POST SCRIPTUM: Selectia Nationala Eurovision 2016

•March 9, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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Cand , pe 6 martie, TVR-ul transmitea in direct de la Baia Mare Finala Selectiei Nationala Eurovision 2016 ma aflam undeva departe, incercand sa imi petrec asa cum imi planuisem ultimele zile de vacanta. Asa ca am ratat transmisia in direct. Ajuns acasa am inceput sa citesc pe Facebook mesajele de felicitare adresate de prietenii care inca sunt in TVR echipei de realizatori. Si m-am bucurat de succesul Selectiei Nationale Eurovision 2016 care vine intr-un moment extrem de delicat pentru TVR putand demonstra ca institutia din Dorobantilor 191 mai merita o sansa. In plus m-am bucurat ca am avut si de data asta dreptate cu alegerea lui Ovidiu Anton sa ne reprezinte la Stockholm.

Ieri dimineata am citit o excelenta cronica in libertatea.ro care contrazicea invazia de #-uri de auto-felicitare tipic TVR-ista. Alice si Simona au dovedit, inca o data, ca au puterea de a fi obiective si realiste prin cronica lor: “Si uimiti si cu bani luati” (http://www.libertatea.ro/editorial/editorial-de-alice-nastase-buciuta-eurovision-2016-si-uimiti-si-cu-banii-luati-1307544). Singurul lucru care nu mi-a placut a fost ca analiza lor m-a OBLIGAT sa petrec 3 ore si ceva pe TVR+ ca sa vad inregistrarea. Chinuitor, frustrant dar, amuzant in acelasi timp, sa realizez ca mesajele de felicitare de pe Facebook erau de fapt e mai important sa pastrezi un fluturas de salariu decat o coloana vertebrala dreapta.

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Asa ca azi noapte, dupa memorabila vizioare, m-am apucat de scris. Nu o sa vorbesc din nou despre melodii; de data asta vorbele vor fi legate de spectaciolul TV – pentru ca pana la urma Eurovisionul este un spectacol de televiziune.

Inceputul a fost ca o gura de aer proaspat. Muzica dinamica, montajul alert si modern cu imaginile din Baia Mare m-au facut sa cred ca in sfarsit merita sa te uiti din nou la TVR. Emotia a durat pana la transmisia primelor momente live din sala.

“Moro-show”-ul a fost o dureroasa si palida copie a filmarilor de la Cantarea Romaniei. Diferenta este insa talentul regizoral a lui Hero Lupescu care semna spectacolele de dinainte de ’89. La Baia Mare am vazut o adunare/adunatura de nume consecrate asezate in semicerc si topaind fara sens intr-o lumina foarte bine pusa. E trist daca cineva s-a gandit ca Maramures inseamna NUMAI Paula Seling iar restul artistilor dau, doar,  bine in back-ground. In plus, desi e clar ca tot momentul se rotea in jurul ei, Paula a uitat sa-si ia vocea de acasa iar tipetele de la “Miracle” m-au facut sa ma ridic de la calculator si sa-mi iau o bere din frigider. Ideea inedita de localizare a selectiei nationale intr-un spatiu cultural genial a esuat lamentabil.

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Iar cireasa de pe tort a esecului a fost imaginea cu primarul de Baia Mare avand-o alaturi, ca pe o statuie de ceara a Andreei Marin, pe Iuliana Tudor. TVR-ul iese la atac cu arme puternice in razboiul pe care-l duce, iar “O data-n viata” ca locomotiva de audienta a postului public a adus promovarea prezentatoarei in pozitia de PR Girl. Am avut un deja-vu al momentului trait la ultimul Cerb, la Brasov, intr-o limuzina cu Augusta si Lazarov in drum spre Poiana.

Intr-un final pe scena apar prezentatorii; frumosi imbracati si cu zambete mari, desi daca te uitai mai atent vedeai ca nu prea e loc de dragoste intre Cornel si Ioana, mai ales dupa taiatul de replici si suprapunerile din seara semifinalei.

Cornel are o prezenta scenic foarte buna si se vede ca are experienta in prezentarea show-urilor live cu public mare si in spatii greu de controlat. Eurovisionul este un show de televiziune si i-a fost greu sa stabileasca in primul rand o relatie cu telespectatorul si camerele de filmat. Eternul clipboard din mana nu l-a ajuta, ba mai mult l-a incurcat cand incerca sa tina balantul intre scriptul prezentarii si improvizatiile stangace cu aer de conversatie cu pretenarii la o bere.

Ioana este superba…si atat. Adica nu, este o dovada perfecta ca “dictatura pizdolinelor” face pare si acum, in al 12-lea ceas, din politica editoriala din Dorbanilor 191. Iar eu sunt Stan Patitu’. In 25 de ani de TVR am avut sansa sa tin in gradina proprie o multime de exemple. Diferenta este data de faptul ca mandrel mele, blonde sau nu, aveau bun simt si dorinta de a nu se face de ras. La Ioana numele de familie si rochiile superbe au fost de ajuns sa anuleze auto-cenzura si simtul ridicolului. Ce conteaza ca la doua fraze plasezi 10 balbe, ca e greu sa gasesti camerele, in afara de cea plasata taman in fata ta, ca pui intrebari care incep dar nu stii exact unde se termina sau ca e greu sa-ti muti ochii din textul de prezentare. Important e ca sunt fumusica si ca ma place “Domn’ Primar” (citat din clasica prezentatoare in viata)

A existat si o a treia prezentatoare. Va duceti aminte prestatia Conchitei din Camera verde anul trecut la Viena. Jo nu are de ce sa fie acuzata de catastrofa propriei prestatii. Ea nu a a avut o camera verde ci un culoar negru, la iesirea din scena de unde-si racnea intrebarile tampe si rasul nervos. Nu e vina ei ci a pilei care a propulsat-o in situatia respectiva.

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A existat si un juriu. Asa cum este normal si care a facut o treaba extrem de buna la preselectii si semifinala. Ce nu am inteles eu este de ce a trebui sa se mearga pe varianta de “XFactor” sau Vocea Romaniei ? Comentariile juratilor, de cele mai multe ori inutile cu exceptia interventiilor lui Horia Moculescu, nu au facut altceva decat sa influenteze dramatic votul publicului. Se vedea clar la fiecare comentariu cum se spalau lucrurile murdare din muzica romaneasca, cine pe cine place sau displace si asa mai departe. Inutil si costisitor pe deasupra. Inca ma doare sufletul ca Sandra Cepraga, un om special si adevarat profesionist a acceptat ingrate postura a scaunului de vinilin rosu. Dar despre interventiile “genial” ale juriului o sa mai vorbim.

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Cartile de vizita ale concurentilor au demonstrate inca o data ca Dan Manoliu stie si poate sa face televiziune moderna. Pacat ca mesajele au fost enervant de tembele. Poate la anul cineva o sa le supervizeze vorbele cantaciosilor nostri.

  1. Florena-Behind the Shadows.

Exceptionala scena, un complement perfect pentru o voce foarte buna si o melodie pe masura. Mi-ar fi placut insa ca atmosfera ireala create de fum sa stea pana la sfarsit ca sa evite imaginea unei scene goale si nu foarte curate, partial acoperita de trena solistei. Sau poate “Domnu’ Primar” nu a mai avut fum la buget pentru tot momentul ? Mi-a placut momentul asa de mult incat am ignorant eterna problema a transmisiilor live TVR: si camerele si microfoanle cauta cu disperare vorbitorii si ii gasesc la jumatatea frazei. Jurizarea mi-a demosntrat ca dincolo de titlul The Voice, Cezar Ouatu merita titlul de “The Mascara” si cam atat, iar Randi incearca cu disperare sa demonstreze prin stilul inutil bascalios ca este disperat sa prinda un contract cu Antena 1 pentru editiile viitoare X Factor. Nu de alta dar ProTV si Vocea Romaniei au un anumit standard. La finalul momentului Ioana isi adjudeca fara drept de apel titlul Miss No-personality iar Jo tipa intrebari stupide al caror raspuns nu-l stie nici ea (“care a fost cea mai tanara participant la Eurovision…stii…nici eu…ha-ha-ha!”). Genial.

  1. Irina Baiant&Doru Todorut – The Voice

Mi-a placut grafica din background inspirata de castigatorul suedez de anul trecut dar nu am inteles rostul manusilor de conducator auto. Dar melodia este buna chiar daca interpretata putin cam “sharp” in variant live si merita mult mai mult.

Cornel, bun ca prezentator de show-uri dar catastrofal in interviuri incearca un dialog cu Moculescu dar dupa ce lanseaza intrebarea nici el nu mai stie ce a vrut sa intrebe. Asa ca, consternarea Moculescului, este pe deplin inteleasa. Din duelurile verbale ale juratilor se vede clar disperarea lor de a vorbi….este Eurovision fratilor, nu JURIO-VISION. Iar la finalul momentului o noua portie de ras tamp a la Jo ! Melodia nr. 3 va rog.

  1. Dream Walkers – Let it shine

A fost singurul moment pe care il reprosez direct realizatorilor TVR. S-a vazut clar efectul disputelor dintre Faur si echipa TVR; nu numai de anul asta de la Baia Mare, dar profesionistii TVR aveau de platit polite lui Faur de la Craiova 2015 si chiar de pe vremea lui “Let me try!”. Asa ca baietii de la Dream Walkers au avut de suferit. Accentul s-a pus pe lumina din fundal si efectele special, greu de prins cateva prim planuri, importante pentru o trupa care promozeaza imaginea de “good clean boys”, unghiuri neinspirate si o imagine incarcata cu prea multe umbre. Noroc cu vocile foarte bune si melodia excelent construita. In dialogul cu juriu Ioana este din nou “inspirata” in comparatia cu Boyz 2 Men (ca de Il Divo nu auzise saracuta) si disperata ca juratii vorbesc prea mult. Si prost in cazul lui Randi.

  1. Vanotek – I’m coming home

Nu am nici o problema sa recunosc ca in precedent cronica M-AM INSELAT ! Vanotek au fost super pe scena, lumina si efectele special de exceptie si totul ar fi fost perfect daca cineva puneam o piedica operatorului de steady-cam care si-a facut norma pe 3 ani la melodia respectiv. Interventia juriului aduce noi perle: Cornel care continua cu discutiile la un Gambrinus rece, Randi si Cezar discutand savant locul lui Mozart in muzica universal iar Jo tare mandra de ea ca au dat-o la televizor.

  1. Ovidiu Anton – Moment of silence

Fantastica punerea in scena cu lumini si miscari de camera dureroase si agresive potrivite melodiei care este excelenta si vocii impresionante. Nu am inteles rolul baiatului cu sabiuta (desi am fost impresionat de sabiuta) dar noroc cu backing vocals care au fost la inaltime. La momentul juratilor ma tot intreb cand o invata Randi ca Moculescu stie de o mie de ori mai multa muzica decat el si o sa inceteze sa se lanseze in discutii fara rost ? Sau poate asa a fost scriptul. Pacat insa ca juriul influenteaza prin comentarii atat de mult decizia publicului, iar Ovidiu isi datoreaza in mare parte plecarea la Stockholm acestui fapt. Jo ? Tortureaza momentul cu tembelisme ca de obicei.

  1. MIHAI – Paradisio

Inca o dovada ca nu e bine sa te pui cu TVR-ul. Piesa si imaginea scenica au fost distruse sistematic. Coregrafia si spectaciolul care sustinea melodia a fost ocolit cu profesionalism de regizorii de emisie, Mihai a stat in umbra si la propriu si la figurat iar juriul a demolat caramida cu caramida orice speranta a lui Mihai de un al doilea Eurovision. Piesa nu era geniala dar nu merita demolata cu atata constinciozitate de juriu si producatori

Cand la final s-a facut recapitularea pieselor a devenit si mai evident pe cine place si nu place TVR-ul. Ca o informatie tehnica, clipurile prezentate in recapitulare sunt inregistrate la repetitia generala. Atunci cand managerii fiecarui artist mai au ceva de spus, de schimbat sau de adaugat. Asa se explica diferentele majore intre prezentarea scenic din recapitulare si cea live pentru Deam Walkers si MIHAI. La transmisa live era imposibil ca cineva sa mai schimbe ceva, asa ca Marciuc&Co puteau sa-si faca jocurile (si) de lumini nestingheriti.

Cornel si Ioana revin pe scena cu acceasi dificultate de a interactiona cu telespectatorii dar preocupati de o noua serie de osanale lui “Domn’ Primar”. Cut pe camera dedicata oficialului si surpriza: “O data-n viata!” e tot acolo.

A urmat in desfasuratorul chinuitoarei finale momentul juratilor. A fost un mixaj interesant de lectii pe care poate cineva la va baga la cutiuta:

  • Lectia 1: Moculescu, contestabil sau nu, este un Profesionist (cu P mare) care stie sa joace pe degete muzica, audienta, charisma si tot ce le-a lipsita altora in momentul respective.
  • Lectia 2: Zoli ar trebui trimis cu arme si bagaje la Eurovision. Show-ul lui a fost total si ma intreb de ce TVR nu economiseste bani si energie si urmand exemplul altor televiziuni nationale comisioneaza la anul melodia participant lui Zoli lansadu-l pe el sa construiasca totul de la muzica la prezenta scenica ?
  • Lectia 3: Mi-am schimbat parerea despre Cezar Ouatu. Ce-i drept creionul de contur a ramas la locul lui dar, propun inlocuirea titlului “The Voice” cu cel de “The EGO”
  • Lectia 4: Randi este definitia perfect pentru nonsensul cu fumuri de vedeta. Nu si-a facut un serviciu cantand la Baia Mare. Ce-i drept, sa-I dam Cezarului ce-i al Cezarului. L-as lua acasa pe baietas dar nu ca sa-mi cante !

