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Brian Levy

Age: 44

Occupation:Consultant Clinical Psychologist

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Island Cruises

Ship: Island Escape

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Mediterranean Spirit and Mediterranean Essence

We initially chose to book with Cruise Control back in February 2004. We chose them because they offered us a free upgrade for the same brochure price. In the event, when we received our tickets (which we had to telephone for several times) the upgrade had NOT been included! When I contacted Cruise Control we were informed that the ship was full and that nothing could be done! We were offered a pathetic £50-00 each as compensation (less than half of the price of the upgrade!). Despite e-mailing them several times, we have not even received the common courtesy of a reply from them.

When we arrived on the ship (more on this shortly) two of our party discovered that they were booked into one of the unrefurbished cabins on Coral deck. This cabin was grim! What was especially galling was that we had booked early and paid the full price for our trip compared to man7y others who had booked late, paid less than half of what we paid and found themselves in much better cabins! Thus our first piece of advice is to avoid booking with Cruise Control; when you telephone them to book or to pay them money they answer straight away but if there is a problem they keep you hanging on the phone for ages waiting for "Customer Services" to answer and, as I have said, they do not respond to e-mails at all in our experience! I will happily write an update to this review if they do decide to offer us some decent customer service but right now it is not looking hopeful!

The flight out to Palm to join the ship was on time although if you want a meal on the plane you must pay extra for this! This is "amusingly" described in the brochure as a new 'flexible' service to passengers! Cruise Control did not point this out when we booked... On the flight, those who paid for a meal were served first and the rest of us 'cattle class' passengers had to wait for over an hour before we had the opportunity to purchase coffee or snacks...

On arrival at Palma, it took an age for our bags to come through (not that this is the fault of the holiday people). Transfer to the ship was quick and very efficient. Full marks here!

Unlike our friends who suffered the drab cabin on Coral Deck (Cabin No. 5539) we were accommodated on Aqua Deck (Cabin No. 3522) and were very happy with our outside cabin. It was spotlessly clean and larger than we had thought it might be. Although we were on the cheapest deck, all the standard cabins are the same so we could not see what possible advantage there would be to paying higher prices to be on upper levels of the ship. Of course if you want one of the deluxe cabins then by all means pay the extra.

Overall, we found the staff on the ship to be first class. They are friendly, efficient and could not do enough for us.

The ship itself is extremely pleasant. Very clean and comfortable with generally good facilities.

As many have written before us, the swimming pool is postage stamped size and probably inadequate for a ship of this size (we did not use at all!).

The gym turned out to be one of the few disappointments on the ship. It is small, located in a walk-through port of the ship and inadequately managed. It was often frequented by passengers who merely wished to 'play' on the equipment (e.g. little old ladies in flip flops with handbags doing two or three minutes on the treadmills to pass the time or unsupervised children messing about on the equipment despite signs saying that children under 14 were not allowed on the equipment).

The food in the three restaurants was excellent with the exception of the sweets which generally looked much more exciting than they turned out to be. The Beachcomber restaurant was open 24 hours a day and you were welcome to take food or drinks back to your cabin if you wished.

The smartest restaurant was the 'Oasis'. Once again the service was excellent although most of the dishes on the menu attracted an extra charge which meant that the 'free' choice were very limited. We also resented the compnay making a cover charge of £20-00 per head one night to raise money for a charity. Personally I would have been very happy to pay this if the company would match my donation pound for pound!

This brings me to my next point. Clearly, the ship is run by miserly accountants... Sadly there is a money-grabbing feel which does spoil things a little. For example, if you buy a ticket for £5-00 the prize is to have your onboard bill (excluding shopping and other bits and pieces) wiped at the end of the cruise... With 1600 passengers on board, this is a phenomenal money-making racket... Why not give each passenger a free ticket? Another example was the prizes given away in competetions and game shows held onboard. Our friend won a competetion was was promised a 'Goody Bag'... This turned out to comprise a single cheap t-shirt! Another example is that if you want to visit the bridge, there is a charge of £1-00; £25-00 if you want to be there when the ship sails! There were many other examples of this throughout our fortnight.

Of course no one is forced to participate in these 'optional extras' but their constant presence leaves one feeling that Island Cruises will do anything to get its hands on your money!

We found the entertainment to be quite variable ranging from rather third class through to outstanding. The resident band (of Eastern European Origin like the many of the rest of the crew) were great... The deputy cruise director had a wonderful singing voice and put on an excellent evenijg of entertainment. We thought that the light entertainment team were great but that the main shows in the theatre were samey. The singing was Ok but the choreography was laughable!

We had a different comedian on the ship for each week. The first was mediocre but the second was very good. However, the main entertainment did lack variety.

Contrary to much of what hads been written, we were pleasantly surpised by drinks prices onboard. Cocktails were about £2-60, well below pub prices we thought. However bottled water and soft drinks were very expensive (£1-30 for a can of diet coke).

On to the ports of call... We thought that these were excellent choices! With the exception of Sicilly (which was a dump) all were great. Don't bother with the tour to Etna... an hour and a half to get there and another hour and a half to get back with just an hour actually there! However, this was the only tour that was disappointing... All of the other tours were well organised and very well worth the money. We did not think that they were expensive either.

Sometimes we were a bit puzzled at the early sailing times of the ship. For example, at the end of week one, we docked in Barcelona but had to back on the ship by about 5:00pm to sail back to Palma... Why???? This is a short distance and we could have easily spent an evening in Barcelona and still had plenty of time to dock back in Palma by 6:00am the following day! Once again, we concluded that Island Cruises would prefer you to spend your money on the ship rather than on land and that they could save money on fuel by cruising back to Palma using one engine only (more money-grabbing????)

So.... the $64000-00 question.... What was our verdict? I know that I have spoken about the things that we did not like but I would like to conclude by saying that we had an excellent holiday and I would most certainly do it all again (minus the bit where we booked with Cruise Control of course!). We saw some wonderful sights, thoroughly enjoyed the ship and can completely see the attraction of cruising... I hope that Island Cruises see this review and attend to our minor irritations.... If they wish to save money, they should think about cutting the salaries of their penny pinching accountants instead of taking it out on their otherwise very contented customers! I have made my e-mail address available so if anyone has any specific questions I would be happy to give them my view... I hope that this has been helpful!

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