Due to engine trouble on a Cuba cruise we missed the port of Santiago. Things happen OK. However, on a 7 day cruise that left us with 2 1/2 days in Cuba and the rest of the time on the ship. Viking has offered a 30% credit on a future ... Read More
Due to engine trouble on a Cuba cruise we missed the port of Santiago. Things happen OK. However, on a 7 day cruise that left us with 2 1/2 days in Cuba and the rest of the time on the ship. Viking has offered a 30% credit on a future cruise if you book within a year or $500.00 cash to sign a settlement agreement to keep your mouth shut. Considering that our cabins cost 10k for two people I think the 30% should be a cash refund not a ploy to get you to book another cruise.
In addition there was a NORO outbreak , our shower door leaked and flooded the bathroom floor. Also the day trip to Havana involved 7 hours on a cramped Chinese made bus. The bus was clean but be prepared to have your knees butted against the front seat for that time. Tour guide Manny was very good though.
Take something from the ship to eat for lunch because you may not want the mystery meat lunch at the state owned tourist restaurant in Havana.
Went on two of the river cruises and had other problems .
We are done with Viking. Read Less
First, we are a French Canadian couple in our early 50’s from Montreal. We sailed 5 times with Celebrity prior to sailing on Wind Surf for the first time in 2013. We have since sailed 7 times with them, all in the Caribbean with cruises ... Read More
First, we are a French Canadian couple in our early 50’s from Montreal. We sailed 5 times with Celebrity prior to sailing on Wind Surf for the first time in 2013. We have since sailed 7 times with them, all in the Caribbean with cruises on the Wind Star (1) Star Pride (2), Star Legend (1) and Wind Surf (3). What we love about Windstar is the small ships, the fact you can do things independently easily, the relaxed dress code, the food, which keeps getting better, and last but not least the great service staff which goes out of its way to make your cruise memorable. This was our first cruise back on a sail ship after 3 cruises on the motor yachts. We did Classic Caribbean itinerary from Feb 2nd to 9th as we had done the Yachtsman’s Caribbean itinerary twice already and did not like the fact they had changed some of the stops in the BVI. In the end we really enjoyed this itinerary with Barbuda and Dominica being new stops for us. The weather was just about perfect and seas were the calmest of all our cruises. We noticed the demographics of this cruise were probably a little older than our previous Windstar cruises with a good majority of guests over 70-75 but this did not hinder in any way our enjoyment as fellow Windstar passengers are all fairly active and well travelled. Finally, we travelled with another couple for which this was a first cruise on Windstar and likely not their last. Another great cruise with Windstar
We booked just over 2 months ahead by pure accident as we typically wait for annual Christmas Sale as we feel prices get better closer to sailings (we always go for lowest priced cabin as location is not necessarily important to us). We called the company directly (we do not use a travel agent) to inquire about availability and they said that there was a promotion for Canadian residents with a $500 discount on the cruise price. I could not find this special on their website and the timing of my call was perfect as this special did not last very long. The 4 of us each got the $100 referral OBC which in our case was applied against our drink package purchased when we got onboard. We were assigned room 153 at front of ship and we were “upgraded” to 141 more in the center a few weeks later. Our friends were also upgraded from 103 to 122. Windstar also offered a 20% discount on the price of internet, drink package and laundry if all taken together prior to cruise which we did not take as we did not care for the ship’s slow and expensive internet (we had access to a good roaming package which we used most of time as we were always close to islands).
Although we typically fly in the day before, our schedule did not allow for such luxury this time around. Our plane landed in SXM at 16h30 on departure day (ship’s departure scheduled at 19h00) and we got out of the terminal around 17h15. Cabs were plentiful and we ended up sharing one with another Canadian couple on same flight that was also boarding the ship. Cab ride was $30 for the 4 of us and took 30 minutes. We boarded the ship at 17h45 and check-in was swift at front desk given our tardiness . Sail away was on schedule at 19h00. Not the ideal situation for travel but things worked out nicely. We were told our cruise was fully booked, so around 310 passengers on board. This was not an issue throughout the cruise as the Wind Surf remains very spacious with nooks and crannies for everyone.
We were in 141 and our friends in 122 (both added to Wind Surf stateroom sticky forum). Cabins are well designed with plenty of storage if required. 141 was quiet and had no issues although on 3 occasions, we had to call maintenance to fix our toilet as vacuum system had problems and toilet risked overflowing. In all 3 cases (one time at 3 am) the problem was fixed quickly by maintenance staff. Our room attendant was attentive although we did not have any special requirements. Reusable water bottles we refilled every day (one with flat water, the other sparkling) and our ice bucket was kept full with ice every day. Our friends in 122 complained about regular banging noise which we suspect was due to some gangway or tender equipment hanging above their room.
We were also wondering how we would find going back to the smaller sail ship staterooms after experiencing the larger suites on the Star ships on our last 3 cruises. Well it wasn’t an issue as the rooms are very well designed and we were really only in our room to sleep or change over for dinner. We did not use room service nor laundry service this time. Bathroom was compact and well designed but starting to show its age. Occitane toiletries are provided in all rooms.
Bars and Entertainment:
Drinks were mostly taken outside at Compass Rose or Pool Bar. Did not go to Lounge except for Talent Show but band seemed competent. Bar service was always good. Duo at Compass Rose was OK and had guests dancing and when finished around 11pm, guests would come in to plug IPad playlists in system to keep party going a little longer. This happened a few evenings with people dancing a little past midnight. A lot of fun.
Again food was a highlight. We ate at Amphora 4 times, one time each Candles and Stella Bistro and Deck BBQ on the late night in St-Kitts. Menu was varied although gluten free items remain limited (our friend suffers from gluten intolerance and we were just more sensitized to his diet challenges throughout the cruise). Breakfast was good with buffet or a la carte items available. Couple of things we noticed were the poor quality of orange juice which in the past was freshly squeezed and now is a watered down Tropicana version and the fact there were no fresh peeled orange slices on the buffet whereas these were always on buffet in the past.
