Review: MV Spirit of Adventure
Cruise - Ocean Cruise
Australia and New Zealand
88 people found this review helpful
Discovery Cruising Holidays, the brochure of the Spirit of Adventure, rather coyly makes no mention of the parent company Saga. Never mind, I thought, I am sure lt Does What it Says On the tin so I looked forward to adventures and to meeting the young, slim and happy people featured in the brochure photos. I decided to book a "back to back" cruise combining Australian Odyssey from Bali, lndonesia to Sydney, Australia with To the Land of the Long White Cloud (the Maori name for New Zealand) from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, 35 days on the Spirit of Adventure with total passenger capacity of 348.
The previous cruise, from Singapore to Bali had indeed the full capacity of 348 but mercifully Bali to Sydney had only 202 passengers (and 203 crew!) and Sydney to Auckland 270 passengers. I think the full capacity would have felt very crowded. I am not a novice cruiser but have always been on smaller ships "What! smaller than this?" most people exclaimed when I told them the Spirit was the biggest ship I had ever holidayed on. I had to admit, however, that she did look quite small when a huge Celebrity cruise ship and the Silversea's Silver Shadow moored alongside us at one or two ports.
With hindsight I should have studied the itinerary more carefully. Obviously on a voyage of this length there were bound to be days at sea. What I hadn't taken into account was that at several places we were only in port for half a day, which meant the other half we were at sea making a total of 18 full days at sea out of a total of 35 on board the ship.
On the first cruise we were due to go ashore at nine places: Kupang, lndonesia then Darwin, Thursday lsland, Cooktown, Townsville, Hamilton lsland, Brisbane, Newcastle and finally Sydney. However at Darwin there was a problem with refuelling i.e. there wasn't any…… We were only due to stay there one day but because no one turned up to refuel the ship we had to stay two days, in order for the refuelling to take place on day two, which meant cutting out somewhere further down the line so that we would get to Sydney on schedule. Unfortunately someone, the Captain? Saga head office? the port authorities? decided to cut out Cooktown, a delightful town (allegedly) which most passengers had wanted to see. Better by far to have cut out Thursday lsland or Townsville.
On the second cruise we called at Eden, Geelong, Melbourne, and Burnie and Hobart on Tasmania. Then across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand and to cruise Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound to land at Port Chalmers for Dunedin, Akaroa, Wellington, Tauranga and finally Auckland from whence I flew home.
Very helpful Shore Excursion booklets had been sent to me before I left home and I had sent in my booking forms choosing some included excursions ashore and some optional ones for which there was a not inconsiderable charge. Before I even left home I was advised that no less than three of my chosen excursions had been cancelled "for operational reasons" and I was refunded. Big disappointment.
After the debacle of Darwin we arrived at Thursday lsland,(which we were due to visit on Thursday of course….) on Friday, so yet another trip, a helicopter ride, was cancelled because it couldn't take us a day after it was scheduled to. Plus the cancellation of Cooktown, five cancellations. So far. Excursions on the whole cruise were very varied. A few thoroughly enjoyable with excellent local tour guides, others, in fact the majority, too long and with not enough time at the various stops. One, from Geelong to Melbourne, took eleven & a half hours……. A snorkelling excursion from Hamilton lsland was one of the biggest disappointments: a speedboat took an hour & quarter to get to a reef where there was murky water, a strong current and virtually nothing to see and certainly hardly any fish. And it was expensive.
A couple of train excursions were very enjoyable: the Puffing Billy in Melbourne, an old steam train through forests and gullies but for only 30 minutes, not nearly long enough and the Taieri Gorge Railway from Dunedin, a spectacular ride through scenery with magnificent landscapes through rock tunnels and crossing dramatic bridges.
Each excursion was accompanied by a tour escort from the ship wearing a distinctive bright yellow polo shirt and carrying a back pack with a box of cold wet towels (most welcome in the steamy north of Australia) and a box of Werthers (made in a village in Germany so should be pronounced Verters) for which special dispensation was agreed by the Australian and New Zealand authorities as both countries have extremely strict regulations concerning the import of any foodstutfs. Even wrapped butter boiled sweets.
Each day when we were at sea there was the possibility of attending lectures. Those on the first cruise were very interesting and covered subjects relating either to the history, wildlife or people of the areas we were visiting. On the second cruise different lecturers came on board including a well-known newscaster and television presenter. Libel laws prevent me from naming him. Although his presentation skills were good (no ums and ers) his jokes and language were in very poor taste – more suitable to addressing a rugby club than a cruise ship with predominately women of a certain age.
Talking of which…… ln Sydney we were joined by two "Dance Hosts" brought on board to take a twirl around the floor with some of the many single i.e. solo women amongst the passengers. One host was fat and couldn't dance. The other was just about ok. Had the company brought on a snake-hipped Latino, I for one might have been more inclined to join in the dancing.
