I’m not sure what drew us to the cruise the most, the ship or the itinerary. Both were really interesting and so different to anything we’d done before. A ship of just 550 passengers ensured that queues were just about non-existent and the people we met were some of the friendliest we’d ever encountered on any cruise. Most were very well travelled and very few had a “whine list”, understanding that a small ship sailing to the Faroe Islands in April might well be rather less stable than an August Mediterranean cruise. Sea sickness did take its toll, however, on many passengers.
Due to bad weather we stayed a couple of nights at Stifford Hall Hotel – I’ve done a separate review for the hotel.
Our scheduled departure was 2pm, however, this was delayed by a bout of norovirus, so we sat chatting to other passengers in the terminal (being offered tea, coffee and fizz!) until the ship had been deep cleaned. We were kept well informed – our scheduled boarding was 11.20am, but we boarded at about 1pm and were delighted to find that the main restaurant was open for lunch – something lacking from other cruise lines.
Our previous cruise was on the Celebrity Millennium and we both thought the food onboard the Astoria was much better, as, by and large, was the service. Perhaps a smaller budget means that the chef had to be more creative, or perhaps it was more geared to a UK palate. We both thought it nice that the portions weren’t huge and there were a few gaps in the dining timetable (although if you wanted to eat 24 hours a day, it was possible with paid for room service) – and of course, you could have more than one course – and visit the buffet as much as you wanted!
It’s a lovely touch that at dinner you can see what the courses look like, they were displayed in the breakfast buffet area. Our waiters, Yakesh and Milan were brilliant and our dietary requirements were dealt with superbly at dinner. There is a small extra fee restaurant, and people who used it were very complimentary. Although we’d asked for a large table, we were sat on a table for four, and luckily got on exceptionally well with our dinner partners who enjoyed the cruise as much as we did.
Entertainment onboard was also unexpectedly better than we’d imagined for such a small ship– and with just two sea days, it meant that most days were spent exploring some very interesting places. The ship’s excursions were all well organised and interesting, although it would have been nice to have had earphones, now a common thing on some ships, especially smaller river cruises – the Astoria has much more the feel of an intimate river cruise than even a small liner. We’d booked the ship’s excursions in most places, but were pleased to see that free shuttles existed in most ports. Getting on and off the ship was slightly difficult for some of the less able bodied passengers, but most seemed to manage, and the staff were always on hand to help.
For such a small ship, we were surprised how good the evening entertainment was, although it’s a shame that the “Around The World” evening still ends with White Cliffs of Dover and There’ll Always Be An England. For a nation that gave the world so much music, why we have to hark back to the days of War and Empire. What a shame we couldn’t have John Lennon’s Imagine, perhaps, or even celebrate one or more of our Eurovision wins.
We booked an inside cabin and on boarding, were escorted to 422 – one of the largest cabins we’ve ever had onboard, including a bath and bidet, but unfortunately no tea making facilities. The cabin was very comfortable, however, there was an intermittent clanking noise every minute or so, which our earplugs (or the rehearsals from the show lounge above!) didn’t muffle sufficiently. After a couple of days trying to work out what was causing the noise, the people on the desk couldn’t have been more helpful and moved us to a smaller cabin, but with a porthole (252) – when the boat rolled, it also had quite a noise as if something moved over the ceiling, but this was masked enough by our earplugs, although there was significant noise when docking or leaving a port which lasted around 45 minutes. Again, the cabin had both a bath and a bidet.
For no real reason, we booked the VIP package which confused some of the waiting staff, more used to the premium package. The house wine perfectly acceptable, and to be honest, with so few sea days, we didn’t really get our money’s worth, but it was nice to be able to order a cuppa in the bar, although the buffet was just next door, with tea/coffee freely available.
Unfortunately, personal commitments prevented us from staying on the ship for their next adventure. It’s the first time I can remember that my husband wasn’t ready to come home and would have happily stayed onboard. We both hope that we will have the pleasure of sailing on the Astoria at least one more time before she is finally decommissioned, which will be a huge loss to the world of cruising.