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Premature end to August 6-15 Ocean Voyager voyage


Cyberchomp
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Just returned from AQV's Ocean Voyager Chicago-Toronto excursion, which ended short of our destination.  The ship was taken out of service due to a mechanical issue that occurred in the Welland Canal separating Lake Erie from Lake Ontario.  We were in the last lock of the canal when the malfunction occurred.

 

At about 5:00 a.m. on August 16, we were woken by the Captain on the PA, told that the ship could no longer continue and that we would have to disembark.  We were nowhere near a town.  The dining room rustled up an early-morning breakfast while the ShoreEx Manager rounded up buses to take us the rest of the way to Toronto.  About five hours after the initial announcement, we were unceremoniously dropped off at Pearson Airport.

 

We were given no information as to the exact mechanical issue.  I have heard nothing as to whether this will affect upcoming O.V. voyages.

 

This is eerily reminiscent of a previous ill-fated cruise by the Ocean Voyager's sister ship, Ocean Navigator, earlier this year.  Mechanical malfunctions led to AQV dumping its guests in Michigan.

 

Voyager and Navigator are ships full of character, but breakdowns are becoming noticeable.  No wonder AQV wants to sell them.

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Appalling treatment- the rush and stress then particularly for international guests the problems of flights home or filling in time to the original. Why the rush to get guests off? Couldn’t they have stayed until they had time to sort out forward plans 

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@uktog, this was disembarkation day for this direction, so they were trying to get people off and onto further travel as quickly as they could. 

 

@Cyberchomp, I am so sorry the hear this. What an awful end to the cruise! I hope there were some good parts of it before the bad ending. Have you posted any questions about this on the board for questions for the president of AQV? I would love to see her response. I think they knew more about the ships' problems than they let on. We had diver inspections on the Voyager in June in two ports. I spoke to one and he said it was a routine propellor inspection. 

 

So at 5 AM the ship was stuck in Lock 1. Were you in the lock, or had they towed the ship out? That's a single lock, so the authorities wouldn't have been pleased to have it blocked. Sorry, I know it isn't the passengers' first concern, but I'm a curious ship nut. The position of the ship also affects disembarkation. If you were still in the lock, they couldn't get luggage off. 

 

Unless you had been late going through the canal, you were probably stuck in/near the lock for a while. I can understand them holding off on the announcement so people could sleep, but they should have made the decision early enough to get people to the airport on time. 

 

The buses would have been in Toronto ready to go to the pier, so that's an hour or more drive to the lock.  Then time to load, then an hour or more to the Airport. Even if they had waited until 5 AM to call the bus company, it seems to me that it should not have taken 5 hours. 

 

People with late flights were probably okay for making it, although I'm sure they were stressed--I would have been a lunatic with worry even with a late flight! But people who had planned their flights closer to disembarkation time would have missed their flights. I can understand why AQV didn't do well with this. The excursion manager, who I think would have been part of the response team for this, was useless. 

 

As for your last comment, yes, no wonder they're for sale. But given the issues with these ships and the newer competitors on this run, I doubt anyone will want to buy them.

 

Edited by 3rdGenCunarder
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uktog and 3rdGenCunarder,

 

Thanks very much for your responses.  The morning of the "surprise" disembarkation was, indeed, our actual disembarkation day.  All the guests had somewhere they needed to be on that day, so it was just as well to get off Ocean Voyager ASAP.  As it happened, we arrived at Pearson around 10:00 a.m. - only an hour later than our disembarkation time had we actually arrived at Toronto's cruise terminal.

 

Everyone was instructed prior to the cruise to not schedule outbound flights before noon.  Most had 1:00 p.m. or later flights but with a three-hour window to check in, clear security and U.S. Immigration at Pearson - the guest complement this voyage was over 90% American - this was still pushing it.  We had an early evening flight back to the West Coast and had booked a hotel day room to kill time before heading over to the airport.

 

It was a very stressful experience, obviously.  Nobody likes a wake-up call from the Captain at oh-god-thirty.  We had apparently been stuck in the lock for hours.  I was awake for some of that experience, having felt some shaking as if the ship had bumped into the side of the lock - well, it felt as if we bumped into something.  My best guesstimate, at least according to Google Maps, was that we were somewhere outside the city of St. Catherines ONT at the time.  

 

Communications between staff and guests was a little sparse, probably because the staff was working on-the-fly.  No one expected us to get stuck in a canal lock, and we still do not have the actual reason for the stoppage.  Mechanical issues with the ship?  Something wrong with the doors of the canal lock?  We'll probably never know.  We left the ship without learning of its eventual fate; I would guess that a tug eventually towed Ocean Voyager from the lock (if this was a ship breakdown), or someone finally manager to get the doors open (if this was a lock malfunction).

 

We finally heard an announcement around 6:30 a.m. that all independent guests were to report to the Compass Lounge, presumably so the staff could figure out how to get us to Toronto.  Everyone else had group arrangements (city tours and airport transfer, straight airport transfers, hotel transfers), and motor coaches had been set up for them that morning by Wendy, the ShoreEx manager.  We were placed with the direct airport transfers to Pearson.  All transfer fees were waived by AQV.

