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Escape on the Island Escape
Cruises in general
Member Name: logberg
Cruises in general
Advantages: Relaxed, leisurely holiday, hotel comes with you
Disadvantages: some staff problems, expensive internet
For months I've been perusing the Island Escape brochure and popping into the internet to familiarise myself.... it has been the focus of my holiday thoughts as I worked away, saving for the dream.
Age has dimmed thoughts of romantic Di Caprio nights, perching precariously over the front of the ship with a handsome movie star crooning to me; my expectations were of the best of food, presented well, fresh and exciting. Add a few fine wines, cocktails or a cold beer as would take our fancy, relaxing on the deck, matched with a clean, tidy cabin, friendly, interesting staff, with tours of some exciting countries and that’s about what I visualized for our week on the warm Mediterranean sea.
RELAXED, FRIENDLY AND INFORMAL... the motto for Island Cruises
For 99percent of our week-long voyage I can say the huge number of staff worked hard to make sure the motto was successfully experienced by the 1600 passengers onboard Island Escape, one of the two cruise ships operated by Island Cruises.
We did a stay and cruise - one week in Majorca before our cruise week and we are glad we did. Neither of us had visited this part of the world before so staying at Magalluf proved a good base to explore all over the island and of course to anticipate the leisurely, relaxed cruise ahead.
We were picked up by First Choice and on the bus tour to the ship we were given a pack which included the coloured tag for our bags, a credit card form to fill in if we intended to use it to pay for on-board expenses, our cabin number and information about tummy troubles: we had to declare if we’d had any gastric problems in the past three days.
The welcome and paper work for embarkation was pleasant, quick and efficient: as we are not UK passport holders our New Zealand passports were taken from us and were to be held at the Guest Relations office and I have to say as a seasoned traveler, who is never without her passport, I was a bit tetchy about this but rules are rules and we had to conform.
Now, we moved forward to what we thought was a neat idea as we arrived - our photo taken as we boarded the ship, BUT, it later evolved to be a bit of a bore actually as every time to left the ship there was a photographer leaping up in front of you wanting you to pose for yet another way to make a profit on the side. The photos cost 9.95GBP so if you succumbed to the posing every day it would soon add up.
After our personal escort to our cabin on the lowest deck, Aqua 3, our luggage soon arrived and we did a quick unpacking in our tidy and well presented cabin. We could have gone into the town but we decided not to go into Palma but to explore the ship. I am glad we did. It was a relaxing way to slip into cruising mode and to see some fantastic views of Palma from a new angle.
LET’S GET TO KNOW THE SHIP: This really is an entire community on the waves. Island Escape has restaurants, bars, shops, a gym, beauty and personal services like nail art, hair-dressing etc etc with sport, entertainment, outdoor recreation, theatres, casino, photo gallery/shop, library, internet room, kids play area, as well as a doctor’s surgery. There’s even a daily issue of ‘island chat’ to keep you informed of what is going on that day and any information you need to know for tomorrow.
You would be hard to please if there was not something to hold your interest in the vast and varied on-board entertainments and activities, day and night. If you don’t want to stay on board all day there are tour days out on all but the first day when you spend the time at sea en route to Sicily.
There is an introductory ‘on-shore tour presentation’, As well as a special desk dedicated to tours which you find listed on a special information sheet to clearly outline what the tour involves and the price, In some cases I thought them a little on the dear side but if you don’t want to do them you can do your own thing when in port, on or off the ship. Prices ranged from 18GBP for a 4-hour tour to 48GBP for an 8 hour day trip, with a special Barcelona helicopter ride for 85GBP.
So here I am on my cruise of a life-time and it’s time to consider is this what I expected and is it meeting my expectations? There are many positives to talk about and a couple of negatives ranging from a little niggle to an incident which put me off my fettle a bit. More on that later.
The itinerary attracted me in the first place and as we progressed around the Mediterranean I can say I was not disappointed: Palma to embark, then a night and day sailing to Messina in Sicily where we chose to go on a half day Taormina tour which was truly beautiful. Good guide, great scenery and an idyllic town perching high on the side of a mountain with views of Mt Etna. Here we did a town walking tour and visited the Greek Theatre ruins - fantastic.
That night the captain announced he was doing a detour on our way to Naples to show us an active volcano in the middle of the sea, Stromboli, he expected to arrive beside it at around 10pm. He did. What a stunning nocturnal experience. He turned off all outside lights, stopped the motors and the red glow on top of the mountain grew brighter and brighter until a mighty blow of red-hot embers burst up into the air, then rolled over the crest and down the mountain. We all wowed and yelled and he blew the ship’s horn. Not once but five times in the 30-40 minutes we were treated to such a spectacle. Sadly my camera is a little one and not able to pick up the action but it will remain in my memory for the rest of my life. Stunning! Exhilarating!
