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Voyager, cruise review.

Boarding.

My first impression on boarding was that every one of the crew that I spoke to was warm and friendly, and several days later on continuing this review, this has remained my experience.   Being not sure of what the lunch arrangements might be, we had brought sandwiches with us, which we ate just before the port.   As it turned out you could still get something to eat after boarding unless you were very late, in which case it is not long to dinner.

The second experience after boarding is muster drill, which has to take place, by law, before the ship sails.   This, like some other lines, was a civilised affair held at the muster station where we could sit down, important for elderly, and the other passengers were quiet during the safety announcement.   We found the life jackets a tight fit, but were supplied with a larger size by our cabin steward.

Food.

Quality and service is good.   The food is more suited to an English taste than on the Americanised lines.   The full English breakfast had black pudding and fried bread as well, and included proper bacon (although it includes the streaky part and is not just the eye of lean meat that some people expect, it is also grilled in a large tin so it curls up and sticks together, some passengers were not happy because it was not individually fried with a weight on top to keep it flat. At least it didn't shatter when you tried to cut it, so I was happy) and English sausage.   On other ships I have had problems getting fried bread, they seemed not to understand when I explained what it was.   The eggs benedict was excellent, the eggs were cooked, the yolks soft and firm but not runny, although one day they came underdone.   The dining room is not very big, it looks bigger than it is, as they have mirrors instead of walls at each end.   The rectangular six seater tables are a bit cramped if you are in the middle.   The round tables are better for elbow room but then you get bumped when someone squeezes between the chairs if you are in a seat which is back to back with the next table.   The tables are also better suited to six than the eight they set them for.   There are two tables set for six and these are very comfortable.

Breakfast is a choice between a la carte and buffet and you can mix the two.   Only fruit juice, coffee/tea and toast is served at the table or fixed items ordered from the menu.   Anything else including fruit, cereals, pastries etc you get from the buffet, you can also get most hot items but only scrambled egg.   The waiters are very attentive and will fetch items from the buffet for those with mobility problems.   They do not serve water at breakfast but will bring a glass of water if asked.   The toast is not ordered individually, but a shared rack is provided for each table.   This means you can not order your own individual choice of Brown, White, Rye, Sourdough, etc.   Seating is informal rather than fixed, so that you are sitting with different table companions for each meal, unless you arrange to all go at the same time, this was the best breakfast arrangement I have come across on any ship I have sailed so far.

We thought the Discovery Restaurant was small, but the Verandah was even smaller.   Though, being self service rather than waiter service, the waiters are able to organise the seating very well.   They seemed to have developed a system of finding the spare seats and getting the information through to the lead person on the door.   Providing the passengers that want a leisurely meal use the Discovery Restaurant and leave the Verandah for those that want a quick turnaround then it all works very well.

Entertainment.

There is a huge range of lectures detailed in the program for such a small ship.   When I saw the list I thought it was the lecturers for the whole season and we would have just one or two, but no we had all six.   They were all good speakers and gave very interesting talks.   The topics had been chosen well to fit in with the cruise.   It seemed a universal impression among the passengers that the speakers were exceptional and a highlight of our cruise experience.

  • Dr David Drewry is a Geologist with expertise in glaciation, polar regions and global warming.   He gave an interesting range of talks with many different but relevant topics.
  • Peter Mawby is an ornithologist with varied experience of bird research in the arctic and U.K..   His introductory talk was pitched just right and is the best one I have heard for people new to birding and bird recognition.
  • Air Commodore Phil Wilkinson has had an interesting and distinguished career in the RAF and was able to give us his insight into Russia and the Russian people.   He has also been an active campaigner for British recognition for those that participated in the arctic convoys.
  • Stuart Usher is a military historian with special involvement in expeditions to Norway to recover aircraft and midget submarines.
  • Simon Dunbavand gave a series of talks on the music of the countries we were visiting.
  • Brian Healey, port lecturer, has been both a teacher and artist with a passion for music, architecture, travel and the sea with a desire to pass on to others the thrill of learning and discovery.
We didn't go to any shows so we can't assess those.

Excursions

The Itineraries are very interesting with unusual ports as well as the traditional ones.   The arrangements are efficient, but with the minimum of fuss, no stickers, just go when called and collection of tickets at the coach.   The shore excursions staff, like all the crew on the ship are very helpful and are better than any line we have been on to date.

We went on six of the organised excursions.   These were OK and reasonable value for money.   Not as good a value as when you arrange your own, but then you have the added security that if there is a problem the boat will wait, or they will arrange for you to get to the next port.   If you are independent then you are on your own, though reputable firms have emergency arrangements and I have never known this to be a problem.   The official ship excursions are usually the ones that get back late when inconsiderate passengers are late getting back to the coach, which with several stops can accumulate.   I have heard such passengers arrogantly say "Oh the ship will wait", which may be true if there are no other constraints.   But if there is a tide window, the berth is required by another ship, there is a risk that the next port may have to be missed, or a number of other reasons, then the Captain will take a decision based on minimising the overall cost and maximising the experience for the other passengers.   They may one day get a shock.

Like all cruise lines they imply that if you do not take an excursion from the cruise line you must have a Russian visa in Russian ports.   This is a distortion of the actual truth.   Providing you are on a cruise ship and do not stay for more than 3 days (2 nights), remain on board overnight and only travel under arrangements by an official tour company recognised by the Russian Officials, then you do not need a visa.   The travel company will arrange the necessary documentation.   If you want to get off and wander around on your own, visit friends or stay overnight, then you do need a visa and should contact the Russian Embassy well in advance.   You can read more about this at www.saint-petersburg.com/.

Disembarkation

Having had a nasty experience on the Marco Polo we always fear disembarkation.   Notice how you are always asked to complete the cruise questionnaire before you find out what the arrangements will be.   When we got the instructions we saw the dreaded words "all cabins to be vacated by 7:00 a.m.". However we soon realised that we could go to breakfast then and would probably be called by the time we had finished.   This turned out to be the case and so the whole exercise was a leisurely and painless exercise.   We did notice as we left the ship that the Scott Lounge, being next to the exit, was pretty packed.   But if you are wise there are plenty of other places, with ample room to wait until called.

Medical facilities

Like all cruise lines they have a fully equipped medical centre and fully trained staff.   Unlike other ships they are clear on their charges, there is information in the cabin on how to use them and what the charges will be.   Note that you pay more for a call out to a cabin than to attend the medical centre when it is open.   However if you have symptoms that you think might indicate Norovirus then you should stay in your cabin and call them.   The last thing you should do is to wander down to the medical centre with a virulent infection.   The ship has a well established procedure for containment and you will not be charged for callouts if you are unfortunate enough to get infected.   Since medical charges can be quite high, it is worth checking the small print in your insurance policy.

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