Just back from an atlantic crossing that we truly enjoyed. But please bear in mind that this has been my first cruise so I have no other point of reference.
Mein Schiff 4
All of TUI cruises ships are named "Mein Schiff" and number 4 is the second newbuilt in the fleet. Since entering service in May 2015 the ship has been kept in top condition. The design is modern and pleasing to the eye. The dresscode is casual and there are no formal nights.
TUI follows a concept were drinks and gratuities are included in the fare. This includes not only water or sodas but beer, wine, liqueur and cocktails. Alcohol at the bars is usually from household names in Germany and not no name alternatives.
Of course you can pay for higher quality exclusive wines and liqueur, which are offered for reasonable prices, or choose one of the for pay specialty restaurants. But for us it makes for a more relaxing experience when you need not think about money when ordering a drink and presenting your card or signing receipts all the time.
Junior suite and associated perks
Junior suites are roughly 1.5x the size of a standard balcony stateroom at 26 m2 plus a balcony of 8 m2. We liked that all of the suite felt spacious, including the bathroom and the veranda. On top of that extra space suite pax get a couple of perks, some of which we liked a lot:
- priority counter at embarkation, bypassing the queue. There has been no difference regarding disembarkation
- access to the X-lounge & X-sundeck, see below
- a complimentary mini-bar which is restocked twice a day plus unlimited capsules for your personal nespresso machine
- free unlimited Wi-Fi, quite nice considering the current price of online packages aboard Mein Schiff
- reception with the Captain and a number of officers on the first evening
The X-lounge features both an indoor and outdoor area, facing to the bow of Mein Schiff 4. A concierge is there to help you including booking excursions and you'll find freshly printed german newspapers right on time for breakfast. Service is charming and unobtrusive, though not flawless.
A nice buffet with snacks on small plates & fresh fruits is available all during the day, including complimentary caviar and champagne (Pommery). The lounge opens for breakfast which is available from 7 to 10 am. While most of it is buffet style your omelett, eggs benedict etc. will be served.
The X-lounge used to close at 7 pm but a dinner option with four courses has been introduced just a couple of month ago which we often chose if we had no reservation for one of the specialty restaurants. You choose the main course which is served at your table whereas starters, soup and desserts are buffet style.
Passenger information system & WiFi
The on board information system can be accessed once you connect to the ships WiFi network. This web based system is free of charge so all your devices from smartphones to notebooks are good to go without downloading any apps. You get the same information as on the TV in your stateroom but we found it far easier to use via browser. Booked excursions, account balance etc. are password protected. Signal quality is good throughout the ship including outside areas and even our suites balcony. Good handover between access points without the need for a new login.
BUT logging into the internet is cumbersome and has you clicking through five screens even if your browser fills in your credentials. That would be ok if afterwards you could surf for as long as you'd like. However, there is a forced logout roughly every 45 minutes with you having to repeat this process over and over again. This occurs at fixed times so it may happen just a few minutes after logging in that you are kicked out again. It is terribly annoying.
Food & drinks
According to my wife (I drink tea only) the machine made "coffee" in the self serving restaurant Anckelmannsplatz as well as the 24h cafeteria does not deserve its name. A different type of machine at the bakery station ("Backstation") brews a drinkable alternative. Good coffee is available in the serviced restaurants and bars, but the best has been served in the X-lounge. She did not try the for pay coffee lounge.
We rate the quality of the food and of the service at the three serviced restaurants as (very) good but not excellent. The food in the buffet style restaurant was good as well but we found it to loud and did not like the atmosphere.
The quality of the food is notably better in the for pay restaurants. This holds true for the service as well, to a large part probably due to a better staff-ratio.
- "Richard's feines Essen" is a gourmet style restaurant. While service was impeccable and food great we prefer a more down to earth atmosphere.
- Despite being advertised as japanese "Hanami" does offer dishes not only from Japan but a mix of asian cuisine. We thought that some of the dishes were tuned too much towards a german/western taste. Sushi was excellent though.
