13 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2016
All in all an excellent first ever cruise for us. That is apart from an irresponsible passenger who decided to abandon the Barcelona tour and make his own way back to the ship without telling anyone. He caused a 40 minute delay whilst a ... Read More
All in all an excellent first ever cruise for us. That is apart from an irresponsible passenger who decided to abandon the Barcelona tour and make his own way back to the ship without telling anyone. He caused a 40 minute delay whilst a search for him was conducted which in turn caused the abandonment of the highlight stop on the tour. Not Fred's fault I know, but very very annoying. Boarding at Dover was a breeze, we were aboard before we knew it. Our suite, 5015 on the Main Deck was very comfortable and well serviced as was the rest of the ship. No sign of the dreaded Noravirus. There were sanitisers everywhere. All the passengers appeared to use them as a matter of course which was good to see. The food was excellent. Somehow I managed to maintain my weight. Goodness knows how. Disembarkation was pretty quick although there was a slight delay due to fork lift activity around the dock. We enjoyed the experience so much we re-booked on board for the Amalfi Coast Cruise aboard Boudicca in April 2017 Read Less
18 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2015
This was our very first cruise and we loved every aspect of it! Saga really look after their passengers. The pick up and journey to Dover was excellent, as was the embarkation organisation and process. Our cabin was lovely, kept ... Read More
This was our very first cruise and we loved every aspect of it! Saga really look after their passengers. The pick up and journey to Dover was excellent, as was the embarkation organisation and process. Our cabin was lovely, kept beautifully clean by Willy, our cabin steward. The food was excellent and so was the service. The All Inclusive package was very very good. I would although have liked fizzy wine included too. The entertainment was really fabulous and actually our favourite part. We would pay to see those shows! They all are extremely talented and give 100% on and off stage. The live band are fantastic too. We particularly enjoyed participating in the passenger choir with the professional vocalists, Hannah, Michelle and Kurt. We loved the atmosphere and friendliness onboard the ship. Disembarkation and our journey home was also very efficient. We would definitely recommend and will be booking again. Happy customers! Read Less
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2015
First time cruisers, our trip to the Baltic capitals was the most wonderful experience and excelled our expectations. The staff were wonderful and they made us feel comfortable at all times, welcoming us back on board after each trip on ... Read More
First time cruisers, our trip to the Baltic capitals was the most wonderful experience and excelled our expectations. The staff were wonderful and they made us feel comfortable at all times, welcoming us back on board after each trip on land and entertaining us when we were at sea. The food was wonderful and so were the nightly shows and the lectures on the places to visit very informative. If you are reasonably active and confident, most of the cities visited can be explored with a good travel book as there are shuttle buses that run frequently to the city centres and you can explore at leisure. You do need to go ashore as an organised group in Russia because of visa requirements. Although expensive, we thought the Exclusive Hermitage excursion at night one of the highlights of our trip; a magical experience! The 40 piece St Peterburg orchestra were fantastic and the glass of champagne an added bonus. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2015
I found it very hard to come up with a number to rate this cruise. There was very good, there was average and there was bad. I also need to mention that we were first time cruisers as were the couple who traveled with us. We were ... Read More
I found it very hard to come up with a number to rate this cruise. There was very good, there was average and there was bad. I also need to mention that we were first time cruisers as were the couple who traveled with us. We were celebrating the wives 60th birthdays, and this is what they chose to do. I also need to say for the past 30 years I have been a special event planner, who has organized meetings all over the world, and I like to be in control. That being said, I knew that I would have no control once aboard the ship, and I was going to have to deal with it. We chose this cruise because it was dedicated to wine and culinary tourism, and Windstar was including complimentary wines from the three countries we were visiting each night with dinner, and before dinner a tasting of those wines with a guest sommelier (more on that later). I tried hard to do my research on the ports, as if I was planning to do an event there. I also did research on cruising which brought me to Cruise Critic, which I perused continually for the year before we sailed. In reading previous reviews, I learned that we were going to be the outliers, as most of the reviews were written by folks who have been on many, many cruises. As for the cruise, embarkation was a breeze. There were tons of smiles, and the sight of the Cliffs of Dover upon leaving was awesome. We arrived at our cabin, and were pleasantly surprised with the size and layout. We had been upgraded to a "balcony" suite (more on that later). The first day at sea was very nice, as we settled in and got to know the ship. We loved the size and the fact that of the 160 passengers, there were no children. I would agree with the term of casual luxury. We loved going to dinner in Aloha shirts, and wearing topsiders. The front line staff, cabin stewards and waiters were awesome. They could not do enough for us, and they always had smiles on their faces. I have always been a morning person, so even on vacation I was up at 530am, into the shower, and then up to the Yacht Club, where I was met by Yahya, had a coffee, juice and pastry. Most days I was the only one in there until 630 or so. Very peaceful and relaxing. On day three after we left St. Malo, I jumped in the shower only to find no water. Same for the sink and toilet.. I headed up to the Yacht Club to learn the water systems were down and they were working on it. The captain finally came on at 9am to say they were diverting to the town of Brest where there was a French Naval Base, and engineers who could fix the problem. We were in Brest until 3pm, and it wasn't until we departed that the Captain came on and apologized for the inconvenience. No offer of any compensation. If it was me at one of my events, the bar would have been thrown open. I know from experience that stuff happens, but the key is how the problem is addressed. As for shore excursions, we booked two of Windstar's offerings, and I booked two private guides on my own. No comparison. At El Ferrol, we went on the Windstar excursion to Santiago de Compostela. Cost $189pp. Most of the time was spent on a coach with 40 other passengers. We then marched around this UNESCO World Heritage Site following a guide listening to her commentary through a headset. Not so good. In Porto I hired Douro Exclusive and the owner Marco picked the 4 of us up, visited wineries in Douro and then had the most amazing lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant on a deck overlooking the river and vineyards. Cost $150pp.. In St. Emilion we took the Windstar excursion to Chateau Soutard. Again 40 pax on a coach. The winery was not ready for us when we got there, and were then dropped off in the old town of St. Emilion with no instructions on when to be back at the coach. I wanted to grab the microphone and take over. Not good at all. In Lisbon I hired "Your Friend in Lisbon" to take us on a port and tapas tour of town. Again an incredible experience. Cost $100pp. In addition to their "offered" excursions, Windstar included a dinner at Chateau Giscours in Bordeaux. This was a fabulous evening, with great coordination, food, classical music, and premium wines, all held in the great room of this fantastic old Chateau. This was included in the cost of the cruise, and it was fantastic. Now the guest sommelier was going to do a tasting each evening at 6pm in the main dining room. Each night there were three wines, one from each of the countries we were visiting(France, Spain and Portugal). I found the speaker a bit overbearing in his method and style. Almost like being talked down to. We went the first four nights, and then I decided I had had enough. Since we were going to have these wines at dinner, I didn't want to sit through the "talk". Our traveling companions did go every night, and said that by the end of the cruise the room was only 1/2 full. Not sure if Windstar did their due diligence on this selection. As for disembarkation, it was also a breeze. Finally my biggest gripe with this cruise is what happened on the front side. We booked in 17 months in advance. Paid the 10K final payment 3 months in advance, and then 2 days after making that payment, I was showing a colleague the cruise on the Windstar web site. I was shocked to see they had lowered the price $800pp. So I called our travel agent and she too was surprised by that amount and that she was going to call Windstar in Seattle. When she got back to me, she said Windstar offered a $100 per cabin shipboard credit, and she didn't think that was fair. Since this agency belongs to the Virtuoso organization, she told me they have pull, and was going to have her manager call. In the end they offered a $200 per cabin shipboard credit and upgraded us to the "balcony" suite. Being able to open the window in the cabin was nice, but certainly not worth the premium that Windstar assigns to those rooms. It was not so much the money (as the price we paid was what we had budgeted for), again it was the way it was handled. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I have held elite flyer status with Alaska Airlines for years. Their policy is if the fare goes down before you fly, you get a credit. No questions. As for Windstar, if I have learned one thing over this past year is that premium cruising is a very competitive business. Here they had two couples, right in their demographic wheelhouse. We are on the cusp of retirement, have disposable income and the time to spend it. And they decide to play the nickel and dime game. I'm sure their argument would be, well our cabins are highly perishable. The minute the ship leaves, it is revenue that cannot be recovered. We held that cabin for you (albeit with $1500) for 17 months, and you were able to be sure you were on the ship, and make your air travel plans far in advance. There may be some weight in that, but in the end it is very short sighted. Even before I stepped foot on the Star Legend, I was pretty sure that if I ever cruised again it would not be on Windstar. And now after the cruise, I feel the same way. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
Having worked for four years in P&Os iconic ss Canberra, including her farewell cruise in 1998 prior to her being decommissioned, I have always avoided the temptation of a cruise holiday; party because I had 'been there and done ... Read More
Having worked for four years in P&Os iconic ss Canberra, including her farewell cruise in 1998 prior to her being decommissioned, I have always avoided the temptation of a cruise holiday; party because I had 'been there and done that' albeit from a different perspective, and also because I feared I would spend too much time complaining that 'it isn't like it used to be...' However a partner keen to cruise, a twenty year time gap and a curiosity to see how things had changed, combined to weaken my resolve. What I thought they did well: Firstly, the crew. I know it's a cliché, but the mainly Indian, Filipino and Thai crew could not have worked harder or done more to make our cruise enjoyable. They were friendly, engaging, always appeared happy and managed to remember our names and our favourite drinks. I really could not fault them. Our cabin: we booked a modest deck 2 outside cabin, which was surprisingly spacious and well appointed, though slightly dated decor-wise. The cabin was clean and our cabin steward(ess) (Kitty) was a delight. Even a severe flood requiring a cabin change on the last night was well-handled, with housekeeping staff appointed to help us pack and move. A letter of apology and a £50 credit to our on-board account to apologise for the inconvenience was a nice way to defuse any irritation we may have felt. Food: I thought the food was absolutely first rate. Every day I ordered breakfast from the menu rather than the buffet, and I could not fault it if I tried. The galley even made a slight adjustment to their kedgeree recipe to suit my spicier palate. Lunch as usually taken in the buffet or shore-side when alongside. The buffet was good with plenty of choice. Afternoon Tea (only taken twice) was perhaps the weakest offer - sandwiches were tasty but a but clunky and unrefined, the cake selection was limited, the scones were not the best (a bit dry) and served with UHT whipped cream, which as a shame given we were in port six of ten days so obtaining fresh stores should not have been a problem. Dinner, however, was the highlight of the day; we were lucky to have 4 great table companions whose company we enjoyed and who each added a different perspective to the conversation. Our Head Waiter (Xavier) and the Commis Waiter (Ryan) were efficient, charming and friendly. Each night we had a five course menu, with three to six choices of each. In total we had ten meals on board and I don't think I once left the restaurant unhappy. Full marks and thank you to all concerned. Guest entertainers: we had some super guest entertainers, including Leo Shavers (musician) whose impromptu jazz session was superb. The classical pianist was good, though I would like to have heard more of him, as was the Welsh baritone singer - both of whose names have slipped my mind (sorry). I also greatly appreciated the bridge lessons, which has whetted my appetite for the game. The Braemar Orchestra and the cocktail pianist were also super. Disembarkation: this morning we woke at 7am, were showered and packed by 7.45am and we're in our car on the way home by 8.45am. It could not have gone better. What I didn't like: Having been effusive in my praise for what I felt was done well, I will be equally honest in highlighting what I didn't like. Braemar Show Company: in fairness, a few of them put their heart and soul into the shows, but generally I thought their productions were uninspiring and badly choreographed and the team were very young and lacked believe-ability. Sadly I felt most of them didn't really want to be there and made little effort to hide the fact. Reception (Purser's