Once at sea, a few things started to become clear, and not always in a good way. There were 120passengers onboard, and we were to transfer to the Westerdam the following evening after 24hours berthed in Palma de Mallorca. A total of only 900 passengers would then continue to Cape Town (which as the 2 ships can take almost 4000, explains why we had been merged into one ship). The majority of the passengers, all the information and entertainment would be in German. We slowly managed to train the crew into making bilingual announcements, and providing English information to our cabins. One of which, a translation of a long letter from the captain, explained the complicated transfer mechanism that was in place, and that as an apology for inconvenience we would receive a free tour of a Mallorca (yay! A German tour with lots of old people!) and 100usd onboard credit. Which was just as well, as the cruise was definitely not all inclusive.
Yes, the food was included, but 2 of the eateries had supplements of 20usd to visit, and several of them – including the main dinning area – had dress codes which include items of clothing I don't even own, let alone have with me. At the end of the day, i'm a backpacker going to watch a sporting event, not a rich retired couple who enjoy dressing up. I worked out I was pretty much going to be constrained, at least in the evening, to the 'casual' dining area. In addition, despite having emails saying otherwise, alcohol and most drinks were extras. The price list showed a can of coke to be 2usd, 1litre of water 3usd and a 330ml can of domestic beer to be 4.75usd. On an American ship and with an increasingly strong dollar, that means i'm paying well over 3gbp for a small can of Budweiser or Coors Light. A small selection of 'Imported' beer (including, erm, Spanish beer in Spain) was 5usd. Not an enticing proposition. Worse still, in small print at the bottom it said that a 15% service charge is automatically added to all beverage purchases.
Bottom line: A 330ml can of Amstel will cost me 4gbp, over 3times what I paid on the RMS. St. Helena, and almost double that of a London pub, somewhere not renowned as a cheap drinking destination. In a supermarket in Barcelona for the same price, I could have bought about 15cans.
Wine and spirit prices are not worth looking at, and I suspect I will detox on this trip, not that I really need to as i've barely drunk anything in the last few months. There was also no information about services etc in the cabin, but I eventually discovered there was no self service laundrette on board: only a fee paying service (no price list, so I guess hideous), or hand washing in the sink which is what I will do. There is also no kettle, meaning that if I want a cup of tea, I have to travel half way down the ship and up 6floors to get it. Coffee is machine based, and very definitely designed for the American market: It's weak, revolting gnats piss. There is a proper coffee place as well, but that's 3usd a cup, plus the 15%. There are no true non-smoking cabins, which now the 'cleaning' smell has worn off, I get a big whiff of stale smoke whenever I enter my cabin.
Due probably to the small number of passengers, you notice the ridiculous numbers of staff trying to help you do pretty much everything even more than you normally would. Yet they are mostly Indonesian and speak limited English and little of no German, and even with so few passengers on board, they just get in the way and slow up even the most basic tasks. Like pouring coffee. I have yet to brave a 'communal' toilet, for fear that one will be offering to wipe my arse.
The entertainment includes films, including one – Invictus – that I really want to see, but it is the dubbed German version only. Most of the rest of the entertainment, I have been told, will be mostly 'big German names'. I have a TV, which at least gives BBC news and some basic American channels (such as CNN and ESPN which is mostly showing either drug-ball or rounders...), but is mostly German channels. And German TV is always dubbed, never subtitled. I can watch bits – my German is not fluent, but is ok, and there is a certain comedy value to see something like Friends or the Simpsons in German, with the different accents – but the novelty tends to wear off rapidly. There are also several in-ship channels, including one which gives voyage information, which which helpfully informs us in text and on a map that our location is Barcelona, despite the fact we sailed for 7hours and have been in port in Palma de Mallorca for a couple of hours by now...
I must admit that i'm starting to get a sinking feeling (metaphorically, not actually. There are no icebergs in Palma harbour), and have a deep longing to be back on my Polish cargoboat, or the RMS St. Helena. This is my first time onboard a cruise ship, and not one which is working for me to this point, although to be fair, I am in no way the typical passenger/target audience, and the fact that it is a German charter mean't I was expecting large numbers of elderly Germans and that tours/events/entertainment would be targeted towards them.
And things may yet change once we are settled aboard the Westerdam and out at sea with everything in place. For now, I am forgoing the free tour, and going to go and explore Palma for a few hours. I have never been here, and never expected to, and am sure there are things to see. Besides, whilst probably against ship rules, I can stock up on a few supplies and have a cheap beer ashore...