Very first cruise so chose a very short 2 night trip Southampton – Honfleur just to get a taste.
We were told in advance that boarding would be from 13.00 (or 13.30) and we would board at 16.30 (different times for different cabins/decks so not all together in one big mad rush) and must be at the dock in time but not earlier. We arrived at 15.30 (just in case of traffic, parking etc) and sat & waited. And sat & waited. Quite some time after the staff started checking people in by class & deck. No problem. Then we checked in and walked to where we were told to go over towards security. And stood and waited. And waited. There were no announcements and no-one had a clue what was going on. And no ship was there either. Eventually the ship arrived – very late (it had been in German docks for maintenance and then to Southampton via Dover. Considering it takes some time to do that trip then Fred Olsen would have known how long it would take and it would be late and should have told everyone. But there were NO announcements) – and security (several lanes) could start. Then it was totally disorganised and a ‘free-for-all’. So this whole process start to finish was a farce.
Boarded deck 6 and our cabin was on the opposite side on same deck. Easy to find. 2 cabins along from some big curtains (turned out it was doors) and just along from the customer services desk. Reasonable size, large windows, two single beds, enough wardrobe space, reasonable bathroom. Clean & tidy. No problem. However, on such a cruise the windows are no use as it will be dark and you will not see anything. Rooms with no view might be on lower decks with more noise though so you should check.
However, as the ship was so late we had to go almost immediately to the theatre at one end of the ship for the safety briefing. Of course, no problem as it is extremely important. But not actually as informative as it should be and NOT clear as to what you actually need to do and where you should go. With just one brief experience I could write and arrange the briefing better !!! I knew I would be in life boat No 4 but had no idea – and was not ever told – where it was or how to get there. In an emergency, no matter where you are on the ship, you MUST go to the theatre to be met by an assigned staff member, checked in and then follow them. Farce. You might not be able to get to the theatre which is at one far end of the ship. You might need to rush to your lifeboat. But where the hell is it and how do you get to it ?????
Because of the very late boarding that night’s dinner was not as pre-arranged and not with 2 seatings and not what you had paid for. Usually there are 2 seatings and if you want the later seating at 20.30 – so as not to be from 18.30 to 20.30 and rushed out before the next diners – you pay a supplement in advance. Which we did. However, now it was another free-for-all and take ‘pot luck’. Therefore to make sure we actually had a table together (there were 4 of us, 2 couples each in their own cabin next to each other) we reserved, at considerable cost of £20 per head, a table in a smaller restaurant – The Grill. Food and service was good and wine reasonably priced. Nothing special – but very nice. However, after the 2 day trip the pre-paid supplement was NOT automatically refunded to guests as it should have been. You had to queue at customer services to get it taken off your bill !!!!! That is, being polite, very, very cheeky. Imagine the cost for 500 or 600 guests.
In the Lido lounge just along from The Grill and the Lido bar it had a band/singer playing which was perfectly nice. And then a 30 minute music quiz after (which was fun) and then music & dancing (funny with a slowly rolling ship !!). However, just like the smaller Lido bar service in the Lido lounge was very SLOW. It wasn’t very busy – busy but not full - and definitely not rushed off their feet. It took a good 15 minutes to get a couple of beers. Each time. I even went up to the bar to order, spoke with a waiter who could easily take my order there & then but was told that they could only take drinks orders at my table. So I had to go back to the lounge, with waiter in tow, to give the exact same waiter the order I could have given at the bar !!!! Madness. What a waste of everyone’s time. There were plenty of staff but, honestly, 2 good waiters from a typical American bar would do this job faster in their sleep !!!
We wanted a bottle of NZ SB white wine and chose it from the generic winelist. But we were told it was out of stock. Funny that as it was what we had had in The Grill restaurant. So I took the waitress over to the glass fridge of The Grill (seen from both sides so on show to Lido Bar/Lounge guests) and pointed at it. But the waitress said it could not be served – even though it was actually in stock. But I could order it from The Grill and take it over to my table !!!! But the waitress could not do the same.
