Rock and Roll on \"The Calypso\"
Inaugural Cruise for Thomsons
\"Ancient Empires\" - 31 March to 7 April 2007
\"The Calypso\" was built as a car ferry in 1968, converted to a cruise ship in 1994. She has a flat bottom, and at just over 11,000 tonnes she is a third of the size of Celebration or Spirit. She rides badly even in slight seas. Compared to Celebration/Spirit, cabins are small with limited storage space (135 – 244 sq ft, cf 150 – 296 sq ft), although according to the \"Berlitz\" guide the smallest cabins are bigger than their equivalent on Emerald and Destiny. Berlitz rated her as **+ when operated by Louis, ...
compared to ***+ for Celebration/Spirit.Read More
Arriving at Pathos airport, passengers had to collect their luggage and take it to the transfer coaches. This was offloaded at the port by cruise staff and taken to the quayside for identification, then delivered to the cabins.
Arriving at the port of Limassol, there was a short queue while we waited to check in at the cruise terminal. Thomson staff were working the queue explaining the procedures, and were friendly and welcoming. Credit card details were taken and the cruise boarding cards, which double as charge cards, were issued. We then proceeded to the Maitre d’s desk for a table allocation for dinner. After identifying our luggage, we climbed a steep narrow gangway to deck 4. Quayside was at the level of deck 2, and an entrance on deck 2 was available to passengers with limited mobility (and to all passengers later in the Cruise, as we found out on our last day!)
On board, after the obligatory photo, we were personally escorted to our cabin by a steward who unfortunately didn’t know where it was, and got slightly lost.
We started to hang our clothes and realised there were very few coat hangers. I went out to the corridor and asked a steward if I could have some more coat hangers. They didn’t understand me. A second steward understood, but said it was not possible.
When we were ready to leave the cabin we realised that it had old-fashioned keys, and we had to return to reception to ask for them. We also got for a key for the in-room safe, which cost £12.00 for the week. At reception, a number of people were complaining about their cabins (some people felt the brochure pictures were misleading).
Knowing that this ship was small with limited facilities, we upgraded to a Premier cabin (Louis sell these as Junior Suites). Cabin 645 on deck 7 is spacious. The beds can be curtained off; the cabin has two large windows, two sofas, a round table, and a minibar. However, the minibar was not turned on or stocked all week. Bathrobes are provided, but not slippers. An arrangement of fresh flowers was on the table. The quality of the toiletries and towels (new but rough and poor quality) was the same as for other cabins. Shampoo and soap were provided, but not shower gel. Face cloths were not provided. The cabin was generally very clean (although there was a rather nasty stain on the side of one the sofas); carpets and curtains appeared to be new. (I believe the ship was redecorated after last year’s fire in the English Channel, and had a further refurbishment this winter before starting its Thomson’s charter. The ship is in very good condition throughout).
Towels were changed twice a day, and pool towels were left in the room and changed daily. We got a turndown on nights 2 to 7, and chocolates on the pillow on nights 5 and 6 only.
The sleeping area for 645 is at the entrance to the cabin, so one bed is almost in the middle of the ship, and the beds lie aft-stern along the line of the ship rather than at right angles to the outside wall. Although high up on deck seven, we felt the cabin layout helped us to cope with the terrible ride on this ship. The ship is more comfortable towards the back than at the front. The TVs in all the cabins and suites are small and immovable (they need to be as we were soon to find out). We could only see the TV from one of our beds.
On the last day, I looked at suites 653 and 660. Although larger than our Premier cabin, these had only one window. Because the seating area was in a small partitioned area by the window, the main part of the cabin was very dark. We also looked at premier cabins 651 and 658, and these also had one window. I can recommend 645 and 509 (which I didn’t look at, but its immediately below and I assume is the same).
The route to cabins on decks one and two at the front of the ship felt very claustrophobic, and to reach the cabins at the very front one has to step through waterproof doorways and go down a level.
All cabins have telephones, TVs and safes. TVs show “a view from the bridge” (so you can see where you are even in an inside cabin), CNN, Discovery, and two movie channels each showing one movie 6 times a day.
Room service is available at additional cost.
The \"do not disturb\" sign was routinely ignored. When our steward saw us go to breakfast, she would make up our room regardless of the sign. She also came in to the cabin once without knocking, as did a maintenance man. When the cabins are locked from the inside, they can still be opened from the outside with a key – there is no bolt.
She did a good job of cleaning the cabin, and she folded my pullover neatly and left it on the bed when I left it thrown on the sofa.
