We disembarked at Tilbury yesterday morning after a five day cruise to the Norwegian Fjords. Captain Alexander Golubev is an excellent driver and well supported by an experienced crew. The hotel side of things is a rather different matter. There seems to be an element of "making it up as we go along". Embarkation was slow and tedious mainly due to problems with a new computer system. Each passenger is given a swipe card which is required for ALL payments on ship and also serves as a boarding card. The system is still very fragile and many passengers found that they didn't exist, had suddenly become foreign nationals or had non functioning cards. Most of the waiters and stewards appear to have been recruited from the Ukrainian student population with no previous hotel experience and a limited ability to speak English. At best they can be merely incompetent. At worst, downright truculent. Service in the buffet (now called Marco's) can be so poor that it's funny. Girls with glazed eyes wander around randomly. Stewards clear tables as you eat. Don't take your eye of your plates or cup - it will disappear, even if you pause from eating to talk to table companions. Service (and food) in the main restaurant is better - even during the five days of this cruise it was apparent that some sort of training was having an effect.
The organised off shore excursions seem expensive. Various activities in Bergen had coaches supplied, even though some destinations could be reached with a five minute walk from the ship. Some of the "local guides" were in fact German and their "expert" knowledge was dodgy. Much better to plan to go ashore as an independent traveller.
Everyone was complaining about the difficulty of accessing tea and coffee outside of meal times. There is a tea and coffee bar situated on the outside deck by the swimming pool and this is a long (and cold) walk for an early morning cuppa. (Assuming someone has remembered to supply cups). The teabags on offer are those strange continental things with various fruit flavours. On the third day, a group who had been out to Voss found some decent Twinings teabags in a local supermarket and in desperation donated them to the Hotel Manager . Tip: bring a travel kettle and some teabags.
Dress is generally comfortable casual, but most people seemed to enjoy getting into their posh gear for the evening meal. We had two "formal" evenings, two "casual" and two "informal". DJs were in evidence on formal nights, but many gents were happy with a lounge suit and tie. Beware the ship photographer, who seems to pop up in front of you at every occasion. Prints are on display each night and will set you back £3.50 a copy. The "Viking", wearing a plastic horned helmet and greeting people on the dockside (with photographer lurking), was particularly vomit enducing.
But it was a great cruise. The staff might be slightly incompetent but on the whole they are friendly and attentive. Fellow passengers were relaxed and easy going. We've made some good friends and shared more than a few laughs. This cruise only cost £399 and was certainly worth the money, if only for the spectacular scenery and good companionship that we enjoyed.
We have just returned from the North Cape Explorer having enjoyed our first cruise very much. Embarkation and disemarkation seem to have been much improved from previous reports: we were swiftly on, and although slightly less swiftly off, it was very efficiently managed and our luggage was handled well. The eastern european staff are lacking in experience, but respond well to friendly treatment. They are also happy to talk about their hopes and aspirations. Since many are students it is interesting to learn about their ambitions. We had a lovely cabin stewardess who I could happily have taken home with me, and two charming dining stewards in the restaurant. The dress code is quite relaxed, but clearly people enjoyed putting on some more dressy clothes in the evening. The men wore either lounge suits or DJs for the two formal meals. The entertainment was well thought out with something for everyone, but no pressure to attend anything. The shows we saw (we are not 'show' people generally speaking) were excellent, and the surprise was the classical duo (Marianne and Tatyana) playing piano and violin respectively, in the various lounges in the evening. They were very very good. Richard Sykes the cruise director is multi-talented and never stops. We did not do any of the tours, but took our folding bikes instead. We found them very useful for getting around the various ports, and they were a good talking point! I endorse the comments about the Captain who, although clearly more at home on the bridge than in the restaurant, steered a safe and steady course. Good job because we had the dramatic experience of a helicopter hovering over us to pick up a sick elderly gentleman on the way back across the North Sea. This ship is good value for money; it is not luxury but it is certainly comfortable, and with a smallish passenger complement (circa 850 and no children) was ideal for first-timers. There is room for improvement in some areas, notably the bistro, but I would certainly go on the Marco Polo again.