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Edna Stinchcombe

Age: 46


Number of Cruises: none

Cruise Line: Island Cruises

Ship: Island Escape

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

What a fantastic time we had on our first cruise – Island Escape around the Mediterranean . A very big thank you to the Captain and Crew.

We had a flight from our local airport and arrived in Palma, we followed the directions from the Island Escape representatives, got our tags to put on our luggage and left it by the coach. That was the last time we saw it until it appeared outside our cabin door, a couple of hours later. We only queued about 20 mins and was directed to our cabin. A really smooth operation.

We were on the 8th level (flamingo) with an outside cabin, we had expected the beds to be singles but they had put them together as a double, which was nice. Maybe because we were renewing our wedding vows on this trip. The cabin was larger than I thought with enough storage for two weeks clothes. We had a TV and a fresh ice bucket twice a day. The room was done at least twice a day as we had clean towels twice in the day. With lovely animal shapes on the bed when the bed was turned back at night. We had a phone and it wasn’t that expensive to use. The bathroom was a shower, sink & toilet and was adequate and spotlessly clean – again twice a day. Each night before we went to bed a newsletter for the following day was left, this was very informative and helpful. We reported a fault with the toilet seat and it was mended the same day. (If you don’t report it – it will might not get fixed)

We went on several excursions – these weren’t cheap but as first time cruisers it was nice to get out with other people from the ship (and we had budgeted for them). The interpreters were funny in the main but one just wouldn’t shut up, she babbled on forever and wasn’t that organized, changing meeting places. You have to listen carefully as their pronunciation could have been better – no one had bothered to help correct it.

The Malta 4 x 4 jeep trip was spectacular with scenery of the interior breathtaking and Popeye's village thrown in. We saw tuna basking on the top of the crystal clear emerald water. We also egged on our driver to be a bit more of a rally driver, which was great, but ladies wear a sports bra – this is not a sedate Sunday drive!

We decided to do the Pompeii trip – it was a very hot day and in my naivety did not realize how big Pompeii is. The interpreter wasn’t brilliant my husband thought she must be related to a fascist, ordering us here and there. However I thought it was very interesting on how advanced this place was with all it symbols (phallic carvings in the road) to direct people to different services etc.

We chose to stay on the ship on the day nearly everyone went to Florence & Pisa, as we have been there before. We had a lazy day by the dunk pool sunbathing, the sun was fierce that day.

We went on the St. Tropez & Sorrento trip and saw some great scenery, beautiful coastlines. St. Tropez was okay but incredibly expensive (4 euros for a coke). The yachts were stunning, but no one famous was in. My husband thought the trip to Sorrento a waste of time as it was just free time to look at shops with much of a sameness, but we did find a pub with John Smiths!

Barcelona was amazing, we did the Cosmopolitan trip, (I want to go there again on a weekend trip). The Gaudi architecture was truly different and the church that has been being built since the 1860’s with public money from a drawing well I can’t say it in a few words, WOW. Two sides are nearly completed, the inside is still a shell and it is felt that the outside might be completed by 2050. What a project. One comment I will make that the two sides are complete contrasts, one is old fashioned and incredibly ornate. Whereas the other is very minimalist – the current architectures interpretation apparently!

The food was very good. We had breakfast in the 24 hour restaurant, with everything you need to keep an Englishman happy. I felt there could have been a microwave supplied to heat up food, especially if you had to queue for anything – but I’m a bit fussy I like really steaming hot food.

The middle restaurant was self-service as well but you had to wait to be seated in here – one thing that wasn’t made common knowledge that there were jugs of water available and that you didn’t need to buy the water.

The al a carte restaurant was really special – a lot of people were under the misconception that they had to pay for everything in there. There were a few items that you had to pay a supplement for yes but there were other items there, which carried no charge, which was just as excellent. The silver service and presentation of the food was fantastic. There were standard waiters and wine/drinks waiters – they had a silver chain around their necks, quite swish. Men had to wear long trousers and smart top. There was also a booking system in place. However, we booked a few times but kept being offered two times, which indicated two sittings, so we tried just turning up when we wanted to eat and asked if there were any free places and was willing to share. Each time we were lucky to be seated almost immediately and had the great experience to meeting new people each evening.

The alcohol was not included in the price, this went onto the swipe card you got when you signed in before boarding the ship. (At this point you were given the option of paying by credit card or cash). As I was the only wine drinker I ordered a bottle and if I didn’t drink it all then I could have it kept for me for the next meal, which was good, I could concentrate on the Cocktail of the Day! The prices were very good and the cocktail’s cheaper than at home and the Boddingtons was about average for a pub.

The entertainment was spectacular, almost too good for a ship! We got to an evening show each night but started queuing for a front seat about 30 minutes before the show. The Animation Team (not cartoonists) were very good with quizzes etc all day long, a very talented and hard working bunch of young people.

