Goggelranch Landau *****

Yesterday, we went to the cinema in Landau and decided to find a place to eat beforehand. Parking in the city can be quite a drag (though probably not on Sundays), so I looked for a restaurant outside of city center towards the east. And came across the "Goggelranch".


Hotel Excelsior, Bochum ***

Max-Greve-Str. 32-34, Bochum
Stayed: August 2019

This was my second stay at the Excelsior, I‘d stayed there once before about a year previously.

If you‘re not travelling by car, the hotel is a bit of a haul. I took the underground from the central station to „Planetarium“ and then walked about 5 minutes to the hotel. It is all up hill, so if you‘re not good with that, it needs to be considered. Walking downtown after checking in was pretty quick, it isn‘t far to get to a (somewhat) more lively location.

The hotel is part of a larger building complex that also houses an Italian restaurant and at least one corporate office - the official entrance is around the back, which may be confusing at first. Since reception closes at 8PM (!), there is also a night entrance that you get a separate key for. The Italian restaurant was closed and I seem to remember this to be the case when I stayed here the first time as well. I didn‘t bother to look when or if the restaurant is open.

My room this time (number 13) was in the lower floor. The door opens to a foyer with the door to the bathroom strait ahead and the door to the actual room to the right. The advantage is, you have two doors to keep out any noise from the hallway (of which there wasn‘t much).

The room was quite large with two separate single beds separated by a night table. Quite unfortunately, there are no usable outlets near the bed, so if your phone needs to charge over night, you won‘t be able to keep it next to you (for the alarm).

Furnishings are functional, there is a TV (that I didn‘t use) and a mini bar (that I didn‘t take anything out of), as well as a chair and a closet to hang your clothes. Windows run the entire length of the room; these can be closed off with curtains, but the curtains don‘t fully block out the light, so you‘ll have to contend with that in the morning.

The bathroom is also functional, though the sliding door of the shower stall was hard to close and the faucet for the shower is annoying. It isn‘t a thermostatic control and it is hard to get the temperature right. The temperature also started drifting to hot with time, so I had to continuously readjust it.

The room has no air conditioning. While I would presume that the lower rooms stay cooler longer, in a heat wave it will probably get quite warm. A stand-up fan was provided.

The room rate is with breakfast, but I didn‘t have it, so no comments here.

All in all, this is certainly a hotel you can stay at - if there isn‘t a heatwave on. If you‘re up for bars or restaurants or theater, you‘ll probably prefer some place closer to downtown. Likely, you‘ll try to avoid Bochum altogether, as it is really quite dead in the evening, at least on weekdays.

Leonardo Hotel Hamburg City Nord *

Stayed: August, 2019

We held our sales meeting at this hotel, so not only did we stay here two nights but also used the conference facilities.

The hotel has all the charme of the post-war rebuild. While it borders the Stadtpark, the remaining surroundings are gruesome highrises with zero flair (matches the hotel).

Besides the modern LED Tv, the room (201) had nothing going for it. There was a nearly constant gurgling sound from the sink, only silenceable by plugging the drain. The ceiling in the bathroom
was oddly low, combined with a very high bathtub, this left me about 15cm from head to ceiling, and I‘m only standard hight.

The AC was not connected - apparently it was only just installed - didn‘t help much in August to have an AC that wasn‘t working! The
windows don’t tip open - you can only open them the regular way, and since they are very long that doesn’t help much. They were also quite old and didn’t abate the constant noise from the 6-lane city highway I looked on very much.

To put the finishing touches on my experience, I had constant elevator sounds in the room - something mechanical apparently transmitted them via the ceiling.

The people at the front desk all seem to be quite affected by the general state of the hotel and let you know with every interaction that they would rather be working elsewhere.

All in all,
not a hotel I would recommend to anyone and I very much hope we never have a sales meeting there again.

