Hi guys, as the title suggests I had the pleasure of travelling on P&O's, Norbank, and the European Endeavour. I hope this review gives a little insight into the experience.
Norbank - 24/07/2015 - 9:30am
Built in 1993 at yard of Van der Giessen De Noord, near Rotterdam in The Netherlands, Norbank entered service for North Sea Ferries, as a dedicated freighter running beside her sister, Norbay (1994), and the two passenger vessels, Norsun (Pride of Bruges) and Norsea (Pride of York). In 2001 with the arrival of the impressive Pride of Rotterdam and Pride of Hull, Norbank and Norbay were no longer required, and were dispatched to P&O Irish Sea in 2002. Over the past 13 years very little has changed on these tough workhorses.
On arrival at P&O's Dublin terminal (8:30), check-in agents were very friendly and were all Irish (which is always nice!), and were very smartly dressed. According to the check-in agent there were 45 cars booked on the crossing, as well as a motor home, and a van destined for the main deck. Within 10 minutes we were ushered to the Norbank sitting on the river berth, looking smart after a recent paint job, and supporting the new P&O house flag. The cars were driven up the ramp and the Filipino crew worked hard to make them all fit, and manage to get a good few trailers on as well. Once parked, we toddled up the narrow stairs (quite compact) stairs (just forward of the funnel), and handed are boarding card into a busy reception, and headed for the lounge. Both Norbank and Norbay have two small lounges, located port and starboard.
Both lounges were quite full, and the run on restaurant was well in full swing, and the queue was trailing round to the Bar. The selection of food was good. Bacon, sausages, nice fried eggs (not the artificial rubber variety), hash browns, plumed tomatoes, and beans. Non-cholesterol educing options were also available, namely prunes, grapefruit, and a variety of serial. Drinks were all pretty much standard, orange juice, water, and tea/coffee/latte. The fry up was good, the bacon was not over done, and not underdone, and actually looked like if a bit of thought went into cooking it. Prunes were grand as well. Orange was a bit weak though. However as the food is included in the fare I certainly couldn't complain.
Crossing itself was very, very smooth. So smooth in fact P&O and the Irish Coast Guard conducted trial airlifts. The first from the stern, port side, and the latter from the top deck. (I took a good quality video, remarkably on the phone and will try and post it). Despite being 22 years old, Norbank, still looked very smart. The crew were very considerate, I was doing a bit of work in the restaurant, and a crew member asked if I minded him hovering! The whole ship was A1 in all fairness, no rust or dirt, even the Gents was spotless! The brass on The Bar was polished, and prices weren't extortionist like many other routes and operators. Cabins as well were pretty decent.
The evening meal was the best part of the crossing. I was very impressed. The selection was good. I opted for Fish, Mixed Vegetables, and a side portion of chips. The best part was you could help yourself rather than it being weighed out to you. Along with this I had a very nice salad with lots of olives, and for desert a very large slice of sponge cake (the slices were very generous). After the meal the Filipino crew collected the plates, dishes ect, and were very well presented, efficient, and above all friendly and courteous. I got talking to one of the guys and he mentioned he worked previously for P&O Cruises, and so did much of the Filipino crew, hence the quality of the food.
Approach to Liverpool was around 4:00, and we were in the Mersey by about 4:15, entering the lock about 4:20. The lock took about 25 - 30 minutes. As we were going through the lock, I chatted with the purser on Guest Services, about the retirement of the Express, something she said had been on the cards for a good while, and many of her colleagues were surprised she lasted so long on the route given her operational costs. She was a Scottish lady, and was covering for her Dutch counterpart. Her usual ship was Pride of Bruges, which she told me P&O intend to keep till 2019, making her 32 years old! She also mentioned the 'Bruges' and 'York' were going to be receiving a bit of work shortly to keep them going longer (A Brittany Ferries style scrubber?? - Her funnel is big enough!).
Disembarkation was prompt, and we were on our way.
European Endeavour 29/07/2015 - 03:00 am
European Endeavour joined P&O Ferries in 2007, operating a few Dublin to Liverpool runs, and then moving to Dover - Calais running alongside European Seaway. In 2011 P&O moved the European Endeavour to Dublin - Liverpool replacing Norcape, which went for lay-up and then worked Larne - Troon for a time, before being beached in Turkey.
We arrived at P&O's Liverpool Terminal, which is fairly decrepit, and certainly isn't in Hull's league, though the check-in agents were very friendly. According to the check in agent, there were 75 cars on the crossing, and according to guest services, there was 160 passengers onboard.
The main lounge on Deck 7 was clean, and the seats were large and supportive. The Bar was open, and reception offered pillows and blankets for passengers who did not choose to take a cabin. The restaurant was open for a complimentary meal, pretty much the usual selection, gamon, chips, potatoes, carrots, and there was a selection of cheese and salad as a starter, and for the lighter option, quasons. Tea, coffee, water and orange juice was also provided. At around 2:55, an Irish voice came on the PA, and it was indeed Captain Meehan, welcoming the passengers, indicating the sea state was moderate, and wishing them a enjoyable crossing. This was followed by a safety announcement, a standard Dover one, though adapted to include a demonstration of the alarm system, something that makes many jump!
The cabin was clean, and pretty standard. All the decks were well maintained. The upper lounge was busy, with alot of people untilising the reclining seats, that looked far from comfortable.
Day break was an impressive sight from the dull lounge. As we neared the Irish coast, the crew was busy preparing breakfast, and the run on the restaurant commenced. A long line formed, that didnt really subside for the 45 minutes that I was in the restaurant. Anyway on to the food. The selection was good enough. Yogurt, Grapefruit, and Prunes were available as starters, accompanied by the normal fry up, Bacon, Sausage, Tomatos, Mushrooms, Hash-browns, and Fried Eggs. The food was surprisingly pretty decent (I have travelled on European Endeavour, and the food was just 'ok'), however I do think the food was better on Norbank.
Arrival was fairly prompt in Dublin, nothing out of the ordinary, but the 160 people became apparant, as nearly everyone was waiting in the two lounges. P&O have taken Stena's lead, opting to use a pre-recorded anouncement calling car drivers on Deck 5, to rejoin there vehicles. Disembarcation took about 10 minutes from the time we got back to the car, but the whole process of 'waiting' in the louge took about 30 minutes. Alot of people have raised this as the only problem they encountered while experiencing the European Endeavour.
All in all both crossings with P&O were pretty good. The crew was helpfull and corteous on both ships, but for me the crew on the Norbank were that tad bit better. The crossing was reasonably priced, and offered very good value for money. Where the route will be in 10 years time will be interesting. Norbank and Norbay, though very good ships are a little too small for the route, and lacking in capacity, in terms of freight and passenger accommodation. In simple terms, like on Hull to Rotterdam, the route has outgrown them.
I have a strong feeling the route will be recieving a larger pair of vessels in the not too distant future. Over the past six years the passenger numbers have increased. 160 passengers, is 50 over Norbank's cert! A vessel more along the lines of M.V. Europalink, or Stena Transit & Transporter would be a good replacement, i.e. high freight capacity (around 3500 lanemeters, and passenger cert for about 600). I have even heard rumors that P&O were considering moving to the 12 Quays. How accurate this is i'm not sure, but the passneger numbers are growing, and the current configeration of the Gladstone Dock (locking through), means there are limitations on the size of vessels P&O can introduce.