From Naples we took the Pompeii half day tour which was a return visit for me but the first time for my partner. Both of us loved every minute of the two and a half hour visit. It is dreadful that so many had to die so treacherously - it is humbling to walk around this history that has so dramatically provided an opportunity for us to appreciate and learn how they experienced life 2000 years ago. The bakery with its buns, a pregnant woman’s agony, a contorting dog, caught in time, evidence depicting a horrific historic day when Mount Vesuvius blew tragically into the local community.
On our return to Naples we experienced the world renown dreadful traffic on the roads near the port. We decided to go on a walk into the shopping area and had to cross about three pedestrian crossings and I can tell you my travel insurance was so close to being activated. What a madness it is to invoke your right to cross on the zebra lines! Along with other intrepid pedestrians we took our chances and finally traversed the danger zone - you need a gold medal to actually go into town and get back to the ship.
On to Livorno, Italy, where many passengers went on the all-day Florence-Pisa trip but we opted for a five-hour tour into medieval Lucca and then a vineyard in Tuscany, with a long-distance peek at the Leaning Tower of Pisa from afar as we motored by. Our little town visit was enhanced as it was the third Sunday of the month and many of the narrow streets and piazzas were taken up with the Antiquity Fair. Great, wonderful, marvellous and any other adjectives you can think up. Then we also visited the cathedral which was the main focus of the visit to see famous paintings of Tintoretto and Ghirlandaio as well as some historic, religious artefacts.
On to the vineyard and the extremely cold, freezing afternoon prevented us from strolling amid the vines but lengthened the wine tasting and local delicacy nibbling - you can’t complain about that.
Next port of call was Toulon in South France where we chose the half-day Marseilles tour and what a treat that was. The drive there was a beautiful introduction to a Provence.experience The size of Marseilles really surprised us. It has 14 ports and we went to the old one where there was a fishing market alongside the pier where the fishing boats tie up.
We went to the magnificent Cathedral which dominates high on the hill and has the most awe-inspriring gold work wherever you look in the creative, stylish interior. Truly magnificent and a must if in Marseilles.
In Barcelona we decided to do our own thing and visited Las Ramblas and of course the world-famous market...... once again it proved to be a huge buzz for me and my partner was suitably impressed on his first visit. As he was also with the marina after a stroll along there on our way back to the ship.
ALL IMPORTANT FOOD AND HOSPITALITY: Now when you think of cruising food and hospitality come to mind. Island Escape does food well, in the presentation, variety, creativity and freshness there was not much to fault in any of the three non-smoking restaurants: Beachcomber (24-hour) buffet/casual, Island Restaurant (open three times a day) with a more formal/buffet and Oasis where you are served at the table but you had to pay for the meal and it was definitely more formal with a much higher quality of food. In here you could buy the four-course meal for two at a cost of 24.95 - some nights they did a special and added a bottle of wine in that price. All restaurants had a hand-washing unit which every diner had to use before entering the restaurants.
You paid for all drinks and refreshments in the English Pub/Sundowner, Mirage, Sailaway, Ocean Theatre, Lookout Lounge, Café Brasil, the Bounty Lounge and the casino, all opened varying hours of the day and night. Smoking was allowed in at least one bar which we decided was out of bounds for us non-smokers. (Drinks prices were quite reasonable with the chance to buy a beer and two cocktails (2.40GBP) each day, a reduced price; this is what we did and found it to be an interesting way to go through the cocktail menu - sorry I cannot give other prices as I cannot remember them.)
PAYING ON BOARD: When you arrive you are given a plastic (credit-card sized) card with your name, cruise date and a code on it. It matches with a photo you had taken by the person who does your registration and this little personal card is your ‘’currency’‘ on board. You use it to buy all drinks, shop purchases and meals in the Oasis Restaurant as well as day tours etc. It is also your ‘’passport’‘ to getting on and off the ship. As you leave, staff put it through a machine and your photo comes up on a television screen so it really is important and must not be lost. If you do mislay it they can issue another one for around three pounds, I think. GBP is the currency rate used and you will pay for all your plastic card entries in cash or by your credit card at the end of the cruise. This can be a surprise if you don’t keep a bit of a check on spending as you go. Some passengers were commenting that it seemed like staff were hovering to take what money they could out of you with a bit of pressure on taking your photo for sales of these and a constant offer of drinks etc. I personally did not feel this and thought the spending is really up to the passenger’s own choice and when we left the ship we just looked down at the ground and didn’t let the photo people ‘capture’ us.
TIP: if paying by credit card you are given a bill on the last night and if it is correct they just use the card and you do not have to queue up to pay like those paying cash. Guest Relations was as busy as Piccadilly Station on the last morning.