Another strange but annoying thing happened over nibbles. On the first night we asked if there were any nuts or crisps (which we would pay for) available so we could nibble with our drinks. We were told sorry, no, we arrived late so had not had time to unpack them. Really ? What were they doing when the ship sailed Germany – Dover – Southampton ? Anyway no problem. On the 2nd night we also asked so we could nibble when having a drink and were told the exact same thing again !!! Weird ? Lazy ? Badly organised ? Who knows but there were bowls of nuts at the Customer Services desk !! Maybe they have a secret supply.
Slept well that night – until 06.15. Then was abruptly woken by what seemed staff talking loudly or radio announcements outside. It was really VERY loud. It felt as if the people were in our room. It went on. And on. So I grabbed a towel, wrapped it around me and went outside. There were 4 members of crew and one male member had a radio strapped to his belt, switched on, listening to all of the announcements being made for crew who were arranging a walkway off the ship (we had docked in Honfleur – these doors were what was behind the curtains). Good grief man. I can hear it in my cabin 2 cabins away. If you cannot hear it when it’s strapped to your belt 50cm from your ears ……….!!!!! I told him ‘politely’ to turn it down and he did. Some staff have no consideration to paying guests. They are just focused on their job/task and others are irrelevant. Idiots !
Breakfast this day was buffet style in the main rear Ballindalloch restaurant. Tables are a bit close together (those by side windows) and not quite enough elbow room or space to get in & out. Food choice & quality good and service good.
Honfleur was really lovely. Nice old town – a bit like a French Stratford-upon-avon and by the sea. We walked in first as it is not far at all. However, we did pay the £5 per person for the shuttle buses so we could get back if needed and out again. These buses are regular so there is not much waiting at either end. Good service.
We lunched on the ship and that was also buffet style but you could also choose from a menu and have it served as well. Choice & quality was again good (I can see now how people put on weight when on cruises !).
Evening dinner was in the main Ballindalloch restaurant and was waiter served etc. Our tables were as pre-booked this time and we were correctly on the 2nd seating. Everything was nice but, again tables are very close together. Not much room to get in and out. You will have waiter’s elbows and arms around you when serving others. So duck !!!
Slept well that night and was not woken up by inconsiderate and selfish staff.
We were told we had to leave the ship by 09.00 (actually from 08.00) so just had time for breakfast. Again good. But if you had any query with anything and had to use customer services then …. Good luck. Cabin bills/invoices are in your door the night before. We had already queried our costs twice the day/evening before and told they would be correct and yet the bill was still wrong. They also add on £5 per guest as a tip per type of staff – so x 2 types. So each traveller gets automatically billed £10 in tips. Why ? Just make sure the staff are paid this amount already and it is already included in the cost. You operate a service industry. It’s what you do. Then if anyone wants to make a cash tip to anyone by their own choice they can.
After the cruise we were posted a letter of apology for the problems & hassle boarding (we had not written in at this stage). But the offer of 25% of the value paid on this trip to be deducted from another trip was not really useful as the new trip had to be booked quickly. So not really much of an offer. It should have been valid for at least a year so you had time to see what you wanted & when. Especially as cruises get booked up in advance.
Despite all of the above I think I would go on another cruise. Nothing too long, maybe fractionally longer – 4 or 5 days – just to see if this is typical or a one-off.
It was an experience.
Deck 6 midships. Our cabin was on the opposite side on same deck. Easy to find. 2 cabins along from some big curtains (turned out it was doors) and just along from the customer services desk. Reasonable size, large windows, two single beds, enough wardrobe space, reasonable bathroom. Clean & tidy. No problem. However, on such a cruise the windows are no use as it will be dark and you will not see anything. Rooms with no view might be on lower decks with more noise though so you should check.
But.......way too close to boarding doors.
On first morning was abruptly woken at 06.15 by what seemed staff talking loudly or radio announcements outside. It was really VERY loud. It felt as if the people were in our room. It went on. And on. So I grabbed a towel, wrapped it around me and went outside. There were 4 members of crew and one male member had a radio strapped to his belt, switched on, listening to all of the announcements being made for crew who were arranging a walkway off the ship (we had docked in Honfleur – these doors were what was behind the curtains). Good grief man. I can hear it in my cabin 2 cabins away. If you cannot hear it when it’s strapped to your belt 50cm from your ears ……….!!!!! I told him ‘politely’ to turn it down and he did. Some staff have no consideration to paying guests. They are just focused on their job/task and others are irrelevant. Idiots !