AIDA Prima (Baltic Sea Cruise) ****

Cruise dates: June 29 - July 6, 2019
Cruise itinerary: Kiel - Tallinn - St. Petersburg - Helsinki - Stockholm - Kiel

+ Excellent food quality and variety
+ multiple restaurants available

  • Pressure toilet in cabin
  • too little seating in covered pool area and not enough cushions to go round
  • Theater shows not on par with other cruise lines
  • poor soundproofing between cabins

  • Getting to the Ship and Checkin
    We were happy to read that it would be possible to drop off our luggage at Kiel central station, as the dock is only about 20 minutes walk from the train station. As it turns out, this process isn’t free of charge (wich isn’t mentioned anywhere) but rather costs €5 per person, but includes a bus ride to the terminal (which we really didn’t want).

    Since we did a detour into the shopping center across the street from the central station and it was getting late when we came out, we figured we might as well take the bus. There were only a few people in front of us, and over the next 15 minutes the line behind us got longer and longer. You could tell the Aida aide waiting at the boarding point was getting nervous, so I asked here why there weren’t any busses coming to pick us up. She thought that perhaps the parallel street that the busses came back from the terminal on may have been shut down for security reasons as this was the second last day of „Kieler Woche“. We decided to go ahead and walk after all (likely a good decision - no busses passed us on the way).

    Boarding the AIDAprima was very different from the boarding process of any other cruise we have taken. For one thing, signage was minimal or just didn’t exist. You simply joined a queue in the middle of the terminal hall. When we got there, the line wasn‘t that long and it quickly filled up all the way to the hall entrance after we got there. Checkin was one level up, and they only let through about 15-20 people at a time to take the escalator up. Some folks strode right up to the beginning of the escalator, showed the attendant stationed there something and were let through, bypassing the line. I can only assume that these were priority passengers (Suites, etc.), but here, too, no signage or a priority queue, so this didn‘t add much to the morale of people waiting.

    Once we took the escalator to the next floor, we were offered ice tea and stood in line again, this time one that was cordoned off in a zig-zag pattern. Once through that, we were pointed toward one of many party tables set up with laptops - this is where the checkin process took place.

    Checkin went very quickly and off we went to the next queue divided up by floors to pick up our board cards. Then through security and we were finally able to board the ship.

    First Impressions
    We entered the ship on the 6th floor and the first thing we saw was „Die Scharfe Ecke“ („the hot corner“), a Currywurst booth. Of course, each of us had to have a Currywurst before going to our room - and yummy they were!

    Finding your way around the ship isn‘t easy, and it took us a bit of wandering to figure out the best way to get to our cabin on the 11th floor (back Starboard). The layout of the ship is different than what we‘d previously been used to. Some features of the ship are on decks that otherwise only have cabins on them, such as the reception. This isn‘t an issue, as you can always walk the hallway to the front, middle or back part you need to get to, but it is very confusing at first.

    The ship is built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and seems to be only ship of the Aida fleet by that manufacturer. We‘ve been on ships built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg / Finland as well by STX in France and it is quite obvious that the differences between ship manufacturers is much like those setting car manufacturers apart. Just like with a car, you can get from point A to point B with a Skoda just as much as you can with a Mercedes, but there are differences in comfort level.

    As an example, the sound proofing between cabins is really poor on the AIDAprima - while our neighbours to the right weren‘t of the quiet sort in general, we were able to understand every word they said in the cabin if the person talking was close enough to the wall.
    I‘m willing to guess that Mitsubishi probably builds ferries and cargo ships more than cruise ships and just doesn‘t have the expertise in the important details that a Meyer Werft does.

    We were in cabin 11183, a „premium veranda“ category. While certainly not wider than cabins on other cruise ships, the balcony (sorry, „veranda“) was probably 50% deeper than others we‘d been on, making both reclining seats (reclining to completely flat) possible as well as the hanging up of a (supplied) hammock. Very nice.
    Very good as well was the available space in the cabin, with two relatively large closets with real hangers and shelves (some of which were taken up by safety vests and two bath robes), as well as a few drawers in the furniture and nooks and crannies in various places.