Desk): I had little dealing with the front desk, apart from towards the end of the cruise when I noticed a billing error. We had upgraded to the 'all inclusive' drinks package for an additional £10 per person per night, this allowed complimentary 'house' drinks and 50% discount on branded drinks, cocktails and wine. When I checked my account on day 8 I noticed they had charged for all drinks. I raised this with the front desk, and rather than apologising and promising to investigate the error, I was asked if I could 'prove' we had paid for the all-inclusive package. I informed the receptionist that I was able to do so as I had just checked my online bank statement and I could see the £200 additional payment leaving my account. Having insulted me once by asking me to prove my case, she then insulted me again by asking how I was able to access my account as the ship's satellite wasn't working (for the record I had international data roaming and was able to access via my Blackberry). Having convinced her I was telling the truth I was then told that they would have to re-enter all our purchases with the relevant discount and we shouldn't order any drinks until this was done. Given this was an error wholly of the company's making, to have a member of staff twice infer I was lying and then to cause me further inconvenience whilst they sorted out an error of their own making, was a poor show. I honestly do not think they could have handled the situation more badly than they did. Show timings: it was also a slightly irritating that passengers on second sitting (8.30pm) had to watch the cabaret at 7.30pm (before dinner) with first sitting passengers watching the cabaret at 8.30pm. Personally, I like to relax with a glass of champagne or a cocktail and chat with my partner/friends pre-dinner - which I couldn't do unless I missed the cabaret. Nor did I particularly want to watch a jazz show or a comedian at 7.30pm before eating. I understand second sitting passengers usually watch a later show and it had been changed for this cruise. If so, I don't think it worked very well. Visibility of Senior Officers; my final gripe was the total lack of visibility of the 4 stripe officers on board. This might be a throw-back to my P&O days, but I would have expected to see the ship's senior management out and about in public areas most evenings, even if only for an hour pre-dinner. Apart from the welcome aboard Cocktail Party I didn't see the Captain, First Officer or Purser once during the whole cruise, which I thought was surprising and disappointing. Overall, despite the above complaints we had a super time. Would I cruise again? Much to my surprise, the answer is yes. And I would also happily cruise with Fred. Olsen in Braemar again. However the bar tenders, the stewards and the waiters were far better ambassadors for the company than the ships' officers and deserve to be acknowledged as such. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2015
The ship was fantastic, small but very friendly as you got to know lots of people. The food the entertainment and all the staff were fantastic. This was my first cruise and I worried that there may not be enough to do.What a joke we ended ... Read More
The ship was fantastic, small but very friendly as you got to know lots of people. The food the entertainment and all the staff were fantastic. This was my first cruise and I worried that there may not be enough to do.What a joke we ended up running from deck to deck in order to do all the quizzes, table tennis and every thing else we wanted to do. The out door pool even though we were in the Arctic was 30 degrees so we swam nearly every day. The cabin was amazing but we did have a suite. Some of the information was incorrect. We were told we could get on the ship early due to our suite.We got to Dover early and that information is wrong you have to wait like every body else.We took priority disembarkation and this was excellent we got off the boat at least 2 hours before everybody else. The cruise was excellent except we never knew exactly where we were. The day sheet for all the on board entertainment was great but we needed one to tell us where we were passing and where we were. We took the drinks package. For me that was fine but for my sister it was a waste of money. Strongbow cider was included but Kopperberg cider which cost 5 pence more was excluded so she had to pay 50% of the price every time but she could drink rum and brandy until she fell over. Read the small print before you pay. DO NOT BOOK ANY TRIPS WITH THE CRUISE COMPANY. They are a total rip off. Example in Bergen a trip to the Funicular including price up and down £40. Distance from ship a slow 5 mins walk. Return trip £10 on the Funicular. Do the maths yourself. And this was a cheap trip most were at least £90 each and you did not get the right time off the ship and you had no time at the attraction. The Atlantic Road was fully booked up price £80 each. We got a taxi and did it alone for less than £50 for the 2 of us. The ship photos are good but expensive choose carefully but the video is great. All the services on the ship were amazing nothing was too much trouble. I would do another Fred Olsen Cruise but not book any trips. Research them before you go and do it yourself. Would recommend the Braemar to anyone it is a first class ship with a great crew and Captain. Read Less
35 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2015
For our 40th wedding anniversary we decided on a cruise and as it was our 1st time we chose Saga because of their reputation and smaller ships. When we spoke to the sale advisor's we emphasized why we were booking the holiday and ... Read More
For our 40th wedding anniversary we decided on a cruise and as it was our 1st time we chose Saga because of their reputation and smaller ships. When we spoke to the sale advisor's we emphasized why we were booking the holiday and requested a larger Superior cabin with a balcony as this was a special occasion. Their brochure quotes “Larger cabins up to 270 square feet”. When calling their office regarding other queries we double checked that this cabin would meet our requirements and was assured this was the case. We were surprised and disappointed how small this cabin was, it only had a low oval coffee table with one lounge chair and a dining chair at the other side of the bed as a result it was impracticable to have an intimate meal, which was one of the reasons for choosing the Superior cabin. The balcony of our cabin was so narrow it was impossible to sit down on the chairs provided. A travel lodge room is bigger than this cabin with 2 proper chairs. We later discovered from visiting a fellow cruiser’s standard outside cabin on deck 6 was larger and more like a “large hotel room than a ship cabin” as quoted in their brochure. At no point whilst speaking to the sales advisor's was this explained nor does it show this in the brochure or on line. Had we been informed at the time of booking of these differences we would not have chosen a Superior cabin with a balcony. Having paid £754.00 extra for a smaller cabin with a balcony of little use seems excessive at least. We would also comment on the dining arrangements, these were advertised as being available in the evenings from 6:45pm until 9:00pm as a single sitting, after arriving back from a trip late one evening we went down to dinner only to find we were rushed at every stage from order to dessert Norway was a lovely country but our experience of this cruise was spoilt by the comments above and found the cruise was certainly not value for money. Don't get sucked in to higher priced cabins unless you are fully aware of what is on offer, as all is not as it appears. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2015
This was our first cruise so we did not know what to expect. Fred Olsen customer service is terrible, I booked by 'phone, they got my name wrong and it took four telephone calls to get it corrected, their on line service ... Read More
This was our first cruise so we did not know what to expect. Fred Olsen customer service is terrible, I booked by 'phone, they got my name wrong and it took four telephone calls to get it corrected, their on line service didn't work and what ever you do don't give them an e mail address you cannot print from because they then insist on using it for everything including the tickets even if you ask them not to. The ship is lovely and the staff cannot do enough to help you, the only problem is the other passengers we dubbed "The Black Tie Ya-Yas" although if you eat in the Secret Garden and use that lounge where the dress code is always casual you can usually avoid them. If you want to dress up like a penguin don't prance around belittling those who don't want to take part in the pantomime. I tried the main restaurant for lunch on the first day but found the staff attitude very poor, probably because I was a woman eating alone so we used the Secret Garden after that where the staff were much more accommodating. One tip on this, make sure that the compulsory £4.00 per couple per night tip for the waiting staff is paid to the restaurant you dine in or it will automatically be allocated to the main restaurant. Don't pay for any excursions unless it is something you really want to do as you can do the same trips when you get there for a quarter of the price. When you get back to Dover take a taxi from the taxi rank rather that booking thru F/O again much cheaper. Bar prices are very reasonable and the all inclusive package is definately worth doing, we didn't see anybody take advantage. We were very pleased with our cabin, the maid service' entertainment on board, everything was good once we got on board so we will know what to expect next time although the stress caused by the poor customer service prior to the start of the holiday could have so easily been avoided if the promised new cruise passengers pack had been sent as promised. On board info wasn't that good either, the speaker on our radio was turned off so we missed the safety and lifeboat drill and it was Thursday before we found out that you could have sandwiches in the Lido Lounge and "short orders" in The Grill at lunchtime if you preferred. All in all a good experience and we will definitely be doing it again Read Less
Sail Date: June 2014
Never been on a cruise before but have since done my homework on what to expect. Our cruise to the Norwegian fjords on the Ryndam was excellent. These mid size cruise ships have almost the same facilities as the big boys with 3000+ ... Read More
Never been on a cruise before but have since done my homework on what to expect. Our cruise to the Norwegian fjords on the Ryndam was excellent. These mid size cruise ships have almost the same facilities as the big boys with 3000+ passengers. We could always get a sunbed by the pools or on deck. In fact we actually found places to lounge in the sun where no one else was around which amazed us. Food was brilliant and hardly had to queue for anything. Disembarkation on trips was no problem. The staff could not be faulted for their helpful attitudes and we felt privileged to be on board a ship which allowed their wonderful mainly Philippino staff to celebrate their Independence Day and passengers to enjoy the celebrations too. Would thoroughly recommend Holland America's mid sized ships and the experience you will receive. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
As I was unsure about a cruise I decided to start with a short one. Suffice to say the next one will be longer! As a treat for our 50th birthday (making us just old enough to qualify) my twin sister and I cruised the beautiful Norwegian ... Read More
As I was unsure about a cruise I decided to start with a short one. Suffice to say the next one will be longer! As a treat for our 50th birthday (making us just old enough to qualify) my twin sister and I cruised the beautiful Norwegian Fjords from Dover, calling at Bergen, Olden, Flåm, and Stavanger. From the outset this was a hugely enjoyable Saga experience. From being picked up (and dropped off) from my home address, the check-in procedure, embarkation, excursions, disembarkation and everything between, Saga had it all covered and it went like clockwork. Having no preconceived idea of what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised by the size of our cabin. It was well-appointed, with ample room for two people. It comprised of twin beds, a triple wardrobe (with shelving & hanging, long enough to accommodate full length gowns), a chest of drawers, dressing table, plus a table and seating by the window, TV / DVD, mini fridge and a great shower room. One minor point to note is that there was only one three pin socket - the rest were the continental two pin variety. However, this wasn't a problem as we took travel adapters. The Saga Sapphire is beautiful, and what I call an 'old fashioned' shape ship. The public areas are well thought out and easily accessible by stairs or lift. The interior decor is tasteful, with themed areas, such as Cooper's Bar and The Aviator Lounge. There are some truly stunning pieces of art on board, the best being the fish sculpture (by the reception desk) on deck seven descending to deck five. There are three 'eateries' - the main restaurant, Pole to Pole, the intimate East to West, serving a fusion of Oriental / Asian dishes and The Grill & Verandah Restaurant, where you can dine alfresco if you wish and weather permits. Most seating is open, although there is a small amount of reserved seating in the Pole to Pole restaurant. We tried each one - The Grill & Verandah being a firm favourite where we ate most of our meals. I cannot fault the food that was served. There was plenty to choose from - starters, salads, soups, mains and desserts, plus petit fours to round the evening meal off. The ship's staff were a fantastic, polite and happy crew, from Captain Rentell down. They were all very attentive, be it helping wheelchair bound passengers disembark, to carrying a plate of food to a table during self service meals, to opening doors. All this was done with the minimum of fuss, and with dignity and respect, even towards the very small number of people who were (in my opinion) unforgivably bad mannered., and in some cases downright rude. Our cabin stewardess was lovely and I don't think she ever stopped smiling! Saga, the staff on Sapphire are a credit to you. We partook of three of the optional excursions on offer, the all day Geiranger Fjord trip, the half day Flåm Railway trip and a half day excursion round the old part of Stavanger and the Cathedral. All were thoroughly enjoyable, with some excellent English-speaking Norwegian tour guides. We were blessed with (in the main) superb weather, considering it was early May. We left Dover in very calm seas, which stayed with us during the whole cruise. We were told Bergen was the rain capital of Europe, having on average, 230 days of rain per year. Having looked around Bergen during the morning, we returned to the ship for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon sunning ourselves on the Verandah deck (not swimsuit weather, but pleasant enough to sit in a t-shirt). One thing I hadn't realised was how noisy and 'alive' a ship in motion can be. This is not a criticism, and after the first night, I didn't notice the noise at all. However, if you are a first time cruiser like me, please take note! If there is one area that could be addressed, this would be a passenger laundry room. As we were on a short cruise, this didn't affect us at all, but it would be a great benefit on a longer cruise. To summarise, a fantastic first cruise. Norway is stunning, and being able to berth in the heart of the cities and villages due to the depth of the Fjordland water made sightseeing very easy. Saga certainly have the cruise know how, and I am now saving for the next one!   Read Less
