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Although I'm only 21, I love to cruise. People say to me, "aren't you a little young to be cruising, isn't it really formal?" Well, NO! Ocean Village is "the cruise for people who don't do cruises". Formal is literally thrown over board on this liner.
I've cruised the Caribbean twice before with the very impressive Royal Caribbean. So Ocean Village and the Med had a lot to live up to! I booked the stay and cruise option in June 2003 for my boyfriend and I. We spent the first week at Cala D'or gardens (pretty basic and average food) and then the second week on the Palaces and Paella itinerary (I believe the name has changed now).
I booked the holiday with Fast Track, a company that specialises in cruises. They were doing a special deal, half price for the dates we wanted! I initially booked the lowest grade MM accommodation, but for some reason, I was upgraded to an outside cabin for free, without even knowing! The only problem before going was that I wasn’t sent any information on excursions, despite calling several times and requesting it. But this was readily available on the ship.
Before I continue, it's worth mentioning that a journalist and photographer from the Evening Standard were on board. BBC holiday was also filming that week, which might explain why James Martin was on board cooking in the Bistro (his restaurant). So it might be worth bearing in mind that food and overall service could have been more impressive during this week.
Embarkation We were picked up at 9.30am from Cala D’or gardens where we had spent the previous week. It was quite a smooth and efficient process; the coach did come early so you do have to allow yourself enough time for breakfast if you do the stay cruise. The coach took us to the port and on first impressions Ocean Village looked more impressive than Island Escape, its nearest rival. When getting off the coach we walked straight through to the terminal and picked up our cruise cards, and then straight onto the ship. Very efficient!
When getting on the ship we were handed a newsletter which tells you what’s going on that day, and over the week (these are also delivered to your cabin every night for information on the next day). First impressions on the inside of the ship were also much better than I had expected. Everything was clean and looked stylish, a real high standard.
Cabins We were told that our cabins wouldn’t be ready until 3pm, but we couldn’t contain our excitement, and popped down at 12pm and discovered it was ready. In the brochure I’m sure it says somewhere that the cabins are bigger than most – they’re not wrong! There is plenty of drawer and wardrobe space, and lots of channels to choose on the TV, including some of the films that are being shown in the Moviedrome (so don’t make the mistake of staying up until 2.30am watching Gangs of New York when it is shown all day on the TV the next day!). The shower is very spacious; you also get pool towels, bath towels, and even shower-gel incase you forget!
Plantations Breakfast – Located on deck 12 (leisure deck), and open 24 hours a day ( you would be surprised at how many people sit there eating until gone 2am!) breakfast is pretty much the same as it is in the Waterfront; eggs, bacon, sausages, breads, cakes fruits etc. After 10am it is a continental breakfast. Plantations tends to get busy at around 1pm, and it is on the same deck as the pool. If you do go at this time, expect to queue. There’s lots to choose from. Salad and fruit is always on offer, burgers and hot dogs were also quite popular but the main dishes changed everyday. Deserts are on offer as well, and they are absolutely scrummy! At Plantations the menu for dinner stays the same every day – Asian and Oriental. Again, salad and fruits are on offer in addition to around 6 or 7 main dishes. The Chinese was gorgeous, especially the egg fried rice.
Waterfront Breakfast – Located on deck 7, it is open from 7–10am for breakfast, 12-2pm for lunch and 6-10pm for dinner. This has pretty much the same for breakfast as Plantations. At this time fruit juices are available, but this stops in both at 10am where only water from the machines is only available. An extensive range of teas and coffee are however available at all times. The dinner menu here changes every night, and follows a particular theme, such as French, American, International, Spanish etc. It generally gets busy at around 8pm. We tended to get there for 6.30 – 7pm, so we avoided the rush. The restaurant itself is very impressive. As you walk in you see the ice carving of the day, and there is a huge range of food to choose from. On the international night, I had stuffed crab for starters, which was lovely. Rik is on the mouth-watering dessert table every night. He does the fruit carvings which is must see. Bar tenders are always around if you fancy a drink, and the waiters and waitress are always there to take your plates when finished.
La Luna We didn’t even go in! It is open for lunch for free, but you have to book in the evening. Again, it was booked out well in advance, possibly just 3 days into the cruise.
In a nut shell, the food for me was the most impressive part of the cruise. Not only was there a huge selection to choose from, but the staff were friendly, efficient, polite (sir/madam the whole time!), and during an incident where we found plastic in one of our desserts, the supervisor and head chef came out to explain and apologise for it.
Bars I forget how many bars there are on the ship, but we only went to two of them; Connexions and The Oval, which is where a large amount of the entertainment takes place. Here they have comedians, and karaoke, which was disappointing as there were very few songs. When there is entertainment on at the bars, the seats were gone at least 30mins before show time. The only criticism I have is that it took 25 minutes to get 1 drink in the Oval, as there didn't seem to be enough bar staff. Drinks were inexpensive; you can get lots of 2 for 1 deals, in particular with the soft drinks on deck 12 (2 cans for £1, and a bottle of Stella for £1!).
The Marquee Located over 2 decks, the Marquee is where the evening shows take place. There was a wide variety of singers, none very impressive except for the Madonna tribute, and the Diva experience (do not miss the outside 'moon' show!) Again, seats go very quickly. Bayside night club We only made a couple of short stops the nightclub. This wasn't too busy, plenty of seating, and lots of room for dancing, recent songs, and a couple of theme nights, including a school disco and a New Years Eve party.
