My wife saw the Amsterdam and Antwerp Christmas Markets cruise and at such a great price we booked it without hesitation. I was really looking forward to it as I was interested to see what they have done to the Carnival Holiday. We’ve been on the Carnival Breeze in 2013 (their newest ship) and the Mardi Gras in 1990 (Their first ever ship).
The ship was pretty much as expected for being thirty years old – a bit tired in some areas but I have to say it’s kept spotless, both inside and out. When we returned from sightseeing in Antwerp they were touching up exterior paintwork. I’ve never seen a 9″ paint roller on so many extension handles – it must have been 40 feet long! It would nearly have dried by the time he got all the handles on and up to the bit off plating which needed it! The cabin staff worked tirelessly and always greeted you with a cheery hello and a smile.
It’s a pity about the rest of it. Everything else starts to go downhill from the word go.
The Satnav postcode they supplied for car parking took us to the wrong part of Tilbury docks and when we eventually found the right entrance the Security person on the gate seemed unsure where to send us.
We eventually got to a car park where the blurb said our luggage would be taken from us. No such luck there but fortunately we only had the one suitcase between us for the 3 nights so it was so much of an imposition to drag it onto the bus and into the terminal where 3 different people told us to leave it (unattended) in 3 different places.
The London Cruise Terminal (sounds posh doesn’t it?) is more akin to a large village hall and really does need some updating and smartening up. More like knock it down and start again. What a gloomy place! The queuing system was a joke. There were about 12 check-in stations but the queue was bottlenecked at one end and it all took about 3 times longer than it should. With all the Cruise staff standing around doing nothing they could have organised it better. It’s not rocket science! After Miami Cruise Port and even Southampton, this is a huge letdown.
Anyway, we finally got on board ship and put our stuff in the cabin. We were in an inside with 2 single beds. Nice enough and sufficient storage for a short cruise. I’m not sure how they managed if this ship was doing anything more than 5 or 6 nights in the Caribbean. Although a bit dated the decor was reasonably light and bright. However, the aircon was definitely not up to scratch and I hate to think what the temperature was. My wife really feels the cold and said 80 degrees in the Caribbean was ‘all right’ even she said it was too hot. I heard many similar comments from other passengers. It didn’t change the whole 3 nights. Apart from that, the cabin was fine.
We went up to Deck 10 to get the air, the view and something to eat. The rear deck has a smoking area, a swimming pool (mercifully closed) a cafeteria area (also closed the whole voyage) and two fully functioning jacuzzis. Now, I ask you, how many people are going to want to use the jacuzzi on the almost top deck of a cruise ship in the North Sea in December?
We attended the compulsory Lifeboat Drill. That was a farce worthy of a Monty Python sketch. Most of the crew appeared not to know what they were doing. (In fact, a lot of the crew appeared not to be able to speak English.) If they did they didn’t pass their knowledge onto us poor passengers. We knew our muster station was on the lower level of the main theatre aft, but beyond that we had no instructions what to look for when we got there. We waited at the nearest exit point to our cabin to walk up two decks upstairs, only to be told, quite rudely, that we can’t use that exit because it’s crew only. Why do the signs outside our cabin point to it if we can’t use it? Having at last found our muster crew we were told we wouldn’t go to the lifeboat but if there was an emergency one crew member would lead the way and then all the passengers (with one hand on the shoulder of the one in front) would follow. Now I’m not the most athletic type and I can manage stairs from Deck 8 to Deck 11 but I would imagine there will be some (given the propensity of the passengers to be elderly) who will find that difficult. That’s going to be a complete shambles. We both decided that if there were a real emergency we would probably save everyone the trouble and jump over the side!
Enough of that. We got something to eat. I can’t remember what but every other meal we had in the Greasy Spoon (sorry – Raffles Bistro) on Deck 10 was equally forgettable. I’ve had far better food in a Motorway Services. The cooked breakfast was awful. If you were smart you went to join the long queue for your eggs first and hoped they hadn’t run out of everything else you wanted at the buffet before your eggs got cold. The choices were limited, to say the least, and some of it was barely edible. Sausages tasted of nothing, as did the bread. I’ve never seen fried bacon like it. I think they put it in a compacter and pressed it into bricks before cooking it. When you wanted to remove a rasher, another half a kilo came out with it. It took a lot of wrangling to separate it into almost edible rashers. Then when you tasted it it turned out to be not worth the hassle.