The ship had been decorated for Christmas during the night after we left Sydney and looked lovely – nothing garish, very tasteful decorations including two enormous gingerbread houses which must have taken days to make. On Christmas Day we had a delicious lunch with all the trimmings and all the dining room staff wore red bobble hats which sounds naff, but wasn't.
Neil's Nativity play was a huge success. The wife and baby of one of the officers had come on board in one of the Australian ports and the baby was brought on to play Jesus, complete with dummy in his (actually it was her mouth. As the Three Wise Men walked around the lounge and up to the stage they passed me and one of them said "Hello Madam" – my cabin steward!
And so to the ship itself. I was pleasantly surprised. My cabin was certainly comfortable for one person but would have been a bit cramped for two (it had a bed and a sofa bed). The ship facilities were excellent: a huge library with over 3,000 books, small outdoor swimming pool on the Verandah deck, a cinema screen on the top deck (l watched severalfilms) a spacious lounge which unfortunately was rather spoiled on the second cruise when the comfy chairs were turned into theatre formation and supplemented by folding chairs. A gym with several machines and a small indoor swimming pool and sauna, which was even bigger than the one in my local gym. The food was EXCELLENT and, of course, plenty of it. I boycotted the afternoon tea simply because I could not manage four meals a day unless, for some reason, I had missed lunch. Mercifully the well known cruise ship midnight snack did not feature on this ship. But I was staggered to see the amount some people put away. The free seating meal arrangements in the Dining Room with the charming lady Maitre d' suggesting where to sit "Table for four? five? six?" meant one could choose one's table companions. I always went for the larger table in the hope there would be interesting table companions.
There was plenty of entertainment. A very talented pianist played in the Yacht Club bar, a trio (violin, cello & piano) played classical music and a quartet played dance music. There were quizzes almost every evening but could easily be avoided……as could a couple of singers who appeared at some point and mercifully disappeared just as quickly. A magician gave several shows including a close up demonstration of some of his tricks. Even at two feet away I could not for the life of me see how they were done. The Cruise Director, Neil, was exceptionally talented and, apart from playing both the piano and guitar very well, entertained with his exceptional sense of humour and wrote and directed the Nativity play (we were at sea on Christmas Day) and a hilarious Pantomime. At 6' 2" he made a majestic and very buxom Ugly Sister in his version of Cinderella.
On a few occasions local groups came on board to entertain before we sailed. An amateur but very sweet group comprising small-ish children, some girls and a young man all with aboriginal painted bodies came on board to dance and sing before we sailed from Eden. They were very charming. ln Dunedin, New Zealand, which has strong connections with Scotland, a group came on board on 30th December to pipe in a haggis. Excruciatingly awful: two pretty dancers did the highland fling with a man playing the bagpipes followed by a very vulgar man, who I assume thought of himself as a comedian, who inveigled three innocent passengers to dress up as Scots in tacky plastic costumes and to join him on stage. Appalling evening, I noted in my diary.
A pipe group on the quayside piped us away from Dunedin the next morning. They played very well in a very cold wind and the group included an extremely buxom lady on the drums doing sensational baton twirling. She drew huge cheers from those of us hanging over the ships rails as we left the harbour.
And so to the passengers…..no sign of the young, slim and happy people from the brochure. The average age must have been 68 -70; a good 40% were seriously overweight especially the men with protruding beer bellies and an obscenely obese couple from the USA. There were plenty of walking sticks, crutches, a wheelchair, a couple of white sticks and a good sprinkling of hearing aids.
Unfortunately in Wellington the ship's doctor sutfered a slight stroke and was taken off the ship. The Captain came on the PA to say that the mother of Baby Jesus was a qualified doctor and had agreed to take over medical duties untilAuckland. That was fortuitous as we would not have been allowed to sailwithout a qualified medical doctor on board (The passenger lists on my previous Noble-Caledonia cruises were peppered with medical doctors and professors).
Would I travel on this ship again? Well, no because she is going to the knackers yard in May this year. Or rather returning to her previous German owners. Then one of Saga's other ships, the Saga Pearl 11 will be renamed Quest for Adventure with the same ethos of adventure cruising. She is a bigger ship and will carry 446 passengers but will no doubt have the same dedicated following that the Spirit has had. Some passengers were enjoying their 12th cruise and one passenger I spoke to has already booked FIVE cruises on the Quest for Adventure. And I thought teachers claim to be poorly paid??
lf I consider sailing on the Quest for Adventure I will certainly check the itinerary very carefully and count up the days at sea. Having spent more than 22 days on board the Spirit of Adventure I am now a member of the Free Spirited club and entitled to discounts and early booking offers. There are one or two places that might possibly appeal, so we will see. But with 400+ passengers? I'm not sure.
But in the meantime I am returning to what I call "proper" small ship cruising and will be on Noble Caledonia's lsland Sky (max 116 passengers) travelling around the Caribbean in March calling at some little islands I have never even heard of and some really interesting places on land; including Colombia, Mexico and finally Cuba and in July on the Hanseatic (max 180) to Alaska. Now THAT's what I call expedition cruising.
88 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.