26/11/2014

Just Back From…the “stretched” MSC Armonia: LEGOs and more

MSC Armonia - photo by Jamey Bergman

Carving a cruise ship apart and putting it back together sounds like a complicated process – and it is. The “stretching” procedure that MSC Armonia underwent this autumn, part of the company’s “Renaissance Program” added a new 80-foot section to the vessel’s midship, introducing a new LEGO playroom, refurbishing cabins and other changes.

I took an overnight trip on Armonia in August before the changes on the 13-year-old ship, sailing from Split, Croatia to Venice, Italy. Last week, I boarded the ship for a three-night cruise to check out all the new features, post-stretch. Here’s what you’ll find on the redone ship:

An Expansive Top Deck. From what I’ve seen, the ship extension appears remarkably seamless (pun intended). Where you can notice the change is on the top decks. (there’s an actual colour change in the flooring, demarcating the old sections of ship from the new.) The area truly feels expansive – almost to the point of dwarfing the pools – and I can’t imagine it getting crowded.

Read on to find out more about MSC Armonia’s expansion.

25/11/2014

Member review: Norwegian Epic blew my mind!

Cruise Critic member Hedwig3 admits to being an “extremely nervous” first-time solo traveller, but chose a Western Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic because it promised to be a sociable holiday.

“I was not disappointed,” said Hedwig3 in his review, adding that the the Studio Cabin, specially designed for solo passengers, was perfect – especially the little touches such as mood lighting.

Read on to find out more.

24/11/2014

Destination Spotlight: 5 Reasons to Cruise in Cambodia and Vietnam

Indochine owned by CroisiVoyages

The majority of my river and canal cruises have been in Europe – which makes sense, as it’s the world’s most popular river cruise destination. Recently, I floated much further afield, along the lesser-travelled waters of Cambodia and Vietnam aboard the 48-passenger colonial-style Indochine owned by CroisiVoyages, part of French-owned CroisiEurope. The eight-night cruise took in part of the 2,710-mile Mekong (or Mother) River – southeast Asia’s longest river – and Tonle Sap, the region’s largest freshwater lake.

Here are five reasons to take a cruise from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh city (or in reverse).

Read on to find out more.

21/11/2014

Comical Cruise Complaints

Complaints Department - image courtesy of Shutterstock

Side-splitting comedians may be on the bill, but look no further than the guest relations desk for a rich source of (unofficial) cruise ship entertainment. Blissfully unaware of their audience, passengers grumble long – and loud – about their perceived “complaints”. I once witnessed an irate couple, outraged that the two cases of wine they’d brought with their luggage had been confiscated, demand that the cruise line fork out the air fare to ship their banned booty back home (instead it was returned to them at the end of the voyage, as it would be for anyone else).

It’s this kind of thing that comes up in a very amusing thread started by forum member johhnnyt who asks: “What is the funniest complaint you ever heard (or overheard) at guest relations?”

On an excursion to Nice, he witnessed a woman throwing a fit because she didn’t expect to be on a bus for an hour. “The guide explained to her they couldn’t turn the bus around just for her,” johhnnyt wrote. “She then insisted she and her husband be left in the next town ‘and we’ll arrange our own transportation back to the ship’.

“The next day she was down at guest relations, demanding that the guide be fired for ignoring her and that she be reimbursed €400 for the money that it cost her to hire a boat to bring her back to the ship (although she had misplaced the receipt). The people at guest relations tried their best to calm her down, but explained to her that neither request was going to happen, since they didn’t do anything wrong. Fellow passengers who were in line at guest relations could not stop laughing, which no doubt infuriated her even more.”

More comical complaints

20/11/2014

Just Back From… Quantum of the Seas: 6 Cool Things about the Cabins

Owner's Suite with Balcony - Bed in master bedroom - Quantum of the Seas

Cruises can be frustrating at time, mostly because of little things. Like having to stumble the desk to check the time on my phone when I wake up at night.

Why do I have to stumble to the desk, when there’s a bedside stand close by? As frequent cruisers know, there’s never a convenient outlet there. And speaking of outlets, there’s never enough of them. Between my traveling companion and myself, we have two cell phones, one laptop, possibly two cameras and, sometimes, a tablet, all of which need to be charged.

So it was, with much excitement, that I discovered a bedside outlet in my cabin on Quantum of Seas. The cabin also has two USB charging outlets along with the usual electrical outlets by the desk.

Those two elements weren’t the only small touches I discovered in the cabin during my four days on the ship — small touches that allowed me to “live” in my cabin more similarly to how I live at home. Here, in no particular order, are six cabin details on Quantum of the Seas that make a huge difference.

