spoke volumes that my companion and I socialised more with the shop and restaurant staff than anyone else. And the crowning disappointment was the complete absence of a captain's reception of any kind - and indeed, the almost complete absence of the captain himself, who we only saw by chance during trivia because he walked through the room and was accosted by members of the media (or so it seemed) for a photo shoot. In fact, we had thought that we might at least hear more of the captain during the cruise because he would be able to address 95% of his passengers in their shared native tongue, but he seldom took the opportunity to do even that. For what it's worth, the cruise director was a lady named Karen, an English lass whose mid-Atlantic accent sounded like it had originated in the Midlands before it went to sea. We were never told her surname, or indeed given the names of any of the officers or staff in any formal way. We heard and saw so little of her - or her staff - that it's impossible to give any view about them. The first night, the main show was on (From West End to Broadway). We missed this because we were still in Chops having dinner. The second night, there was a Scottish headline singer named Brenda Cochrane, who did a solo show backed by the ship orchestra. Her CV (resumE) includes a role in Chicago (presumably in London) and a show at "the Edinburgh Festival" - that last bit was obviously thrown in to the spiel by someone who thought that most people wouldn't understand just how easy is to put on a show at the Fringe, and that that fact itself says nothing about your talent. In fact, she was good, but not outstanding - she had intonation problems in some parts of the songs that she sang. But it must have been very difficult trying to perform in a theatre with less than 20% occupancy - virtually all the Norwegians were drinking in the bars. The theatre itself (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745374kYgech) is an excellent space, having some of the best sightlines I have seen in a ship theatre because of the paucity of supporting pillars. The rake is also quite steep, and the seating is all theatre seating, which both help. The multicoloured seats, though, make the empty theatre resemble a patchwork quilt, and I'm not convinced that it adds to the design. The theatre is fitted with largest sound mixing board I think I have ever seen. We didn't get the opportunity to see the new Latin show; that would definitely have been interesting. The only other entertainment that we really saw was the pianist, Ben Robert, who was working in the Schooner Bar (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745284XlzaCw). By the time we got there his voice was giving out, but that just gave the assembled throng a chance to do some impromptu singalongs and karaoke (yes, we took part in that too). That was fun, although it didn't seem like what he was expecting. As a space, I was not that thrilled with the Schooner Bar itself. It was very busy both nights of our cruise, which may have had something to do with it. But its location makes it a thoroughfare to Chops, Portofino and the Safari Club as well as being a destination in itself, which also restricts the amount of seating that can be put there. We did poke our heads into Vortex, the disco, both nights. But the music was pretty awful (metallic techno stuff for the most part) and the room is too bright for a disco. The best part of Vortex is the light sculpture which consists of a series of vertical bars of glass, lit from underneath by coloured lights that change colour. We had the pleasure of seeing the rotating bar rotate only once, on the first night. We don't know why it didn't move after that. OTHER PUBLIC ROOMS One other irritation was the amount of time that the public rooms were taken up by "private functions" for the groups that were onboard. We did poke our heads into the cinema just before one techies meeting started - a steeply raked medium-sized room that will, I suspect, be awful for watching movies from if you're in the first three rows. The entrance is a little cylindrical portal near the sports bar, and is easy to miss first time. But the worst part was not being able to access the Safari Club (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745301VhxdEu) because of numerous "private functions". Even when I was finally able to get in there to have a look and take some photos (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745337zyevnT), I was on the verge of being thrown out because a private function was about to start. There is a card and game room which can only be accessed through the Safari Club, but that was of course inaccessible whenever the Safari Club itself was being used. This was a great pity because the bar at the very aft end of this complex may be the most comfortable and attractive bar on the ship, with a stunning view over the stern. DISEMBARKATION This was made easy by the fact that we had not docked at any port before returning to Oslo and so there was no need for anyone to clear immigration, and by the fact that no luggage handling was being offered either on or off the ship. We deliberately went to breakfast right at the end of the allotted time, and then disembarked in a very