- We liked the "Surf & Turf" steakhouse best with its diverse meat offerings on display for you to choose from, the perfectly done steaks and other dishes as well as the excellent service. The atmosphere created by the whole team made it so much more enjoyable to eat there. Please note that some of the hot starters are nearly enough for a main course. If you sample just one of the for pay restaurants, we strongly recommend you visit Surf & Turf. Weather permitting we found the outside tables to be an additional plus.
There is a gourmet package available for 75 Euro per person to sample each of the specialty restaurants. Included are a four course dinner in both the Surf & Turf and the Hanami and a six course meal at Richard's. Signature dishes in each of the restaurants demand an extra fee, ie. Shabu Shabu in Hanami and Wagyu beef at the steakhouse. Drinks are not included in any of the specialty restaurants.
We do not drink wine but liked the cocktails. The included alcohol for example Jim Bean or Johnnie Walker are usually household names in Germany. High quality liqueur is available and reasonably priced like 4 to 6 Euro for a good single malt scotch (4 cl). Have a look at the different bars as there are some whiskys available which are not included on the standard bar menus and not all venues carry the same bottles.
Spa & pools
There are several saunas with different temperatures available, some of which feature big one way mirrors for a great view. Use of them is free of charge. The relaxing area is facing to the bow and has outside loungers as well. This being a predominantly german ship you should be aware that people are naked in the mixed saunas and some like to tan in the nude while relaxing outside, too.
Massages have been a mixed bag. Both my wife and I had three massages each and both of us like them to be done as close to medical standards as possible as opposed to just a caressing with annoying spherical music in the background. She can recommend Gernot, who did a good one and seems to have taken a comprehensive education to give medical massages. Another one of hers was ok and one not so good. For me it has been two ok ones and one miss.
We did not try the gym, courses or beauty parlor.
The longest pool at sea is great for swimming laps at off times but can be crowded during the day. On sea days it can be challenging to find free outside deckchairs unless you arrive early, especially when looking for ones in the shade, but you could always find a place in one of the two hot tubs without them getting crowded. There is a smaller indoor pool which we did not use.
- Sushi workshop: a lot of work had already been done for you. All ingredients had already been cut and were beautifully layed out and you were guided through the process of assembling your own california roll, maki roll and two nigiri. The presentation has been a little lacklustre and not much information was given on top of the necessary instructions.
- Cocktail workshop: contrary to the sushi one this was very good and entertaining thanks to Mehmet and Edim. It is aimed at beginners though.
- Whisky tasting: with proper nosing glasses, dark chocolate and water the tables had been set up well for seven single malt whiskys covering most of the Scottish whisky regions. We would have liked more peated ones in the sample, but were clearly part of the minority as reactions to the Lagavulin showed. This tasting is aimed at participants who are new to the world of whisky but Julia has been an enthusiastic presenter and it was a very entertaining crowd. Recommended.
The Klanghaus, advertised as the only concert hall at sea, is a really nice venue. I listened to a piano trio there and the sound is very good indeed.
The main act during this cruise was solo pianist Joja Wendt who performed for one evening. His show in the main theater was quite entertaining and he did a good job of working with the audience, but he included many popular pieces and would be the wrong choice if you mainly wanted to listen to classical piano pieces only.
The only other show we saw in the theater has been the crew show which we liked a lot. More seasoned travellers mentioned that the number of acts used to be higher on past cruises but that did not spoil things for us. Cruise director Stephan Zimmermann did a tremendous job as a host.
We had chosen this Atlantic crossing from Mallorca via Gibraltar and the Canary Islands to the carribean specifically to include a lot of sea days and for us this has been the right decision. The choice of ports (Domenica, St. Kitts / Nevis, St. Maarten, Tortola) were interesting to us but this being our first time to the carribean everything was new and exciting anyway.
Being lazy we did not venture on our own and had booked excursions at all ports. We feel that on average they were neither cheap nor a rip-off but bear in mind that we did not research local guides and tour operators and thus cannot judge prices in comparison.
All in all we were satisfied with the tours with the exception of the tour by cable car to the top of Mt. Teide on Tenerifa. Upon approaching the valley station we were told that it could not operate due to wind conditions. That would have been ok if it just happened. But later we learned that this information had already been available at the time our trip was about to start.