The main restaurant is low down at the back of the ship on deck 3. It is on two levels. Entering the restaurant, the first section is long and narrow with three columns of tables. This section of the restaurant has proper windows, although many of the \"window\" tables do not line up with the windows. If you are going on The Calypso, try to get a table in this section of the restaurant. I would recommend that you print off a deck-plan from the Thomson website and use it when booking your table. (http://www.thomsonbeach.co.uk/th/cruise/viewShipDeckPlans.do) This section of the restaurant is closer to the middle of the ship.
The lower, and main part of the restaurant is at the VERY back of deck 3, above the propellers. This part of the restaurant has portholes instead of windows. Tables \"by a window\" are by a porthole that is high up and have no view. The square back of the ship betrays its origins as a car ferry – yes, you are eating on the car deck!
When at sea, this part of the restaurant can be very noisy (being over the propellers) and you get a very rough ride if the sea is anything other than calm.
Mirrors are in abundance throughout the restaurant, to compensate for the lack of natural light.
Tables are for 4, 6, or 8 (mainly 6), and are very close together. The fixed sittings for dinner (6.30 or 8.30) mean that the waiters are trying to serve everyone at the same time. Service suffers as a result. Having previously been on “Celebration”, we had experienced elegant service; chairs pulled out/pushed in for you, napkin on the lap, the pepper mill always coming round, this does not happen on Calypso – the waiters do not have the time. Nor do they have time to entertain guests the way they do on Celebration with their \"party tricks\", although they do sing if someone has a birthday.
On our first night, the ship was not due to sail until midnight, and some passengers arrived very late, so dinner was open seating. Even with open seating, you are placed on large tables, and each table is filled up. The waiters serve everyone at the same pace, so a couple having three courses will sit there for the same time as a couple at the same table having all five.
As \"anti social\" cruisers, we thought we would get some privacy at breakfast and lunch, and were prepared to put up with sharing a table at dinner. In fact, dinner was the most comfortable of meals as we always had the same companions. Breakfast and lunch however were always with different people, which started to feel like hard work after a while!
Dinner on the first night and lunch on day 2 (a sea day) were both pretty awful. The food was definitely canteen rather than restaurant standard. Dinner on day 3 was better and continued to improve as the week went on, and some of the meals were quite enjoyable. Dinner on day 6 would have been excellent if we had had the sense not to order pre prepared Crepes Suzette, which were ghastly. As the week wore on, we particularly enjoyed some very good homemade soups and fresh salads, and some interesting starters. From day 4 when we had a regular table for dinner, we would arrive to find our favourite wine chilled but unopened in a cooler on our table.
Breakfast was a confusing affair. Initially offered only as a buffet, later in the week an à la carte option was offered on some days in the top part of the restaurant with options for omelettes cooked to order, Eggs Benedict, and kippers. The buffet breakfast was generally good. However, coffee (although a good brand – Douwe Egberts) was hopelessly weak and sometimes only luke warm, and the \"orange juice\" was disgusting and tasted as it was made up from a powder. Apple and Pineapple juices tasted better. The fresh fruit was very good. Breakfast was generally 7:30 to 9:00 in the restaurant, with long queues for breakfast in the small buffet after 9am.
Later in the week we met the Chef, who told us he was only fully staffed from day 4 when some of his team joined the ship in Athens. He also explained that the Calypso has only one galley to serve the main restaurant, buffet, and crew, and that some of his team who had come from other Thomson ships were alarmed at how small the galley was. The team had not worked together before, and are multi national. We saw improvements in the standards during our week on board, and would expect standards to continue to improve as the new Chef get his new team in shape. The Chef seemed dedicated (we saw him at quayside checking the quality of produce being loaded) and has previously worked for Cunard (as well as on other Thomson ships). Menus are set corporately by Thomsons.
We spent most days ashore, but on day 7 we had afternoon tea which was very enjoyable. Delicious home made scones with jam and lots of cream, and some very good buttery crumbly biscuits. On day 8 we had “elevenses”, with a good selection of freshly baked Danish pastries.
The BUFFET is very small with only 11 tables for 4. It is at the back on deck 5, and food can be taken out on deck where there are plenty of tables and chairs. However, the weather was cold for most of the week, one needed a jacket (and sometimes a pullover as well) to sit on deck. The buffet has a canteen feel to it – the tables are not dressed in the evening, the napkins are paper. There is no waiter service, but it is next to a bar so I suppose it might be possible to get a bottle of wine.