    Super convenient was the separate toilet with its own sink - this is really great if you are traveling with four people in the cabin. Unfortunately, the toilet itself was one of the worst I‘ve ever used anywhere. As with all cruise ships (and planes) I‘ve been on, it is a low-water-use toilet that supplements missing flush water with high-pressure air. I‘m assuming that the toilet in our cabin was adjusted poorly, because it had major issues extracting away residue, especially toilet paper. Even with very little toilet paper used, you would have to „flush“ it up to 5 times to get it cleared. Not so great (if not to say, very annoying).
    We had a very prevalent sewage smell in the shower side of the bathroom. It turned out to be a dried-out floor drain half hidden unter the sink from which you could actually hear air escape (cabin air is evacuated from both the shower and the toilet rooms, as is usually the case on cruise ships). Easily fixed with some water poured in with a glass - I don‘t understand why this isn‘t standard operating procedure for the cleaning staff, it literally takes 10 seconds.

    Instead of the expected pull-out couch for two people, our couch was just for one with a second bed that dropped out of the ceiling.
    The maximum weight for this bed is 120kg, but quite honestly it made some strange creaking sounds with our 35kg son moving around in it, so I probably would not want to sleep on the couch below with a 90kg adult in the drop-down bed above me...

    Very surprising and very annoying was the lack of a mini bar in the cabin. This is a feature that - especially for water and the odd beer in the evening - is really convenient. I have no idea if it is Aida standard not to have a mini bar in the cabins or if it is just the AIDAprima. Especially finding a place that sells water by the bottle wasn‘t that easy (hint: the Traveller‘s Store has water in stock).

    Another annoyance was an odd locked, but quite obviously empty plastic container under the bed. We never figured out what this was for (we weren‘t given a key to it, otherwise we could have used it for somewhat safe storage), but it took up a good chunk of below-bed real estate, so if you travel with four full-size suitcases, you‘re pretty much up the creek.

    There is a large, flat-screen TV (around 40“ diagonally) in the Cabin with plenty of programming - most of it German language channels. The picture quality could be better, especially because the screen (an LG) likely does at least HD, but it was ok. We were happy to be able to see two of the more important Women‘s Soccer World Championship games on it. One of these was also being shown at the Brauhaus, but there is only one large screen there that is only properly viewable from the center seating.

    The quick answer is: food on this ship is fantastic. There is variety for every taste (though, as I picked up from a conversation between a guest and a restaurant manager that wasn‘t to be overheard, you may run into a snag if your are -sensitive).

    There are multiple restaurants that are included in your fare (though some require a reservation to be made), including a Tim Maelzer steakhouse (incredible quality!), an Asian restaurant that lets you pick your ingredients to be stir-fried, a Spanish Tapas bar, etc.
    There are two classic buffet restaurants, and even though they tend to have much less the „chow hall“ atmosphere that you find on other cruise ships, they tend to be extremely busy at peak times. Think „no place to sit“ and „step on other people‘s feet trying to get food“. These types of restaurant seem to be too small on every cruise ship we‘ve been on, and the AIDAprima isn‘t any different, unfortunately. The variety of food and drinks in these restaurants is extremely good, though. In my opinion and experience, only Celebrity reached this level of excellence (our last cruise with Celebrity was 8 years ago).
    In comparison to the other cruise lines we‘ve been on (Celebrity, Norwegian, Costa and MSC), the AIDAprima does not have a served-at-an-assigned-table restaurant. Instead, you can (or have to, depending on the restaurant) reserve tables at one of the specialty restaurants instead of going to the buffets.

    Where the AIDAprima is lacking, however, is in service quality. While personnel is very friendly in the restaurants, etc., I find it astounding that on a ship where more than 90% of guests are German nationals (some of which don‘t speak English well or even at all), there would be personnel that is in contact with guests (restaurants, bars, etc.) that obviously don‘t speak German at all or so poorly that it is difficult to get your point across. I ended up just speaking English with them most of the time, which worked fine. Most of the personnel is - as with all cruise ships we‘ve been on - from the Philippines or nearby Asian countries.