Anuntarea castigatorilor a fost precum anuntul doctorului dupa 7 ore de travaliu ca tanara mamica are tripleti! De ce oare nu se repeta si momentul asta asa cum se face la Eurovision cu scoruri si castigatori falsi ca sa fim siguri ca totul merge ca pe roate. Asteptarea vocii in casca care anunta rezultatele televotingului a dat o noua sansa prezentatorilor de a fi ridicoli pana la extrem cu o Ioana pierduta undeva in mijlocul scenei cu spatele la public si un Cornel care incerca sa umple timpul cu bla-bla-uri fara rost. Si este forte greu sa te scoti dintr-o asemenea situatie, am patit-o si eu.

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Irina si Doru nu au putut sa-si ascunda dezamagirea pentru pozitia ocupata iar MIHAI a reeditat momentul Luminitei Anghel de anul trecut, ce-i drept indulcind putin tonurile. Cornel bombardeaza tot in jurul lui cu intrebari stupide: pentru Dream Walkers –“Aveti cuiva cui sa multumiti?”, Ioana din fericire tace iar Jo spre satisfactia generala a disparut definitive in culise.

Prezenta reprezentantei Moldovei a fost interesanta (poate invatam si noi ceva) si a fost o optiune decenta pentru un buget la usa caruia bate insolventa.

La revenirea pe scena a concurentilor pana si primarul s-a ascuns si intarzierea intrarii in scena a dat o noua sansa prezentatorilor se se acopere de … glorie!

A meritat sa stau pana la final sa vad prestatia Primarului Erou. Cred ca invatatoarea domniei sale a facut stop respirator cand a auzit lectia de mitologie data de fostul sau elev. Daca te uiti in orice dictionar o sa vezi ca Isis este mama universal, protectoare familiei, a naturii si a magiei si nicidecum zeita frumusetii. Sa nu fim rai, Isis este si protectoarea infractorilor si pacatosilor si poate de aici a venit confuzia !.  Oricum Domn’ Primar era mandru de trofeul care arata ca Omul cu Masca de Fier si care sper din suflet sa nu fie o premonitie.

Imi cer scuze pentru exagerarea cu “Domn’ Primar” dar daca va uitati la inregistrare o sa vedeti ca ioana a repetat expresia asta de vreo 10 ori in 5 minute. Asa ca m-am infectat si eu.

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Iuliana Tudor banuiesc ca a avut ceva emotii cand Domn’ Primar a inceput sa o curteze pe juna minoritara. Nu va ganditi la altceva…spun minoritara pentru ca ea a fost singura care nu a primti flori asa ca primarul a rectificat greseala cu…UN TRANDAFIR ! Electorala genialitate si originalitate. Pacat ca Ioana nu l-a lasat pe primar sa trimita bezele la Madrid. Eram curiosa sa aflu cine este prietenul misterios, voi nu ?

Anuntarea castigatorului nu a fost un moment de suspense ci unul de enorma plictiseala. Dar pana la urma am aflat: Ovidiu Anton este reprezentantul nostrum la Stockholm. Felicitari Ovidiu si success !

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Revenind la show si ignorand balbele, ridicolul unor momente si valul de stupiditati stau si ma intreb de ce toata lumea a fost asa de mandra de audienta cand totalul de voturi a fost sub 20500. E un impact cu care sa ne laudam, este alegerea telespectatorului TVR ? Cred ca nu. Transmisia de la Baia Mare a fost inca o dovada ca in TVR schimbarea este necesara, bisericutele dizolvate, politica “felicitarilor in lift” abolita. Daca nu merge asa singura solutie este sa trageti oblonul si sa o luati de la zero.

Dar asta nu este problema mea sau al comentariului de fata.

Stau si ma gandesc reascultand piesa lui Ovidiu si celalate melodii anuntate pana acum pentru Finala de la Stockholm ce s-ar putea face. Ce s-ar putea face pentru a intra macar in finala pentru ca e clar ca nu prindem primele 10 locuri.

Piesa e foarte buna dar nu pentru Eurovision; formula rock s-a mai incercat cu Islanda, Grecia, Turcia, Norvegia in anii trecut si nu a tinut. Finlandezi  de la Lordi  cu Hard Rock Hallelujah au castigat in 2006 in semn de protest la mafia blocului estic si a imaginii anti-eurovision. Dar asta s-a intamplat in 2006. Acum cred ca ar trebui sa:

  • il lasam pe Ovidiu si grupul de back-ground sa cante rock asa cum stiu atat de bine sa o faca
  • renuntam la costume si machiaj ridicole (vezi cazul Oatu in anii trecuti) si a coregrafiei vizionar-penibilo-futuriste fara sens (Balkan Girls sau I admit sunt bune exemple de cum sa distrugi o piesa la Eurovision)
  • gasim un grafician bun pentru proiectiile de scena care sa faca spectacol si sa sustina piesa
  • eliminam ideea oricaror mesaje subliminale. Voltaj nu a castigat nimic promovand o campanie care ii lasa rece pe europeni, ba mai mult chiar ii irita. Se canta pentru Europa nu pentru noi.
  • eliminam din delegatia pentru Stockholm prieteni si amante si sa ducem acolo oameni care pot ajuta melodia, sunetul si spectacolul de scena. Cumparaturile si plimbarile prin parcurile suedeze pot fi facute si in vacanta.

Poate doar asa prindem un loc in finala si ne plasam onorabil in primii 15-20.

Bafta Ovidiu ! Felicitari lui Dan Manoliu si celor care chiar au facut ceva la Baia Mare !

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HAVEN has fallen

•March 7, 2016 • 2 Comments

Before reading just a warning: this review is not for cheap budget cruise passengers. If P&O, a special offer from Daily Mail or an interior cabin is a landmark for your cruise choice is better not to read this! I am not a snob but I like quality, style and don’t mind to spend money for a real cruise experience. I prefer to stay home than travel in an inside cabin and have the only view of the sea from an overcrowded lounge on deck 5. Thank you !

“Olympus has fallen” , “London has fallen” … and now “Haven has fallen”

No, it is not another blockbuster for the movie series. Is what I sense recently in our 11 days Canary Island Cruise from Barcelona on Norwegian EPIC.

For more than 4 years I’ve been one of the biggest supporter of the Norwegian Cruise Line. Their concept of “ship within ship” called HAVEN never let me down and the inscription on the ship card, “Welcome to you sanctuary” was always backup by the reality on both JADE and EPIC. Until now…

We did in December a canary Island Cruise from Barcelona and we left the ship with an imperious need to come back as soon as possible. And here we are, less than three months after, back on board, on Norwegian EPIC, in Haven, room 17017.

What a joy this cruise could be! Unfortunately the reality was far away from our December experience and I am still trying to find what and how things on board can change in such a short time.

The NCL website (https://www.ncl.com/thehaven/experience/#overview) describe de experience as “a private world of luxury at sea – a ship-within-a-ship reserved exclusively for Norwegian’s special guests”. And as a guest you are informed that “from the moment you choose The Haven, your VIP treatment begins”

The embarkation was the first step on a journey which contradicts the build-up expectations. A very “can’t be bothered” check-in followed by a short stop…a very short stop in the Haven Check-in lounge where some tired staff invited us to “enjoy” some cold coffee and some breakfast leftover cookies from breakfast. In all our previous trips the Concierge or one of assistants were welcoming the guests at check-in or in Epic Lounge. This time nobody was guiding us and the check-in experience and arrival on the ship was far from the exclusive welcome for which Haven guests pay for. Finally we arrived in Haven were a very “busy” concierge ask us to wait for other arrivals to “don’t repeat” the information again. What’s so difficult to treat everybody as individuals and not cabin numbers or to check the information about Latitudes members on the guest list at least to provide a polite “welcome back” to them?

The room (17017) was what we expected: lots of space, elegant, Elemis amenities, clean and welcoming. Great first impression but, when you start looking around you realise that the maintenance of the ship needs to be reconsidered big time.

First the toilets; the revolutionary bathrooms — which split the toilet and shower into two separate units — got most tongues wagging with much talk about the “see through” doors. In reality, the doors are translucent and couples and traveling companions of a nervous disposition can pull across a drape that effectively shuts off the bathroom area from the rest of the cabin. Never had any problems with the design or functionality and in the photos the bathroom area looks nice & trendy. In reality the translucent glass door was broken in a previous cruise and even the guests in a 2 bedroom villa pays a lot of money nobody at NCL found a proper door as a replacement and the result was a piece of plastic very bad cut which resembles a little bit with the original. And was there THE SMELL. Due to the bad design or bad maintenance the main toilet smell continuously no matter how many times was cleaned or how many air freshener were placed in the room.

The Haven offers guests another touch of luxury: a cell phone contactable around the ship. Great idea even if a little bit exaggerated. But in previous cruises we used it proving to be an useful tool on a ship where free style cruise includes a lot of choices for everybody. This time the phone didn’t work and any feedback give to the concierge ended with a lot of excuses and the blame place on the shoulder of “maintenance guy. So the posh cell phone on board was never functional.

As a Haven guest you have free access to a TV system which allow you to have free movies 24h. Excellent idea and the selection was impressive and, what a surprise changed since December, including now Oscar’s nominated productions. But again the bad maintenance (again a Concierge opinion) made necessary to spend 9 hours (indeed NINE hours) to watch the last James Bond. The system crashed every 5 minutes and I never spend in my entire life so much time with Daniel Craig and his funny running style!

Right from the get go, we needed to have the clogged toilet fixed, later it was a ceiling tile with a light came down, the door needed to be fixed (and avoid to spend an extra 2 h in case of emergency to get out). The list goes on. So we got to know the electrician, carpenter, and plumber pretty well (all very nice people)

The Haven supposed to be a quiet place, “announcement free”. But once again the reality was different. A malfunction of the system brought the too many and in too many languages announcements every day in our cabin. Was funny but we weren’t able to listen to the entire announcement…only the DING-DONG and the first half because after that the sound stopped. Don’t say it…we spoke with the Concierge about that but I bet you can guess already the answer and the outcome. So Ding-Dong and Pedro’s ½ sentence 5 times/day for us!

Fortunately for us the only thing that made this Haven experience memorable, in a good way, was the excellent service of our butler and cabin steward. Polite, excellent manners, smooth service and very strong consistency made the room team an excellent asset for EPIC’s Haven. Richard, the steward, was funny and chatty and Sahmed the butler was always there without being too much in to your face ready to assist with whatever you need: from laundry to organising a private party in our cabin.

Haven has it’s own gym, sauna and steam room but, again, somebody miss the point of having such facilities on board. The changing room was always full with stuff for cleaning or sunbed cushions, the gym was not very clean and if you wanted to use the sauna or steam room you needed to wake up 1h earlier and switch on the facilities if you want to use them around 9AM.

Reading again the NCL website I am still surprised by the Concierge’s role description: “Once on board, a concierge will help plan your day whether it’s hosting a private party or reserving a private tour ashore”. In our previous cruise was exactly like that with a Concierge having lots of genuine smiles and polite conversation even if the guests in Haven are not all the time “Premium Guests” and the feeling of “new money-bad manners” is quite common on NCL. This time was different. Both Concierge (Elvie) and a gentleman who was the Assistant Concierge were the perfect example for “Concierge Don’ts”. I will need another review to write down everything so let’s try some examples looking at main Concierge skills:

  • Active Listening – both of them all the time when we approach their desk were busy “doing something” on the computer. No eye contact, no interest in the conversation, having phone chats or conversation with others in the middle of our request and so on. One moment we decided to skip the Concierge desk and started to organise and sort our issues ourselves.
  • Service Orientation – the skill of being pro-active didn’t find a space in their CV. When my partner was ill and we ask the concierge about medical emergency procedures and costs on board, her assistance was limited to a “put you through the medical centre” like a hotel operator. No follow up call, at least as a courtesy if “duty of care” was not in her language.
  • Social Perceptiveness & discrimination awareness – as gay market is a massive source of income for any cruise lines and NCL was brilliant from this point of view until now, I didn’t expect such an aggressive and rude homophobic behaviour from both Concierge and Assistant Concierge. I was thinking that one can make a lot of money from complaining about gay discrimination and taking in the account all the rolled eyes, ironic smiles and close to the end of the cruise the constant “ignored” applied to us. Nothing to do apart of smiling when we didn’t get any answers to our “hello” or “how are you”
  • Judgment and Decision Makin – or in simple words “The answer is NO, what’s your question? That was a constant attitude at the Concierge desk. One of my friend wanted to change a booking for a show and the answer was NO. When we check later, directly in the theatre and with the help of an excellent Cruise Director they were plenty of seats and no problem with re-booking.

We missed so much our previous concierges Adrian, Monica and all the others who really understand why and how they can make somebody experience in Haven an “experience truly first class” (https://www.ncl.com/thehaven/experience/#service). Maybe some training or a temporary demotion will do well to both Concierge and Assistant Concierge.

Dining experience was again of mixture of good and bad.

The Epic Club – a private restaurant dedicated to Haven guests exceeded our expectation. Justin and his staff were perfect. The new menu and China are very close to a high class restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are now indeed an amazing experience in Epic Club and for sure when the crew will be more comfortable with the product the service will polish at the same level as the food (food knowledge, peace of service, wine knowledge, and recommendation system). But we come back again and again to enjoy the new menu and the service standards.

Same story in Cagney’s. The Maître D manager superbly his team and food match perfectly the service. Not too much waiting, a waiter always ready to serve or to recommend, new China, glassware and cutlery and an ambiance which made us to go for at least 6 times for dinner.

The other side of the coin were two speciality restaurants were the disappointment was part of the menu. MODERNO – the Brazilian restaurant used to be our favourite spot with excellent food and great service. Now the service flow changed, the meat arrived in a chaotic order and if you are a first timer you have the chance to eat ONLY chicken and sausages and miss the excellent Fillet Minion or Picana. The salad bar changes and now NCL seems to give Brazilian passports for Sushi (Japan) or queso manchego(Spain), question of taste ! The most annoying thing about Moderno was that the excellent quality meat was always cold. Even after we sent back twice some dishes the rest was still cold and as we didn’t get any reaction from the Maître D or staff we ended abusing the salad bar. Not a good idea if you pay for the restaurant.

