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Mike Coggs

Age: 55

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 12

Cruise Line: Island Cruises

Ship: Island Escape

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Mediterranean Essence


I have just returned from a one week cruise onboard the Island express on the Mediterranean Essence Itinerary. We joined the ship at Palma 16 days after disembarking from an eleven day repositioning cruise on the My Travel (Airtours) M/S Carousel.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

We flew from Liverpool on an LTE (Palma based - Spanish) Airbus. A good flight arriving about one hour late.

After collecting our cases we were directed to the Island Cruises desk where we were given an envelope containing embarkation forms (including a SARS declaration) to fill in on the coach. Also included was a triangular coloured plastic label with your cabin number on it and the sorting number for collection when leaving the ship at the end of your cruise (ours was Lime Green No 3). You fix the label to your case with a plastic strap. You then go to the coach and drop your case off. It then appears at your cabin door about half an hour after you board the ship.

Registration
After filling in the forms on the 20 minute coach journey you are dropped at the embarkation hanger. You then queue at one of about six desks where you give the usual swipe of your passport and credit card (if you don’t want to pay by cash at the end of your cruise). A photo is also taken with a small web camera. You are then given a swipe card which acts as your onboard credit card plus your security card which is swiped every time you board or leave the ship. As it is swiped your photo appears on the security officer’s laptop. We were at the front of one of the queues and the whole process took no more than two or three minutes.

You then approach the ship which appears huge. The gang plank is very steep as it goes up to the reception desk floor (Deck 5). For normal disembarkation it runs from deck 3. Disabled passengers can enter at a lower level. You are then guided to your cabin by one of the pleasant housekeeping staff who make no effort to wait for a gratuity. Our cases appeared after 20 minutes.

Cabins
We were in an inside cabin on the Emerald deck (75**). The cabin was quite pleasant although the décor could have been improved with a few more mirrors. (The similarly sized M/V Carousel cabin had three large mirrors giving an impression of more space). The ensuite was as has been stated by others, a little tired but in excellent working order. One good point was constant very hot water no matter how many people were rushing for a shower (unlike the Carousel). We only had one problem which was a faulty florescent light which was immediately reported by our super stewardess (Liliya) and was fixed by the time we returned to the cabin.

The cabin was very quiet but it did have one problem. It wobbled. Now I know I put on weight during every cruise but lying on my bunk I really did feel like a Jelly on a shaking plate. My wife described it as like being given a free toning session. Other passengers on our level also commented on this strange phenomenon which brought a new meaning to the phrase “did the earth move for you darling?”. Amorous couples should note that initially the bunks are separated by a small coffee table which can be reposition so that one of the bunks can be slid along a rail to form a double bed.

One of the best features of the cabin was the TV’s ability to show the view from the bridge 24 hours a day. This allows inside cabiners like us to see our outside surroundings and how the weather is from the comfort of your bunks. You also get a channel with a computerised navigation chart which shows the plotted navigation course and the actual GPS position of the ship. The chart automatically zooms as you approach a port.

You also have Sky News, BBC1, Channel4, TCM, Movies etc.

Restaurants
All restaurants are non-smoking which as a non smoker was appreciated as we were able to enjoy our food without the waft of other peoples smoke wrecking the flavour of our meals. Many smokers used the outside deck of the 10th floor 24 hour self-service restaurant to smoke and munch.

Beachcomber 24 hour Buffet Restaurant
Excellent food served in pleasant surroundings. Tea and coffee is served in polystyrene cups. You are offered alcoholic drinks by the excellent staff. Tables are cleared promptly and efficiently. The only problem for me was my tendency to eat too much at buffet restaurants. For vegetarians there was always a good selection of dishes in all restaurants

Island Restaurant Breakfast 7.30 -10.00 Lunch 12.30 -15.00 / Dinner 19.00 – 22.00. We only used this restaurant for breakfast on several occasions. You did not appear to have the option of waiter service as on other cruises at breakfast although it was available at lunchtime and for dinner. They did not appear to widely advertise the lunchtime waiter service which we, being lazy always opted for. You were ushered to a small almost hidden area at the back of the restaurant. The good thing about waiter service is you do not have to try to squeeze past other passengers to go and get your food. Most of the tables are tables for eight and are arranged so that four seats are back to back with the next table. Space was very limited and you always had to ask someone to pull their chair in when leaving or to get to the buffet breakfast. There is an excellent range of hot and cold food as in any normal hotel.