A LOOK AT THE SHIP IN GENERAL: As we walked along the corridor of our lowest deck accommodation I thought the walls were a bit tatty and wondered what our cabin would be like. I need not have worried, it was really well presented: clean, tidy, a good first reaction. We were on the outside so we had two portholes and I liked the idea of seeing outside. There were two single beds, a wardrobe each, a huge mirror with side lights, a set of drawers, desk, chair and a television which didn’t get much really but did give you the chance to view three movies a day, the safety dvd, constantly, and a webcam of outside of the ship with some other information too. We had a tidy, little ensuite which even had a washing line for drying smalls.
Our housemaid was really lovely, she was friendly and efficient. Some passengers reported their towels were crafted into a monkey, elephant and swan sculptures: I had my black negligee folded into a fan - cute. Cabins cleaned and tidied twice a day which was excellent and when you come back in the evening the lights are turned on ... a personal touch, nice. As with other hospitality places there is a move to be ‘’green’‘ so you put your towel on the floor if you want it changed but if not you hang it up so there’s not too much unnecessary laundry done.
There were heaps of things to do, I chose a chefs demonstration of some of the meals and his assistants did absolutely fantastic fruit, vegetable and marzipan sculptures. The head chef told us he has 72 cooks on board and that they take on 800lbs of potatoes and 600lbs of chicken for a week-long cruise.
I also went to the cocktail-making demonstration and this proved to be a winner for those who could remember what he put into them as they ended up drinking them. Not me, my memory is not as good as it used to be. Pity!
Staff/passenger relations, except for the case I will share later, were exceptionally good. One night a diner next to me told the waiter she was impressed with her towel sculpture she found in her room. He offered to show us how to make a cloth serviette peacock. What a hoot. It was almost impossible to show us two amateurs but believe it or not, after half an hour and many laughs I actually managed to make one. My peacock adorned a wine glass and was quite a ‘proud’ creation on our table. Another night a waiter made me a delightful paper serviette rose on a stem! Super.
I’ve picked out at random one day’s programme just to illustrate the diverse activities and entertainments you could choose from on the cruise. Saturday 20 October, 2007.
JOIN US ASHORE TODAY: trips to Florence and Pisa, Florence at your own pace, The Power of Pisa, Taste of Tuscany, Pisa and Puccini’s lake.
RELAX AND ENJOY: Giant Games Open, Daily Brainteaser and crossword, deck games, Hole in one Golf, Circuit class, deck shuffleboard, radio time, table tennis knockout tournament, Killer Darts, deck quoites, Quiet hour and adult swim time, Free arcade games, pilates class, poolside trivia quiz, Sailaway music, towel folding demonstration, Teens programme.
Evening programme - Andy Wilkins (comedian) show, Bingo Flyer, Team trivia, race night, pre-recorded ballroom dancing, themed music quiz, jackpot bingo, late night cabaret with Kerri Ankrah Lucas and on the Sundowner Deck there was live entertainment by Frankie De Soto, Steven Elliott and Starliters with midnight partying in the Lookout Deck 12. In the Beachcomber restaurant, an Italian Night theme and on Deck 10 a Tropical Deck Party with Captain David Bathgate and the Island Escape Senior Officers!
This gives you an idea of what is on offer and of course you can spend time eating, anytime of day or night at the Beachcomber indoor/outdoor restaurant, high up on the boat, where you’ll be able to get a cup of tea or coffee, fruit juices and something to eat at your leisure.
NIGGLES AND NEGATIVES:
I wish there was nothing to inform about here but there was.
A niggle to me but a Nostradamus Negative for many of the mainly English passengers was the fact that the England v South Africa Rugby World Cup final which played on the Saturday was not available to view onboard. Apparently, according to word-of-mouth, the captain had said he did not have a licence to show it - this did not sit well with the huge percentage of rugby fans so that was a bit of a sour note. My Kiwi (New-Zealand) rugby mad partner asked a young staff member on Sunday morning if he knew the score and he answered: ‘’It is good to leave England behind when you go on a cruise’‘. Oops! Not a good answer to give a rugby committed Kiwi!!)
A niggle - my feeling that there was a lack of communication. (I guess they don’t want Hi De Hi announcements interupting passengers peace and quiet all day but some things need addressing) Having decided not to show the game I felt the captain could have included the result in his morning call over the loud speaker. Also, we were held up for over three hours at Naples and apparently he did say something but I did not hear it, so once again rumour advised that a crew member had witnessed an accident on shore and was being interviewed by police. After we sailed I thought he could have informed us of what had happened as it did have a roll-on effect for late arrival next day and booked tours etc.