leisurely way when most people had already left. (Our flight back to London was not until 2015 that evening and we had planned to spend the day in Oslo, hopefully seeing the ship leave in the evening as well.) RCI had arranged buses to return to the central station - this time there was no queue for them and we gladly accepted the offer as we had planned to store our luggage there for the day before heading off to sightsee around the city. Although Jewel was 45 minutes late departing Oslo, we did in the end manage to see her go (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745604aYaxMU), and some of the photos of her sailing away (http://community.webshots.com/photo/140741580/140745687NEAhZy) are in my photo collection online. The flight back was perfectly routine, like the outbound flight. We got a meal which was pretty much identical to that one the way out, which set us up very nicely for the evening. CONCLUSION This was definitely a mixed experience. The ship is beautiful, and fully lived up to the brochure, the marketing and PR hype, and our expectations. She is a stunner and I hope she will be a winner. However, the cruise experience was desperately underwhelming. RCI officially sold this as a "taster" cruise. If I had been a first time cruiser, I do not think that I would be clamouring to return. Even worse, though, over the last few months I have lived with the mounting excitement of watching the ship being built and finished. I had the disappointment of missing her Ems passage because the weather forced a 24 hour delay. One would have thought that there would be some sense of excitement on board about a new ship, even amongst seasoned and experienced crew members. There was none of it. I was wasting my time expecting to be part of any shared experience of starting a new "life". Rather, as often as not, there was a sense that we passengers were just in the way of them getting the ship ready for "real" cruises. Perhaps I had made the mistake of being too excited, and of setting my expectations too high. If I ever do this again, I will have my eyes rather wider open next time. But it's a very big if - and now that I don't feel a link to this ship any more, I've realised that I don't actually have any good reasons for specifically choosing RCI over my usual cruise lines. POSTSCRIPT - PHOTOS Those of my photos that are online (http://community.webshots.com/album/140741580OdzpCX) are only there in relatively low resolution versions. If anyone would like a higher resolution version of any of these images by e-mail (file sizes typically between 800KB and 1.2MB per image), for their own personal and non-commercial use with no further dissemination, just let me know by posting to the message board thread on which this review is also posted (http://messages.cruisecritic.com/2/OpenTopic?a=tpc&s=927093444&f=069097554&m=9041 07102).     Read Less
Sail Date May 2004
After a 2 1/2 hour bus transfer to Harwich from Heathrow Airport London, the Jewel of the Seas was in sight. After being on some smaller and older cruise ships, this beautiful new ship was a spectacular sight to see. The embarkation ... Read More
After a 2 1/2 hour bus transfer to Harwich from Heathrow Airport London, the Jewel of the Seas was in sight. After being on some smaller and older cruise ships, this beautiful new ship was a spectacular sight to see. The embarkation process was easy and organized. The Ship The Jewel of the Seas is a spectacular ship. The centrum area of the ship, which is an open area in the centre of the ship from deck 4 to deck 11, seemed to be the life of the ship. There were always talented singers and musicians playing lively music. Another impressive part of the ship was the theatre that was about three stories in size. It made viewing the shows and presentation more enjoyable. The ship had other areas of interest such as nicely decorated lounges, an indoor solarium, miniature golf, pools, a two level dining room, and a stadium seating cinema. The Ports of Call The ports on the May 16 itinerary consisted of Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tallinn, Estonia. These were all interesting ports, but I would have to say the most interesting one was St. Petersburg. This port had decadent palaces such as Catherine's Palace and beautiful onion-domed churches such as the Church on Spilt Blood. Oslo was a beautiful city with big hills all around it. The Hadeland Glass Factory shore excursion was interesting as you saw mountainous terrain getting there and the handmade glass process was interesting to see. The only complaint that I have is that we did not have enough time after the excursion to walk around the city of Oslo. Stockholm and Helsinki were very clean cities and easy to self-navigate around to see places of interest. Copenhagen was nice too, but a little on the pricey side as the dollar is very weak against most of these northern European currencies. The Food The experience in the Tides Dining Room was excellent. There were more items to choose from than prior ships that I have sailed on. The quality of the food was great as well. The service in the dining room was also the best I have had on a cruise and the staff was exceptionally friendly and knew my food preferences after a few days on the