Oasis Restaurant 19.00 – 22.00

This is full waiter service only and is excellent. The food is served in a five star fashion. Although the menu has several “a la carte” options that carry a supplement there are always several non supplement dishes which are excellent. Wine is very reasonable for the five star surroundings, ranging from about £8 a bottle upwards. We had a full bodied Valpolicella for £9.50 most nights which was excellent. Beer onboard is £2.20 a pint. We used this restaurant every night. You had to book with the maitre D either for that evening or the next between 11.30-12.30 and 17.00 -18.30. It gets very full later in the evening although we had no problem booking for 18.30 every night. We normally asked for a ‘shared’ table rather than one for 2 people as we enjoy meeting new people. Most people dressed smartly but casually in this restaurant. Open neck shirts, ties and dickey-bows were all to be seen every night.
My advice would be whether you are a road sweeper or a barrister, get down to this restaurant and get your full moneys worth from your cruise. The food really is excellently presented. When we asked many of the people why they were not trying the Oasis for dinner they said they were under the impression there was a supplement on the entire menu. There ain’t! Get down there! You won’t eat anywhere else (or have to queue outside the Island restaurant at dinner).

Entertainment.

Cabaret in the Ocean Theatre
There were normally different shows nightly 19.30 -20.30 and 22.00 - 23.00. This caused a problem in that the first had always started by the time we had finished early dinner and the theatre was always full and to get a seat for the second show you had to got into the theatre about 21.15 (3/4 hour before the show). The other cruise lines system of repeating the same show twice each evening to coincide with early and late dinner is far better. It was a cause of much complaint amongst the passengers. The performers led by Frank Hammond from Sheffield (Cruise Director – ex West-End performer) are excellent and produced really professional Musical Shows.

Games etc in the Bounty Lounge
Other members of the entertainment team ran game shows in the Bounty Lounge immediately above the Theatre. Family Fortunes, Generation challenge, Know your partner, Name that Tune etc. They also have a Spotlight cabaret on later in the evening when one of the team did a solo performance. There was also a James Bond look a like competition so men take your Tuxs if you want to join in this one. (Several people did wear dinner suits for the evening, by the way)

Pool side
The usual games and quizzes were carried out by the pool were the resident band played. The pool area also has a sliding roof which is closed if it rains or during storms. This area is also used for several sail away parties during the cruise. The best was a “Blues Brothers “Party were the captain actually stops the ship off shore while a good time is had by all. He appeared like the rest of us in shades and the obligatory black trilby (sold on deck for £1.95). The captain really enters into the spirit of the party and is very happy to have his photograph taken with you in full “Blues Brother” mode. He (Captain John McNeill) was the most friendly captain we have every cruised with. He was often seen sat with his staff in the buffet restaurant and was always about the ship checking on things. He also kept us well informed as to changes to the route and everything else we need to know. A most likeable man.

Things we personally didn’t like

The Lifeboat Drill
This appeared to us a little shambolic and casual. You are told to see the notice behind your door for instructions as to the location of your muster station. We had two notices, one saying go to deck 8 and the other deck 10. We were directed to deck 10 by the marshals were we stood in lines with many of the people at the back sat down taking no notice. You are not directed as is usual to your particular life craft.

The Tunis visit
We were surprised that this port had not been substituted as three weeks earlier the Airtours cruise had cancelled their Agidir call due to the current world situation on advice from the Foreign Office. Most of the guests appeared to stay on board. Many had arguments with the local taxi drivers and one old man got robbed by his taxi driver and dumped.

The Gale
Just before we left Nice, the sky clouded over and the Captain announced that the ship would not now be sailing to Minorca due to Gale force winds and rain. Instead we were to sail to Barcelona. As you will sea from the copy of the provided ships log below we still sailed into a gale with the ship crashing into heavy waves. Most guests appeared to have spent a nervous night awake listening t the crashes of the bow. The captain however appeared to have steered the ship into the storm as there was virtually no roll only the up and down pitch on the bow. I felt quite safe; however I think my wife found religion that night

Dress Code
Again personally we found the dress code a little disappointing compared to similar cruises with Airtours, Thomson, Festival etc. We did know this before booking the cruise off teletex (as did 80% of the ship) but I always enjoy a couple of formal evenings were the ladies (and gents) have a chance to dress in their finery

Free Buses at Barcelona
Maybe because it was because we had been a last minute diversion to Barcelona but the free shuttle bus did not arrive for at least one hour. We gave up and joined others in a queue for a taxi to the end of La Rambla. He charged us 6 Euros for the 2 minute ride. Similar chaos ensued on the return journey which resulted in a shared taxi. Do watch out for the gipsies who robbed a many of our fellow travellers of phones and purses etc. A common trick appeared to be placing a book or painting on top of your valuables while you were sat at a café table and picking up you phone etc as you told them to go away At least our taxi driver warned us so we were especially careful. One other thing we were disappointed in was the Familia Cathedral. From the outside it looks terrific but when you pay your 8 Euros each you go through the arch into a Wimpey like building site. It is a right swizz. Enjoy the view from the road. It’s the best.