 

The ship was tied up to the side of the lock and a gangway put in place.  All the bags had been moved shoreside by the time we got off, which was around 8:00 a.m.  I uploaded a photo of Ocean Voyager with the luggage alongside.  We had to cross a gravel track through an open gate in a security fence to reach the coaches.

 

It is hard for me to fault AQV, though they may have learned something from the Ocean Navigator fiasco earlier this summer.  The buses arrived in a decent amount of time, given the hour of the morning.  We eventually did get to Toronto, and got home.

 

In response to Cunarder's questions:

- We were not tuned into CC during our voyage (though the wifi worked fine), so did not learn of the Cindy chat before we arrived home.

 

- It was interesting that you mentioned the diver inspection on your cruise.  While we were at Mackinac Island, we noticed a number of ship's officers (including the Captain) looking at the stern of our vessel.  One of them appeared to be maneuvering a small drone and conducting an inspection.  We had no problem traversing the Soo Locks and the ship appeared to have plenty of speed in the open water of the Lakes.

 

- Were there any good aspects to our cruise?  The attention given by the staff was first-rate, especially our cabin steward Patrick and the servers in the dining room.  That was probably the best part of the AQV experience.  The Lakelorian's presentations were interesting, if a little dry.  The tours, both inclusive and exclusive, were fine.  The Missus liked the Sky Dancers show in Escanaba.  I liked the Ford Museum experience in Detroit.  The HOHO bus tours worked well.  The tour of the ship's bridge (with Ivan the ship's navigator as host) was a cool experience.

 

Any bad aspects (other than the final morning's outcome)?  Ocean Voyager's a small ship.  Other than the lounge and saloon, there were not a lot of places to sit and relax.  We did book a AA cabin, which had a "semi-public veranda" - two chairs and a small table outside our exterior door, from which we would occasionally chase away interlopers from the lower decks who were trying to relax in them (hey, we paid for them!).  The tradeoff for the outside access was that the cabin was extremely small.  But it was a small ship...

 

We liked the "character" of the ship - the pressed tin ceilings in the public rooms, the carved beams in the dining room.  Ocean Voyager is, however, over 20 years old and is showing its age.  It definitely has a dated look (I suppose that's part of the "character") and there are no bells/whistles as would be found on the newer builds of other lines.

 

I would rate the food 3.5 out of 5.  The dining room food was well-prepared and we didn't wait long for courses.  The kitchen tended to use a lot of artificial crab in its soups, salads and appetizers (hey Cindy, don't think I didn't notice this).  The prime rib tended to veer toward underdone and fatty (but we know the dish is difficult to master on any cruise ship).  The staff in the Grill was great; the buffet selections were not great (more of that prime rib).

 

Probably the worst aspect, #1: AQV vessels tend to be extremely cold and this was indeed the case on Ocean Voyager, especially in the Grill.

 

Probably the worst aspect, #2: because of the ship's small size, there were few food options outside of posted meal times in the dining room and Grill.  If you are taking a late-season voyage on either of these ships, stock up on snacks before boarding unless you want to live on a diet of cookies and soft serve ice cream between meals (and Goldfish crackers from the bar).  We got real tired of the cookies, real fast.

 

Probably the worst aspect, #3: masks are optional on AQV vessels.  Other than us, we saw only a couple of other guests wearing them.  With another strain of COVID on the upswing, not a good sign.

 

Probably the worst aspect, #4: it was difficult to get to know other guests.  I would say that 70-80% of the guests onboard this cruise were on group tours (Road Scholars was the largest, followed by SunTours) and the atmosphere seemed too "clubby".

 

 

I personally am not expecting compensation from AQV for the unexpected disembarkation.  Unlike the ill-fated Navigator voyage, we did call at all ports on the itinerary (save for the official disembarkation point).  We were just a few miles from sailing on the fifth Great Lake.  So it goes...  

 

Would we sail on AQV again, in any capacity?  It will be a while before we do any further lake/river cruising, but we are taking a hard look at ACL and Viking.

 

 

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Thanks for posting your comments. Glad you didn't have trouble making your connection. 

 

I think all the cabins except the "suites" are small. I traveled alone, so I was okay with it. But I didn't like that the only places to sit in the room were the bed and the desk chair. No comfy chair.  I rarely saw anyone sitting on the "Verandah" chairs on my cruise, and I was out and about watching the scenery a lot. That might have been because it was Mayfly season and they were EVERYWHERE!

 

I agree about the lack of places to sit around the ship. I wish they hadn't had the piped-in music in the tavern. That annoyed me, so I didn't sit there. We had a Road Scholar group, too, but not as large as the one on your cruise. Still, that meant times when the lounge wasn't quiet. And I agree about the cookies. They were good, but not enough variety. 

 

I would rate the food higher than 3.5. Plus 1 point for perfect Opera Cake. -0.5 point for sugar-free grape jelly with the scone at afternoon tea! I don't remember a lot of crab dishes, and never tried the few I recall seeing, so I wasn't aware it was pseudocrab. 

 

We had a different ShoreEx manager. Glad you had a good one. 

 

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