BISTRO was another favourite of mine in old days. The French restaurant used to be an oasis of taste and style. Now only the escargots survived….Slow service, lack of customer service and cold food made us cutting the diner after the starter and save our figure in one night. Such a pity for old good days!

Disembarkation was another failure for NCL on this occasion. Our flight was at 11.15 and the Concierge informed us that we have to leave the ship with our transfer at 6AM. When I inquired about the reason to leave the ship 5h before th flight when the distance to the airport can be covered in max 45 minutes, the “lovely” Concierge started to be very annoyed by my question and mentioned that “I can move the transfer whenever I want but is my problem if I miss the flight”. Professional reaction…Thank you! We left the ship at 6.45AM and when we were trying to, locate our luggage, even if we had coloured tags we found them in 4 different location around the terminal and we needed 45 minutes for that. Adding all time lost during disembarkation we still arrived at the airport 3h before our flight – maybe Elvie the Concierge can learn something from this!

I was reading again this review and my previous review about Norwegian EPIC and I experience now a bitter sadness. EPIC is a great ship, HAVEN is an amazing product but all the effort of EPIC staff can be destroyed so easily but some basic mistakes!

Just for my own curiosity I was applying SWOT and PESTLE strategic analysis models, to understand what NCL is doing wrong and I manage to understand a bit. No worries I will not bother you with the entire analysis but you deserve a short briefing. I gathered my information not only from official NCL sources but mainly from conversation with other guests in Haven and some from NCL experienced staff on board Norwegian Epic.

The cruise market is at the moment very competitive and the obsession of “all-inclusive” like a cheap holiday resort made NCL to go in the wrong direction. Is understandable why NCL started to have very cheap cabin with drinking package included – they want their ship full and soon they will cruise from Southampton. The risk is obvious: if you charge little you will attract the “P&O” or Benidorm crowd. A crowd who will drink for the sake of drinking, eat for the sake of eating and base their holiday on the CHAV’s rule: “I prefer to be sick than sorry!”. How strong crew members can be to keep their service standards if the passenger drinks Baileys, a paint and a glass with “dry white wine” (the brand is not important in this case) in one order! Even for the “free style cruising” invented by NCL this is too much…have a look at the photos to understand better.

Trying to give a lot for free will not bring you any profits. Therefore you have to cut and cut and cut under this “included free…” blanket. The cocktails are not as they supposed to be (I discover the recipe for Long Island Iced Tea with one type of spirit and lots of Diet Pepsi), the food is cold and mediocre quality because nobody care as long as it’s free, the manners and service standards are under performed because nobody is able to appreciate or say thank you! Is like a snow ball reaction: the new passenger profile downgrade the product and the lower quality or product/price attracts a new type of passengers. The time of style in free style cruising on NCL is gone and replaced with low cost airline’s labels on the suitcases in embarkation day.

Another marketing mistake will alienate the former traditional guests of NCL: on-board upgrades. And this phenomenon is very obvious in Haven. More than 95% in older time and around 10% in the last cruise of guests in Haven paid full fare for their “pure paradise” – as per NCL definition (www.ncl.com/thehaven/experience/#overview). In our 11 days Canary Island Epic cruise 90% of guests in Haven were upgrades with 2 and sometimes 3 grades (balcony to Haven or Mini Suite to Haven). Of course when you pay almost nothing you act in the same line with the rest of the ship…is not an exclusive area anymore. How can be an exclusive experience when in a 2 Bedroom Villa created for a family of 2+1 and use and paid in our case by 2 guests you accommodate 5, 6 or even 8 people. Next door to us was a family of 6 adults+2 children in the same space….For sure no space left for style, class, ore more than 2 shirts/cruise/family member. Quite sad!

How you can explain to full fare guests that is difficult to achieve high standards and performance due to the high number of guests, when most of them paid 1/3 price of the full fare ?

Of course we meet some exception…in all cruises. This time sadly the “exceptions” were outnumbered by main stream passengers “lucky” enough to be in Haven but not smart enough to behave accordingly.  And the general question for full fare guests was “why to pay more?” and for well trained staff was “why to give 6* service for third class passengers?”

Looking at the figures a Haven guest spend in a 10 day cruise in average 3 times more than a Balcony passenger. And I am talking about a full fare guest not upgrades! Therefore I am afraid that NCL will soon lose the real and happy to pay Haven guest and replace them with “fix budget” holiday makers happy with anything ias long as is free. Is a dangerous spiral and one of the staff suggested that is what the new marketing strategy of NCL wants: keep Oceana and Regent as high end and push NCL to the low level. Something similar like the relation P&O – Cunard.

Is sad…because I love NCL…I like Jade and Spirit and Epic…and I always feel like going back home stepping on-board. And is sad because the latest experience made me re-think twice and keep in hold my next 3 cruises with NCL this year, despite of the professional pressure of Paloma-a great cruise consultant.

Not so sure that I want to go back very soon on an NCL ship. At least not this year!

Like Olympus in the famous blockbuster, Haven has fallen this year! Not because of a group of high trained terrorist but an army of tourists armed with a huge collection of bad manners, Primark clothes, fix holiday budgets all packed in Sports Direct suitcases.

O SALATA CU GUST DE EUROVISION

•March 2, 2016 • 1 Comment

Cum a venit primavera si si-au scos timizi ghioceii capul la soare, imediat, intr-o maniera total non-eco, TVR s-a decis sa le stopeze evolutia cu o noua editie a Preselectiei Nationale Eurovision 2016 – melo-isteria noastra nationala care an de an lanseaza acceasi intrebare – “de ce atata bataie de cap?”. Si nimeni nu pare sa gaseasca un raspuns asa ca an de an o luam de la capat.

De data asta batalia se da pentru un loc pe scena de la Stockholm.

Cum regulile concursului cantecului European s-au schimbat si votarea va fi un pic altfel pentru a face spectacolul de televiziune mai atractiv, TVR-ul s-a decis sa faca la fel. Lumea s-a inscris, un juriu de specialitate a ales semifinalistele, apoi cu catel cu purcel ne mutam la Baia Mare pentru a alege in doua etape melodia care ne va reprezenta la Stockholm. Complicat si inutil, dar asta este o alta poveste despre care vorbim mai tarziu.

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Cand am ascultat prima oara piesele, senzatia a fost a unei salate foarte mari, in care un bucatar aspirant a amestecat nu foarte bine, cam tot ce s-a gasit prin bucataria compozitorilor autohtoni, pe principiul “daca nu poti sa ii conving, zapaceste”. Nu vreau sa ma gandesc cat de dureroasa a fost experienta juriului de specialitate ascultand 90 si ceva de piese si alegand ceea ce vom vedea pe scena de la Baia Mare. Noroc ca nu mai exista regula cu suspendarea participarii de anul viitor daca nu treci de semifinala, ca altfel nu ne mai delectam noi cu Selectia Nationala 2017.

Dar sa revenim la 2016. Am ascultat intai melodiile si abia apoi am vazut videoclipurile. Si m-am convins inca o data ca Dan Manoliu, regizorul selectiei, poate sa faca din orice bici si, in cateva cazuri, sa si plezneasca cu el. Ramane de vazut ce sa va intampla live pe scena.

  1. FLORENA – BEHIND THE SHADOWS

Gabriel Huiban/Laurentiu Duta/Adam Powers

Asat da surpriza placuta. Desi suna ca ceva auzit inainte la Eurovision, “Behind the shadows” are un sound interesant si o constructive muzicala care te tine in priza 3 minute. In plus Florena are o voce cu inflexiuni neasteptate si daca poate sa faca asta si live atunci clar are sanse. Mai au de lucrat la imagine dar asta nu e mare scofala.

Multumesc de surpriza: 10 puncte

  1. GASCA DE ACASA – TU ESTI POVESTEA

Calin Ionce/Pefi Pop/Glad Berindei

Habar nu am ce sa spun despre melodia lor. E dulce, haioasa, imi place dar in acelasi timp nu stiu exact ce vrea sa spuna. Plus ca tot am asteptat ca melodia sa creasca si sa transmita ceva macar la final. Dar cele trei minute au expirat si nu s-a intamplat nimic. Imi plac riscurile dar cu ei parca nu as impinge bariera asa de departe. O melodie insa pe care mi-ar placea sa o asculta inca o data.

Succes la Baia Mare: 5 puncte

  1. JUKEBOX – COME ON EVERYBODY

Jukebox/Jukebox

Aici o sa fiu foarte subiectiv pentru ca imi plac si am lucrat de mult ori cu cei de la Jukebox. Cred ca baietii, intr-o seara, s-au decis sa faca o gluma…muzicala. Si asa s-a nascut piesa lor. “Come on everybody” este o reteta pe care fratii de peste Prut au tot experimentat-o la Eurovision si nu a tinut chestia cu filonul folkloric. Dar in salata Eurovisionului de anul asta ei sunt sarea si piperul. Ii vad in finala dar nu ii vad castigand. Desi pun pariu ca la cat de buni performeri sunt ar reusi sa faca un show de zile mari la Stockholm. Si in plus sunt tari la cantarile live !

Bafta baieti ! – 6 puncte

  1. VANOTEK FEAT. THE CODE & GEORGIAN – I’M COMING HOME

Vanotek/Catana Ionut/Alex Cotoi/Sorin Seniuc/Adriana Rusu/Anastasia Sandu

Melodia imi aduce aminte de reprezentantii Israelului din ultimii ani: sa pretindem ca suntem trendy, complicati si sofisticati cu orice pret. Rezultatul este o melodie care, desi are mai putin de trei minute, ti se pare lunga, prea lunga. Merge sa experimentezi dar nu la Eurovision si in plus daca tot vrei sa fii sofisticat aliniaza si textul la muzica….nu de alta dar cam lipseste textul in “I’m coming home”

Nu tine din pacate – 4 puncte

  1. IRINA POPA – LASĂ-MĂ, EU TE LAS

Irina Popa/Gheorghe Lazar/Alexandru Tudor/Eduard Taras

O echipa supradimensionata pentru o melodie din categoria: “ce e val ca valul trece”.Cand am ascultat-o prima oara nu mi-a spus mare lucru. Cand am vazut videoclipul ochii mi-au fost furati de picioarele Irinei si de agitatia mainilor si buzelor. Asa ca nu mi-am dat seama cand s-a terminat melodia. Este un cantec care se potriveste perfect cu trofeul primului picat sub linie. Nu e rau dar nici nu da pe nimeni pe spate

Super clip: 3 puncte

  1. 6. DREAM WALKERS – LET IT SHINE

Cristian Faur/Cristian Faur

De la Il Divo incoace idea de patru baieti spalati, curati si pieptanati pe care pana si mamele ii plac are success la public. Si e plin de exemple – Il Divo copycats cantand in mai toate limbile pamantului. Dream Walkers merg pe acceasi linie. Riscant mai ales ca in inregistrare vocile nu par sa duca confortabil partitura muzicala. Si daca ne aducem aminte de italienii de anul trecut, care aveau voci peste baientii nostri, ideea e riscanta din start.  “Let it shine” demonstreaza inca o data ca, intradevar, Cristian Faur isi merita titlul Mr. Eurovision. Are secretele si reteta succesului in buzunar si numai jocurile de culise l-au impiedicat sa plece la finala 2015. Recidiveaza si anul acesta cu o melodie superb construita, pe tiparul calsic al cantecelor mari de la Eurovision. Melodia creste frumos, incitant, sensibil, dar baietilor la mai trebuiesc ceva cojones si ca prestaie vocala si ca imagine pe scena. Dar ii vad foarte aproape de biletele pentru Stiockholm. Daca nu sigur isi pot gasi job-uri pe vasele de croazier precum confratii de la 4Tunes sau 4Stations.

Bineee Faur !: 8 puncte

  1. OVIDIU ANTON – MOMENT OF SILENCE

Ovidiu Anton/Ovidiu Anton

O combinatie inedita intre gotic si musical care ducandu-ma cu gandul la serialul Vikingii si Fantoma de la Opera mi-a placut. E dramatic, e ceva care poate fi pus frumos in scena daca echipa TVR uita kitchurile din alti ani (vezi povestea cu Dracula in fusta Doinei Levintza). Plus ca Ovidiu are o voce puternica fara probleme in a-si sustine partitura muzicala. Mi-ar placea sa-l vad in finala si de ce nu chiar si la Stockholm.

Excelent: 12 puncte

  1. ANDRA OLTEANU – NAI NAI

Andra Olteanu/Sever Selim

Nu exista Selectie Nationala Eurovision fara latino-manea – asta este deja regula generala. Anul acesta ritmul latino asociat traditionalei manele este SALSA. “Nai nai” este o melodie vesela, care cu siguranta se va canta la vara in doua trei discoteci la mare si cateva radiouri o vor include in playlist-ul off-pick. Sau poti sa o dai tare in masina cu geamurile deschise, evident, ca sa stresezi partenerul de traffic.Doar atat ! Si chiar daca refrenul pare usor de retinut este si mai usor de uitat. Ma gandeam cat ar putea sa aiba de lucru echipa TVR daca “Nai, nai” castiga: trebuie trimisi acasa dansatorii, periat gustul vestimentar al protagonistei si desenat pe fata Andrei un zambet potivit cu melodia si nu cu un club de fite din capitala. Deci cam greu, deci “n-ai, n-ai” sanse.