As we had not been on a cruise before I went onto the internet to pick up some tips on what to expect. Well none prepared me for what is probably, so far anyway, the best holiday of my 46 year old life. It is not for a bunch of stuffy older people, the age ranges were very mixed and there was something about the atmosphere of the ship – so friendly. The staff and the guests were always smiling and everyone spoke to each other as if they had known each other for ever. Pass someone on the stairs, say good morning and always you would get a nice response. The Captain was a very approachable chap, he kept everyone informed of what was happening with the ship, problem or not. He has a crew of just under 600 (being from 70 nationalities) his team are very professional. On one occasion the Captain came charging down the stairs, obviously busy but he still managed to stop and chat with us. There were a few very young couples on honeymoon, ahh and some families. I would suggest there still isn’t enough for teenagers to do or even younger people but there is a nursery for babies, but more and more the diversity of the guests is increasing. It was good to see that there were facilities for wheelchair users as well.

As I mentioned it was our first cruise and my husband wanted to make it extra special by wanting us to renew our wedding vows (still can’t believe he wanted to marry me again). When we first arrived in our cabin there was a note from Gary asking us to contact him regarding the arrangements for the day, which we did. On the day we put on our ‘glad rags’ (and the much cherished hat – hoping it wouldn’t get crumpled while traveling) We met at the reception and was taken up to the Bridge. I was also given a small posy of flowers – which coincidentally co-ordinate with my outfit. There was a little plinth decorated with white linen and flowers, which the Captain stood behind. We were made to feel comfortable before the ceremony took place. We had live music, a camera crew, the first & second officers, Frank the entertainment’s manager, the official photographer, champagne and canapés. WOW. The second officer read two readings, which we let him choose, nearly bought tears to my eyes, really lovely. The ceremony was conducted with the solemnity it deserved however was thoroughly enjoyable. We were presented with a certificate and an order of service, pictures with the Captain and an invitation to have dinner with the Captain that evening. I asked if it was possible to have a bit of confetti, the Captain was said that he hadn’t heard of this happening before on the Bridge and asked the first officer on duty if it was okay. Well it happened and the pictures show the proof – one of the Captain looking at Gary, an apt caption would be “are you throwing it with a bit more relish than you should?” Anyway Gary had to organize, if not do it himself, the vacuum cleaner. It was a really nice experience and I would recommend it.

Dinner with the Captain was very entertaining and the conversation was not strained in anyway. The food, wine and company was very charming and the service as usual was excellent. The day was topped off around midnight (12.45 am) when the Captain slowed the ship to pass by the volcano ‘Stromboli’ it is active and in the night we could smell the sulfur and see the lava tumbling down into the sea. That was truly magnificent.

One of the main questions I asked was what clothes should I pack? How formal was it going to be? Well the trip can be a formal or as informal you want it to be. We like dressing for dinner on holiday, but even then no ties or jackets, unless you want to. I had a lot of separates, glitz tops, black trousers and black skirt. I had cropped trousers, t shirts and trainers for the day trips and a hat, especially for the very hot days out. Don’t worry about towels – pool towels were even provided. The 24 hour canteen was very informal but in the evening had candles put on the tables. There were lots of different areas to drink in and even in deck chairs the waiters went around regularly to get you what ever.

The other question I worried about was Tipping. This trip was tip inclusive but if you wanted to tip you could, we tipped our room stewardess. The bar had tips inclusive as well but we did let the waiters have the odd change occasionally. What was expected at the end of the trip was a nomination form to be filled in letting the Captain know who you thought gave you the best service and if anyone gave you bad service. The one with the most nominations gets a good cash bonus.

On our trip the weather was very hot for June standards and the water was very, very calm. I’m not a sailor and was quite worried about seasickness, but I purchased the wristbands that you can get that apply pressure to a point that stops the sickness. I know it works because on the first night, because it was so calm I thought I would be alright, I was wrong, so the rest of the trip I wore these bands. I did feel the ship wobble and move, as sensitive as I am, but I did not feel bilious in anyway. (Apparently expectant mothers use them to combat morning sickness as well).

The cost of the holiday was a bit more than some paid as they got a cheap deal from Teletext but we got the level and the cabin we wanted. The ship was full and there were no upgrades. We spent a lot of money on photos but this is normal for a first cruise. The amount we spent on alcohol was about £200, which is normal for us for a holiday. I also did go a bit extravagant in having some laundry done for us, this was expensive but I didn’t have a case of dirty washing to take with me on the second part of our holiday. (We did a cruise and stay – wish we just stuck to the cruise now. Anyone considering doing this do it the other way around because you get so spoilt on the cruise anything else is just second best)

On the whole we feel we are now ‘converted’ – we wonder why we have never done this kind of holiday before. We are going to book for two weeks next year and if it is the same ship and the same staff it would be a double bonus, it was that good. The whole experience is a must!

Edna & Dennis Stinchcombe.

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