    Also, their training of what their restaurant offers doesn‘t seem to be on a level that I would expect on an Aida ship. Example: we ordered starters and main courses in the „Brauhaus“ brewery restaurant. All the food came at once, so that I alternated between my soup starter and Schnitzel main course to at least get some of both down in a hot condition. Mind you, the starters we ordered were clearly marked as such on the menu.

    I also found it quite annoying that food being served would start to be taken away 15 minutes before the official closing time of the restaurant.

    The AIDAprima has an „open pit“ theatre, something we’ve not seen on any cruise ship we‘ve been on, as these usually have their theatre in the bow and laid out to be closed off completely. I‘m not sure what the ship‘s architect had in mind with this very open construction (you can walk by the „pit“ on all three levels on both sides of the ship). On the one hand, I would think that people meandering around on three levels on both sides would irritate the artists considerably (but perhaps you get used to it). On the other, the considerable volume generated during (infrequent!) shows is probably quite irritating in adjoining shops, restaurants, bars and the casino, the latter of which is openly connected to the theatre.

    What is a bit of a shame is that the AIDAprima doesn‘t offer the typical daily show program that you find on other ships. Rather, the theatre is used for occasional music and dance / acrobatics shows that are not nearly on-par with what we’ve seen on other ships, as well as movie theatre and informational events.

    They do have a small theatre/nightclub called Nightfly that features late-night, more adult-oriented shows (nothing like Las Vegas, but likely inappropriate to teens under 16). You have to reserve your seats between 19:00-20:00h at the theatre entrance. The show costs €10 per person, but includes a glass of bubbly.

    As we decided to reserve for the evening before the second sea-day, we ended up with excellent seats right at the stage. There are two „sections“ to this theatre, the very front which has an excellent view from any seat, and the back which is blatantly ridiculous. Essentially, you‘ll end up having either a wall, a column or other people blocking your view. The MC of our show, when people in the back started to leave, even mentioned that he fully understood that people were frustrated, as the theatre designer obviously didn‘t know what he was doing. It is also quite a shame that the theatre only gets used for a single show per day - seems a waste of ship real-estate.

    There is a giant screen with half-circle, step seating in the water area on deck 14 in the back of the ship. This screen is so bright that you can view it perfectly even in bright sunlight. We watched „Jurassic World 2“ there and the picture quality was really good. It would have been great to have a pillow for your back, as you‘re sitting on large wooden steps, but there were none to be had.

    Pool, Slides
    The main pool is amidships on deck 15. It is relatively large (compared to other cruise ship pools I‘ve seen); the main part is indoors (under a large, oblong and translucent cupola), a smaller part is outside.
    The entire area is called „Beach Club“ and also includes several bars and a stage, where a live band plays most evenings. There are wicker-like chairs and lounges along the outer rim as well as on a small upper deck inside the cupola. On sea days with colder outside temperatures, this area tends to be packed and finding open seating is difficult at best. Also, the chairs are all made so you can really only recline comfortably with a cushion for your lower back. These exist, but they seem to be a dwindling species. You‘ll find that some people need three of these to get really comfy (not caring whether other people lose out), but there definitely seem to be too few cushions generally available.
    The giant slides in the back of deck 14 seem really cool, especially because they have clear segments that look over the side of the ship. Unfortunately, the amount of water that is pumped up to help you slide down is too little, so the ride is much too slow (our daughter actually stopped mid-slide and had to propel herself forward with hands and feet).
    The covered area that houses the slides also houses a „water park“ with tires that you can swim around an oval water parcours on and some fun water games (mainly for smaller kids). This area also has a climbing parcours.

    The Spa is a payable option and really quite nice. It features plenty of rest areas, both outside and in, as well as Saunas and other temples of sweat. You can also book massages here (which we did). Fruit, water and tea are available (included in price). If you’re looking for a place to get away from the bustle of the rest of the ship (on a sea day, for example), this is the place to go.