Sail Date: November 2013
First ever cruise and we were very happy overall. We selected Fred Olsen as the passengers seemed to be of the age group that suited us best. I would say the best way to describe the cruise would be "comfortable with a little splash ... Read More
First ever cruise and we were very happy overall. We selected Fred Olsen as the passengers seemed to be of the age group that suited us best. I would say the best way to describe the cruise would be "comfortable with a little splash of luxury". It was amusing to be in the library and hear the daily symphony of snoring, or see that false teeth were not an obstacle to eating, sadly worrying was that it was like looking at your future. There was a slight air of nursing home. All that said it was clean and with good staff. Plenty to do all day long, and generally well organised. Highlight for me was seeing Des O`Connor, an excellent entertainer. I did find that you go on a cruise to cruise. I really don`t think you can honestly say you see much of the places you visit, with shore excursions being a bit expensive. The one sad thing was at the end of the cruise the organising did appear to break down a little. One passengers wife was taken to hospital in Tenerife and he appeared to have had little help from the port agent and minimum from Fred Olsen at the time we spoke to him. I did not like this, especially as ever noon the captains broadcast reminded us "to take care of one another" , and these are overall elderly passengers. Be warned, shop around to get the best price for any cruise. The old sea dogs we spoke to bagged the same cruise as us in a better cabin, paying 50% less for a drinks package for half what we paid for the cruise, transfers and return journey!! No wonder they slept so contentedly. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2013
For our first ever cruise and after much research using Cruise Critic my wife and I decided to on Crystal and the Crystal Serenity. But as many had told us - after Crystal it would be all downhill - yes we were spoilt!!! The Crystal ... Read More
For our first ever cruise and after much research using Cruise Critic my wife and I decided to on Crystal and the Crystal Serenity. But as many had told us - after Crystal it would be all downhill - yes we were spoilt!!! The Crystal Forum on Cruise Critic was a great help - many of our questions were quickly answered as were our ones directed to the Crystal website. As first time cruisers the sponsorship system worked very well and our credit helped with our excursions, As avid golfers and having never toured the British Isles together we booked the back to back Dover to Dublin - Dublin to Dover(the golf themed cruise) - Dover to Barcelona cruise from August to September. Everything we had read about Crystal was correct and everything fell into place without any problems. The golf theme section of the itinerary with Billy Casper as the featured guest was a great highlight. Such a gentleman who at 82 years old gave his time to everybody - even non-golfers. His lectures in the main auditorium were always full and he gave such a fascinating talk interspersed with a range of questions and answers that kept everyone in their seats until the end. On every golf excursion he was there with encouraging words and tips and the dinners with his wife and family towards the end of the cruise were another highlight. With a great deal of pre-cruise planning our son and his wife came on board for dinner to surprise my wife after we arrived at Barcelona and the staff could not have been more accommodating - the deck security and concierge had every angle covered in case there was a hiccup in the plans but it went off flawlessly. Truly a great experience for our first ever cruise and as a result we have already booked our next Crystal cruise. . Read Less
Sail Date: June 2013
Perhaps the American connection lets things down but everything was about money and HAL's determination to relieve passengers of as much as the filthy lucre as they could. Pure greed! London West end prices for drinks on board even ... Read More
Perhaps the American connection lets things down but everything was about money and HAL's determination to relieve passengers of as much as the filthy lucre as they could. Pure greed! London West end prices for drinks on board even when in international waters, despite the fact that all supplies are probably purchased ex-bond and duty free. Although comparatively old, the ship was clean and well maintained, and the chief officer should be complemented on the state of the ship. My partner and I were not too interested in the evening entertainment, with the exception of the classical violin and piano combo in the Crow's-nest bar who played really well. We found the standard of food to be very good and always pleasing. The itinerary was good - Dover , Oslo, Christiansand, Stavanger, Ulvic, Dover - and enjoyable The mainly far eastern restaurant and hospitality crew were very good and friendly but you could be forgiven the feeling that any crew member making a single mistake would be flogged or, at the very least, never re-hired. I'm not saying that they were ill-treated but there was an atmosphere that I found unacceptable. Consequently, it may be a long time before I sail with HAL again. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2011
SWMBO had been pestering me to go on a cruise for years. She has been on several without me due to various work commitments. However she pinned me down to this one. What was i expecting, not to sure tbh. Embarkation was steady and ... Read More
SWMBO had been pestering me to go on a cruise for years. She has been on several without me due to various work commitments. However she pinned me down to this one. What was i expecting, not to sure tbh. Embarkation was steady and organised, and the meet and greet was good. In fact, for me the highlight of the trip was the level of service we received from the staff, which was top rate. Food came a close second, with a variety of excellent meals available in the evening, breakfast and lunch were mainly a buffet/as much as you can eat arrangement, but still good. The ship itself had all the restaurants at the stern, which meant a long trek for the Father-in-law from the cabin for every meal, and the Ship got kicked about quite badly in the North Sea, so much so that some travellers elected to fly home rather than face it again. The night time entertainment was good, with a variety of acts from a world class cellist to an easy listening trio. The on-board drinks were reasonably priced (certainly compared to Norway). I was a bit disappointed with the 'buy this photo or DVD' at nearly every turn, but as a no frills deal, it was only to be expected. Overall, would i go again? possibly not as it's not my thing, however SWMBO was happy and that's what counts. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2011
As Newbies (new to cruising and new to dancing) we booked this cruise specifically to learn to improve our dancing with Warren Bullock and Jane Phillips of Zig Zag dance factory.We didn't expect to be able to dance with dance ... Read More
As Newbies (new to cruising and new to dancing) we booked this cruise specifically to learn to improve our dancing with Warren Bullock and Jane Phillips of Zig Zag dance factory.We didn't expect to be able to dance with dance instructors provided by the cruise line and even to learn line dancing with one of the entertainment team too. Each evening there was a chance to dance for at least two hours and on two occasions there was a ball , hosted by the cruise dance team which combined ballroom and Latin, sequence and some party and barn dances. although we had never danced sequence before, the hosts ensured that there were experienced dancers to lead and even some youngsters who would be more attuned to disco and club dancing joined in with the party Samba. It all meant that some days we danced for five hours (who said you put on weight on a cruise?).But on days in port, we could be totally chilled out and wander round the local area and relax in the sun. The choice really was ours to be active or relaxed as we wished. We opted for 'Freedom dining' which meant we could plan our days and not be tied to fixed meal times. It also meant we could join in with other people if we wished or spend time together on an intimate table for two. The choice of restaurants was just perfect for us as there was a specialist Indian restaurant (with lobster to die for) and an Italian trattoria. Would we cruise again? Certainly! The only decision to make is where and how soon can we go! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2011
This was our first cruise so I have written a review hopefully to inform those going on their first and review the ship and staff. Before your cruise. The information we received before was very good, I was not in charge of ... Read More
This was our first cruise so I have written a review hopefully to inform those going on their first and review the ship and staff. Before your cruise. The information we received before was very good, I was not in charge of organisation though but let me summarise thus: Pack for a normal holiday plus some really sharp suits, shirts and ties and you won't go far wrong. Also bring loads of medication because it is an American ship and healthcare there is unfamiliar. Getting there. Too easy for words as you head to the dock area in Southampton the road signs have special LED displays for which ship is boarding where. Then you turn onto that dock (no massive trucks or industry as such as it is further down the solent) and you arrive in a line of cars in the holding area where you can get out and look up at the enormous thing that is Eclipse (It dwarfed the French aircraft carrier in one port!). Once you get on that dockside you are done. They take over from there. From getting to the dock we said goodbye to our luggage (taken out of your car for you, but we were embarrassed so we helped) and parked. Short walk with hand luggage and suit carriers to the security where you are greeted by either very happy and helpful staff or extremely good actors. From leaving the car to getting on board we were about twenty minutes, no queues, no waiting, just checks at the desks and walking through to the ship. IT WAS BRILLIANT. No horrible airport to negotiate, no three hours wait for a three hour flight packed like sardines, just efficient happy service all the way to the ship, and when you get onboard you KNOW this is going to be something special. Our jaws dropped when we got on board. I have seen reviews saying this is not a 5star experience, they are, in my humble opinion very wrong indeed. The whole ship is gorgeous, not opulent in the dripping gold and gaudy carpet sense but sleek and stylish in a very classy way. For the car nerd, if I was expecting Lamborghini I got top of the range Aston Martin. Stateroom Excellent. Some reviews have mentioned storage space. I can only fear for what these people bring aboard. I had 5 suits, 14 shirts, loads of summer holiday clothes and I really overpacked. My girlfriend had 14 dresses and her summer holiday clothes and we had plenty of room. There is a good size wardrobe, draws, overbed storage and loads of room under the bed. The bathroom is solid and stylish, the shower excellent and plenty of storage in there too with even a thoughtful little rail in the shower for ladies to shave their legs. The rooms seem to exude those little thoughtful details that make two weeks in them seem like three days. A credit to their designers. Also everything was of excellent quality, well fitted and solid. The bed was massive, I am six foot and I got lost several times and had to call for assistance. The balcony was on one of the 'bulges' of the ship and I would recommend that as you looked right onto the sea rather than over a lifeboat which meant when the dolphins (yes) came really close you got a great view. (dolphins mainly in the bay of Biscay, watch out for them in the mornings... early). The TV also pulls out so you can watch it at the right angle from the bed. So stateroom excellent. Dining. I may not have cruised before but I have eaten at very good restaurants from New York to Athens and I can tell you, as a man for whom quality food is a delight, The Moonlight Sonata restaurant is brilliant. We took fixed dining at 8:45 so we were at the same table with my family each night and it worked very well for us. Gave us time for a drink before. Also there are always two shows on a night and if you have late dining you can usually choose which one you go to as the times work out well. The portions are perfect and we were always full but rarely uncomfortable. And if you want to have your main again or a second pudding all you need do is ask.... not me but my dad was known as 'two puds' by the end of the cruise. The same dining anywhere in the UK with white table cloths excellent service, wine waiter and four consistently delicious courses would cost £120 a couple every night. You can have breakfast lunch and dinner in the MSR but we had breakfast and lunch in the oceanview cafe mostly though there are other small eateries around the ship ranging from burger and chips or stir fry at the mast bar to light salads and snacks near the spa. If you were of such a mind you could eat yourself silly. Oceanview cafe breakfast was up to you. From blueberry pancakes with syrup to watermelon chunks. From a cardiac event enducing full English to museli followed by smoked salmon and cream cheese roll you are totally spoilt for choice. And here is my first crewmember mention, Donovan the coffee and Tea guy in a morning really puts a smile on everyone's face. Full marks that man. If you are waiting to go I will not spoil it for you, when it happens you will know. Our Moonlight Sonata Restaurant waiter was and Indian guy whose name is difficult but begins with A and he was brilliant, always happy and attentive and very very good at his work. His recommendations were always perfect and if you ordered something else apart from his recommendation