Festival Cruises European Stars by Marisa Strydom Western Mediterranean December 21, 2003
I'll start with some cruise history so that you have an idea of what I am comparing this cruise to. This was our 6th cruise, previous cruises were mostly on Celebrity as well as one with RCCL and a Baltic Cruise on the Marco Polo. We usually travel with family or friends.
I searched the net beforehand for some reviews etc of the ship and found it strange that I only stumbled across 2 mini reviews, one of which was for the maiden voyage. I found this strange as the ship had been in service for more than a year - I know realise why this is and will explain later on, let me start with the embarkation: WHAT A DISASTER! Really - I have never seen anything nearly this bad on any other cruise. The problem with this ship is that it embarks and disembarks passengers in every port (although the majority embarked in Genoa) resulting in utter chaos! We arrived at the port around 1 o clock, and only got into our rooms at 16h30 - a series of lines followed by more and more lines - pretty ridiculous if you ask me - no explanation was offered (not that you would have known unless you speak Italian). As we were moving through the lines though people kept coming from the opposite direction (passengers who were not disembarking in Genoa) causing even more problems. I could probably write 3 pages on the disaster that was the disembarkation process but let's leave it at the fact that it was WAY below par (compared to other lines and considering that this is a premium cruise ship with only 1800 people).
Onboard The ship is really beautiful.some of the lounges are of the most incredible I've seen on any ship - the Café Greco is really something special and a perfect place to enjoy a cappuccino or coffee in the afternoon or after dinner. The Maximilian Lounge (which is the secondary show lounge) is also really beautiful but is sadly underused! There are 2 formal restaurants - the Napoleon and the Da Giacomo, and you are assigned a place in either based on whether you book a suite or other accommodation. They swear high and low that both serve the same food - although some members of our party requested to have breakfast there one morning and reported that the food on the menu was the same but that the buffet offered there was spectacular and miles above that offered in the Napoleon.
The food Overall in the dining room the food and service was pretty good - I have to say I thought that Celebrity offered a much better choice but overall there was no reason to complain really. They have a selection of dishes available each day (such as grilled chicken breast or pasta of the day etc). The breakfast buffet in the informal eatery (La Terrace) was really standard as well and lacked variety; it was literally the same thing every day of the week - only 2 flavours yoghurt, no reduced or fat free - same thing with the milk. Oh, and they charge you for orange juice in the breakfast line, also for water at the dinner table, any juices or soft drinks at the dinner table and for speciality coffees. They also offer NO alternative at the dinner table - if you don't buy the water or any of their wine or champagne packages (which was promoted better than the activities on board) you will have nothing to drink - no ice tea or ice water. Don't get me wrong I don't mind paying and it really wasn't that expensive (2.50 Euros per bottle) but it's certainly different to other cruise lines I've been on. There is also no pitcher with water in the rooms, just bottles of water to buy and ice. They deliver canapés to your room each evening before dinner - which was a nice touch I thought and delivered a Panettoni to each room on Christmas day.
The Entertainment & Fellow Passengers
This would certainly be the area where I have the most complaints. Let me first say that I am not American, we are from South Africa but like most others in the US and Britain speak English mainly and have little knowledge of Italian, German, French and Spanish. The cruise director (who seemed really nice) has my sympathies as he makes his speech each evening in 5 languages (let me clarify that the speech of approx. 20 minutes was not repeated in each language but was done in bits and pieces of English and the previously mentioned 4 languages so that we got about 2 sentences of what he was saying). Fair enough it is an Italian company so we should not have expected anything else, and as we realised when attempting to talk to other passengers on the ship Italians don't speak a lot of English - I would say approximately 70% of the ship was Italian, 20% German and the rest consisted of French, Dutch and Spanish (I heard English in the lift or on decks about twice in the whole week). I'm not saying it is good or bad, but it is definitely something that you would need to know if you plan to go on vacation on this ship.
If you are allergic to cigarette smoke or just plain don't like it - avoid this ship - it was rather ironic the number of times I saw somebody smoking in front of the elevator right next to the NO SMOKING sign - like I said either English is not understood (funny the no smoking signs was only in English) or some people just really don't care. Also in all the other lounges except the formal dining rooms - there was no adherence to the smoking side and non-smoking side of the ship rule.