Cu scuzele de rigoare: 2 puncte

  1. MIHAI BĂJINARU – NEVER TOO LATE

Andrei Tudor/Cristian Faur

Mihai are o voce placuta, calda, care trece scena destul de usor. Melodia lui Andrei Tudor s-ar potrivi perfect cu o productie Eurovision venita din Nordul Europei, poate Islanda, poate Norvegi, poate ceva din anii ’90. Este o melodie cu sanse mari si riscuri mici. Tudor Jr. clar ca a invatat de la tatal sau secretul slagarului iar “Never too late” are stofa de … marele invins pentru ca e greu de crezut ca cineva isi va asuma riscul de a o trimit la Stockholm. Mare pacat ca melodia e buna si cu o prezentare simpla, si fara artificii tvr-iste ne-ar duce in primii 10 la finala cantecului European.

Bravoi Andrei, success Mihai: 10 puncte

  1. M I H A I – PARADISIO

Mihai Traistariu/Robby G/Dumi Padure

Abia asteptam sa ascult melodia lui Mihai. Si m-am desumflat la primele masuri. In urma cu cativa ani tot la Eurovision, Tornero ridica lumea in picioare. Acum Paradisio ne face sa cautam inregistrarea de la Atena cu un Mihai mai tanar si cu aceleasi ritmuri si triluri. Melodia nu e rea dar e cam neterminata. Asa, ca atunci cand faci dragoste in masina stresat sa nu te prinda cineva. E clar ca va trece in finala, dar pentru a pleca la Stockholm trebuie sa isi bata concurenta si sa isi recastige prietenii din TVR.

Cam dezamagit Mihai !:  7 puncte

  1. XANDRA – SUPERHUMAN

William Taylor

Cred ca alegerea melodiei pentru selectia nationala de la Baia Mare a fost facuta pe criteriul: “avem nevoie de 12 melodii; care a ramas nealeasa si nu ne zagarie urechile prea tare ?. E o melodie excelenta pentru momentele in care vrei sa fugi la frigider si sa-ti iei o bere fara sa-ti fie frica ca o sa pierzi ceva. Genul asta de cantat complicat si pe nas nu prea l-am inteles niciodata. Asa ca nu prea o vad pe Xandra ajungand in finala de duminica, iar la Stockholm poate se va duce asa, in vizita.

Poate data viitoare: 1 punct

  1. 12. DORU TODORUŢ FEAT. IRINA BAIANŢ – THE VOICE

Doru Todorut/Irina Baiant

Ceva mai mult decat Deja-Vu…or fi doua piane dar din pacate nu sunt doua voci ca ale Paulei si a lui Ovidiu. Melodia este frumoasa, imi place rupera brusca de ritm de la minutul 2.09 dar combinatia de pop si opera a mai fost incercata la Eurovision si nu a tinut. Aduceti-va aminte de suedeza Malena Ernman in 2009 cu melodia, pura coincidenta, “Le Voix” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q81WCV8GQQ) sau reprezentantii Maltei in 2004 Julie & Ludwig – On Again … Off Again (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbKBo7QhwcI). The Voice este insa o melodie frumos construita iar vocile celor doi, cel putin in inregistrarea videoclipului, suna frumos. Ramane de vazut rezultatul daca adaugi vocea live si emotiile unui asemenea concurs.

Succes mult: 9 puncte

  1. OVIDIU ANTON – MOMENT OF SILENCE
  2. FLORENA – BEHIND THE SHADOWS
  3. MIHAI BĂJINARU – NEVER TOO LATE
  4. DORU TODORUŢ FEAT. IRINA BAIANŢ – THE VOICE
  5. DREAM WALKERS – LET IT SHINE
  6. M I H A I – PARADISIO
  7. JUKEBOX – COME ON EVERYBODY
  8. GASCA DE ACASA – TU ESTI POVESTEA
  9. VANOTEK FEAT. THE CODE & GEORGIAN – I’M COMING HOME
  10. IRINA POPA – LASĂ-MĂ, EU TE LAS
  11. ANDRA OLTEANU – NAI NAI
  12. XANDRA – SUPERHUMAN

Cam asa ar atata, in viziunea mea clasamentul final. Dar nestiute sunt caile … televotingului si ale TVR-ului. Asa ca nu m-ar mira ca si anul acesta sa se repete povestea din 2015 cand am lasat acasa o melodie care ar fi prins usor o pozitie in primii 5 pentru o alta care abia a prins un loc 15. Oricum, indifferent cine ar pleca la Stockholm o sa le tinem pumnii.

Luand in calcul interesele interne si afinitatile echipei TVR, gustul juratilor si preferintele publicului dupa parerea mea cele 6 melodii calificate in finala vor fi:

OVIDIU ANTON – MOMENT OF SILENCE

FLORENA – BEHIND THE SHADOWS

MIHAI BĂJINARU – NEVER TOO LATE

DORU TODORUŢ FEAT. IRINA BAIANŢ – THE VOICE

DREAM WALKERS – LET IT SHINE

M I H A I – PARADISIO

Si ca rezerve: JUKEBOX – COME ON EVERYBODY si  GASCA DE ACASA – TU ESTI POVESTEA

Cat despre melodia care ne va reprezenta la Stockholm cred ca batalia finala va fi intre DORU TODORUŢ FEAT. IRINA BAIANŢ – THE VOICE si DREAM WALKERS – LET IT SHINE chiar daca nu ele sunt favoritele mele. Oricum prestatiile live pot schimba multe la Baia Mare.

Ceea ce nu inteleg eu, e povestea asta cu Baia Mare. Dupa ce am vazut stirile cu problemele financiare din Dorobantilor 191, dupa ce TVR-ul a facut emisiune dupa emisiune si campanie dupa campanie legate de insolventa, familment si tot tacamul, Selectia Nationala Eurovision se face la Baia Mare…nu la Ploiesti la 70 de km de Bucuresti, nu la Pitesti la 110km de Bucuresti…ci in capatul celalalt al hartii. Din cate imi aduc eu aminte un buget pentru o transmisie de studiou este de 2-3 ori mai mic decat unul pentru o transmisie exterioara. In plus echipa de realizatori de anul acesta a demonstrate ca poate face show-uri TV de exceptie in studiou, cu cheltuieli mici, decoruri refolosite, lumini si sonorizare din existente si asa mai departe. Dar nu, nu este cazul nostru: TVR vrea tichie de margaritar. Ma intreb daca cineva si-a pus problema cam cat costa trambalarea de personal, tehnica, solisti, decoruri, lumini, redactori, machiaj, soferi, eternele amante si dive din dotare, cazare, diurna si asa mai departe ? Intr-un an cand TVR-ul se plange de insolventa.

De cativa ani incoace, BBC-ul, care nu are problemele financiare de pe la noi, a facut o selectie interna si anunta castigatorul. TVE foloseste intens “social media” si apoi au un spectacol de studiou decent si bine facut. Italienii se folosesc de San Remo deci impusca doi iepuri dintr-un foc. La noi e altfel. O sa spuneti ca sunt sponsori…da…dar va imaginati cate laxative si aspirine trebuie sa promoveze in viitor Popeasca, Arsinel si Enache ca sa se poata plati factura sponsorului principal ?

Si cand ma intrebam si eu de una de alta, cineva din TVR, de pe un culoar foarte aproape de biroul unde se taie si spanzura mi-a spotit sa ma uit la cine e primar in Baia Mare. Am cercetat, am inteles si am incetat sa ma mai intreb.

Traiasca si sporeasca Salata cu gust de Eurovision 2016. Atentie dragi mancaciosi ca daca va infruptati prea mult, nu cred ca are Catena de ajuns Triferment sa stearga urmele balonarii.

“EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING” – a luxury cruise with a lot of “BUTs…”

•February 21, 2016 • 1 Comment

A review of a 2 week cruise on MSC Preziosa

MSC was never on my wish list as a frequent cruiser. Don’t ask me why…maybe because of the assumption that being Italian Company will be more or less like Costa Cruises…So it was a big NO! Doing some research regarding exclusive products on board of different cruise liners I start watching promotional videos of the MSC Yacht Club product. And I started to be tempted to have a go. Later, on another cruise, two travel companions with a previous MSC YC experience spoke very highly about their cruise on Yacht Club.

And I made the mistake to say YES. We booked a back to back 2 weeks cruise on MSC Preziosa at the end of January and we experience a 14 days of “BUTs”, apologise, excuses, promises and 24h Daily Program of contradictions and frustrations

The first contact with MSC as a company was a big disaster. We needed 5 days to book something using their website. www.msccruises.co.uk. The site looks very attractive and user friendly and initially I was thinking that the booking will take couple of minutes.

BUT… the website was crushing all the time and always block the reservation and the cabin we wanted. When I contacted the call centre I have an impressive collection of unhelpful, ignorant, rude agents shouting at me. Finally after couple of message on Twitter and Facebook (Thank God for Social media) the booking was made. But as a suggestion maybe somebody from HQ can look in to the level on Customer Servic at MSC UK branch. Or maybe use http://www.vivavoyage.co.uk , far much easier and for sure more professional!

IMG_1287

We got the Royal Suite on deck 16 – 16008 with a departure from Genoa on 31st of January.

The flight with British Airways out of Gatwick was fine, if I ignore a broken suitcase on arrival. We took the MSC transfer to the port which was a little bit hectic due to some guests but efficient as a bottom line.

The arrival and the embarkation had indeed a WOW factor. When the transfer bus stopped a butler was waiting for us already, he took care of our luggage and escort us to the special Yacht Club check-in area. A welcome buffet with some nibbles and Prosecco was waiting for us, the check-in formalities were quick and after that another butler escorted us straight to the ship passing all the lines and queues. We spend around 10 minutes in the Concierge area to have our credit card registered and we were escorted to the room. Our luggage was already there. From our arrival at the airport to entering the room we needed only 1h30minutes. Impressive and well done MSC!

With all this quick and stress-less process we had enough time to explore the ship.

The 2013 debut of MSC Preziosa moved the family-owned Italian company MSC Cruises up another level to become the world’s third-largest cruise company. The 12th ship in the fleet — and the fourth in MSC’s flagship Fantasia Class — Preziosa is making its mark with all facilities and the company’s distinctive Mediterranean atmosphere; which sometimes can be a disadvantage. The decks, named after precious jewels and gemstones, provide a clue about what to expect. Crystal-studded stairs, opulent public rooms decorated with animal prints, and lavish amounts of shimmering glass mosaics, white marble and Murano glass may overwhelm traditional cruisers who prefer classic, understated décor.

She is a beauty in a very Italian, Cinecitta style. If you like glitzy and glam, Preziosa is your perfect match. Of course the ship is new, so everything from the upholstery to the carpets is squeaky clean. Having been on a fair few cruise ships over the past couple of years, we expected garish interiors. But MSC Preziosa’s lounges and bars are different . Sure there is the standard opulent staircase and ornate chandeliers but the lounges and all public areas are decorated tastefully, bedecked with subtle colours and modern furnishings.

MSC Preziosa Public Rooms

What I liked about the public areas is that using an inspired deco and lighting, each space has a completely different personality complimented with the right type of music. I was quite surprised to see that the acts performing in the lounges were better than the ones in the theatre.

Most of the public rooms are on Decks 6 and 7, connected by pillared and invariably ornate walkways dotted with sculptures and works of art. On Deck 6, there’s a shopping plaza that includes a duty-free mini-mall, perfumery, sweet shop, accessories store and an outlet selling upmarket sunglasses. Deck 7 has a jewelry and logowear shop, an art gallery and a photo shop.

There are 20 bars, including the new Diamond Bar that’s one of the quieter venues and two outside pool bars. Others include the Green Sax jazz bar, chic El Dorado piano bar and the large Safari Lounge that hosts smaller shows with a very annoying animation team and has a dance floor. Our favourite place was with no doubts Green Sax with nice deco and good music (especially the mix duo Romanian-Ukrainian); and of course an amazing Romanian bartender, Vlad, who’s cocktails very close to perfection in mixology.

BUT … MSC having a very cosmopolitan crowd on board all the announcements are done in 6 languages…even the safety ones (can you imagine if you speak Japanese you will be the last one to find that the ship is sinking…oops…sounds like Costa Concordia story). The annoying thing is that while you enjoy a lovely cocktail with some good music in the lounge the charm is destroyed by a Chinese man screaming on PA system something that’s sound like a menu in a Chinese Takeaway. Priceless moment(s)!

 

The impressive atrium, with its sweeping, glittering staircases, water feature and glass-sided elevator, is the focal point midship on Deck 5 having most of the time a live musical performance.

BUT … such a pity that the crowd wasn’t there to appreciate this…was more like an waiting room in their eyes.

Entertainment

This is not a ship where the majority of passengers are running to bed before midnight. The main entertainment venue is the 1,600-seat two-story Platinum Theatre on Decks 6 and 7. The emphasis is on visual shows which supposed to appeal to an international audience. The theatre is, once again, like the entire ship impressive and has all the ads on to host amazing shows.

BUT… MSC definitely cut costs in the entertainment department because I never saw such a poor offer in my entire “cruiser career”. The cast, sets and costume are repetitive and the production are just a line-up of well-known songs with no concept or imagination. The dancer were quite good but looking at their performance you can realise the different background and training: ballroom, cabaret, street dance. It was a repetitive performance of how they couldn’t manage to synchronize their movements every night and lift their hands or legs in a random order, for sure not created by the choreographer. As I said the dancing was not so bad. What really made me leave the theatre before the end of the show were the two leading voices…Painful most of the time, far from being a duo when was a need for that, more interested in their stage pose than their vocal performance and managing to kill every song in a very personal and powerful way. Worse than the first pre-pre-pre-pre selection for XFactor in Margate! I wonder if MSC found that Italians invented big lavish TV entertainment on Canale5 or they host every year the high quality Festival San Remo ?

A video of the shows on MSC Preziosa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJuBvAgashI

Fortunately on board you have other options. There are 20 bars on board with amazing atmosphere created by deco and lights. And the musicians performing there were most of the time above average and sometimes very good. Actually in the second week we decided to avoid the shows and spend most of the evenings in Green Sax or El Dorado listening to some very good performances and sipping fabulous cocktails.

