March 28-April 12, 2005
Papua New Guinea to
by John A. Dvorak
Pamphlets for the Clipper Odyssey show an attractive, sleek, well-maintained white cruise ship, and advertise ‘amenities you would expect to find aboard a luxury yacht.’ This is one example where the pamphlets don’t fib. We found our cruise on the Clipper Odyssey, despite some snafus, to be a fine
experience, although it was expensive.
We’ll always remember our journey. We were on the World War II South Pacific Campaign cruise from March 28-April 12, 2005. We flew to Sydney, Australia, and spent two nights at the Four Seasons Hotel, a wonderfully located hotel overlooking the waterfront. Then we flew to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, to embark the ship. The cruise ended for most of us on Guam.
The Clipper Odyssey, while not new, is extremely comfortable. There are 64 cabins. Ours was 508 on the Lido Deck, the perfect deck to be on. I’d suggest a cabin on either the Main or Lido decks, but we heard no complaints about any cabins. They are, by cruise ship standards, decent in size, well-appointed and quiet. The bathrooms contain a stool, sink and small tub/shower. Everything was in working order. Storage was good. The air conditioning didn’t always produce the amount of coolness we would like, but it was acceptable. Cabin service was good. Several cabins have balconies, which in my opinion passengers do not need.
All meals are taken at a single, open-seat dining room. How was the food? A few dishes were good, many dishes were very good, some were excellent. Service was good. The hotel director and chief were frequently available to talk. A day lounge offered a nice continental breakfast and sandwich buffet lunch and continuous beverages. Alcoholic beverage prices were reasonable. Not infrequently, as part of cruise programs, alcoholic beverages and hot snacks were provided free.
The ship offered plenty of outside deck sitting space, a small swimming pool, a very small gym, and doctor (who received high marks from those who needed him), and a hairdresser (who also received praise). There is no whirlpool tub and no casino. Cabin television showed a nightly movie. The bridge is almost always open, a real treat for those who like to watch the operation of a ship. The captain was accessible. Tours of the bridge and the galley were offered. The entire crew seemed proficient in English, friendly and helpful. Top officials of the ship tended to come from North America or the United Kingdom. Announcements were made only in English. Gratuities are said to be included in your fare, and there was no effort to generate tips while
on board, although obviously, they were not turned down.
The Clipper Odyssey is an expedition ship which draws only about 16 feet. That means it gets into tight spots, like small bays, and turns around easily. That’s good for passengers. It can visit places few other cruise ships can. But stability on the high seas isn’t as good as on larger cruise ships. That’s bad for some passengers. A number of passengers were under the weather or downright ill on this trip because of the pitch and roll of the ship. And we weren’t in a serious storm. For some, the pitching and rolling is a pleasing sensation of being on the ocean. For others, it’s a problem they need to consider before booking this ship. Remember: days and nights can be uncomfortable on the Clipper Odyssey, depending on where it cruises.
As an expedition ship, the Odyssey prides itself in offering interesting and expertly-guided shore tours. This history cruise put a premium on such service, and Clipper didn’t always pass muster. We visited great destinations:
we landed on the beach at Guadalcanal just like the Marines and toured Edson’s Ridge, site of a famous battle, we visited the island where John F. Kennedy swam ashore after the sinking of PT-109, we saw World War II ship wrecks, tunnels, gun emplacements and air strips. Two high-quality experts were on board, and they usually lectured daily. But simple information about what historic site we were at and why it was historic wasn’t always easily available to the passengers. Good maps weren’t easily available either. I approached the experts and asked questions directly, which they welcomed. But not all passengers did that, or could do that, and surely some passengers must have missed out on information. Also, we had some unique experts aboard: veterans who fought on the islands we visited. Some of them were fabulous sources. I approached several and talked to them at length. But they were never made available to all the passengers in a formal program. That was a real failure, and it would have been so easy to organize. An excellent summary of the cruise was distributed at the end. It would have been good to have had it before the trip.
Clipper is an experienced expedition company headquartered in St. Louis, but planning wasn’t the best on this cruise. Ground arrangements in Sydney were sloppy. At one point, I was told that we were considered "lost" because we didn’t arrive in Sydney at the same time as other passengers. In fact, Clipper knew our entire schedule. The flight to Port Moresby was late, for reasons never explained. A good tour of Port Moresby would have been appreciated, but what tour some of us received wasn’t high quality. We arrived late at the ship. Free drinks for all would have eased the situation, but they were not offered.
Once aboard the ship, we were told that a stop at Iwo Jima as part of an optional extension of the cruise to Japan would not take place, allegedly because approval from Japan could not be obtained. Many of us were aware before we booked that the Iwo Jima stop was not guaranteed. As a result, many of us didn’t take the extension. But some passengers said they were told the stop had been approved. They were bitterly disappointed and angry to learn that it was not. Some of Clipper’s pre-cruise printed advertising about the Iwo Jima stop was false and misleading.
Also, during the cruise, Clipper twice attempted to hit passengers for extra money. Once, we were told we would have to pay for a new $45-a-person visa into Papua, New Guinea, in addition to the visa we all were told to procure before the trip. Several of us, including me, protested and said we would not pay. The next night, we were told there would be no such charge. Then, at the end of the cruise, I found on my shipboard credit card account a $216 ‘fuel adjustment surcharge’
of which I had no warning. Some passengers said they had heard about it, others did not know of it. I have protested this payment and will attempt to collect a refund from Clipper. I had signed the blank credit card form at the start of the cruise after being told it was for ‘shipboard expenses’ like drinks. These attempts to shake down passengers sullied an otherwise fine cruise. I would suggest that everyone, before they book a Clipper ship, ask lots of questions, be very certain about what costs are and are not covered in their cruises, and read the fine print carefully.