    In an age where everyone has a smartphone, Aida has made Wifi available nearly everywhere on the ship. While their main modus operandi is to try to sell you internet time (as does every other cruiseline), the on-board portal is also available via Wifi for free.
    Unfortunately, I had major issues with the onboard Wifi in that I could connect to it quite quickly on my iPhone but never actually got a data connection (i.e., the Wifi connection was confirmed in settings with IP address assigned, but the symbol for it never appeared in the status bar). This happened on both my iPhone and my iPad, so I‘m assuming that it is something to do with Aida‘s Wifi setup.
    The portal is also available on large, portait-mode touchscreens that are distributed all over the ship - each one with an attached RFID reader so that you can log into the portal using your room key.
    While this approach is much better than on any other cruise ship we‘ve been on, the full potential isn‘t used (i.e. offering a search or cross-linking restaurant names with the reservation system or even indicating the deck number).
    As we learned, the cross-ship Wifi does make babyphones possible, which we really would have appreciated on other ships when our kids were of an age where they needed 24/7 supervision!


    Steakhouse Old West, Cala d'Or, Mallorca ****

    The restricted street around the harbor in Cala d'Or on Mallorca is plastered with restaurants and bars of all types. One really sticks out, the "Restaurante Old West".
    With places like this, it is often a risk to eat there because the place exudes "tourist trap" in every way. The decoration is cool but garish, the waiters wave to you to get your attention, etc. All signals on red. However, we decided to give it a try anyway, because - bizarrely - it seems to be one of only two restaurants advertising Tapas on their menu. The other one is a smallish place flanked in polystyrene tent walls - probably to keep the Wind out. In any case, neither the location nor the view are worth considering on that one, so we went back to the Old West.

    While prices are quite high (hey, you're 1st line to the harbor in one of the more expensive places on the island, what do you expect), the food quality is excellent (we had the 3-Tapas-Platter) as is the service. Very friendly and prompt.

    People next to us had more traditional fare (burgers, Tex-Mex, etc.) and that looked fantastic as well.

    If you're in Cala d'Or and in for American, Tex-Mex or Tapas, this restaurant is a clear winner!

    STAY! Hotel Boardinghouse, Hamburg ****

    Kreuzweg 12, 20099 Hamburg

    Stayed: April 12

    The hotel is in the middle of the St. Georg district - this is a very lively and mixed neighborhood, though I have to say that I had no issues walking around even at night. It is also very close to the central train station.

    Reception was very friendly and the check-in process was very quick. After a quick ride to the 2nd floor in the only elevator (it was tagged as built in 2014), my room 203 was quickly found.

    The room was large and very modern. It looked like it had very recently been renovated, though I‘m presuming it was done at the same time as the elevator. Everything was clean. The bathroom was functional with a large, floor-level shower that had no splash protection whatsoever, so the floor in front of it did get quite wet.

    Very surprising was the noise level in the room - despite the two large windows looking over a very busy street, you heard almost no noise from it. Light was effectively blocked by two drapes.

    The double bed was ok, maybe a bit hard for my tastes but still acceptable - matter of taste, of course. Closet space was plenty and the room even had a small kitchenette with sink.

    I didn‘t opt for breakfast, so I can‘t say anything about it. The rate I paid was ok, especially because hotels were pretty booked in Hamburg at the time due to a major trade fair.

    All in all this is a hotel I recommend and certainly would stay at again.

    MSC Meraviglia **

    Stayed: Feb. 2019

    Summary: Good vs. Bad
    These are just things to be aware of - some of them aren‘t easily changeable, some are management issues.

  • Food quality in the buffet restaurant.
  • Really quite new and showing it.
  • Cirque du Soleil on board.

  • Bad
  • Ship design and construction: There are many issues with the way the ship was designed and built that I found to be quite negative as compared to other ships I‘ve been on.
  • Customer-facing personnel: Unfortunately, the few black sheep amongst the crew really pull the average down, though the people we dealt with generally seemed subdued.
  • Ship interior is quite drab.

