Discovery — ‘low-key’ cruise with Brits

My wife, Esta Lee, and I took the “Grand Voyage to Scandinavia,” May 13-June 5, 2006, on the MV Discovery of Voyages of Discovery, formerly Discovery World Cruises (1800 SE 10th Ave., Ste. 205, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316; 866/623-2689).

The package combined a 2-week transatlantic cruise from Nassau in the Bahamas to Harwich in the U.K. and a one-week round-trip cruise from Harwich along the Norwegian coast.

The first segment, which included stops at Grand Turk (nothing to see, I felt) and the Azores (quite worthwhile), was the last cruise in Discovery’s winter season (and the last leg of a long repositioning cruise which had begun in Auckland). The second segment was the first of the ship’s summer cruises.

The fare for the two of us was $10,700, including airfare from Washington to Nassau and from London to Washington, D.C.; a deluxe cabin; gratuities, and a 2-night hotel stay in London.

We enjoyed the trip and would sail the ship again, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The Discovery, which holds around 650 passengers, is an older ship closer in design to the liners of the ’50s and ’60s than to a modern cruise ship. There are no balcony cabins, and most outside cabins have portholes rather than windows. It is decidedly low-tech. Cabin doors are still opened with metal keys.

There are only two elevators, and it was not unusual for one or both to be out of service, making this a questionable choice for people with mobility problems.

While the line is marketed in the U.S., it caters mostly to British passengers. This may be why it seemed more relaxed and low-key than ships of most other lines we have sailed on. Diversions are limited.

Although the ship reveals its age, it is in no way shabby. Rather, it reminded us of a well-broken-in armchair — very comfortable though not showy.

We chose a deluxe cabin because of its relatively large size (225 square feet) and the fact that it had full windows that were in the hull, giving us more privacy. There was also more-than-adequate storage space. Standard outside cabins are on the small side. In addition, several people told us that some of the standard cabins, being lower in the ship, suffered from engine noise and vibration.

Our cabin steward did a first-rate job.

The main dining room served breakfast, lunch and two seatings for dinner. Food generally ran from very good to excellent. My wife was particularly impressed by the fish, which was not overcooked as with most other lines. We could also get breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea at a buffet on the top deck.

Service in the dining room at breakfast and lunch was sometimes rather indifferent, but our dinner waiter, Angelo, was so good and so accommodating to my wife’s dietary preferences that when he changed tables for the second part of the cruise we went along with him.

The only other sit-down restaurant is the Yacht Club, which alternates an Asian menu with an Italian one. You must have reservations at least a day in advance, but there is no surcharge.

The main lounge of the ship also serves as the showroom. It fills up quickly, so get there early. There were no specialty acts brought aboard for short-term stays, but, for a small ship in a one-ship cruise line, the resident entertainment troupe was surprisingly good.

Other diversions were limited mainly to trivia contests, lectures, bridge lessons and games (mostly duplicate) and a movie theater. The tiny casino has been permanently closed, the small nightclub had been turned into a pub, and only one of the two small swimming pools was working. There were no art auctions, which we consider a plus, and no special program for children (of whom there were hardly any).

There were no Internet lessons, but the few PCs were available for a flat 15¢ a minute.

One peculiarity worth noting — on the winter cruises, the official currency is the U.S. dollar; on summer cruises, it is the British pound. This change works against Americans. For example, in the first two weeks a can of Coke cost $1.50; in the last week, it was £1 (which converted to $1.88). Also, if you pay for cruise extras with a U.S. credit card during the summer cruises, your credit card company may hit you with a currency conversion fee.

North Bethesda, MD