We had good lunches at Veranda when we made it back in time from the island as the venue is only open from 12h00 to 14h00. We were late a few times and had to settle for food at Yacht Club. Lunch should be extended to 14h30 to accommodate those with dietary restrictions as the menu at the Yacht Club, while good, remains limited for them. Service in the dining rooms at dinner was fast and efficient (sometimes too fast) with meals lasting 1.5 to 2 hours. We mostly had dinner around 8pm and never had to wait more than a few minutes for a table and by the time we were finished, most of the time we were the last table in dining room. Menus were varied with several fish, meat and vegetarian dishes and all 4 of us were impressed by the quality and presentation of food. Deck BBQ food was great although lobster was a little chewy. We did not do the Dining Under The Stars (offered twice on our cruise) as it was not offered to us. This was a bit disappointing.
Beach BBQ was held on Pigeon Island, which is our least favourite Windstar Beach BBQ location (the others being Mayreau and Virgin Gorda). While food was good, beach is too small and not necessarily the nicest.
A couple of evenings, we were treated to canapés at Compass Rose before dinner. Usually had 2 different types of them but just one tray so these would disappear very fast with literally no chances for seconds. I suspect these were also served in the Lounge but we never went to the Lounge for pre dinner drinks so cannot confirm.
We are a bit picky about our coffee and the caffe lattes at Veranda in the morning were good (regular coffee not so much) but even better at Yacht Club. We did try a few of the the latter’s sandwiches and sweets offered in the afternoon on one occasion and all were good.
3 of us were on the recently introduced TopMast Discoveries drink package at $49 while the 4th party was on the CaptainsExclusive package at $59. This created confusion with servers with several drinks (liquor) being charged to our room although drunk by our friend on the full drink package. All charges were reversed but this was a hassle as we needed to check bill daily to ensure charges were being reversed overnight and that no new ones were being added. Drink package probably makes sense if you have 5 or more drinks per day and even though we were drinking our quota, we generally felt that the value proposition of the drink packages had come down markedly from the previous iterations with price of package going up $7 and the wines offered having a price point no higher than $9.50/$10 vs a max of $11.50 under previous package. We will likely need to re-think this aspect on our next cruise.
We did not use the marina this time around but it was open in Barbuda, Les Saintes and St Barth. We saw several people using it when available. The water toys were also brought to the beach on Pigeon Island for the Beach BBQ
Our friends each got a $50 spa voucher (good on port days) offered by Windstar to all first time cruisers which they used for a very relaxing hot stone massage.
Gym: we did not use gym but it looked clean and well equipped and did not seem overcrowded
Tenders were used in all ports except Dominica where we were docked at the industrial dock, not the more central cruise ship dock (occupied by Silverseas on that day). While tender service was good, the tenders themselves are in need of a total overhaul. During our cruise we got to see the Seabourn, Club Med 2 and Star Clipper tenders and all of them were in substantially better condition than the Surf’s. They will be changing the tenders on the Motor Yachts, they probably should do the same with the sailing ships.
Did not visit the bridge this time around and whereas in the past there was a photo opportunity at the bow of the ship, we did not see this on this cruise.
Stops and excursions:
We generally are not the type to book ship excursions as we feel they are overpriced and like to do things on our own. I typically like to do my own research and do not like to plan too long ahead.
Nothing planned. Only tour offered was to view frigate bird sanctuary which did not interest us. We instead took a cab to Princess Diana beach ($30 each way). Very nice pink sand beach with nobody other than a few fellow cruisers on it. No facilities so bring water and some food if you are going to spend a long time. We were there for about 3 hours and got on the ship around 2pm just in time to catch lunch at Veranda. The ship leaves early at 3 pm on this day.
Again we stepped out of ship and hired a cab to go to Ti-Tou Gorge and Trafalgar Falls. Cost was $160 for the 4 of us and lasted 2.5 hours. Ti-Tou Gorge is not to be missed as you swim in a crystal clear river canyon up to a small waterfall. Very nice. The drive to both these spots is also spectacular as the road sits at the top of a high mountain ridge. We were back on the ship by 1h30 and had lunch at Veranda. Found a chair on deck for the remainder of day and used pool and hot tubs. Although the Island suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Maria in Sept 2017, the island infrastructure and vegetation is recovering nicely.
This was our 4th time to Pigeon Island and it is our least favourite spot for the Beach BBQ. The beach is small and crowded although the area in the back where they actually serve the BBQ is nice. The water toys were brought to the beach, as well as paddle boards and kayaks. They also offered waterski and wakeboardings runs for those who wanted. Club Med 2 (Wind Surf’s twin) was also in port that day which made for interesting pictures.
This was our third time to Les Saintes and we continue to enjoy this stop. There is a quaint village with some interesting shops and a Fort (Fort Napoleon) from which the views of the bay and our sail ship are simply breathtaking. Note the Fort is only open until 12h30 and bring €5 cash if you want to get in. We rented a 4 seat electric golf cart (cost €75) from Green Car Rental to tour Island but you need to reserve it in advance as these get taken up very quickly (we had learned this the hard way the previous time we were there). Wanted to go to Pain de Sucre Beach but path is somewhat steep and rocky which required shoes we did not have. Instead went to Pompierre beach (no facilities). Nice beach but the palm trees have taken a beating as a result of hurricane Maria last year. Had a good lunch in town at Cafe de la Marina with a nice view of the port while the ladies shopped linen at Mahogany next door.
Our initial plan was to get off ship, take the 9h30 ferry to Nevis ($16 each way/pers), hire a cab for a few hours to do tour of island, visit plantation and get dropped off at Pinney’s Beach. However we were a bit tired that morning and thus proceeded to a less intense plan B which was to take a cab ($30 each way) to go to Cockshell Beach at the far South end of the Island. We rented chairs ($5 each) and umbrellas ($10) at the Spice Mill and also had good lunch there. Beach is nice and was somewhat crowded, something rare on a Windstar cruise but there were another 2 ships in port, so this was to be expected. Ship left late at 10pm and this was night of deck BBQ.