he was always happy. One night I was ill and not at dinner and my family said he was very concerned and said he would bring me some food personally if I was up to it (I was not but you can't help feeling bowled over by that sort of service). Extra special mention for Zenyap our waitress who went above and beyond all the time. Small things like seeing what breads we were not eating on the first couple of nights and taking the time to prepare the bread basket before we arrived to what she knew we would prefer. Showing us some napkin folding and other little tricks that will make any dinner parties we throw just that little bit more special. The Maitre d' for our table (432) Akar I think his name was, was the definition of excellent. He ran a tight ship so to speak and always made sure we were happy. One night we could not have what we ordered for very understandable reasons and he was just fantastic. He made sure we could order that dish any time we wanted after that night and had a special plate of handmade chocolates sent to our room to apologise. The replacement dish was sirloin steak so good we all forgot about it very fast. Bars and clubs There are LOADS search them out and find your favourite. We ended up in the wine bar cellar master most nights before dinner. Dennis the Sommelier (wine waiter) in cellar masters was incredible. Friendly, knowledgeable and a genuinely excellent at what he did Dennis really made our cruise just that little bit more special. He took the time to get to know our preferences and would make little polite suggestions for things we might enjoy. If I am ever in a position serving people I want to be able to do it like Dennis, a gentleman. Gym and spa After all that food and drink you need to stay at your best. For this purpose there is a fantastic, modern and very well equipped gym which I used regularly. It is free, never full and there is a sauna waiting for you in the changing rooms with really posh showers after. The one stand out bad point for my girlfriend was the spa prices the equivalent of £200 for a 75 minute massage... £200! I want to write more on this and the spa prices and how much we wanted to use them but I do not have the heart. A massive shame. Destinations Gibraltar. A bit high street UK. You can walk off the ship into the town. Our tip is not to wait for the cable car up the rock but get a white but from one of the islanders. The saving is minimal but you get to see things better. Toulon We paid for the shuttle bus into Toulon at $15 euro each it was good value and air con. Toulon was nice and good for a walk round but you can also just get off the ship and walk around the little town where the dock is. Florence Beautiful Jewel of Tuscany. Pay for the bus ride from the port. It is about an hour and the Aussie guide Pete we had was funny, a resident, informative and let us nap on the way back rather than talk. A good guy. Florence it's self was gorgeous, historic and totally spoiled by sweating English and American cruise ship parties just like the one we were on. My BIG tip for Florence and Rome is to not go on a celebrity tour. Not that they don't look good tours. The guides we saw taking groups sounded great and very polite but the sight of 20-30 people in 100f heat having to walk around like a school party would bring the pity out of the hardest misanthrope. On your own with a book you can do as you please when you please and how. Celebrity are MASTERS however at organising the busses and embarkation/disembarkation. You book your tour before or during your cruise, then present yourself in the theatre at the time on your ticket, get a coloured sticker with your bus number on and leave within 5-10 minutes. No queues, no hassle. Rome Same bus transfer job. Same heat, less crowds, great fun. If you want to go into St Peters go first thing you do as you get off the bus. Otherwise the Q is too big... and I mean massive. Again Celebrity did a great job organising. Sardinia We were shattered after Rome and Florence so Sardinia... we are sorry. Cadiz Walk off the ship into the town, brilliant place, go see the fish market and Marks and Spencer will never look the same. Lisbon Shuttle again. Lisbon is beautiful and easy to walk round from the drop off point. If you go the hard rock cafe in Lisbon please frown at the lady waitress for me then withhold your custom. Lisbon has plenty of little cafes locally run which were good but open about eleven am. Vigo Again a walk off job. Vigo feels good. Like Cadiz it is a solid Spanish town with friendly locals good cafes etc. We were a but 'cathedraled out' by now though. Entertainment. The entertainment on board was great during the day and Amy who ran the quiz was a saint. Dru the Cruise Director tops my 'most likely to read Cruise Critic for his name' list and will be happy to find we thought he was great. Including the routine we got into of saying 'good morning Dru' when we switched on his cruise director channel in the mornings. The evening entertainment (the shows) were mixed. The Broadway type stuff and the circus one were brilliant and I have been to Broadway and West End stuff and I was more than happy. The rock and pop stuff was less so but the two don't really mix anyway. Stick to the glitzy musicals Celebrity that's what your stars do best! Disembarkation. So easy it makes my cry to think of ever having to go to an airport ever again. Overall this was an amazing holiday and if we can save up we would go celebrity again with no hesitation. I would say if you have kids most people said Royal Caribbean were more child orientated. There was plenty to do and a really good looking kids club but this really is an adult oriented ship. It was a shame the main pool was virtually off limits as families absolutely colonized the area and the pool was always full of kids unless you got up early. I have chickens at home, I would like to have brought them but they poo everywhere and I can't control them. So I did not bring them as I thought they would annoy other guests. Why can't people do this with children? However to Celebrity's eternal credit the enormous indoor solarium pool and Jacuzzis are adults only and we could always find space in there to relax. Those who wanted a sunbed on sea days when it was sunny have to be on deck before 8am to be sure and attendants are good enough to remove towels and books that are left for more than half an hour without use. We heard people complain that there were not enough sun beds but there are 2500 guests on board at 10am when they all want one. Get up early and you too can be smug and self satisfied knowing (watching them wander round like morons wondering why) having had a nice lie in they cannot find a prime spot. The early bird catches the worm. There is always somewhere to sit in the sun even if it is on the lawn at the back. Behaviour of other guests was generally good. The piercing and tattoo crowd have (of which I am a proud member) have largely been priced out and it is good to find yourself surrounded by people who behave better than you do and I consider myself quiet and considerate. Some of the moans are very funny if you can listen in. Some people are NEVER happy. I would ask those older couples who spend £5k plus on a holiday to do nothing but be moan why they don't go to Butlins where they can be PROPERLY miserable, have a REALLY good moan AND save themselves the price of a second hand Jaguar a tweed suit and a hearing aid. Even when pushed to the limit by these waddling clouds of perpetual despair the staff were relentlessly polite and friendly. Though I suspect anyone boarding who can offer cheap voodoo dolls of other guests would do a roaring trade with the pool staff and oceanview cafe waiters who often bore the brunt with class and grace. If you like a drink get the drinks package. The drinks are extortionate otherwise. We drink an average amount and if we hadn't have had the drinks package we would have spent about£1450 as it was we spent £980 for the two of us and had a great time. My brother who can drink quite a bit and his wife who also appreciates the odd tipple got through £2500 of drinks. The package saved them LOTS of money. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2011
I was reading other peoples' reviews when we planning our cruise and it was very helpful. My husband and I did the Eurodam Baltic cruise last July. Though I am not a frequent internet user and it took me some time to write this ... Read More
I was reading other peoples' reviews when we planning our cruise and it was very helpful. My husband and I did the Eurodam Baltic cruise last July. Though I am not a frequent internet user and it took me some time to write this review, I would still like to share my experience with others as my cruising forerunners did. We liked the ship. It was our first cruising experience so we had nothing to compare it to, but we enjoyed the food, the service and the atmosphere in general. There was enough entertainment onboard if you needed it, but ports of call were the most important part of the travel for us, so I'll focus more on what we were doing in every city we visited. Kiel: Overwhelmed with London where we stayed at our friend's place and looking forward to Berlin, we decided to take it very easy at this port. We had a relaxing walk around Kiel towards the Church of St. Nicholas, then towards the Botanic garden and stopped for some German bears here and there on the way back to the ship. Warnemunde: we took a train to Berlin and took the HOHO for a beautiful overview of the city. It is huge! We came back on board the ship, satisfied with our day and ready for a good dinner and a good rest. Next time though I would consider renting a car to get to Berlin. Tallin: the old town is where you can have a nice walk and it is easy to get there on foot -â€" no extra charges at all and a brilliant chance to feel the atmosphere of the city. St. Petersburg: due to visa requirements, the language barrier and big distances from site to site we decided to do St. Petersburg with a private guide. We contacted several private tour companies and booked with the Best Guides Group, who had set up a customs made 2-day tour for us. It was a big change in our travel style and a totally different feeling -â€" being led around and guided. Those were the best value-for-time days. We saw a lot and learned a lot and laughed a lot with our guide. It was nice to be taken past all the lines of waiting tourists straight to the entrance and within a desired palace. If we had decided for DIY style and taken the trouble of receiving the Russian visa we could have lost one day standing in the line to enter the Hermitage. Helsinki: we were planning to test the CityBike, but by the time we arrived the project had been stopped. So we took the circular tram from the central station and got a quick overview of the city. It was a relaxing day compared to St. Petersburg. What really impressed me was a peculiar Finnish thin rye-bread cake with rice filling: here is the link to the picture http://www.google.com/imgres?q=finnish+bread+rice&um=1&hl=en&sa=N&biw=1366&bih=667&tbm=isch&tbnid=2wvTVkiLQjID5M:&imgrefurl=http://wheresmandyandnate.blogspot.com/2010/06/we-ate-reindeer.html&docid=z9F4Y9 Try it when you are there -â€" it's something very special, they sell it both in small shops and at supermarkets. Nynashamn: We took public transport to Stockholm-â€" bus and train. They are leaving every half an hour and it takes about 1.30 min. The train arrived at the Central station and we walked to see the Stockholm City Hall where the Nobel prize winners' banquet is held, then went to the main central walking street (Drottningsgatan) and wandered along it to the oil city (Gamla Stan) enjoying small shops and cafes. On the way you also see the Parliament and the Royal Palace buildings where you can watch the changing of the guards. Choosing between the Vasa museum and a relaxing walk in a breathtaking city we decided against the boat that set sail for the first time and sank near the shore. We went back to T-centralen and took the train to our ship. Copenhagen: The city is very compact and the major sights are within a walking distance. When we were having a walk around the center we lost our way a couple of times, but always ended up in some beautiful spot that was on our "must see" list. Following the recommendations on Cruise Critic message boards we took a canal boat tour and enjoyed it a lot. It was nice to have some rest from walking with no need to be eating (we eat too much on the ship anyway). Google maps were very helpful to us to plan our journey -â€" they give one an idea of the distances and an advice on public transport options incl. timetables. We took our credit cards with us but we also had some local currencies (British Pounds in London, Swedish kronas in Sweden, Rubles in Russia and Euros in other ports of call) to have money for transport, snacks, toilets and tips. Have a nice trip! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2011
We are the sort who holiday in the quietest, remotest areas so we were nervous but decided this was the way to see the fjiords. What a revelation! Booking a suite with a balcony was definitely the way to go and worth every penny. I spent ... Read More
We are the sort who holiday in the quietest, remotest areas so we were nervous but decided this was the way to see the fjiords. What a revelation! Booking a suite with a balcony was definitely the way to go and worth every penny. I spent hours just sitting in privacy watching the mountains and rivers go by. We had no noise problems from other cabins nor at night which surprised us. We could be as private or involved as we wanted to be and the staff on the Black Watch were all wonderful without exception.We enjoyed the smaller size of the Black Watch and have decided we wouldn't like anything much bigger, especially after seeing one or two around the fjiords.Our only criticism was that it did seem silly to stop at Stavanger, where there were more shops, on a Sunday when all was closed, instead of a week day when we stopped at small places with very few shops but that might not be up to the cruiseline.We found Fred Olsen staff helpful and had absolutely no problems.Put it like this - we have already booked another one for 2012! We have even found one from the north of england which saves us going down to Dover although we had no problems with any of that either. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2011
Although first impressions are good I was very disapointed overall in my experience as a first time cruiser on the Balmoral. My cabin, a superior single on the Lido deck, may be described as 'tired'. Surfaces worn, a drawer ... Read More
