Chritmas Markets on Columbus – Nice ship but …………..

Cruise & Maritime Voyages | Columbus Reviews

By Alex Ross on 13 December 2018

We chose this cruise as we wanted to visit Christmas markets and the duration of 5 nights matched our desired length of time away and the itinerary of Amsterdam Hamburg and Antwerp appealed to us.

Not having cruised with CMV before we were not sure what to expect as reviews varied from 1 to 5 stars. We knew Columbus has had a number of owners and including a spell in the P&O fleet as Arcadia (2). Unfortunately our trip can be at best rated at two stars and is boosted to that level mainly due to it being a nice ship in reasonable condition although a bit lacking in terms of care and maintenance.

Overall we liked the ship and venues on it. Our cabins were clean and comfortable although some of the fittings were well worn, and especially as Columbus was just back from dry dock we were surprised to see badly worn carpets, mis-fitting doors, curtain rails hanging down etc, etc. The latter two should be easy to sort and we reported the one in the dining room on the second night but nothing was done. Our cabin steward did what cabin stewards do, no problems there. For emergency drill we were to report to our muster station but arriving at the door were sent onto deck to our allocated lifeboat where a cabin roll call took place, a safety announcement took place and we were shown how to put on our life jackets – mercifully it was dry but in a real emergency would people just go direc to the lifeboat because that was what they had been shown?

We thought the drinks were very reasonably priced but other than a couple of isolated experiences there is nothing else worthy of praise.

Service in the restaurant and bars was very poor, averaging around 15 minutes from entering a bar to actually receiving a drink whilst in the restaurant we our wine waiter had great difficulty in understanding that we actually wanted a bottle of wine not wine by the glass. Having eventually overcome that hurdle he then served the entire bottle into our three glasses in the first (only) pouring! We were surprised to be asked for our dessert order at the same time as the starter and main course and the standard of food served varied from extremely average to poor. The buffet offered a fairly good choice but again the quality was variable and clearing tables was very hit and miss – on the last morning we occupied a recently vacated table and when we had finished not only were all of our discarded plates still on the table those of the previous occupants were too. Trays were not available so one was limited to carrying two plates and there were no side plates available so at breakfast one required a separate dinner plate for toast/bread/pastries etc. One evening in the restaurant petite fours were provided – spooned onto the dessert plate – again no side plate (we did have one for our bread), or more accurately dropped onto the plate from a spoon. Dishes served with sauce came with sauce dribbles randomly around the plate where it had been spilled and liqueur coffees with cream dribbling down the outside of the glass and on the saucer. Fish was either overcooked or under-cooked. I could go on.

On the third night we discovered Cappuccinos, a small bar on deck twelve. The steward and bar tender had clearly not been briefed in the company ethic of poor service and were excellent, providing prompt service and with a smile. In appreciation of their efforts we nominated them for the ‘Star of the Cruise’ programme for having ‘gone beyond the call of duty’ which we described as providing good service in contrast to the mediocrity which was the norm throughout the ship. If they could deliver a liqueur coffee – very reasonably priced at £3.10 or £2.75 for Coffee of the Day – without spillage why could no one else? And promptly too! We also sampled ‘The Grill’ on the last night, supplement £24.90 per person. Service in the grill was very good, and portions generous and well prepared and presented – and the fish was nice – and the wine served properly, the sort of service we expected to receive in the main restaurant – although we again had to order dessert along with starter and main course.

Some of the bar opening times seemed strange to us – we went to the Dome for the Amsterdam sail away party starting at three o’clock. We arrived early and eventually tried to order a drink only to be told the bar doesn’t open until three. Similarly we sat in a nice lounge Raffles (with a hanging down curtain rail) for part of the Hamburg Sail in. The bar was closed, occasionally a steward would appear from the bar down below but surely a lot of potential bar takings were lost to CMV by not opening bars at times which seemed appropriate. They do drinks packages – cheaper if booked in advance – but our best guesstimate suggested it would not be cost effective for us due to the hours we planned to be ashore – and our guesstimate proved to be correct but it made us wonder if the slow service of drinks is to limit the value people can get from the package – although we did see one chap order and receive (admittedly from the excellent Cappuccinos team) a double Baileys and double Brandy in one glass so clearly he was getting value for his investment!

Entertainment consisted of the Ships ‘Theatre’ Group each evening who we gave up on after two shows due to the poor quality of the performances. Otherwise there was a guitarist in the pub (not to our taste), a duo who were pleasant listening in the bar next door, and a very good pianist in the atrium, sometimes joined by a violinist who was also good. Each of these at the same times each evening. There were also various evening events in the ‘Dome’ (Crows Nest equivalent) culminating in a disco which seemed popular. Daytime activities were a speaker on Costume and a craft lady. And all pulled together by a Cruise Director whose a high opinion of himself was not shared by us. Other daytime activities such as table tennis and deck quoits were timed but not hosted so why time them when one can partake in them at any time.