The Casino This is not the biggest of casinos, which is a shame as it gets very busy after 9pm. On one side there are about 10 10p slot machines, and various other machines at 10p, 20p, and 50p a go. There were often big winners, but it never seemed to happen to me! On the other side are the tables, including roulette, blackjack. It's fun to watch, but a bit beyond my limit and £2 minimum bets! The only advice I can offer here is to bring lots of cash, as the casino only accepts sterling pounds, and not your cruise card.
Moviedrome Very impressive! They showed the latest films out at the cinema for all tastes. I found it to be much more comfortable than a 'real' cinema. The only thing is Ocean Village has a tendency to put the air conditioning up a little high so take a jumper!
Gym and Karma Spa I only used the gym once, far too energetic for me! There are 2 gyms on the ship, the big one is located in the Bayside Night Club area, and the second is much smaller, down on deck 2 in the Karma Spa. I used the smaller of the two, which includes very basic equipment, but it does the job. I briefly used the sauna and steam room, which were both nice. The smaller of the two had changing rooms, and towels were available. I was shown a few of the spa treatments on offer if you really want to be pampered. The stones treatment looked interesting, and the hair dressing salon was pretty cheap. The prices did go down during the week, but I'm not sure if this happens on all the cruises.
Sports There is a basketball and mini football court on deck 14. This is open 24 hours as far as I'm aware. For the not so active, like me, shuffleboard is a fun game to play. My boyfriend knocked a puck overboard on his first go, so beware!
Pools There are two pools, pretty much next to each other on deck 12. I only went in the one nearest the Jacuzzis, which was 6ft deep. Not very ideal for kids. There is a smaller pool on deck 9 I think, for the kids, and there's also a smaller basketball court and some toys to keep the youngsters amused. They do get very busy as you would expect.
Ports of Call
We did the Palaces and Paella cruise so I can only speak for half of the ports.
Tunisia To be honest, it wasn't even worth getting off the ship. We were on shore for 20 minutes, and then got back on again. The native’s constantly stare at the English women, and most locals hassle you to buy whatever they're selling. So it's not a nice atmosphere. If you are brave enough to stay ashore, there's not much nearby apart from a fish market! I really don't see the point in OV docking here - a real waste of time.
Rome We went on the excursion 'Rome on your own' for around 26 pounds each. This had a lot of negatives. For your money, you only get the coach ride there and a map. If I had known at the time, a train station is nearby and we could have done it a lot cheaper by ourselves. And you do only get 6 hours in Rome, so you can't really see everything. On the plus side, we had an excellent guide, Isabella, who came around individually and went through the map with us, highlighted all the attractions, and worked out a route for us. The metro is very cheap (70p for a single ticket), which was handy as the coliseum is quite far away from the other attractions. I enjoyed my day in Rome, although is was far too hot (106 degrees!) and too crowded, and there wasn't enough public toilets (40 in the entire city!). The best part was eating an ice cream from Blue Ice by the trevii fountains :)
Santa Margherita A very pretty place with a few shops. Island Escape dock the same day, so it was very overcrowded. Trips were on offer to Portofino, we decided to make our own way by boat (6 Euros each). But there was nothing there apart from 3 designer shops, and cafes that wanted 2 Euros for a can of warm coke! We were in Portofino for 25 minutes, and had to wait around for the boat, which came every hour. So all in all, not really worth going to Portofino, it would have been nicer to stay in Santa Margherita, which had a lot more to explore.
Monaco We did the Monaco and Monte Carlo tour. It leaves very early (meets in the Marquee at 8am) and you’re only on the coach for 5 minutes before getting off and walking the rest of the way! It goes to the palace first, where you see the mini change of guard. It then goes to the casino, where you're left for an hour to do your own thing, and then goes back. All in all a waste of money, as we could have easily done it ourselves for a lot cheaper. Monaco itself is fantastic. There are panoramic views up by the Palace. You can see the grand prix circuit, the whole of Monaco, and even three different countries! If you want to go into the Grand Casino it costs 10 Euros, and men have to wear a collared shirt and trousers, and everyone must take their passport with them. Opposite the Grand Casino is Cafe De Paris, a smaller casino which you can enter (and use the loos!) for free. The square where the casino is based is just a nice area to walk around. You can see more of the grand prix circuit, lots of pretty gardens and fountains, and there is a rather delicious Haggen Dazz ice cream shop nearby - mmm!
Barcelona We had been to Barca before, so we did our own thing, which looked the best option. There is a very good metro system in town, which will take you to all the tourist attractions (get a Barca guide book before going, as you don't get any maps on board). The Nou Camp, and Gaudi sites are a must see. If you prefer taking a bus, there are 2 tour busses in operation, not sure about prices, but I know it was a lot cheaper than the excursions on offer. Las Ramblas is great for a relaxing stroll, or for a bargain, in particular with jewellery. If you walk up to the top of Las Ramblas where the pet and flower stalls are located, there are a number of high street shops around the square, such as C&A, and Zara, which are very cheap.
To sum up, it would have been much cheaper doing things on our own, and we seemed to see a lot more when doing our own thing. Also, there never seemed to be enough time on shore, so plan what you want to see carefully, as you probably won't be able to fit everything in. Overall we had a fantastic holiday; it's great for first time cruisers, for people of all ages, for people who want to have fun!