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!