ROCK AND ROLL
Day two was a day at sea on the way from Cyprus to Crete. The sea was choppy, and some people were feeling unwell at lifeboat drill at 10:30am. We were fine, and went to lunch around one. We were seated at the very back of the restaurant which was noisy and bounced up and down a great deal. The sea got rougher in the afternoon, with force 5 winds, and sickness bags appeared all round the ship. That evening was the formal night – the Captain’s cocktail party and Gala Dinner. We went to the Cocktail Party in the \"Festival Lounge\" which is at the front of the ship on deck 4. The pitching and rolling was very severe, and after a few minutes my partner left. The Cocktail Party was meant to be 7:30 to 8:30. A pianist was playing and drinks and canapés were brought round. The sparkling wine was pretty awful. I am never sea sick, and actually enjoy rough seas, but by 8:10 after 40 minutes bouncing around in this overheated lounge I started to feel uncomfortable and left, so I never actually heard Captain Vakondios introduce his officers. I understand from fellow passengers that he speaks limited English, which is a slight concern as I understood it to be the international language of the sea. This is probably why he did not make any announcements during the entire week (in contrast to the personable Geir Larsen who entertained us with a couple of announcements every day about the weather, route etc when we were on Celebration two years ago).
We tried to go to dinner, but our reserved table was at the back of the restaurant. We went to the restaurant around 8:40 and asked the Maitre d’ if he could move us to a table in the upper level of the restaurant. He said this was impossible, that all tables were reserved and that he could not move people. He suggested that we go and eat at the buffet! (Rather annoying, as we had taken formal clothes and dressed for the dining room). We found out the next day that the restaurant was about 20% full for the Gala Dinner, and there were many couples sitting alone at tables for six.
In the middle of the night, not being able to sleep as the ship was pitching and rolling, and feeling that we would never get a decent meal on this ship, I went to the Internet Café to try to find the price of a flight home from Crete. The PCs had a Louis Cruise Lines logon screen, and when I swiped my charge card I could not log on. I reported this to reception, who said the internet was not working because of the bad weather and being at sea (which seemed odd as I had a signal on my mobile). Early the next morning, after we docked in Heraklion, I again tried to use the internet to find out about flights home, and it still didn’t work. I went back to reception who said they would get someone from IT to look at it. That evening, the logon screen had been changed to Thomsons, and it worked. It would seem the internet café had just not been set up properly.
When we went to Dinner on day 3, the Maitre d’ apologised for turning us away the previous night, and said he had sent staff to look for us afterwards. (They would have found us in the buffet having a bowl of soup if they had looked). We were then shown to our table, to find another couple had been moved to our seats – so much for being told it was impossible to move people! We were found a new table, which we stayed on for dinner for the rest of the week.
We had had breakfast on morning 3 with a couple from Cyprus. They persuaded us that such rough seas and bad weather were extremely unusual for this time of the year, and we decided to stay at least one more day. After Cyprus, we were in more sheltered waters, and the seas were much calmer. On day 5 the sea felt quite choppy and the ship was rocking quite a lot. We went on deck after dinner and stood at the front of the ship for some air. We were surprised at how calm the sea looked, yet the ship was pitching quite badly.
Because so many people missed the formal night (half the entertainments crew were also sick!), a second formal night was arranged for day 6. One of the main course options was Beef Wellington, which according to the menu was served medium or well done. The waiter did not ask anyone how they would like their steak. I asked for mine rare, which was noted down. They all arrived well done. Most of the steaks were tough – certainly not fillet – although one of our party had a good one. The paté was not pleasant and the pastry was soggy. The evening also featured a Baked Alaska parade. Other deserts were on the menu as an alternative to Baked Alaska, although everyone got the Alaska regardless of what they ordered. The ice cream was good, the meringue was soft and runny.
I only saw half of one show, which was very good (a tribute to Cameron Macintosh). Waiters served canapés in the show lounge after the show. I heard from companions that waiter service was often slow, particularly at the far end of the lounge.
All the Ents staff and Thomson Staff were very friendly and helpful, as were the reception staff, and the hotel manager. The cabin stewards were mainly from Eastern Europe, and seemed to have limited English. We generally got a warm and friendly welcome on entering the dining room. Some waiters were very good, others not so.
A very good 80-page guidebook was provided in our welcome pack, covering all the ports of call.
The Ports Showcases were well presented (a mixture of short films and talks). The Destination Services Manager, Paula Almonte, had first hand experience of all the destinations from The Emerald last season. The team also ran some Ports Showcase talks for independent travellers, and were very helpful with advice about prices for taxis, public transport etc.
I went to the first lecture, which was disappointing. I was expecting to hear about the history or culture of the places we were to visit. Instead it was more like a continuation of the port showcase, with a guy showing pictures of the places we were to see and talking about what we would see rather than the context.
We didn’t use the lounges. The Calypso does not have an inside bar with a good view. It has excellent outside deck space and given calm seas and good weather could be most enjoyable. However, because of the instability of this ship even in slight seas, caused by its small size and flat bottom, I would not recommend the Calypso unless you are a very good sailor and enjoy a rough ride.
Despite the best efforts of many of the crew, the ship feels more like a ferry than a cruise liner.
Tour Operator: Thomson