Guest post from John Wallace & Sylvia Bowman who travelled on board Astor back in March 2016 on her northbound voyage from Fremantle to London Tilbury.
The MS Astor is a small cruise ship. It carries a maximum of 578 passengers and 278 crew.
Originally built in 1987, it was totally refurbished in 2010. During the European summer it cruises the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean with mostly German passengers. In the European winter it used to cruise around the Caribbean until a couple of years ago when the owners decided to base it in Fremantle in Western Australia for the Australian summer where it cruises the West Australian coast and on to Bali in Indonesia as well as around Australia. It transitions between Australia and Europe at the end/beginning of each season.
There are seven passenger decks. The majority of cabins are on decks 4 and 5 with three “first class” suites on deck 7 that have balconies and some inside cabins which have views across the promenade deck to the ocean. It was one of these cabins that had been allocated to us when we originally booked our passage. Much to our surprise and pleasure, when we boarded we discovered we had been upgraded to an “outside” suite on deck 5 with floor to ceiling panoramic windows, a sitting area with a large lounge, coffee table and two armchairs, a large desk, a fridge full of assorted drinks and a roomy shower and toilet. We even had our own tea and coffee making facilities which other cabins don't have so we don't have to traipse up two decks to get a cup of tea in the morning. We don't spend much time in our cabin, though.
There are four restaurants: The Waldorf is the more formal of the four with waiter service and a five or six course menu for lunch and dinner.
The Ubersee Club is more casual. It has a similar menu to the Waldorf but it is presented in a buffet style where you can serve yourself.
The Romantic restaurant has an Asian fusion menu and costs an additional AUD$20 per person.
The Toscane restaurant has a Mediterranean menu and costs an additional AUD$30 per person.
Generally the food is mostly European and somewhat bland to my taste but it takes a lot of self-restraint not to overeat. As well as breakfast, lunch and dinner, a High Tea is served in the afternoon around 3:30 and “midnight” snacks are served around 10:30 at night.
There are three bars: the Captain's Club, the Hanse Bar and the Lido Bar. The last is an open-air bar beside the outdoor swimming pool. It sells drinks to the sunbathing crowd – mostly European and UK people who are in sun cancer denial.
The Hanse Bar is located at the top of the ship and sells espresso coffee as well as alcoholic and soft drinks. It is the rock music bar with a DJ at night and various dance classes during the day as well as other activities. Sylvia and I learned to Cha Cha here. It is also the venue where we do our Tai Chi each morning at 9 o'clock. We now have a group of fourteen people who join us most days.
The Captain's Club is the posh bar on the ship. Here we listen to classical music, team up for trivia quizzes, play various board games and generally chill out. It is quiet and elegant. Waiters skim around serving drinks, clearing tables and keeping the venue “classy”. It is open till midnight each day and quiet jazz piano and occasional vocals keep the late night atmosphere congenial.
The entertainment focus of the ship is the Astor Lounge, a small theatre with about 200 seats. During the day it is used for lectures and presentations, an occasional movie theatre and yoga classes. At night it is the venue for musical shows and other entertainments.
As well as these venues, there is also a library, a card games room, a conference centre which is used for craft and art groups, a fitness centre with walking machines, cross-trainers and other equipment, a sauna and two swimming pools – one inside and one outside – a sports deck with a basketball court, table tennis, darts and a walking circuit (which is very busy most of the day).
We keep pretty busy. A typical day is: early breakfast followed by Tai Chi; a lecture on one of the next destination ports; coffee; washing clothes (there is no laundry on the ship!) and/or reading/quilting; lunch; a lecture on an historical topic (so far mostly about the 2nd World War); reading/quilting; trivia quiz; tri-ominoes (thanks to Rosemarie who made us a travel pack); listen to a short classical recital in the Captain's Lounge; dinner; show in the Astor lounge or dance at the Hanse bar; bed.
As I write this we are approaching Durban in South Africa. Apart from the first two nights which were quite rough and saw many passengers confined to their cabins, the voyage has been quite smooth and comfortable. Daytime temperatures are around 30C and nights about 20C. The winds have been a bit blustery at times (there is a gale forecast for tonight) but generally the weather has been pleasant if a little humid. More from Capetown in a few days.