One of the biggest surprise on board was the night club Galaxy. Forget about what you are used with on other cruise ships. No line dancing, no annoying animation team with stupid dance routines…this is a REAL night-club. Fantastic choice of music, great DJ and the lights and deco create a “party all night long” atmosphere.  Maybe s quick suggestion for MSC: what about a curfew in the night club and other lounges for, let’s say under 16’s ? I saw couple of night’s parents with sleeping babies (no older than 8-9 months) in prams, dreaming in smoking areas or 8 years screaming children running at 2AM on the dance floor. Especially that the Children’s Club on board is, as I’ve been told by some parents, amazing and very flexible timewise.

Spa & Fitness

Occupying a prime spot forward on Deck 14 is the Aurea Spa, including a new thermal area with a sauna, steam and frigidarium ice room. The large, adjoining fitness centre, with panoramic views over the bow, has Technogym running machines, cross-trainers and other aerobic equipment, as well as weight resistance equipment, free weights and an area in the main gym for spinning classes on stationary bikes. The high quality of the area made us, big anti-gym fans to go there 12 times in 14 days. Fantastic place, excellent taste in deco and very modern and clean. And to don’t forget the Healthy Bar which has on offer fresh smoothies and juices…a true healthy pleasure!

BUT… will be a good idea that the staff in the Spa to observe and impose some basic rules relating to what to wear and how to behave in such a space. Couple of time I had next to me passengers exercising in jeans, shirts and shoes used in the yesterday excursion or I was in the middle of a loud conversation in Italian between two signore while using the treadmills.

Dining

Preziosa has nine dining venues, including a buffet that’s open nonstop for 20 hours a day from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. The main restaurants are the two-deck Golden Lobster on Decks 5 and 6, with seating for 1,155, and the panoramic 766-seat L’Arabesque, aft on Deck 6. Both operate two dinner seating and offer identical menus. Breakfast and lunch are served in the ship’s main restaurants and self-serve buffet restaurants, the adjoining Inca and Maya on Deck 14, which offer all-day dining and the option of a more casual setting for dinner.

BUT…again cutting the costs showing the results. The dining experience is far from a Mediterranean experience and you wonder where the famous fresh, spontaneous, inspirational Italian cuisine disappeared. While adequate, the food was not particularly fancy in terms of presentation. Courses seemed rushed, and the wine service was rather haphazard, with wait staff acknowledging empty glasses but not returning to replenish for some time, if at all. Similarly, in the buffet restaurant, there was a feeling the team hadn’t really gelled. Some staff couldn’t have been more helpful, while others barely made eye contact, let alone smiled.

The situation is different in the paid restaurants.

The Galaxy restaurant open-kitchen boasts delicious all-day dining and a panoramic disco that keeps the beat ‘til late ensures the fun continues into the evening. Is an interesting concept: half restaurant have night-club. The menu is very cosmopolitan, the food presentation is original and the service reach almost 5 stars. Here you have a choice of 3 set menus: one tester menu, one with 5 courses and the most expensive one (53 Euros) 7 courses with a different type of wine included. A must do culinary experience on board.

Eataly is part of an international concept trying to demonstrate that high-quality Italian food and drink are at hand. Very casual with recycling paper cups and fresh food Eataly on board offer set menus or a la care with fresh pasta and pizzas at reasonable prices.

BUT…even if they claim that one of the greatest sources of joy is what happens around a dinner table, on board you still need to frown once or twice to get a decent service. But when they manage to deliver the standards is a great experience. I remember that first time when we went there having a reservation made by our concierge the Maître D’ raised his hand and shout at us that he is busy without asking anything else. The second time, after we mentioned that to the Concierge, the service was perfect…maybe too perfect!

MSC Voyagers Club

Is the scheme for frequent travellers on board of MSC ships. All cruise lines offer a series of benefits depending the level that you have in the framework. MSC made a step forward, trying to encourage passengers from other lines to try MSC by offering them the equivalent status they have attained in their loyalty club in the MSC Voyagers Club. Genial marketing idea !

BUT…in reality is a little bit different. We are Diamond on Cunard and Platinum on NCL so we got an equivalent Black level on MSC. A statement from the line said: “As with the previous MSC Club, members qualify for a whole range of benefits and extras which increase as they rise up the membership tiers. Gold and Black members will now receive additional tier benefits as standard. The only benefits that you will get is a Welcome back cocktail, Complimentary basket of fresh fruit in cabin, Complimentary MSC Voyagers club photo, Complimentary speciality restaurant dinner (no beverages), MSC Voyagers Club black party, MSC Voyagers Club chocolate ship, Complimentary dancing class sounds more like budget scheme the a loyalty one. And don’t expect to get all of this without asking. In two weeks we manage to get the party invitation, the chocolate ships and the free dinners. Actually, quite sad, the person who supposed to be your Voyagers Club host and the one who can make you to book another cruise with MSC, the Cruise Consultant, was the rudest and unprofessional person on board. When we try to speak with Melanie about another booking she push her hand in our faces and shout at us to wait because she was busy! If she’s working on commission for sure she lost a lot and she needs some training in customer service. And reading the online reviews the changes in their benefits for Voyagers Club members is not very popular.

Yacht Club

The Yacht Club, MSC Preziosa’s “ship within a ship” is targeted to cruisers who prefer an intimate, small ship experience, without having to give up the amenities available on larger vessels. The experience is distinctly different from the rest of the ship: There is more space, privacy, pampering, and personal service, akin to the perks associated with a concierge floor at a five-star luxury hotel. The Yacht Club is located on portions of three decks: Decks 15, 16 and 18, all towards the bow of the ship. (Similar to buildings in the U.S. without a 13th floor, there is no 17th floor because Italians consider the number 17 to be unlucky.) The three-floor enclave with 69 suites in total has its own eye-catching spiral stairway with Swarovski crystal steps, and an exclusive elevator that provides private access to the spa. Club entry is restricted to “members,” accessible only with their keycards.

Indeed an experience to remember a real “exclusive haven”. The reality is not far from the description even if a lots of “BUTs” are spoiling the efforts of MSC to bring the concept “ship within a ship” in line with similar products on the market (Cunard, NCL)

As I mentioned earlier as soon as we stepped out of the bus at the port in Genoa to embark on our Mediterranean cruise, Vishesh, the stately head butler of the Yacht Club greeted us warmly by name. He led us to the check-in desk inside the terminal as our bags were whisked away. At the desk, we were offered a drink, photographed before receiving cruise identification/key cards, and introduced to our cabin butler, Edwin, who took over from there. He led us to the Yacht Club reception desk on Deck 15 of the ship

Edwin, the butler and our cabin steward Audrey were the most professional and consistent staff ever meet at sea. Manners, humour, respect, skills and a constant pro-active guest care attitude made them a pleasure and one of the heights of the entire experience.

Accommodation

We stayed in cabin 16008 – The Royal Suite. An excellent choice, even if the name “royal” will mislead a little bit if you take in the account the size of the cabin. The advantage was that the 2 rooms (living area and bedroom) were completely separated by a dorr which make the cabin a real one bedroom apartment at sea. Our room was attractively furnished with mauves, browns, and dark woods. It included a sleeping area, sitting area with a desk, a coffee table, a sofa and two arm chairs, walk-in closet with drawer space, and sliding glass doors leading to a balcony with two chairs and two sunbeds. Sounds fantastic doesn’t?

BUT… the balcony was the weirdest design ever. More long than wide had in the middle a handrail which reduce the available space. Actually both sunbeds and chairs can’t be used at the same time. The handrail can be useful if you practice for your classical ballet lesson, but no more than that…

The bathroom had a single marble topped sink, attractive hardware, sufficient shelf and cabinet space, and a combined shower/bath with a half-glass panel that kept water in and allowed light inside. Again a good idea…

BUT… for a “Royal Suite” it was the smallest bathroom I ever seen and later I realised that is not difference between its size and other cabins in Yacht Club. While other cruise liners compete on the market with famous brands as amenities, toiletries this times were MSC-branded rather than luxury brands. And to be honest reminds me of Travelodge or Novotel.

But we loved our cabin and with the precious help of Edwin and Audrey we felt like royals for 14 days!

Video of Royal Suite 16008 on MSC Preziosa at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CVEFLMQSc8&feature=youtu.be

Public spaces

The club’s virtual living room is the spacious Top Sail Lounge and Bar on Deck 15. Furnished with curved brown banquettes and loveseats, it has a serene ambiance, which is never crowded and has unobstructed, 180-degree views of the sea. Waiters circulate offering guests hot or cold drinks or snacks. A little bar is always full with funny but delicious snacks and the bar list (all included) is quite generous. Again a nice place to spend SOME time during your cruise.

BUT…the YC is like a Golden Cage. Once you left the restricted area the level of service and the benefits that you paid for melt down quite dramatically. No consistency or standards in service outside YC and no free drinks. You will say that the solution is to stay there without leaving YC. Believe me after 3-4 days the food is getting repetitive and the music (despite the talented Irina playing the piano every night) made you jump overboard like Kate Winslet in Titanic. No surprise that the Top Sail Lounge, even if elegant, full of piano music and assorted with every day the same filled croissants, was most of the time empty. Why MSC doesn’t think to transform Top Sail Lounge in an attractive meeting space, with more food as an alternative to the restaurant, with different types of music every night to be in line with the deco and excellent service of the staff( thank you Putu and Bogdan) working here ?

Dining Options

Guests in the Yacht Club can eat all their meals within the club, totally bypassing the traditional buffet lines and main dining rooms. The Top Sail Lounge serves buffet breakfasts and lunches, traditional high tea service, and small plates accompanied by soft drinks, bottled water, wines, beers, cocktails, snacks, and excellent specialty coffees throughout the day. (At no additional charge, except for premium wines and liquors). The lounge is conveniently located only steps away from the cabins, so it is an inviting place to sit, chat, read, or listen to soft, live piano music. Again the excellent service manage most of the time to balance the repetitive menu.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at La Palmerie, the formal restaurant dedicated to Yacht guests with free seating. Some reviews speak hard about “logistical drawback” created by the fact that La Palmerie is located at the opposite end of the ship from the Yacht Club. I did enjoy to trek through busy bars, lounges, and shops on Deck 7, or follow the narrow labyrinth of cabin-lined hallways on Deck 13 to get there.

BUT …I think La Palmerie has two main problems which need to be addressed as quickly as possible if MSC wants indeed top compete on “ship within a ship” market. One is the quality and presentation of the food. A luxury option for cruiser must be a little bit more elaborate with a higher attention to details. Traditional southern Italian dishes, including fresh pastas, were the most appealing and tasty choices; continental dishes were often disappointing (either overcooked or of poor quality) and not up to par with luxury cruise dining. The second problem was the service; MSC needs to pay attention to standards and consistency. One night our wine glasses were filled up with a completely different wine from some leftovers from another table, the service flow was never the same and we always wonder if we will get butter fist and bred 20 minutes later or vice versa. Is weird how the local staff are quite rude and not at all attentive to international guests but pay a great attention to Italian passengers. After 5 days and some conversation with Maître D we manage to secure to our table two excellent waiter who manage to deliver an acceptable service (thank you Flavio and . One of the house rule ask to announce the restaurant the time for dining, even is a free seating, to avoid waiting in line. The Maître D in theory will wait for you at the entrance and escort you to your table. Happens only 2 or 3 times. Most of the time we were waiting 10-15 minutes watching waiters passing by and ignoring the little line formed outside the restaurant

Weather permitting, a  hot and cold  breakfast and lunch buffet with waiter service is set up daily on the Deck 18 sundeck, just steps from the pool. Drinks are also available throughout the day at the pool bar. Excellent idea …

BUT… the quality of the food is far from luxury cruising and closer to a budget buffet. Non existing presentation and cold food make this buffet to look like a leftover collection from the previous night. Do you remember how quick the eggs change their colour when you are having breakfast in the plane? That’s the image of the buffet on deck 18. Fortunately the service and attentive waiters make this place perfect for a drink in the afternoon or late mornings.

The minibar in each cabin is generously stocked with complimentary juices, spirits, soda, bottled water, and nuts—and a fresh fruit bowl is replenished daily. Another minor disappointment: 24-hour room service is also limited in terms menu choices and doesn’t offer course-by-course delivery. But the pizza delivered in the room (on certain times, of course) is divine!

But what makes the experience of Yacht Club on MSC Preziosa unbeatable is the service! Wherever you turn, Yacht Club crew is there to greet you or extend help. The butler assigned to each stateroom makes sure the guest experience is seamless. Instead of having to call an anonymous reception desk for problems or requests, the butler is unobtrusive but always available. He can help guests unpack, connect to the Internet (which, incidentally, was the best Wi-Fi connection we’ve ever experienced on any ship), or make reservations for activities on the boat, or for excursions or transportation on shore. And for sure that is what make us to think to return to MSC !

Would I go back to MSC Yacht Club?

YES and NO at the same time!

With a predominance of International passengers on board the cosmopolitan experience is a must if you can ignore the frequent announcements in 5 languages

Preziosa is staffed by a multilingual, international crew but sometimes if you don’t speak Italian or French you are a little bit lost in translation.

The ship’s service, style, and décor are decidedly Italian and stylish. Most of the food is provisioned in Genoa; the pastas, espresso and cappuccino are heavenly but you need more than that to think about MSC YC as a luxury dining option. Indeed it’s hard to resist the piece of Venchi chocolate left on your pillow each night.

In terms of age, MSC cruise passengers skew about a decade younger than many other lines. Children, ages 11 and under, cruise free and children under the age of 17 sail at a reduced rate. That can be a problem as leaving your children in a kids club (and MSC excel in the offers for different ages) is not a cultural thinks. I saw couples in the Club and lounges with 4 months old toddlers and children running around the ship at 2.00AM. But again is a cultural thing…”La Dolce Vita”!