Although first impressions are good I was very disapointed overall in my experience as a first time cruiser on the Balmoral. My cabin, a superior single on the Lido deck, may be described as 'tired'. Surfaces worn, a drawer chipped and the bathroom poorly patched up (when I entered the cabin there was a rust hole at the bottom of the metal bath panel which was dealt with at some time during the voyage). I was particularly concerned about the position of the television and its tangle of wiring in relation to the only possible place to use the electric kettle.I may also say that the position of the bedside light in relation to the way the bed was laid out (pillows at the far end of the bed adjacent to the outside door) meant that the bed was fine during the day for lounging or watching television but in order to read in bed I had to set the bedding out the other way round at night.The door to the balcony wouldn't remain completely closed since, even though locked, the catch would slip and there was considerable wind noise, which was rather disturbing.I had expected excellent food in the Spey restarant, this surely is one of the high spots of any cruise. I have to say that in some cases it was hardly better than superior school dinners! Neither pork nor the chicken tasted of anything. I did have some acceptable meals there but the quality was very uneven. The Palms Cafe was better, at least one could see in advance what was on offer and choose accordingly. In addition the service at times was rushed. On the penultimate night plates were being removed from our table and the next course brought while some of us were still eating. The waiters also clearly forgot to ask for our orders for pudding. The restaurant was also very noisy. I have good hearing but at times it was difficult to have a conversation because of the noise from other tables. My elderly father who is rather deaf (I was travelling with my parents) found it impossible.I also have to say that the whole dressing up in DJs for men on four evenings was completely unnecessary and pretentious. I just looked in on the entertainment since nothing appealed. The ports' lecturer was terrible. I could have done better with a quick look at Wikipedia and other internet sites. He was really just advertising the excursions. The guest lecturer, a retired MEP was a bit better. Excursions were generally ok but highly priced and most satisfactory were the trips out I made on my own in Tallin and elsewhere. It was a waste of money to do both the coach panorama trip around St Petersburg and the Waterways tour but the trip to the Palaces of the Romanovs with the opportunity to see the suburbs and countryside around St Petersburg was good and the restoration work after the destruction by the Germans, extremely impressive.I was surprised by just how elderly and infirm many passengers were and at 65 I was one of the younger ones. It is clear that this ship or this cruise line appeals to the Daily Mail reader. That was the daily internet produced newspaper paper available and the paper that headed the list in the survey of passengers. I left the comedian's performance when he started telling jokes about immigrant benefit scroungers.This trip was my first experience of cruising. There were many things that I enjoyed about the experience but most of those are not related to the ship or its facilities. In all this cruise cost me getting on for £4,500 including the fuel surcharge. I don't regard that as good value for money and I will certainly not be recommending Fred Olsen cruise lines to friends.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Read Less
Sail Date: May 2011
We boarded at Dover where the boarding process was a little chaotic. The shore staff seemed to have run out some types of colored cards and started handing out different colours for the same boarding group so rather confusing! We got ... Read More
We boarded at Dover where the boarding process was a little chaotic. The shore staff seemed to have run out some types of colored cards and started handing out different colours for the same boarding group so rather confusing! We got on-board and our suite by 12 though. Once we got on-board, things were great and we had our lunch at the Lido and got our bags in our suite by 1.30 pm. Food: Pinnacle was excellent especially the Sommelier's dinner. If you had to choose between Le Cirque and the Sommelier's dinner - pick the Sommelier's dinner. Tamarind was okay (especially the soups) but the dim sum and entrees were not great. I would clarify that we are Singaporean Chinese so maybe our taste buds are jaded...The main dining room was very good and I would do fixed dining again. Lido was a decent buffet dining restaurant (hotel coffee house standard). The beer and sausage fest poolside dinner on the Berlin shore day was a very nice event too. Ship shore excursions: we only did the Stockholm one and the Canterbury one(because we could keep our luggage on the bus before going directly to Heathrow). The Stockholm palace and old town tour was made difficult because of the huge crowd in the palace, no one could hear the guide through the noise. In the end, most of the tour group elected to walk around on their own once we left the palace instead of continuing the tour in the town with the guide. I bet that the crowd would be worse in the peak tourist season. The Canterbury tour was fun and informative ( probably because it was not crowded). Private shore excursions: We used SPB tours for Estonia, Berlin, St. Petersburg and Helsinki. All had very personable and informative guides. Especially for St. Petersburg, the small group sizes made a major difference in terms of getting into attractions. At Catherine's palace, big tour groups waited more 30 mins in the rain while the small groups got through the gates immediately( it still felt a bit like a refugee situation though). One odd thing for both ship and private tours, none of the guides seemed to believe in using paddles so that tour members could identify them at ship side or in a crowd. Maybe it was early in the 2011 summer season and the paddles were not ready yet... Service: Everything with a smile especially our cabin steward(Toro) and the Neptune Lounge concierges. We loved the daily towel animals. Gym: Well equipped with lots of cardio equipment. Cabin: 5186 is an aft deluxe verandah suite with a fabulous view and balcony. Leaving Dover, we experienced 40 knot winds against a cruising speed of under 20 knots and I nearly thought we would lose a piece of the lounge furniture to the wind. Overall, we never felt much motion in the cabin and slept well every night. Other than Dover, we did enjoy being in the balcony for the sailaways especially in Nynashamn(Stockholm) where we could observe the raising of the lifeboat after the tendering operations. Deluxe verandah suite privileges: Neptune lounge and concierges, breakfast at pinnacle, suite luncheon and cocktails, unlimited laundry/ dry cleaning. All of them were fabulous! Priority embarkation - we had a shorter line for the check-in counter but that ended in the confusing room of colored cards. Priority tendering: we did not use it becuase we took a ship excursion at the only tender port. Highly recommend: sign up with ship services for the 'Renewal of Vows' ceremony. For this cruise, we were the only couple and it felt very meaningful. By the end of the cruise ( our first ever!), we had already decided to put down a deposit for our next cruise! Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
This was the 1st time my husband and myself had been on a cruise. So we thought we would enjoy a smaller ship, but that was a mistake. Small and friendly to us after we had done the cruise represented cramped and forced to speak to ... Read More
This was the 1st time my husband and myself had been on a cruise. So we thought we would enjoy a smaller ship, but that was a mistake. Small and friendly to us after we had done the cruise represented cramped and forced to speak to people. The experience of boarding the ship at Dover, which has been repeated on many of your reviews, was without doubt a very good experience. We had an alloted time to check in and everything went smooth. The taxi dropped us off, the porter took our cases, and we didnt see them again until we boarded the ship and they were in our cabin. The 1st few days the weather was poor and there were insufficient seats inside without squashing on tables with people. When the sun came out it was not quite so bad, but you still sometimes had to share. I think this is where I realise perhaps cruising is not for me. I like to read my book, but that was impossible as the minute someone sat at your table they felt they had to talk incessently which got on my nerves. At breakfast in the Thistle restaurant two people could not sit alone, you always had to share, and always had to sit opposite you were not allowed to sit side by side. I do mean not allowed, when I expressed that I did not want to sit in the middle of a table of 10 the waiter shrugged his shoulders and beckoned the next couple over, leaving us no choice but to go to another restaurant for breakfast. Not a treatment expected as they bill themselves as a 5star country house hotel style. As other people have pointed out the drinks were reasonably priced, the choice of wines was excellent Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2010
Balmoral! Where do I begin,!? My husband and I had never done a cruise till this one.We had booked another one due to sail with another company in August,but had to cancel due to Trev my husband having suffered a heart attack.Once we got ... Read More
Balmoral! Where do I begin,!? My husband and I had never done a cruise till this one.We had booked another one due to sail with another company in August,but had to cancel due to Trev my husband having suffered a heart attack.Once we got the all clear for Trev we booked Balmoral,we were not dissapointed. I had always wanted to cruise but nerves always got in the way,now we were to taste the water (so to speak )! When the day arrived I stood at the gangway as Trev said to me look at Balmoral she will be your home for the next 22 days,I was shocked at her size,speechless and motionless for quite a few moments until I caught my breath ,Nervous very,Amazed Totally but once I embarked Balmoral I knew she would keep me safe.She was warm inviting and very very elegant.She gave Trev and I a joyous time sailing and when our cruise was over we were elated with the complete experience. The Crew were second to none our cabin was kept spotless every day,the food was excellent ,the entertainment fantastic ,and the other cruisers who were all more experienced than us were truly nice people.We did have a fellow cruiser who had to airlifted off Balmoral due to the fact this chap was ill,we also lost an engine which to be quite honest didnt make a lot of difference to us as we had everything on Balmoral that you could want,ok we did miss 2 ports of call but at the end of the day it is not the end of the world.We are saving as fast as we can to get booking our second cruise on Balmoral.ROLL ON . Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
We chose to cruise on the Braemar for our first ever cruise as the dates suited, we loiked the idea of no flying and I thought the weather would be kind!!! Embarkation at Dover was a breeze, as suite customers we walked straight into ... Read More
We chose to cruise on the Braemar for our first ever cruise as the dates suited, we loiked the idea of no flying and I thought the weather would be kind!!! Embarkation at Dover was a breeze, as suite customers we walked straight into lunch in the Thistle restaurant then up to our suite. Loved 7043, the suite is L shaped and you can partition off the sleeping area with a curtain. Large balcony and being mid to rear seemed well placed. Lots of wardrobe space. Bathroom small but excellent shower and efficient loo! Friends had 7010 which was lovely and bright but just one room and their balcony was smaller. They were very near the front of the ship and you could feel the difference. As other posts say the first three days were rough! We did not realise how bad it was until more seasoned travellers and the crew put us right. Our friend was very poorly. At this time I thought the ship was really spacious but soon realised everyone was in bed! Gym small but good equipment. when we finally got to dry land it rained, the first week was a washout but the second week was lovely and I can see why people cruise.The sailaways were great but short and a free drink would not have gone amiss! The Braemar is a lovely ship, small but we liked that. We ate in the Grampian restaurant, 2nd sitting and were very impressed with the quality of the food and the service. Drinks reasonably priced too Entertainment was good, resident band and show company were excellent but by the end of the fortnight had heard some of the songs a few too many times...Knock three times anyone? I am nearly 50 and I doubt if there were ten people younger than me on the cruise so maybe the entertainment was set accordingly. We won a few bottles of fizz at the evening quizzes, there was a lot going on during the day as well but this seemed geared for the older element. The mobility of a lot of passengers was impaired - this was not a problem for us but there was always a queue for the lifts. In an emergency people would not be able to get out. We ended up helping quite a few people up and down steps etc as well. We explored the ports independently but friends did the tours and thought they were good. Will definitely cruise again but not for a while...would love to do the Fjords and cruisers I know say this is Fred's forte Read Less
Sail Date: August 2010
Although we've been on over 25 cruises, this was the first cruise for our brother & sister-in-law. They have been planning & saving for over a year, and this will probably be their first, last and only cruise for health ... Read More
