Monday, 30 April 2012
Island Escape 3rd April 2012, Part 3
Tuesday 3rd April 2012
Today is ISLAND ESCAPE day, hooray, and the reason for coming to Palma. I am booked on a 7 night cruise – Spirit of the Mediterranean – her first cruise of the season after her winter lay-up in Cadiz. I took the local bus to the cruise terminal area, crossed the road, and entered one of the terminal buildings. I had been here a couple of times before so passed the Acciona ferries desks, went up the escalator and the man at the overhead walkway looked at my passport and ticket and waved me along. I was about to board the ship at the overhead gangway when the security man realised I had no boarding card. Apparently I shouldn’t have been able to get that far without the vital boarding card, so I was guided to the ship’s Reception desk to explain how I had got there, and was finally issued with a boarding card. Well, at last I knew my cabin number. I never did find out where the cruise ship terminal check-in part of the building was, but it certainly wasn’t obvious… Most passengers were on the fly-cruise holiday, so had arrived from the airport by coach, and were delivered into the Terminal buildings, but I was one of very few passengers who were booked for a ‘cruise only’.
My cabin 5855 was an inside for single use, with another berth up out of sight. It was cold and had a duvet, pillows and towel on the bed, just like a ferry. Oh, I forgot, this ship started life as a ferry thirty years ago. This trip was to be casual cruising, on a fascinating ship, and promised to be most enjoyable.
ISLAND ESCAPE was built in 1982 for the Danish Company DFDS’s Scandinavian World Cruises, as a car cruise ferry from New York to Florida and back, and named SCANDINAVIA, at 26,748 tons. For those passengers who wanted to go to the Bahamas, they then had to transfer to smaller ‘feeder’ ships from Florida to their destination. Inevitably this caused delays and problems and soon DFDS moved the ship to their Copenhagen-Oslo service in December 1983, although this lasted only until January 1985. She was then sold on to Sundance Cruises as STARDANCER, until January 1990, when she was sold on to the Admiral Cruises group which in turn was absorbed into the Royal Caribbean group, and rebuilt as VIKING SERENADE as a true cruise ship. Finally, in early 2002 she was transferred to the newly created Island Cruises, which was set up by Royal Caribbean with the British company First Choice, and renamed ISLAND ESCAPE, and this was the ship that I joined.
At 40,132 gross tons, she can carry 1740 passengers in 771 cabins, with 10 passenger decks. Aqua and Bronze decks have cabins, with Coral Deck having the Guest Relations desk and open atrium area. Beside this is the entrance to the speciality Oasis Restaurant, offering dinner at £14.99 per person, with waiter service.
Diamond deck above has The Island Restaurant aft for casual dining, and more cabins, and Emerald deck above has The Ocean Theatre, Casino, Arcade (slot machines) and Sundowner pub, plus cabins. Flamingo deck 8 has the Café Brasil aft, a small Library, the Bounty Lounge and an off-set dance or entertainment area, with more cabins forward. Sun deck 10 aft has the Beachcomber buffet restaurant, which proved very popular, plus the open deck with pools, bars, and raised walkway above it. Above again is The Lookout, with its almost circular aspect, bar and small dance floor.
Casual cruising began with casual lunch, where we noticed lots of pork dishes on the menu, with a varied choice of starters, mains and desserts. The coffee was flavourless, but Café Brasil provided the answer for this, although at an extra cost. That evening casual dining continued in the main Island Restaurant, with the buffet food supplemented by waiter service for water and other non-alcoholic or alcoholic drinks. Because I had booked this cruise early, I had been given a free-drinks package. Departure from Palma was at 11 p.m. so we were all on deck for music and singing.
Ships seen: Island Escape, Costa Romantica, Baleares’ Abel Matutes, Baleares’ Visimar One, yacht carrier Artisgracht.
Wednesday 4th April 2012
Today we have a lovely calm day at sea, so time to explore the ship, enjoy the casual lunch (more pork dishes) , the Captain’s Chat in the Theatre with the Cruise Director, tea at 4 p.m., and to watch the ‘Biggest Splasher’ competition in the pool – rather them than me, as the water looked extremely cold. A Boat-Building competition was launched (their pun intended) beside the pool, to make something capable of carrying a 6 pack of canned drinks, from things found on the ship. Children had face painting to enjoy, and a yellow-breasted little bird flew around and above the ship, and I took a photo of him on the deck beside my steamer chair; such are the pleasures of being at sea.
That evening we found on Deck 9 forward stairs an interesting display of items, plus a John Maxtone-Graham diagram from one of his books, which included ARANDORA STAR, VISTAMAR and other interesting ships. The sea outside the ship was like a millpond.
Ships seen: M N Colibri
Thursday 5th April 2012
It was still very cold in my cabin, as the thermostat didn’t appear to be working and was permanently set at cold, but I obtained a second duvet eventually so all was cosy. I remembered some things from the Captain’s chat: that we were using only one of the ship’s two screws, going at an economic 17-18 knots, as we use about two tons of fuel an hour, and at $800 per heavy ton, this is important with an annual fuel bill of $2 million.
Today we called at Ajaccio, in sunny and warm weather, which was ideal for coffee on the waterside, followed by steamer chairs on deck for a lot of the day in port. Tea was enjoyed against a background of ballroom dancing music in the Bounty Lounge. We are now traversing the Straits of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia, and doing a comfortable 17.5 knots.
Dinner was enjoyable, with more ferry reminders in the shape of pork meatballs, and dining companions who had lived in Cape Town for many years, travelling there on ATHLONE CASTLE, EDINBURGH CASTLE and PENDENNIS CASTLE, so we had moments of nostalgia for Union-Castle Line and their lavender-hulled ships. The couple had recently returned from a 30 day cruise on MARCO POLO.
Ships seen: Mega Express, Girolata, Paglia Orba, Saremar’s Ichnusa
To be continued...