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Laundry dilemma

Laundry dilemma

Planning on using the self-service laundry during your cruise? Well, as I’ve discovered on Ruby Princess, you’d better have some American quarters with you.

The logic behind getting coins to use the passenger laundry room is bizarre. We’ve trekked up Vesuvius, slogged around Pompeii, sweltered on a public bus in Livorno, hiked up and down the zig-zag cliff path on Santorini and got sand in everything on the beach in Mykonos. So it’s not unreasonable to expect I might need to do a batch of washing by now.

The washing machines only take American 25c coins, as does the machine that dispenses powder. So I asked at reception if I could change a couple of Euros to dollars as I’m not in the habit of taking American coins on a cruise around the Med. The answer is no. They will convert dollar notes to dollar coins, but not Euros. So can I change some Euros for dollars to get my dollar coins? No, they don’t offer currency exchange at all, as there is a machine on board that does that.

I need $4 for powder, one wash and one dry. So the smallest Euro note, a five, should do. But no; the machine charges $3.50 commission, regardless of the amount of the transaction. So I need a 10 Euro note and in any case, the machine is broken. At which point I get annoyed and go back to reception. The kind assistant purser patiently explains that even if the machine is broken and they do have to change money for the laundry, they still have to charge $3.50 commission.

So essentially, if you don’t have US dollars on you, notes or coins, you will pay $7.50 for one batch of laundry instead of $4. I know it’s petty of me to raise the issue, and Princess Cruises is by no means the only line to offer washing machines operated by US coins, and there is more to life than this, but still.

Eventually, I got my 25c coins and noticed that one was a Princess token, the kind you get in the casino. It struck me then how stupid I’d been; I should have nipped in there and played the fruit machines for a bit. I could have won my laundry money!

SJB

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Filed under Cruise Lines, Mediterranean Cruise, Opinion

New Ship Status Report: How’s P&O’s Azura Doing?

It’s impressive to see that the members who’ve written reviews of recent cruises on P&O’s Azura are pretty pleased. Clearly the 116,000-ton, 3,080-passenger ship, launched in April, has found its sea legs:  17 out of 20 member reviews to date give the ship a four or five star ranking (particularly amazing for such a new vessel is Azura’s 11 five star rated reviews!).

P&O'S Azura gets mostly raves from Cruise Critic members

A couple of observations:

*Very few reviews, especially from cruises taken in summer, rate the ship’s family facilities. It’s clear that P&O is positioning its Ventura as the family-friendliest ship but Azura’s got plenty to offer and I’m surprised that so few of our members, at least so far, are taking kids onboard.

*Love the positive comments (from a five star review by Barbara Richardson, “Life onboard ran very smoothly, we enjoyed exploring, we think P & O have got it down to a fine art now”) but as always, what makes Cruise Critic’s member reviews such good resources is a balance of compliments and brickbats. Member Baxter, who headlined his review thusly: “Fabulous Baltic experience on a big ship,” also noted that “I have no idea why anyone would buy a P and O excursion in most ports of call if they are fit and well and have some confidence.”

*Favorite, funniest review so far? John Grindon’s oddly punctuated but eminently funny take on his cruise in May, with lines like these:

–“Cruise Director, a young girl called Benni, should be a Butlins Red Coat”

–“The ship carries 3100 passengers but if u do your own thing and don’t wanna’ be too matey-matey (which we certainly DIDN’T) she’s a great        liner.”

And finally…

“We’ll be heading back to P&O for more meat … but was poison for some. U can’t please all of the folk all of the time!”

For more, check out P&O’s member reviews here: http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/getreviews.cfm?action=ship&ShipID=539 And if you’re planning to cruise on Azura, please write your own review!

CSB

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Mykonos Top Tip

Agios Stefanos, a mere 15 minutes' walk from the ship

Ruby Princess spent yesterday docked at Tourlos, the big ship port on Mykonos. Small ships anchor off the pretty town and ferry passengers ashore by tender but anything sizeable goes alongside further down the coast.

Tourlos is a nothing kind of place, just a dock and no facilities, but it was a perfect day. I didn’t fancy a tour, having been here many times before, and I was too late to book the beach trip to Platis Yialos, one of the most popular stretches of sand on the island; it had sold out before we got onboard. So it was a shuttle into town (which is too far to walk) and a taxi to a beach, or taking pot luck with a walk along to Agios Stefanos, the nearest beach to the dock, 15 minutes on foot over a low hill.

You can see Agios Stefanos from the ship and it looked like a decent little cove to me.  And it was more than that: we all loved it. We pitched up at 11 and there were plenty of sunloungers (5 euros each, with a big umbrella). The sea is beautifully clear, the beach spotless and sandy, there’s a lifeguard in attendance and a huge, roped-off swimming area. Not a jet ski in sight and no noise except the waves and the bustle of the three tavernas that line the bay.

The perfect Greek taverna

We lazed, read, swam and had lunch in Epistrophi, a real Shirley Valentine-style place, right on the beach, with a vine-shaded terrace and tables with blue cloths. A huge Greek salad, assorted hot and cold starters, stuffed vine leaves, two bowls of pasta, soft drinks and half a bottle of Retsina came to 75 Euro. Not the cheapest, but it was spectacularly delicious and the owner gave me a big platter of iced watermelon to take back to the sunlounger.