  • My Take: There are other ships and other companies out there...

    The Ship
    The Meraviglia is huge - at the time of our cruise, I believe it was the second biggest cruise ship in the world, taking on up to 5.714 passengers at fully booked (which likely rarely happens, as this means 4 to a cabin for many cabins on the ship). We had a good size comparison to an older MSC ship in La Valletta (the „Sinfonia“) and the difference is just stupendous.

    With its Christening in June, 2017, it had just over a year and a half of service under its belt when we were on it. The condition of the ship is in line with its age.
    Our cruise was in the 3rd week of February in the Mediterranean, so likely the ship was not near booked solid. We didn’t get stats like „passengers on board“, unfortunately, and interestingly, people got on and off at nearly every port we stopped at.

    There are several aspects to this ship that make me subjectively think they have to do with the French manufacturer. I‘m not a great fan of French technology products and this ship makes this feeling all the more assertive.

    The creaking in the cabin (remember, it‘s a pretty new ship) and the odd, intermittent shuddering or continuous vibration despite absolutely reasonable wave levels gives me the impression that the engineering that went into the ship isn‘t on par with other builders. In fact, it brought back a memory from high school Physics class, where we watched a
    video of the Tacoma Narrows bridge getting driven into its resonance frequency by a storm and then basically „exploding“. Not a nice thought and certainly not a noise to make you sleep well without ear plugs.

    While then central Promenade with a projection ceiling is a nice touch, reminding me of some casinos or even the downtown area in Las Vegas. The possibilities of such a projection screen are not utilized fully, in my opinion. Think of the Venetian, where a complete day/night cycle is gone through every half hour or so, it would have been simple and a real added value to make more of this feature here on board.

    The rest of the ship is rather drab. The staircases (which we used frequently - who needs a stairmaster?) have identical pictures all the way from the bottom to the top and the carpeting is held in the same rust color. I‘m not a fan of overly colorful interiors, but this is boring even for me. You have the occasional piece of art (mostly around the reception area) and one or two other highlights, but really, the ship is poorly decorated.

    The same goes for many of the bars. A real downer is the „Studio Bar“ - seldom have I seen a place so lacking in luster. On the other side of the promenade, the "pub" tries to add some flair and comes fairly close to looking like a British pub, though it looks like one that was just built and never used before. This is a shame - a touch of relicing would really have gone a long way here.

    Another negative aspect to the ship‘s construction is the way the movement of groups is restricted. As an example: all the ships we were on before (Celebrity, Norwegian and Costa) have had multiple entrances into resp. out of the main theater. This ship only has a single way out. If you‘re not sitting at the top, don‘t bother getting up until the masses have pushed their way through the catheract of an exit. It really isn‘t a pleasant experience. Lets hope there is never a mass panic in this theater or there will likely be people trampled to death.

    The same goes for the Carousel Lounge, where they have Cirque du Soleil performances 6 nights a week. The only entrance to the theater is through the casino. This is annyoing for two reasons: for one, the casino is a smoking zone, and while the air is obviously vigurously exchanged you still smell it quite clearly. It is also annoying if you‘re with kids, because you will be told quite rudely that you can‘t be standing near any of the gambling machines even if you‘re behind the cordon that at least optically separates the entrance to the theater from the casino floor.

    The impression that employees of MSC are less happy about their jobs comes across too often. From people that deal with customers being rude or just unfriendly to being told that „this is the first time working for MSC and hopefully the last“, one gets the impression that MSC is not a company with the best people management, nor one that educates customer-facing employees on the proper way to deal with those that, at the end of the day, pay their wages.

    The Cabin
    The cabin (we were in 10212) is modern and - at first glance - spacious for this category. However, that spaciousness comes at a cost: there is very little room to put stuff, especially when the couch is converted to bunk beds. Essentially, you have a double sliding door closet with hangers and a few shelves. The only drawer is in the desk, and a good quarter of it is taken up by the hair dryer. Other ships we‘ve been on provided a whole series of drawers next to the desk and cubbyholes around the TV.