ship. The Windjammer was quite the opposite. While there was a large selection of food there, it always seemed to be cold. The fountain drink dispensers where always broken in the morning and they should have had iced tea as an alternative drink selection in the morning for the who did not prefer juice or coffee. The Seaview Cafe was another dining alternative located one deck above the Windjammer. The food was good and was made to order. I would highly recommend the onion rings there. The service was also very good. The Entertainment The entertainment on the Jewel was excellent. The broadway-style shows were of high quality. There were two different British comedians that were probably the best comedy acts I have ever seen. Fellow Cruisers The cruisers and staff on this ship were more international than other ships I have sailed on. There were people from Britain, US, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Canada, Philippines, as well as several other countries. There was also a diverse group of people than were of all ages. This made interaction on this ship more interesting. Overall This was overall an enjoyable experience. The positives on this ship was the outstanding service, destinations, and amenities of the ship. The only complaints that I will mention is the food at the Windjammer would have been better if it was warmer and the cabin size could have been a little bigger. The pools were real nice, but would have been more enjoyable if the water temperature was warmer. Even with these issues, I would definitely travel on RC again as well as this ship. Read Less
Sail Date May 2004
Being a loyal RCI fan, I found this cruise to be the most disappointing, not in terms of ports, but the cruise itself. Our cabin was a D with a balcony on deck 10. I believe it was about 197 square feet with a small balcony that had a ... Read More
Being a loyal RCI fan, I found this cruise to be the most disappointing, not in terms of ports, but the cruise itself. Our cabin was a D with a balcony on deck 10. I believe it was about 197 square feet with a small balcony that had a table and two chairs. The closet was very small and other storage was quite limited. We were a little cramped with two adults and teen, especially at night with the sofa made into a bed. Getting to the bathroom can be an challenge. The curtains to divide off the queen bed from the sofa bed were a nice touch. Made it feel more private. The bathroom only has one side of the mirror for storage, but the round shower is very nice. They now have a unit in the shower that dispenses the combined type shampoo and conditioner. Hint...bring your own shampoo and conditioner. I found the toilet a little high. I am 5'-6", so anyone shorter might find this a little bit of a bother. One note is that we were under the Windjammer and could hear the carts roll across the tile floor 18 hours a day. If you are going on this ship, go down to the 9th level. The food in the dining room was so bad, we ate half of our meals at the Windjammer, which was only marginally better. I did run into one of the officers and commented on the food, and he shrugged and said that was why he ate at the Windjammer and only ordered food that had to be prepared. I must note that we did have second seating and most people who had first seating said their food was fine. Ours was usually cold, congealed, or in one case did not arrive at all. The parmesan cheese they serve on the pasta marinara was the powdered variety in the green can. What were supposed to be fresh vegetables were dry and wilting, salad greens were brown on the edges to give you an idea. One night my pasta was so cold, I had to send back and it was waved and came back a stuck together lump. My partially eaten broccoli was still on the plate so I knew it was mine and the meal had just been reheated. Our waiter needed to get a new profession as this certainly was not his calling. We did speak to the head waiter about the problems of cold food, wrong food and no food, but after that our waiter was surly. For the first time ever, we undertipped. Our assistant waiter did try make up for the waiter mistakes, however he had his own duties to tend to. On the tables around us (10 person) most nights there were only 2-4 people at each table, and one night we were the only people on the 5 tables around us. They all said the same thing, food is not edible. Lunch in the main dining room now only has one menu which got real old after two days. The Windjammer is now mostly buffet food. On other RCI cruises, you could go to the Windjammer at night and order from a menu. You do have the option of having a few special items made to order. However once again, things are not fresh. I watched them pour salsa out of a gallon jug, pour marinara sauce out of a five gallon can and add a few spices, eggs are the already beat kind in a carton that are sort of a gray color. We used room service a few times, once again, your menu choices are greatly reduced. The cheese and crackers was cheese that was drying out from the Windjammer and Saltines. The cookies were dry and had been around for a while. The grapes were good though. We ate at Portifino's one night and found that to be excellent. I dislike paying for food and service that used to