The ship’s Platis Yialos tour would have cost me $107 for the transfer alone for three of us – umbrellas, loungers, food and drinks are all extra. And it was only a half day. We had a full six hours on Agios Stefanos. So I’m quite grateful that I was too slow to book the official tour!

SJB

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Man overboard – or not?

Man overboard - or not?

There was an hour of intense drama on Ruby Princess last night when a passenger gave the ‘Man Overboard’ alert.

While the way the crew handled the event was nothing but impressive, the reaction of the passengers was fascinating and in some cases, bizarre.

The captain made an announcement about an hour out of Mykonos, as the sun was beginning to set. “Man overboard, port side”.  I’m on the starboard side. So what do I do? Rush out onto the balcony, only to find that pretty well everybody else on the starboard side had rushed out onto their balcony. I met many of my neighbours for the first time.

Everybody was in a state of mild shock, wondering if it was for real.

Being a nosy journalist, I went down to the promenade deck to see what was going on. But in under five minutes since the announcement, the crew had sealed the outside decks with ‘crime scene’-style yellow tape. All the officers who weren’t on the bridge or guarding the doors, where small crowds had formed, were gathered on the port side and a red flare was streaming smoke from a distant spot on the water. One man said excitedly, “This is awesome,” as though it was some kind of entertainment that had been laid on. Another guy said to his friend, “Come on, let’s go to the casino.” A Japanese man turned up with a huge Nikon, full zoom lens attached, presumably hoping for some gruesome action.

Most upsetting was the frightened parents who were running up and down the stairs in panic, trying to remember where they last saw their kids (there are a lot of families onboard with teens who do their own thing on the ship).

Meanwhile, the art auctioneer calmly continued to describe the ‘Picassos’ in the Explorers’ Lounge. The scene was truly surreal.

At this stage, we still didn’t know if there was an actual person in the water and the ship was a-twitter with rumour; it’s incredible how quickly untrue speculation spreads, the most chilling part of which was that a child had gone missing. Passenger Services started naming people who should make contact. The captain made a grim-sounding request for the person who had sounded the alarm to identify themselves. A Greek coastguard boat was spotted heading towards us. But by now, the flare had burned itself out and the sun had set.

The crowds dispersed and people ambled into dinner, where I kept a vigil by the window; at this point, the ship was almost stationary in the water as the search continued. I don’t know how you’re supposed to react in a situation like this; it seemed like something potentially so enormous and so tragic, but most people just kept on eating. On the other hand, what else were they supposed to do?

Eventually, the captain made another announcement and the entire dining room fell quiet; you could have heard a pin drop. The person who sounded the alarm had failed to identify themselves; the crew had done all they could; nobody had seen a person in the water or, indeed, the blue sunlounger which had caught the alarm-sounder’s attention in the first place; and we would resume our course to Piraeus.

So it was a false alarm that turned out to affect a lot of people. The officers, the engine room crew, the dining room service crew, all the passengers who were separated from their family at the time, the Greek coastguard… I imagine one passenger is feeling very foolish indeed today. But the episode has certainly given me a thorough respect for the intense emergency training that cruise ships’ crew receive.

SJB

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Filed under Cruise Lines, Family Cruises, Mediterranean Cruise, News

Where’s Your Cruise Photo?

Send your pics to Cruise Critic's photo center

Whether your photos capture genuinely interesting or simply fun  in-port or onboard cruise experiences, why not send submit them to us?

Yours could get home page placement — as does this one, of the Falklands’ Port Stanley, which was submitted by Travelight.

Go here for info on how to upload your best shots: http://photos.cruisecritic.com/.

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This is one young cruise!

Two things have really surprised me so far about my cruise on Ruby Princess, both of which make me realise that the cruising ‘trends’ we journalists talk about are often too glib or generalised.

First, the age group on board. Yes, it’s summer in the Mediterranean so there are bound to be a lot of families travelling. But this is a really young cruise. If a first-time cruiser were ever to worry about being in the company of the over-seventies, I’d show them this voyage as a snapshot that would dispel the cruising age myth in a flash. There are more than 250 teenagers registered for the teen club alone; there are masses of couples in their twenties and thirties; young honeymooners; forty- and fifty-somethings without kids and a large number of big multigenerational groups (that’s one trend we have got right!). If anything, the archetypal cruiser – sixties, retired, empty nesters – is the minority here.

Of course, a cruise out of peak season would have a completely different demographic but looking around the bronzing bodies on the Lido Deck makes me wonder why I spend so much time trying to convince non-cruisers that the average age really is dropping.

The second big surprise was formal night last night, the first of two. I spend plenty of time nowadays writing about how formal dress is more relaxed than it used to be and how cruising is so deconstructed now that you really don’t need to bother much, especially in the Med in summer – and how wrong I was about Ruby Princess. It was like a posh school prom crossed with the Oscars. Small boys in tuxedos and shiny shoes. Teenage girls in lavish, sequinned prom gowns and impossible heels. Long dresses everywhere, glitter galore.

I expect there were a fair few skulking up in the casual Horizon Café in their tracky pants but I take back everything I’ve said about dressing down in the heat of summer. If I’ve realised anything this week, it’s that cruising is so diverse nowadays that there is no place any more for sweeping generalisations.

SJB

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