Things we personally did like

The general itinery apart from Tunis

Citiavecchia (for Rome)
Don’t waste your money (£28each) on the “Rome on your own” coach. Instead just jump the free coach to the front of the fort at the dock entrance. With your back to the fort turn right up the main road. Walk for about 200 metres and then you .will see the station up a slight rise on the opposite side of the road.

Just ask for an all zone return ticket to Rome (Termini) that also covers the metro and buses. It cost us £6.80 Euros each (or 13.60 Euros(£9)) for the two of us. You will find a lot of guests there so you won't feel alone. The staff understand English

You then walk through the double doors to Platform one. Here, first date stamp your ticket in the little machine on the wall (like a cigarette machine). You also have to write your name and D.O.B. on the back of the ticket so take a pen. Turn right and walk up about 50 metres as the Rome train actually comes up against the station bumpers on the first track on your right. It shuttles from Civitavecchia to Rome to Civitavecchia etc etc It takes about 1 hour 10 minutes for the journey stopping about 12 times If you can work out when the express trains run they only take about 50 minutes but these don’t terminate at Civitavecchia but go on to other stations. The stopper is safer as you can’t go wrong. A guard appeared on both of our journeys to check our tickets.

All of the stoppers appeared to enter and leave Rome’s Termini Station (main station) at Platform 24. They return direct to Citiavecchia at 5 minutes past the half hour. They similarly left Citiavecchia at about quarter past the half hour. The trains are beautiful double decker efforts that fly along. They have rolling LCD signs inside each coach that tell you the final destination of the train plus what the next station is. Incidentally, the ship’s coach journey takes one hour 45 minutes.

As we had previously been to Rome we just wanted to visited St Peters and the Sistine Chapel. If this is your only visit you can get off the train at St Peters station about 2 stops before you get to Termini station. You will see the Vatican Dome on your left. We went into Termini and then took the escalator down to the Metro and followed the St Peters signs as we wanted a go on the metro which is almost identical to the London Underground with more Graffiti. Follow the lines of African street sellers to the Vatican. Its about 10 minutes (400 metres) walk. It is free to enter the Vatican but ladies take a cover.

We then went to the Sistine Chapel. There is an entrance fee of 8Euros each. There are some nice clean toilets inside the entrance. It is quite a walk around all the galleries taking about an hour at a leisurely pace.

For us it was then an ice-cream and back on the Metro to Termini, up to Platform 24 and five minutes later the train came in (up to the buffers). Ten minutes later we were on our way back to the Citiavecchia station. We then walked to the ship (20 minutes) as we saw the courtesy coach leaving as we approached arriving back onboard at 15.30. Two of the girls we travelled with came with us to the Vatican but then did the Coliseum, The Trivi fountain, and other landmarks and arrived back one hour after us

Portifino
You actually moor in Santa Margherita which is the next small bay to Portafino. You have to get the lifeboat tender in. You go to the Bounty lounge were you are given a number ticket for a tender boat. Ours was 4. It took about 15 minutes before our boat number was called. As you get off the tender at the opposite side of the quayside was a dark blue launch with people boarding it. Unknown to us and many others this was the “free” boat to Portafino (arranged by Island Escape).

We opted for a walk around the lovely town of Santa M.

Nice Amazingly the Captain and crew manage to berth the ship actually inside Nice Harbour. It is apparently the biggest ship that can enter the little harbour. A 20 minute walk around to the other side of the marina and the headland takes you to the end of Nice promenade. After 5 minutes there is the beautiful flower market on the far side of the promenade. If you wish you can catch the bus to Monte Carlo for about 1 Euro. It takes (I believe) about 30 minutes. There is a great little Noddy train that will take you all around Nice. It runs from the Promenade.