We had reserved a convertible Mini Cooper to tour Island ahead of time with Sixt Car Rental. Called them up 30 minutes prior to going to shore so they were there to pick us up and take us to airport to fill out docs. Cost was a bit steep at €105 but we had fun touring. Went to Saline and Gouverneurs beaches, did some shopping and had lunch at Nikki Beach in St-Jean. Lunch was good although this is St-Barth and everything is pricey. Returned the car at airport, got shuttled back to port and did some more shopping in Gustavia. Took tender around 6pm back to ship.
Debarkation was trouble free. Had breakfast around 8am after picking up our passport and having face to face meeting with Immigration on board ship around 7h30 (this is new as we usually just picked up passport on ship and passed Immigration once on shore). Our flight was late (5pm) so we took a cab to Holland House, took up their day pass offer which for $25 includes 2 chairs, 4 drinks,use of shower, Wifi and facilities. Had good lunch at their restaurant and left at 2h30 for airport. Ride was $30 for the 4 of us and took just under 30 minutes and this concluded another wonderful Windstar cruise. Read Less
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary and the amount of time visiting Cuba.
We toured Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Havana and Santiago de Cuba. All the tour guides were extremely knowledgeable and cautious for our safety.
The ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary and the amount of time visiting Cuba.
We toured Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Havana and Santiago de Cuba. All the tour guides were extremely knowledgeable and cautious for our safety.
The ship was spotless, the crew always friendly and sincere no matter when and where.
Embarking the ship's tenders was done with ease. The were more concerned for our safety and we felt comfortable with their assistance.
We enjoyed the lectures offered. There were no big production shows. However, the singers and dancers were superb including the Cruise Director and his assistant.
The fact that the Viking Star passenger load is less than 1,000 people, you get to know most of the entertainers, officers and other crew members personally.
Meeting for the tours was handled very smoothly with hardly any wait time.
The public rooms including quiet areas were decorated in good taste and very comfortable.
The cappuccino was adequate, but most of the time it was machine made. I would like to have had it otherwise.
Overall, I recommend Viking Ocean Cruise to Cuba. Read Less
Overall our cruise was delightful. The only downsides being: first, some of the ports on this cruise (Road town,Tortola and Rouseau, Dominca) were odd choices. They are both sadly still suffering from hurricane damage. My second issue was ... Read More
Overall our cruise was delightful. The only downsides being: first, some of the ports on this cruise (Road town,Tortola and Rouseau, Dominca) were odd choices. They are both sadly still suffering from hurricane damage. My second issue was the awful wi-fi, even with the premium service we received for being in a Silver Suite. At times it simply did not work, and we were only doing emails and checking the weather and written (not streaming) news.. The explanation that it's tough to do wi-fi at sea is at odds with our very positive experience with wi-fi on Silver Muse about 18 months ago.
Moving on to all the many positives:
The Ship was in perfect, pristine condition. It was interesting to play "find the stretch spot". It was done so well that only with the help of a crew member could we figure out precisely where the work was done. And the additional room at the pool and Grill made for a better experience. I particularly like the new, Muse like, color scheme; others may disagree.
Dining options are plentiful. We made reservations on MySilversea and all were honored. It was easy, however, to make some changes as the cruise went on. And, Atlantide and Indochine require no reservations. Even with a nearly full cruise (544 passengers) there were no problems making adjustments. The increased space in La Terraza was a mixed blessing. It was easy to get in there for dinner, but the relative intimate nature of the space is gone. And, I notice they no longer mention Slow Cooking in the description; sadly, the duck pappardelle was just OK. We tried Silver Note and enjoyed it. The duo (singer and pianist) were quote good, took requests andwere not at all too loud.
The crew make the Silversea experience and this trip was no exception. They were uniformly charming and a delight to interact with. Read Less
La Ora Na! Just returned from a dream-like 10-night Tahiti & Tuamotu Island Wind Spirit Cruise. A trip to French Polynesia has been on my bucket list for many years and the time was right to celebrate our 30-year wedding anniversary. ... Read More
La Ora Na! Just returned from a dream-like 10-night Tahiti & Tuamotu Island Wind Spirit Cruise. A trip to French Polynesia has been on my bucket list for many years and the time was right to celebrate our 30-year wedding anniversary. This was our third Windstar Cruise but first on a sailing ship. Everything was wonderful from the ship and the crew to the great food, fellow passengers and the beautiful islands. We loved every minute from the diving, snorkeling, beaching, Polynesian luau, Beach BBQ, cultural and scenic excursions to just being together in paradise.
We left during the rainy season and so knew we were chancing some bad weather but we were very fortunate as we only had three solid cloudy and/or rainy days and 9 really good days with very little clouds and rain. It was hot and humid.
Only one drift snorkeling excursion was canceled due to strong winds and current in Fakarava. A few people were sick with motion sickness at the beginning of the cruise going out to Tuamotu Islands but we took Bonine. (meclizine) and had absolutely no problems. When in the Society Islands there was very little motion and no one had any problems.
We had our outgoing flight from LAX to PPT on Air Tahiti which was fine. (older plane). Upon arrival to PPT at 11 pm we took a taxi and stayed overnight at the cheaper but nice/adequate Hotel Sarah Nui. We were a five-minute walk to the Moorea Ferry dock where we bought tickets in the morning and took the first ferry to Moorea and spent the full day and night at the very nice Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa. It was rainy and cloudy but the snorkeling in front of the resort was stunning with the water clarity, colorful coral and fish life. We took a special deal and just stayed in a garden room but it was very nice. Some of our fellow cruise passengers stayed in the over the water bungalows for the unique experience. Depends on where you want to put your vacation dollars.