The main reason for choosing that trip forfeited before we got rolling we would have liked to be given the chance to decide for something different than an artificially elongated bus ride trying to make up for the time usually spent on Mt. Teide. Not only us but a lot of the participants of this trip complained and it seems the fare of the cable car tickets got reimbursed to at least all who did.
on our Atlantic crossing started with toodlers but the majority of guests were 50+. There were only a small number of kids aboard for a ship of this size all of which seemed to be younger than six years as there were no school holidays in Germany. I can't judge whether TUI cruises is especially LGBT friendly, but there have been a number of gay and lesbian couples on board.
Most of the travelers being germans acted true to the cliché and on average weren’t overly outgoing types.
To wrap things up: Is it worth the money? Would we recommend it for someone who does not speak german?
TUI markets Mein Schiff as premium but not luxury and in our view this is exactly what you get, with the X-lounge and the specialty restaurants being above average. We would expect service to have fewer glitches, better food in the buffet restaurant and generally some more bells and whistles on a true luxury cruise. Having said that, we truly loved our time aboard and think that it is worth its price. The same holds true for our junior suite with its included perks, which we found very nice indeed.
The Mein Schiff fleet caters almost exclusively to cruisers who speak german. We have not seen any information in english with just two exceptions during our cruise. The first one being english language subtitles in the emergency drill video and the second one an announcement via PA for a crew drill.
However, you would not expect information in english to be available everywhere when travelling in Germany on your own either. I suppose your experience on board would be similar in a way. The staff usually speak english as a second language at least and with some of them it is better than their german. Many germans can speak at least some english, too, and are happy to practice when being approached. But do not expect to find someone to exchange witty remarks with easily.
Junior suites are roughly 1.5x the size of a standard balcony stateroom at 26 m2 plus a balcony of 8 m2. Storage is well organised into cupboards with shelves or hangers (enough of them, too) and drawers. Plus there is ample space below the beds even for big suitcases. The safe is too small for notebooks. Anything above a 10" tablet is likely too big.
The two single beds are pushed together and cannot be separated as is possible in a standard balcony stateroom. The bed linen covers both of them so that there is not much of a crack in between. We do not like soft mattresses that one sinks into and thus the beds were very much to our liking. In addition to reading lights the beadhead contains shelves for your glasses, books etc. Only one of the shelves offers a wall socket for ie. charging your phone during the night.
There are three more sockets above the tables, all of which are of the standard german type. They were always on so one can leave any devices for charging while not in the suite. Whether this is standard or due to us needing an electric mini fridge (free of charge) for storing medicine I cannot tell.
A mains switch operated everything else but these sockets. Thanks to it there's no need to fumble with a keycard in the dark.
A large tv is mounted opposite of the bed. Unfortunately it cannot be moved in another position which results in an awkward viewing angle for watching from e.g. the couch. A Playstation 4 is hooked up to it but we did not use it.
The table in front of the TV can be folded away either into the corner below the television or over the chest of drawers it is attached to with one side. I found the chair for this table provided a good support for the (lower) spine and was more comfortable than the one at the coffee table.
Backrests of the comfortable chairs on the balcony cannot be put in a fully horizontal position. A footrest is provided for each of them.
The bathroom again feels spacious. There is a double sink but no tub. A clothes line can be drawn across the length of the shower cabin. Toiletries are from Bulgari for her and Bogner for him. The wall socket in the bathroom will only work for an electric razor.
It is odd that a dimmed light is always on in the bathroom and shining through small gaps at the top and bottom of its door. If one can only sleep in absolute darkness and turns off the mains switch then no lights are available at all before it is turned on again. Highly sensitive people on german language forums about Mein Schiff even recommend some tape to cover the small green light indicating the mains switch in the dark.
The hairdryer offers a long spiral cord and is not attached to a bathroom wall but kept in a drawer below the make-up mirror in the suite.
Number 10060 is placed in between the two staircases, slightly closer to the front one. We found that to be a good spot to be in. The cabin is quiet and sound insulation is good. Parties from the pool deck could be heard if the veranda door was open but they always ended at midnight.
Service has been good but not perfect and usually unobstrusive. We can recommend this junior suite and would choose it again.