We sailed from Tilbury, and going by the accents on board many of the passengers were from the south east corner of the UK. Contrary to the pre-cruise information Taxis were not available at Tilbury Town station, we had to phone for one, not a major issue. On many reviews Embarkation and Disembarkation at Tilbury have been criticised but both went smoothly for us – just one minor point it was not clear we had to collect our cruise cards before reaching check-in but we saw others doing so and followed but some walked past and had to go back. Once on board we realised the check-in procedures were carried out by ships company. The disembarkation arrangements were by cabin grade – highest grade first, lowest grade last. We had to vacate the cabin at 07.00 and had a disembarkation time of 11.00 although fortunately, being a short cruise with limited luggage, it moved more quickly than planned and we were off before ten – although again there were no Taxis but the Taxi company did have a rep on site who was trying to get Taxis to the terminal with limited success – we waited around fifteen minutes. A word too about the Tilbury Terminal – apparently a listed building.and in terms of layout decor and facilities probably still in the nineteen seventies or at best eighties. Our arrival at Tilbury was the only punctual arrival with time in all of the ports consequently reduced by 30 to 50 minutes, and departures from all ports were late although various matters on the day can influence actual arrival and departure times.

A word too about the ships photographers, a small team who produced decent results and reasonably priced – we purchased four which were the embarkation photo plus gangway shots at each of the three ports to give a record of our trip, the latter three at £4.99 each for 5 x 7. They also did portraits – limited demand, also some in the restaurant. Shops consisted of jewellery, perfumes – hardly saw anyone visit either, and an overpriced clothing plus duty free (the latter not overpriced), the very limited range of memorabilia was sold at the photography counter (including a postcard -seriously overpriced at £1.99 although we bought one for our album – no albums on sail on board. Duty free was for collection from 19.30 on the final day but when collecting ours several people were being told ‘sorry we have run out of/don’t have in stock and were being offered alternatives which then had to go through the tills and delay the process.

Tours – we had our own plans in each port but noted there were three or four tours offered at each which seemed reasonable priced and going to the sort of places we might visit. There was also desk for Future Bookings (absolutely not) on which 5% discount was offered. And of course they have a Loyalty scheme, twenty nights required to reach the first level. On our evening in the Grill one couple were presented with a huge cake by gathering of crew in recognition of their having reached the top tier – Diamond – with 200 nights! Diamond Tier gets you 10% off fares (which is presumably additional to the 5% on board). Talking of prices, they do early booking as buy one get one free. We booked relatively late – 3 months out – although still supposedly on a reduced price. When comparing with our last two cruises with P&O our outside cabin cost about £5 more per night than our better positioned outside cabin on Oriana in summer 2017 and was less than£10 per night below the cost of our 14 night balcony cabin on Arcadia in summer 2018 – some fellow passengers were of the opinion you pay more for better service on P&O (and no doubt other lines) but unless you are on a two for one offer it is plainly incorrect. CMV obviously have a loyal following who believe they are getting value for money and scoffed at the idea quality and service were poor. We did however speak to several on their first ever cruise who acknowledged they had nothing to compare with and were grateful for our comments.

We enjoyed the ports, in Amsterdam we got about by tram and visited the Anne Frank House – very moving, plus did a bit of shopping and had lunch ashore, in Hamburg where the shuttle bus was advertised as 30 to 40 mins journey but took 25mins inward and 20mins to return in the evening – credit to CMV, the last shuttle was 21.00 for all on board at 22.30, we visited some of the Christmas markets, lunched on bratwurst and gluhwein then visited Miniature Wonderland, the large model railway in an old dock warehouse which models various part of Europe – recommended – and then had a meal before returning to the ship. In Antwerp we took a tram into town then a train to Ghent for Christmas Markets, returning to Antwerp for a late lunch then the local Christmas Markets and a enjoyed a Belgian beer or two.

Weather, dry and windy leaving Tilbury, force 5 to 7 with 2 metre waves crossing the North Sea, showers in Amsterdam, back to the North Sea for force 6 to 8 and 3.5 m waves onward to Hamburg where it was mainly dry, then repeat of the previous night’s weather back to Antwerp which started dry, cold and sunny but turned wet later on and a nice steady passage overnight back to Tilbury. Columbus handled the seas very well, a bit lumpy on the sea day after Hamburg but not at all uncomfortable. All three ports are many miles inland from the North Sea but the passages on the waterway to Amsterdam and the rivers Elbe and Scheldt were predominantly in the hours of darkness although we enjoyed the daylight sail into Hamburg (where Saga Pearl was berthed).

Would we go with CMV again? NO!

We enjoyed the ports, liked the ship and got value for money for soft and alcoholic drinks but the poor service and standard of food on offer fell far short of what we had hoped for.

We liked the ship

By Alex Ross on 13 December 2018

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