Took the late morning ferry back to Tahiti and literally walked off the one ferry and down the port to the Windstar which was boarding. Waited in a short line as they manually checked luggage. (different than in San Juan) but it was quick efficient and staff was very nice. Crew greeted us and escorted us to our cabin AX 205 which was very conveniently located mid ship. Though smaller than the motorized ships rooms. (Legend and Pride) it had great storage space. Did miss the large picture window. (just two port holes) but overall very nice for the smaller space. We then went to a full buffet lunch on the Veranda before heading back into Papeete to the market as my hubby had forgotten his sunglasses. We browsed and got some ideas and ended up coming back and buying a pearl necklace at the end of the cruise.
We really enjoy the food on the Windstar, particularly the breakfast on the Veranda. Maybe it was our jet lag but we woke up each morning hungry and the breakfast was great. You can order special dishes from the menu. (various types of egg Benedicts, French toast, pancakes, waffles, and usually some other items). There was also an egg station where my husband had eggs over easy and they made tasty personalized omelets. Great fruits, cheeses, yogurts, bacon, sausages and various pastry. We made it back most days for lunch and then went back into the port. Dinners varied for us but we enjoyed some nights alone at a couples table. (tired after long day) but other nights we ate with others and really enjoyed talking and getting to know our fellow cruise mates. It was a very interesting mix of people. Most seemed well traveled and active and ranged in age from late 40s to late 60s. We didn’t buy the beverage package but bought reasonably priced bottles of wine to drink with dinner. There weren’t a lot of activities on board especially after dinner but we usually found we were tired after the long port days and sleep was great. We did love the deck party dinner, the Polynesian show/dinner on the private motu in Bora Bora and the lectures given by Dr. Kess on Polynesian history. We also enjoyed happy hour before dinner where we sat and talked with fellow cruisers about the day and listened to the destination manager talk about the upcoming port. Several nights we walked the deck and just looked at the glorious night sky. Captain Garciyanov came out of the bridge to show us the southern cross and constellations. He was not only approachable but approached us and other passengers’ multiple times. He was so friendly and energetic. He gave us a great bridge tour. We had just come from getting our picture taking at the bow. (think Titanic and King of the world).
Shore Excursions: We did three through the ship and the rest independent. The ships excursions were all good and everyone we talked to thought they were of high quality. We just like doing things independently and on our own timeline but it was a good mix. I will give some detail to what we did as it was hard to find info on some of these islands
Fakarava: Fantasy Island came to mind as we first visited Fakarava one of the largest and most beautiful atolls (land formed by the rising reef). The extremely windy weather caused some adjustments to the plan as our drift snorkeling was cancelled but my husband was able to Drift Dive the Garuae Pass through a private company known as O2 Fakarava as he is an advanced diver. He had emailed them before we left home and arranged the dive. He had never seen so many sharks concentrated together hunting the extremely large schools of fish. The current was rapid and the water clarity pristine. He was super pumped after the dive!
I took the ship’s excursion to the gorgeous but remote Blue Lagoon. The shallow waters shone in the most brilliant colors of turquoise and jade-green. As I snorkeled on my own in the lagoon, black tip reef sharks swam all around me. It was electrifying! Unfortunately the current was too strong to go to Pufuna to drift snorkel.
Rangiroa: Let the adrenaline begin! The second day, we visited Rangiroa know as the The Endless Lagoon. From there Michael and I went on a private excursion with Rangiroa Plongee. It was a drift snorkel through the famous Tiputa Pass. As we rode through 10-foot waves in our little zodiac to the ocean side of the pass, our guide said ok when we see the pod of dolphins we are all going to quickly jump into the ocean and swim with them....WHAT! ....And so, we did......TWICE!......It’s one of the moments when you can’t think too hard as the waves are crashing but there are dolphins next to your little zodiac so we dove in and the first time a whole family swam with us and the next jump was just one dolphin but she came up to me as I squeaked my hello. It was sheer joy! We then drift snorkeled through the pass to see a couple large Spotted Eagle Rays, numerous black tip reef sharks, moray eels and tons of fish. The water clarity again was suburb. We also snorkeled in the area known as the Aquarium. Michael then went on another drift dive while I took a walk and relaxed at Hotel Kira Ora resort on the beach. It was serene drinking a Pina Colada and sitting by the beach and water.
Taha’ a: This is the port you need to have a ship’s excursion as they only will tender you to the private motu for a day at the beach. We did the Scenic Exploration of Taha ’a and had a fascinating experience visiting a local pearl farm and watching them harvest the pearls from the oysters. We toured the scenic island, a vanilla farm, ate some local fruit and “learned” a traditional Tahitian dance. Spent the afternoon with “ok” snorkeling around the motu. It was a very cloudy, rain off/on day.
Bora Bora: Our favorite island of the trip. It’s beauty was simply stunning with luscious green mountains surrounded by a crystal clear blue and turquoise lagoon. The weather gods gave us two sunny days and we took full advantage of our short time. Fortunately, the ship spent two days at the island but I was itching for more. It had everything from water to land adventures!
The first day we rented our own private dive boat with dive master,. David from H20 Bora Bora took Michael diving with manta rays and along a spectacular coral reef . In the afternoon, we all snorkeled three more spectacular sites. It was like swimming in an aquarium. We swam with a squadron of spotted eagles rays, many sharks, eels and so many beautiful fish. The water was so nice. We also had a spectacular lunch on the beach and I witnessed Michael eating two things I never thought he would. Raw fish and coconut. Poisson cru au lait de coco. It was very tasty.