    The bunk beds that are made out of the two-seater couch are fullsize single beds, the best I‘ve seen in a standard cabin. These come at a price, however - the unneeded upholstery from the couch goes under the bed, which leaves less space for your luggage. In fact, we weren‘t even able to fit two medium-size, upright suitcases under the bed without one of them sticking out about 10cm. Luckily, our kids had cabin-size suitcases with them, otherwise we would have been stumped at a place to put them.

    The bathroom is the most modern I‘ve seen (then again, the ship is quite new) and quite spacious. The shower is great, with a glass door and large enough to not feel cramped. Two drawbacks: the air is - as is the case in every cruise ship I‘ve been on - sucked out of the cabin here (which makes sense), but apparently the opening is so small that the sucking noise is very loud. It is so loud that inside you can‘t hear that people are conversing in the cabin, much less what they are saying.

    The other drawback is that there is no built-in nightlight, something we‘ve had in older ships. I can‘t think of any reason
    not to put a nightlight into a modern bathroom, but it fits with my general opinion of the ship‘s planning and construction.

    Because we‘ve had ships before without a nightlight in the bathroom (mind you: older ones), I had brought one with me. Unfortunately, the same „reasoning“ used throughout the ship’s design has been applied to the receptacle in the bathroom as to many other aspects of the ship: when you turn the lights off in the bathroom, the power is turned off here, too. How annoying is that? So: no nightlight. Nor can you charge your shaver overnight. Oddly enough, the TV works even without a keycard in the central power switch...

    There are two European (Schuko) outlets, a USB charging outlet and two US-style outlets at the desk - and the shaver outlet (110/220V) in the bathroom that turns off with the light switch. That‘s it.

    The cabin door provided absolutely zero sound proofing towards the hallway, which is unfortunate when you have neighbors that find it adequate to have a conversation right in front of your door at nearly midnight. Actually, you get a lot of audio from everywhere around you - subjectively a lot more than on other (older!) ships. Put that on the „bad design“ list.

    What also surprised me in a negative way is the poor air circulation. When you have a small cabin with four people sleeping in it, continuously getting fresh air into the cabin is absolutely imperative. In spite of the very loud suction noise in the bathroom, either the air fed into the cabin wasn‘t fresh or there simply wasn‘t enough of it, as the air quality in the morning was attrocious. This is an issue I‘ve had on no other cruise ship, not even ones as old as the Norwegian Jade! Poor ship design, once again.

    Food - Marketplace Buffet
    As our kids are not old enough to enjoy a sit-down dinner, we mostly ate at the buffet restaurant. While the food quality is really very good (better,subjectively, than on the Costa ships we were on), it is very limited in variability, all stations basically seem to have 90% identical food every day - for both, lunch and dinner - with variance only in things like the rotissary meat or salads. It is perhaps an unfair comparison to make, but if you consider the unbelievable choice in food we found on the Celebrity Constellation, this ship’s buffet restaurant comes across like a food court at a shopping mall.

    Unfortunately, it is way too busy for making for a pleasant meal: as with many other cruise ship buffet restaurants, the „Marketplace Buffet“ on the Meraviglia is often packed to the hilt. Sometimes, we weren’t even able to find seating anywhere. Especially beverage stations can be annoying, not only because there are obviously too few of them, but also because especially coffee seems to run out frequently. When the coffee isn‘t out, the coffee cups are. One morning, the cups were out at every station I squeezed my way to!

    Picking up used plates and silverware - or wiping down a table - is also something that can be improved on. It sometimes seems that there are more people walking idly around to provide (paid) bar service than people to do basic restaurant service. Unfortunately, this was also the case when the buffet wasn‘t as busy, which is disappointing.