One of my biggest sock on board MSC Preziosa was the smoking policy. On MSC you can smoke indoor (and as a heavy smoker that keep me happy). Quite annoying if you don’t smoke and Safari Lounge or Top Sail Lounge remind me of a flight when smoking was permitted on board – if you are on the last row in the non-smoking section you will “enjoy” the unlimited cigarettes of the smoking section.

The biggest surprise during this cruise was the conversation I had with the Captain and the Hotel Manager. They found time to discuss, in a private meeting, for about 45 minutes about our experience and take seriously all the feedback, both positive and constructive. But not only that! The next day some changes started to be visible. That shows, with no doubts, that the team on board really care and are passionate about the quality of the YC product and the way how it is delivered.

Would I go back to MSC Yacht Club?

YES ! As a test, to see if all those BUTs were just a one-off glitch in an amazing product. At the end of the day, for today’s value-conscious traveller, the Yacht Club offers the feeling of a luxury small ship with all the advantages of large vessel cruising at a very decent and reasonable price. And each time you use your key card to enter, you’re reminded that you’ve found a yacht-like sanctuary away from the density and anonymity of a large ship

Thank you MSC Preziosa for an interesting experience and see you soon !

WELCOME BACK CUNARD

•January 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I know, I know….sounds weird “Welcome back Cunard!”, like a grammar mistake…But is not ! And I will explain you why.

In the last 3 years we travelled with Cunard couple of times on all three ships: Canary Island, Transatlantic, Norwegian Fjords, two sectors of a World Voyage and so one. And each time, every time Cunard failed to impress us. It was nice but we didn’t find the “White Star Service” as advertised or expected. Cunard was missing something

Last year we decided to have another go, on Queen Victoria. And the result was a multiplied WOW. Everything was PERFECT. Maybe just pure luck? To be sure that wasn’t a “cruise miracle” we booked again on Queen Victoria, this year, a 7 days voyage to Denmark and Germany. When we left the ship in a cold morning in Southampton we were 100% sure that the previous experience wasn’t an exception and we can say loud and clear “WELCOME BACK Cunard!”, welcome back to what we like about you and what we expect from you.

Queen Victoria is elegance personified, an understated British style, without glitzy or loud and an ambience modest rather than striking. You can’t’ not love the luxurious furnishings and eye-catching features the air of extravagance on board atmosphere with muted colours and lots of dark wood. Is interesting the way how Cunard keep in Queen Victoria mixes the ambiance of the ocean liners of times past with the contemporary elegance of a modern luxury hotel.

Everywhere you turn there is a treat for the eyes, from the glittering chandeliers and white gloved waiters serving scones at afternoon tea to elegant restaurants and deep, rich carpets. The interior decor is ‘traditional’ in Cunard-speak, with public rooms finely decorated in Edwardian/Victorian styles, with wrought-iron balustrades on staircases and in some bars.

To be honest no matter how much blase you are, is impossible to don’t admire the stunning three-tier Grand Lobby with its unique artwork, sweeping staircase, sculpted balconies and a dramatic triple-height ceiling. A bronzed-effect sculptural representation of the cruise ship emerging from a sun motif coordinated with a marquetry relief depicting a map of the world is visible from nearly every part of the Grand Lobby.

Accommodation

Queen Victoria has 1,003 cabins. There are 143 inside, 146 ocean view and 581 balcony cabins. We had for our 7 days voyage a Penthouse – Q4 cabin situated on the 7th Deck. The Penthouse Suites feature a king-size bed a living area with sofa writing desk and chair balcony bathroom with bath and shower. Each of the 35 Queens Grill Penthouse Suites comes with a large living area, bedroom with acres of storage space and a veranda. Balconies have one large white table, one square small table, two stools, two loungers and two recliner chairs. The suite includes plush linens, a walk-in closet and a fully stocked bar. Additional amenities include butler and concierge service, fresh fruit and flowers, welcome bottles of champagne and strawberries, complimentary bottle water, complimentary broadsheet newspaper,  DVD player priority disembarkation and tender service, access to the Queens Lounge, priority embarkation and luggage delivery,  personalized stationery, Terry cloth robes with matching slippers.

 

Even if we loved the room, for sure the real star of this voyage was our butler Elvie – the personification of the service excellence and attention to detail. She was absolutely fantastic and from the moment when we arrived on board, every detail was taken care of, every need was met, and every desire anticipated with just the right level of sensitive, informed service. Elvie was the prototype of a perfect butler: trusting and trustworthy, friendly but not familiar, reliable, low-key, unobtrusive professional. Thank you very much Elvie.

The choice of daily canapes is up to you; we requested caviar on blinis before dinner and Elvie took care that the blinis change every day so no change to get bored. You can opt at the beginning of the voyage for 2 bottle of premium spirit and again the butler took care to replace the bottle before they finished.

Dinning

Cunard is respected for its cuisine and service, with a wide variety of well-prepared and presented dishes. Queens Grill and Princess Grill, two Grill Class-only restaurants, provide exclusive dining. These have a single-seating arrangement, providing an intimate, exclusive dining experience than in the two-seating main Britannia Restaurant.

On the port side, the 142-seat Queens Grill is for passengers in suites and top category accommodation grades, and provides the best cuisine and service aboard. The Cunard Grill experience also includes alfresco dining in a seldom used courtyard terrace (The Courtyard), suitably protected from the wind, and exclusive access for Grill Class passengers to an upper terrace deck, with dedicated staff as well as the Grills’ lounge and bar.

Culinary adventures aboard Cunard Queen Victoria extend beyond the elegant menus from superbly casual to sublimely creative. or guests who stay in Queens Grill accommodation, this is ultimate expression of dining excellence. The waiter will guide you through delicious possibilities. The chef does his best to fulfil all requests.

The 142-seat Queens Grill restaurant, featuring a cream, gold and blue colour scheme, is the exclusive dining venue of Queens Suite passengers. During the day, the entire length of the Queens Grill dining room is illuminated with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. At night, lighting comes from decorative glass uplighters. Wedgwood bone china, Waterford crystal, sterling silverware and Fili d’Oro Italian premium linens complete the scene.

The Grills are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  But the Grills experience is not limited to the restaurants themselves.  The same goes for the room service for these guests and there is no charge for that, it is all kind of inclusive. In the Grills the world “limit” basically doesn’t exist.  The caviar is available, the foie gras is available.   If you want it every night, have it every night.

The dinner menu is a many splendored thing, with appetisers that might include sevruga caviar or seafood bisque. Typical choices for mains could be lobster flambe with Cognac truffle and wild mushroom risotto, while a choice of around six desserts (including a sugar-free option) The cheese selection is beyond magnificent. Here however, the menu functions merely as a guide because, in grand Cunard tradition, staff will accommodate any request, on or off the menu, if available.

The menus in the Grill restaurants are similar, but with a few added extras in the Queen’s Grill, such as Chateaubriand – and a genuinely ‘on demand’ service, where you can walk in and ask for whatever you desire to be prepared for you there and then!

Here is a sample of a dinner menu:

APPETIZERS & SOUPS

  • Symphony of Salmon Tartar, Shrimp Ceviche on Trumpet Mushroom & Green Asparagus
  • Sturgeon Caviar on Buckwheat Blini

SALADS

  • Baby Spinach Salad, Walnut & Crispy Bacon Bits, Balsamic & Grape Dressing
  • Endive Salad with Asparagus, Honey Ginger Dressing

ENTRÉES

  • Pan-roasted Halibut, Forked Potato, Orange & Lime Marmalade, Vanilla Beurre Blanc
  • Lobster Américaine Flambé with Cognac, Truffle, Wild Mushroom Risotto
  • Roast Duck à L’Orange, Pommes Amandine
  • Châteaubriand, Larded Peas & Gratin Dauphinoise Potatoes

DESSERTS

  • Cassis Champagne Mousse, Wild Berry Coulis
  • Mango & Passion Fruit Crème Brûlée
  • Chocolate and Raspberry Crêpe Soufflé with Oranges, Vanilla Sauce
  • Sugar-free Strawberry Tart with Fresh Berry Salad
  • A Selection of International Cheeses from the Cheese Trolley is Served at your Table

In Queens Grill, Cunard have an obsession with setting fire every second so expect around 4-5 fireworks show at your neighbour’s tables when Maître D’ start the procedure of “flambé” everything is in the menu for main course. The huge set menu in Queens Grill is also supplemented by an a’la carte menu, and then the ability to order off menu if you want. The range of dishes is huge, including dishes cooked at your table. Service is exceptional.

Afternoon tea has been a Cunard tradition for more than a century, and the brew served is a blend of Ceylon, Assam and Kenyan tea specially selected for Cunard.. Tea is served from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Queens Room certainly deserves a mention, with a small army of white-gloved waiters dancing attendance with pots of fresh leaf tea and plates of finger sandwiches, mini open-faced sandwiches, mini cakes and, to finish, a separate individual plate with a scone, jam and cream. Sometimes you have to wait in line to get a table if you don’t like to share it but the secret is to arrive around 15-20 minutes before the closing time. The reward of sharing your afternoon tea with “the crowd” is the entertainment: very good quality classical musicians, sometimes a dancing afternoon tea (ballroom of course) The other option is the Queens Lounge where unfortunately if you don’t catch a table you end in the restaurant where the story is a bit different (see the comments at the end of this review). Here is no music but at least the quality of tea, sandwiches, cakes and even scones and clotted cream is above those in Queens Room.

Of course, as on all other ships the range of restaurants is quite impressive:

  • The Lido on Deck 9 – a casual, bright and airy informal dining area with a daylong buffet selection and historic Cunard images lining the walls.
  • Golden Lion Pub on Deck 2 – the only bar onboard that sells draught ales and lagers with an atmosphere which resembles a traditional English pub with an antique-ish pressed tin ceiling and wide-screen wall-mounted TVs showing the latest news and sport.
  • Cafe Carinthia on Deck 2, named after a former Cunard ship, offers the style and sophistication of a traditional French patisserie in a classy space highlighted by Art Deco elements in shades of gold, blue and rich bronze. An ideal spot for a light lunch when quiches, smoked salmon sandwich and salads are on the menu.
  • Britannia Restaurant on Decks 2 and 3 is Queen Victoria’s largest dining venue, an elegant space with double-height ceiling offset by cornices and intimate groupings of tables that try to balance the room’s size. The room’s upper and lower levels accommodate 878 guests and a string quartet or harpist usually performs during the first hour of dining

Entertainment

I have always found Cunard entertainment disappointing. It is very dated. The production shows are predictable and rely heavily on safe routines of songs through the ages and they pull in UK based guest entertainers that are past their prime. It is unadventurous and is (in my view) unexciting. I usually avoid or end up leaving most shows. They are trying to attract a younger crowd on the ships, but their entertainment has not yet got that memo!

The 830-seat, three-deck Royal Court Theatre on Deck 3 was designed to emulate the grandeur and luxury of the spectacular designs of architect Frank Matcham, whose dramatic multi-tiered theatres made him one of the most prolific theatre designers

Two shows per night — at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. — last around 50 minutes. While on-board, Cunard had on schedule a quite good dance show), a performance by some comedians, which was sometimes rude and the British sense of humour was unsurprisingly rather lost on many of the Americans and Germans in the audience and the same blues band from P&O with the same attitude and mediocrity.

Dance Passion celebrates the exuberant world of dance. Outstanding international dancers execute superb and diverse choreography, capturing the magic of Gene Kelly – the sensual Argentine Tango, Salsa and Samba. The show delivers the grace and elegance of classic dance to the vibrant energy of Swing and Jump Jive. It was our favourite moment in the Royal Court Theatre and for the first time bot singers and dancer the reach the same level of professionalism and quality.

Among the Royal Court’s most distinguishing features are the 16 private boxes that frame the stage and are furnished with armchairs and cocktail tables, two of which are wheelchair accessible. A box for two entitles you to a glass of Champagne, canapes or chocolate-covered strawberries, a photo taken with the cast and the services of a uniformed bell boy who escorts you to your seat. Is a must do experience!

Especially on sea days, passengers are offered for choice with lots of activities, including beginners’ bridge classes, golf-putting tournaments, whist, bingo and lectures. The Golden Lion Pub hosts a variety of entertainment (such as darts or trivia games), while ballroom and line dance classes get passengers moving in the Queens Room. Art classes are sometimes held in Hemispheres. There are also daily Friends of Bill W and Friends of Dorothy meetings. Wherever you go, you will encounter live music, typically harpists or pianists. The lectures must be said in my opinion were very poor. A Nigel Vardy an “explorer”? And a Malcolm Macfarlane who spoke on music in 60’s,etc!

Hemispheres on deck 10, positioned aft of the mast and adjacent to the Commodore Club, overlooks the wood-decked Pavilion Pool will play recorded ballroom and Latin music in the early evening and offer live music for late-night dancing from 10:30 p.m. onwards alternating with a DJ. The band was “alright”…maybe too much reggae and a massive obsession to change every other songs in “reggae style” music…and their go on ABBA was quite painful. Despite the 60-70-80’s type of music we loved our nights in Hemispheres and we catch early hours of the morning there.

1920s Art Deco inspired The Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar, overlooks the Grand Lobby and is a chic room sparkling with golden glass elements that form a backdrop for sandblasted Art Deco glass panels. As the name suggests, the bar serves Veuve Clicquot Champagne exclusively. This costs from $80 to $395 a bottle but no worries you cannot order Champagne by the glass.

We signed up for an wine tasting event – “Around the world in 12 wines” which was 100 times better than the similar free wine tasting dedicated to loyal guests. The Chef Sommelier (Ovidiu) and our own sommelier (Dejan) gave us in a very pleasant, relax way the chance to discover what we like and what we don’t like about wine and manage to infuse a lot of knowledge in a very entertaining and professional manner.

And the sail away from Hamburg was an exceptional event with the marching Band of Elsinor Girls (Helsingør Pigegarde) fireworks, hotels beside the river Elbe saluting the ship and a passing by Queen Elizabeth with horns in full blast. What a magic evening !