be standard, but was curious about the quality. I was pleased with the food, but back to why can't it be like that in the dining room like it used to be without having to pay $20 extra per person. Our cabin steward was excellent considering him and a partner had 37 rooms. We found our cabin always well taken care of, even with a teenager. The teens club was not really going as there were so few teens on this ship. However our son quickly made friends and was out shooting pool most of his free time. The newsletter always had things for them to do, but my son and his new friends preferred the pool tables to video games and hanging out. Could it have been the fact there were only two teenage girls and maybe 8-10 teenage boys! We only took one shore excursion in St. Petersburg doing all other cities on our own and the first day in Russia with Red October. The tour guide to Peterhoff (RCI Tour) in Russia was only 18 and really had no idea of what Peterhoff was about. However on the drive home she answered questions about daily life in Russia and was very informative. I felt all the public rooms were beautiful, however, if you really look, you will see that almost all of the wood is vinyl or paper coated fiberboard, already showing dents, scratches and tears. If you ever sailed on the Legend or Splendour, this ship is no comparison. The Windjammer is now in the middle of the ship so you no longer have the great 180+ view and the Viking Crown is now separate venues, again, losing the views. The Schooner bar is now connected to two other bars and not cozy like on the Legend or Splendour. One thing I did notice is that smoking is allowed in a lot of places so there was a lot of residual smoke smell everywhere and you can not get to certain areas without going through smoking sections. We were in a cabin next to a suite and they were puffing on cigars all the time. The smoke and smell somehow came right into our room. I would be horrified to find myself on a future cruise in an 10K room full of cigar smells. One complaint from almost everybody you met at the elevators, is there is not enough of them. Also it is very difficult to see which one is going which direction when it comes to your floor because of the way they are laid out. The ocean facing elevators are nice, but most people still look at the door. Many times we opted to walk 5 or 6 levels versus wait for the elevator. Better for us anyway. Shopping Arcade was very good. For those going to Russia, before buying nesting dolls and other Russian items, RCI had better quality at the same or less price. It also is a good idea to go to the informative seminar on buying Russian souvenirs. I know I sure learned a lot. I also bought a Skagen watch on the ship that was cheaper than what I could get in Denmark or here in the US, plus no taxes. We did not use the pool, spa or fitness center. With such a port intensive cruise, you tend to be too exhausted to do much when you get back on the ship. We did go to two shows and found them to be good and enjoyed the port seminars and other educational/historical type seminars. The environmental seminar overlapped with the historical seminar so we had to miss the environmental one. Talking to the environmental officer, I told him our disappointment, and he said he would try and fix that for future cruises. You will see lots of wind farms and oil platforms so it would have been interesting to hear about them. The meet and mingle was really nice and we made some great new friends. We met people from all over the world which was what really made this cruise for us. I did have to use the medical facilities for a bad sinus infection. They were very professional, took a strep test, had antibiotics and a sinus draining medicine on hand and I was out the door in no time. The cost was $199 including the medicine, visit and strep test. One other lady in the waiting room was suffering from a severe allergic reaction to some new medicine she started before the cruise. She said they were very good about getting her shots to get it under control, even calling her doctor and asking if they could change her medicine. We booked our own air and transfers. RCI would not sell transfers from Victoria Coach to Harwich so we opted to do our own. It was a great choice versus waiting for the bus, lugging around luggage and going back to Heathrow or Gatwick to get a transfer. Our transportation service came right to our hotel, loaded us up, gave us a mini tour of London and the country side and brought right to the port. Same for the return. Will I sail on the jewel again? Not sure. If there was another cruise doing the same ports I wanted to see, I would take a really good look at the other ships. Will I sail RCI again? More than likely, but will try something other than the Radiance class ships. Having sailed the Serenade's inaugural transatlantic last year, I should have known what to expect out of the jewel, but was not prepared for the sudden downturn in food quality. In all fairness, most people who have sailed on the Vision class ships do not care for the Radiance class ships. I heard this countless times not only on this cruise, but last year on the Serenade. Read Less
Sail Date May 2004

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