    Food - L‘Olivio d‘Oro Restaurant
    We only visited the assigned restaurant once, without our kids. As we later found it, it was a specialty evening and the food was quite good, albeit not extraordinary. The table we were at was oddly US football-shaped and the two of us found sitting in this configuration to be a strange experience.
    Unfortunately, the noise level in the restaurant is so high, that aside from the friendly personnel serving your dinner at our table, we didn‘t see much of an advantage over the buffet restaurant, especially since there apparently isn‘t a kids menu (this we heard from other people).

    The Shows
    We visited both Cirque du Soleil shows: Viaggio and Sonor in the „Cocktail & Show“ variant. Without knowing the menu, we were glad not to have booked the dinner & show version, as you simply sit at tables around the circular stage and listen to guitar music while eating.

    Unfortunately, here too we found employees dealing with customers that would better be placed in the kitchen or in the engine room. You are led to your table by a waiter. The table number is on the paper tickets you get the night before in your cabin, and you pass by a table that holds various drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, which are the cocktails for the evening. An older gentleman in group before us was yelled at by the waiter „one drink per person, one drink per person!“ when he picked up the drink for his wife with his other hand (she was right next to him, not carrying a glass). Not a good impression.

    Both shows were a flurry of impressions and really quite good, though both were completely different. For small children, Viaggio is your better choice - at least our kids liked it better than Sonor (and I did, too), but both are impressive.

    Beside Cirque du Soleil, we also took in a very good live music and dance show and a magician.

    Pools + Other Entertainment
    There are various pools on the 15th and 16th decks, as well as several hot tubs. One pool and one hot tub are in an enclosed area (with a roof that can slide to the side). Due to the air temperature, we really only used the indoor pool, though this only made sense at offpeak times. With just one pool indoors, you can imagine how crowded it got at other times.

    The ship also has what they call the „Himalayan Bridge“ (a rope walking parcours) and a cool-looking waterslide that takes you over the side of the ship for part of the „ride“. The rope walking parcours is pretty cool - I did it with both kids, though you really have to hang on to your camera up there when the wind blows (and anything else that isn't attached to you)! Unfortunately, it was only available while docked.

    Marriott Lisbon ****

    Stayed: February 2019

    The hotel is very close to the airport (in fact, I saw part of the airport from my hotel room); it took the cab about 10 minutes to get there.

    The building itself is actually quite unattractive from the outside, just a blockish-type of 12-story piece of concrete.

    The worst part of the hotel is the location - it is on a „traffic island“ right next to a large hospital and across the road from another hospital. Thinking of strolling downtown in the evening? Think again - it is a good 3km away from the beginning of the old part of town. Also, just getting some walking in around the hotel really isn’t much of an option.
    To go anywhere, you'll need to catch a cab. Luckily, there is usually a line of them waiting in front of the hotel. And because taking a cab is relatively inexpensive in Lisbon, it isn't much of an issue. The hotel doesn't offer a shuttle bus.

    My room was on the 9th floor, facing the six-lane highway. Luckily, the glass to the outside is really good at dampening noise so this wasn't a problem. Oddly, while other main roads in and out of Lisbon are often packed with traffic, the one outside the hotel never was when I looked (which was during peak times in the morning and the evening). The room was clean and quite comfortable as well as being just large enough for one person (it had two double beds in it). It even offered a clothes iron and board, something you rarely have available in a room.

    The bathroom showed a bit of age, but not in a bad way. Everything worked fine and was clean.

    There are four (fast!) elevators and I never had a wait of more than perhaps a minute.

    I had quite a number of meals in the hotel in the four days we were there, as the hotel was venue to a company meeting. Breakfast, lunch and dinner - all the food was fantastic. Well cooked and seasoned as well as a good variety with lots of vegetables and fruit. I have no idea how the pricing was, as everything was paid for by the company. Also, the hotel staff - no matter what position - were all very friendly and helpful.

    All in all, a comfortable place to stay. I would award five stars if the hotel was in a different location (closer to downtown or at least closer to places you'd like to stroll or jog through). Keep in mind, though, that I did not see what the room or meals cost…