The entertainment was way below the standard of shows and acts on Celebrity or RCCL - the dancers were lip syncing in 2 of the 3 major shows - and badly so - on other nights the singers who sang in the lounges were used in the shows with the dancers. The lounge singers was really good though but I failed to understand why they felt they had to have one or 2 of the dancers pretend to sing on the other nights. Apart from that the shows were pretty good, although a lot of it got cancelled as we had rough sees the whole week - understandable except on Celebrity on a South American cruise when the seas were really bad around Cape Horn - the show went ahead.. I also felt that the daily activities were rather limited.
The Room We booked 3 inside cabins - they are somewhat on the small side at 13 square meters each but enough room for 2 people with more than enough closet space - the shower was very tiny indeed (although I am comparing to the Century Class of Celebrity which have very spacious showers indeed). Apart from that the room was nice, neat and offered all the basics, the bathroom is well laid out but the towels were rather small (no bath sheets here) and thin somehow. The only movies available on the ship was pay TV movies at 11 Euros per movie. rather ridiculous if you ask me but anyways - there were a lot of ports so I guess we wouldn't have had time to watch in any event. Apart from that BBC WORLD was the only channel in English.
The Ports Naples - Italy: This was one of the highlights of the trip, we prefer to explore on our own as we find that in general the shore excursions are over priced and often spend too little time in some places and too much in other places. We asked for directions to the nearest train station when we got of the ship at the info booth - it was about a 1km walk , we paid the app 4Euro per person for the return journey to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. There is also an entrance fee of app. 10 Euro for entry into the buried city - well worth the money. You can explore there for hours on end so make sure you have enough time! It was incredible. Afterwards we took the train back to Naples and did some shopping - found it to be really cheap! - Clothes and Leather goods especially!
Messina - Italy: We actually planned to go to Taormina nearby, but the ship pulled in 2 hours late and we were going to be pressed for time so we decided to explore Messina instead. The church (Duomo) in the centre of town is really beautiful; also make sure to watch outside as the clock tower has an interesting animation every quarter of an hour.
Tunis - Tunisia: I might be wrong or have a misperception, but in my opinion it is not even worth your time to get of the ship here. There is nothing to see, it is ugly and extremely dirty. Also be aware that they do not accept Euros at this port, except for taxis operating at the port - which see the tourists coming and charge 20 Euros per person for a taxi ride into Tunis, that an ordinary taxi only charges 7 Dinars for.
Palma de Mallorca - Spain This was another one of the highlights of the cruise, once again (as with all other ports) we arrived late - this time 3 hours and it was Christmas on top of that so most of the town was closed, but the town has a very magical and special feel to it. Also the cathedral at the top of the hill is incredibly beautiful inside. There was also one or to stores that was open and we bought some Mallorca pearls for very cheap (compared to everything we saw it advertised for later in a trip through Spain).
Barcelona - Spain There was so much to see and do here that we probably missed half, the modern new church of Gaudi (Sagrada Familia) is certainly something to see, interesting - I wasn't too impressed with having to pay to go inside a church though. The Las Ramblas Shopping area is also pretty spectacular and huge - it reminded us a lot of Florida Street in Buenos Aires. We also made the trip to the Football Stadium (soccer) of FC Barcelona - and the museum there was spectacular and we got to go inside the stadium as well.
Marseille - France This was a much better stop than Tunis but unless you drive out to Avignon and Aux en Provence - which is supposed to be spectacular there is not that much to see, there is some reasonable shopping though.
Disembarkation: This was pretty much the opposite of the fiasco at embarkation and went rather smooth, the bags were easy to find and we were on a train to Turin at 10am.
Overall Impressions Overall we enjoyed the cruise, I think had this been a first cruise experience we would probably not even have noticed most of the stuff mentioned in this review, but it did in all honesty come in behind a number of our previous cruises. A couple of things really need attention in my opinion from the cruise line - the smoking problem, the fact that the captain arrived late in every single port (and we missed out on some sights as a result), the fiasco at embarkation, the account system (that charges bogus items to 2 of the 3 rooms and took us more than an hour to have removed on disembarkation morning) as well as the tipping system (added to your account automatically, and if you wish for this to be changed you have exactly 1 hour 1 day before embarkation in which you can do so.)
Will we go again? If the price is extremely reasonable yes, but if the choice were between a Celebrity or RCCL ship and a Festival one. the decision would not be a difficult one to make!
If you have any questions feel free to email me.