I was always impressed by the library on decks 2 and 3 which offers a selection of 6,000 books. This traditionally styled, mahogany wood, double-height room is connected by a spiral staircase to the upper level. The carpet is embedded with signatures of literary figures and there are plenty of leather sofas and armchairs

And of course the magnificent Queens Room ballroom hosting themed parties, cocktails and ballroom dance sessions every day !

The Cunard White Star Service and training is clearly very efficient and service is very good. It is a more formal, British and reserved style of service. Though I think, that it lacks some of the warmth though. The Captain, and senior crew, in all my experiences have been more distant and formal and stayed at arms length from the passengers. On recent trips there also has been more of an underlying tension about the changes that Cunard is going through to grow and become more modern that on-board seem less welcome of, and this seeps through the crew. On our last trip this feeling was not present anymore and we enjoyed every second on-board. The slickness and professionalism of Cunard, through its White Star Service credo, compensates for the less warm approach.

Couple of points where Cunard has be look in to be not only very close to perfection, but perfect:

  • Afternoon tea in Queens Lounge

Despite the fact that Queens Lounge is a lovely comfy stylish space can’t accommodate all the guests in Grills. Therefore the Maître D’ use Queens Restaurant as an overflow space which is OK. Unfortunately the service standards are not the same; the waiting time was quite long, the waiters seems to be quite annoyed when you ask for a menu or a special type of tea and you need to wave couple of times to get the attention of somebody for an extra cake or scone.

  • Purser’s Desk Staff

All over the world, in hotels or cruise ships the reception team is the interface between the guests and the rest of the team and therefore they must be a quintessence of the entire company’s customer service philosophy. On Queen Victoria, in two occasions, the receptionist manage to destroy point by point the entire list of Cunard White Star Service code and more than that when we mentioned the wrong attitude to the Purser the reaction was more or less the same; the only difference were the stripes on the jacket.

  • On-board lectures

Cunard always exceeded the expectations of traveller with very interesting lecturers and topics. From literature to art, from history to media, I always try to find a place in the theatre for a morning or an afternoon lecture. This time the two options were completely wrong. Malcolm Macfarlane talking about 60s and 70s music mastering quite well PowerPoint, Google Search engine and YouTube but leaving behind any confidence in front of the audience and any charisma and Nigel Vardy ,an “explorer”, which manage to empty an venue ¼ full at the beginning with at least 40% till the end of the presentation

Bottom line: this new experience on Queen Victoria brought back Cunard on our options list for a future cruise due to Cunard’s commitment to ensuring each guest is pampered during each voyage. Cunard prides itself on standards of service that go above and beyond, exceeding the expectations of guests. And indeed on Queen Victoria this January we rediscovered the White Star Service

Before the last Cunard cruise I was part of the pessimists concerned that Cunard is having to “dumb down” through the demands and pressures of Carnival ownership. I believe that I can observe a trend of erosion of the high standards and quality that Cunard used to strive to and maintain. Now I am on the other side, the optimist side believing that the less than superlative experiences are the inevitable challenges of having to deliver service consistently across a larger fleet. For a very long time Cunard had just one ship in the form of Queen Elizabeth 2. This meant it was easier for the company to maintain consistency. Now they have 3 ships with many more crew members and demands. But Cunard is back on the right path!

So to sum up this has been a trip which has seen Cunard keep up its exceptional service and standards. Cunard does keep it First Class and does rule the waves

NEW YEAR ON A FERYY WITH A HINT OF FLOATING BENIDORM

•January 11, 2016 • Leave a Comment

We spent New Year 2015/2016 on P&O VENTURA on a 4 day cruise going to Zeebrugge and Amsterdam. And the bad outcome was my fault 100%. Of course the question is “why did I choose P&O ?”. Two main reasons: 1) Never been on it and I just wanted to try  and 2) Previous year I was on Queen Victoria on the same type of cruise and itinerary and I was thinking that being under the same corporate umbrella the experience will be more or less the same. On top of that my favourite cabin was not available on QV so I choose Ventura to spend the longest night of the year. BIG MISTAKE ! Why ?

Ventura, which launched in 2008, aimed apparently to transform what many people consider P&O’s somewhat stuffy ambience to one more in tune with the times. The result was a floating pub resembling more a ferry than a cruise liner. As I read, in April 2013, the ship had a multi-million pound makeover including new soft furnishings in the cabins and new carpets throughout but the result is a ferry pretending to be posh and taking you back in ’70 cheap all-inclusive sea side resorts.

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Embarkation/Disembarkation

Even if a fast track embarkation and a dedicated check-in desk are promised for suites on our arrival in Southampton a “charming lady”  sent us in a line shouting that P&O don’t do dedicated check-in….”maybe only for the Cpt”. On disembarkation we were queuing on stairs, in a very well organised chaotic way ignoring any safety rules but having an “intellectual touch” as the queue was passing twice the Art Gallery. Quite happy when we reach the shore !

 

Accommodation

Ventura has 1,555 cabins, of which 434 are inside, 1,103 are outside and 881 have a balcony. Aiming for the best experience we choose the most expensive cabin on board (£2000/person/4 days) – ORIENTAL SUITE. There are two of this kind on Ventura, side by side on Deck 12 right at the aft of the ship, 742 square feet (with a 216 square foot balcony). And the Penthouse was the first shock on board. The living area and the bedroom were very generous from the living space point of view, with a lot of storage space and big balcony and bathroom. The deco was what made us scream; a lot of unused space, with furniture that reminds me of a ‘70s all-inclusive cheap resort in Spain with some random paintings who seems to come directly from a B&Q sales. When spending a quite afternoon in the living room I had the feeling that the deco was the result of a “choose the ugliest and the cheapest stuff you can find” competition.

 

 

 

According to P&O website a Penthouse includes some “special touches: Butler service, daily canapes, and a Senseo coffee machine with complimentary pods included”.  The reality was a little bit different: the coffee machine was replaced with a kettle and the coffee pods with some instant coffee sachets, the daily canapes were randomly selected from the yesterday buffet’s leftovers. The Butler was like a drop of fresh water in the seat: very kind, polite and excellent manners. “Fortunately” his first class service was “well balanced” by the rudest steward I ever meet who has as a main duty to moan every day, sometimes twice a day about almost everything. Even the tip (50 Euros for 4 days) wasn’t good enough for him and he told us off after we had a little cocktail party with some friends in our room.

Looking again at P&O website I can see that is mentioned for Penthouse “a flat screen TV, MP3 compatible music player, an iron and ironing board and trouser press plus White Company amenities”.  And again … 25% correct! The TV hand an excellent free movies selection but the system didn’t work most of the time and the “play&pause” option was a non-sense. The music system was indeed Bose (wow, wow, wow!!!!!) but didn’t work (still pretty as a piece of furniture) and the iron was probably recuperated from Titanic after staying on the bottom of the Ocean for couple of decades. Initially I was very happy with the amenities as the 4 bottles (shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion) of White Company were a bonus for the cabin. The surprise was that after 2 days when we requested an replacement we were told by the “nice” steward that we are not entitled to get new ones – “only one set per cabin per cruise”. I was checking the P&O website again and didn’t find any information about 2 mandatory showers/cabin/cruise … maybe I missed the page!

 

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The White Company aminities

 

Dinning

P&O’s marketing blurb claims there are 10 restaurants. There aren’t. There are five genuine restaurants (Bay Tree, Cinnamon, Saffron, The White Room, and East); the rest are more casual eateries.

Having a penthouse we were entitled to have our dinner in Cinnamon (Deck 5, midships) on a freestyle basis. No difference in the menu between this restaurant and the main one – Bay Tree and to be honest I don’t believe that Marco Pierre White, the creator of the menu, apparently, will be happy with the “corner pub” style of food or “whatever, I aint bovvered” rushed service style. I think for those who will be brave enough to try P&O in the future and eat in the main restaurants the safest option is a salad and a “eat quick and run” dinner style. I manage to take a photo of the “delicious” petit fours at the end but unfortunately I missed the “alien” lamb served that night. For a company that sells its cruises on The Fine Dining experience. Silver Service has gone, but they won’t tell you. Wine waiters have an impossible work load, not leaving their previous duty until they are already required for Dinner Service and then too many tables. It’s obvious then that most tables are not even going to get their wine order taken until after they have started eating and most will not get … their wine until they have started main course. This is far from Fine Dining and nothing like the claims made in the brochure about attention to detail to the whole food and beverage experience. In the Cinnamon the portions were a bit mean – one floret of cauliflower and broccoli as vegetables on one occasion (no opportunity to reach ‘5-a-day!).

We had dinner twice here and we decided to try our luck in the speciality restaurants. And there was a different story.

Atul Kochhar, the first Indian chef to be awarded the coveted Michelin star, brought his highly sought-after talent and years of experience to Sindhu, a fine dining restaurant where you can experience modern Indian cuisine with a British twist. Fabulous service, elegant deco and amazing food mad worth it the fee that you pay for dinner there. Dinner menus are changed twice a cruise and are drawn from dishes in Kochhar’s Benares Restaurant in London. For starters expect shammi kebab (spiced lamb cakes), jai tarang (pan-fried hand-dived scallops) and gosht ke dhuandhar soole (marinated smoked beef skewers). For mains we had Atul’s signature plate of lamb rogan josh, chicken murgh and cod jai pari which was sublime .And Sindhu was actually the best dinner we had on board.

 

 

 

For New Year Dinner we opted for The Epicurean, positioned right at the back of the ship high up on Deck 17. The former White Room now is an elegant space, with plush carpets and dark furnishings; the menu for kind of imaginative, creative cuisine – molecular gastronomy type – which has style as well as content. The menu presents as traditional but the dishes are re-interpreted for today’s modern palates. The New Year dinner, which has a double price than a normal one, included different types of wine with each course and lots of other fun touches: Bloody Mary lollipops to start with a dash of Worcestershire sauce in the centre; salt and pepper oyster and jumbo prawn tempura that comes with an artist’s ‘paint tube’ of sweet pimento sauce; a sorbet designed as a tube of lipstick or a ‘poached egg’ with a ‘yolk’ of mango and a ‘white’ of coconut milk. Again a great decision to spend the night there. One of the few drops of style and class on Ventura.

 

 

Entertainment

I always believe that cruise entertainment attempt to be generally of high quality but this is clearly where P&O cut costs. Very little entertainment during the day and the quality and choice in the evening was not much better. P&O doesn’t go in for the huge West End-style productions the big US ships have popularised. Instead, expect British comedy; revue-type shows where the emphasis is on the singing talents of the performer rather than what’s going on behind her; and magicians, ventriloquists and tribute acts.

On two evenings the entertainment was a film, yes that’s correct, a film. On another day a young artist called Karl Lewis was an Olly Murs (!!!) tribute who later in the week returned as himself. He bore no comparison to either. The band called “The Flyrights” were more interested in “chatting up the chicks and having some booze” than performing on stage.

Havana, the main nightclub and entertainment venue, where movies are sometimes shown, is an activities room by day and a sultry Cuban-inspired club by night, but sight lines are extremely poor from many seats. Lucky the band “Serious Souls” performed time to time there making the venue more attractive.

A video wall in the Cosmopolitan club lounge screens real-time footage of the world’s seven most famous city skylines – Sydney, Paris, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Las Vegas, Hong Kong and London but in the evening reminds me a pub in Crawley Friday night.

P&O claims the 785-seat Arena Theatre, at the front of the ship and spanning two decks, is the largest show lounge aboard a UK-based cruise ship but in fact the show lounge aboard Queen Mary 2 is larger, with 1,094 seats, as is the Show lounge aboard Independence of the Seas. But that was the place were we have a surprise. “Destination Dance” was the only real entertainment during our 4 days on Ventura. Excellent choreography and performance, amazing lighting and costume, fantastic choice of music and vocals made this show even better than the same production seen couple days later on Queen Victoria.

 

But in general to set a comparison the entertainment was at a level that would expect from a local town talent show.

Ventura Fellow Passengers

That’s a very delicate point because, based only on what I experienced on board Ventura between 29th december to 2nd of January, I think P&O build its business model around the crowd on board. Food, entertainment, service style (a lot of “All right mate ?!” and “Cheers mate !” in the staff vocabulary) are created for fans of “let’s get pissed in the pub” kind of fun.

A typical short cruise will have one formal night and the rest will be ‘evening casual’, which is defined as open necked shirt and ‘tailored trousers’ or smart jeans for men; dress or casual separates for women. Forget the rules don’t expect something like that on board. Ventura during this New Year Celebration Cruise was an invasion of bad hair extensions, massive fake eyelashes, cocktail dresses two size smaller when the dress code was formal and of course jackets, ties and bow ties removed and abandoned on chairs, sofas or necks after 5 minutes of wearing.

Class or style can hardly find a place on corridors or decks full of ladies collapsed on the floor and crying for lost love around 1.00AM, having in one hand a glass with Echo Falls and in the other the shoes. Was like they were filming a new episode of Benidorm on board! By the way Ventura is the first cruise ship where I saw in the buffet an “Enomatic wine dispenser system” … and that’s says all!

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Maybe was just one off occasion !

Of course reading P&O Facebook page and other sites I realised that P&O and Ventura in particular have a big army of fans. From this point a view P&O scored big time as they created a product for a certain type of market.

However if you look for style, class, service standards, elegance and enchanted experience for sure you have to look somewhere else.

Is nobody to blame….P&O do the right thing for the right market. Was me who booked the cruise! But at the end of the day our journey was part of a learning curve. Fortunately for us after 4 days on board P&O Ventura we board Cunard Queen Victoria for a 7 days cruise. And, like in the L’Oréal advert, that will smooth the wrinkles of Ventura’s experience!

NORWEGIAN EPIC–NCL’Marmite

•December 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Is not just a metaphor is a reality.

