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Merriem Wombacher

Age: 57

Occupation:homemaker

Number of Cruises: 12

Cruise Line: Cunard

Ship: Caronia

Sailing Date: NOT FOUND

Itinerary: Southampton to Canary Islands

For nearly ten days I have been considering what to write about our trip on the Cunard Caronia from Southampton to the Canary Islands on October 30th. This was our 12th cruise, and probably would fall toward the bottom of my list of favorites. Please do not get the wrong impression, but this ship is not what we expected.

To give you a little background information, the Caronia was built in 1974 and sailed under the name of the Vistafjord up until about a year ago. It was totally refurbished, and became the small luxury ship of the Cunard family. It is approximately 25,000 tons and holds around 650 passengers. We bid on this cruise on skyauction.com back in August, and paid less than one half of the “sticker price” including our airfare. We did “get a good deal”, but that really isn’t the issue on a cruise. A luxury ship should be just that. Although the Caronia was well maintained, and certainly was not showing any signs of neglect, it just is not what I think most people are expecting.

My goal of this review is to present the facts as we saw them, and let you make your own decisions.

We flew to London Heathrow on United Airlines. I had purchased transfers from the airport to Southampton for $55 each. It was my impression that we would be taken to some central waiting area to rest while waiting for other passengers. This is normally done in a nearby hotel, but instead we were taken to the bus station at the airport to sit from 6:15AM to 11:30AM. Our daughter also went on this trip with us, but instead flew into London Gatwick. Her transfers were separate; however, they had made a mistake and put her as arriving with us. Fortunately, I was asking where she was, and they did contact the other airport to meet her arriving plane. The passengers arriving at Gatwick were taken to a nice room at the Hilton for tea awaiting the bus. I have no idea why there was a difference, but will check with Cunard later this week.

After a two-hour trip to Southampton, with a pleasant driver and guide that gave us a mini-tour while we drove, we were escorted to a very comfortable waiting area. The boarding process was quick and simple, plus our luggage arrived in our cabin very promptly.

Everyone always wants to know about the cabins. Ours was 257, a category D, outside on the “Upper Deck”. The size was quite satisfactory at 202 square feet even for three adults. I was surprised at the more than adequate storage space. All of our suitcases fit under the beds with the exception of one, which the room steward stored for me. We had two twin beds with one upper birth. There was a roomy chest between the beds, a good dressing table, and three chairs. The bathroom was one of the better ones I have seen on our cruises. It had a tub and shower, large sink area with storage underneath, and marble walls and floor. The beds were in need of replacement. They were not at all comfortable, and were quite lumpy. There really is not much you can do about a bad bed, but just find a comfortable spot and go to sleep. Terry robes were provided for the three of us, and the towels were large and fluffy. Our cabin steward was excellent. He kept everything in excellent order, and was very gracious. Over the entire cabin was fine. It did show some signs of wear, which surprised me since the ship had been refurbished just over a year ago.

The next thing everyone is interested in is the food. What would a cruise be without food? This was one part of the cruise that was consistently excellent starting with the crystal stemware, great service, and a varied menu. My only complaint and it was a big one is that you have to eat at your assigned table for all THREE meals. That means you can be stuck with the same miserable tablemates’ morning, noon, and evening. It really makes no sense that they do it this way, as many mornings there would only be my husband and myself eating at a fully set table for eight. Several mornings we would see friends and want to eat together, but that was not possible. I know you think we could have gone to the buffet, but when I am on vacation, I do not want to go through a line with a tray. Normally breakfast and lunch are open seating, and a great way to get to meet new people as well as enjoying the variety. This ship has only one seating for dinner, and they start serving at 7pm, which we found to be a great time to eat. I do not like the typical 6pm or 8:30pm......one is too early, and the other too late.

There is an alternative dining room called the Tivoli Restaurant. It served only Italian food, and you needed to make reservations. The food was perfect, and our only wish was we could have gone more than once.

On the good side of the main dining room was never a bad meal, never a grumpy waiter, and no one telling you the typical waiter sob story about their poor family back in some other country. (In hopes of a bigger tip) While I am on the subject of tipping I think the way they do it is excellent. There are none of those little white envelopes exchanging hands the last night, as $11 per person per day is added to your ship’s bill, and that takes care of the gratuities. It certainly eliminated the tipping issue or at least made it very simple.

Well, after you have eaten and slept, you probably are looking for some activities. Yawn!!!!!!!!!!!!! This ship needs to liven up a little bit! Some of the activities were needle work, a very boring lecturer that still referred to the United States as the COLONIES, dancing classes, lectures on really old, long gone, movie stars, the beauty salon giving a short talk on what to do about swollen feet, and a rather cheesy band that played music from the 40’s. We did go to the noon trivia contest, which was actually fun, but never won! It was a good place to catch up on your reading and lost sleep! There was an afternoon tea, or shall I say “stuff your face buffet“, but we didn’t have room for any extras but the three basic meals.

My husband really enjoyed the exercise facilities. They had an indoor pool, free weights, and all the mechanical gadgets to help get rid of those extra calories. Amazing for the age of most passengers, and the size of the ship, it was one of the best we have seen.

I love music on a ship and this one must have gotten a discount rate as other than a great piano play named Fred, who could sing and play anything you ask, there was just nothing but the sound of the ship. Don’t go on the Caronia if you want to do the YMCA or any line dancing. It just isn’t there!

Our ship spent most of the ten days at sea, which is something we normally like. However, due to the fact that there were only 43 of us from the COLONIES, many of those from the motherland were rather serious and not terribly chatty! We did spent a lovely day in Madeira which is off the coast of Portugal, a Sunday in Tenerife, Canary Islands (Sundays in a Catholic country mean CLOSED). It was a shame they were not there on any other day. Then the next day we went the Lanzarote, Canary Islands, and thanks to the shuttle that was provided free of charge by the ship we were able to get into town, and back quickly. This was provided at each port.

On our three-day return to England we ran into a horrible storm. For 72 hours we had 40-foot seas, and gale force winds. I did a lot of napping in the cabin, as it was next to impossible to walk around.

The night before docking was very unpleasant, and impossible to sleep. As you always put your luggage out that night before arrival, it was very quiet. However at 1AM I was awaken to what sounded like a bomb dropping over my head. They were moving luggage, and not at all quietly. After about thirty minutes of this nonsense, I did get dressed and go to the Purser’s office to complain. It took at least another hour to finally get the noise to stop.

Once we arrived, the disembarkation was quick and smooth. We took a taxi to our hotel in London from Southampton which cost about $150, as the ship transfers only went to the airport.

The Caronia is not a horrible ship, but it would no doubt be too dull for 90% of cruisers. I know after 10 rather dull days, not without it good moments, we will stay away from Cunard in the future. They are catering to a British market, which is counting me out!

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