Conclusion
I don’t think we will be going on the Island Escape again. The Ship and the crew were terrific. It is just we prefer the luxuries and style that some of the other cruise operators (and by that I include My Travel (Airtours) Thomson, Festival etc) supply. The slightly more formal atmosphere of dinner plus the better arrangements for dinner and shows swings it towards these operators. Most of the passengers were lovely people although there were a few Multi tattooed hairy chested vests about (and that was just the women). Island appears to be aiming at the casual cruisers who don’t want to dress for dinner. Whilst there must be a market of thousands for this style I am afraid it is not for us

Below is the Log supplied to us at the end of our Journey

M/V ISLAND ESCAPE CRUISE LOG 20TH MAY TO 26TH MAY 2003

Mediterranean Essence Itinerary
Palma, Day at Sea, Tunis, Civitavecchia, Santa Margherita, Nice, Barcelona

In Command: Captain John McNeill.
Navigator: David Kowalski.
Chief Engineer: Robert Brett,

Palma. 201h May.
2015. Embarkation completed.
2100. With pilot on board, vessel leaving Palma de Mallorca harbor.
2112. Pilot dropped, vessel setting course to South.
2218. Rounded Cabo Blanco, south eastern extremity of Mallorca set ESEly
course across part of Med called Cabrera.
2300. Passing on starboard side Cabrera Island, a small island south of Mallorca

At Sea. 2ft May.

Night passed quietly, ship set on one course towards Galite Island north of Tunisian coast.
0130. Overtaking m/v Ocean Village ex Arcadia one of P&O ships.
1030. Passenger Muster Drill, all are informed about emergency procedures.
1200. Noon position 38'20.0' N 006'30.0' E; Vessel rolling due to severe northerly swell.
2000. Passing Ille de Galite on starboard side, approaching to Tunisian coast.

Tunis, 22 nd May.

0200. Set to southerly course, entering Bay of Tunis finally got a shelter from the wind.
0645. With pilot on board entering La Goulette port
0630. Alongside the quay, ship cleared by port authorities
1200. All passengers on board, ship's ready to sail
1230. After leaving the harbour set to course NbE straight to Civitavecchia Due to strong westerly wind open deck 12 and 11 had been closed for passengers

Civitavecchia, 23 d May.

0700. Taking a pilot on board to enter the harbor.
0748. After very smooth and quick manoeuvres vessel fast alongside the berth.
0812. Ship cleared by Authorities, ready for disembarking passengers.
0915. All tours participants disembarked to Rome.
1900. All passengers back from Rome, Pilot on board, ship ready to sail.
1930. Pilot dropped, ship setting to northerly course to Santa Margherita,
following m/v Ocean Village.

Santa Margherita, 24 1h May.

0700. Entering Tigullio Bay, approaching to anchorage at front of Santa Margerita harbor.
0730. Anchor dropped, 3 tender boats run in service for Passengers to carry them ashore.
1840. All passengers and crew on board, vessel ready to heave up the anchor
1918. Anchor aweigh, sightseeing navigation across Tigullio Bay
2130. Approaching to Savona, vessel stopped for sightseeing and sheltering for ship's night events.
2300. Ship is leaving Savona roads, heading towards Nice port

Nice, 2C May.

0600. With pilot on board entering Nice, very tiny and narrow harbor.
0700. Gangway ready for use, clearance for passengers, disembarking shore tours.
1530. All passengers on board, gale warning received for Mahon, Captain decide to proceed to Barcelona,
1545. leaving harbor, setting course SW directly to Barcelona
2000. Passing lie de Porquerolles, sea state increasing. Long swell coming from west.

Barcelona, 2C May.

0330. Wind speed increasing to near gale force, ships adjusting speed and course to avoid severe listing and rolling.
0600. Vessel approach to Spanish coast, abeam Cabo de San Sebastian wind force rapidly decreasing. Ship setting course to south to Barcelona.
1015. With pilot on board ship entering Barcelona Port.
1115. Ship alongside the berth, ready to disembarking passengers.
2000. Ready to sail to Mallorca. Pilot on board, passengers and crew on board
2045. Ship passing Fairway Buoy, setting course to south and proceeding towards port of Palma.

Consumptions & Distances.

Passage Distance: 1463.3 nm. Harbour Distance 28.5 nm
Hours On passage: 97hrsI 2min Hours Harbour transit: 8hrs24min

Conversion factors, 1 nm=1,852 km

Fuel Consumptions: 450 tonnes

Water production: 1493 tonnes
Water bunkered: 1356 tonnes
Water consumed: 2849 tonnes

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