USB Charging Outlets: No more needing to use one of the only two electrical outlets for charging my phone. Instead, I was able to plug in directly to one of the two USB outlets located by the desk. I think I heard angels singing as my phone and camera battery charged, while at the same time I typed away on my also-plugged-in laptop.

Five more conveniences in Quantum’s cabins

19/11/2014

Just Back from… Quantum of the Seas: Two70

The Two70 Lounge on Quantum of the Seas - photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

Much about the Quantum of the Seas smart ship coverage has focused on the robot bartenders in the Bionic Bar. And that’s understandable (I had visions of the bar in Star Wars before I boarded).

But the real tech wows of Royal Caribbean’s newest ship are, in my opinion, “Vistarama” and the “roboscreens” in Two70. This space at the back of the ship is where cutting-edge technology is being pioneered.

The double-height space has an enormous window, which takes up the whole of the back wall. Press a button and a screen slides down, transforming into Vistarama – an ultra-HD screen more than 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall. Vistarama’s 12k resolution is nearly twice that of any IMAX cinema and can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.

On my sailing, I sat in on a tech talk with Nick Weir, the Brit-born vice president of entertainment at Royal Caribbean, who has overseen the 14-month project. He was understandably keen to show off some of the techno wizardry on offer, and during the afternoon demo we saw a Zeppelin balloon animation, a giant musical fish tank and a large red curtain, pulled apart to reveal a stage.

This giant animated red curtain also heralds the start of the evening show, Starwater. The curtain is pulled back to reveal an old-style theater, complete with dancers, seats and boxes, creating the impression of a theater in the round.

Read on to find out more.

18/11/2014

Member Review: on P&O Cruises’ Ventura

Member Molly Printemps was on her first cruise and thoroughly enjoyed the two-week Western Mediterranean itinerary on P&O CruisesVentura, joining at Venice. Molly’s review included some great tips for saving money on excursions and included the price of some onboard drinks – useful for future passengers who want to work out their holiday budget.

Molly’s Ventura experience was mostly very enjoyable, although there were “just a few niggles”. These included the price of onboard drinks and photographs, leaving some ports early and – that old British cruising chestnut – mandatory gratuities.

On the whole, though, Molly and her husband had a great time.

Read on to find out her highlights.

17/11/2014

Where in the World is Cruise Critic?

Jamey sailing on the MSC Armonia

Cruise Critic staffers set sail every week, travelling the globe to bring you the latest cruise ship trends, port sneak peeks and onboard observations. Here’s where we are this week.

(Got questions about any of the ships we’re boarding or ports we are visiting? Ask us in the comments!)

Ship: MSC Armonia

Where: We’ll be sailing from Genoa, stopping in Marseilles, spending a day at sea and then disembarking in Spain.

Who: Jamey Bergman, Production Editor

Why There? MSC Armonia has undergone a “stretching” operation whereby the ship was cut in two and had an 80-foot section wedged in. I visited the ship in August as it made its way into dry dock for the surgery; look for photos documenting the ship before and after.

We Can’t Wait: Aside from the fact that it’ll be a unique experience to take the inaugural cruise on a ship that’s just been cut in half and sewn back together, I’m also interested to check out all the new features, including the LEGO-themed playrooms in the kids’ club. (Yes, I’m too old for this, but I don’t care.)

14/11/2014

When towel animals go bad

Some passengers love them, and others are – quite literally – happy to wash their hands of them. Whilst I drew the line at a sinister bedspread figure lurking in shadows when I returned to my cabin on a Nile cruise, I personally love towel animals!

So much so, I went to the demonstration and ended up buying the book on another cruise. I tried to perfect a crab (above) – the easiest as it requires just one bath sheet without a complicated mix of large and medium towels or the added intricacy of face cloths). With its lop sided tissue eyes it wouldn’t have won any prizes, and was eclipsed by the perfect penguin my room steward created as a companion.

Read on to find out more.

13/11/2014

Cruise Critic members pull off flash mob wedding proposal

Our inaugural crossing on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas last week was full of dramatic moments – crossing through a stormy Bay of Biscay, attending Cruise Critic’s biggest-ever Meet & Mingle, and, of course, the chance to try out the ship’s innovative new features. We loved Dynamic Dining’s choice of restaurants. The Seaplex, with its trapeze school, roller skating and bumper cars, made us feel like kids again. The craft cocktails at Michael’s Genuine Pub and the perfectly prepared pastas at Jamie’s Italian – two new-to-Royal Caribbean venues – would bring us back to Quantum (and Anthem and Ovation, the successor ships, which will also feature them).

Read on for the full story.