The next day we rented a Scooter through Avis (shop right at port) and circled the main island, exploring the beautiful landscape and snorkeling the southern beach on our own. We ended the day with a Polynesian luau on a private motu sponsored by Windstar. Such a Romantic, gorgeous sunset and setting that made us wish we could stay there forever. Loved! Loved ! Bora Bora
Huahine Nui: was an island that really captured the history and culture of French Polynesia. We decided to go on a guided tour of the sacred sites with a local archeologist. In an open air Le Truck, we toured the ruins of Maeva village, a vanilla plantation and an area with 500-year-old fish traps that are still used today. The tour then ended with lovely views and the feeding of the sacred blue eels. The island was beautiful, quiet, laid back and I learned a lot about the way of life and history of the French Polynesian . We then went back to the ship for lunch and back out to the local beach by the port to snorkel
Moorea: Returned to a now sunny beautiful island. After a slow start as Albert Transport was an hour late picking us up at the port to take us to rent the car. They were on “island time” but then made us still pay for the full 8-hour car rental even though they were an hour late. We had the email confirmation of pick up time (this was our only “mess up” of the cruise) We then spent the day driving, exploring, and snorkeling in our rented car. (Belevedere Lookout, Opunohu Valley, snorkeling at Temae/Public Beach)
As we sailed away from Moorea, someone spotted a pod of dolphin and we all ran to one side of the ship. How can it not make you smile, laugh and feel joy as you watch dolphins surfing and playing in the waves? I do think the captain was afraid of us tipping the ship especially as it was the last day of a 10-day feast of food! Wonderful way to end our 10-day cruise Read Less
(Apologies if this is a bit long, but I know i love to get all the details when I read a review!)
Day 1 - Boarding
As others have noted Ponant are very strict with their 1 hour boarding window, and even turning up 15 minutes early ... Read More
(Apologies if this is a bit long, but I know i love to get all the details when I read a review!)
Day 1 - Boarding
As others have noted Ponant are very strict with their 1 hour boarding window, and even turning up 15 minutes early meant we were only able to leave our luggage and head for a beer in the brewery next door!
Boarding in Cairns was very straightforward, with no Immigration requirements as this was an Australian cruise. There was a short delay boarding while both the Captain and the Chairman (Sarina Bratton A.M.) greeted every passenger. Once on board we were escorted to our cabin (312 which is about 10m from Reception).
First impressions of the cabin were excellent. The light airy décor and general cabin layout were good, and the cabin was spotless.
As the next day was a port call at Lizard Island, the programme once aboard was rushed.
Just time to grab a welcome drink before at 5pm (as boarding finished) there was an expedition briefing in the theatre and issue of lifejackets for the Zodiacs. Then back to the cabin to retrieve our full lifejackets for lifeboat drill in the theatre at 5:30pm – fortunately nothing is too far from anywhere on Le Laperouse.
This was immediately followed by drinks on the rear deck for sailaway at 6pm, then dinner from 7:00pm.
Day 2 – Lizard Island
Our call at Lizard Island was affected by weather with the preferred anchorage unsuitable due to wind and swell. However the crew had a Plan B and we stopped on the other side of the island (although the captain was unable to anchor and had to drift and reposition the ship all day). This meant a slightly longer 15 minute Zodiac trip to the beach, and no real opportunity for snorkelling although the water was pleasant for swimming.
The passengers were split into 4 colour groups for the duration of the cruise, and this determined your activity order and Zodiac boarding time. Generally this process ran pretty efficiently and too schedule.
There were a couple of guided walks offered morning and afternoon which weren’t too strenuous and allowed us to become better acquainted with some of the Expedition team.
Sailaway preceded the Captains Welcome party on the rear deck and the first of what proved to be many 6-course degustation dinners! Dress was what I describe as ‘semi-formal’ with most men wearing jackets, some wearing a tie as well, but others in long-sleeve shirts and slacks (noting it was 30ºC plus outside).
Due to the balmy weather, the Grill on Level 3 was open every meal for those who didn’t wan’t a large extended dinner or wished to dress more casually.
Day 3 & 4 – Willis Island
Due to the massive complexity of Australian marine regulation (discussed by Sarina Bratton during her Q&A session) the cruise included 2 days at sea to make a “technical stop” at Willis Island. This constitutes ‘leaving Australia’ and avoids coastal-cruising fees which otherwise would be lumped onto the fares.
Activities during what were effectively 2 sea days included lectures from the Expedition crew, and Sarina’s Q&A session.
Snorkelling equipment was also issued to those so inclined, which you kept for the duration of the reef visits.
A highlight was the seafood luncheon prepared by the guest chef, Guillame Brahimi, and the first of his 2 degustation dinners. Worth noting that the degustation dinners took nearly 2.5 hours to get to the final course as everyone was served at once.
Day 5 – Hardy Reef
The visit to Hardy Reef involves being moved by Zodiac to a moored reef pontoon some 20 minutes away by Zodiac. This is due to the restricted anchorage available for ships of this size. Due to choppy weather conditions, everyone got soaked en-route to the platform – fortunately the water was warm!
We had the run of the platform except for between 11am and 4pm when we were joined by day-trippers. This included a ride in a semi-submersible over the reef, an underwater observatory, and snorkelling. Coffee, tea and water and toilets were available on the platforms cruise boat moored at the platform.
Day 6 – Percy Island
We moored off Percy Island in calmer conditions with a 5-10 minute ride into the beach. The crew had erected beach umbrellas on the sand, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) and 2-man kayaks were available to tour the small lagoon at the end of the beach during the morning.
2 walks were available, which were a bit more strenuous than Lizard Island, although a few wilting passengers were kindly transported by ute and quadbike by the residents (all 5 of them).
Percy Island’s highlight is the “Yacht Club”, a large A-frame building covered in plaques and memorabilia from passing yachts (and cruise ships) – you could spend hours looking through them all.
A pleasant surprise in the afternoon was a ‘cocktail party’ on the beach with rum punch, champagne and beer and a game of boules!
Followed by another degustation dinner…
Day 7 – Lady Musgrave Island
Ponant arranges with the Lady Musgrave Experience tour boat for access to its facilities at Lady Musgrave Island. This includes snorkelling of their large reef boat, a glass-bottom boat tour and a walk around Lady Musgrave Island to see the turtle rookeries and bird colonies.