I just come back from a 17 days “back to back” cruise on Norwegian EPIC and I realised, once again, that EPIC and in general Norwegian Cruise Line is like marmite for breakfast: you love it or you hate it! Norwegian Epic is big, brassy, bold and ballsy…and I love it!

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But let’s take it step by step

 

Accommodation

If Epic stands out in one particular area, it’s in its cabin design. From its funky “new wave” staterooms and its wildly popular solo Studios to the fact that every outside cabin has a balcony (an industry first), there’s a lot to admire and question on the ship.

We had a Haven 2 bedroom Villa – cabin 17024. Whoever had the idea of building The Haven deserves a big hug! The Haven complex, the largest “ship-within-a-ship”, nestles atop the ship on Decks 16 and 17, the space also includes a private pool, two whirlpools, a gym, sun deck and the posh Epic Club restaurant. The 60 accommodations include 46 Family Villas, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and separate living and dining areas (up to 506 square feet); eight Deluxe Owner’s Suites, with king-size beds, floor-to-ceiling windows and his-and-her powder areas (up to 852 square feet); and six Courtyard Penthouses, with queen-size beds, separate living and dining areas and a luxury bath (up to 322 square feet).

When we board the ship EPIC just got a make-over in the dry dock of Cadiz. Not a 100% successful one but you can feel it all around the ship. The Concierge area, Epic Lounge and Epic Club lost their heavy kitschy, purple velvety ambiance and now look modern and fresh with an understated elegance. Even the room had been touched by this changes and looks more elegant and modern. Of course the only slip on-board Norwegian Epic is the attention to details: a vanity mirror disconnected and left on the table with the cable hanging next to a hole in the vanity table, a smoke detector (safety please!) covered with tapes due to the loss of some screws to fix it on the ceiling, couple of doors not properly fixed and making a constant subliminal noise when the ship was moving. But at the end of the day the “little” Villa is a lovely space to spend your vacation and I love it.

The only thumb’s-down for our cabin was the location: 17 Deck just opposite the Crew Access Door. A lot of banging and noise even if we mentioned that to our concierge. But as the noise was mainly in the spare room used during the voyage only as a laptop and storage room we survived 17 day with no problems.

 

 

 

The service in Haven is exactly what you expect from a Premium Cabin; an excellent butler and steward, always there without being too much in to your face ready to assist with whatever you need: from laundry to organising a private party in your own private space. Lots of genuine smiles and polite conversation even if the guests in Haven are not all the time “Premium Guests” and the feeling of “new money-bad manners” is quite common on NCL. The Concierge, located in the heart of Haven assist us with everything we needed from bookings and cancellations of restaurants and land tours to dealing with day by day issues even if the results were not all the time the expected ones. Monica, our Concierge was great, especially when she was dealing with stupid requests from “posh guests” travelling with low-cost airlines

The space in Haven is more than generous: a private gym and spa-like area with sauna, steam room and hot tubs, an elegant modern decorated lounge, a nice partially open terrace for lunch and snacks, the lovely elegant courtyard with a not too big not too small pool, a private sun deck and of course one of my favourite spots – The Posh Beach Club. Pity that due to complaints from guests on 17 Deck the bar was closing at 7.00PM, but we were located under the Posh Club and we understand perfectly why.

Dinning

NCL pioneered the freestyle dining concept (that is, eat whenever you want with whomever you want and wherever you want), and it’s taken it to a new level on Epic. The LCD touch screens around the ship display information including deck plans and which dining rooms were the most crowded.  (Far from ideal in a Norovirus situation). Whereas most mega-ships feature a massive, swanky dining hall where strangers mingle at large tables under glistening chandeliers, Epic goes another route. Booking the speciality restaurants is advisable. If there is a queue for the main dining rooms you are given a pager. These normally go off within 10-15 minutes regardless of the staff telling you there will be a half an hour wait.

We didn’t used the main dining rooms but is a choice between Taste, set in a cool space at the bottom of the ship’s main atrium and the Manhattan Room, an Art-Deco space with a two-deck window overlooking the ship’s wake, and a bandstand and dance floor.

I prefer to have my lunches and dinner in other venues, initially paid restaurants but unfortunately now, as an incentive for new bookings, included in dinning packages:

  • Le Bistro – Contrary to the name, Le Bistro is not a bistro. In France, a bistro is a low end dining venue where the patrons eat whatever the cook has decided to make that day. Le Bistro is just the opposite. It is an upscale fine dining venue where the guests select from a menu of items prepared in the French style. The rooms are done in a charming Second Empire style with copies of French Impressionist paintings on the. The food offerings are a selection of French dishes that appeal to a broad audience. Before the dinning package Le Bistro has as a main element in his the formula the intimacy. To maintain its charm, Le Bistro requires a relatively small room, not a cavernous hall. Thus, while most things on Norwegian Epic are done to a grand scale, Le Bistro remains a comparatively small room. The place used to be my favourite restaurant on Epic. After Norwegian introduced the dinning package the standards dropped dramatically. A long wait for the food to arrive, more waiters who don’t know the menu like before, a kind of rushed service to create space for the next bookings, and even the quality of the food was not the same. The duck and the lamb needed to be sent back to the kitchen being too cold, but the escargots and the bouillabaisse were charming and spot-on and manage to balance the culinary experience of that night. However after 2 quite disappointing experience I decided to limit my booking in Le Bistro for 2/week.

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  • Cagney’s – a classic dark, woody steakhouse with an amazing menu and service. Cagney’s menu selections begin with starters such as shrimp cocktail or oysters, soups and salads including lobster bisque and Caesar salad, mains of 10oz New York Strip steaks, Salmon Oscar or vegetarian saffron casserole amongst other dishes with the option of 6oz lobster tails, sides ranging from baked potatoes to steamed asparagus and fries with white truffle oil and parmesan cheese and desserts including raspberry crème brûlée and warm espresso chocolate brownies served with macadamia ice cream. Always during those 17 days Cagney’s was the best choice for dinning.

Two words: Go hungry. The Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes appetizer was a hit at our table! The crab cakes were soft, creamy and warm. The perfect combination for crab cakes. I can confirm that Cagney’ uses ‘Premium Angus’ steak which is of a higher quality that the steak used in the ships other restaurants. Not only are the steaks amazing, the sides are spectacular as well. The signature Chagney’s fries are dressed to impress in truffle oil and parmesan cheese. They won’t disappoint. The creamy corn is also one of our favourites.

  • Moderno Churrascaria – South American-style steakhouse where servers keep bringing slices of grilled meats to you until you pop (or tell them to stop).Is an all-you-can-eat meat fest. Again due to the dinning package the ritual was change and now the different types of meat arrive in a quite chaotic way but the taste is unbeatable. The restaurant serves succulent skewers of barbecued meats which are carved tableside. Guests control how much they want with their green and red card, green means the carving continues and red is shown to indicate when guests are full. The signature cuts of beef, lamb, pork and chicken are served along with rice, black beans, mashed potatoes and sweet fried bananas on the side, a wide selection of salads, Brazilian cheese bread and desserts including coconut flan, papaya crème and mango rice pudding. My favourites: Ceviche from the salad Bar, Picana and Garlic Beef. A big plus for the restaurant this time was the charming Maître D’ Mihaela who control the entire venue with a massive genuine smile and made us return more than we expected in Moderno
  • La Cucina – is Norwegian Cruise Line’s Italian specialty restaurant and on Norwegian Epic, the concept has been enhanced to become a much more substantial, located in the front of the ship overlooking the bow. There are large picture windows both to the front and to port and starboard. Since the restaurant is high on the ship’s superstructure, the views from these windows are panoramic. While there has been an overall upgrade to the menu, popular favourites remain. The fried calamari was again fresh. It was lightly breaded, tender and not at all rubbery. La Cucina’s entrees now include a rib eye steak prepared with garlic butter. This was perfectly prepared – – tender and flavourful. For dessert, I had chocolate ice cream with an espresso sauce. The ice cream provides refreshment while the espresso provides zest.
  • The Epic Club – Epic’s first class dining room. Located within the precincts of the luxurious Haven section of the ship, it is open exclusively to guests staying in the suites that make up The Haven. And if you want you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Epic Club. The Epic Club is indeed a club and the guests in the Haven “all come to know one another.” Thus, the atmosphere in the Epic Club is enhanced, not only by the intimate size of the room but by familiarity with your dining companions and the 5 stars Maître D’ Diana who was always the perfect host. The cooking here also resembles a specialty restaurant. Each item is prepared ala minute. Moreover, the use of spices and the care in preparation makes this a gourmet experience. Because of the speciality restaurants on board we didn’t use Epic Club too often but one of favourites was the butternut squash soup, which contained pieces of duck to balance the flavour of the vegetables. The Black Angus strip steak on the lunch menu is a straight forward dish. It is not the best cut of beef but through the use of pepper and other spices, the Epic chefs render it quite flavourful.

    We didn’t missed again the amazing The SVDEKA Ice Bar with its 8 degrees below zero temperature and features ice sculptures and furniture carved out of ice. Wearing our poncho and drinking the included s two cocktails served in an ice glass we enjoy it so much and went back couple of times. My favourite cocktails: Cobalt Blues and Nordic Apple .

Entertainment

I don’t hesitate to say that Norwegian Epic offers the best entertainment at sea today. NCL has been in my top for entertainment form the beginning. With Epic, NCL sets the bar to a new height, industry-wide

Epic Theatre now hosts the double Tony Award winning (for costume design) musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Based on the flamboyant comedy movie, this colourful extravaganza features over 500 dazzling outfits, including 200 headdresses and an array of feel-good dance floor hits. I saw the show 3 times in 17 days and I will go back again and again. I didn’t have the feeling for one second that I was watching a cruise ship show…it was 100% West End or Broadway. Burn The Floor, the second main show on Epic featuring 14 dancers, a live band and two singers and brings their Ballroom Blitz show to the Epic with sizzling and steamy dance routines taken straight from their hit Broadway show.

The Cavern Club invokes the spirit of the iconic Liverpool nightspot made famous as the venue for The Beatles early shows. Moodily-lit with plenty of red brick, it makes a good stab at recreating the atmosphere of the 1960s club, though some modern decorative touches do break the spell. One of the bartender told me that the venue is designed in partnership with the owners of the real 57-year-old club.

Bliss Ultra Lounge suffered a make-over during the last dry dock and now looks a little bit less glitzy, more modern and more inspiring. Great DJs feeling the vibe and knowing the audience when they were choosing the music and good cocktails even if the service was quite slow – again a consequence of free drinking package and shortage of the crew. I miss the cages but I was happy to see the old horse at the entrance retired.

The main feature of the Pool Deck is the Aqua Park with its ‘Epic Plunge’: the only tube slide with a bowl slide and a 200-foot long tube. The Aqua Park also includes two main pools five hot tubs, a wading pool and a kid’s pool that features whimsical sculptures, water sprays and a slide.  Behind the twin funnels are two rock climbing wall. Even if the weather wasn’t great we couldn’t miss the chance to jump on the slides….AMAZING!

Even if for the general concept of entertainment Epic got a massive thumb’s up for this cruise I still need to give a thumb’s down for the Cruise Director and his team. A massive obsession for line dancing: anywhere, everywhere, anytime and doesn’t matter the music! Same steps and same screaming with an Assistant Cruise Director, Nacho, desperate for a promotion.  This “get involved” of animators not guests destroyed the genial idea of themed parties: White Hot, Night Out, Fabba. Instead of listen and dancing on ABBA music (great for the gay crowd on this cruise) we were locked as spectators on a boring amateur-ish dance routine of Nacho&Co. When finally the line dancing finished and we were ready to Fabba party the music change and the DJ returned to his normal playlist. Do something about that NCL: you have genial concepts but …explain the concept to cruise Director team…in details!

Another thumb’s down: SHORE EXCURSION Department. I am not a big fan of excursions booked on board and normally I want to organise my private exploration sessions. This time I put everything in the hands of Epic Shore Excursion Department. BIG MISTAKE ! The only few port-talks were boring and un-professional done, the logistic of each trips chaotic and the customer service of the ShoreEx Manager was … inexistent. When trying to give some feedback after one experience the answer was: “too busy to speak with guests” and 25% discount “if they are not happy”. And once again, our amazing concierge Monica has to deal with the rudeness of the ShoreEx Manager and cover the damage. Some training is needed in this Department for sure.

In my opinion ‘freestyle’ matches the tastes of the modern passenger better than the traditional inflexible system: ‘two sittings’ for diner followed by a main show.  However ‘freestyle’ is not perfect and restaurants can become crowded at peak times and queues can form.   Ideally popular shows need to be booked and entertainment options can clash.  Some traditionalists may simply not warm to ‘Freestyle’. Especially when you meet shorts during dinner, white socks in sandals or somebody taking his tie off after 5 minutes at Captain’s Cocktail Party.

Epic has all the advantages and disadvantages of a big ship. For example the corridors are endless and the stair cases go on forever, so Epic may not be an ideal ship for those passengers with mobility problems.  Epic can feel very busy at times and the pool deck was often crowded.

So how to sum up a ship called Epic? She has her good sides, and she has her not-so-good sides and with upgrades to entertainment, activities, and the lovely haven, she’d probably have been met with near-universal praise aside from those little slips to Carnival’s style.

I am not afraid to say that I like EPIC and I like NCL. The company is, in my mind, the most mainstream of today’s cruise lines. I mean that in a good way. They’re centrists, offering a huge swath of people a chance for a fun, social vacation at a decent price. Accessing some of Epic’s better activities will require you to plan ahead, and in a few cases will cost extra. But you won’t break the bank, and you sure will get a lot of wow for your pounds.

I realised, once again, that EPIC and in general Norwegian Cruise Line is like marmite for breakfast: you love it or you hate it! Norwegian Epic is big, brassy, bold and ballsy…and I love it!

So what about another cruise on board of Norwegian Epic?! Done….and booked for February 24 2016.

EPIC here we come!

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