M/V Arion by G_traveller Eastern Mediterranean May 30, 2010
We sailed on the M/V Arion Dalmatian coast cruise on May 30, 2010, and since we had trouble finding reviews of the ship and cruise I thought I would write one. The first thing to be said is that the choice of destinations offered was excellent; the itinerary was varied and hit all the high points of the Dalmatian coast. Also, a cruise is by far the most efficient way to visit Dalmatia. You don't need 2 days in most of these destinations – for example a day in Dubrovnik is enough to walk the walls and see all the main sights. A few hours in Korcula was similarly sufficient.
The ship itself was small (142 cabins/~284 passengers) but it's essential services were well run. The basics (engines, navigation, etc) were well run and basically invisible. Other passengers who sail praised the handling of the ship by the Portuguese officers. We had smooth seas, so we can't comment on the performance of the ship in a storm.
The rooms were clean and the room cleaning was thorough and quick. The rooms themselves were pleasant. We had a "Junior Suite" (a bit bigger cabin on a higher deck with a square porthole and slightly obscured view) which wasn't too much more expensive than the cheaper rooms. The ship has 80 % reliable wifi throughout which was a pleasant surprise. Not fast enough to send all the pictures but plenty fast for email.
The food at dinner and the "sit down" lunches was quite good. The waiters were good, and helpful and there was one dinner sitting although it would probably be better if they had 2 sittings. The breakfasts were sub-par (and the coffee was downright nasty). Although the passengers were predominantly French, the croissants were the worst I have ever tasted – it's amazing that French tourists tolerate this! It's also surprising because the deserts served at the other meals were quite good. Thankfully they didn't try making baguettes.
The ship had quite a bit of entertainment for a ship of it's size with ~ 6 dancers who put on a quite inventive and sometimes racy program. There were two singers during our cruise and one of whom had a quartet and was quite good.
The organized ships tours were very uneven and depended a lot on the local guide. Since the logistics are difficult for some of the destinations, passengers are somewhat dependent on the tours as organized. The ship sends its representatives with each bus; sometimes they tried to provide a minimal commentary, but they either didn't know much about the Dalmatian coast or didn't care to communicate it. Local guides when hired tend to know more and could be very good (or not).
The low point of our experience was the Plitvice Lakes tour. It was raining which we can all agree was outside the control of the cruise organizers. They dropped us out and had us wait for some type of tickets for 45 minutes in a steady rain. Anyone who cared or had any reasoning power would have had us wait on the bus. Jovan, the ship's representative was too unthinking to even bring an umbrella for himself, and saw nothing wrong with passengers standing in the rain. There were 9 German speaking passengers and they had a German guide who pointed them towards disposable panchos (4 Euros each). The other passengers on our tour (English speaking) copied the German lead on their own. The little store at the Park entrance is well stocked with panchos and umbrellas, so rain at the park is certainly not a new thing. Acquisition of panchos (we brought umbrellas) saved us from being completely soaked.
Tickets were finally obtained, and instead of bringing up the rear of the party as he promised to do, Jovan disappeared to the hotel at the tour endpoint, leaving the local guide to try to keep the party together through the somewhat confusing trails. She made a gallant effort to keep everyone on track, but failed to provide any commentary on the lakes. Luckily our guide book (Rick Steves' Croatia) had a section which explained the lakes a bit. We were rushed through the tour with only a few seconds to take a picture of the waterfall. At the end Jovan was at the hotel and everyone eventually made it. Jovan was drier but unfortunately no wiser. One set of passengers persisted with a complaint on this tour and were given a number of extra free tours (how's that for irony?).
We didn't go on any city tours but those who did gave them generally poor reviews. The Mostar, Albania, and Cetinje tours were quite good for us primarily due to good local guides. Some of the important details that one often gets on tours (a written program for the tour including bathroom stops if any, water availability, etc) were not provided on these tours.
One irritant was the continuous explicit preference for French speaking passengers. French tours left first, and didn't have to wait for tickets. Most annoying was that "Francophone" passengers were given explicit preference in port transportation (tender) seating to the point where all non-tour, "Francophone" passengers were transported to Korcula before any non-tour English speaking or German speaking passengers. How do I know that you might ask? It was announced on the PA in French,which I can understand. On the other hand it is a French company and so knowing, if you don't like it you don't have to go.
We booked through Adria Tours in Croatia, and they were very responsive. We arranged our own transfer to Koper, but in retrospect, taking care of the transfer before the last minute would be a good idea. Koper isn't particularly large, but the location of the ship isn't obvious, and Koper probably doesn't have a lot of taxis. We booked a transfer with MNJ transportation and that worked out efficiently.
A minor note: The ship docked 2 miles from the old city of Dubrovnik (with all the other cruise ships), and it's worth knowing that if you take the bus, you need exact change (the ship people seemed unaware of that fine point). Taxis were available at the port, but were rare if you were returning to the ship in the rain. . Dubrovnik is visited by the major cruise lines, and it's extremely crowded. In most other places the Arion docks right in town and you are right there.
In general I would strongly recommend this cruise with the advice that one should have a good guide book or two with you, bring your own instant coffee, and bring a thick skin on the language point if you are English speaking.