And that brings me to my major negative, also under communication heading. Firstly I was at the ON-SHORE desk changing a full-day tour to a half-day one for the next day and I heard a young woman speak abysmally to a couple who she told in no uncertain terms they could not change a tour because there was not 24-hour notice. It was not their fault the ship was late leaving and she was so rude.
And now my biggest complaint ---- On day three we returned from a super day out in Taormina, Sicily to find a formal letter on the bed advising my credit card was not operating and to contact my credit card company to sort it out. It offered me the chance to hand in another credit card or to pay cash for the on-board spend. I did not have bulk English pounds onboard! I phoned New Zealand but it was night time and credit card staff were not on duty so I had to phone again later. When I got through the person said there was absolutely NO reason why my credit card would not work, it was NOT stopped, so it had to be a merchant error. I went downstairs and told the lady and she said she would activate it again but I would have to wait 24hours to see if it worked properly so I should return and check next day. This I did and it all turned to custard.
The man said it must be okay as there was nothing written in the book. I in a very pleasant manner told him that I’d expended 15GBP toll calls to New Zealand to be told there was nothing wrong with my credit card so would the company consider letting me use the internet for half an hour - 4.50GBP. He rudely refused and said it was not his company’s fault my credit card was not working and the credit card provider had stopped the card. I pointed out that a Maria had said it was not stopped. His reply, ‘’they always say it is not stopped and while they are talking to you the activate it again’. Well I asked to speak to his manager but he retorted ‘I am the supervisor madam’. Getting no-where with my reasonable request I told him I was not happy and would take it further. He cared not a jot! This soured the cruise for me but I decided that I had saved, budgeted and looked forward to it for many months so why let an officious, young man ruin it for me.... I put it behind me as I recognized that everyone else on staff, apart from two from the front-line ‘’people department’‘, were just fantastic and most efficient. (I have now composed a letter of complaint and will post it off to the Customer Relations department.)
Procedures for embarking and disembarking at the beginning and end of the cruise were extremely well organised. The departure procedures are clearly outlined on an information sheet which you get the day before you leave. You have to put a coloured tag on your luggage which denotes which flight you will leave on and the bags have to be in the corridor before 2am on the departure morning. You have to vacate your cabin by 8.30 so they open breakfast facilities earlier that day. Then you wait in public areas and when your flight number is called you pass over your plastic ‘passport’‘ for the last time, go on to the wharf and collect your luggage which is in the colour area you have on your tag and then go to the awaiting coach for a 25-minute ride to Palma’s huge and efficient airport. For me, an extremely sad journey as I did not want to leave the ship.
THE COST: well it obviously depends if you book through a travel agent, on the phone or as I did on the internet. I booked early in 2007 so got a discount for doing so and the two-week stay-n-cruise cost me 1600GBP for two of us and that was half-board at the resort for one week and full board on the ship. Some I spoke to got late deals and they seemed to be half what I paid so do your homework and book and pay when best suits you and the price you want to pay.
SHIP STATISTICS: (not sure if you need to know this, but here goes)
Gross registered tonnage - 40132, Overall length, 189.89metres, Beam 27.01metres, draft 6.9metres, Power 19,800kw, diesel engine, maximum 1862 passengers and 612 crew.
It was built for a Scandanavian company and underwent a refit for 3-4 day cruises before being transferred to the Island fleet in March 2002.
So, that out of the way, it is now time to conclude with overall comments about our week-long Island Escape cruise in the Mediterannean and I have pleasure in saying I left the ship wanting to come back.
Did my week achieve the Island Escape motto: relaxed, friendly and informal cruises. For 99 percent of the time - YES.
I was really quite sad to leave after the seven days of my MEDITERRANEAN SPIRIT cruise and feel a ten day cruise may well be much better as you are just getting used to the size and outlay of the ship, (especially as we were onshore each day). I truly wanted to stay onboard a little longer.
The’ league of nations’ staff presented as a fun, friendly team, and this projected into exciting, interesting activities and entertainments day and night...... we visited a new country every day and our hotel went with us. Organization is the answer and most of the Island Escape team seemed to appreciate this and worked extremely hard to make sure every aspect of our cruise of a lifetime was a huge success.
As the sun sets on this review, I am already planning another Island cruise, this time on the second week itinerary - or was that dreaming of it? I’ll get out the pencil and start the travel budget planner because I intend to be cruising into the future, now I’ve got the bug.
This is a long review, but I do trust it has held your interest as there was a lot to say and I guess after I send it I’ll think of some other interesting facts and information. It is not a posh cruise, but it does not claim to be ..... dress was as formal or as informal as you like - just like the rest of the cruise. Bon Voyage ......
(PS.. i trust this is in the right section as I saw another Island Escape story in here...if not, I do apologise to have made a mistake again!)
Summary: A wonderful week enjoying Meditteranean delights.
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