However, rough weather made it impossible for the Zodiacs to be loaded, although the captain to his credit tried everything. Ultimately, to our amazement, they arranged to try a direct boat-to-boat transfer to the large reef boat! Some great seamanship on both sides saw 110 passengers taken to the reef to get a shortened experience for 2-3 hours.
The snorkelling was excellent, and the guided walk (although necessarily short) was well done.
All credit must go to the captains and crews for making it possible – lots of other cruises ships would have called it off hours earlier.
Days 8 & 9 – At sea
The next two days saw us cruise in increasingly better weather down the Australian east coast. An advantage of a ship with no casino, and smaller size, means they travel closer to the coast and there is more to see.
One morning it was our colour groups turn at a Wine and Cheese Tasting hosted by the Sommelier, a chance to try some of the wines on the wine list paired with some excellent French cheeses (a step up from those on the buffet).
Another degustation dinner…
Day 10 – Newcastle
Newcastle is a former steel making town that is re-inventing itself as a tourist destination based on its beaches and proximity to the Hunter Valley winery region.
Ponant had organised an included tour, with each colour group boarding a coach to visit three of four wineries in the Hunter (so no 2 groups were at the same place at the same time), with all coaches converging on one winery for a 2-course lunch with some excellent local wine.
A good day capped off with another degustation dinner…
Day 11 – Sydney
Our visit to Sydney highlighted the crisis the iconic harbour suffers with insufficient cruise ship capacity (particularly for large ships). We were unable to moor at the Overseas Passenger Terminal until 7pm due to another ship being port, and no other berth being available.
The day started very well with the ship pulling into Broken Bay at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River. Zodiac tours ended up at a “surprise” location on a local tourist boat where we had an oyster shucking and testing session with some nice local wines – I sat among a group of non-oyster eaters and had a great time! The oysters were wonderful.
About 30 passengers disembarked (mainly due to early flights the following day), and the remainder were allowed off from about 8pm to wander around The Rocks and Opera House precinct.
Day 12 – Sydney
Disembarkation was a nightmare – although it wasn’t particularly Ponant’s fault.
At 4am Le Laperouse had to leave the OPT and moor at a mid-harbour anchorage so a large Carnival ship could berth. Passengers baggage was taken off and left at the OPT.
The remaining passengers had to disembark by tender from 7am. This involved a bumpy 20 minute tender ride to the steps of the Opera House, very difficult for passengers with reduced mobility.
That’s where the fun started…
We were then herded across the Opera House forecourt by rude Security staff and loaded onto small buses to be taken to the OPT to clear Border Force formalities and get our baggage. This trip took nearly 20 minutes to cover what would be a 5-10 minute walk…
Once at the terminal (about 8:15) we were forced to sit in the terminal (unless you joined the escorted tours to the toilets) until nearly 9:30 while Border Force finished with the Carnival ship. After all that, the actual Border Force process involved handing over the Incoming Passenger card and walking through… they would have processed all the passengers in less than 5 minutes. We could have dropped the cards in a box and been just as thoroughly processed.
A very ordinary introduction to Sydney for our international visitors (although perhaps no great surprise to those of us locals who put up with their bureaucratic nonsense on a regular basis!).
Main Area – The bed and pillows were very comfortable, and the air-conditioning well controlled. The only real issue is the very narrow space at the foot of the bed requires the occasional pas-de-deux with your companion.
Storage – shallow draws beneath the bedside tables (wide on one side of the bed, narrow on the other) with some space below. Good cupboards under the bench below the TV (although draws might have been better). Main wardrobe had good hanging space and plenty of hangers, with a shelf above (occupied by life jackets) and 4 storage shelves full-height on the side.
Another cupboard to the side held the coffee/tea facilities (including a Nespresso machine and a kettle) and the mini-bar fridge (stocked with gin, vodka, scotch and bourbon along with beer, sparkling water, Coke, Coke no-sugar, tonic and fruit juice). The under-bed space was sufficient to store suitcases, although larger cases would need to be ‘butterflied’.
Bathroom - The separate toilet and shower are a good idea, although the toilet cubicle is very small! The shower recess is quite roomy for a ship. All products were Hermes (a tie up with a parent company). There is a single large draw and 2 shelves and some bench space around the sink for storage. The only issue was that you can’t plug the sink to shave.
A large flat-screen TV has about 15 channels of mixed French/English entertainment and news channels, as well as channel for the front webcam and another for an underwater camera. There is a wide selection of new and old movies (although “Titanic” and “Lifeboat” may be odd choices for a cruise ship!). The only sport was mainly soccer (EPL etc), although watching the Super Bowl in French was novel!
The ship generally has everything you want. Social life focusses around the main lounge and bar and the Grill area outside in fine weather, and in the Panorama Bar/Lounge above the Bridge.
The much vaunted Blue Eye lounge is only open a few hours a day, and was rarely used.
A short “Blue Eye Experience” was interesting, but otherwise it wasn’t open when you wanted it to be…
The medical centre is staffed by a doctor and nurse, and a couple of people who had need of their services said they were helpful but expensive!
The shop sells a lot of clothing and a few souvenirs, but doesn’t really stock any forgotten necessities.
The Spa was well customised, the Sauna is beautiful (but not much used when it was already 30 plus outside!) and I believe there was a gym !
The theatre is comfortable and spacious, and can seat all passengers at once. It is used for daily recaps and briefings on Excursion cruises, and shows with the ships dancers on roughly alternate nights, weather permitting.
The open-bridge policy is nice, and the crew are happy to answer questions. Once per cruise you can attend a bridge visit with the Captain who spent nearly an hour talking about the ship and it’s equipment and answering questions.
The marina dock at the rear of the ship made boarding the Zodiacs relatively simple, and it can be raised to serve as a stage for the Captain’s welcome. Watching it unfurl itself from under the rear deck is a piece of theatre in itself!
In a word, outstanding. Always friendly, quick to learn who you were and very visible and available – particularly the Captain who would frequently be on hand at the Marina as you boarded the Zodiacs.
