First European/Festival Cruises European Vision by Eric Southern Caribbean December 14, 2001
I apologise for this long review,but you will understand why if you manage to reach the end.
We only booked this holiday, as there were direct flights from Stansted (London) and therefore less luggage handling for us. It is also only one and a half hours drive from our home At 3 p.m. on Thursday 29th November, just two weeks before departure, we were phoned and told the Stansted flights were cancelled and we were given a new itinerary via Heathrow and Paris involving us leaving home 22 hours earlier and getting back home 12 hours later. This also involved my wife having to beg her employers for an extra days holiday. As all her holiday entitlement had been used. When I phoned Festival's London office I was told these were not considered "major changes", and I could not cancel. I was also refused permission to travel to Paris from an airport other than Heathrow. I was told all Stansted flights were cancelled (a lie - as I found out later).
I found out that other people travelling on 21st December and returning on 28th December already had their tickets from and to Stansted. Festivals staff were actually going to let us travel on a plane to Paris that they knew was going to land at Stansted on the return flight before going on to Paris. After emails and letters being ignored, I made lots of phone calls to their London Office, and they finally agreed I could have new tickets to get off at Stansted, but these were not sent as promised and I finally collected them from our local Post Office at 8.10 a.m. on the morning we were leaving for the airport at 11.30 a.m.
During these phone exchanges I suggested that "other people booked from Stansted" might like to get off there on 29th December. I was told "I have not got time to look through the list". Another lie as was the previous statement they had made there were "several people booked on 14th".
When we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport Paris we found we were the only ones booked through Heathrow. One other couple were there having flown in from Manchester. So instead of handing over our luggage at Stansted for delivery to our cabin, I had to collect it from the carrousel at Charles de Gaulle, load it into transport (you cannot expect a lady to lift 25kg case) unload it and carry it into the hotel, then along a long corridor to our room, out again the next morning into transfer bus and upstairs at Orly Airport as the driver dumped us at the wrong place ! A total of 7 extra luggage handlings. All this when I have been told not to lift heavy weights for medical reasons.
At Orly Airport came our big shock ! European Vision luggage tags were torn off the suitcases and ones with new cabin number for the MISTRAL put on. We queried this and were told "it has been changed, you should have been told". That was all the explanation we received and the first we knew of this "major change". We found out later that all the French and German passengers already knew. The Manchester couple had the same cabin number and were not even told of change of ship until they got to Guadeloupe. On arrival at Guadeloupe, we found out that we would be on the Mistral for 4 nights, changing to the European Vision at Curacao on 18th December. All the Continental passengers knew already. We feel we were cheated out of our right to cancel under the Major changes clause in our contract.
The Mistral does not have the same facilities as the European Vision - no mini golf course, no climbing wall, only one swimming pool, no internet cafe, and most importantly, no coffee available except at a charge, unless the Buffet is open, not even on embarkation day !! The Mistral cabins are 138 sq ft & not as well designed as the European Vision with less storage space. What it did seem to have was an experienced crew (we said on the comments form "Festival does not deserve such a good crew as this"), and reasonable food. After wasting a day of our holiday packing and unpacking to change to the European Vision we found a big change. The crew were obviously very unhappy, and a lot were new and untrained - and it showed. No one knew anything. It was always someone else's responsibility, the whole ship was totally disorganised. The Service was terrible - the dining room for the first three nights was like "Faulty Towers TV Programme".
The food was awful -changes to menu as items printed were unavailable. Only one night in ten were the desserts offered as printed on the menu. Hake was substituted for trout and tasted disgusting. Portion control was over the top. After Captain's Gala Dinner I had to go and get a pizza to quell the hunger pains! Limited choice on buffet, and always the same at breakfast, with juice only served then in very small glasses by waiters, no juice available rest of day. No trays of salad vegetables at lunch only a few mixed salads. Lots of rolled up cloths between trays. There was lettuce/tomatoes/cucumber/chips available at the lunchtime grill on deck. Pizza was round the other side with fruit but no desserts. Poor selection of desserts on lunch buffet. On the eighth day the server did say "we have a better selection to-day". Afternoon tea was very often only a few sandwiches plus a bit of dry cake or biscuit.
Christmas Eve Gala Dinner was a comedy of errors. Absolutely hopeless. Courses were served in the wrong order, only one dessert offered, and that was the same as the night before ! Had to beg for ice-cream. No Christmas Dinner served, just normal menu but desserts not available again. This must be the only ship that in the Dining Room you can eat a three course breakfast, four course lunch and five course dinner yet lose weight!! We actually saw people march out of the Dining Room as food was uneatable.