Although we've been on over 25 cruises, this was the first cruise for our brother & sister-in-law. They have been planning & saving for over a year, and this will probably be their first, last and only cruise for health reasons. At the last minute we were able to get upgrades (from inside to balcony and penthouse suite) thanks to booking direct with NCL. There was a little additional cost, but it was surely worth it! Using internet (and cruise critic) we rented a flat(2bdrm, 2 ba)in London for a week before the trip and used London Pass to see and go everywhere. Because we had alot of luggage and couldn't manage it ourselves we opted for the NCL transfers, which worked perfectly. Our cabin had a large balcony at the front of the ship which couldn't be used because of bad weather. Although only 1 large room, the bathroom was as big if not bigger, with walk in closet, dressing area, jacuzzi tub, separate shower and toilet stall. But the cabin wasn't the best part. In a suite NCL gives you a concierge (karin) who was wonderful. You feel like you are on a different cruise than everyone else. Beautiful breakfast and lunch in a specialty restaurant (no extra charge). This was great because the buffet never had enough seats. We only had 2 "optional" dinners, and both were worth the charge. Murder mystery dinner for $20 ea, including wine and lobster! And the teppan for our anniversay, which was really special. As Karin arranged all else, we just said where and when for dinner. Food was probably the best I've had on any of our cruises. As we are seasoned travelers, we didn't like the selection or cost of most NCL shore excursions. In copenhagen it rained, but the hop-on-hop-off bus got us to our favorite places anyway for alot less. In Warnemunde we again decided against shore excursions in favor of just staying around the town. So glad we did- it cleared up and a 15 minute walk into town was perfect. Lots of shops and Biergardens. We didn't know what to expect in Tallin, so took the NCL tour (1/2 day, under $60). Again, had a great day. Turns out we visited on their 2nd independence day. What a beautiful country, and beautiful people. Very warm. St Petersburg we used TJ Travel through Cruise Critic. Again, a winner! We had a group of 10, and they allowed us to customize the standard tour for a few dollars more. Tour guide Alex was wonderful- made sure we saw everything. Our tour started with hydrofoil to Peterhof, where we had lunch. Then to Catherine's palace. Then a canal ride through the city. Next day included the Hermitage early admission, where we had most rooms to ourselves! Our only complaint was NCL held up independent travelers for shore excursions. Helsinki again was the hop-on-hop-off, and we fell in love with that city also. Because we anchored in Nynashamn we felt we had to take NCL tours. We had hoped that the "Swedish Experience" which allowed 3 hours free time would be leisurely, but it was not. After a 1 hr bus ride to Stockholm, the traffic was so bad getting around and through the VASA that we barely had time to eat and get any souvenirs. We were stressed to get back to the bus or face a $200e cab ride back. Our only disappointment was the entertainment staff. Had a problem with a dancer that did rather spoil it for me. I usually dance the night away and close the bars, but this time I stayed in my suite and read a book. Only a few problems- wish the 400 kids would have been better controlled- the cigar lounge that we were guaranteed was there hasn't been used for smoking for 5 years, and the problem with the dance staff. All in all- one of our best cruises. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
I have just returned from a holiday of a lifetime - it was fantastic!! As some of you may already know (I have mentioned it in plenty of reviews during the past few months , that I was going on a cruise) , and after waiting (impatiently) ... Read More
I have just returned from a holiday of a lifetime - it was fantastic!! As some of you may already know (I have mentioned it in plenty of reviews during the past few months , that I was going on a cruise) , and after waiting (impatiently) for almost ten months , the time arrived on Saturday 5th June and lasted until Saturday 19th June , and so my holiday has quickly and sadly been and gone! I had never been on a cruise before , let alone gone away from home for more than one week , let alone a fortnight , and now after a brilliant time , I am very sad that's it's over! So to help me get over my post-holiday-blues , I thought that I would share my experience with you!! (Just to warn you , it is going to be a very long review , as I have so much to say!) Right...where shall I begin............ from the very beginning I guess. So , last year , having never been abroad before , I was moaning that I wanted to go on a foreign holiday , so one day whilst out shopping , I walked into a travel agents and picked up a load of holiday brochures. My mum had always wanted to go on a cruise but hadn't been and so after flicking through a couple of brochures , was getting quite tempted to actually go. We then decided that it would be good if a group of us went (these were the very early days of the planning, and me like an excited child , was really hoping that the answer would be a great big yes!) So we discussed it with my sister and her boyfriend , and my aunt and uncle , and we were all (well I wasn't - I was all for it!) debating , shall we shan't we. In the end we decided on a two week mediterranean cruise with Royal Caribbean International. I was so excited when we had confirmed the booking , yet I still had ten months to wait for the time to come. When the day eventually arrived , we caught a bus not too far away , which was a 'link' to the ship itself. The journey to Southamton (we got on in Southamton , not Dover as I have put as the 'place of emarking' , it didn't have 'southampton' on the list , but wouldn't let me post my review if I didn't choose one of the places)took about four hours (I slept most of the way , and so I woke up just as we arrived at the port), there were loads of ships which we passed before we got to hours and I was thinking 'I think it's that one' , 'no wait , it's gotta be that one'. But when I finally saw the actual ship , Independence Of The Seas , I was gobsmacked - it was absolutely massive - in fact it was bigger than a lot of the big buildings by the port. I could not believe that something so big could sail the seas!) It was a beautiful ship ; very smart looking. * Boarding The Ship * Once we had got off the bus , we had to queue for a little while , and then check that our 'papers' and passports were correct before going to a desk where we had to hand in some paperwork. We were then handed our 'seapasses' (more of which I will come to later on). We then had to make our way through 'security' ; the same kind as you would in an airport , I expect ; putting your hand luggage through an 'x ray machine' and then walking through a kind of 'x ray frame'. We then had about a ten minute walk where we finally got to step onto the ship. Boarding was fairly straightforward and didn't take too long which was good news. We were told that it could take up until 9pm that night (by now it was around 4 o' clock) until we had our luggage , although when we found our cabin at about four , our luggage was there waiting for us outside the door. We had around thirty minutes in our room , and then we had to go to a 'safety thing' about how to put on a life jacket etc. Apparently the ship would not sail until everyone had seen the demonstration. As planned , we set sail from Southhampton at 4:45. When I first got on the ship and saw how big it was , I was a bit 'scared'. I was thinking 'oh my god - this place is massive, we're all going to have to stick together the whole time otherwise we may not see eachother for days. Before going , a lot of people who had been on cruises before had told me , 'it's so easy to get lost' and 'make sure you follow the corect carpet (if your room carpet is red , then follow the red carpet on the ship and then you will know that your cabin is in that area'. Well of course that panicked me , although after a couple of days , I knew my way around and so there was no way of getting lost. We were all on deck 6 and we were on one side and the rest of the group were on the opposite site. We had a meeting point which was the bit between the two corridors , this was the place that we always met , by the balcony overlooking the Royal Promenade. * Seapass* As I mentioned earlier , before boarding the ship , each person was given a little blue card which was known as the 'seapass'. This little card was the same size and made of plastic just like a bank card. On it , it had the name of the ship,your name , date of sailing , your cabin number, your designated area number (if there was an emergency etc) , the name of the restaurant you were booked at as well as your table number. So all in all this card held a lot of information about the passenger. Also , instead of using money , the ship uses a cash-free system. Whatever you bought onboard (food is included) , for example drinks , spa treatments or for buying souveniers in the onboard shops , you would pay for it by 'swiping the card' , which would then add the amount to your 'bill' which you paid at the end of the trip. I really liked the fact that you could use it to buy things , as it made it so much easier and meant you didn't have to carry money around on the ship with you at all. This card also acted as your room key , and also to 'clock you in and off' the ship. So it was very important not to lose it. * The Ship * The ship itself was absolutely massive , yet very smart looking. It is a fairly new ship , built in 2008 and cost £900 million to build! The ship is very smart in the inside , with a lot of artwork and paintings. There were a few glass elavators which were handy as sometimes if you were shopping on the ship's own street on Deck five and then wanted to go to the Windjammer (on deck eleven) for lunch it meant walking twelve sets of stairs. So taking the lift was the easiest option (although I did try and take the stairs when I could , until I twisted my ankle one day - being silly , I jumped off the bed and landed on a shoe - not clever at all). The ship had glass elevators so you could see the street and decks from the inside when you were going up and down. There were also 'closed elevators' where you couldn't see out , and I wasn't too keen on using these ones. At least if you broke down in the glass elevators (thankfully we didn't) at least people could see you panicking! The ship itself was very , very clean. There was always a member of staff cleaning the hand rails on the stairs or cleaning the floors. A couple of nights when returning to our rooms at about 11:30pm , I saw a member of staff hoovering the carpets - at that time of night -poor thing! * Cabin * Our cabin , was quite spacious. The room was spotlessly clean and tidy. The beds were the comfiest ever - I always find it hard to get to sleep at night and always sleep lightly , but on the ship , I don't know what happened to me , becaue the minute my head hit the pillow , I was fast asleep , and a deep sleep it was. I've never had such good sleep as I did on that ship - I think the slight movement helped). Because there were three of us , I slept on the 'sofa bed'. My first impression was 'oh no - it's going to be uncomfortable' , but that was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in! It did not look like a sofa at all at night - it was brilliant. The room had plenty of storing space ; a large wardrobe and plenty of draws and cupboards as well as mirrors with build in cupboards behind them on the dressing table. We had a shower (no bath) which was great , especially after a sweaty day in the sun - the shower was adjustable , and was easy to adjust (either hot or cold , and also you could choose which pressure you wanted). There was plenty of 'oomph' in the pressure of the water which was great. Tea and coffee were available in our bedroom , along with a mini fridge which included cans of coke , sweets and bottled water. To begin with , we were like 'don't touch the fridge - it'll cost us!' but towards the end , we had almost cleared all the sweets! We even had our own private balcony which was great , as you could see the sea , and whenever we were close to the ports , you could see the land getting closer and closer , and also when we were leaving the port , you could watch the sight of the land fade away. It was also a great place to relax outside , knowing that you had a 'bit of outside space to yourself'. No one could see you either which was nice , although if you popped your head round the side , you would sometimes see your neighbour if they were also leaning over the balcony. I absolutely loved the balcony , and would often sit there reading a book or listening to my music , not having a care in the world whilst watching the sea go by. The bathroom , although small , was still quite spacious with a huge mirror. We also had a hairdryer and tea and coffee making facilities which were replenished on a morning/night basis. We also had a televison with a great selection of channels ; sports , news , movies , music etc. The ship even has it's own channels including one which shows , events which have happened so far on the holiday ,as well as the shows , and also a morning programme with the ship's famous 'Joff' the cruise director , who 'presented' all of the shows. There was always an 'interactive' thing on the telly , where you could book an excursion , see what was coming up on the cruise , and even keep an eye on your bill , as well as loads of other things. You could even watch some of the latest movies for a price of $12. I watched Dear John. I had thought that $12 was quite a lot to watch a film , but then I realised , had I gone to my local cineworld which is an hours drive away , the cost of petrol combined with the £7 per person cinema ticket it would have cost around £30 for three of us to go to the cinema , and so for $12 , it was great value as we saved petrol , and all three of us got to watch the movie , so it worked out a lot cheaper than going to the cinema. We had our own room attendant , who was brilliant ; always friendly , professional and always had time for us. He did his job really well , and I felt sorry for him that every night he would have to turn the sofa into a bed for me , and in the morning change my bed back into the sofa , although when we returned from dinner at night , my sofa bed was always ready , and in the morning , we'd leave the room for about half an hour for breakfast , and then return to our room , and the bed would be back to a sofa. When returning from dinner , it was always a pleasure to see what kind of animal the room attendant had made for us using towels ; some nights we would have elephants , pigs , snakes and monkeys. * Food * The food on the Independence of The Seas was brilliant. The restaurants wee always very clean and the standard of cleanliness was very high. Before entering a food place, everyone had to sanitize their hands which I thought was a brilliant idea.There were so many choices of places to eat : * Romeo and Juliet Restaurant * This is the restaurant where we were automatically booked into when we booked the holiday. The restaurant was very posh looking and you could see the above restaurant 'Macbeth' above , and also the restaurant 'King Lea' which was above 'Macbeth'. It was like one big restaurant (3 floors - yet each floor had a different name and had a different menu and sometimes a different style of serving. ) It was in the Romeo and Juliette restaurant that we had our breakfast and dinner. Breakfast (Romeo and Juliette restaurant): You could choose where you wanted to have your breakfast each day. Most of the time we stuck to the buffet-style breakfast which was served in he Romeo and Juliette restaurant. Here , you helped yourself to the massive selection of cereals , pastries , fruit salad , cooked breakfast , cheese and meats and yoghurts. There was so much choice, and the food was always topped up right to the top. I am not a fan of cooked breakfast , although the rest of my group all had cooked