The opportunity was presented a couple of times during the cruise to ‘dine with an officer’ via a sign-up list at the Reception desk. We had two very pleasant dinners with crew, one hosted by the Reef Pilot and his wife, and once by the Cruise Director and the Shore Tours Manager. We were also joined by one of the Expedition team for a celebration dinner for my birthday.
The waiters were generally engaging and efficient, and the bar staff quick to learn your preferences and anticipate your requirements!
The Expedition team were all very friendly and engaged with the passengers frequently. When manning Zodiacs or taking guided walks they were well informed on the locations and wildlife.
Our cabin steward was highly efficient but must have abseiled into the cabin ninja-like, as I think I saw him twice in 11 days for about 30 seconds each time. I never even found out his name…
The Food… the food… the food…
I guess that on a Food and Wine theme cruise, I shouldn’t have been surprised but there was SO MUCH FOOD…!
Breakfasts were served either in the Nautilus Restaurant or the Grille, and were largely self-serve although egg dishes were available to order. A good range of juices, cereals, pastries, bread and hot food were available at the buffets.
Lunch was similar, with one themed lunch run by the guest chef apart from the on-shore lunch arranged in Newcastle.
Afternoon ‘tea’ food was available in the Main Lounge if you couldn’t hold out until dinner.
Due to the theme, the normal 3 ‘Gala’ nights were supplemented by 2 others run by the guest chef, hence there were 5 six-course degustation dinners over 11 nights which was too much! To cap it off on the guest chef nights, you returned to your cabin to find a box of caramels or nougat on the bed…
There was always a small treat left by the steward every night at turn-down, although many went uneaten as we couldn’t face any more food…
The food itself was extremely good, and some of the dishes produced by the guest chef were sublime. There was a strong seafood content, although alternatives were always available, and a full vegetarian degustation was always offered in parallel on Gala nights.
Room service was also available and included, but unused in my case.
There was an ‘open’ bar including the in-cabin minibar, however there were a variety of extra-cost items and an extensive wine list with wines up to €900+ per bottle. There was also the option to purchase a €20 Euro/day (full duration only) package on the first 2 days that added more premium spirits and cocktails, and additional wines, to the package.
Oddly, any premium spirit was charged at full cost despite the cost differential to the standard spirit being small (e.g. Johnnie Walker Red was included but Johnnie Walker Black was an extra €8 per serve, despite the cost differential between whole bottles being only roughly €10 in Australia or about €0.75 per serve – the same thing with Gordons vs Bombay Sapphire gin).
The itinerary was as interesting as you would like an Expedition on the Great Barrier Reef to be. A pity that the local regulations forced the 2 sea days for the ‘technical stop’ as it would have been good to visit another part of the Great Barrier Reef (or one of the coastal towns).
As a first time visitor, all the locations were interesting however they were all unsurprisingly to the same theme (swimming, snorkelling, beach) except Newcastle.
Summing up this was a really excellent cruise despite the weather and the intervention of the Australian rules and regulations. Ponant have an excellent product and their crew are determined to make sure you enjoy your holiday.
The cruise, even when hampered by weather, was conducted in good spirits and the small number of passengers made it very social as you ended up dining with nearly everyone at least once.
As a first time Ponant cruiser, it was interesting to see the number of repeat cruisers with many following Sarina Bratton from her former Orion line.
There was a definite French ‘touch’ to the ship, mainly in the décor, food and entertainment, but with 70% of the passengers being Australian the cruise was conducted entirely in English with all the crew bi- (or tri) lingual.
I heard very few complaints (one woman was outraged she couldn’t order Eggs Benedict one day when it wasn’t the ‘egg of the day’) apart from the general concern about the disembarkation. A few passengers were amazed that they wouldn’t be able to disembark and make an 11am international flight – however their stupidity in booking a flight that required them to be at the airport (30 minutes from the terminal), an hour before the scheduled disembarkation time can hardly be laid at Ponant’s door, despite the passengers best efforts.
All in all, highly recommended. We cruise again on Le Laperouse in 2 weeks to the Sub-Antarctic Islands and I can’t wait! Read Less
My wife and I have cruised many times with Celebrity and always received 1st class service. We have completed many of the popular cruises more than once so was looking for alternative itinerary's. We booked an Explorer Suite with ... Read More
My wife and I have cruised many times with Celebrity and always received 1st class service. We have completed many of the popular cruises more than once so was looking for alternative itinerary's. We booked an Explorer Suite with Viking (similar price to a Penthouse with Celebrity) expecting a premium cruise experience but how wrong we were. We opted for the flight and cruise package just in case of any delays etc but unable to pre-book our seats so we could not sit together. Check-in was OK but the welcome champagne was an inch in a glass and no member of staff to show us our suite. The suite was as expected, sensible size decorated with furniture from Ikea. The one big issue was trying to keep the room warm as the outside temperature was as low as -18. We had all the curtains closed, all heating including an electric panel heater on full, blankets on the bed and still cold. The same for the pool area and the world café, you needed a sweater or fleece to eat your lunch. Service was very slow with many dirty tables waiting to be cleaned and members of staff just walking past. Must say food quality and variety was good. Room service was very slow to start, 1230pm and still no clean, 8.40pm no clean or turn down. After a couple of complaints this did improve. Shore excursions a complete joke, they were either cancelled or changed at the last moment and those that did proceed were poorly organised. I complained to Judi Buikman the shore excursion manager as she cancelled Northern Lights tours as not dark enough, tidal water phenomenon as it was low tide and a train and snow mobile tour as there was a road incident at 7am and she was worried the bus could not return passenger's back to the ship at 4pm. When I pointed out she failed to do her homework on the excursions, she replied "fair comment". We had arranged dinner reservations prior to sailing for the specialty restaurants but then refused to alter the seating from 2 to 4 persons as we had met new friends. After a sharp conversation with the Hotel Manager and Restaurant Manager this was changed but it should not be this way. The service in the Lounge Bar was very slow if at all, quicker to order drinks at the bar. The evening entertainment