Although doors were advertised to close for first sitting at 7.0 p.m., Continentals were regularly allowed to walk in the Dining Room at 8.05 p.m. Therefore, several nights late seating did not open until 9.45 pm,we were told one night some people did not get their main course until after midnight. I do not believe there was an Executive Chef on this ship, if there was, he certainly never showed his face.....a wise decision, as no chef could ever admit to producing such terrible food ! The brochure makes great play of 42 different breads and 60 cheeses being available. We never saw any wholemeal bread, and when we asked for it, waitress shrugged shoulders and said "non available". We only saw 3 or 4 types of bread and the same three cheeses every day at breakfast and lunch. In all 10 days on E Vis we never saw any smoked salmon or prime rib beef.
For a ship only 6 months old, a surprising number of things were breaking down or not working. In our cabin the retaining rail to the bathroom shelf fell off, and the pull out drying line was broken with no spares available. Internet Cafe did not work for first two days, nor did Golf Simulator for most of the cruise. One day every public restroom you went into seemed to have toilets/urinals/washbasins out of action. The automatic sliding doors to buffet were almost always blocked off involving pushing open very heavy spring loaded doors. But the worst moment came on Christmas Eve morning, waking to find there were no engines running and no power or lights ! This lasted about ten minutes, and there was no explanation! This may have some bearing on the fact that although we left Santo Domingo three hours late, we arrived Tortola 5 hours late, in fact missed altogether as far as we are concerned as arrival was only 42 minutes before first seating dinner.
Entertainment can be summed up in one word - Pathetic ! There are no headline acts, the same cast of singers & dancers try hard every night with unsuitable material for their talents and to recorded music, NO Orchestra, but they need a lot more practise to become a cohesive unit. The two bands in the lounges play mostly continental tunes & I found it curious that a break was scheduled at 8.45pm just as the lounge was filling up with 1st seating diners coming out & 2nd seating waiting to go in . All other lounge/disco activities and entertainment do not start until half past midnight. There was minimal Christmas decorations with a lot of mournful dirges played over the PA system ! One morning we were serenaded over and over again for 1.5 hours with a six minute CD which consisted of 2 minutes Aida, 50 seconds Hilly Billy guitar, and 3 minutes Zorba The Greek!
Who goes, mostly Continentals, French,German,Italian,Spanish etc some British (only 16 on 1st week) 230 on christmas week, small quantities of many other Nationalities plus a fair number of Canadians & a few from USA. The Continentals are very heavy SMOKERS it is impossible to get away from them, even on the open decks. Around the pool area there is a large ashtray/gash can every 3 yards! If you find a quiet corner, a smoker will soon appear. The lounges only have about 20% no smoking tables & smoke drifts all over. The D/R & show room are no smoking areas. The crew have flag lapel badges indicating the language they should be able to speak, might be an idea for passengers to have them as well, then more conversations might start.
Extra Charges. were expected for Golf Simulater & Climbing Wall, but are also charged for ice cream, 3% commission for changing $ traveller chqs to $ bills for the Islands. 6Euro to use sauna. Charge for all films on cabin TV after 3min preview. Sales of bottled water pushed relentlessly. The email charges are horrendous, 0.95Euro per min to compose email (can only do online) then + 4.6E to send.
Ship & Cabins are well laid out, with good drawer space in cabin. Lots of blond woods used & good furnishings. A lot of the staff are trying hard to do their best in difficult circumstances, our cabin steward, Benny was very good and Astrid one of the International Hostesses who spoke good English was very calm & collected under pressure.
The European Vision has had a checkered history in its short life. Maiden voyage after G8 summit lost due to electrical problems. Another cruise lost in august after damaging its propeller/azipod, botched repair done then to get it out quickly for peak season. Spent rest of Med season limping around, getting to ports late causing much passenger fury. Then bigger job than expected when put into dry dock in November, resulting in Mistral being pulled out of dry dock early to take Visions transatlantic passengers & do 4 days of Visions Caribbean season. No wonder those left from the original crew are unhappy To sum up this is a 4* ship (but fairly high density) being operated on a 1* budget by a cruise line worth NO STARS at all. We took two cameras and a video camera, but took not a single photo or frame, we just do not wish to be reminded of this terrible experience.