breakfasts (bacon , eggs , mushrooms , beans , harsh browns etc) and could not praise the food enough. I myself would have fresh fruit (different fruits laid out in separate bowls ; different kinds of melons , grapes , pineapples - great for getting your five-a-day) , croissants , cereal such as Alpen and also there were muffins which I absolutely loved. Tea and coffee was brought to your table , and so was the orange juice. There didn't seem to be many other fruit juices available ; the waiter would come to your table and say 'would you like some orange juice' and if you didn't they would ask if you would like apple juice. I loved the orange juice though , as it was always fresh. Another 'toast waiter' would then come around with a basket of toast and ask you if you wanted white or brown. Throughout the cruise , the toast was edible , although it wasn't that nice - it was always really hard and had a funny texture , although I solved the problem by smothering it with plenty of butter and strawberry jam. Dinner (Romeo and Juliette) : We were a group of seven and had requested at the time of booking for a table of our own so that we could sit together. However , when we received our seapasses with the dining information on it , it stated that three of us were to eat in the Romeo and Juliette and the other four were to eat in the Macbeth restaurant. We went to see the restaurant manager who changed this for us and so on the first evening we had a table to ourselves. One you knew where your table was (at dinner , you sat at the same table every night , although breakfast , the waiters would find you a suitable table each day , and so for breakfast you sat on a different table each day - on the last day we had a window table which was fantastic!). So on the second night , we walked into the restaurant , making our way to our table , when we noticed a couple on our table , meaning that as the table was only set up for us seven, there wasn't enough room for all of us. The head waiter then came and explained to the couple what had happened (we couldn't hear what exactly was being said as we were too far away) , although the couple did not seem happy at all , although the head waiter was brilliant and we had our table back , which remained ours for the rest of the holiday. The food was brilliant at the restaurant ; of a very high standard. The menu more or less changed each evening although there were still items which remained on the menu most nights. There were about eight options for each of the three courses. The majority of the group are meat-eaters (including fish) and so it meant that they had a different starter and main course each evening , however , I am vegetarian and so is my mum , and we are quite fussy eaters too. I stuck with the ceasar salad most nights (consiting of crisp lettuce , parmasan cheese , yummy garlic croutons and a gorgeous dressing - I absolutely loved it!) and a pasta dish (I love pasta). On one or two ocasions there was other vegetarian meals available such as 'pastry tarts' which I tried one night - it was nice to begin with , but I found it became too much of the same taste and so I couldn't finish it. Although , there was nothing wrong with the food (we all agreed that it was wonderful) , it was just that I am a very fussy eater. On the other hand , the deserts were to die for ; sponge puddings , chocolate tarts , panacottas - they were all brilliant. Although , I love fresh fruit , I am not really a fan of fruity deserts , although I did try a 'berry mousse' one night - and it was one of the best deserts I have ever tasted! Also if you didn't want to put on too much weight during the holiday , there was also a 'special three course menu' where every starter , main course and desert all came to less than 800 calories - I tried this some nights and the food was of an excellent standard. * WindJammer Cafe * What a great place this was ; it was open from about 7am everyday for breakfast , right through for lunch and afternoon tea until 5pm and then it would open again at 6:30pm for dinner. The very popular , cafe is located on top of the ship at the back with fantastic views of the ocean. Foodwise ; there was so much to choose from. The food was served buffet-style and had something for every taste , whether you were starving or just in a 'picking' mood. Such food included roast dinners ,salads, pizzas , burgers , pasta , rolls , as well of a huge range of deserts. On days where we were getting off the ship to go exploring , we would sometimes get up early and go to the cafe for breakfast. Food available was served buffet style where you helped yourself. Although it was a great place , I prefered having breakfast in the Romeo and Juliet dining room as although they were both buffet style , at least in the restaurant a waiter would bring you juice,toast, tea and cofee and anything else you wanted. A waiter would come around with tea or coffee in this cafe , but it would be served tea-bag-in-a-cup style rather than in a pot like in the restaurant. I loved the Windjammer ; as it was always quick and you could go whenever you wanted ; there was always plenty of food to choose from and the dishes were always topped out ; they never seemed to run out of anything. The food was always of a high standard too. One thing which I did not like about the Windjammer , although this is by means no fault of the ship's , was the fact that some people were like pigs and would push in front of you even if you were queing. One day , I had been queing up for one of the deserts and as it was my turn , was just about to take a desert , when a man pushed in from nowhere , and said 'excuse me , can I just grab one of those' , and his attitude was so selfish ; he hadn't queued or nothing. People would very often push you out of the way too which was annoying. We found the nicest time to go was at about 4:30 as there wasn't that many people about then which was great. Also sometimes , at peak times , especially lunch time , it was hard to find a table , although there was always one waiter who would greet customers and get another waiter to find a suitable for us. They always found us a table very quickly and we were never left to wait more than five minutes. Once you found a table , the experience was great. What was also great was the fact that you could just grab a slice of pizza or a cake and then take it to your room or to the poolside to eat it. * Other Restaurants * There were also many other places were you could have food , such as 'Johnny Rockets' which was like an American-1950's style burger place. We went here one night for a change (there was an extra charge of around $4 per person at this place - most of the restaurants including the Windjammer and Romeo and Juliet restaurants as well as a lot of others were included in the cruise package which was good as it meant that you could eat as much as you wanted which was brilliant). If you like Italian dining , then there was an Italian restaurant onboard called the Portfino. Although to eat here , it cost $20 per person. I did fancy here but the rest of the group thought that beings as there were a lot of places that we could eat at , that were included in the price of our holiday , it would have been silly to have spent $140 between us for just one meal , and so we didn't go there. Although I would have liked to have tried it. There was also a 'meaty' restaurant called 'Chops Grille' which also charged around $10 extra , although being vegetarian , I didn't eat here. There are also numerous cafes down in the Royal Promenade , where you could obtain as much tea and coffee as you wanted for 'free'. There were also tea and coffee stands in various areas of the ships , although these were only available at certain times. * Bars * If you wanted a drink then you had many bars to choose from , and even at busy times , you would almost always find a seat. Some of the bars which we went to included the 'On Air' bar, which also did karaoke , where my sister and I sang a couple of times. They also had a 'private karaoke booth' where you could sing if the karaoke wasn't on. This place also showed the football on a big screen. Another bar which I loved was 'Boleros' ; a latin themed bar. There was a live latin band who performed there every single night and I loved their style of music and how they made their own 'Spanish sounding' versions of popular songs such as 'Sway' by Michael Buble. I also loved the Olive Or Twist bar which was located right on top of the ship and you could see 360 degrees around the ship ; it was brilliant. It was one of my favourite places to go in the day as it was always peaceful , and you could see all that was happening outside on the ship as well as the sea , so it was great. There was another bar called 'The Pyramid Lounge' which had an Egyptian theme. I didn't particularly like this bar ; there wasn't nothing wrong with it , just that it seemed 'out of the way' compared to a lot of the other bars which were located in the centre of the ship. When the football was on , this is one of the areas where loads of people flocked too to see a game - there was a good atmosphere here though, especially when England were playing. There were also a lot of other bars which you could go to , although the ones listed above are the ones which I went to the most. There was also a nightclub called 'The Labyrinth' on the show. I did step inside and it was full of smokers (one of the not too many places that smokers could smoke). I was really disappointed that they had made the club a 'smoker's place' as I love partying yet hate smoking , and because the club was absolutely full of smokers , I didn't go there again. * Staff * The staff were absolutely fantastic!!! They treated us as though we were royalty. They couldn't do enough for you ; always willing to help and nothing was too much trouble. They were always so professional , friendly , and a lot of them were also really comical too so that made our dining experiences entertaining. The service was always spot on , especially in the dining room. They would not let you lift a finger ; they wanted to do absolutely everything for you which was brilliant , although I did feel guilty at times especially when they said they don't get one day off and work all day every single day for six months!! We had two waiters at dinner who remained the same two throughout the cruise (for breakfast you always had a different waiter , depending where you sat) , the main waiter and an assistant waiter and they were brilliant ; so professional , yet very friendly. They really knew their stuff. Working in the hotel industry myself , I appreciate it so much more and with their excellent 'Gold Anchor service' I even picked up a few tips! The staff in the Windjammer cafe were also great ; always smiling and willing to get anything you wanted from the buffet (if you were too lazy to get it yourself). All staff aboard were great ; always friendly and saying hello if they met you in the corridor , even the ones you had never spoken too. Throughout our cruise we received a fantastic service. Everything about it was properly thought out and all made sense , which meant that everything ran smoothly. There was always plenty of staff around too , all working very hard. Everyone was lovely ; professional , friendly and ALWAYS willing to help which was great. *Tipping * Before we went on the cruise , a lot of people who had been before had warned us about the tipping of staff - apparently if you didn't say that you didn't want them to automatically add tips to your bill , at the beginning of the cruise , then they would go ahead and do this. So , at the beginning we made it clear that we wanted to choose the amount of tips we gave at the end of the cruise , as the suggested amount for each person (head waiter , waiter , assistant waiter and room attendent) added up to around $6 per person per day ,and did seem quite a lot. We were assured that unless we had signed a form in our room that said you wanted the tips to be added automatically to your room bill , then you wouldn't be charged. So on the last day , when we received the envelopes to put our own tips into. We all agreed on what we were going to give per person ( in total it added up to about $200 between the three of us for four members or staff). Although , later on that afternoon (before we had handed in our tips) we receieved 'vouchers' along with a letter type thing that said 'thank you for pre-paying your gratuities'. We weren't sure what this meant (there were four vouches which had our names printed on them so they were obviously for us). So we went down to enquire about it at the guest relations , and they said that we had indeed already paid the gratuities in the price of our holiday. We were a bit annoyed at first because we had preched and preached that we hadn't wanted this (although it wasn't the ship's fault , it was the travel agent's fault) , although when we added up what we had already pre-paid (around $60 from each of us between four members of staff) compared to the $200 which we were going to pay , it worked out less for us , and we were also relieved that it had already been paid as it meant we had more spending money left , and also , we weren't sure how much to give in the first place , so that solved the problem. We did however give the room attendent an extra $30 , especially when he told us that he would have to move all of the cases (there were hundreds of them , all laid out in the corridors outside people's cabins) in the night (and he had already worked most of that day). The staff worked so hard , so it was really worth every penny! So instead of putting money in the envelopes and handing them to each member of staff (4 in total) , we simply put our vouches in the envelopes and then gave them to them. I expect they would then have to hand in the vouchers in return for the money we had already paid for them. So although we were against pre-paying the gratuities , it did actually work out better for us , and also means you get it out of the way. Apparently the staff only get $50 per month (including their food and keep) , although they work very long hours , and for their whole contract (6 months , usually) they don't get one day off - so they rely on the tips as their income. * Shows * The Independence Of The Seas has it's own theatre called the 'Alhambra' , which is fairly big. Each night , there was a different show on. The ship has it's own entertainers simply known as 'The Royal Caribbean singers and dancers'. Whilst we were there they put on four different productions ; one was a circus , another one was about fairytales as well as others. The shows were brilliant and the performers were excellent. As well as the shows they did , they also performed in the street parades. The ship also had it's own live band ; who seemed to be involved with most things musical on the ship ; all of the shows , the street parades , the talent show etc. As well as the ship's own