was fine for us, either a guitar or piano entertainer. One day the Cruise Director Drew Raitch performed his song book for us, it was embarrassing, the man cannot sing at all so please don't try. Viking Ocean Cruise are a new start-up cruise line (not river cruises) and it shows. The staff are not trained or experienced at ocean cruises and require constant direction from the Officers who themselves require more training. The ship itself was very well maintained but then it is only 2 years old, it is however very noisy when in rough seas and when using the bow thrusters, no pods fitted to this ship. My wife and I really wanted to like Viking as our new "go to" cruise line with different itinerary's but not a chance. Viking are now what the cruise industry was 10 years ago and customers paying premium rates for the top suites and Penthouses demand service. Celebrity have a Butler who takes care of everyday issues such as excursions, dinner reservations, laundry etc. They also have a dedicated restaurant and lounge bar with concierge for suite guests only and unlimited use of the speciality dining rooms. We are so glad we booked Alaska with Celebrity in May and not Viking, we would have been so disappointed. Read Less
Due to the delay we only embarked on 26Jan 2019 sadly missing two days of fun we were looking forward to..nevertheless once on board we were in awe of the beauty & magnitude of the ship & then the fun started. We loved the various ... Read More
Due to the delay we only embarked on 26Jan 2019 sadly missing two days of fun we were looking forward to..nevertheless once on board we were in awe of the beauty & magnitude of the ship & then the fun started. We loved the various lounges & bar areas for relaxation & good music. The dining sittings in the restaurant caters for everyones needs & the staff serving guests with a smile & then having the opportunity to meet wonderful people at the table we share with.Our highlight the sushi restaurant (my favourite). Our balcony cabin for two very spacious & clean..the staff (& that includes everyone) very friendly & helpful at all times & they work long hours daily. Its also fantastic on the pool deck soaking up the sun & having fun with activities organised by the entertainment team.Its your lucky day if you win something.The shows in the theatre outstanding!!!Professionalism beyond words! The cruise overall is too much to see & do & theres too little time..definitely another cruise planned for the future.. Read Less
Dining in main dining room was average. However, the dining in the specialty restaurants was very good. Liked the choice of 5 dining options. High cost for tours. Best decision is to organize a private tour on Cruise Critic and use Tours ... Read More
Dining in main dining room was average. However, the dining in the specialty restaurants was very good. Liked the choice of 5 dining options. High cost for tours. Best decision is to organize a private tour on Cruise Critic and use Tours by Locals. Overall service was very good. The butler was excellent and the cabin service was very good. Prices in the shops was way out of line. No general sundry shop to purchase small items. Did not like the idea that they would not let you on the ship until noon. Other cruise lines will allow you to board early and wait in a common area until cabins are ready. Disembarkation was not satisfactory. Since we had a late flight we purchased a transfer package that included wait time in a hotel. The hotel day room supplied a minimum of snaks and drinks along with broken chairs. Probably not Crystals fault. Read Less
This was our 1st cruise in 14 years, and we have been intrigued by Cuba for even longer. As new empty nesters and not yet retired, costs still are kind of a thing. Some of our choices reflect some effort at economy, which we found is ... Read More
This was our 1st cruise in 14 years, and we have been intrigued by Cuba for even longer. As new empty nesters and not yet retired, costs still are kind of a thing. Some of our choices reflect some effort at economy, which we found is achievable even on Azamara. Our past cruise experience had been on 2,000+ passenger behemoths; part of this review relates to the (first for us) small ship experience.
For economy, we flew to Miami early on departure morning (a decision we'd like to have back as we were gambling with winter weather up north). Our Deck 6 midships cabin had an obstructed view through the window. We felt little ship motion, no vibraiton and we were well-insulated from public space noise by other cabins. The obstructed view meant a savings, but we could see well enough for us.
We love the (little) R ships and we felt seeing the same staff and passengers lent a sense of collegiality and hominess. Sometimes some passangers might feel the activity selection was insufficient for their tastes - whether this is a legit concern really needs to be weighed in terms of cruise demographics. Our school-year sailing to Cuba meant that the average passenger age was about 66, with a pretty tight standard deviation. In our mid and late 50s, we were decidedly among the youngest on board. Now and then, all of the programmed activities were for an older age group. We were happy enough on our own, but not everyone would be.
Azamara pays attention to the details. Embarkation and debarkation were a breeze and the food was outstanding. We did not do the upgraded restaurant or drink options; we are foodies and still do not feel it necessary as the food in the main dining room was great. Here is an interesting and important observation about food during dinners too: portions are modest and gluttons will be disappointed. To us that was fine, but might not be for everyone. There always is the buffet option, with rotating regional specialities each day. All you can eat there, but it lacks the ambience of the main dining room. Along this same vein, there only was a midnight buffet one light with late-ending nighttime shore excursions. Otherwise, no. Fine with us too.
Another nice thing about the dining room was this: no assigned seats or times. You come when you want. If you like your waiter and remember his/her name, you can ask for that section but need not. The tables are close enough to strike up conversations with neighbors if you want, but one need not. We have recollections of assigned seats on other cruises with incompatible table-mates; we like Azamara's solution. Room service was included and perfect every time we used it (for coffee in the mornings).
Tips are included in your fare; we tipped our room stewards and waiter anyway. Service from absolutely everyone was top-notch. We did the shore excursions sponsored by the cruise line and generally were very satisfied. Mind you, Cuba is new to tourism and Azamara is new to Cuba. Some growing pains were inevitable and showed. Overall, we feel we really learned a lot about the Cuban people and culture, which is why we went.
There was one child on the boat, under the age of 20. She was two years old. This is not a cruise for young families or children. The boat simply is not equipped. We knew that and were happy.
We definitely would go again on Azamara, on an R-ship (we love the smallness) but might do something a bit more tourism-experienced than Cuba next tme. Read Less