We never had lunch or an evening meal in the Raffles Bistro which is probably just as well. We did have the odd snack but the food was extremely poor. It was not open at user friendly times either. It you had dinner at the early sitting, 6.30 pm, then went to the show, then had a drink or two at the bar, then felt a bit peckish before turning in – TOUGH! The Raffles Bistro closed at 10 pm so you couldn’t get anything to eat after that – anywhere.
We ate our evening meals in the Waldorf restaurant. Table 103, which the seating plan shows to be on the starboard side of the ship, next to a window. We went in and looked at all the tables down that side and guess what – no table 103. A waiter helpfully advised us we were on the wrong side of the ship. Table 103 is on the Port side of the ship! Can they not even get a seating plan right?
The food in the Waldorf was OK most of the time. Not much of it and mostly fairly bland but I do remember on the last night I had Lamb Shank and it was really delicious. I don’t remember what either of us had the other two nights except my wife had a dessert called Creme Brulee (Sorry I haven’t got the French alphabet with the accents. I do speak French but can’t type it). A good Creme Brulee is served in a small-ish ramikin and is smooth and creamy with the melted sugar top. What she got was in a dish the size of a cereal bowl and had the texture and taste of semolina. The first evening I nearly got nothing. We were on a table for 8 and there were 2 couple of ladies and us two. The waiter took the orders from the 5 ladies but somehow forgot me. Many minutes passed before I was able to flag him down and remind him I hadn’t ordered. We summoned the Bus Boy, who doubled as drinks waiter, to order a glass of wine for herself and a beer for me. He didn’t know what the draft beer was but I chanced it anyway. The glass of wine duly arrived and started emptying, as it normally does. About 15 minutes later I managed to catch the eye of the fella and asked him where my beer was. He looked shocked and asked me if he had forgotten me. The response was in the affirmative. ‘I get soon’ he said in his heavy eastern European accent.. Another 10 minutes and I managed to catch his eye again. ‘I no get?’. ‘You no get’ I replied. I nearly added ‘You no get gratuities either’ but managed to restrain myself. It eventually arrived and turned out to be Bittberger and quite drinkable. I had several more the following evenings.
The cruise was Amsterdam and Antwerp Christmas Markets. Lovely, I thought when we first saw it. I’ve long wanted to visit some of the German ones like Berlin or Cologne. This was going to be fun – Christmas Markets and a cruise thrown in – excellent. However, it was 3 nights and sailed on Sunday 13th December. Nobody had said that the main Christmas Market in Amsterdam didn’t start until the following weekend. The result – no Amsterdam Christmas Market!. It was nice looking around the city though and the time wasn’t wasted. There was always Antwerp to look forward to the following day. Well, it was slightly better. There were two Main squares where there were some stalls. We were off the ship by 9 am and raring to go. That was the first mistake. The markets don’t open until midday. Oh well, never mind. Go and have a coffee and look round the shops for a couple of hours. Oh joy of joys, there’s a C&A, said the wife. (You ladies will get that!). I waited outside for a good half hour while she delighted in the goodies to be had in C&A. I’d never been to Antwerp before and it is indeed a wonderful city. The Christmas Markets were OK but you’ll have to go a long way to beat a good old root around in Carrefour. We bought quite a lot of our Christmas stuff in there. We bought nothing in the markets.
Back to the cruise. On the upside I thought the entertainment was quite good. They clearly tried very hard and were quite talented. The first two evenings were fairly good. The first night was ‘Best of Broadway’. It was OK but not to my taste. The next night was ‘Abba: Dancing Queen’. Quite good. The third night was ‘Scenes from the cutting room’. Film themes? I didn’t think I was going to like it but it really was quite good. I’d give a proper thumbs up to the entertainments team. They gave their all and it showed.
Well by now you’ve probably given up, switched off, gone to sleep or lost the will to live. I don’t blame you. I know I go on a bit. All in all the trip wasn’t a complete washout. I’m very disappointed with C&M Cruise. I’m not even sure they try to live up to their hype. If they do they’re not making it. Maybe they think they’ve got a captive market and don’t need to try. Maybe that will work – for a time.
We’ve sailed Carnival (twice), P&O and one or two others and we’re off on the MSC Divina in March ’16 and there’s no way this cruise came remotely near the standards they offer. We’ve filled in their satisfaction questionnaire and sent it off to them. Unfortunately, in doing so we stand a chance of winning another cruise with them. I doubt it though, if they bothered to read our comments they will probably have thrown them straight in the bin.
I sum up the whole experience as ‘I’m pleased I went but wish I hadn’t’ I hope you can see some meaning in that.