in-house-entertainers , there was also entertainers who had just 'called in'. Some of them were very good including a comedian who was very funny , and kept us laughing throughout the whole show. There was an elderly gentleman who sang , and he was brilliant too. Another good one was a comedy juggler , who was brilliant and so was the Motown band. There was one man though , who was an impersonator and he was really bad ; he was American and lot of the impersonations he did were of Americans from television shows and things like that , which we hadn't seen and ,so because we didn't know who these people were , we didn't know if he was good at impersonating them or not , and so the show was very boring. A lot of people even walked out that night. It was really cringy because no one was laughing either! Most of the time , the shows were fantastic , although my only criticism was the fact that they were too short. Each show only lasted around an hour and so they were over quickly. Apart from this , the shows were of a very high standard (apart from the impersontor man). There was also an ice rink onboard which also had their own shows , although because these were always on in the afternoon , because we had either been out in the ports all day we would go for a rest before dinner that evening and so we didn't go to see the ice shows. Also another factor was that , with the other shows you could just walk in (it was included in the price of the cruise) to the theatre , find a seat and watch the show. Although with the ice shows , you had to get a ticket in the morning of the day of the show , and so we had already gone out by then perhaps. One evening they did a show called 'The Love And Marriage Show' in the theatre. The show consisted of four couples hand-picked from the audience ; the men then had to answer embaressing questions about their other halves while they weren't there and then vice versa , and the other halves would have to guess what their partners had said. This was a very comical show!! * Activities * There were many activites taking place all day every day. Each night , you would receive a cruise newsletter called 'The Cruise Compass' which would tell you everything about what was going on the next day , including the weather as as well as certain onboard offers such as at the spa etc ,which was very good . There were hundreds of activites to choose from including ; Yoga , bingo , Quizzes , karaoke ; everything you could imagine. They even had a rock climbing wall and a Flow Rider which was a water thing which 'shot' out water so that you could surf. Great for kids! There was so much to do that in the whole two weeks , no way would you have had time to try everything! I had orginally thought when I saw that we had a few 'sea days' (days where we didn't get off the ship at ports) that we would be very bored with nothing to do , although there was soo much to do , that at times I actually prefered the sea days to the port days. We went to the karaoke one night and it was quite quiet there. There wasn't that many singers there. Me and my sister both sang , although I was disappointed with the songs available , as they were all pre 2000's songs and so there weren't many songs that we knew. We also went to the bingo session one afternoon. We go to bingo every couple or months or so , and so were looking forward to the session. Although we were really disappointed when we only played about four 'line' games and one 'house' game and so for about $30 we felt this was a bit of rip off as there was only about five chances of winning a prize. When we go to Mecca bingo at home , we pay about £15 and have about twenty-something games , so this one was a bit disappointing. Although I would have loved to have won the top prize which was to spend the rest of your holiday in the 'royal suite'. There were also other 'fun activities' which involved 'members of the public'. Such things included 'men's belly flop' competition , where they had to flop into the pool and the audience had to vote for who they thought made the biggest splash. The ironic part was , that there were five guys trying (four of which were quite big men) and a skinny guy and the skinny guy won which I thought was funny! There were a lot of sports facilities including table tennis tables , which we played a few times during our stay. You could also play football and basketball as well as go swimming in one of the many swimming pools. What was good was the fact that there were lots of little swimming pools and one section was for kids and then there was a more quieter area with pools for adults. There were also a few jacuzzis which were lovely and warm. There was also a pool bar which was good , especially at night as it was very quiet and relaxing. There were loads of deck chairs available on the top deck ; great for sunbathing , and most of the time we had brilliant weather. There was almost always deck chairs available , until the last day when there were hardly none left! There was also a 'help-yourself-ice-cream-machine' which I absolutely loved , and you could as many as you wanted! * Ports of Call * We went to some great places ; Gibraltar , Corsica , Cannes , Barcelona , Ibiza , Malag , Lisbon and Vigo. You could book excursions with the ship , where you could go on tours (you had to pay) or go to museums or things like football clubs. We never went on any of the ship's excursions and just did our own thing. I was really pleased with the places we went to especially ; Barcelona , Malaga , Lisbon and Vigo. The rest of the places we visited were good , although the ones I have listed above are the ones which stood out the most for me. When getting off the ship you had to use your seapass to 'clock out' and then on returning to the ship , you had to clock back in , and go through security checks ; you couldn't bring particular items such as food and drink onto the ship. * Photographs * There was always an opportunity for a photograph. The ship had it's own photographers , who were always buzzing about the ship. Whenever you stepped off the ship , the photographers would be waiting for you , (one would be dressed up in a special outfit depending on which place we were at - in gibraltar they were dressed up as a monkey , a bull fighter in Barcelona , a dolphin in lisbon etc) and you could have your photo taken with the 'mascot'. Your photos would then be available to purchase in the ship's own gallery which held loads of photos. You could also have you're photos taken every night around the ship with special backgrounds such as the ship , or on the stairs. On formal nights they would 'chase' you for a photo - sometimes even interupting your dinner for a photo. We had some good photos of all of us which we purchased at around $20-$30 per photo. Once we had purchased four photos , we had a 'free' photo album which was worth $39 so that was good! Throughout the cruise , they were always on about a dvd which the ship people had made during the fortnight and would be a great souvenier to take home as it contained great memories from the particular cruise (featuring clips from the shows , and the parties , and of the people). I thought 'oh wow ,that sounds good' and so bought a copy of the DVD for $30! However , I managed to watch it for the first time last night , and it was a load of old rubish! Yes , it did feature clips of the shows and clips of the passengers dancing in the parties and so on , although it was more like a 'promotional dvd' which you can get free if you request from cruise companies (I had had some free through the post from P&O cruises and Ocean Village , before we went) and this one was exactly like one of those as it said 'this is the so-and-so - we are open from 8-4 every day' kind of thing , and so I felt it was a complete rip off , telling me about what I already knew! * Royal Promenade * Believe it or not , the ship has it's own 'street' with shops and cafes. You would not believe that you were on a ship , but would think that you were really shopping on a real street. There aren't that many shops (just small shops such as a 'general store' which sold sweets , medication and souveniers , a women's clothes shop , a men's clothes shop , cafes , Ben and Jerry's Ice cream shop as well as 'travel agents' where you could book your next cruise' , and once you had been in them once , you'd seen it all. One good thing about the shops was the fact that they were 'duty-free'. The shops were sometimes closed whilst the ship was docked , and would then open when the ship was back at sea. At night , 'parties' would take place on the Royal Promenade. The first 'party' was good ; it featured two of the cruise's professional singers and they were brilliant. Although as the cruise went on , these parties became 'boring'. There were these bridges/stages that came down from the roof. There would be music playing (they would have special nights such as British rock etc) and then they would have members of the entertainment teams (not the actual singers and dancers - but the ones who would help out at events such as bingo and karaoke etc) and they would just be dancing and jumping up and down , and the crowd would just be looking at them , and so I thought that this was very boring and so I didn't watch these parades after. * Extra Points and tips * Beforehand , we had worried that we would get sea sick ; although it did take us a day or two to get used to the ship's movement , we were absolutely find. One or two nights it was a bit rocky although we felt safe onboard. We took 'travel bands' which really helped on the first day. Although sea sickness didn't affect us at all. We always made sure that we left at least an hour before we were supposed to get back on the ship , when visiting ports , as the ship wouldn't wait for anyone. When we visited Cannes , there was a group of people who weren't back on the ship at the time the ship was set to sail , the captain said that they would wait twenty minutes for them and no more (as the ship was being charged to park at the port). I don't know if they did get back on in time or if they had to fly to Barcelona to meet the ship the next day. So it's better to leave the ports a little early in order to get back onto the ship in time. Before the cruise I shopped and shopped until I was certain that I wouldn't be able to fit everything into my suitcase (luckily I was). I was sure I didn't have enough clothes for two weeks ; I took about eight different pairs of shoes and only ended up wearing the same two pairs throughout. I also didn't wear half the clothes that I took with me. There was also an onboard laundry where you could send your dirty laundry for a small price and then they would return your items to your room which was good. The best time to go swimming was at around 6pm as there were hardly no people there at all , just the odd one or two. However in the day it was proper busy and quite noisy at times too . If you are going to buy sovenieres then I recommend that you do so on the last day rather than at the beginning of your holiday , as there was a big sale at the end of cruise ,especially on jewellry and perfumes , so it is worth waiting. With over 4000 passengers onboard as well as over 1,300 members of staff , you would have thought that it would have been overcrowded , but the truth was it wasn't (apart from the Windjammer at busy times). There were some real great places which were very peaceful , including the very front of the ship , on the top deck after 6pm (when everyone had either gone to dinner for 6:30 , or gone to get ready for dinner at 8:30). Before going , a lot of people had said that a cruise was a holiday for old people ,so I was a bit like 'oh god', but I can honestly tell you that there were more people in their twenties and thirties than old people. Although having said that , there were people of all ages from , babies , toddlers , kids , teens , adults and seniors. It really is the perfect holiday for everyone! If you're in a group , it's a good idea to have a meeting point. So if you do happen to get split up from everyone , it's a good idea to say 'if we lose someone , head to the 'meeting point' (whether it be outside a shop or bar) on the hour' , so say that you 'lose someone' and it's 12:45 , then you would be at the meeting place to meet at 1 o clock , if that makes sense. Before going I was worried that I wouldn't have enough spending money to last a fortnight , and was thinking 'oh my god , I'm going to need at least £1000. In the end I took around 400 Euros with me and that was more than enough - I think during the whole two weeks , I only spent around 100 Euros , and that was off the ship , mainly buying tickets to go on tour buses , entries into places like caves and museums and for souveniers , and so that proves that you don't need that much money with you at all , although it wise to make sure that you do have enough. Everything you bought onboard the ship with your 'seapass' , which was linked to a credit card , was taken out of your bank account at the end of the holiday. * Overall Experience * We had a fantastic time ; all seven of us agreed that it was a brilliant experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything about it was wonderful ; the food , the staff , the cabins , shows , ports , ice cream machine , jacuzzi , bars ....everything was perfect!! We paid around £1300 each for a room with a balcony and it was well worth the money. At first it did seem a little expensive , although when we were actually on the ship it was obvious that it was well worth the money when you think about all that was included : Unlimited food : (breakfast , lunch tea , and dinner as well as 24 hour buffet) , including a three course meal every night (if you had gone to a restaurant it would probably have cost £20+ per person). All of the ice cream we had at the pool (if you would have bought it in a shop , each cone would have cost at least £2 each , and we had loads here) The top shows ; In all , I think we saw about nine shows. Imagine if you had gone to see a show at your local theatre it would have cost around £20 per person per show (actually more probably as the performers on this ship were World class). There was so much more included although the above are the main ones! So all in all it was excellent value for money! * Highly Recommended * I would definately recommend the Independence Of The Seas ; it was fantastic , a real holiday in a lifetime , and now that I have arrived home after two weeks onboard the brilliant ship...it's horrible , there was so much to do onboard , so many people and great company , and now it just seems really boring and lonely after being surrounded by so many people for a fortnight !I really can't wait to go again! Time to start saving some money for another cruise I think...........! Thanks for reading! Apologies for such a long review (it's not often I write long ones!) June 24th 2010 xdonzx Read Less

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